When I was six years old, I played with a landmine in our yard and lost my eyesight as a result. Even then, the irony wasn’t lost on me. The republic in which I lived was invisible anyway. It could not be found on maps. It was not recognized by any nation of the world. Paying it a visit could get you banned from the country next door, even if you were a celebrity like Anthony Bourdain.
Today I serve as the Human Rights Ombudsman of that invisible republic, the Republic of Artsakh, also known as Nagorno Karabakh. It has been my job, since I took office two years ago, to defend the human rights of every person on this land against any encroachment: by the government of Artsakh itself or any foreign adversary.
It has been an absurd, almost impossible mission—to defend the rights of human beings who do not exist according to the international community. Despite my invitations, no major international human rights organization has ever visited our republic to check how the rights of children, women, disabled persons, and other vulnerable groups are protected in Artsakh, or to contribute to our efforts to improve human rights protection systems.
In these lonely years, I found myself wondering: do human rights even exist in this blind world?
As of the morning of September 27, 2020, that question can no longer be ignored. On that day, Azerbaijan, with the overt backing of the Erdogan regime in Turkey and the recruitment of Syrian and Libyan mercenary-terrorists, began a coordinated a full-scale invasion of Nagorno Karabakh, violating a ceasefire that was established in the disputed region in 1994.
Even as a ceasefire has been called, the indiscriminate targeting of civilian populations has created a live human rights crisis that is spiraling out of control.
I have lost my sight, but I know an illegal cluster bomb when I hear one. I can touch the ruins of our Holy Savior Church in Shushi, which was bombed twice in one day, while civilians (and visiting journalists) were praying inside. I can smell the kerosene in the basements where women and children of our republic are now huddled, awaiting the end of the war.
Together with my colleagues in the Ombudsman’s Office, we have been documenting human rights violations and hoping that the world will stop being blind toward them.
Diplomats and lawyers can weigh “self-determination of peoples” versus “territorial integrity.” Analysts can debate the geopolitical implications of the Syrian mercenaries, jihadists, and other proxies that are pouring in to fight the Armenians here. Armenian and Azerbaijani forces can draw up battle plans. All of this will continue to happen in the coming days and weeks.
But what about human rights?
Are there human rights in this place? Do children have rights here? Do women have rights? Do disabled persons have rights? Do over 75,000 displaced civilians of Artsakh have rights? Do the Armenian and Azerbaijani war prisoners have rights?
While the diplomatic world does not yet recognize this place, I have always believed that human rights are not sourced in any government or geopolitical handshake. They are not determined by Josef Stalin’s decision to annex Artsakh to the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan in 1921. They are not overruled by the blindness of world powers to our lawful, democratic declaration of independence in 1991, and our achievements in building democratic institutions since. They are not dependent on which republic has the oil revenue to hire lobbyists on their behalf.
Whether they come from above or within, human rights are native to the human condition and experience. And any individual or organization that claims to defend human rights must defend them without limitation, especially when the lives of a vulnerable and disadvantaged population are at stake.
You may call it the Republic of Artsakh or the disputed region of Nagorno Karabakh or something else. But there are people living here, as there have been for thousands of years—an ancient, Christian people who are being indiscriminately bombed, destroyed, and annihilated.
I will never see again. Many children here will never see their fathers again. But I hope at least that you can begin to see what is happening here. Long before politicians or analysts or armies can find their solutions, we as defenders of human rights must deliver on our commitment: to defend the human rights of all human beings, however invisible they may seem.
Artak Beglaryan is the Human Rights Defender of the Republic of Artsakh / Nagorno Karabakh and has been documenting and sounding the alarm on the ongoing human rights crisis. Follow his #DontBeBlind campaign here.
The post Nagorno Karabakh: The Invisible Christian Republic appeared first on The American Conservative.
As made clear by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s claim that “The President can only see the world from Park Avenue,” the portrayal of Donald Trump as a phony populist is as popular among his opponents nowadays as during the 2016 presidential election. Back then, no less a critic than former President Obama charged that candidate Trump was selling “ordinary people” a bill of goods that belied his record of “never” showing “any regard for workers.”
Sincerity is always tough to measure. But with Mr. Trump having nearly completed his first term in office, does any evidence show that the everyday Americans who comprise so much of his base should be feeling buyer’s remorse? Has their lot worsened under a flim-flam man whose real priority is his fellow One-Percenters?
Not according to one set of official figures that’s especially good at gauging the fortunes of Mr. Trump’s core supporters over time: the Labor Department’s quarterly County Employment and Wages series. The final 2019 figures are out, and reveal a striking pattern when matched with the list of counties that voted for Mr. Obama in both 2008 and 2012 and then flipped for Mr. Trump: Average annual private-sector pay in most of these flip counties rose faster during the first three years of the Trump administration than during the last three years of the Mr. Obama’s presidency.
Moreover, this improvement didn’t simply stem from a single good year dragging up harder times. For the Trump-era edge was even greater as of the end of 2018, as reported in this TAC piece.
The flip counties are good proxies for Trump’s working- and middle-class supporters because their salary levels generally trail the national average ($59,202) considerably. And due to their consistent support for Mr. Obama, their voters overall couldn’t have been attracted by whatever racist or xenophobic dogwhistles the President is often accused of issuing. Surely, most saw Mr. Trump’s populist economic message as the biggest draw.
Meanwhile, although the annual county salary data stop with 2019, and therefore say nothing about their voters’ pandemic-era circumstances, these latest available figures speak volumes about their populations’ well-being during the most recent period of national pre-virus normality. Also important—the two time periods involved were right next to each other during the same (expansionary) economic cycle phase. So the numbers are as apples-to-apples as possible.
According to the updated 2018 data, of the 194 flip counties for which statistics are available, 131 (67.53 percent) saw average annual pay in the private sector rise faster during the first two years of the Trump administration than during the last two years of the Obama administration. (Figures including public-sector pay are kept by the Labor Department, but this compensation says relatively little about a region’s economic fundamentals because the levels are set by politicians’ decisions, not market forces.)
In 2019, the Trump administration’s margin diminished—undoubtedly due in part to slower national economic growth. Even so, 59.79 percent of the flip counties (116 of 194) experienced stronger private sector pay growth during the first three Trump years than during the last three Obama years. A closer examination reveals that a net of 22 of these counties moved from the Advantage Trump to the Advantage Obama column, while seven went in the opposite direction.
The bottom line politically of these developments is less clear for the President, even if he can still persuade most flip county voters nationally that he can restore pre-China virus prosperity. For no fewer than 108 of these counties are located in nine states identified as 2020 battlegrounds: Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And the split between those that prospered more during the first three Trump years than during the final three Obama years is just that: 50-50 (54 counties in each category) rather than the nearly 60-40 Trump margin nation-wide.
More fortunately for the president, the number of battleground-state counties that switched paycheck-wise from Advantage Trump to Advantage Obama in 2019 is small (15). And except for Minnesota—which contains seven—they could be too thinly spread to tip any of these states into the Biden column all by themselves, even in a nail-biter election.
Election 2020 politics aside, though, according to the crucial measure of income, these years worth of county data clash loudly with the Trump-as-phony-populist charge, and the common companion depiction of the last Democratic administration as a working- and middle-class champion. And they indicate that if Republicans want to keep these voters in their camp going forward, continuing a Trump-like approach to the economy will be imperative.
Alan Tonelson is the founder of RealityChek, a public policy blog focusing on economics and national security, and the author of The Race to the Bottom.
The story is very apocryphal now, but it holds that in 146 BC, Rome capped off the Third Punic War by sacking Carthage and salting the earth so that nothing would ever grow there again. It probably never happened, which is sort of a shame, because it’s an excellent metaphor for European activity on Africa’s Mediterranean Coast.
Wherever Europe’s attention turns in northern Africa, that region is the worse for it. In recent years, this has meant Libya, where the destruction of the Libyan government during the 2011 NATO intervention there is now set to give way to direct European Union intervention.
NATO was quite pleased with its 2011 handiwork, which saw Moammar Gaddafi removed from power and quickly killed. The assumption was that this would lead to an orderly transition of power. Instead it led to a civil war that’s continued to tear the country apart ever since.
Earlier this month, it was confirmed that the European Union is in the process of developing multiple potential military options for intervening in Libya, all intended to stabilize the situation. This is being done with an eye toward getting Libya’s oil industry back to exporting.
Since 2011, Libya has had as many as three, and at times zero, self-proclaimed governments operating out of different areas of the country. At times, the UN has endorsed a government, or created a government to endorse, and other nations in the region have backed either those governments or other rival governments, though none has ever controlled more than a fraction of Libya in any real way.
As it stands right now, there are two would-be governments in Libya. The Tripoli-based faction, endorsed by the UN and Turkey, is the Government of National Accord (GNA). The rival faction is a parliament running out of Tobruk, with the loyalty of the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA is run by General Khalifa Hafter.
Hafter was a Gaddafi-era general, and later a CIA-funded rebel leader. Since 2011, he’s tried to launch several coups d’etat, and the LNA was the closest to being successful, bringing international recognition as his forces made it to the outskirts of Tripoli in an attempted invasion. Recent defeats have pushed the LNA back from western Libya, and the threat of a new stalemate is why the EU is interested in getting involved.
That raises multiple questions, the most obvious of which is what side the EU military would be on. Italy is seen as backing the GNA, while others, notably France, are leaning toward Hafter under the assumption that post-Gaddafi stability rests in another strongman.
The pro-junta idea came out of Egypt, and was embraced by the Gulf Arab states next. Since then, France and Russia have bought in to varying degrees. Egypt sees in Libya its own Arab Spring, during which Cairo’s dictator was ousted, a first freely elected government was brought in, and then another coup installed another strongman. The military junta seems keen to export its own system to neighbors and General Hafter hopes to be the beneficiary thereof.
Henry David Thoreau famously quipped, “If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life.” It would not be surprising if the people of Libya had the same reaction to the EU’s attempts to do them a good turn.
The European Union doesn’t have much of a track record of using its combined military for “humanitarian intervention,” but the West in general surely does, and usually people end up worse off than they were before.
EU inexperience in alliance-wide missions means they’re starting small. The options being considered are all below the 10,000-troop commitment, which officials agreed was too dangerous. Yet time and again we’ve seen that getting in small is a recipe for getting in bigger at a later date, as the initial troops fail in their ill-defined missions and officials respond by steadily increasing their footprint until it becomes the bigger mission they didn’t want in the first place.
This is a particularly obvious path in Libya, because the EU isn’t defining at all what victory would look like, who they intend to fight on behalf of, or how they hope to accomplish anything with a fairly small troop level. But that gets brushed aside. Something must be done, and getting boots on the ground is apparently the first step towards coming up with a plan of action.
Without a plan, it’s hard to imagine the EU pulling off anything beneficial in Libya, even accidentally. More than likely, they’ll bungle into trouble, use that as a pretext to escalate, and try to skuldugger the United States into getting involved in a broader coalition effort. We ousted Gaddafi together, after all.
The U.S. needs to anticipate this turn of events, and make it clear ahead of time that they’re not onboard with any new adventures in Libya. Superficially, the big players in Libyan oil are EU companies like Eni and Shell. They’re only going to make things worse with further meddling, and it’s better for the U.S. to stay away, making sure that when people later ask what went wrong, they’re inquiring of the EU and not America.
Jason Ditz is news editor at Antiwar.com, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause of non-interventionism. His work has appeared in Forbes, the Toronto Star, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the Providence Journal, the Daily Caller, the Quincy Institute, The American Conservative, The Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.
The post Europe Gears Up for Another Military Intervention in Libya appeared first on The American Conservative.
On October 6, the House Judiciary committee released a 449-page report concluding a 16-month investigation into the degree of economic concentration in the digital economy, the evidence of harm arising from the actions of four large tech companies at the center of that concentration, and the efficacy of current antitrust law and regulatory authority to mitigate harm and promote competition and consumer welfare.
The ACAL report (from the Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law subcommittee) was immediately controversial for the aggressiveness of its proposed remedies. While the substantive places of disagreement are very real, it’s important not to let them mask the context in which the report was released and the areas of consensus that are rapidly emerging in conversations of tech competition going forward, including the importance of interoperability and data portability and the legitimacy of some amount of government involvement to promote them.
The ACAL report was not the only output of Congress’s investigative process. Leaders from the House Judiciary committee minority released two separate reports to pair with the majority’s. One, led by Rep. Buck (R-Colo.), calls itself a “Third Way”, and will be influential in bipartisan legislation discussions going forward. The Buck report embraces several of the key recommendations of the ACAL report, including tweaks to a few subtle but crucial legal standards around presumptions and burdens of proof. One of those areas of agreement is the set of proposals regarding, in Buck’s words, “empowering consumers to take control of their user data through data portability and interoperability standards.”
Interoperability and data portability enjoyed a tremendous rise to political visibility in 2019, beginning in March with the release of the European Commission’s expert report, “Competition policy for the digital era,” in which the word “interoperability” appears 105 times. Seven months later, the U.S. Senate introduced bipartisan legislation, the ACCESS Act, which if passed would mandate the provision of data portability and interoperability interfaces by large platforms. While the months since that bill’s introduction have been marked by a global pandemic and countless other legal and political developments, the Buck report and the ACAL report together indicate that there remains a core of bipartisan consensus around interoperability and data portability.
With the degree of political momentum behind interoperability and data portability, it’s time for us to figure out how best to make such mandates work in practice, and feed that understanding back into legislative processes to help make sure that future requirements are workable and not overly burdensome, particularly for startups and smaller companies. The digital economy will have lost its engine if every startup has to hire compliance lawyers before they can break into the market—but it will be just as broken if new market players can’t enter the market at all.
I have been writing for the past three years about the importance of interoperability in promoting innovation, competition, and user choice. Interoperability, paired with but above and beyond data portability, is at the heart of the digital economy, and protecting it will be both critical and challenging. It’s not a trivial exercise to implement the principles of interoperability in the framework of existing antitrust and competition law. But it’s also not an intractable one. The path ahead starts by recognizing what the Buck and ACAL reports make clear, as several academic studies over the past few years have also shown: the digital economy is different, and benefits from applying a different approach.
I wrote a paper for the Journal of Cyber Policy’s 2020 special issue on “consolidation of the internet” to help map out the landscape of interoperability in practice. My piece, “Unpacking interoperability in competition,” looks briefly at specific case studies of technologies such as mobile and web payments and identity authentication systems, and other paradigms of compatibility in legal history. I barely scratched at the surface of the complex, multi-stakeholder discussion that we need to have, as soon as possible.
We need to come to a shared understanding of what it means, for example, for a social media company to offer Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that effectively enable other social media companies to interoperate on a level playing field. There is no rulebook to guide them today. They do not have regulatory guidance or established best practices to help them determine the information that should be made available, the terms on which it should be offered, or the performance or security characteristics (such as rate limits and authentication protocols) that are fair and reasonable to place on such interfaces. Now take those questions and multiply them for several other functional services of the digital economy.
But the government in Washington is done with waiting. The same is true for the European Commission in Brussels, and for the Competition and Markets Authority in the United Kingdom. Legislation and litigation are both moving forward, hoisting a Sword of Damocles in the air. To be clear, I support these developments (noting that much more work on the ideas is still needed). I’ve written that our current trajectory of centralization in tech puts in jeopardy the fundamental assumptions of low-cost market entry and growth that underlie the success of the digital economy. Interoperability is one of the internet’s structural characteristics most critical for a healthy market, and I view (thoughtful, tailored) government intervention to be necessary at this point to promote interoperability going forward.
It won’t be easy. APIs evolve to meet changing supply (technology innovation) and demand (user behavior), and while pro-market interoperability principles remain the same, the thresholds needed to meet them will need to rebalance, adapt, and adjust over time. Just as technology companies don’t have a rulebook for their API policies, governments don’t have an off-the-shelf model for legislation that can enforce accountability against flexibility. For the sake of the vibrant digital ecosystem that contributes so much good to so many parts of our society and economy, though, we need to figure it out.
Chris Riley is the former Director of Public Policy at Mozilla, where he managed the global Mozilla public policy team and its active engagements in Washington, Brussels, New Delhi, and around the world. Prior to joining Mozilla, Chris worked as a program manager at the U.S. Department of State on Internet freedom, a policy counsel with the non-profit public interest organization Free Press, and an attorney-advisor at the Federal Communications Commission. Chris holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University, where he worked as a research and teaching assistant and an instructor, and a J.D. from Yale Law School, taking internships at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law firm Ropes & Gray. He has published scholarship on topics including innovation policy, cognitive framing, graph drawing, and distributed load balancing.
This article was supported by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
It was almost exactly one year ago that Joe Biden stood on the primary debate stage and was confronted for the first time about Hunter Biden’s decision to accept a lucrative position at a Ukrainian energy company while his father oversaw foreign policy in the region.
“My son made a judgment. I’m proud of the judgment he made.”
The answer came only hours after his son admitted to ABC News that his judgment was, in fact, off. “In retrospect, I wish that my judgment…” Hunter Biden said on ‘Good Morning America’ before trailing off. “Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yeah.”
Today, Biden, Inc., is back in the news, as the New York Post and others continue to publish a series of articles revealing that the former vice president was much more intimately involved in the younger Biden’s business dealings than previously known.
The strategic response from the Democrat’s allies has been an intentional blackout. Twitter prohibited users from sharing a link to the Post’s investigation and locked the newspaper out of its own account. George Stephanopoulos conducted a two-hour ‘town hall’ with Biden, during which the anchor failed to ask a single question about the corruption allegations. And, when the nominee finally ventured outside to get ice cream, the toughest question that the media in attendance asked was: “Mr. Biden! Mr. Biden! What flavor did you get?”
A CBS News reporter attempted to solicit a response on the tarmac, but Biden blew him off. “I know you’d ask it,” the candidate said. “I have no response. It’s another smear campaign. Right up your alley.” The campaign’s response devolved from there—surrogates insist that anyone even the least bit curious about the vice president’s role in Hunter Biden’s unusual business relationships is part of a foreign intelligence effort—and it’s just going to get worse.
Unfortunately, this is a play we’ve seen before. The Bidens have been doing this shady work, and ‘exiting’ from it when convenient, for a very long time.
In 2001, fresh off a plum job in the Clinton administration, Hunter Biden was named founding partner at Oldaker, Biden & Belair LLP. The lobbying firm—on whose website Biden touted his status “a presidential appointee” of Bill Clinton—quickly took on a scattershot of clients ranging from hospitals to universities and, according to Delaware’s News Journal, was known for “specializing in the sort of earmarks doled out by Sen. [Joe] Biden.”
Hunter Biden would go on to personally shape appropriations bills on behalf of clients, and in a short period donate more than $35,000 to federal candidates, including $10,000 to his father’s colleagues who were members of the appropriations committees at the time he was lobbying them.
And it was no secret why Hunter Biden’s first client chose him: Napster, the file-sharing service, was facing a barrage of attacks from Congress—a fight in which his father was expected to play a major role. Joe Biden was chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, two powerful entities with unique interests in copyright laws that Napster was under fire for flouting.
The company tapped Manus Cooney and Karen Robb to lead its lobbying efforts… alongside, strangely, Hunter Biden.
Whereas Cooney and Robb had extensive experience—serving as the judiciary committee’s most recent chief counsel (including during Napster’s appearance before it two months earlier) and as a staff director, respectively—the younger Biden’s only qualification appeared to be his biological tie to the committee’s former chairman. Just one month after Hunter Biden registered to lobby for Napster on the issue of “compulsory licensing,” the service’s chief executive officer appeared before the judiciary committee, of which Joe Biden was a member, and called on members “to provide a compulsory license for the transmission of music over the Internet.”
It was clear what was going on, and Team Obama, running on an anti-corruption platform, wasn’t happy about it. The Illinois senator chose Biden as his running mate on Aug. 23., 2008. Two days later, Hunter Biden wrote a letter to Congress stating that “I no longer expect to act as a federal lobbyist.”
There was no moral epiphany. His conflict of interest simply was no longer politically tenable while running for the White House. But after the election, as ‘senator’ became ‘vice president,’ Biden, Inc., opened back up for business, and Hunter Biden pivoted from congressional lobbying to international consulting, violating the spirit of his pledge as soon as Election Day passed.
That violation would continue for years.
In December 2013, Hunter Biden accompanied the vice president on an Air Force Two flight to Beijing and, upon arrival, arranged for him to shake hands with businessman Jonathan Li. Bohai Capital, Li’s firm, would go on to partner with Rosemont Seneca Partners—co-founded by Biden six months after his father took office—to form a foreign investment fund called BHR Partners. Corporate records for BHR Partners were completed 12 days after the Bidens’ trip to Beijing.
Even a former senior aide in the Obama White House later said that the younger Biden appeared to be “leveraging access for his benefit.”
In May 2014, Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian energy firm, one month after his father traveled to Kiev to urge parliament to “fight the cancer of corruption.” In fact, Burisma was being investigated for corruption by Ukraine’s prosecutor general, who was fired at the insistence of Vice President Biden under the threat of withholding U.S. loan guarantees.
Burisma paid Hunter Biden $50,000 per month, the purpose of which, as the Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer said, was “clearly to be selling influence, because otherwise no one would ever pay him that kind of money.” He would retain the board seat until April 2019, the same month his father announced his candidacy for president.
This is barely the tip of the iceberg.
Just as it was in 2008, Biden, Inc., may be on a temporary hiatus, but it will be back. Joe Biden has long embraced the business of selling access until it becomes politically untenable—and recent reports from the New York Post and other institutional newsrooms suggest that the Biden family’s overlap of business and public office became something much more serious than simple cronyism.
It is not inappropriate or insensitive for the American people to question how (time and time again) someone with Hunter Biden’s troublesome background became, at a moment’s notice, an expert in copyright enforcement, Ukrainian geopolitics, and other complex policy issues at precisely the same moment that his father began to oversee them in government.
The media’s refusal to demand an answer before Election Day is journalistic malpractice, and the Democrat’s failure to have done so already is disqualifying in and of itself.
Brian Anderson is founder of the Saguaro Group, an Arizona-based research firm..
The most dangerous political illusion is that votes limit politicians’ power. Americans have been endlessly hectored in recent months to cast their votes in the presidential election. But trusting ballots to leash either Donald Trump or Joe Biden would be the ultimate triumph of hope over experience.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the most venerated federal law of the last 60 years. When he signed the law, President Lyndon Johnson declared, “This right to vote is the basic right without which all others are meaningless. It gives people, people as individuals, control over their own destinies.” Johnson and generations of subsequent politicians assured Americans that possessing a vote was practically the only protection they needed against oppression. But the Voting Rights Act has failed to prevent politicians from ravaging voters of every race, creed, and color.
Early in 1965, before the Voting Rights Act passed Congress, Johnson declared in a phone call to Martin Luther King Jr., “I just don’t see how anybody can say that a man can fight in Vietnam but he can’t vote.” But expanding voting rights did nothing to nullify Johnson’s dictatorial power over draftees. Tens of thousands of conscripts died in an unpopular war that mushroomed because the president dispatched them to a pointless foreign conflict. Regardless of how many lies Johnson told about Vietnam, young Americans were still compelled to follow his orders to the death in the jungles and rice paddies.
Johnson also proclaimed that the Voting Rights Act grants “every American Negro his freedom to enter the mainstream of American life” but the FBI never got that memo. For most of the last five years of King’s life, he was “the target of an intensive campaign by the FBI to ‘neutralize’ him as an effective civil rights leader,” according to a 1976 Senate report. King’s home, office, and hotel rooms were frequently, illegally wiretapped by the FBI, seeking information to discredit King. The FBI even set up its own Klan organization that savagely attacked civil-rights protesters. In San Diego, the FBI instigated violence between black groups that helped spur several killings.
Voting rights expanded at the same time the federal government became far more oppressive. More blacks voting after 1965 did not prevent Congress from declaring a war on drugs and enacting laws that locked away legions of people for possessing politically incorrect substances. Thanks in part to crackdowns on narcotics, the incarceration rate of black high-school dropouts increased almost sevenfold between 1960 and 2000, according to a 2009 study by Harvard professor George Borjas and colleagues. Selma, Alabama Mayor George Evans told National Public Radio in 2015: “Even though we’ve gained so much through voting rights and Bloody Sunday, we’ve stepped backwards when it comes to crime and drugs and the jail system—things like that.” America’s sad trajectory was captured 20 years ago by country singer Merle Haggard: “In 1960, when I came out of prison as an ex-convict, I had more freedom under parolee supervision than there’s available to an average citizen in America right now … God almighty, what have we done to each other?”
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden declared in August, “The battle for the soul for America has many fronts; the right to vote is the most fundamental.” But when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden co-wrote the 1994 crime bill which The New York Times noted last year “contributed to the explosion of the prison population.” Biden had no sympathy for anyone who violated any law Congress decreed: “Lock the S.O.B.s up!” Biden boasted in 1994 that “every major crime bill since 1976 that’s come out of this Congress… has had the name of the Democratic senator from the State of Delaware: Joe Biden.” But Biden’s role in the arrest and jailing of hundreds of thousands of Americans has vanished into the Memory Hole during this campaign season.
The violent anti-police protests that proliferated nationwide after the killing of George Floyd is another testament to the failure of the Voting Rights Act. The fact that far more African Americans were enabled to vote did not prevent police unions from capturing the right to accost, abuse, and shoot who they pleased. Politicians prattled about their concern for oppressed minority groups and then refused to repeal laws that entitle government agents to kill with impunity.
Having a vote does nothing to prevent a person from being molested by the Transportation Security Agency, spied on by the National Security Agency, or harassed by the Internal Revenue Service. Casting votes has not prevented the federal government from creating trillions of pages of new secrets every year. At the state level, possessing the right to vote failed to stop governors from padlocking churches, bankrupting businesses, blighting education, and placing scores of millions of Americans under house arrest on the flimsiest epidemiological pretexts during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Politicians talk as if voting magically protects the rights of everyone within a 50-mile radius of the polling booth. Tell that fable to the Americans who voted for George W. Bush in 2000 because he promised a more “humble” foreign policy, to Americans who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 because he promised to restore civil liberties, and to Americans who voted for Trump because he promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington.
The worst violation of “voting rights” occurs when election winners capture unlimited power to abuse voters. Ballots failed to prevent every recent American commander-in-chief from expanding and exploiting the dictatorial potential of the presidency. Decades of court decisions have confirmed the de facto legal immunity of the nation’s highest elected official. The term “Pandora’s Box” is apparently not part of the playbook provided to federal judges.
Rather than safeguarding rights, elections nowadays usually merely designate who gets to trample them. Regardless of their rhetoric on the campaign trail, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell that either Trump or Biden will “make America constitutional again.” But presidents and members of Congress cannot violate their oath to uphold the Constitution without making a mockery of any election that they won.
Voting rights controversies are attractive to media outlets that seek to portray this election as a battle between good and evil. But the media almost completely ignores the perennial failure of voting to restrain government power. As long as it remains infinitely easier for politicians to bind citizens than for citizens to bind politicians, voting rights will continue to be mostly a dangerous mirage.
Voting can still be one way to make a statement of one’s principles and preferences. But don’t expect the political ruling class to pretend to pay attention after Election Day. Washington will remain a deadly peril to our rights and liberties regardless of the final vote counts.
More than six months have passed since the president first tweeted about hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for Covid-19. Since then, some studies have claimed that it works, and others not. But one thing we have learned unequivocally about hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 is that CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the editor of The Lancet don’t want you to take it.
In fact, they would prefer that you not even talk about it. The less you know about it, the better. And they have felt this way consistently since the start of the pandemic, when there were hardly any studies to parse. To even call this situation a “debate” is a stretch, because the forces opposed to the drug’s use for Covid-19 haven’t debated, but rather have tried to shut down any journalist, doctor, or researcher armed with different data.
Hydroxychloroquine, a 70-year-old malaria drug that is also regularly used to treat lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, is inexpensive and has an excellent safety profile. It has been used to treat over two billion people. Before the pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended that adults and children of any age could take it safely, including pregnant women and nursing mothers.
In March, the strongest evidence in favor of its use and efficacy for Covid-19 came from Marseille, from a small observational study conducted by the French epidemiologist Dr. Didier Raoult. In this and his own larger follow-up trials, Dr. Raoult has claimed success in treating Covid-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine, when used in combination with antibiotics.
Based on this information, pharmaceutical companies donated millions of doses to the government, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued an emergency use authorization, making the donated drugs available to hospitalized Covid-19 patients.
At the end of June and in early July, larger studies were published by the Mount Sinai Health System in New York and the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, both of which demonstrated that the anti-malarial drug cut the mortality rate for Covid-19 sufferers in half. In particular, the Henry Ford paper argued that the drug should be administered early in the disease progression in order to be effective.
The press reaction to these studies has ranged from the dismissive to the outright hostile. In May, The New York Times Magazine ran a nearly 8,000-word feature attacking Dr. Raoult personally. Neither CNN, nor The New York Times, nor The Washington Post has even mentioned the Mount Sinai trial.
With respect to the Henry Ford study, the vitriol has been so great that, a month after they published, the hospital system issued an open letter announcing that they would no longer comment publically on their own research. As the Henry Ford doctors explained, “the political climate that has persisted has made any objective discussion about this drug impossible.”
But this is only half of the picture. In April, the editor of the British medical journal The Lancet tweeted that it was the duty of “every scientist, every healthcare worker, every citizen” to “resist and rebel” against Trump. Then, on May 22, The Lancet published a massive study of some 96,000 Covid-19 patients, claiming that hydroxychloroquine not only didn’t help them, but that it actually caused harm. Namely, it argued that the drug “was associated with an increase in the risk of ventricular arrhythmias and a greater hazard for in-hospital death with COVID-19.”
The press went into overtime disseminating these findings. One physician told The Washington Post, “If there was ever hope for this drug, this is the death of it,” and Dr. Fauci declared on CNN, “the scientific data is really quite evident now about the lack of efficacy.” The science appeared to be settled.
Then, only two weeks after The Lancet paper was published, the authors retracted it. The source data turned out to be fake. The Lancet‘s editor described the paper to The New York Times as “a monumental fraud,” but the damage was already done. A week after the Lancet retraction—while claiming to have been uninfluenced by it—the FDA revoked the emergency use authorization it had previously issued for hydroxychloroquine.
By contrast, when doctors from the Henry Ford Health System published their trial results, they submitted a request to the FDA for a new emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine. Their letter emphasized, “It is essential that studies evaluating HCQ for pre, post and early treatment, (including early hospital treatment) of HCQ be supported without the need for [investigational new drug] requirement limiting potential for studies to be initiated.” Pushing back against the widely reported Lancet claims, they noted, “A review of our COVID-19 mortality data demonstrated no major cardiac arrhythmias.” The Henry Ford physicians further suggested “that of the more than 100,000 Americans who have lost their lives to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, tens of thousands of them might have survived with an early treatment regime of hydroxychloroquine.”
The FDA denied Henry Ford’s request. In a short letter of explanation, the director of the Office of New Drugs wrote that “based on the totality of the scientific information available, it is unlikely that hydroxychloroquine sulfate may be effective in disease prevention or treatment of early COVID-19 infections.” Furthermore, he referenced “ongoing reports of serious cardiac adverse events” as justification for their decision without citing any actual “ongoing reports.” But as the Yale epidemiologist Dr. Harvey Risch contended in May, “fatal arrhythmia outcomes” from hydroxychloroquine use “are so rare that they are of much lesser clinical significance than the hospitalization and mortality that the drugs prevent.”
This all invites the question: what is the FDA doing? The career physicians at the FDA clearly never wanted to give Americans emergency access to the drug to begin with. A whistleblower complaint for a fired FDA doctor—written by the same lawyer who represented Justice Kavanaugh accuser Christine Blasey-Ford—dubs hydroxychloroquine a “potentially toxic chemical” and states explicitly that the FDA’s original emergency use authorization was intended to confine the drug to use in hospitals. By revoking that authorization, and rejecting Henry Ford’s appeal for a new one, the FDA has effectively made further study of this drug for Covid-19 treatment in America impossible.
As the New York Times Magazine piece on Raoult noted, “Nearly everyone survives.” But for those at risk—the elderly, and especially those who have other underlying health problems—an effective treatment is still very much needed. While monoclonal antibody treatments will be limited in availability, there is no shortage of hydroxychloroquine.
There are numerous recent studies—underreported in the American media—that could add to the debate. Instead of covering these studies, the media keeps repeating that there is no supporting evidence. It is time to find out, with some reasonable certainty, whether or not this is really true.
C. Boyden Gray served as White House counsel under President George H.W. Bush and as U.S. ambassador to the European Union under President George W. Bush. His firm, C. Boyden Gray & Associates, has represented the energy industry, among other clients. He served as chairman of the Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice Section of the ABA from 2000 to 2002.
Twitter and Facebook are the censors the Founders feared when they wrote the First Amendment. None of those men could have envisioned a day when global tech corporations would overshadow the power of governments to control information. But that day is here, and @jack and his colleagues are trying to steal an election for Joe Biden in real time.
The social media giants tried to disappear a story from the New York Post claiming Hunter Biden sold access to his father to a Ukrainian company. I’m afraid to include a link to the story, for fear that this article too will be made to disappear. See, you can’t tweet a link to the Post‘s story or send it as a direct message on Twitter and you can’t post it on Facebook without some sort of red flag.
If you try and you’re an unimportant person, your message will just be blocked. If you are important, like the White House press secretary, @TeamTrump, or a conservative journalist trying to report out the fuller story, your account will be locked. The NY Post, one of the largest mass-circulation dailies, can’t RT its own article on Twitter. Orwell anticipated some of this, creating the term “unperson” for someone erased from society. But he, too, did not anticipate the power of the electronic media companies or he would have likely also coined the term “unthought.”
The goal of Twitter and Facebook is unthought, to make the NY Post story go away to the extent possible, and to delegitimize it as much as possible in those spaces the giants do not yet control, all because it will hurt Biden’s chances in the election. Free speech is to them a liability to democracy. This is sadly consistent with another blow to democracy, the media’s abandonment of any commitment to objectivity in favor of ideological activism. This election, there is a Right Candidate and an Evil Candidate and it is the media’s job to use the tools of censorship, propaganda, and now unthought to direct your vote accordingly.
We have no protection. For something like this to be unconstitutional or illegal, the denial has to come from the government. Facebook and others can deny speech rights anytime they want. We now know the argument that only the government is covered by the 1A has reached its limit. Technology and market dominance give great power with no responsibility to a handful of global companies even as the law hides behind the simplicity of the 18th century. That way of thinking requires you to believe that Facebook, et al., would never act as a proxy, barring viewpoints on behalf of a politician who would not be allowed to do it himself.
Don’t act surprised. While the NY Post story being disappeared caught the public’s eye, this has been going on for a long time.
After hazy accusations that Russians tried to influence the 2016 presidential election, Twitter and Facebook banned advertising by RT and Sputnik. Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) followed by demanding social media censor even more aggressively on the government’s behalf for the “survival of our democracy.” Following racial violence in Charlottesville, Google, GoDaddy, and Cloudflare collectively ended their relationships with the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer, “effectively booting it off the Internet.” Google noted that, “while some free speech advocates were troubled by the idea that ‘a voice’ could be silenced, others were encouraged by the united front the tech firms put up.”
Google blocks users from their own documents on Google Drive if the service feels the documents are abusive. Twitter suspends those who promote what it defines as violence, shadow bans others to limit the size of their audience, and tweaks its trending topics to push certain political ideas and downplay others. It purges users and bans “hateful symbols.” There are near-daily demands by increasingly organized groups to censor specific users, with Trump at the top of that list. Users can snitch out other users so that Twitter can evaluate whether they should be suspended. The motivation is always the same: to limit the ideas people can choose to be exposed to in favor of others.
Google has basically added its terms of service to the First Amendment. A leaked document from the tech giant argues that, because of a variety of factors including the election of Donald Trump, what it dismissively calls the “American tradition” of free speech may no longer be viable. The report lays out how Google can serve as the world’s “Good Censor,” protecting us from harmful content and, by extension, dangerous behavior, like electing the wrong president again.
Google sees itself at the nexus of history, declaring, “Although people have long been racist, sexist, and hateful in many other ways, they weren’t empowered by the Internet to recklessly express their views with abandon.” Google is, for the first time in human history, in a position to do something about it. After all, via 90 percent market dominance, they “now control the majority of online conversations,” so the Internet is whatever they say it is.
We are approaching a time when the freedom to speak will no longer exist independent of the content of speech. What you’re allowed to say could depend on media’s opinion of how it will affect others, in this case, candidate Joe Biden. Maybe you like Joe, but do I really have to include here “but what about the next time they use this power, maybe against something you believe in?”
For those still muttering “it can’t happen here,” look how American tech companies are already employing their tools to serve the China market’s social control needs. Companies exist to make money. You can’t count on them past that. Handing over free speech rights to an entity whose core purpose has nothing to do with free speech means it will inevitably quash ideas when they conflict with profits. It just happens to be going your way right now and you don’t live in China.
Those who celebrate how @jack and Zuck can censor at will seem to believe they will always yield power in the way “we” want them to. And trading away a little free speech, especially that of an unfashionable tabloid like the NY Post seems reasonable compared to another four years of Trump. It makes sense to unabashedly mainstream unthought and censorship Because Trump. Never before have such a large number of Americans feared a politician more. Trump isn’t just against what you are for, he is someone literally out to kill you, via COVID, via some war—your life is in danger. He is not just bad, he is a pure strain of evil without goodness, like a pedophile.
Google first introduced censorship in the most well-intentioned way: to stop child predators. The Internet giant tweaked its search results to block sites it believed linked to child porn. It went on to do the same for terrorist sites, and sites that encouraged suicide. But Google can skew search results any way it wants. It knows that the higher an item appears on a list of search results, the more users will click on it. Placing links for one candidate above another in a rigged test search increased the undecided voters who chose that candidate by 12 percent. Burying an idea can have a similar effect; 21st century free speech is as much about finding an audience as it is about finding a place to speak. There will soon be no need to lock up dissident thinkers in some old-timey prison; impose new Terms of Service and they are effectively dead. As are their ideas.
The argument that Twitter, Facebook, and Google are private companies, that no one forces you to use their services, and in fact you are free to switch to MySpace, is an out-of-date attempt to justify end-runs around the First Amendment. Platforms like Twitter are the public squares of the 21st century and must be governed by the same principles or the First Amendment is in practical terms irrelevant.
Pretending a corporation with the reach to influence elections is just another company that sells stuff is to pretend the role of unfettered debate in a free society is outdated. These corporations understand their power. They feel morally justified using it. They have exercised it for Joe Biden. When that happens, elections can be stolen in real time. Just watch.
Peter Van Buren is banned for life from Twitter. He is also a 24-year State Department veteran, and the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan, and Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the 99 Percent.
“By the death of Mr. Calhoun,” wrote Henry Clay, eulogizing his dead Senate colleague, “one of the brightest luminaries has been extinguished in the political firmament.” An even greater rival of John C. Calhoun, Daniel Webster called him a “man of undoubted genius and of commanding talent.” Yet many, if not most, students of the American tradition believe they know better.
The latest casual dismissal of Calhoun’s political thought comes from Cameron Hilditch at National Review. Responding to Hunter DeRensis’ essay on Calhoun and counter-majoritarianism at The American Conservative, he informs readers not only that Calhoun was misguided on certain points; not only that his political philosophy was flawed in some way; but that he was a “Hegelian Jacobin” and “no one of sound mind and moral fiber . . . could possibly share Mr. DeRensis’s conclusion that [Calhoun] was ‘one of the first-rate minds of the nineteenth century,’ a man from whom conservatives today can ‘find guidance.’”
In addition to Clay and Webster, Hilditch will have to add several other luminaries to his list of those “not of sound mind”: Calhoun’s brilliance as a political theorist was also recognized by figures such as Orestes Brownson, John Stuart Mill, Lord Acton, and (as he acknowledges) Russell Kirk, who, even if they did not embrace every element of his thought, praised Calhoun’s defense of liberty, his theory of diffused political authority, and the ability of his “federal representative” government to provide for a robust form of popular rule.
To two scholars who have spent considerable time and energy studying Calhoun’s ideas, Mr. Hilditch’s assertions are frustrating not because this one essay is likely to result in any great shift of opinion, but because of how persistent the misrepresentations are, despite scholarship like our own, that has shown their inadequacy. For decades, warmed-over talking points of Harry Jaffa and the former Stalinist Richard Hofstadter have been uncritically circulated, distorting the insight of Calhoun’s intellectual legacy, from which conservatives should, indeed, be able to learn much. The persistence of these claims proves once again the wisdom of Clyde Wilson, the editor of Calhoun’s Papers, who has observed that “The literature [about Calhoun] does not so much progress as go round in circles.” At a time when conservatives are rethinking many key principles, perhaps this is an opportunity to recognize Calhoun’s insights anew.
Some of Hilditch’s points are hardly worth refuting, such has his tenuous linkage of Calhoun to the specifics of southern secession ordinances that took place a decade after his death (presumably because they both subscribed to a compact theory of the Constitution that was already well-established by the time Calhoun was a teenager). Nevertheless, other points, because of their persistence, are worth examining. We will allow Mr. DeRensis to speak for himself, if he so chooses, on the substance of his original essay, but we think it worthwhile to add our voices on some general points about Calhoun and his context, so that his place in the conservative pantheon can be more accurately assessed.
First is Mr. Hilditch’s claim that, unlike Calhoun, “The Founders permitted democratic majorities to decide questions of government policy so long as their decisions did not infringe upon . . . inalienable, individual rights.” Quote whatever Madison essay you like, the Constitution simply does not do this, as Calhoun himself ably demonstrated in his brilliant “Speech on the Veto Power.” To the consternation of today’s majoritarians, the Senate, by representing each state equally, could theoretically be held by a tiny fraction of the American population. The Electoral College incorporates the weight of each state’s senators into its allotment so that, as 2016 showed us, an Electoral College landslide is quite possible without a popular vote majority. Even the House of Representatives, divided as it is by state lines and district lines, does not reflect any national numerical majority. And of course, all three must concur on legislation.
Moreover, the method of adoption was not majoritarian: No state—even the tiniest—was forced into the Constitution without its own consent. And the Amendment process is obviously designed to thwart even persistent majorities, unless they have broad-based support across the states. As Calhoun put it, “Can facts more clearly illustrate the total disregard of the numerical majority?”
Second, somewhat shockingly, Mr. Hilditch believes Calhoun should be excised from conservatism for believing that rights are “claimed through membership in a community” (farewell, Burke), and for holding that the political and social state is mankind’s natural condition (arrivederci, Aristotle, au revoir, Cicero). For what it’s worth, he gets Calhoun right on this point—he was one of the greatest American exponents of a political philosophy rooted in mankind’s natural sociality, standing in impressive historical company. But by this account (and its influence is not insignificant), conservatism is now defined by adherence to the absolute, abstract, pre-political rights of man, perceived by Reason, which serve as the only legitimate limit to the power of the majority.
Who was the Jacobin, again?
But Mr. Hilditch gets Calhoun very wrong in his claim that this priority of human sociality means that “For Calhoun, the community has rights and privileges, not the individuals that make it up.” This is blatantly incorrect. Indeed, Calhoun’s Disquisition on Government makes the powerful argument that liberty, which “leaves each free to pursue the course he may deem best to promote his interest and happiness,” is the primary spur to the improvement of civilization and the development of mankind’s intellectual and moral faculties. The “groups, not individuals” canard surrounding Calhoun springs from his recognition that an organized society inevitably defines and refines the limits of liberty, and if the majority’s preferences are not checked by the organized and recognized minority, liberty and rights will inevitably be defined in the way that suits the majority interest. This does not, however, mean that individual liberty is absent.
The conservative tradition of Burke, Calhoun, Kirk and others was founded in a realism that recognized that neither individual nor communal liberty will last long if it is not rooted in the social consensus and constitutional institutions of a real community. This insight is, evidently, in great need of revival.
Third, Mr. Hilditch argues that Calhoun’s concurrent majority was influenced by Rousseau and reflects something like the latter’s “general will.” This is probably the most ludicrous of his claims, as even a cursory glance at the Disquisition reveals a strong antipathy to anything smacking of Rousseau.
Rousseau believed that understanding political life required a pre-political understanding of man; Calhoun believed man was a political and social animal. Rousseau’s general will emerged from absolute majoritarianism; Calhoun sought checks on the majority. Rousseau saw society as a monolith composed of rootless, identity-less, interest-less “citizens”; Calhoun sought a way to institutionalize and protect the differences within society. Rousseau’s general will was an avowedly simple regime, which saw evolved, complex constitutional institutions as amounting to “chains” on the will of the people; Calhoun explicitly rejected such “simple and absolute” regimes, preferring the “complex” institutions of the concurrent majority which develop along with a country’s history and practice.
Finally, Mr. Hilditch refers to Calhoun as a “Hegelian Jacobin.” Setting aside the painfully oxymoronic character of this formulation, Calhoun is the least Hegelian political thinker in the American political tradition. As we have noted, Calhoun, like Aristotle, St. Thomas, Burke, and the great pantheon of conservative thinkers, believed humankind was by nature social and political, and Hegel’s dramatic transition from a rather nebulous social state to an idealized political regime was an impossibility.
More importantly, Calhoun viewed a rightly ordered community as consisting of highly autonomous parts or divisions cooperating together for the welfare of the whole. The societal realm described in all of Calhoun’s writings should be understood as the extension of smaller community units, represented by individual states, who serve as examples of how the larger society could be organized and political authority diffused throughout an extensive regime. For Calhoun, the United States of America did not exist as an aggregate, only as assemblage of communities, ultimately forming states and eventually contributing to a union. Calhoun’s dream of popular rule is Hegel’s political nightmare.
So, was Calhoun’s thought simply a “post hoc rationalization of slavery”? Obviously, we would answer that question in the negative. A proof would require more than this essay can provide (though we have addressed this question, directly and indirectly, in our books). Calhoun did offer a moderate defense of slavery that was thoroughly mainstream for his day, viewing the slavery situation as part of a larger discussion of the evolving nature of Southern society. But it was neither the most important nor most consuming aspect of his political thought. In most of the great debates of his lifetime, including a myriad of concerns from nullification to slavery, Calhoun should be understood as a source of moderation amid seas of extremism. Because of Calhoun’s own complex views and long-standing regional tensions, some of his critics attempt to use slavery as a means of distracting students of Calhoun’s political thought from a more complete examination of his work and its continuing importance to American politics.
We would suggest that the interested reader make up his own mind on the question by picking up Calhoun’s Disquisition, in which slavery is never mentioned, with an open mind. While it rewards careful and repeated readings, it can also be read in an afternoon. We believe honest engagement with Calhoun’s ideas dispels this misunderstanding.
Calhoun was not perfect, and he unfortunately shared the misguided racial opinions of his time and place. But his political and constitutional theory is powerful and often convincing. It is also thoroughly conservative. Conservatives don’t need to make Calhoun their only star and compass, but the mental gymnastics required to excise him from the conservative tradition, as Mr. Hilditch shows, demand the distortion of his thought and the complete remaking of the tradition. Apparently, that’s a price some are willing to pay.
John Grove is associate editor of Law & Liberty and a former professor of political science. He is the author of John C. Calhoun’s Theory of Republicanism.
H. Lee Cheek, Jr., is Professor of Political Science and the former Dean at East Georgia State College, and a Senior Fellow of Alexander Hamilton Institute. He is also a United Methodist minister and former U.S. Army chaplain. His books include Calhoun and Popular Rule and Confronting Modernity, among others.
It’s happened again.
I was reading through the news of the day recently and came across an op-ed about the People’s Republic of China, which tried to understand the moves of the communist superstate in terms of the Eastern Zhou general Sunzi (Sun Tzu). The usual Sun apothegms were deployed; the PRC was portrayed as biding its time and gaining information about its enemies in order to strike at the hour of its own maximum advantage. Xi Jinping, it was alluded, must be flipping through the pages of the Art of War as he plots to take over the world.
And then, one day later, it was Confucius’ turn. This article was about Confucius and Marx, and why they would not see eye to eye in modern-day China. Again, there were the usual pithy Confucianisms, and the usual attempts to build an essay around a latticework of Spring and Autumn Period chestnuts.
I shouldn’t have been surprised by this. It is actually rare to find an article about the PRC that does not contain at least a smattering of China tropes. Most essays about China are, indeed, long marches through the Sino-clichés. Black cat white cat, a thousand flowers blooming, thousand-mile journeys beginning with one step. Bonus points if you can work in a pun about Peking duck.
Look. We need to stop talking about the PRC as though it were burnished with the classical glories of China’s past. We need to stop filigreeing the actions of the Chinese Communist Party with even the catchy aphorisms of its most famous leader, the guy in the crush-cap whose Mona Lisa mug surveys the Square where the CCP sometimes likes to machine-gun people who ask for the right to vote. There is nothing classical, or even communist-chic, about the Chinese government in 2020. It is run by a madman whose program for world domination has nothing whatsoever to do with China’s past. Please, stop validating the feelings of communist lunatics by lumping them together with other lunatics from the now-hazy classical, or even party-mythical, past.
Let’s get this very important thing straight about Xi Jinping. He doesn’t read books. Playboy, max. But Confucius? Sunzi? Are you kidding me? Xi has zero of the literary chops of Mao, zero of even the opera-fanaticism of Jiang Qing. Xi probably thinks the Thucydides trap, if he’s even heard of it, is an NBA move, and that the Five Relationships is a kind of aphrodisiac. (To be fair, I’ve seen photographs of Mrs. Xi—Jinping needs all the help he can get.)
I would be willing to bet a Shanghai-pirated Grey’s Anatomy DVD that Xi Jinping has never been in a library in his life. He is a straight-up dictator and it is essential that we stop essentializing him, brushing him into the background of the Chinese past in a way that would make Edward Said gasp like a startled pasha. Xi is as Chinese as the Wuhan virus—born in China, but designed to kill Chinese and then everyone else in the world once that’s finished. Xi has hijacked China, and it isn’t for the purpose of teaching Chinese history. The PRC is a parasite on the Chinese past, not an outgrowth of it. The more we calculate the CCP in the language of Chinese culture, the more we legitimate a tyrant. The sensible thing to do is to stop Sunzi-ing Xi.
As Said would say, let’s seriously drop the orientalism. We don’t analyze the gilets jaunes by comparing them to the Cathars. We don’t couch discussions of Narendra Modi in terms of the Bhagavad Gita. Did anyone seriously turn to their highlighted undergrad copy of The Iliad to figure out why the Greeks keep getting into money troubles with the rest of Europe? No. So why in the world do we think that every time we talk about Xi Jinping we have to endue him with the intellect of Mencius, the thunderous cunning of Xu Yuanzhang? Xi is not Qianlong. He is just your standard-issue gangster. Please. This is silly and it needs to stop.
The People’s Republic of China, let us remember, has been to Confucianism what Democrats have been to Baltimore. The most popular Confucianist in China today is Harvard professor Michael Sandel. Why? The communists wiped out all of his would-be competitors decades ago. It would be easier for Pope Francis to pretend to be a Catholic than for Xi to pretend to be a devotee of Master Kung. Xi and his ilk come to bust up a tradition and install a protection racket in its place. If you were having a conversation with Al Capone, would you begin by discussing Juvenal?
The regime the CCP has built in China is a bubbling, peeling mess of corruption engendered precisely by the anti-Confucian strengths of communism everywhere, namely graft, murder, and weaponized fear. The PRC government is filled with people who were able to rise to the top of this pile of knife-fighters. These are not folks who spent their youths learning how to craft an eight-legged essay. If you need a degree to get ahead in the CCP, then, just like in Hollywood, you simply send your man to go out and buy one. If you need a good grade, then you bribe the professor, threaten to kidnap his kid, or just slip him a fat envelope and bid him good day.
What you don’t do is read books and think thoughts about them. Nobody in power in the PRC today has any non-laughable claim to scholarship. Confucius would not have deigned to have Xi Jinping cart away his nightsoil. That’s no joke. So why in the world do we keep speaking of the Chinese government as though it were the legitimate heir to the Chinese past? Even Qin Shi Huangdi would scoff at Xi—where’s your terra cotta army, Pooh?
ISIS is not the custodian of the Umayyad Caliphate. Mussolini was not Caesar Augustus. The Nazis invented the whole business about their ties to the Teutonic Knights. And Sapa Inca or Tupac Amaru, I am sorry to say, have not been very well served by Marxists shooting up cities. Just as we don’t learn much about Boris Johnson by reading Jane Austen (Beatrix Potter, maybe?), we don’t learn much about Xi Jinping by reading the Analects. Not even the Little Red Book does Xi justice. The analogue is Dr. Evil, or someone equally cartoonishly maladjusted.
It is a measure of the success of communist propaganda, and a true testimony to the marvels of Chinese culture heretofore, that anyone thinks of history when thinking of ways to talk about the CCP. But China is a thoroughly modern horror, and Xi Jinping is Pol Pot with Chinese characteristics. We need to rectify the names and see China for what it is today: the manager of a gulag, the enslaver of more than a billion souls, and the overseer of the One Belt, One Road plan, which, totally un-Sunzi-like, is a naked power grab and world-historical imperialist overreach.
Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.
The post Sunzi and Sensibility: Stop Pretending Xi Jinping is Confucius appeared first on The American Conservative.
The question of whether American taxpayers should make reparations to the descendants of black slaves has once again been raised, this time with California Democrats leading the charge. On September 30, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 3121, which creates a nine-member task force to determine what the Golden State owes its African-American residents for past wrongs and suggest specific remedies by a year from next June.
The points made by both sides are by now familiar. Those arguing in favor of reparations say black Americans have never been compensated for their ancestors’ forced removal from their homelands and subsequent servitude in the plantation South. Opponents are troubled by any legislation that might benefit those African Americans not descended from slaves while, at the same time, penalizing those whites whose ancestors either came to the United States after the Civil War or fought bravely against the Confederacy.
Unfortunately, one critical fact is always ignored whenever the issue of reparations resurfaces—namely, that any financially expressible amends the country might owe its black citizens was made long ago. In January 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared an “unconditional War on Poverty in America,” a war that by 2015 had cost the nation more than $22 trillion, or three times what we’d previously spent on all shooting wars.
It is true that President Johnson did not name his program “slavery reparations,” which in the mid-’60s would have been a non-starter with the so-called “Dixiecrats” in his own party. But as he soon made clear in a 1965 speech at Howard University, his primary goal was to benefit the descendants of African slaves, and not just with equality of opportunity but equality of results. “So, it is the glorious opportunity of this generation to end the one huge wrong of the American Nation,” Johnson told the audience.
Yet in the years since President Johnson’s 1965 address, the poverty rate for African Americans has fallen a few points in good times, risen a few points in bad, but on average remained essentially unchanged. (All the more remarkable given that the poverty rate for blacks plunged by half in the 15 years before the War on Poverty.) Today only 26 percent of blacks ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, compared with the national average of 36 percent.
But the failure of Johnson’s attempt to make up for the unfair historical treatment of American blacks was not an indicator of whether sufficient money had been raised for that purpose, only of how effectively it was spent. The villains of that time were not the taxpayers of every color who allowed themselves, as well as their children and grandchildren, to be put on the hook for reparations. The blame properly falls on the four groups of intermediaries most involved in shaping the War on Poverty.
The first of these groups consisted of the politicians, policymakers, and bureaucrats who channeled the anti-poverty funding into a complex administrative overlay, involving over 100 programs, which ended up benefitting themselves far more than poor blacks. “Feeding the horses to feed the sparrows,” as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan sarcastically described it. Michael Harrington, a prominent white socialist of the time, made so much in fees from his own involvement in this top-down approach that pangs of conscience finally drove him into psychotherapy.
Even as it was becoming clear that bureaucratic regulation was probably doing more harm than good—giving housing subsidies only to single-parent families (effectively discouraging marriage) and disincentivizing work—the nearly incomprehensible complexity of federal programs meant that blacks still had to access their benefits through case workers. As one angry welfare mother said to the Washington Post in 1966, “They give you freedom with one hand and take it away with the other. They give you a little money and they treat you as if you were in jail.”
The second group of self-serving intermediaries consisted of all the university social scientists who prospered during the 1960s and ‘70s by producing thick reports and demonstration projects to confirm whatever their government sponsors wanted to hear. As John F. Cogan documents in his 2017 history of federal entitlement programs, The High Cost of Good Intentions, all the seemingly scientific studies of that time, which purported to show how expanding welfare programs would make black Americans more independent, were consistently wrong: “There was, in fact, precious little evidence to support the contention that social welfare services would prevent welfare dependency or help existing recipients achieve self-sufficiency.”
The third group to siphon off America’s slavery reparations were the opportunistic attorneys unintentionally empowered by the centerpiece of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act (EOA). Written to financially incentivize urban and rural minorities to form community action groups, which, in turn, could help local welfare recipients become self-sufficient, the law was soon exploited by legal services lawyers and related professionals to do the very opposite: sue the government for even more dependency-creating benefits.
As early as 1965, Newark’s Hugh Addonizio, Los Angeles’ Sam Yorty, and other mayors tried to warn Washington that most of the leaders of these groups were simply building profitable personal fiefdoms. Chicago mayor Richard Daley noted that the activists funded by his city’s community action agency read “like a fundraising committee for the Democrat Party,” while Congressman Adam Clayton Powell said Johnson’s War on Poverty had manufactured “giant fiestas of political patronage.”
Unfortunately, the political reaction to this growing corruption turned out to be just as crippling to black America as what it was trying to stop. Realizing that minorities needed a voice separate from the community activists posing as their champions, states around the country began funding non-profit organizations to represent the interests of the major minority groups in their regions: most typically for blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans.
As sensible as this arrangement first seemed, it left the newly created non-profits at the mercy of a fourth self-serving intermediary, local public employee unions, which especially in blue states could influence how much the legislature annually donated to various charities. The result was that policies like school choice—extremely popular with African-American families but doggedly opposed by public school teachers—were rarely endorsed by any state-funded or union-subsidized group supposedly set up to look out for blacks. At the same time, these civil rights groups were expected to back union efforts to keep Washington’s War on Poverty money flowing through local welfare bureaucracies, regardless of any negative effects.
That today’s black Americans feel cheated out President Johnson’s promised reparations is understandable, but it was not by today’s taxpayer, who remains a co-signer on the multi-trillion-dollar debt to fund the War on Poverty. Their rightful grievance is with the four groups that pretended to be faithful stewards of the money raised, while primarily serving their own interests: government bureaucrats and allied policymakers, academic researchers, legal services lawyers, and public employee union leaders.
The fact that the new California law encourages its task force to define reparations very broadly—as public works projects or job training programs, for example—suggests that it too has been crafted by the same opportunistic intermediaries. As the great biologist Charles Darwin famously noted, if you want to know who the real predators are, look for the best camouflaged.
Dr. Lewis Andrews was executive director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy at Trinity College from 1999 to 2009. He is author of the new book Living Spiritually in the Material World (Fidelis Books).
The post Slavery Reparations? We Already Tried Them and They Didn’t Work appeared first on The American Conservative.
Some analysts have recently pointed to a “cold war” between the Turkey-Qatar partnership and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)-Saudi Arabia-Egypt bloc. Whether or not this term accurately describes the growing friction between the Middle East’s two political poles, such rising temperatures are further polarizing the Arab world. Against the backdrop of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) crisis’ regionalization and internationalization since mid-2017, this “Cold War” continues exacerbating regional frictions.
Such division is quite evident in the Maghreb, especially in Libya. Algeria, however, has not suffered from such polarization stemming from this cold war. Algeria’s leadership, to its credit, has impressively prevented regional geopolitics from dividing their country or pressuring its foreign policy into aligning with one bloc or another.
Algeria’s “Sovereigntist Governing Ideology”
Algeria views itself as a regional heavyweight with its own principles. The idea of other countries attempting to order Algeria around does not sit well with officials in Algiers. Due to natural gas wealth, history, and ideology, Algeria is capable of fortressing itself from foreign pressures, including those from the GCC.
Bestowed with enormous natural gas and oil wealth, Algeria has not needed financial support from GCC states that would come with political strings attached. This position contrasts with poorer Arab states such as Egypt which have grown dependent on Gulf monarchies and have foreign policies reflecting their economic dependency on GCC members.
Algeria’s history as a French colony and its bloody war for independence (1954-62) have made the concept of sovereignty sacrosanct to virtually all Algerians. Algerians are sensitive about preventing NATO countries, chiefly France, from intervening in their internal affairs, as well as other countries across the “Global South.” For example, whereas in August roughly 60,000 Lebanese signed a petition calling for their country to return to its former status as a French colony, such a petition in Algeria would have difficulty finding any signatures.
To understand what Algeria represents on the international stage, one must appreciate the importance of the following concepts and institutions to Algeria: de-colonization, anti-imperialism, pan-Africanism, Arab nationalism, secularism, socialism, and the Non-Alignment Movement. Algeria’s foreign policy principles have not changed over time, even when domestic, regional, and international circumstances have evolved. A recent case in point has been President Abdelmadjid Tebboune’s statement about Algeria’s commitment to not formalizing diplomatic relations with Israel unless and until a Palestinian state is established with its capital in East Jerusalem—a marked contrast from the UAE and Bahrain, which normalized ties with Tel Aviv in August/September 2020. Moreover, this Algerian worldview helps explain the country’s opposition to NATO members’ interventions in Libya, Mali, Syria, and elsewhere. The ways in which Algiers has responded to both the blockade of Qatar and the Libyan conflict are highly informative of how Algeria’s “sovereigntist governance ideology” influences its foreign policy when it comes to Arab-Arab conflicts.
A Friend to All in the Divided Gulf
Algeria’s interest in maintaining cooperative and working relations with countries on both sides of the GCC crisis has been a factor driving Algiers’ neutral stance regarding the Arabian feud. “It has adopted a rigorously neutral stance vis-a-vis this dispute, which is consistent with its foreign policy of respect towards the national sovereignty of other countries,” explained the International Crisis Group’s Riccardo Fabiani. “From Algiers’ perspective, this is a matter best left to the countries involved and there is no need for Algeria to step in and take sides.”
Algeria sees its relationship with each Arab Gulf monarchy as special and worth preserving. Trade, banks, and ports have made Algeria close to the UAE, as did the fact that Abdelaziz Bouteflika was exiled in Dubai during the 1980s. Cultural and religious figures have created a special relationship between Algeria and Saudi Arabia. Journalists and academics have established strong Algerian-Qatari links with many Algerians working prominent roles in Al Jazeera and other Doha-based media platforms. Religion heavily shapes Algeria’s relations with Oman as both countries are home to many Ibadi Muslims. Scientific research has strengthened Algerian-Kuwaiti ties. Like Tunisia, Algeria wants as many GCC states as possible to be investors in the Algerian economy.
Although fully determined to maintain neutrality in the Gulf dispute, Algeria understands both sides’ perspectives. Algiers sympathizes with Abu Dhabi’s anti-Islamist agenda, which is largely an outcome of the North African country’s “black decade” of the 1990s. At the same time, Algeria is also sensitive to Qatar’s struggle to defend its national sovereignty. Arguably, however, Algeria’s decision to maintain economic and diplomatic ties with Doha was a ‘pro-Qatar’ stance. As Fabiani opined, “[Algeria’s] position of neutrality has been lauded by the Qataris and it is legitimate to suspect that the Emiratis have found it less appealing.”
Dr. William Lawrence, a Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at American University, maintains that Algeria’s relations with the Gulf in general has suffered from the GCC crisis, even if the Arabian feud has not impacted Algeria in any major ways, at least compared to neighboring countries like Libya. Since mid-2017, Algeria had to “transition from dealing with a growing, relatively united, and economically robust Gulf, to a Gulf region in which outside states had to choose between one country or another. This has been further compounded by the COVID-19 economic contraction.”
In maintaining neutrality vis-à-vis the Gulf crisis, Algeria has faced some problems. For neutral states such as Algeria, the feud “strained relations with all the Gulf countries because they weren’t picking sides,” as Dr. Lawrence explained. This had repercussions for Algeria’s foreign policy in relation to Libya, Syria, Yemen, and others on the international stage. Given its long border with Algeria, Libya’s civil war amounts to the Middle East’s cold war landing on Algeria’s doorstep. Thus, the outcome of this nightmarish conflict is extremely important to Algiers.
When Your Neighbor is on Fire: War in Libya
In Libya, where a civil war has been raging since 2014, Algeria is also keen to maintain a certain balance that is consistent with the Maghrebi country’s ideology and historic foreign-policy traditions. Algiers fears how certain actors—chiefly Turkey and the UAE—are pursuing regional hegemonic ambitions by intervening in Libya.
Algeria and Turkey share an interest in the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) not falling to General Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Consequently, Algiers initially had some sympathy for Ankara’s militarized agenda in Libya soon after Turkish military intervention began intensifying in late 2019. Nonetheless, Algeria has grown more fearful of Turkey’s “neo-Ottoman” agenda in Libya and concerned about the Turkish military presence stretching further throughout its neighbour. “[Officials in Algiers] are wary of Turkey establishing a permanent presence in Libya, and Ankara’s presence in the Al Wuttya airbase, near the border with Algeria, is a source of concern… they fear a new military escalation in central Libya,” explained Fabiani.
That said, some experts argue that while Algeria is opposed to all foreign powers’ military intervention in Libya, Algiers is more against the UAE’s and (potentially) Egypt’s interventions than Turkey’s. According to Dr. Lawrence, this has to do with the fact that Algeria ranks its threat perceptions in the following order: 1) Global terrorist and criminal groups such as Islamic State franchises in the Sahel and al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb; 2) Morocco; 3) France; 4) Any actor aligned with France, including Egypt, Haftar, and the UAE; and 5) Turkey.
Moreover, in light of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s talk about Sirte being Cairo’s “red line” and his threats to unleash an Egyptian military intervention to push back against Turkish-backed, GNA-allied militias, Algeria has been deeply concerned. This is largely due to North Africa’s balance of power possibly shifting in ways that would undermine Algerian interests. Fabiani said that “Algeria fears an Egyptian intervention, which could eliminate that sort of ‘buffer’ that has traditionally separated these two regional heavyweights for decades.”
The 64,000-dollar question pertains to a debate taking place within Algeria today about whether the government should have the constitutional right to deploy national armed forces outside its borders. This is an intense debate going on between elite figures as well as citizens throughout society. That this question is so controversial speaks volumes about the extent to which Algerians adhere to the sovereigntist governance ideology but also, more practically, the real threat that continuation of the Libyan civil war poses to Algeria’s national security.
An Arab Outlier
In the Arab League, Algeria is an outlier. Globally, the country is a geopolitical rarity. While many Arab states with hegemonic aspirations operate in certain ways that Algeria never would, the Algerians have proven adept at sticking to well-articulated international positions with firm sensibilities that shape Algiers’s geo-strategic thinking.
Over many decades, international dynamics have changed, such as the Soviet Union’s collapse and the end of the Cold War in 1991, the terrorist attacks of September 2001, and the “Arab Spring” a decade later. Yet Algeria did not change its principles even as many other Arab states did so, either opportunistically or from positions of weakness. In today’s rapidly changing world, and in a Middle East that’s growing increasingly polarized, Algeria’s foreign policy vision remains clear, principled, and ideologically coherent.
Giorgio Cafiero (@GiorgioCafiero) is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics (@GulfStateAnalyt), a Washington, DC-based geopolitical risk consultancy.
Aicha El Alaoui is an intern at Gulf State Analytics.
The post The Arab Outlier: Algeria’s Geostrategic Sensibilities appeared first on The American Conservative.
As the elections fall upon us, most people are focused on who wins, Republicans or Democrats. That is an important question, since a Democratic victory would bring a serious assault on freedom of thought and expression. What you see on campuses is what the cultural Marxists want to force on society as a whole. “Cancel” is the new synonym for “liquidate.”
There is nonetheless a more portentous question facing our country: do politics stay within the banks of the political system or do they overflow those banks and inundate daily life? The answer to that question may lead to another: do we remain the United States or will the astonishing disintegration of the Soviet Union be followed by the even more astonishing disintegration of our own country?
Why are we faced with these questions? Because all around the world the state is in decline. The decline is steeper in some places than in others, but it is occurring almost everywhere. Why? Because many of the elites that run states have disconnected themselves from the rest of the country. Their culture and values are hostile to the beliefs of their non-elite countrymen. They suck money and power out of the rest of the country and use them solely for their own benefit. And they care about only one thing: remaining the elite. These behaviors generate a growing crisis of legitimacy for the state the elite controls. People come to see the state as a racket.
When people give up on the state, politics flow out of the system and into the streets. We have seen that this summer, coming from the Left. Even with Mr. Trump as President, the state’s response has been supine. Monuments to people’s ancestors and heroes are torn down. Everything “politically incorrect” is renamed. The Right watches angrily as business and political “leaders” grovel in the dirt before cultural Marxism. Their legitimacy becomes as thin as their courage.
At what point does the Right give up on the state? That is likely to depend on what happens to the economy. Will it recover quickly in a V-shaped or “swoosh” fashion or will we find ourselves in a second Great Depression? The elite is doing its best to create the latter by keeping people so terrified of the coronavirus that even though businesses re-open, no customers come. The elite’s goal is to defeat President Trump, and they calculate their usual grasp on the levers of power and money will save them amidst a general economic collapse. That may be optimistic.
If the Left continues to move politics into the streets, the Right will at some point do the same. That will come sooner if much of the Right is unemployed. A second term for President Trump will to some extent act as a safety valve for the Right. But it will also push the alt-left to become more violent. With the police in major cities neutered by the politicians, the Right will counter, if only to defend itself and its symbols. At that point, ol’ man river overflows his banks and everyone is caught up in the flood.
The flood may take the shape of Fourth Generation war, war fought by people who are not soldiers and whose primary loyalty is to something other than the state. Race would be one such loyalty, religion another, region or local state (e.g., Ohio or Alabama) a third. Ideology would motivate many, and lots of young men would fight for lack of anything better to do. Places such as Libya and Syria would be re-created on American soil.
It is bizarre that we even have to think about this scenario. But the Left’s violence and the state’s weak response to it means such a disaster is conceivable. The state arose to establish and maintain order, safety of persons and property. A state that fails to do so will fall. If its people are fortunate, a new state that can do the job will arise quickly, although it may be an authoritarian state.
As the Chinese say, with millennia of bitter experience, better 100 years of tyranny than one day of anarchy. No conservative can want disorder, much less state failure. The Left, if it has any remaining grasp on reality, should know it will lose a war with the Right and lose it quickly. Its strength is in cities, and cities cannot feed themselves. As Mao said, take the countryside and the cities will fall.
It is not too late for Left and Right to accept the need to live with each other and work out ways to do so. A renewed federalism is the most promising, with some states politically and culturally left, others right. Anyone who did not like it where he was could move.
In the meantime, let me offer a morsel of advice to the Left: it is time to stop baby from playing with matches and dynamite.
William S. Lind is the author, with Lt. Col. Gregory A. Thiele, of the 4th Generation Warfare Handbook.
The Man Who Ran Washington, the Life and Times of James A. Baker III, Peter Baker and Susan Glasser, Doubleday, 585 pages.
Dick Cheney was angry.
In February of 2016, Antonin Scalia, a legend of “movement” American conservatism — and an icon of perhaps its great success (remaking America’s courts) — had suddenly passed. He was Cheney’s friend. But for Republican Party elders like the former vice president, there would be little time to savor a life’s triumphs. There was a sense it was all coming apart— notwithstanding a life’s end for a giant.
“You have the leading candidate for the Republican nomination attacking President [George W.] Bush and you and the decisions made by the Bush administration,” Fox News anchor Bret Baier reminded Cheney. “You heard at the debate Saturday Donald Trump accusing Bush and his team of purposely lying the country into war in Iraq: ‘I will tell you they lied, they said there were weapons of mass destruction, there were none. They knew there were none.’”
Appearing on television, Cheney, the retired shadow president, looked pained.
“He sounds like a liberal Democrat ,” Cheney told Baier. “He’s wrong. And I think he’s deliberately promoting those views in order to advance his political interest.” Trump had also gone further, claiming the Bush administration had been asleep at the switch on the morning of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. “As soon as we were hit on 9/11 — I know a little about it — I was in the White House bunker all that day. … I didn’t see Donald Trump there.”
When Trump triumphed four years ago and was then inaugurated, Cheney remarked of his notorious “American carnage” address: it was “not a speech I would have given.” While onlookers can review the tape themselves (just as with the Zapruder film), Cheney’s former boss, President George W. Bush, is reputed to have told Hillary Clinton of the speech, “Well that was some weird s**t.” Clinton has since confirmed as much.
And yet, by all rights, Cheney had voted for Donald Trump. Earlier in the year, he said as much. He broke news in September 2016 by joining (at the time) painful ranks of GOP officials who declined to endorse the Manhattan mogul but who also would grimly concede to anyone who asked that they would vote “for the nominee” of their party, as they always had. The only previous, living Republican nominee for president to vote for — and endorse — Trump in 2016 was Bob Dole. Trump exhausted both Presidents Bush, and infamously toiled with John McCain and Mitt Romney.
But beneath the surface lingered an anxiety for many in the old guard, one that remains today as Americans again vote on the question of the White House.
For some, there is a sense that refusing to vote for Trump means bolting from the party altogether— especially now that Trump is president. Even trenchant critics of Trump’s — such as Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who this week reportedly decried the president as dictator-coddling and white-supremacist-curious as well as a secret Evangelical-hater — have been loath to explicitly declare they’re not voting for the man. Though Sasse is a young man, he has a pedigree of an older one, with an armory of Ivy League degrees and the favor of the party’s Reaganite donor set. He was once touted as a future president — and still occasionally is — but there is a sense his star has faded, at least as long as the Trump supernova burns. And the fear for Sasse and others, is that to renounce Trump entirely, even at this late hour, is to risk being cast out of paradise.
This instinct, however, elides some facts. Trump, known to be flagrantly petty, nonetheless did not exactly form his first cabinet based on loyalty, to the chagrin of Trump’s nascent, nationalist and populist movement. Rex Tillerson, John Kelly, James Mattis — these are center-right figures of whom it is entirely unknown if they voted for Trump in 2016. It is not known whether one or two of them even voted for his direct opponent, Clinton. Yet, in the early days of the Trump administration, they were his secretary of State, chief of staff and secretary of Defense, quite arguably the three most coveted positions in Washington outside the presidency itself.
Cheney and another figure, James A. Baker III, would know this.
Both men at times have occupied these vaunted positions. Cheney was chief of staff to Gerald Ford, and secretary of Defense to George H.W. Bush. Baker was secretary of State for the elder Bush, as well as later his chief of staff, as he had been for his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. A generation ago, in the heyday for both these figures, the idea that it would be unknown if Cheney had voted for Ford, or George H.W. Bush, or the president whose ticket he engineered (George W. Bush), would have been absurd.
There have been rumors about other figures before. In Barry Gewen’s new biography of Henry Kissinger, it’s revealed Richard Nixon’s former national security advisor has privately mused that he had played both sides so well that he would have been in the same role in the administration of Nixon’s rival, Hubert Humphrey. But Kissinger, realist eminence grise, is perhaps a uniquely cross-dressing figure. For decades, the old adage about America’s two parties, that Democrats fall in love, and Republicans fall in line, seemed to hold inside the palace walls, as well.
For a court figure like James Baker, even a retired, ninety-year-old one, the prospect of not being an inside man appears to weigh heavily. That, at least, is what is revealed in a sprawling new biography from New York Times reporter Peter Baker (no relation to the former secretary of State) and his spouse, New Yorker correspondent Susan Glasser. They say he will vote for Trump.
Peter Baker likely knows better than most anyone of the breakdown in the currency of loyalty among Republicans.
He profiled Bush and Cheney in the best book on the duo, Days of Fire. Baker reported on how Cheney parlayed service to George H.W. Bush to the inner sanctum with George W. Bush— and to co-president status, to the 43rd president’s critics, and perhaps on same days, Cheney himself. Baker says that’s mostly chatter, but what he profiled most was the lack of it: how Cheney’s relationship with Bush would largely collapse in the second term, with little notoriety. These were the days, the 2000s, in which feuds between friends were not aired in tweet, or when differing members of the same party didn’t routinely rebuke their rivals’ characters in leaked recordings, as Sasse recently did. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, now one of Trump’s closest allies on the Hill, once said of the 45th president: “I think Putin pays” Trump. The impression has dogged the Trump White House. But Dick Cheney never said he thought George W. Bush lied America into Iraq.
In a 2008 dramatization of Baker’s integral role in the 2000 Florida recount — insiders generally say it was Baker who sealed the deal for Bush — Baker, played by Tom Wilkinson, recounts how he even got into politics. Once actually a Democrat, Wikinson’s Baker says “my wife passed away, cancer. … She was too young. A very close friend of mine, happened to be a Republican, was running for the Senate, and told me to come and work on his campaign to my mind off the grief. … He just didn’t want to see me sad all the time.” That’s a good friend, an aide shoots back. “Sure is,” Baker says, gesturing to a picture of the 41st president.
There is little to dispute such portrayals of history in this weighty new book. James Baker has had differences with his party over the years. But he has largely aired them privately. Far more than ideology, for men like Baker, it’s about power. But it’s also about friendship.
In power, the friends George H.W. Bush and Baker would come to view Israel, for instance, warily in a way their successors would not (namely, Cheney). This view was formed out of a joint impression of once-Israeli ambassador to the United States, Benjamin Netanyahu. Further, Baker and Glasser report that James Baker is still tortured by what he sees as the crucible mistake of recent Republican rule, the war in Iraq. But he never allowed that view let the doors of power to truly close on him. As Baker and Glasser write of Baker’s famous 2002 New York Times op-ed urging a more cautious route on Iraq: “If there were any hard feelings toward Baker in the White House, they did not last long. Shortly after the invasion, Bush began turning to him for special assignments.”
In those days, private, potentially controversial views far more rarely escaped filter. Those that did were the subject of absolute scandal.
Baker insists all he ever said was “Screw them, they don’t vote for us,” of a disagreement with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that was reported in far less sparing terms— and with different language. One can just imagine the tweets today, even the potential cancellation, of a revered statesman. “It was a political comment,” Baker told Baker and Glasser. “Not an anti-Semetic comment, not a slur.”
In the final judgement, Baker says his views on Trump are shaped largely by the need for sound, Republican management of the economy— and the imperative that the project of remaking the courts be continued. Baker flirted with eventually going Biden during the former Delaware senator’s centrist triumph in the Democratic primary— only to see the former vice president move left during the general election. In the end, Trump’s signature domestic achievement has been a landmark tax cut. And Trump is about to install his third Supreme Court justice. In his twilight years, Baker might not have as many friends as he once did, especially in Washington. But for the retired man of state, the path forward — to his critics, that of raw power — shines brighter than ever.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in German at Nachdenkseiten.
The Armenian claim to Nagorno-Karabakh
The Armenians, who lost 90% of their settlement area to Turkey after the genocide of 1915-1922, have a right to protect the little land in the Lower Caucasus that they still have left. This includes Nagorno-Karabakh, which has been inhabited by Armenians since 2,500 years ago, when the Turks rode through the steppes of Central Asia as nomads and the Germans lived in primitive wooden huts.
The magnificent monasteries in this landscape are eloquent testimony to the ancient Armenian history. Unlike in Kosovo or in the neighboring Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhchivan, no massive ethnic shifts in favor of the Turkish or Muslim side have occurred in Nagorno-Karabakh over the centuries.
From the perspective of international law, the initial period of the Karabakh conflict is not that of the disintegration of the Soviet Union around 1990, resulting in massacres (as in 1915-1917, primarily of Armenians), the Nagorno-Karabakh War (resulting in a large number of displaced persons on both sides), and the declaration of independence of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, but rather the early 1920s, and especially 1923. The annexation of Nagorno-Karabakh by Azerbaijan in that year was pushed forward by the then-Commissioner for the Nationalities of the Soviet Union, the Georgian Josef Vissarionovich Stalin.
Among Stalin’s motives were dubious promises as well as unfair treaties with Turkey, with which Moscow had already betrayed the Armenians since the Armenian-Turkish war of 1920 in the aftermath of the German-imposed peace of Brest-Litovsk in 1917, and his calculation that both republics and the peoples of Armenians and Azeris, ethnic Turks, would fight against each other forever through the unresolved conflict, thus making it easier for Moscow to govern. This approach of divide-and-rule by attaching individual territories to the states of their mortal enemies had also been pursued elsewhere in the Soviet Union, as in the case of Ossetia, which had declared independence from Georgia in 1920, or in the Fergana Valley with the Uzbek-populated city of Osh, which was annexed to Kyrgyzstan.
For Azerbaijan, the Stalinist annexation of 1923 cannot give rise to any claim under international law to the Armenian-populated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris who were driven out of the semi-military villages around the Armenian mountainous region during the Nagorno-Karabakh War, which were built after 1923, obviously do have a right to return. Also, an exchange of territory not belonging to Nagorno-Karabakh, which was occupied by Armenians, is rightly the subject of negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia. But a reintegration of Nagorno-Karabakh into the state of Azerbaijan cannot be a matter of debate from the perspective of international law.
The role of the West
So why does the West, whose governments are dominated by lawyers, not recognize the clear legal position in favor of the Armenian claim over Nagorno-Karabakh and defend a Stalinist injustice?
The answer, as almost always when international law is broken without hesitation, is geopolitics: the political situation that arose from the secession of Nagorno-Karabakh is now being used by Washington and London, as well as their followers in Berlin, to keep the conflicts in the Caucasus in general boiling and to attack Moscow through its proxies in Ankara and Baku. The economic issue is oil and gas pipelines north and south of the Greater Caucasus. It is about the great east-west geopolitical axis that runs through Tbilisi and Baku in the middle of Halford Mackinder’s heartland of geopolitics, to Central Asia, and intersects in the Caucasus with the north-south axis between Moscow, Tehran and Baghdad.
Any strengthening of Armenia, no matter how small and insignificant the territorial changes, is in the way, even if the current president in Yerevan stands for a political rapprochement of the country to the West. Whoever drives the few kilometers from there to the beautiful monastery of Khor Virap stands in the middle of this geopolitical conflict on a border between Armenia and Turkey, which is more impenetrable than the inner-German border of 1961-1989 ever was—with orders to shoot, but without any border traffic and with mutual total blockade. The Armenians can only look longingly at their holy mountain, Ararat, or further north at their old capital Ani, both of which are on Turkish territory—they cannot go there. That this is and remains so is politically desired in the West.
I can confirm this personally because I know the attitude first-hand, especially from London circles. A decade ago, after the Kosovo war, which led to a result not recognized by Serbia, I wrote a commentary in which I proposed a ‘Kosovo-Karabakh exchange,’ i.e. a reconciliation of interests between the Turkish Muslim and Slavic Orthodox sides, extended to the non-Slavic areas of the Caucasus, through the exchange of disputed areas in several places. Such exchanges, with the goal of a lasting peace, have a long diplomatic tradition. They are an economic necessity for the countries concerned. Serbia and Kosovo have now understood this and in the last few years, 15 years after the war, have made great strides in negotiations on the exchange of territories.
The answer, which came at that time from the London journal The Economist, which can be called without offense the mouthpiece of the British government and its geopoliticians in the military and secret services, was an article that can be summarized in one word: NO. It was written by an editor who comes from a high-ranking British military family and who also personally informed me of his rejection. And the current response from NATO and the EU to the advanced negotiations with Serbia and Kosovo is, as we know, also a NO.
So the Azerbaijani-Armenian conflict could have been resolved decades ago by simple diplomatic means, which Prince Bismarck already mastered at the Berlin Conference of 1878 that partitioned the Balkans. But there is obviously no interest in the West in making this possible. The victims are the people in Armenia and Azerbaijan, who are inundated with false ‘mediation’ formats such as the Minsk Group which do not produce real peace solutions, and who continue to be betrayed in the backrooms with arms deals and political alliances that instigate tensions instead of making peace. This goes as far as the absurdity that Israel, the country where the survivors of the Holocaust found a home, is now the main supplier of weapons to Azerbaijan, which uses these weapons to attack the Armenian survivors of another genocide.
The abuse of Turkey
Turkey, which is coordinating Azerbaijan’s attacks on Armenian Karabakh’s territory militarily and thus actively intervening because the Azerbaijani military had proved incapable in the past and had always been beaten by the Armenians, is once again an aggressor in the current crisis. It should not be overlooked though that the sparkling nationalism and above all Islamism that drives Turkish President Erdogan to attack Christian Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh is the result of a geopolitical calculation. The aggressors act from the background.
Even before the founding of Israel in 1948, the colonial power Britain had successfully divided the Arab world, which was on a course of socialism and pan-Arabism, by creating the extremist Wahabi Islamic Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1924. This was followed by the American-backed seizure of power by the Islamist military ruler Zia ul-Haq in 1978 in Pakistan as the eastern cornerstone of Islamism in the region. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan then jointly launched the attack planned by the U.S. and Britain on the Central Asian geopolitical heartland of Afghanistan, plunging the country into what is now a 40-year civil war.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia had also supported the West in the conflicts over the oil and gas pipeline routes in the Caucasus, especially in the Chechen wars of the 1990s, which were aimed at disintegrating Russia. In this conflict, a young Turkish Islamist named Recep Tayyip Erdogan also earned his first spurs as a servant of Western interests. The transformation of secular, Kemalist Turkey by Erdogan and his AKP party into an increasingly radical Islamic republic since 2003, which is waging war or threatening war against almost all its neighboring states, is no coincidence in view of its predecessors Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. It is the outcome of intelligent geostrategic planning. Mark Curtis has described this initially British strategy of building Islamism, which goes back to the 19th century, in detail and knowledgeably in an excellent book.
Nothing is less in Turkey’s national interest than to continue to pursue exactly what it is doing under Erdogan with its neighbors, from Syria to Iraq and Armenia. The last thing a rationally governed Ankara will want is another ethnic cleansing of yet more Armenians after a ‘successful’ attack on Nagorno-Karabakh. The attacks on the cities in northern Syria—inhabited by, among others, refugees of the Armenian genocide of 1915—since 2011 by Islamist terrorist groups, with the consequence of heavy losses in the civilian population, have already massively damaged Turkey’s reputation in the Arab world and the better informed parts of the West.
For example, Saudi Arabia’s current economic sanctions against Turkey are not only related to the conflict over the murder of Jamal Kashoggi in the Saudi embassy in Istanbul, but also to Turkey’s continuing occupation of Arab land in Syria. The United Arab Emirates have also taken a clear position against Turkey. Both countries have turned against Islamism recently. In the Arab countries, the interests of Armenians and other peoples in conflict with Turkey, who have been generously received as refugees in countries like Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan in the past, are viewed with sympathy.
To be fair, it must be said that Turkey was incited by the West to support Islamist terror in the Syrian war. In the end, however, Ankara must admit that it has been lured into a trap: that of permanently destroying relations with its neighboring countries and diminishing its role in a region where Turkey could have the potential to become a central economic and regulatory power.
A repetition of Syria’s events in Armenia must therefore be avoided for Turkey at all costs. The consequences of ethnic cleansing of the Armenians from Nagorno-Karabakh for the country’s reputation would be different from the events in Syria, which have been swept under the carpet by the Western media. They would be devastating and would last for generations. Not only the door to the Arab world, but also the door to Europe would be closed for good.
Economic sanction measures would be one consequence that could very well destroy a Turkish economy already in deep crisis. The German political position on such measures, whatever the current geopolitical footnotes of Washington and London’s Chancellor Merkel may currently say, would in this case, under the pressure of public opinion, shift towards that of France, which has made its position on the protection of the remains of the Armenian lands unmistakably clear.
The question for Turkey is therefore whether it wants to continue to stand with those who want to continue the Karabakh conflict in order to further destabilize the Caucasus and attack Russia, or whether it wants to resolve the conflict in order to contribute to the development of the Caucasus region and establish good relations with all its neighbors, thereby strengthening its own potentially leading role in the wider Middle East region.
As things stand now, the best chance for Turkey, and for peace in the entire region, is to keep the West, which seems eternally caught up in geopolitical power games, out of the conflict over Karabakh as much as possible and to find a common solution with Russia based on a reasonable interpretation of international law. Foreign Minister Lavrov, probably the best foreign minister of his generation, a half-Armenian, seems to me to be a good contact person here. Whether he will be so with or without the servant of the West, Erdogan, is the big question. Regardless, such a regional solution would certainly be in Turkey’s best national interest.
Hans-Joachim Duebel is a former World Bank employee who has worked as a housing and financial sector expert for 25 years with both Turkey and Armenia, as well as in every country around Turkey, the Balkans, the entire Middle East and Central Asia.
According to an Axios report released Tuesday, the White House is once again pushing the Pentagon to “jumpstart a national 5G network,” to compete with Chinese telecommunications giants Huawei and ZTE. This is not the first time this has been proposed by the Administration as well as the Trump campaign, with Trump campaign advisors Brad Parscale and Newt Gingrich pushing one proposal in March 2019.
As the Founder of The Wallace Institute for Arctic Security, I have met personally with many of our allies in the Arctic region, as well as allied international organizations, to educate them on the dangers of Chinese-backed 5G programs. In every meeting, I get asked the same, pointed question: “If not China, then who?”
The proposed American solution, which could be operated by a private company on behalf of the U.S. government, would use airwaves currently owned by the Department of Defense to operate. This has some large, private telecommunications companies concerned that the federal government would play favorites and create a 5G monopoly.
The push to federalize 5G comes after years of bellyaching by Republicans and Democrats both about the rise of Chinese 5G (Huawei and ZTE, namely) across the globe, and concerted lobbying efforts by the telecommunications companies to be allowed to operate in the United States.
Despite the growing concerns, however, the market is taking its sweet time in saving the United States and its allies from growing Chinese global influence.
American telecommunications giants have been reticent and slow to operate 5G nationally due to budgetary constraints and lack of research and development into the crucial backend equipment, such as radio access networks (RANs), that are pivotal to the operation of regional and national networks. Most major companies like Verizon acknowledge that users likely won’t be able to range too far from hot spots, or else they’ll lose their 5G signal.
The only two competitors to the Chinese telecommunications giants are Ericsson and Nokia, two European-owned companies.
And yet Big Tech remains entirely opposed to a government-run 5G program, with Axios citing unnamed sources saying they “[view] it as the government hand-picking a single winner in the deployment of nationwide 5G,” but also that they “believe they could change tacks and vie for the contract if the Department of Defense moves ahead with the plan.”
So what gives? Where is the 5G network the libertarians promised us the market would provide?
It’s not coming, and it’s time for the federal government to step in and get it done.
There is precedent to this, nearly a century ago—the creation of RCA. In the clearing smoke of WWI, RCA was created by naval officers with the hopes of reshoring American radio communications from Western Europe. RCA would go on to pioneer FM radio stations, as well as launch the first national radio network: NBC.
Western Europe posed much less of a threat to Woodrow Wilson’s United States in 1919 than China poses to Donald Trump’s America in 2020. Following President Trump’s lead, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is forcing the diplomatic hands of our NATO allies on the 5G question, notably in the United Kingdom, Slovenia, Italy, and even the small, Danish territory of the Faroe Islands.
Though far more advanced than American 5G, both Ericsson and Nokia provide lower-level service offerings than Huawei or ZTE, often at an increased cost. Many of our allies feel gypped by the State Department’s insistence that they purchase lower-quality services for a higher cost just to please career bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.
It is unacceptable that, while the United States demands its allies toe the line on Chinese 5G, our ruling elites’ allegiance to free-market fundamentalism and all the campaign cash it provides prevents them from offering an American alternative. Waiting for the “market to provide” will be too little, too late for many of our allies.
The United States government must step up, in the interest of national security, and provide a national 5G framework that is capable of being duplicated and exported to our allies.
Nick Solheim is the Founder of The Wallace Institute for Arctic Security and the Director of Business Development at Nativ3. You can argue with him (or send camping recommendations) at @NickSSolheim
People who oppose new housing in cities don’t get a lot of love in urbanist circles—and for good reason. NIMBYism has helped result in less economic growth, lower wages, worse climate change, the inability of Millennials to get on the property ladder and start families, and a host of other ills that plague our country and its cities. But if one examines Google Maps closely and frequently, patterns sometimes emerge, which can be quite instructive.
Crime fell in cities across the country in the 1990s and urban neighborhoods began to appreciate in value and became more attractive to middle-class white-collar workers. Some older cities even saw population growth for the first time since the 1940s. But Boston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles did much better than others. No one has adequately explained the root of the “superstar city” phenomenon—sure, they are important cities culturally and economically, but many cities experienced economic growth without significant population growth, much less the superstars’ huge increases in residential and commercial rents and widespread gentrification. In most of the country, declines in home values and increases in poverty were much more widespread issues than gentrification.
The difference may have been the fact that the superstars are surrounded by NIMBY suburbs.
Many cities experienced job growth during the “urban revival,” especially if they were home to a research university or medical center, and while only a few experienced the superstar revivals, metropolitan areas still grew, as they have for several decades. For example, Boston grew up by 12 percent between 2010 and 2019, while Greater Boston grew by seven percent; Chicago’s population stayed about the same but the Chicago Metropolitan Area increased its population by 0.4 percent, according to The World Almanac. Even more striking are the numbers for Baltimore, where the city lost three percent of its population, but the metro area gained 3.4 percent. For New York, the city grew by two percent between 2010 and 2019, but the metro area declined by the same amount.
In some ways it shouldn’t be surprising that concentrated NIMBYism in suburbs has apparently led to investment and center city population growth, but people have an odd way of pulling the wool over their eyes when it comes to housing. But in 1990, William Tucker pointed out what should have been obvious: urban blight was the other side of the suburban boom: the massive expansion in home construction put millions of more homes on the market and many city neighborhoods were left with more housing than demand. “Although it is hard to remember, the major national problem in 1968 was a surplus of housing . . . Urban experts from all over the country were summoned to Washington to study the problem . . . because vacancy rates were so high . . . building owners could not charge enough rents to keep up their properties,” Tucker wrote in his classic work on housing, “The Excluded Americans.”
Today, many of the rules and incentives continue to favor building single-family homes, shopping centers, and office parks on previously undeveloped land, but in certain suburbs, zoning ordinances, litigiousness, lengthy review processes, and deliberately absurd requirements for off-street parking, setbacks, and other design elements can make those developments prohibitively expensive.
There are further reasons why this should be the case: suburban land is cheaper than city land, which makes up a major portion of the cost of new developments, especially in cities with poor public transportation where parking is a necessity; redeveloping buildings can be complicated by historic preservation requirements, measures protecting mature trees, archaic infrastructure, and the possibility of having to remediate soil contaminated by lead, asbestos, or other formerly common toxic chemicals.
This is not to say that cities shouldn’t have these protections or not require that toxic chemicals be dealt with, but they do make redevelopment harder and more expensive. When the city is surrounded by suburbs that make new development even harder, that can make those undertakings more attractive.
In many ways, NIMBY suburbs function the way greenbelts or urban growth boundaries are supposed to work. The classic greenbelt was an area of protected countryside a few miles wide and extending around the circumference of a city. No urban or suburban development would be permitted within it. The idea was that it would serve as a barrier to urban sprawl, forcing either an intensification of use in the city proper or resulting in industries, businesses and people relocating to other cities. But they didn’t work. The greenbelts already had railways and eventually had highways running through them to connect the city to the rest of the country, while the greater density within the city was not legalized either, so development ended up leapfrogging over the greenbelt. NIMBY suburbs seem to work better because greenbelts tend to be narrow—only a few miles wide (although London’s has grown rather massive over the decades)—while suburbs can extend much further out. Virtually all of Long Island is hostile to further housing development, while the suburbs of Westchester County block much development. While New York’s reach (and commuter railroad) extends beyond Westchester, commutes lengthen considerably, which makes far-out suburbs unattractive.
Once investment is forced back into the city, NIMBYism continues to serve a useful purpose, keeping property values high, providing the city with higher tax revenues that can be invested into schools and improvements. One problem cities like St. Louis or Akron have is that their homes aren’t valuable enough for banks to lend money to the owners and produce very little in tax revenue. Detroit has one of the highest tax rates in the country.
But there are limits. Before the pandemic, home prices and rents had reached outrageous levels in Boston, San Francisco, New York, and other cities. Far from helping revive cities losing money and people, they had begun hemming them in and strangling them. Even worse, they were affecting the whole country by making wages lower, reducing other economic activity.
Moreover, it’s not an economic development strategy that overcomes the disinvestment and other problems. Cities cannot rely on their suburbs to make up for their own problems. It is a sad commentary on the state of our cities that the race for suburban homeowners to pull up the property ladder behind them incidentally benefited some people living in central cities. The experience of the last several decades clearly shows that cities and suburbs can grow together, or cities can grow without their suburbs or suburbs can grow without their cities. Cities are complex organisms. Sometimes they need walls to give them shape—and sometimes they need to push their boundaries.
Matthew Robare lives in Boston. This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Follow New Urbs on Twitter for a feed dedicated to TAC’s coverage of cities, urbanism, and place.
With the U.S. and the People’s Republic of China potentially headed into a new cold war that would hurt both countries, American policymakers should remember the importance of gaining friends and allies around the world. And not just governments, but peoples too.
That wasn’t too hard against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Washington made mistakes internationally, but the USSR was dull, gray, threatening, backward, isolated, oppressive, and hostile to what so many people around the world desired: freedom in all its forms, modern commerce and culture, and hope for the future. The regime effectively imprisoned its entire population. Moscow’s most economically successful satellite regime, East Germany, literally walled in its people.
The PRC is threatening and oppressive, but its opening to the West, abandonment of Maoism, acceptance of personal autonomy, and embrace of economic freedom make it radically different than the USSR. China is connected to the world, flush with current culture, and full of economic opportunity. It is a technological leader and place of hope for people just a few decades away from immiserating poverty. Beijing no longer bars its people from traveling, other than those deemed to be politically unreliable.
Which, of course, highlights the fact that the PRC is retrogressing on the freedom front. Unfortunately, President and General Secretary Xi Jinping appears to see himself as the second coming of Mao Zedong and has been moving his country back toward the Chinese Communist Party’s totalitarian past. Doing so is creating plenty of enemies at home—popular dissatisfaction occasionally bursts forth on social media, as it did early in the COVID-19 pandemic after doctors were silenced for expressing their concerns. And Xi will not rule forever. He, like Mao, could be followed by a liberalizer, who would quickly dismantle Xi’s brutal edifice.
Thus, though American soft power remains substantial, the U.S. cannot count on possessing the same superiority in foreign appeal that it enjoyed over the Soviet Union. Moreover, the maladroit Trump administration has done its best to offend virtually every nation on earth, other than a few authoritarians favored by President Donald Trump, such as Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman. Among democratic states with which America would normally cooperate, relations mostly range from strained to abysmal.
In this environment the Trump administration has been working overtime to vilify the PRC. At the recent Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or Quad meeting, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that it “is more critical now than ever that we collaborate to protect our people and partners from the CCP’s exploitation, corruption, and coercion.” Although there is little love for Beijing among the other Quad members—India, Japan, and Australia—they remain more circumspect in addressing the Chinese challenge. After all, they live in the neighborhood and do not want to make an enemy by acting as Trump administration campaign props. Earlier this year, members of the G-7 rejected an American demand to use the members’ official communique to blame the PRC for the spread of the “Wuhan virus.”
Even more problematic is the administration’s anti-China campaign in Southeast Asia. Observed The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison:
China has steadily built up its economic, diplomatic, and cultural influence throughout the region, and it has strengthened its ties to ethnic Chinese minorities in many of these countries. Today the countries of Southeast Asia want continued economic cooperation with China, and they are not interested in a zero-sum rivalry between the U.S. and China. Many of them are open to cooperation with the U.S., but they have no wish to be used as cannon fodder as part of some great power showdown. If U.S. policy in this part of the world is to have any chance of success in checking Chinese influence, it will have to take account of the varied local conditions that prevail in each country, and it will have to learn to respect their sovereignty and independence.
The administration’s ostentatious attempt to separate the Chinese government and people has been particularly ineffective. A recent study by the John F. Kennedy School’s Ash Center observed: “We find that first, since the start of the survey in 2003, Chinese citizen satisfaction with government has increased virtually across the board. From the impact of broad national policies to the conduct of local town officials, Chinese citizens rate the government as more capable and effective than ever before.” That could change, but not likely as a result of vilification by Washington officials.
The administration’s overreach is unnecessary. Beijing has turned out to be its own worst enemy abroad. For instance, in the early days of COVID-19’s spread, the Xi government attempted to use medical aid to win political points. At the same time, PRC officials engaged in “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy, insulting, demanding, and haranguing other governments. These efforts backfired spectacularly, especially after some of the personal protective equipment and other goods proved to be defective. China was accused of attempting to take advantage of a medical crisis which it did much to create.
Beijing’s willingness to essentially take hostages, arresting Westerners on faux evidence when involved in disputes with their governments, also has sullied the PRC’s global reputation. In early September, Chinese security personnel visited two Australian journalists, announcing that they were barred from leaving and would be questioned the next day. Unwilling to risk disappearing into a Chinese prison where people can be held for months or years without charges even being filed, they fled to the protection of Australian diplomats, who negotiated an exit.
China has largely brought this problem upon itself by focusing on political priorities. Georgia State University’s Maria Repnikova observed: “The Wolf Warrior diplomacy doesn’t work well in the Western context, but it’s often oriented toward domestic audiences within China because it makes China seem stronger and withstanding Western pressures.”
Overall, the PRC’s image has tumbled badly. According to a new survey from the Pew Research Center:
Views of China have grown more negative in recent years across many advanced economies, and unfavorable opinion has soared over the past year, a new 14-country Pew Research Center survey shows. Today, a majority in each of the surveyed countries has an unfavorable opinion of China. And in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United States, South Korea, Spain and Canada, negative views have reached their highest points since the Center began polling on this topic more than a decade ago.
Trust in Xi, too, has plummeted. Reported Pew:
Disapproval of how China has handled the COVID-19 pandemic also colors people’s confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping. A median of 78% say they have not too much or no confidence in him to do the right thing regarding world affairs, including at least seven-in-ten in every country surveyed. This lack of confidence in Xi is at historic highs in every country for which trend data is available except Japan and Spain. In most countries, the percent saying they have not too much or no confidence in him has grown by double digits since last year. For example, in the Netherlands, whereas around half distrusted Xi last year, today 70% say the same—up 17 percentage points.
There is still widespread international respect for the PRC’s considerable economic strength. However, that was not enough to save Beijing’s reputation, which isn’t likely to recover any time soon. Claremont McKenna College’s Minxin Pei cited “four cumbersome albatrosses” dragging down Xi, because of which he could “face an increasingly unified Western coalition threatening the survival of his regime.”
Pei argues that militarizing South China Sea territorial disputes has unified regional opinion against the PRC. The Belt and Road Initiative has turned into financial overreach with political blowback. Repression in Xinjiang and in Hong Kong has badly blackened China’s image. In Pei’s view, “China’s response has turned two manageable problems into public relations disasters that will remain as immovable obstacles to improving ties with the West until there is a policy change.”
Unfortunately, the U.S. is ill-positioned to take advantage of Beijing’s distress. Pew found that other nations had an even more negative view of America’s response to COVID-19. And there was less trust in President Donald Trump. Among foreign leaders Secretary of State Mike Pompeo probably garners no more affection. Europeans openly and regularly reject administration entreaties, such as those to join the maximum-pressure campaign against Iran and confrontational campaign against the PRC.
There are many reasons for this, and not every foreign complaint against the president is valid. Obviously, the Europeans prefer a docile and dutiful America, prepared to forever subsidize their defense and otherwise follow their priorities. Nevertheless, the current administration has indulged in its own form of Wolf Warrior diplomacy.
Since Donald Trump took office as president, the image of the United States has suffered across many regions of the globe. As a new 13-nation Pew Research Center survey illustrates, America’s reputation has declined further over the past year among many key allies and partners. In several countries, the share of the public with a favorable view of the U.S. is as low as it has been at any point since the Center began polling on this topic nearly two decades ago.
Confronting the PRC will remain a challenge, probably the most serious to face America in the coming decades. However, it is imperative to avoid needlessly militarizing their disputes: war would be a disaster, however it turned out on the battlefield. And the first fight likely would not be the last. Even without war a lengthy diplomatic, economic, and social struggle seems inevitable. Winning support from other nations and especially peoples will be critical.
The U.S. begins with major advantages. That edge has grown as China has ostentatiously misused the coronavirus pandemic and made itself an enemy of freedom. However, Washington has stumbled as well. The next administration should begin its China policy with a focus on renewing and reviving the U.S.—better educating the young, further freeing the economy, ending wasteful military misadventures, and addressing friends and allies as friends and allies should be addressed.
With a firmer foundation in place, Americans could build on the benefits of a free society and confidently address the China challenge. Demonizing the PRC and promoting a new cold war are losing strategies in much of the world. Advancing a positive future in which others, including the Chinese people, could join is more likely to be more effective. Americans need to prepare to play a long game in dealing with Beijing in the years and decades ahead.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of a number of books, includingTripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World.
The post How the U.S. Benefits from ‘Wolf Warrior Diplomacy’ appeared first on The American Conservative.
Living in the Long Emergency: Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward, by James Howard Kunstler, (BenBella Press: March 2020), 320 pages.
Global pandemic. Economic meltdown. Skyrocketing unemployment. Racial protests. Rioting and looting. Political dysfunction. Moral panic. Social disorder.
I don’t know about you, but I blame James Howard Kunstler.
In 2005, Kunstler wrote The Long Emergency, one of the most important books for understanding what is going on in the world today. The subtitle of that book was Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. When the 2008 economic meltdown hit, those who had read The Long Emergency had a sense of what was happening and were ready for the disorder. The housing bubble, the financial meltdown, and the volatile energy prices all fit Kunstler’s narrative.
I have heard people say that Jim got it wrong, that the economy recovered fully from 2008. We have had an extended period of prosperity, with steady economic growth, low unemployment, and a shale oil revolution that challenged The Long Emergency’s peak oil narrative. Those who read Jim’s work, follow his blog, and listen to his podcast, knew better. A long emergency is, by definition, going to take some time to play out.
That is one of the reasons why, in 2012, after writing the first two parts of a four-part fictional series that illuminated his Long Emergency insights, he wrote Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation. If you read that book, you could sense Kunstler’s frustration with a country that wanted to believe the recovery narrative so badly they could almost will it into existence. Almost.
As Jim says, reality is a harsh mistress. It is also a patient one.
Too Much Magic was the update to the narrative that many of us needed, but the nation was at peak delusion in 2012. Americans wanted magic. Whether it was the promise of endless energy, painless climate adaptations, a Ray Kurzweil fantasy of a merger of humans and technology, or if we merely wanted to believe that re-electing the nation’s first black president was the penance we needed to move into a period of post-racial harmony, I’m led to understand that Too Much Magic was rather poorly received. Nobody wanted to be told it was all a mirage, one big lie we were telling ourselves.
That is a shame. I remember listening to Kunstler’s podcast at the time. He was obsessed with the crazy social activism on college campuses and how it was threatening free speech, the search for truth, and our society’s moorings with reality. This is way before social psychologist Jonathan Haidt started describing the phenomenon in respectable ways with terminology from his profession. I remember thinking Jim was a little excessive and even curmudgeonly for how dogged he was on this.
Of course, I was wrong. Jim was just way ahead of all of us, as usual.
So, welcome to 2020. This year is why a believer in karma blames James Kunstler for the meltdown that is the final year of this decade. If we were not going to listen to him in 2012, there was no way we were going to make it through another update to The Long Emergency without some of the “emergency” coming to the fore.
Living in the Long Emergency: Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward was released in March. It is the book you need to read this year. I did on the empty flight back to Minnesota from Orlando. How poetic. Not only has this frequent flyer not been on a flight, I have not even been out of my hometown since that trip. Long emergency, indeed.
The book gives us an update on where we are in the narrative (spoiler: closer to the end than the beginning). Kunstler explains the insanity of oil markets months before we all witnessed the May meltdown in oil futures, culminating in a negative oil price. He tells us why the Federal Reserve is stuck blowing financial bubbles as a proxy for a productive economy. Again, he does this before all fiscal restraint went out the door in the brrrrr of trillions flowing from the digital printing press.
What you are getting from Kunstler here is the most coherent explanation you will read of the forces shaping America today. His gift has never been in providing deep statistical analysis with a Piketty-esque barrage of data, but rather in constructing a coherent narrative that is, at once, both compelling and obvious when stated. The burden of insight is made easier for the reader by Kunstler’s comfortable prose, an echo of talent honed during his early career writing for Rolling Stone.
What I was not expecting in Living in the Long Emergency, but was delighted to find, were multiple chapters narrating what Kunstler calls “portraits in heroic adaptation.” These are the stories of people he has found over the years that are leading the way into a new version of human existence. For many of us, they would be misfits or outcasts. For Jim, they are early adapters.
Let your guard down a little and you may find yourself in one of their stories. I certainly did with the tale of one man living in my neighboring state of Wisconsin, making a go of farming in a manner my great-great-grandparents, who homesteaded the farm I grew up on, would have found familiar. Kunstler shares stories of a couple adapting to life off the grid, a wanderer of sorts who has found himself a home living in Baltimore, a pair of different people making a go at old-fashioned baking and distilling, and even a white supremacist with a couple of insights to go along with a lot of whacked-out views. This is an odd collection of people, but these are odd times. Their stories help you see the world into which Kunstler senses we are moving.
And at this point, who are we to question Kunstler’s vision? There was a part of me that used to think Jim fashioned himself as a court jester, one of the few people who could speak truth to power using humor as a shield. I was wrong about that and apologized to him. I now find his humor—and Jim can be quite hilarious—to be more of a coping mechanism, a way to deal with the insanity that he is uniquely wired to perceive on behalf of the rest of us. I am thankful he is there.
You should be too. Even if you have not read the other books in this series, you will find critical insight in Living in the Long Emergency. It is the book to get if you want to understand what is happening to us as a society, along with how to cope with these converging emergencies. Hurry, because we are running out of the “long” in this narrative.
Charles Marohn is the founder and president of Strong Towns. This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.
With the U.S. presidential election only several weeks away, the specter of Russian election interference has again become a mainstay media topic. Four years removed from the 2016 election, researchers and politicians are still trying to make sense of what happened: what exactly did the Russians do, and what lessons are we to draw from it? Filmmaker Alex Gibney—who is enjoying a rising profile with his hotly anticipated COVID-19 documentary Totally Under Control—has applied himself to these questions with a freshly released deepdive into Russian election meddling.
Agents of Chaos is an epic-length documentary, spanning four hours across two episodes, released last month on HBO. The first episode opens with a prelude of sorts. To explain the roots of Russian information warfare, Gibney walks us through the 2014 Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine, Russia’s subsequent annexation of Crimea, and the outbreak of the ongoing Donbass War. The Ukrainian conflict, claims Gibney, was the stomping ground for a nascent industry of Russian internet trolls looking to smear the new government in Kiev as ‘fascists’ and ‘neo-nazis.’
The Ukraine tie-in is thought-provoking, but altogether unsatisfying in its execution. For one, the strategic circumstances are not at all the same. The film is anchored around the idea that Russia wants to sow chaos, but the Kremlin’s approach to Ukraine was guided by concrete policy goals that involved supporting specific politicians and parties. It is also comically shortsighted to claim that Russian internet trolls sought to “drive a wedge” between eastern and western Ukraine, when the country’s two halves are already separated by centuries of Imperial history and the bitter legacy of two world wars. To the extent that Russian trolls were “targeting” eastern Ukrainians, they were already speaking to an overwhelmingly pro-Russian and anti-Maidan audience. None of this bears any resemblance to the trolls’ activities in America. Without so much as an attempt to square these circles, the Ukraine analogy feels contrived.
Drawing on the help of cybersecurity researcher Camille François and several Russians with first-hand knowledge, Gibney proceeds to outline the Russian internet trolling operation. Almost all of the work was done from the Internet Research Agency (IRA), a chaste office on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. The film tells us little that we don’t already know from the Mueller investigation and Senate intelligence committee report: there was a concerted effort by certain Russian nationals to impersonate American activists, political groups, and media outlets for the purpose of undermining “Americans’ trust in democratic institutions.” The goal was not necessarily to elect Donald Trump, but to strain the American political system by facilitating conflict between polarized factions.
But how much did the Kremlin know of, and to what extent did they endorse, the IRA’s activities? Agents of Chaos provides no substantive answers. The film’s only evidence of a link between the IRA and the Kremlin is that the former received funding from Yevgeny Prigozhin, a major Russian businessman with ties to Vladimir Putin. Not only is there no proof that the IRA coordinated directly with any Russian government agency, but it’s not even clear to what extent Prigozhin himself oversaw the IRA’s agenda. Gibney admits as much, but claims it’s all part of a plausible deniability ploy: Putin shields himself by delegating unsavory, extra-legal tasks to private cronies who technically don’t work for him. This is probably true in a general sense, but it doesn’t get us any closer to understanding the level on which specific decisions to interfere in U.S. politics were made.
A similar problem emerges in Gibney’s discussion of Fancy Bear, a Russian cyber espionage group. Gibney proceeds on the assumption that Fancy Bear is the hacking arm of Russian military intelligence (GRU), which itself has not been conclusively established with publicly verifiable information. Gibney posits that Fancy Bear’s American activities were conducted with blessing from the Kremlin, an even more flimsy assumption. A responsible analysis of Russian election interference has to grapple with countless nuances: were the actual hacks conducted by GRU personnel, or contractors? Was there an order to target the DNC, or did an overeager operator make a unilateral decision? If the former, on what level was the order given? Who set Fancy Bear’s agenda, and how closely did they stick to said agenda? Was the Kremlin truly interested in destroying American institutions, or was it perhaps driven by the more pragmatic goal of signaling its cyber capabilities to Washington as a deterrent against future American meddling in Russian politics?
To truly understand what the Russians did, we have to understand how and by whom the orders were given, how they trickled down the chain of command, and how closely they were followed by field operators. You have to understand institutional forces, like the longstanding rivalry between the GRU and SVR that could lead the former to take unsanctioned risks. You also have to consider that, as with any Caesarist system, Putin’s many subordinates sometimes take the initiative in doing things to please him that he himself would never have approved of.
Gibney jettisons all these complexities, instead resigning himself to a convenient abstraction: the “Russians” did it. And who are the “Russians?” Well, it all boils down to the guy in charge. This conceit of an omnipresent leader is simply not a realistic view of how any political system, let alone Putin’s Russia, operates, but it is all too often used by journalists and politicians as a substitute for serious Russia analysis.
The rest of the film is a fairly linear exploration of the major milestones in the Russian meddling saga: the Assange-DNC imbroglio, the FBI counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign, and a précis of Trump’s questionable contacts with Russians. It is here that the film’s editorial stance is fully laid bare: the Obama administration and U.S. intelligence community are portrayed as patriots doing their best to foil a foreign plot on American soil—their only mistake is not going far enough in prosecuting the Trump campaign (and, in Comey’s case, having the gall to announce an investigation into Hillary’s use of private email servers).
Trump and the Trump campaign, meanwhile, are de facto—if not de de jure—traitors who colluded with a foreign government to win the election. Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe was given a sympathetic platform to dismiss serious objections to the FBI’s behavior, especially concerning the FISA warrant to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page. McCabe was not asked to comment on FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who pleaded guilty to submitting falsified documents to renew a surveillance warrant against Page. Page, meanwhile, was maligned as an eccentric stooge too “unsophisticated” to realize that he was being used by his “Russian spy handlers” to establish a backchannel with the Trump campaign.
The film offers an uncritical platform to some of the more outrageous Trump-Russia conspiracies that even the mainstream news networks were reluctant to publish, including the notion that the Kremlin wanted to use Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort as an intermediary to secure a deal with a potential Trump administration for the partition of Ukraine.
Gibney proceeds to recount all the stations of the cross of the Russiagate narrative; these include the Trump Tower meeting, Trump’s infamous request for Russians to hack Hillary Clinton, alleged Russian efforts to suppress the black vote, and alleged coordination between wikileaks and the Trump campaign. That part of the film feels less like a critical-minded documentary and more like a heartfelt homage to the old ‘stab in the back’ theory of the 2016 election—namely, the idea that Clinton never really lost, but was instead betrayed by fellow Americans who conspired against her with a hostile foreign power.
Agents of Chaos was branded as a fresh look at Russian election interference, cutting past the fog surrounding intelligence work to uncover the truth of what really happened in 2016. What we got instead was a summa of Russiagate’s greatest hits, packaged and presented with all the slick polish that can be expected from an award-winning filmmaker.
“National security,” concludes Gibney in his closing narration, “isn’t just about our enemies. It’s also about us. National security starts at home, with our own resilience, our own politics, and the honor of our leaders.” I commend these words without reserve. Nevertheless, there is room for a nuanced discussion about Russian interference in 2016 and what can be done to deter foreign meddling in the future. Whether or not Agents of Chaos adds anything of value to that discussion is a rather different matter.
If the film offers any unique strain of thinking, it lies in Gibney’s poignant observation that Russian interference only worked to the extent that it did because we are needlessly vulnerable to such incursions. Any foreign agent working to destabilize American society would find no shortage of socio-political faultlines to exploit, of bitter resentments to manipulate. The Russians didn’t do that—we did that to ourselves. Mending our torn social fabric is, in this sense, one of the foremost national security challenges of our time.
Mark Episkopos writes on defense and international relations issues. He is also a PhD student in History at American University.
John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, one of the country’s leading scholars of international relations, recently received the prestigious James Madison Award, administered by the American Political Science Association. In accepting the honor Mearsheimer delivered a notable lecture entitled “Liberalism and Nationalism in Contemporary America” (scheduled for publication in a journal called PS). It’s a remarkably penetrating and astute explication of American politics in our troubled times.
The central reality of today’s political landscape, in Mearsheimer’s view, is that the post-Cold War period of “unbounded liberalism”—stretching roughly from 1990 to 2016—is about to be supplanted by an ascendant wave of nationalism. This is just a little difficult to credit, given the hegemonic force of liberalism in the firmament of American politics since the end of the Cold War and its hearty embrace by nearly all of the country’s major elite institutions, including the Democratic Party, prestigious universities, influential think tanks, the popular culture, the big banks, big tech, big corporations, and most of big media.
But Mearsheimer posits a “core claim” that, when the balance of power in any polity shifts so heavily toward liberalism that it poses a mortal threat to nationalism, as happened in much of the West after the Cold War, a backlash inevitably ensues. Then, says Mearsheimer, “nationalism wins almost every time, because it is the most powerful political ideology in the modern world.” We saw this in the watershed year of 2016, when Donald Trump became the American president and Britain voted to leave the European Union. “This upsurge of nationalism,” says Mearsheimer, “has continued unabated since 2016.”
To understand Mearsheimer’s thesis, it’s necessary to grasp fully what he means by liberalism and nationalism. Liberalism’s first principle is the sanctity of the individual and the individual’s “inalienable rights,” including the right to pursue one’s own concepts of the good life. This leads to a strong norm of tolerance and a stern injunction for people to “live and let live.” Liberalism also advocates a national government powerful enough to protect individuals from each other and guarantee their rights, but not so powerful that it encroaches on those rights. The ultimate aim, though, is for individuals to have as much freedom as possible in their personal lives, within the context of civic harmony.
In economic terms, this leads to laissez faire thinking—the breakdown of economic barriers, free trade, property rights, market forces. In philosophical terms, it includes “a powerful universalist dimension.” Liberals strongly embrace the view that their outlook applies to all humankind, everywhere and at all times.
In contrast to liberalism’s universalist ethos, nationalists are particularists. They believe that people are ”born into and thrive in social groups that mold their identities and command their loyalties.” And the most significant of all social groups is the nation. As Mearsheimer says:
Nations need political institutions to help their membes live together peacefully and productively. They need rules that define acceptable and unacceptable behavior and also stipulate how disputes will be settled. Nations also need political institutions to help shield them from other nations that might have an incentive to attack….Since the early 1500s, the dominant political form of the planet has been the state. Nations therefore want their own state, because that is the best way to survive and prosper.
Mearsheimer identifies four features of nationalism that have helped shape the centuries-long era of the nation-state:
It isn’t difficult to see that liberalism and nationalism are in many ways contradictory outlooks and hence often “conflictual.” Sometimes, though, the two -isms can actually mesh in positive ways, resulting in a harmonious civic balance. Such an equilibrium has existed in much of American history. But liberalism, steeled by its triumphant rise at the end of the Cold War, set out to marginalize or even nullify American nationalism, and that eventually unleashed the potent backlash we’re seeing now. In many ways, suggests Mearsheimer, Trump’s 2016 election can be seen as “nationalism’s revenge.”
And we can see from our own recent history, and that of other Western nations, that when liberalism gains near hegemonic power in a polity it poses a severe threat to nationalism. Liberal individualists, viewing themselves primarily as “egoistic utility maximizers,” tend to undermine the nationalist sense of oneness. They seek to weaken national identity. Embracing the universalist concept of a common humanity, they seek to break down national borders and the very concept of sovereignty. They hail the emergence of a global elite, “tied together by shared economic interests and social networks, and with its own identity as ‘citizens of the world.’” They work to foster an open international economy that further weakens state borders and state identity.
In short, unbounded liberalism inevitably launches a frontal attack on the very concept of a cohesive, hard-shell state. Such attacks serve, as intended, to encourage citizens to lose faith in the state. This erosion of national solidarity in turn unleashes societal tension and even chaos, because nationalism serves as a kind of civic glue that helps hold a society together. Remove the glue, and liberalism loses its ability to uphold national cohesiveness. When that happens, the impulse of liberal leaders is to inject more individualism and more universalism into the polity, thus exacerbating the gathering crisis of “liberalism on steroids,” as Mearsheimer calls it.
That’s what happened in America during what Mearsheimer calls “liberalism’s golden age.” The answer to porous borders generating increasing civic tensions was to open the borders further. The answer to a free trade regimen encouraging greater mercantilist aggressiveness among some U.S. trading partners was an even greater commitment to free trade. The growing problem of wealth inequality stirred the elites to embrace laissez-faire economics even more tightly as the rise of gargantuan tech empires further exacerbated inequality. And what was the response to America’s awakening to the fact that the country’s universalist warmaking was undermining America’s cohesiveness and financial stability? Under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, it was a tendency toward more warmaking.
That’s because the liberal tenets of individualism, universalism, the virtue of the transnational elite, and the sanctity of identity thinking were driving politics and policy in America. The liberal moment was embraced to a significant extent by both political parties, and there was hardly a nationalist counterweight of any consequence on the scene.
Indeed, in liberalism’s heyday many in the West viewed nationalism as a political corpse. Mearsheimer quotes historian Jill Lepore (a universalist liberal of the first order) as writing, “It appeared to some globalists that nationalism had died.”
And then came Trump and Brexit, following nationalist triumphs in Hungary and Poland, along with concurrent nationalist surges in numerous other European nations. “The unbounded liberalism that dominated the political landscape in the United States after the Cold War is in serious crisis,” says Mearsheimer, “mainly because it threatened American nationalism, which has reasserted itself under President Trump.”
One can question Trump’s competence as president, “and I would be among the first to do so,” says Mearsheimer, “but there is no question that he has pursued a nationalist agenda from the beginning of his political career and that it helped propel him into the White House.” Indeed, Mearsheimer makes clear, in recounting evidence of Trump’s nationalist ethos, that the real estate mogul’s most significant distinguishing characteristic as a national politician was his understanding, alone among presidential contenders in 2016, that America was in the midst of an epic struggle between liberalism and nationalism. But, if Trump has benefitted from nationalism’s resurgence, he didn’t cause it. “His election,” says Mearsheimer, “was the manifestation of a process that was well under way by 2016.”
And it is ongoing. “Although liberalism is here to stay,” says Mearsheimer, “the United States will continue to be a liberal nation-state, not just a liberal state. Nationalism remains the world’s most formidable political ideology and neither it nor the nation state is going away anytime soon.”
That calls into question some prevailing assumptions of our time. Many adherents of liberalism seem to harbor a view that, as soon as Trump is extracted from the political scene (which seems likely to happen soon), then everything can return to normal, meaning back to the days of liberal hegemony. If Mearsheimer is correct, that isn’t likely. The struggle between the two -isms will continue, perhaps even more intensely joined than ever, as nationalism seeks to claw its way back at least to parity with the forces of liberalism. One thing can be predicted: we will continue to live through interesting times.
Robert W. Merry, former Wall Street Journal Washington correspondent and Congressional Quarterly CEO, is the author of five books on American history and foreign policy.
Academia continues its leftward shift at a rapid clip, as more schools move to remote learning. A professor at Marshall University was placed on leave after being recorded in a virtual class hoping that Trump supporters get COVID-19 and “die.” A few days ago, a student at San Anselm College, a Catholic university in New Hampshire, claimed that she’d failed an assignment after using “gendered” language directly from the Bible.
It’s no surprise that conservative professors are disappearing. Right-leaning academics report more hostility during the hiring process in higher education, while conservative students are more reluctant to share their views in the classroom than their fellow peers. It’s a grim picture, but the solution is not for conservatives to abandon academia. Instead they should embrace it.
I don’t make this suggestion lightly. Clearly, the hostility conservatives face in academia is no joke. In fact, it can affect their ability to succeed in the academy. Consider the number of right-leaning speakers who are disinvited or protested on campus every year. The vitriol is often frightening.
Even so, conservative students and professors shouldn’t head for the hills. Academia is a powerful institution—one of the most influential in our nation. Americans with college degrees report higher earnings and lower rates of unemployment, and, as a recent study found, those with college degrees rebounded from the Great Recession of 2008 faster than those without college degrees. As we cast our eyes toward a post-pandemic future, we’d be remiss to believe we can do just fine without higher learning.
Conservatives, then, ought to embrace higher education with an aim of changing it and thereby our culture at large. If we really want to have an impact, we must be a part of that culture. When I returned to graduate school in 2018, I realized just how little most left-leaning academics and students understand conservative thought. That’s not to say I had anything but a wonderful time in graduate school. I’m grateful for each and every one of my professors, all of whom took time to mentor me and make sure I was successful.
Nevertheless, I was struck by the profound lack of understanding about the political right.
This explains why most of my fellow graduate students had few, if any, close friends who were outspoken conservatives. After all, when we lack knowledge, we fall back on stereotypes. My peers often assumed President Trump represented the right as a whole, rather than a faction within a complex political spectrum. They saw conservatives as more callous and less empathetic than independents and liberals. Others assumed conservatives supported lower taxes only because they favored the interests of the wealthy.
My peers had an understanding of conservatism that was reliant upon media reports, second-hand rumors from friends, and a host of assumptions. The ivory tower’s ideological silo only reinforced these stereotypes. The same held true for many faculty members, no matter how positive their intentions.
I understand why some conservative students may feel defensive when stepping onto a college campus. We hear so much about “the threat of liberal professors” that we fear indoctrination lies around every corner. It makes us defensive. Yet to borrow a phrase from Wordsworth, conservatives must be “happy warriors.” If we pass through the schoolhouse doors defensively and stubborn in our own assumptions, we’ll hardly be positive examples of conservatism for our classmates and professors. My hope was this—when my left-leaning peers thought of conservatives, they wouldn’t think of some cliché they saw on TV. They would think of me, their friend and hopefully a positive example of a conservative student. And I think it worked. I know that some minds were changed.
Academia can only benefit from welcoming more conservatives, although the growing pains will not always be easy on either side. In this period of terrifying division, we have to find a way to bridge the gap. Conservatives must continue to familiarize ourselves with our own ideas—and those of our political opposites—by actively engaging with them in liberal environments like academia. More importantly, we can help our liberal peers do the same. When we rely less on stereotypes and more on humbly making conversation with those who hate our ideas, it’s a net good.
This is a massive undertaking and I’m certainly not naïve about the inevitable growing pains that come with close-contact ideological debate. But it’s still worth it. I went to left-leaning schools for my undergraduate and graduate education and I am better for it. You could be too.
Amy Lutz is a historian and Young Voices contributor based in Missouri. She holds a master’s degree in History from the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Follow her on Twitter @amylutz4.
The top 50 think tanks in America, as ranked by the University of Pennsylvania’s Go To Think Tank Index, received over $1 billion from U.S. government and defense contractors. The top recipients of this funding were the RAND Corporation, the Center for a New American Security, and the New America Foundation, according to analysis by the Center for International Policy.
Donations to these think tanks came from 68 different U.S. government and defense contractor sources, under at least 600 separate donations. The top five defense contractor donors to U.S. think tanks were Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martina and Air Bus.
The Top 10 Think Tanks by Amount Received from U.S. Government and Defense Contractors
|Center for a New American Security (CNAS)||$8,956,000|
|New America Foundation||$7,283,828|
|German Marshall Fund of the United States||$6,599,999|
|Council on Foreign Relations||$2,590,000|
Top think tank funders from within the U.S. government include the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Air Force, the Army, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department. The defense contractors that forked over the most to think tanks were Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Airbus.
The RAND Corporation alone received over $1 billion between 2014-2019, accounting for approximately 95 percent of its funding that the report tracked. Nearly all the money came from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ($110 million,) the U.S. Army (over $245 million,) and the U.S. Air Force (over ($281 million.)
CNAS, the second highest recipient, received $9 million from U.S. government and defense contractors, including Northrop Grumman, Boeing and the Department of Defense.
The third highest receiver of U.S. government and defense contractor funding, the Atlantic Council, received nearly $8.7 million from defense contractors like Saab, Airbus, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and United Technologies.
The amounts estimated are conservative, due to the fact that most think tanks do not disclose funders or the amount of funding received, or that the amounts are listed in wide ranged (such as $25,000 to $100,000.) Therefore the amounts listed in the report are a floor, not a ceiling, for the amount of money that the top 50 think tanks received from U.S. government and defense contractors. The report also relies on investigative reporting, as well as publicly available information from the think tanks, and their funders.
“Think tanks should be required, by law, to publicly disclose their funders,” said Ben Freeman. “There were widely varying levels of transparency about funding sources at America’s top think tanks, ranging from full disclosure of all funders and exact amounts donated, to think tanks that disclose absolutely no information about funders.”
The Top 5 U.S. Government Donors to U.S. Think Tanks
|Security of Defense (and other national security agencies)||
|U.S. Air Force||
|Department of Homeland Security||
|Department of State||
“Think tank experts testify before Congress and, in some cases, literally write laws. The very least they can do is be fully transparent about who is funding them,” said Ben Freeman in an interview with The American Conservative. “Taxpayers have a right to know if that expert they hear advocating for more Pentagon spending is being paid by the Pentagon. If the funding isn’t influencing their work, then they should have no problem disclosing their funders.”
Disclosure matters because journalists rely on think tanks to provide supposedly non-biased experts to weigh in on complicated policy matters. These think tank experts are frequently hosted on TV panels on CNN or Fox News, or are seen penning op-eds in newspapers or heard on the airwaves of National Public Radio (NPR.)
Think tank experts also frequently appear and give testimony in Congressional hearings, a setting where transparency is of primary importance.
Think tanks contribute to the Washington ecosystem in a variety of ways: while their writers and influence-peddlers appear as experts on news shows and pen op-eds, they also conduct in-depth research on policy, help draft legislation, and write talking points, memos and Congressional scorecards. Think tanks provide a home for legislative experts when their party or views are out of favor, allowing them to cool their heels and collect a paycheck until an administration of another color regains power. Think tanks are also homes for former and future government officials: they employ former senators, representatives, executive branch officials, and their staff. The Brookings Institution is headed by retired four-star General John Allen and they employ two former Chairs of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, among over 300 experts.
Think tanks play an outsize role in shaping U.S. public policy, and have done so since at least the 1980s, when the Heritage Foundation sent president-elect Ronald Reagan over 1,000 pages of policy recommendations. By the end of his presidency, the think tank boasted that Reagan had adopted or attempted to adopt fully two-thirds of Heritage’s recommendations.
After serving as Chief of Staff to Bill Clinton, John Podesta founded possibly the most prominent liberal think tank in Washington, D.C., the Center for American Progress (CAP.) CAP works closely with Democratic members of Congress and presidential candidates, and previously with the Obama administration, and plays many of the same roles as the Heritage Foundation does for the right. Podesta even served as Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Opaque think tank funding damages the neutrality of U.S. news reporting and the expert analysis lawmakers lean on for policy and legislative advice. Think tank experts are often held up as paragons of non-biased, expert analysis. Imagine how your perspective as a reader would change if you knew that the writer or panelist advocating for increased military security aid to Turkey was receiving their salary from a think tank that receives several million dollars from multiple defense contractors that sell weapons to Turkey.
As I pointed out in my previous article for TAC, think-tanker Brenda Shaffer now writes on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict for the think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, without disclosing that she had been an adviser to Azerbaijan’s state-run oil company. Shaffer is FDD’s senior advisor for energy, so the public should know who’s paying her bills.
While think tanks protest that their work is independent of the funding they receive, that view is “naive, to say the least,” writes Freeman. “Most funding comes with explicit strings attached, like writing research reports or hosting public events about specific topics. While the public may or may not agree with funders’ objectives, these funders nevertheless place explicit or implicit constraints on what a think tank can and cannot do.”
One way this works is that an organization that promotes beliefs at odds with a prominent funder will quickly lose that donor’s funding.
“Funders directing what think tanks do is an obvious form of influence, but funders can also wield considerable power by paying for what think tanks don’t do,” writes Freeman. “In fact, one of the most valuable commodities funders buy is a think tank’s silence.”
There’s an easy fix Congress could implement that would end this problem, exposing think tanks and their experts’ conflicts of interest. The government should require that think tanks publicly disclose their funding, say the study’s authors. It’s not a difficult fix to implement, since many think tanks already disclose some of their funding, and all report donor data to the IRS.
“If think tanks are truly maintaining their intellectual independence from funding sources as many told us they were, they’ll be able to prove it when there is full transparency of their funding sources,” writes Freeman.
“When people talk about ‘the Blob’ it’s important to remember that it’s a self-sustaining ecosystem–the Pentagon and contractors dole out millions of dollars to think tanks every year, and those think tanks in turn make the case for more Pentagon funding. Rinse and repeat year after year after year,” said Freeman to TAC.
The post Top 50 U.S. Think Tanks Receive Over $1B from Gov, Defense Contractors appeared first on The American Conservative.
This article was co-published with Responsible Statecraft.
The Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a think tank that has promoted U.S. military strikes on Iran and is funded by one of President Donald Trump’s biggest campaign megadonors, served as a messaging hub for a controversial taxpayer-funded project, the Iran Disinformation Project, that engaged in harassment of American critics of the Trump administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East.
Two congressional sources who attended a briefing with State Department officials from the Global Engagement Center confirmed to Responsible Statecraft that Saeed Ghasseminejad, an FDD senior adviser, was a contractor on the project, marking the second time within the past month that an FDD employee was implicated in harassment campaigns against critics of the Trump administration.
Ghaesseminjad’s affiliation with FDD appears to have little to do with promoting democracy. He reportedly expressed admiration for Vladimir Lenin’s concept of “democratic centralism” and referred to Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet as “the departed dear [leader] who saved Chile…and was much better than Salvador Allende,” the democratically elected Chilean socialist president who was overthrown in a 1973 CIA-backed coup.
Documents acquired via a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit* with help from Protect Democracy details FDD staff scheduling multiple meetings with State Department officials to discuss “communications,” and an FDD executive introducing Ghasseminejad to officials at the State Department’s Iran Action Group that was created by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to coordinate U.S. policy toward Iran following Washington’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a nuclear accord with Iran brokered under the Barack Obama administration.
In May 2019, the State Department terminated the $1.5 million Iran Disinformation Project—which was purportedly intended to combat misinformation emanating from Iranian officials—in the wake of a scandal generated by the project’s attacks on domestic critics of the Trump administration’s policy. In one instance, the project’s Twitter account attacked a Human Rights Watch analyst who was researching the impact of U.S. sanctions on Iranians, claiming she was promoting “so-called Moderates” within Iran at the expense of documenting human rights violations. In another attack, the account accused a BBC journalist of being one of the “#IranDisInfo mouthpieces in @BBC.”
In several instances, FDD and Ghasseminejad’s own Twitter accounts joined in to amplify the Iran Disinformation Project’s harassment or were retweeted by the Iran Disinformation Project’s account.
Ghasseminejad’s tweet attacking Iranian-American journalist Negar Mortazavi for covering her hair when meeting with Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, was retweeted by the State Department-funded project. Ghasseminejad, who later deleted the February 2019 tweet, wrote: “Negar Mortazavi attacked an Iranian journalist for meeting @SecPompeo. Not long time ago, @NegarMortazavi covered her hair to meet @JZarif, Iran’s Ribbentrop, who denies the existence of political prisoners & represents the radical Islamist terrorist regime of Iran.”
The project’s own Twitter account attacked the Atlantic Council, a mainstream Washington-based foreign policy think tank, and celebrated the organization’s decision to cancel an event with Zarif, referring to “[Zarif] and other leaders of the corrupt tyrannical regime of Iran” in a February 2019 tweet.
In April 2019, the State Department-funded project and FDD attacked another foreign policy think tank, the New York-based Asia Society, retweeting a tweet by FDD senior fellow Alireza Nader that accused the Society of “allow[ing] [Zarif] to use them as a platform to spread disinformation and lies” in reference to an upcoming event with Zarif. Nader later deleted the tweet.
The project and FDD even launched ad hominem attacks on Washington Post and New York Times journalists.
In February 2019, the Iran Disinformation Project retweeted a tweet by Mariam Memarsadeghi, the co-founder and president of the E-Collaborative for Civic Education, a group that ran the same project for the State Department, in which she accused Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian of “spreading regime disinfo” and the Post of “publishing (again) his regurgitated lies.” The same month, the project retweeted Nader accusing New York Times journalist Thomas Erdbrink, who was then the Times’ Tehran bureau chief, of “parrot[ing] regime propaganda.” “Why not pull him out [of Tehran]?” asked Nader, who later deleted the tweet.
The details of the Iran Disinformation Project’s termination were reported last month by The Intercept, which acquired the same FOIA documents. It reported the project was run through the ECCE, a group that received nearly $10 million in U.S. government contracts to operate a variety of Iran-related projects over the past decade.
But the role of FDD staff in the Iran Disinformation Project has remained unclear until now. Last June, in the wake of the Iran Disinformation scandal, State Department officials held a closed-door briefing with congressional offices to discuss the project’s abuses.
“[State Department Global Engagement Center (GEC)] officials confirmed in our meeting that Saeed Ghasseminejad was a paid staffer for Iran Disinfo,” a congressional staffer who requested anonymity told Responsible Statecraft. “The whole thing looked like a front for FDD and other regime-change hawks.”
A second staffer who attended the June 2019 meeting with GEC officials also told Responsible Statecraft that Ghasseminejad was brought up at the briefing and that his role as a contractor was confirmed.
Ghasseminejad and FDD’s involvement with the Iran Disinformation Project was evident in June 2019 even while FDD and its staff sought to maintain official distance from the controversial project.
The Iran Disinformation Project website and Twitter account regularly promoted FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz and Ghasseminejad. FDD’s own website maintained an “Iran Disinformation Project” section that republished articles authored by Ghasseminejad for the State Department-funded project’s website. And on at least five occasions, FDD’s Twitter account promoted Ghasseminejad’s work for “@IranDisInfo” but directed readers to FDD’s website instead of the State Department-funded website.
Following the uproar over the Iran Disinformation Project’s activities and FDD’s apparent links to the project, Dubowitz denied his organization’s involvement, tweeting, “conspiracists” see “FDD’s hand in everything.” Ghasseminejad tweeted, “FDD is not involved in any way with the [Iran Disinformation Project],” but later deleted the tweet.
The confirmation by two congressional staffers of Ghasseminejad’s involvement and documents procured as part of the FOIA lawsuit paint a picture of an FDD staffer working as a contractor with the Iran Disinformation Project and FDD senior leadership actively aware of, and in at least one case facilitating, Ghasseminejad’s contact with the State Department.
A September 14, 2018 email shows Ghasseminejad scheduling a meeting with Kiarash Ehfad, a “Social Media Strategist” and consultant at the State Department, according to Ehfad’s LinkedIn profile. Ghasseminejad invited Toby Dershowitz, FDD’s senior vice president of government relations and strategy, to join the meeting.
And an April 5, 2019 email from Dershowitz to a State Department official whose name was redacted from the text shows the FDD executive introducing Ghasseminejad as an “FDD Iran expert” and asking “if you might be available to meet him to discuss a variety of communications-related issues.”
The official appears to forward the email to another redacted address, writing, “Pls schedule. Len should join if he’s in or someone else from IAG,” presumably referring to Len Khodorovsky, then Senior Advisor for Public Affairs in the Iran Action Group.
In another internal document, Ghasseminejad is listed as a “prospective contractor/grantee” as part of the Iran Disinformation Project.
Ghasseminejad’s participation in the Iran Disinformation Project follows a pattern of FDD staff participating in targeted harassment campaigns online against critics of the Trump administration’s Middle East policies.
Last month, Marc Owen Jones, a professor based in Qatar, reported for Responsible Statecraft how FDD research fellow Benjamin Weinthal was harassing critics of the Trump administration- brokered UAE-Israel “peace deal.” Jones, who was critical of the deal, received approximately 90 tweets from Weinthal, making numerous defamatory accusations including, “you are a raging homophobe,” “Marc ostensibly supports the execution of gays in Qatar,” and “you are widely believed to be serving as a kind of foreign junior human resources department for Qatar’s homophobic regime.”
Twitter confirmed that Weinthal’s conduct on their platform was “violating our rules against hateful conduct.”
And last November, a Twitter account controlled by FDD’s Iran Program tweeted a baseless conspiracy theory about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, asserting, “#IlhanOmar was recruited by a foreign government, received funding from a foreign government, and passed sensitive information through intermediaries to #Iran.” FDD later deleted the tweet.
FDD did not respond to a request for comment about their role in the Iran Disinformation Project or answer questions about their staff members’ use of social media to harass critics of the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
FDD’s refusal to rein in its staff’s more egregious behavior towards critics of the Trump administration’s abrogation of the JCPOA and “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran is consistent with sentiments expressed by one of the group’s biggest funders. Bernie Marcus, Home Depot’s co-founder and a Trump megadonor—contributing $7 million in 2016 to Trump’s election efforts—sits on FDD’s board and contributed $4.3 million to FDD in 2018, 35 percent of the organization’s annual revenue.
Marcus, much like Trump, Weinthal, and Ghasseminejad, doesn’t hold back about his radical views on Gulf politics and is quick to engage in vitriolic language. When asked about the JCPOA during a 2015 Fox Business interview, Marcus shot back, “When you do business with the devil you’re in deep trouble and I think that Iran is the devil.”
Eli Clifton is the research director of Quincy Institute’s Democratizing Foreign Policy Program and an investigative journalist who focuses on money in politics and U.S. foreign policy. He previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.
The post The Radical Think Tank Harassing Critics of Trump’s State Department appeared first on The American Conservative.
Judge Learned Hand referred to America’s vulnerability to ‘epidemics of ideas’ which sweep the land when sufficient people find a cause to profit by. Black Lives Matter is one such idea. It could have been instigated at any time in the last century and was, in 1968, with few constructive results. It fastens on a handful of cases per year in which African Americans have been fatally victimized by police brutality, a number steadily dropping as the ranks of black mayors, police commissioners and policemen increase.
But ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ The spectacle of a smothered victim captured on a cell phone is too good for some people to let go. As long as there are 20 million black men and a million policemen in the United States, there will be more such cases, the fulminations of judges, newspaper editors and street demonstrators notwithstanding. No one has found a perfect antidote to stupidity, or to emotional reactions to violence and fear.
The popular remedies are ‘consent decrees’ and ‘defunding the police.’ The fewer and more intimidated they are, the fewer their collisions with the population.
The question that has not been asked is cui bono—who profits from this particular epidemic of ideas? In Baltimore, since the Freddy Gray episode the number of arrests has dropped by more than half. Many prior arrests were for possession of marijuana or of small dealers in it, who State’s Attorney Mosby has said she will no longer prosecute. A draconian ‘consent decree’ systematically nullifies the techniques used to spectacularly reduce the homicide rate in New York, encumbering ‘stop and question’ policing and enforcement of great swaths of the criminal code.
Our police commissioner and editors congratulate themselves that there have been no recent violent demonstrations here, but that is because the drug gangs have gotten all they want. Yet there is a correlation, like it or not, between the reduction in police proactivity and the massive increase in private homicides. Herbert Asbury, in his famous study of New York’s turn-of-century gangs, concluded that their downfall in the John Purroy Mitchel administration came from the revived use of nightsticks, which previously could be used only in defense of life.
The proliferation of Baltimore’s ‘epidemic of ideas’—and some say its instigation—came from drug gangs, which efficiently looted the city’s pharmacies in the wake of the Freddy Gray affair. Under the consent decree, they effectively rule inner-city street corners, uninterrupted by arrests and frisks for the weapons used to enforce their contracts. The well-intentioned efforts of State’s Attorney Mosby and Judge Bredar have made life easier and more profitable for distributors. Non-prosecution and decriminalization do not alter business as usual in an enormous illegal industry which, as George Shultz and Paul Volcker repeatedly pointed out, must enforce its contracts at the point of a gun.
The gangsterism of the Prohibition era was in no way mitigated by the little-known fact that the 18th Amendment and Volstead Act never prohibited the individual use and possession of alcohol. Reducing individual penalties does not mitigate the competitive struggle among illegal distributors; only legalization and licensing can do that.
Maryland is politically a deep blue state, due in part to many federal workers and large black and immigrant populations. Yet the politicians of inner-city Baltimore, whether out of fear or economic interest, have not been in the vanguard of those seeking recreational marijuana legalization. As with medical marijuana, its progress has been delayed for years by efforts to guarantee minority participation in new legal markets. In the long run, the industry will concentrate, largely foredooming these efforts. But the brutal fact is that inner-city Baltimore and its politicians appear hooked on the illegal drug trade, and until alternative employments and incomes are found for its young men on the model of the New Deal youth jobs programs, that condition will persist, together with the resulting carnage.
George Liebmann, a Baltimore lawyer, is the author of various works on law and history, most recently America’s Political Inventors (Bloomsbury 2019), and the editor of Prohibition in Maryland: A Collection of Documents (Calvert Institute, 2017).
Does America need a bipartisan foreign policy consensus? It is preferable that there be a broad national consensus about what U.S. interests are and how they should be pursued. The U.S. is poorly served if its foreign policy veers back and forth between two poles every few years. But if bipartisan foreign policy simply means a return to the stagnant, narrow range of views that have prevailed for the last thirty years, then we should want no part of it.
There have been some promising signs of bipartisan cooperation in reining in the executive and opposing illegal wars in the last few years, especially in connection with U.S. involvement in Yemen. If there is to be a foreign policy consensus in this country, it will need to be built on that foundation of commitment to the Constitution, peace, and restraint. Trying to revive a bankrupt consensus that has already failed the country will only lead to more of the same costly debacles and missed opportunities.
Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) recently outlined his vision of what “bipartisan foreign policy” should look like in the future, and it is very much the opposite of what the country needs. Coons describes going back to a pre-Trump approach in which both parties collude in maintaining exorbitant military spending, excessive commitments to too many other states, and perpetuating endless wars. To the extent that there is still bipartisan consensus in support of these things, that is not good for the U.S., and the continued existence of such a consensus is cause for lament rather than celebration. Coons proves that a bipartisan foreign policy is still possible, but he does not prove that it is desirable. This article matters because it is clear that Coons is writing as more than a Biden campaign surrogate. He is auditioning for a top position in a Biden administration, most likely Secretary of State, and there is reason to expect that he will get that appointment if Biden wins.
The senator says, “The key to a bipartisan foreign policy is never losing sight of the home front,” but neglecting things at home is what defenders of this consensus have done for decades. It is all very well to say that policymakers should consider how U.S. foreign policy affects Americans at home, but this doesn’t seem to be tied into any serious rethinking of what U.S. priorities should be or how large of a role the U.S. should have. Despite the numerous failures of the bipartisan foreign policy consensus in the last twenty years alone, Coons shows no interest in any of the creative thinking going on in his own party about how to change and improve U.S. foreign policy.
One of Coons’ biggest blind spots is on Iran. He incredibly touts the potential of bipartisan support for a “new deal”:
Members of both parties support negotiating a multilateral deal with Iran—one that includes constraints on the country’s nuclear program and rigorous inspections, enforceable limits on its ballistic missile tests, and punishment for its support for terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East.
Even if there is bipartisan support for this fantasy agreement, that doesn’t mean that it is worth pursuing. The senator conveniently leaves out that none of the remaining parties to the existing nuclear deal is interested in negotiating such an agreement. Most of what he proposes to include in this deal is a non-starter in Tehran, and it will be an even harder sell there after their presidential election next summer. Coons has simply repurposed Trump administration talking points on Iran and slapped the label multilateral on them. The senator has unwittingly shown us how unrealistic and hard-line his notion of “bipartisan foreign policy” is and why we should reject it.
Coons also praises the role of Congress in restraining the president, but he notably omits some of the most significant Congressional rebukes of Trump:
Congress has checked the president’s most impulsive and ill-considered attempts at statecraft. When Trump attempted to dramatically slash the foreign aid budget, Congress maintained funding for national security, commercial, and humanitarian interests overseas. When Trump canceled military exercises on the Korean Peninsula, Congress prevented him from withdrawing troops from that theater. After Trump attempted to ingratiate himself with Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Congress passed new sanctions against Moscow and Pyongyang by veto-proof margins. And after Trump signaled his approval of China’s horrific human rights abuses, Congress passed—and Trump was forced to sign—legislation promoting human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
Some of these actions by Congress may have been the right ones, and some needlessly tie the president’s hands in providing sanctions relief, but what all of them have in common is that they reflect an utterly conventional view of what U.S. foreign policy should be. Coons never mentions the much more interesting and different expressions of bipartisan cooperation that have occurred in Congress in the last four years, and that underscores just how unimaginative and stale this vision is.
Coons’ article ignores Yemen and the U.S.-Saudi relationship entirely. There is no mention of the fight over arms sales or the administration’s phony “emergency” declaration that they used to circumvent Congressional scrutiny. Congress used the War Powers Act for the first time in 2019 to challenge continued U.S. involvement in the war on Yemen in the most significant protest against illegal warfare and presidential overreach in decades. It was a bipartisan initiative, co-sponsored by Sens. Sanders, Murphy, and Lee, but this is obviously not the kind of bipartisanship that interests Coons. For his part, Coons was one of the last Democrats to get on board with opposing the war on Yemen. When the resolution to end U.S. involvement was first introduced in the Senate in the spring of 2018, Coons voted against taking it up:
Menendez and nine other Democrats ― Sens. Chris Coons (Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jack Reed (R.I.), Doug Jones (Ala.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) ― ultimately aligned with all but five Republicans to kill the bill.
Coons eventually came around to support the resolution after the backlash against Saudi Arabia intensified later in 2018 following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, but Coons and his relatively hawkish colleagues on the Democratic side resisted efforts to end U.S. involvement in the war for quite some time before that.
I bring up Coons’ history on Yemen because it is a good example of how centrist Democratic hawks have positioned themselves on this issue. Initially, they were supportive of the policy under Obama, and they continued to say nothing against it for the first two years of Trump’s presidency. It was only when it became politically dangerous for them to stay on Trump’s side that they switched. For decades, the bipartisan foreign policy consensus has been made up of Republican hawks that set the terms of the debate and the Democratic hawks that follow in their wake, and it is only after a terrible policy starts to get public attention that the latter discover that reflexive hawkishness isn’t such smart politics after all. The fetishization of bipartisan cooperation as something good in itself has enabled many of our worst foreign policy disasters, and so it has been with Yemen.
The senator gestures at a Goldilocks solution as the answer: “The United States does not have to choose between being the world’s policeman and total retrenchment: it can engage the world more selectively, in principled and pragmatic ways that better serve the interests of working Americans.” That might sound reasonable enough, but at no point does he identify any place where the U.S. should be less engaged. He says that the U.S. can be more selective in where it involves itself, but he refuses to say how or where that should take place. He wants to strike a rhetorical balance between overcommitment and retrenchment, but when it comes to the details he is always erring on the side of the former. This is what usually happens when a politician or policymaker insists on maintaining U.S. “leadership”: preserving that “leadership” becomes an end in itself, and everything else has to be subordinated to it.
In practice, foreign policy bipartisanship has meant consistent support for new and unwinnable wars, higher military spending, and an ever-growing list of foreign entanglements. America doesn’t need any more of that. If that is all that a bipartisan foreign policy consensus has to offer, Americans should look elsewhere.
Despite the focus on domestic issues (well, COVID) there is still a world out there the next president will have to deal with. And there’s a very significant difference between Trump and Biden that was only lightly touched upon during the recent Vice Presidential debate: China policy.
First, a quick look back at 2016. Syria was a major point of contention between candidates Trump and Clinton. Remember how “boots on the ground” was a catch phrase and ISIS the baddies? Clinton was going to war. Trump wanted little part of it, and broadly stopped looking for buckets of gasoline abroad to throw matches into. Four years later no politician is talking much about terrorism and the wars which dominated the past two decades are background noise for most voters.
(Knock knock. Who’s there? 9/11. 9/11 who? Aw, you said you’d never forget.)
The thing is, America does always need a foreign enemy, enough (but not too much) to fuel defense spending, to justify a global imperial stance, to blame for our economic woes, and to serve as a rallying point for American jingoism. The Russians did well in the role for many years but are hard to see as a rising global threat. “The Terrorists” had a good run until disappearing in a fast fade.
The problem of needing a standing enemy finds its solution in China. The sword rattling had already begun in Late Obama. As president, Trump built on those brewing animosities to chip away at long-standing U.S. policy. Since 1979 China was characterized as a rising autocracy with occasionally aggressive but containable behaviors, a competitor but not an enemy. Not so to Trump: he saw the U.S. and China as enemies across a multiverse of economic, intellectual, technologic, and military issues.
Inflamed by the COVID crisis, Trump continued what, in a second term, may develop into a policy of real Cold War. Trump imposed trade sanctions. Trump cut back on student visas and academic exchanges, and turned up the heat on Chinese espionage inside the United States. Trump is selling F-35s to Japan and South Korea as part of a broad military check on Chinese ambitions. Administration officials portray China as an existential threat to the United States. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mocked “the old paradigm” and accused President Xi of seeking “global hegemony of Chinese communism.” Don, Jr. says China “represents the greatest threat to the hegemonic status of the United States since the Cold War.” Given the chance in November, Trump will likely continue to accelerate the process of “decoupling.”
What about President Joe Biden? Biden has learned beating up on China is a cost-free way to prove his toughness, and has oddly even called out Trump for being too weak. It seems very likely Biden, if elected, will continue near, but not in, Trump’s footsteps with Target China. The difference will very likely be found in Biden himself, who with decades of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will pay attention to the actual state of affairs between the U.S. and China, versus Trump the ideologue and populist. So, more challenges amid more economic realism, fewer problems and threats. Money talks.
The economic relationship alone is staggering. China purchased $165 billion in goods and services from the United States in 2015, such that China is the third-largest destination for American exports. China holds the most U.S. government debt of any foreign country. Much was made when one McDonald’s opened in Red Square during the Cold War. Yet the numbers for China represent a whole lot more of a relationship for two supposed enemies.
China’s military ambitions are both overstated and misunderstood. Beijing has made strides toward a real blue water navy but it is not there yet. Claims China might best the U.S. in the Pacific are mostly excuses to increase defense spending. The PLAN is just the latest bogeyman for the military industrial complex.
China does not yet have one modern carrier. The U.S. has 11 nuclear carrier groups, plus nine amphibious assault ships which can launch the F-35 as a strike aircraft. Japan, Korea, and Australia have similar amphibious ships to add to the fight. That of course is all just in the first-responder category; land-based American aircraft from Japan, Korea, Guam, and the U.S. mainland assure air dominance. More importantly, America’s military is fully blooded, a sad legacy of the last 19 years of war. The modern PLAN has yet to fire a shot in anger, and learning under fire is expensive.
Even more important is understanding that China holds few territorial ambitions in the traditional sense of competing with the U.S. for control of landmasses and populations. Nearly any place the U.S. might call a target—Japan and Taiwan stand out—is instead a major trading destination for China. Attacking a partner? War is bad for business. The Chinese do have nationalist fixations on security and on a global order safe for their autocracy, but embarking on ideological or imperial crusades to remake other countries in one’s own image is reserved for the United States.
It’s not hard to see the difference in action. As head of a State Department Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq, I was tasked with improving water supply for the Iraqis. Fruitlessly driving through small towns looking for some place to create a project, we spied a large stack of crated water pipes and pumps. Upon inspection, all had come from China. The locals told us the Chinese had sold them the stuff and left months ago. The U.S. sent the 10th Mountain Division; the Chinese sent a sales team.
There has been some saber-rattling and fusses over tiny islands, of course, but always within boundaries. This is how it has worked regionally for decades. For example, Japan has challenged Russia for control of some northern islands for 75 years without violence (or progress). Much the same for Taiwan and the Spratlys, claimed by multiple nations. The last real shooting between Taiwan and the Mainland was in the 1950s.
President Biden will need to cooperate with China as he returns to America’s traditional international agenda. Transnational issues like climate change demand active engagement between the world’s two biggest economies. China is a major buyer of Iranian oil and key to any effective sanctions. A sleeper transnational issue is North Korea. Any serious change in the North requires Chinese cooperation. Or imagine the need to work together following a massive earthquake or Chernobyl-level nuclear accident in the North, as China struggles with a refugee crisis on its border under a drifting cloud of radiation.
That doesn’t mean Biden can’t have a little of everything. Talk tough at home, do little abroad is something the Chinese have come to understand and expect from the U.S., a kind of necessary tax on the more important parts of the relationship.
So, during the primaries Biden called President Xi a thug for having “a million Uyghurs in reconstruction camps meaning concentration camps.” After Beijing imposed new national security laws in Hong Kong, Biden vowed to “prohibit U.S. companies from abetting repression and supporting the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state.” At the same time Biden is respectful of how the great game is played. Expect fewer tariffs via Tweet, less nasty jabs against things like student visas and cell phone apps. There are well-known soft spots that the U.S. must be cautious of, and Biden has long been a champion of strategic ambiguity on Taiwan. Biden’s will be a pragmatic China policy compared to Trump’s emotive, populist one.
A significant danger will come from Obama alums like Susan Rice and Samantha Power, perhaps even Bloody Hillary as some sort of elder statesman/special envoy, who will try to press Biden into the kind of open conflict they bluntly championed across the Middle East. Biden will have to resist them, as well as the defense intellectuals who see war between the Dragon and the Eagle as inevitable. The NYT, out front as always, reviewed scary Chinese military propaganda videos on YouTube as a way of warning us, not even getting the irony that one video is pieced together from borrowed Hollywood blockbuster footage.
But if Biden holds steady, it won’t be cold war; let’s call it lukewarm at worst. The ties that bind the two nations are important enough that Biden and the Chinese will always be careful to color inside the lines. It is likely Biden will sound like a version of Trump but act much like Obama’s predecessors. China understands this game; the rules were established long ago over things like the multi-administration tsk-tsk response to Tiananmen and the One Child Policy. Look for semi-tough words even as the cargo ships crowd each other out crossing the Pacific.
Peter Van Buren is a former diplomat. His 24 years with the U.S. State Department included service in Beijing, Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul. His career ended following his becoming a whistleblower, exposing waste and mismanagement in the Iraq War reconstruction program in his book We Meant Well.
We met in a bar.
Elias is a trim, intelligent man about my dad’s size. He seemed quiet, except for his clothes. He wore a jaunty plaid hat and his wool coat reminded me of a Confederate soldier’s. There were anti-PC pins on it.
“I’m fighting the establishment,” he said. (In my mind he added m’lady.)
Elias was on a Tinder spree. His heart was torn. His girlfriend broke up with him a year ago so she could explore the world.
“I’ve met a lot of women,” he said. “I’ve noticed that the girls in their 20s like to have fun and the women around 30, they want to get more serious…”
I gulped my Delirium Tremens. I pointed at his pins. “You’re politically incorrect.”
“The values of this society aren’t sustainable,” he told me. “We should promote family values and healthy reproduction.”
I thought who the fuck is this?
He said “You want a drink?”
He got us rum and Jacks. He asked “So who’s the guy?”
I’d met up that night for drinks with a fellow Thought Catalog writer. He’d just left. Elias told me he didn’t like mainstream media. I referenced Paglia. He countered with Evola. We both read Robert Greene. We kept going until I pulled the trump card:
“I’m reading Jung.”
He tilted the Pepe on his screensaver towards me.
“Have you heard of the Proud Boys?”
There’s a point in a girl’s life when she needs it. This was that point. In 2017 I almost got married. I failed. I’d only lived in New York for six months when I met him; I was definitely influenced by Sex and the City.
But it was deeper than that. Freud teaches us about the repetition compulsion: how we get used to patterns. Our past. Our families. I grew up listening to a very specific brand of redpilled firespeak. Not about government. About sex. My line is full of bad men and the women who lost their souls to them. I guess my id still thinks that if I can earn the approval of these men full of hate: the men who are least inclined to grant it—then bad men won’t hurt me. I told Elias about my recent borderline personality disorder diagnosis as he walked me home.
* * *
The next day I sent screenshots of the pages from Man and His Symbols that described the male rite of passage towards marriage.
“The novice for initiation is called upon to give up willful ambition and all desire and to submit to the ordeal,” the text portended. “Only by such an act of submission can he experience rebirth.”
“Most of the Proud Boys want to get married,” Elias said, answering my question before I asked it. “I think some of us kind of need a father figure to tell us what to do.”
Elias has what I’ve found to be a not-uncommon conservative origin story. His parents are divorced. His father was married three times, to progressively younger women. His mother was the second wife. She never loved again. His father’s third wife, a girl in her twenties, left him. Now he’s old and alone, too.
The son wants to be better than the father. He wants to know love. Which means, sometimes, that we have to ignore our base instincts. Christianity is as much a set of principles as a man in the sky.
“Gavin wants to teach us responsibility,” he said. “We can’t have guys running around in their 40s, trying to act like they’re 20. The Proud Boys are saying ‘hey guys, step up. Marry these girls already.’”
I didn’t feel like I was talking to an unreasonable man. He was exploring his shadow. Like me.
* * *
We met again in another bar. This time he wore houndstooth. He’d gone vegan. He was eating a cucumber. I ordered pumpkin ale and he pulled out a bottle with some purple liquid.
“Minerals,” he said. “I’m trying to live a clean lifestyle.” In accordance with the Proud Boys’ steps towards enlightenment, he was also doing No Fap.
“Is this like how Victorians used to eat graham crackers to moderate their urges?” I asked.
Sort of, he said. But he lived a temperate lifestyle to begin with. Despite believing Christianity is the best moral guide, he’s a Buddhist. He was a Buddhist before he was a Proud Boy. I wondered how deeply he was going to get into this. His room is colorful and full of multicultural tchotchkes. Elias is mixed race and comes from a well-traveled family. He talks about race as identity, and racial differences. He gets really into music. He likes all kinds, but his favorite is ’80s.
“It was a more innocent time. When artists talked about love.”
We saw an ad for a show called Single Parents on the subway. “See, look at this,” he scoffed. “We’re telling people it’s okay to be single parents. So their children grow up with attachment problems.”
I never doubted Elias’ sincerity. The culture wars have stakes. Millennials have the lowest marriage and childbirth rate on record. We’re not connecting. He said women don’t respect men and men don’t take care of women. He said antifa put their women on the front lines in brawls. I had a visceral response to that. I think it’s weak and disgusting if true. He also said that made them fair game.
Men, especially young men, are less sure of their place in society now that women are fully expected to take care of ourselves. You could argue that the onus is on them to earn us. But there are darker implications about where this mistrust between the sexes comes from.
I didn’t meet many people in psych treatment who talked about a kind, honest, hardworking, honorable, capable father. He was too cruel or too soft, stoically tolerating more than he should for the sake of the family. He was drunk or sick or a layabout, or (perhaps fortunately) not there at all. The fact is, a lot of us are turned on by bad, superficially strong men before we understand what a good man is. After years of compounded trauma, it’s hard to trust any man at all.
My sexual experiences in college drove me to blogs that coined phrases like sexual market value and others too lurid to print. These raunchy, mean-spirited men, while unconcerned with setting a positive example, spoke the unspeakable. They suggested that there is such a thing as too much freedom.
Elias and I talked regularly, keeping each other up to date on the news. We hit the town. We went dancing. Afterwards we said goodnight. He invited me to a secret meeting where Milo was in attendance, but I didn’t make it. Elias told me they got mad because there was a girl there. I still wish I went.
* * *
One night he brought Guinness and oranges. My place is small; I sat on my chair and he sat at the desk.
“You look dapper,” I said. His outfit was ASOS. He pulled a yellow compass-looking apparatus out of his canvas messenger bag.
“Here, give me your face.”
He held it at several angles across my cheekbone.
“You’re neotenous,” Elias said approvingly.
I raised a brow. He paused, taking a drink. Then he added “You’re cute.”
I smiled. “Come up with me.”
We climbed the wooden ladder to my loft.
“I’m scared,” I told him. “I’ve been watching Jordan Peterson videos.”
“Father Peterson is helping you through?”
“I watched the one about female heroism. How she knows her children will be in pain and she does it anyway.”
“Ah.” He said it knowingly and wisely, like a sage. “So you are paying attention.”
I’ve been thinking about what it would be like to be an autistic mother. To have autistic children, at whatever level of functioning they may be. I’ve worked with the lower-functioning kids you hear about. I think about how it would feel to watch my child experience pain. About giving myself fully to another. Like my mother did for me. The intensity of her feelings scares me sometimes. It’s easier to sit alone with my weed and the heroes & villains in my head than face the hard stuff. I told Elias I think that’s another reason I ran out on my man.
“I’m afraid of rebirth,” I told him.
“You wouldn’t want your child to be like you?” he asked kindly. “You’re weaponized autism!”
“Hey,” Elias said gently. “Maybe I’ll be a woman next time around. I’d love to experience your side of life.”
He leaned in to kiss me. I thought about all the men. The men I’ve had. Air Force and antifa. Bodybuilders and bums. Incels and transhumanists and dozens of other emotional cripples crawling through me for years and years. Our culture makes us addicts. Ever since the sexual revolution. What’s my id going to do to me later in life if I’m incapable of sustained, temperate love?
The shadow is easy. You don’t have to fight it. You give in. The kind of shadow the Proud Boys support is a Muslim member Elias told me about, who’s been with over a hundred women and expects his wife to be a virgin.
I asked Elias to read a brutally honest dating profile I wrote. It was inspired by Blanche du Bois and Sade. I confessed disease and unemployment and rape. He read the whole thing. He asked questions.
“Do you think that’ll scare good men away?”
“No.” He smiled. “I like it. It’s a creative way to find a partner.”
I wasn’t scared anymore. I could trust him.
* * *
Elias called the next night to ask if I was okay.
“You triggered something in me,” he said. “Something primal.”
“Is that why you made me do yoga?”
“It was intense,” he continued. “It felt like there was a lot of….”
He stopped short of saying microchimerism. But I felt like he wanted to. Instead, he said “pain.”
“It makes me wonder what I’m doing, you know? What kind of energy I’m putting into the world.”
He went on with his usual bombast about how sex with me showed him the consequences of normalized promiscuity and how he’d rather be a man who makes the world a better place instead of being a parasite on society. But he delivered. He started seeing someone. She’s a musician like him. She’s also a liberal.
“She doesn’t like that I’m in the Proud Boys.” He added that he wasn’t so sure how he felt about it anymore, either. “Some of them are vicious.”
He isn’t into reactionary masculinity anymore. He said he learned what he needed to learn. Culture is changing. Kanye and Roosh V found God.
Elias is serious with his girlfriend now. I believe that he’s faithful. He called me once a few months ago in the middle of the night like he used to, inviting me out. His friends were with him. It sounded like they got in a fight. Like he was getting his stripes and he wanted me to be there.
I don’t know how much he still fights about this with his girl. I don’t know what he does. I see posts on Twitter about the Proud Boys harassing female antifa and showing up outside their doors with guns. A fascist on Twitter told me that our cultural hostility towards firm, protective masculinity means that not only do men owe feminists nothing, but they should fight as hard as they can against them to counter their influence over younger girls. This made me wonder about his personal life. I wouldn’t want to catch this man on a bad day.
It’s hard to imagine Elias showing up outside a woman’s door with a weapon. I don’t want to think about it. But I do think this vehement contention over the moral future of America has become a kind of war. Men are fighting in the streets. When I was growing up, Ron Paul libertarianism was all the rage. I’ve never seen reactionaries this fired up. And when you look at the statistics I see their point. We’re more divided than my generation has ever seen us. Meanwhile, other countries, with their markedly un-Western conception of freedom, are stronger than ever. I’m learning more about the core differences between liberalism and conservatism, and why these two sides can’t make peace.
Elias and I don’t talk much anymore. I’m pretty sure he’s still in the Proud Boys. I hope he continues on his journey, honorably and honestly, as he’s helped set me on mine.
Gwen Kansen is a writer and free spirit in New York. She has written for Slate, Broadly, Pacific Standard, Thought Catalog and Racked.
The Redskins held on for a good long while. As countless other, lesser offenders—high school teams, colleges, even the freshly mascot-free Cleveland Indians—kowtowed to the woke brigade, the Washington football team (now literally the Washington Football Team) resisted calls for change.
This resistance was not without its costs. It was, for instance, one of the pressures that drove the franchise out of the capital and into a nearby Maryland suburb in the ’90s. Media establishments were never hesitant to vilify the team—WaPo famously led the charge. But fans remained loyal, and the franchise soldiered on.
Until 2020, that is. After decades of offended outcry, owner Dan Snyder had a sudden change of heart. Snyder’s hardline 2013 stance was notable: “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER—you can use caps.” But a 2020 review came to a quick close in the summer, and the name and mascot were dropped unceremoniously, and without replacement.
To hear the media tell it, we have George Floyd to thank. Here’s Newsweek: “In the wake of George Floyd’s killing on May 25 and the return to prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the league has taken a strong stance in the fight to promote social justice and to end racial discrimination.” And again: “In the two-and-a-half months following Floyd’s killing, however, change has come at a previously unthinkable pace.” From SportingNews: “[T]he team announced the review after widespread protests following the death of African American George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis in May…” Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives, tipped her hat to Mr. Floyd as well, telling The Washington Post, “We owe that to the tragic death of George Floyd. Out of that death has come a reexamination of everything—including names that many of us have long tried to get changed and now are forcing the owner to change.”
There may be some truth to that, given the power Floyd’s memory has gathered as a cudgel for the cultural revolution. But the lion’s share of the credit goes to major corporate sponsors—Nike, Pepsi, and Fedex most of all—who threatened to cut ties with the franchise if it did not drop the name. We should not believe that this threat was leveled from the goodness of their hearts, nor any deep-seated commitment to justice—as of this February, Nike was still using slave labor. Rather, they were acting under financial pressures of their own: earlier this summer, investors’ letters were sent to each of these corporations, boasting “nearly 100 signatories, including investor groups and foundations representing more than $620 billion in assets.”
These letters are not exactly news. They received passing mention in most reports of the name change three months ago, and even a bit of dedicated, fawning attention from our friends at The Washington Post. Much was made at the time of Fedex’s courageous stand against injustice. (The entire valuation of the Redskins franchise—not the profit Fedex gains from the relationship, but the value of the whole organization—is just over one half of one percent of the capital leveraged against Fedex in the letter.)
But it seems very little research was done into the three letters’ background. This is understandable, in a way—investigation meets primarily with dead ends and dropped inquiries. The most interesting part of the Redskins debacle of 2020 may turn out to be precisely what we don’t know.
The long list of concerned investors contains all the usual suspects. This includes large firms focused on “socially conscious” and “socially responsible” investing, such as Trillium Asset Management, Boston Common Asset Management, and Boston Trust Walden Company. Some of these so-called “socially responsible investors” (SRIs) have clear ties to our progressive elites. Amy Domini, for instance, founder and chair of Domini Impact Investments—often cited as “the leading voice for socially responsible investing”—was honored at the launch of the Clinton Global Initiative by Bill Clinton himself.
But the list also includes a staggering number of Catholic religious bodies. In all, 28 congregations or provinces from various orders are represented—just under one third of the entire list. Many of these fall into a very particular type: shrinking, aging congregations with clear progressive bents. A number of them have been notably active in shareholder activism before, such as the Adrian Dominican Sisters in gun manufacturing, and a secondary boycott against Dick’s Sporting Goods. Nevertheless, the sheer number of religious congregations listed here, combined with the nature of some co-signatories and the lack of information on the campaign’s origin, raises questions.
The co-appearance of these two distinct families of investors—right down to many of the individual groups involved—is reminiscent of a series of incidents in 2013, when religious investors were shown by Acton Institute reporting to have been actively manipulated by big-money activists. In that earlier episode, socially conscious groups were drafted as co-signatories to petitions whose drivers did not disclose ulterior motives—whether they be financial interests or political agendas. In a number of cases, the shareholder resolutions were actually authored by Bruce Freed, president of the Soros-funded Center for Political Accountability, and the Trillium fund was also involved.
The first-listed signatory on each of these more recent letters is First Peoples Worldwide, an indigenous activism project hosted at the University of Colorado Boulder. In addition to this top billing, a post on the First Peoples Worldwide website identifies the group as “lead[ing] investors’ call for [the] NFL Washington team name change.” But no actual author is identified, and few details are provided as to the origins of this particular initiative. Given past, documented instances of questionable third parties authoring such petitions in the names of socially conscious investors, these are questions worth asking. Neither First Peoples Worldwide nor its director, Carla Fredericks, responded to multiple inquiries on this point.
Also unanswered is the question of just how these 87 signatories—and the 28 religious ones in particular—were gathered. The American Conservative reached out to many of the congregations listed to gain a clearer understanding of their involvement in the campaign.
Sister Teresa George, chair of the Daughters of Charity’s Socially Responsible Investment Committee, said, “[W]e do actively and deliberately participate in shareholder advocacy on issues that are of particular concern for us from a ministry and faith perspective. Issues such as human rights, inclusivity, racism and the dignity of workers.” While she declined to speak to the specifics of this circumstance, the sister stated that “when we add our name to the communication we take responsibility for the message that is delivered.”
It seems, however, that not every signatory was so deliberate. The provincial secretary of the Capuchin Province of St. Mary looked into the letter sent on behalf of his province. His answer was simple, and raises concerns: “I can’t find anybody in the organization who knows anything about it.”
19 other provinces or congregations had not responded to our inquiries at press time, though four of them had previously expressed their intention to do so.
However signatories were recruited—and the Capuchins’ unawareness of their own inclusion invites serious questions about the methods—it seems fairly obvious that socially conscious Catholic religious were not the driving force behind this campaign, any more than George Floyd was. A national furor stoked by activists in the streets became a ripe opportunity for activists in the boardroom—and just as in 2013 a host of well-meaning, religiously motivated shareholders were brought on board for additional leverage.
The pressure of their capital proved a useful tool in a long, and long unsuccessful, crusade. It may seem insignificant, but there is now one less roadblock, and one more precedent, in the woke left’s effort to rewrite (or simply erase) history. No doubt the pawns in this game—more than a few in that list of 87—are just as much in the dark concerning their fellow travelers as we are.
Money talks, sure—but big money barely whispers.
During the vice presidential debate between Senator Kamala Harris and Vice President Michael Pence, the former claimed that she was the only one in the race who had “prosecuted the big banks.” This was completely wrong.
In fact, as California attorney general, Kamala Harris pretty much let the big banks do what they wanted while extracting billions in extortion money from their shareholders. Not a single executive of a large bank was prosecuted during the Obama administration. Harris typifies the modern-day progressive politician, using regulation and threats of enforcement actions to accumulate a political war chest.
California attorney general’s office “put together a robust report” against OneWest Bank, Francesca Mari writes in The New York Review of Books (“The Housing Vultures”), “detailing widespread misconduct, which included backdating false documents, performing foreclosure actions without legal authority, and violating proper foreclosure notification practices.” Yet author Aaron Glantz notes in his new book Homewreckers that Harris did nothing about OneWest Bank, which was then headed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
As the old saying goes, “AG” stands for aspiring governor—or in this case, senator. In practice, American politicians are generally more interested in helping themselves than voters and consumers. Harris was elected California attorney general in November 2010, as the Obama administration was trying to deal with the great financial crisis. This was the perfect moment for her and other Democrats to ride the wave of national angst against the large banks that were receiving federal bailouts.
By 2012, Harris was already a rising Democratic star and a potential gubernatorial candidate. When she announced that California would receive by far the largest share of the $26 billion during the initial announcement of the National Mortgage Settlement, it signaled her arrival to national politics. Harris controlled the distribution of this money extracted from pension funds and investors who typically own equity in large banks. This treasure trove allowed a child of Indian immigrants with no particular political skills, charm, or ideological direction to jump the proverbial shark of California politics.
Michael Hiltzik, a business columnist for the Los Angeles Times, called the overall settlement “a parade of rosy self-congratulation,” adding, “I believe the technical term for all this is ‘big whoop.’” But the duplicity displayed by Harris and the other state AGs during the settlement negotiations was monumental. The AGs made common cause with big Wall Street firms that were selling the shares of the banks short in the pubic equity markets before each salacious headline appeared in the New York Times.
Properly understood, Harris and her ilk, including Senator Elizabeth Warren, were taxing the victims in the National Mortgage Settlement. The big banks and government-sponsored entities like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were the stooges of the financial crisis of 2008. It was them that bought all of that toxic fraudulent mortgage paper into the secondary loan market from the likes of Countrywide, Washington Mutual, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Stearns. In 2004, the GSEs were the biggest buyers of subprime mortgages in the country, followed by the likes of Citigroup, all of which ultimately collapsed.
Kamala Harris and President Obama refused to prosecute the guilty, but they were happy to use their legal powers to tax the shareholders of the big banks. The pension funds of public employee unions and teachers’ unions paid for Kamala Harris’ political career. There is nothing pro-consumer or even mildly progressive about Kamala Harris. She is the pinup girl of the corrupt corporate crony capitalist state. And she comes from California, one of the most hostile environments for the poor and disadvantaged in the entire country.
“By putting Harris on the ticket, the Democrats now have to defend the same Golden State that Harris has represented in Washington for less than one term (the same amount of time in federal office as Barack Obama),” writes Bill Whalen of Hoover Institution. “From the left’s perspective, the land of abundant sunshine and endless summers (that is, when the governor hasn’t ordered the beaches closed) is the answer to what ails America: one-party rule that won’t hesitate to raise taxes or launch grandiose government schemes in the name of social and racial justice.”
In the debate with Pence, Harris revealed her lack of depth. Conservative political parties in America have always had the support of the business community and those who work and employ other people. Going back to 1896 when the Republicans crushed William Jennings Bryan for the last time, the half of the population that makes the existence of the other half possible has traditionally voted Republican.
Since the New Deal and FDR, however, the liberal tendency has become embedded in government as illustrated by the Democrats’ obsessive focus on supposed consumer issues. The sad part, of course, is that consumers end up paying for the expansion of the regulatory state. As the cost of making and servicing residential mortgage loans has increased since the 2012 National Mortgage Settlement, these costs have been passed along to consumers in the form of less credit availability for low-income households.
Harris and her ilk in liberal politics represent a frightening new evolution, part trial lawyer, part media star, part fundraising machine, but all empty inside. Her big idea in 2019 was to give black families down payments and other subsidies to encourage home ownership. “We must right the wrong, and after generations of discrimination give black families a real shot at home ownership—historically one of the most powerful drivers of wealth,” she said, providing no further details.
Without sufficient household income, such experiments are likely to fail. Indeed, for many low-income families in California and other high-cost blue states, renting is a far better deal financially than trying to purchase an entry-level home in a major metropolitan area. The last thing a low- or moderate-income family needs right now is to get saddled with the overhead cost of paying property taxes in a new-era socialist paradise like New York City, which is facing financial collapse because of the mismanagement of Mayor Bill De Blasio.
Like many supposed “progressives,” Harris cannot tell you why she advocates socialist policies or even articulate a personal political philosophy. Like obvious role models such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, she’s in it for the power. Her future scripts will be written by the lobbyists of the big banks and corporations she has come to know over the past decade. But have no doubt that the Democrats will continue to use the levers of power to tax the productive part of society to provide the level of existence to which they feel entitled. We will all pay for that privilege.
Christopher Whalen is an investment banker and chairman of Whalen Global Advisors LLC. He is the author of three books, including Ford Men: From Inspiration to Enterprise (2017) and Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream (2010). He edits The Institutional Risk Analyst, and appears regularly on such media outlets as CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox News, and Business News Network. Follow him on Twitter @rcwhalen.
An open question from a Boston-area pro-housing group last month sparked dozens of interesting replies and conversations. One that I happened to see stood out to me:
People should be able to live where they want. Literally: any person on the planet should be able to live in any location on Earth, down at least to the square mile (provided that any location-specific externalities like fire risk are internalized). https://t.co/tgHP7uzw0y
— Max Ghenis (@MaxGhenis) September 11, 2020
That sounds a lot like the right-wing trope (and occasional left-libertarian dream) of “open borders.” Except it’s coming from a progressive. This is not the first time I’ve seen progressive urbanists draw an analogy between liberal immigration policies at the national level and pro-density, pro-housing policies at the municipal level. Here’s another example, from Maryland’s Montgomery County Council member Andrew Friedson (relayed by Jane Lyons, of the D.C.-area Coalition for Smarter Growth):
to @Andrew_Friedson at today's joint committee meeting on the county's growth policy: "Housing policy is our version of immigration at the county level. It's a question of what we value, who we want to live here, where we want them to live."
— Jane Lyons (@janeplyons) September 23, 2020
There are more conservative, or more particular, ways of framing the issue of inclusion and housing affordability, however. For example, this tweet by Dan Reed, also a planner based in Montgomery County, and also a progressive.
it's always important to remember that when "the community" shows up at meetings to oppose things, they don't always look like, or speak for, everyone in that communityhttps://t.co/pA1It5mpCE
— dan reed (@justupthepike) May 22, 2019
This is an important point that can be abstracted away by the “open borders” framing of YIMBYism, in which the imperative to improve specific places risks being replaced by a general and vaguely defined imperative. What Reed’s point means is that in many cases, we do not have to imagine theoretical people who might want to move in. They are already here—but the processes by which we plan development and seek public input are designed in such a way that their voices are not sought or heard. “The community” is not illegitimate or exclusionary in and of itself, but it is also not congruent with the professional board meeting attendees. This is a fruitful line of argument from both a social justice angle and a pro-market one. Very few laymen truly understand how arcane and byzantine the planning and development process in most localities is. Making these conversations more accessible would probably help to move the needle on YIMBY priorities.
What interests me more broadly here is that the same basic goal—getting more housing built (and sometimes other stuff), and making the process easier and less expensive (for developers) and more inclusive (for the community, fully and broadly understood)—can be framed in ways that range from extremely progressive and ideologically abstract to ways that are concrete, particular, and small-c conservative. Part of the purpose of New Urbs is to make urbanist concerns intelligible and palatable to conservatives, who unfortunately are often predisposed to view urbanism with suspicion. The “anyone should be allowed to live anywhere” framing probably raises a lot of conservative eyebrows. It suggests no particular course of action for any particular place. It invites equally abstract rebuttals, at the level of ideology, rather than forcing NIMBYs to admit in concrete terms what exactly they believe and advocate for (or against).
Of relevance to the reaction it might draw from conservatives, it is also a leveling and universalizing sentiment, one which some will take to mean, “particular communities do not have a right to exist as such.” The appeal to “community,” of course, was commonly used by segregationists, and can operate as a dog whistle today. But a conservative argument for YIMBYism would be one which embraces more housing and inclusion, but as a particular rather than a universal mandate—which, to be fair, many, maybe most, urbanists do! It is possible to argue that more housing, more neighbors, more business owners and entrepreneurship, in fact enhance the things that make a place a place. It is not possible, or rather, it is not actionable, to ensure that anyone can live anywhere. But it is possible for particular communities all across America to break out of their regulatory amber and bring in and welcome new life and new activity and new dynamism. A land-use regime that results in such places, and which makes any other option exceedingly difficult, is both exclusionary and at the same time denies a positive and wholesome particularity to our places.
Now this isn’t going to change any professional NIMBY thinking, but it might nudge some reconsideration among ordinary right-leaning folks whose only notion of urbanism is that it is a sort of leftie lifestyle cause. As Josh Delk wrote a few weeks ago in this space about New Urbanism, but could be said about good urbanism in general, “The best New Urbanist projects make places feel more like themselves.” Conservatives in particular should want places to feel “more like themselves.” And we have a lot of room to broaden what we understand that to mean.
This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Follow New Urbs on Twitter for a feed dedicated to TAC’s coverage of cities, urbanism, and place.
Last year, in my annual commemoration of Columbus Day for The American Conservative, I described the holiday’s detractors as “cultural arsonists” who seek the erasure of the historic American nation’s history and symbols. This past summer, those societal dregs embraced the destruction they’d yearned for all along.
Since George Floyd’s death in May, the most pernicious among us have exploited an opportunity to take to the streets and destroy with impunity. Their targets have included monuments, especially ones to Christopher Columbus, as well as businesses, homes, and livelihoods.
A Columbus statue in Boston was decapitated—for the second time since it was erected in 1979—and then removed by the city. In 1927, the first statue of Columbus in the southern United States was erected in Richmond, Virginia, despite opposition from the anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan; 90 years later, channeling similar hatreds, vandals tore down the statue, set it on fire, and threw it into a lake. It was joined by a Columbus statue in Baltimore’s Little Italy, which was tossed into the inner harbor. To add insult to injury, the Baltimore City Council is looking to rededicate the city’s Columbus Obelisk—erected in 1792, the United States’ oldest monument to Columbus—as the “Victims of Police Violence Monument.”
To promote greater tolerance, understanding, and opportunity for Italian immigrants, sculptor Carlo Brioschi contributed statues of Christopher Columbus to beautify American cities, one in his adopted home of St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1931, and another in Chicago in 1933. The former was pulled down by Native Americans (as state troopers apathetically watched) and the latter was removed by orders of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
In less than six months, over 36 statues of Christopher Columbus have been removed from the public square by either the mob’s chain or mayor’s edict. It’s not unlike the Reign of Terror, where statues of saints were guillotined to obliterate any memory of pre-revolutionary France.
These curs have a new revolution in mind, one that repudiates anything that doesn’t adhere to the twisted ethics of the progressive left. That includes the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, where our nation had the sense of mind (and identity) to venerate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ voyage. The Chicago World’s Fair—also known as the Columbian Exposition—was one of the most significant cultural events in U.S. history, with profound effects on architecture, entertainment, and the adoption of new technology. One of the most popular exhibits was the life-size replicas of Columbus’ three ships—the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria—which were constructed in Spain before they sailed to Chicago, where they performed a theatrical rendition of the European arrival.
Past generations of Americans understood greatness and why it’s commendable, unlike the thankless iconoclasts of today. Paying homage to the men and women of the past is about recognizing and appreciating extraordinary feats. The grandeur of Columbus is succinctly encapsulated by 1970s comedian and television host Flip Wilson. “As a kid, my idol—and he’s still my idol—of all the great American heroes, my idol is Christopher Columbus,” Wilson jovially told a comedy club audience. “What a great thing that was, discovering America. I wouldn’t have found it. I don’t know where you people would have been, I wouldn’t have found it.”
The sledgehammer reckoning isn’t only destined for navigators either. “Our Taliban have moved on, past Columbus and the Confederate generals, to dislodge and dishonor the Founding Fathers and their patriot sons,” wrote this magazine’s co-founder Pat Buchanan. Weak-willed conservatives who for decades have been too cowardly to defend Columbus or the Confederate soldier are receiving their earned punishment. These cultural arsonists now seek to expunge the Founding Fathers from the American consciousness.
“Slave owners should not be honored with monuments in public spaces. We have museums for that, which also provide better context,” writes columnist Charles Blow in The New York Times. That would include 10 of the first dozen U.S. presidents, including the author of the Declaration of Independence, the father of the Constitution, and the namesake of the nation’s capital.
According to Blow, human history is nothing more than a “horrible truth,” undeserving of remembrance or admiration. Blow himself is motivated by a moral absolutism that he is either unable or unwilling to separate from the past. While Blow is correct that morality is both universal and undeniable, his preference to live a desolate, ahistorical existence is nothing short of ghoulish.
Blow’s cohort is composed of our society’s mediocrities—the corporate press, the phony academics, the diversity consultants and race hustlers—who malign Christopher Columbus and his kin because achievement is intolerable to their insecurities.
This caste is represented politically by people like Senator Tammy Duckworth, who supports “having a national dialogue” on whether or not monuments of George Washington should be smashed since “we should listen to the argument there.” How can one reconcile Duckworth’s service in the U.S. Army with her clear antipathy for the American nation and its founders? It’s because Tammy Duckworth is a soldier for military empire—not a living nation—who wears her approximation of American identity like second-hand clothes.
In his Fourth of July message, Democratic nominee Joe Biden promised he’d “rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country.” Biden’s auxiliaries have been clear that racism in the United States goes as deep as its soul. European colonization was genocide, and Christopher Columbus its primary architect. The existence of the historic American nation is a disgrace that must be blotted out, along with its heritage, traditions, and heroes.
Remember that this November. Your ancestors will be on the ballot.
Happy Columbus Day.
Hunter DeRensis is assistant editor at the Libertarian Institute and a regular contributor to The American Conservative. You can follow him on Twitter @HunterDeRensis.
The post Saving Christopher Columbus From the Cultural Arsonists appeared first on The American Conservative.
“I fully respect that Poland is a Catholic country, but you need to know that, regarding LGBT, you’re on the wrong side of history.”
In recent years, conservative Poles and their American allies have heard some variation of this reproach a thousand times—usually from the scolding activists of the U.S. LGBT lobby, not content with massive victories in their homefront war. This time, though, the source is somewhat unexpected: the United States’ Trump-appointed ambassador to Poland.
Georgette Mosbacher—cosmetics executive, socialite/philanthropist, and longtime GOP apparatchik—might seem an odd choice to send to Warsaw. In fact, she was controversial at the time of her appointment, as she laid the blame for European anti-semitism at Poland’s door, on account of “a law passed in Poland in January  that criminalizes blaming Poland for Holocaust crimes committed by occupying Nazi Germany.” (The act banned by the law is perhaps the most outrageous conceivable form of what the kids call “victim-blaming.”) The Polish government denounced Mosbacher’s heavy charge, but nonetheless accepted her appointment.
It now seems clear, though, that Mosbacher’s confirmation hiccup was merely indicative of a broader, deeper ignorance of Polish culture, politics, and values. The damning quote above—taken from a late-September interview with a Polish news outlet—is self-defeating. If the ambassador actually respected that Poland is a Catholic country, and had even the most basic understanding of what that means, she would not have finished the sentence.
Alas, she did—which leaves us with the unwelcome task of analyzing it. “Wrong side of history” is no throwaway phrase. It is not the kind of soft aspersion cast on those with mildly offensive habits, people to be chided gently and maybe nudged in the right direction. It is an insult reserved for people whose views you find reprehensible, and untenable. (This is no shocker, either, though—it’s an easy charge to level against those you’ve already called anti-semites.)
The “wrong side of history” moralizing also betrays a good deal about the ideology in play. It is a reminder that, in America, even our right-wingers are Whigs most of the time. History, in their minds, is always moving forward. Freedom lies before us, and requires that we leave behind old bonds: to King and country first; to God and family in a chain reaction. (Any conservatism we can lay claim to is a bit of quibbling over which bonds we can keep, and for how long—standing athwart History yelling “Gently, please!”) And that there is a wrong side of history necessitates a right side set against it: always the thrust of Progress. Here, by the ambassador’s reckoning, it is progressive liberation from traditional sexual mores.
This was not a slip of the tongue. Ambassador Mosbacher was not just grinding a personal axe on embassy time. This liberationism is, and has long been, the de facto policy of the U.S. State Department.
For another example we might look to Zambia. The African nation of over 17 million people has been without an American ambassador since January of this year, when Daniel Lewis Foote, a career diplomat appointed to the post in December 2017, was declared persona non grata by the Zambian president just two years after his arrival in the country. Ambassador Foote had, in no uncertain terms, denounced the enforcement of the nation’s laws against sodomy. (For what it’s worth, sodomy laws are still on the books in 15 of these United States, though a 6-3 SCOTUS decision in the distant age of 2003 has proscribed their enforcement.)
With little awareness of his host nation’s culture—over 85 percent of the population is Christian and the Zambian constitution explicitly defines its identity as a Christian nation—Foote declaimed his horror that Zambia had not dispensed with a 3,000-year Judeo-Christian precedent within 16 years of the U.S. doing the same. In response to heavy criticism from the Zambian government and public, the ambassador doubled down, throwing up scare quotes around “Christian values” in a less-than-diplomatic statement. Following this clear attempt to impose his own agenda on Zambian domestic affairs, Foote was recalled to the United States. No replacement is expected soon.
Despite the incumbency of noted social conservative Mike Pompeo as secretary of state, this has actually been a running theme in the Trump administration’s foreign policy apparatus. Richard Grenell—himself an openly gay man—was tapped to head our overseas LGBT efforts during his time as ambassador to Germany. Grenell continued the efforts during a brief stint as acting director of national intelligence, threatening to sideline any intelligence allies who did not bow to the agenda. On this audacious move, Grenell told The New York Times, “We have the president’s total support. This is an American value, and this is United States policy.”
Is it, now?
For the Trump administration, it seems, the answer is yes—the job of these diplomats, after all, is to represent American interests abroad. We cannot very well pretend to two sets of values: the American values we push in Zambia and Poland ought to be the same ones we tout on the campaign trail here. And while it’s true that Trump has never made any claims at hardline social conservatism, he has never advertised to the electorate such blatant disgust at it as his representatives do abroad; such pronouncements would cost votes. But as the strong arm of the State Department pushes for progress overseas—unhindered by the need to win elections—it is not hard to see that conservative Americans will find themselves in an even more hostile world a few years down the line. History marches on.
* * *
It is worth considering exactly what Mosbacher denounced in Poland. Poland—87 percent Catholic and governed by the right-wing Law and Justice Party—is not in the same political situation as states like Zambia, where illicit but consensual sexual acts can be punished by time in prison. It is certainly not so extreme as, say, Saudi Arabia, where sodomy is punishable by death (and where, oddly enough, American diplomats keep tight lips on the matter). Poland is actually one of very few states in the world where no sodomy laws have ever been enacted.
What Poland does have is a powerful cultural force—tied up, yes, in its political operations—energized in defense of tradition. The most publicized manifestation of this cultural-political traditionalism has been the establishment of “LGBT-free zones” throughout Poland, now encompassing about one third of the country. These zones are largely symbolic, representing an opposition to the ideology that conservative leaders see as a threat to traditional mores, and especially as a corrupting influence on children. Catholic and nationalist leaders like President Andrzej Duda identify it specifically as a foreign, imported ideology, antithetical to Polish values. (Ambassador Mosbacher has certainly bolstered their claim.)
This is not exactly tyranny. This is a fairly standard social conservatism: resistance to the kind of change that corrupts, especially from unfamiliar and unwelcome origins. Its only difference from American social conservatism is that it has attained some modicum of success—precisely because it has not shied away from asserting its claims in the public square.
There is a significant and growing number of Americans who would be sure to support similar efforts if they could see them as anything more than hopeless. They are the base of a burgeoning movement on the right focused on the common good, open to commitments to public morality and skeptical of the golden calf of liberty. They are, by and large, religious people. They would be far more successful in the defense of conservatism at home if they did not have leaders who constantly undercut the same cause abroad.
They—we—did not vote for Hillary Clinton.
That is why this matters. How many millions of us cast our lot for Trump in 2016? How many millions more will do the same next month? We deserve an honest answer about what the people we put in power think of us.
Are we on the wrong side of history too?
As conflict heats up over Nagorno-Karabakh, a tiny Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, a covert battle is taking place on Capitol Hill to win the hearts and minds of lawmakers in Washington.
Since hostilities began on September 27, hundreds of lives have been lost as Azerbaijani drones have flown within 20 miles of Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, and an Armenian strike was carried out on a military base in Azerbaijan’s second city, Ganja.
“The next targets could be oil and gas facilities in Azerbaijan, or Yerevan and Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku,” reports the New York Times, an escalation with the potential to draw in Turkey, Russia, and Iran on opposing sides.
Well-armed and financed Azerbaijan is receiving assistance from Turkey, an American ally. Turkish drones and jets have been exacting civilian casualties on Armenians, and as TAC previously reported, Armenians are in danger of ethnic cleansing once again.
“Civilians are bearing the brunt of surge in violence,” reported the International Committee of the Red Cross on October 2. They added, “Civilian deaths and injuries, including of children, have been reported on both sides of the line of contact, and in Armenia.”
Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has ramped up its public relations campaign, employing not one but six of K Street’s heavy-hitting firms, including the Livingston Group, Stellar Jay Communications, BGR, the Podesta Group, and DLA Piper. Last year the country spent $1.3 million on lobbying.
Armenia traditionally lobbies through American community groups, and has just one firm working for them, Alston and Bird. The contract was signed September 16, so it’s unclear how much money they will spend petitioning Washington this year, but documents reveal they haven’t spent any money lobbying since 2016.
Azerbaijan, on the other hand, lobbies in much the same manner as a Gulf State—though with considerably less resources—and has a long history of extensive lobbying efforts.
In an attempt “to whitewash its dictatorial image…the autocratic government of Ilham Aliyev has unleashed spin-doctors, duped reporters, and led one of the most brazen pushes to abuse American lobbying loopholes of any foreign government,” wrote Casey Michel in 2016.
For years, lobbyists on the dime of Azerbaijan have met with universities, think tanks, and members of Congress. They’ve arranged the placement of favorable op-eds in outlets like The Hill, the Washington Times, the Daily Caller, National Review, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. These articles were initially published without disclosing the authors’ financial ties to Azerbaijan.
While oil-rich Azerbaijan’s lobbying slowed after 2016 due to the collapse of its currency, Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) documents reveal a flurry of recent activity aimed at convincing Washington elites that Armenia is the aggressor and that the U.S. should favor Azerbaijan in the conflict.
When American lobbying and public relations firms are hired by foreign countries, they are legally required to register their clients with the Justice Department under FARA. They are also required to provide a list of the activities they undertake on behalf of the foreign country.
Azerbaijan’s hired K Street guns are distributing what are euphemistically referred to in FARA documents as “informational materials.” These materials could be more accurately described as propaganda. The documents distributed on Capitol Hill highlight Armenia’s “provocative actions,” its “illegal” role in the conflict, that Armenia allegedly “kills Azerbaijani civilians, including children,” and how “Armenia’s leaders have been actively undermining the ongoing peace process.”
The documents lobbyists distribute on Capitol Hill make some incredulous claims: that “Armenia has long been involved with Middle Eastern terrorism,” that “Azerbaijan has been consistent in urging substantive and result-oriented negotiations in order to achieve a breakthrough in the conflict,” and that “Turkey is not directly involved and is not a party to the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.”
That last assertion stands in direct contradiction with reports that Turkey has been heavily involved in the conflict, even going so far as to send 1,000 jihadist fighters from Syria to aid Azerbaijan.
On October 2, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said that an estimated 150 high-ranking Turkish military officials were stationed in Azerbaijan command centers. Armenia’s National Security Service also publicized intelligence data showing that the Turkish Air Force is directly involved in Azerbaijan’s attacks against Artsakh.
Although Turkey denies involvement, satellite imagery confirms that at least two Turkish Air Force F-16 jets were present at Ganja International Airport in Azerbaijan earlier this month. Baykar, a Turkish drone manufacturer, also supplies Turkish TB2 drones, some of the deadliest flying over Stepanakert, according to the New York Times.
Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev said this week that thanks to the drones, “our casualties on the front shrunk…. These drones show Turkey’s strength. It also [shows Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan…empowers us.”
Erdogan has backed Azerbaijan to the hilt.
“Once again I condemn Armenia that attacked Azerbaijani lands yesterday. Armenia must withdraw from the places it occupies. The crisis that started with the occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh in the region must be put to an end,” said Erdogan.
“Turkey will continue to support Azerbaijan,” he added.
Turkey’s “full support” motivated Azerbaijan to reignite fighting in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told the AFP. He added that the current conflict has seen the “active engagement of terrorist groups from the Middle East in the conflict zone,” and he described the role of Armenian forces as a “counter-terrorism operation.”
Turkey’s involvement is so egregious that Canada has halted arms sales to Ankara while it determines whether its drone technology was used improperly by forces fighting in Azerbaijan. But U.S. security aid to Azerbaijan, to the tune of roughly $100 million in 2018 and 2019, has continued unabated.
From Defense News:
Last year, DoD awarded VSE Corp., of Alexandria, Va., a $10 million contract for unspecified counterterrorism and intelligence equipment, and in-country training in support of the Azerbaijan Maritime Security Program for the Caspian Sea.
Also, Smiths Detection Inc., of Edgewood, Md., was awarded a $16 million contract for X-rays and screening equipment, “to counter transnational threats,” according to the DoD announcement.
In August, DoD awarded United States Marine Inc., of Gulfport, Miss., a $7.6 million contract for 15 9-meter, multi-use explosive ordnance disposal response craft.
The U.S. recently supplied aid to Azerbaijan for boats, X-ray scanners, and underwater surveillance gear meant to help the country patrol its border with Iran and the Caspian Sea.
Worse still, Armenia’s prime minister Pashinyan has charged that the U.S. is doing nothing to stop its ally Turkey from using American-made F-16 jets against ethnic Armenians in the disputed mountain region.
Meanwhile, some of Azerbaijan’s paid propagandists from years past are writing op-eds without disclosing their conflicts of interest. Brenda Shaffer, whose piece previously received an editor’s note and clarification from both The Washington Post and The New York Times, is now writing on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict for the think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
Shaffer had failed to disclose to the New York Times that she had been an adviser to Azerbaijan’s state-run oil company. No disclosure exists on her latest FDD piece, even though it is about how the “Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict Poses Threat to European Energy Security” and Shaffer is FDD’s senior advisor for energy. Shaffer’s piece is hardly neutral, describing the conflict as having begun “following the Soviet breakup, when Armenia invaded neighboring Azerbaijan, captured close to 20 percent of its territory, and turned almost a million Azerbaijanis into refugees.”
The bottom line: these documents are sanitizing Azerbaijan’s role in the conflict and paint Armenia as the aggressor. Even as Azerbaijan carries out a campaign against the Armenian population that might presage another ethnic cleansing, the U.S. continues to supply Azerbaijan and Turkey with millions of dollars in weapons and security assistance.
The post How Azerbaijan is Lobbying Washington to Sanitize its War appeared first on The American Conservative.
Anyone who has waded through the Snowden revelations, or the Vault 7 leaks, will probably treat mobile devices with a healthy degree of caution. And rightly so. The public record demonstrates that spies excel at using smartphones to conduct surveillance and spread propaganda. Furthermore the incidence of such programs is accelerating as tools of the trade proliferate. The implications are unsettling.
While the National Security Agency was found guilty of illegal monitoring, at least there’s some semblance of an official framework in place to govern its actions. Big tech, on the other hand, is subject to far fewer legal restrictions here in the United States. What’s more, foreign spies operate inside our borders with the explicit consent of their own governments. As far as intelligence services abroad are concerned, the entire population of the United States is fair game. Given the depth and breadth of the surveillance capabilities arrayed against them, do average American citizens stand a chance of defending themselves? The answer to this question can be found by traversing the far corners of the underworld, a milieu where communication security (COMSEC) is paramount and mistakes can be fatal.
Trust What You Control
Despite these risks of using a smartphone, groups of people still need to communicate and technology does offer an edge. So how does the underworld address the threat of exposure? History informs that there has been a shift towards equipment and infrastructure which is more directly under their control. This tenet often manifests itself in DIY communications systems.
For example, there are service providers who sell specially modified devices and host their own servers. A maverick company named Encrochat serves as an instructive case study. Encrochat offered custom Android phones which had their microphones, GPS, and camera physically removed. The phones shipped with pre-installed encrypted messaging apps that routed traffic through the company’s offshore data centers.
You can probably guess how this story ended. Law enforcement succeeded in hacking the company’s user base en masse. At one point Encrochat’s leaders broadcast a warning alert to users, conceding that “Due to the level of sophistication of the attack and the malware code, we can no longer guarantee the security of your device.” More than 100 million messages were decrypted, leading to a wave of arrests spanning five countries.
To buttress their defenses, criminal groups can skip the middleman entirely and run their own in-house systems. The Mexican cartels, for instance, have been known to shell out millions of dollars to build nationwide encrypted real-time communication networks. Although these networks do provide more autonomy, dedicated infrastructure is also conspicuous. Once digital infrastructure has been identified it can be methodically attacked.
This is exactly how the FBI nailed Joaquín Guzmán, the former boss of the Sinaloa Cartel. The feds simply figured out who Guzmán hired to build his network and they leaned on him until he coughed up the system’s encryption passcodes. Why waste the time asking the NSA to decipher foreign traffic when you can compel an insider to hand over the keys to the kingdom? This is known in the business as “rubber-hose cryptanalysis.”
One way around this vulnerability is to leverage a setup that’s strictly short-term. Pablo Escobar, the late boss of the Medellin drug cartel in Columbia, bet his life on this practice. For months on end he avoided capture by using a radio telephone to hold brief conversations while driving around disguised as a taxi driver. The moving transmissions that blipped in and out of existence proved difficult to trace. When police finally did catch him, it was because Escobar slipped up. He made a call lasting over three minutes from a fixed location. One slip is all it took.
A retired intelligence analyst offers the following insight: “Anything that emits an electromagnetic signal can and will be targeted.” What this means is that groups with higher security requirements may have to dispense with technology altogether and go old-school. Facing an adversary that possesses a world-class home-field advantage, the best option may be to exit the field and force watchers onto terrain where their automation and economies of scale don’t mean as much. This is why ISIS relies on couriers who don’t carry electronics.
Finally, in the annals of espionage there is one “hard target” who stands head and shoulders above the rest, a man who, to this day, regularly stymies America’s most talented spies by surrounding himself with the intelligence equivalent of a black hole: Kim Jong-un of North Korea. At one point President Obama remarked that he would have “targeted the North Korean leadership” with a military strike but that acquiring the necessary information to do so was impossible.
Ernst Blofeld, eat your heart out.
Streams of bytes are constantly being exchanged between mobile devices, users, and their immediate environment. Therefore it’s wise to limit the information that you give a smartphone, limit the information that it discloses to its surroundings, and scrutinize the information which you consume. Recall how wardens in the movie Silence of the Lambs kept Dr. Lecter locked away most of the time. And when they did interact with him they carefully controlled the parameters of the conversation. In the domain of anti-forensics this is known as data source elimination.
An extreme expression of this strategy would be to yank out the battery of a smart phone and stick everything into a Faraday bag. This particular ploy gave the NSA fits in Iraq when a known target took his cellphone completely apart, making it extremely difficult to follow him. Spies eventually got him by monitoring his wife’s cellphone. Thus imparting an important lesson: it’s not just your cellphone that’s a threat, it’s everyone else’s too. Put another way: only in a country like North Korea could there be “black holes,” because only a country like North Korea possesses the necessary stranglehold on communication.
Another problem with going cold turkey is that the absence of transmission may, in and of itself, set off alarms. In the Xinjiang region of China, anyone who abruptly stops using their smart phone and goes “off grid” is flagged as meriting further investigation. Anomalies are useful for unearthing threats in a large population. The authorities begin by collecting loads of data and defining statistical baselines of behavior. Then they scan their operating environment for people who violate those baselines. The recent ascension of big data and artificial intelligence in countries like China has enabled significance advances to this end.
The Syrian jihadist who led the November 2015 Paris attacks evaded security services through clever application of the anti-forensic strategy of data fabrication. Specifically he successfully created a whole series of fake baselines by giving his cellphones and account credentials to collaborators who used them to preserve a consistent level of online activity. To further muddy the water, the jihadist maintained radio silence for long periods, used face-to-face meetings, and coded hand written notes. This demonstrates both anti-forensic data concealment and data transformation. When he did communicate electronically, he did so using expendable devices which were used once and then disposed of to destroy forensic evidence.
Granted, the average user may not want to spend the time and energy to fabricate baselines. They can, however, probably still come up with modest windows of opportunity in their daily routines. For example, someone who works a regular 9-to-5 job can opt to depart from home during the early hours of the morning, leaving the mobile device back on the coffee table where it normally sits overnight.
A Bitter Pill
The fate of countless terrorists and crime bosses hints that there is no silver bullet. Anyone who offers guarantees regarding COMSEC is either a fool, a con artist selling snake oil, or a spy trying to bait a trap. Security is not a product or a branding mechanism. It’s a process. One that requires consistency, discipline, and sacrifice. The notion that there’s an app that will allow you to have your cake and eat it too is a sweet-sounding lie emanating from Silicon Valley. The bitter pill of COMSEC is that autonomy cannot be purchased. Nor is it convenient. Achieving higher levels of assurance means faithfully practicing anti-forensics by keeping sensitive data streams scarce, extremely difficult to identify, and even harder to interpret. Through the use of ephemeral out-of-band channels that function within existing patterns of activity, raising the cost of detection and analysis to unsustainable levels. Even state-sponsored organizations have their limits.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator focusing on information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
Most people look at a gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free, organic, non-GMO, palm oil-free candy being advertised in a store with bemusement. Yet in the United States, aisles in supermarkets, entire retail chains, are dedicated to these kinds of products, which over the years have attracted a loyal customer base. This is quintessentially American, because consumers have choices.
In Europe, critics of modern agriculture seek not to convince the public with slogans and brands; instead they’ve launched an open attack on the free choices of consumers. Almost all GMOs have been made illegal in Europe, and an increasing number of herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides are being banned, despite scientific research showing their safety. This has led to rising food prices in Europe—while the EU average price increase is 2.5 percent a year, some member states saw up to 5 percent in pre-pandemic times, which outperforms inflation. More increases are to be expected if new plans come into motion.
The European Union’s executive body, the European Commission, recently published a new roadmap for agriculture, known as the “Farm to Fork” strategy. It is the cornerstone of fundamental agriculture reform, a move intended to foster sustainable agriculture. The strategy contains two flagship proposals: reducing pesticide use 50 percent by 2030 and increasing organic agriculture to 25 percent of total production by 2030.
On pesticide reduction, there is no ambiguity about the fact that this is a political ambition and not a scientific one. In the European Union, chemical crop protection products are approved by a government food safety agency. Requesting a reduction of 50 percent of products that are considered harmless in the first place has nothing to do with reasonable agricultural policy.
The origins of the hostility towards modern agriculture are multifactorial. There’s the skepticism of food from the United States, which is regarded as unsafe, as well as the ready availability and multitude of choices, which are perceived as unhealthy consumerism.
One of the most cited reasons is that American chicken is treated with chlorine—which has scared many European consumers (despite them happily eating chicken on a visit to the United States). This attitude arose from the misconception that EU regulators had deemed the process of using chlorine unsafe. In reality, those regulators expressed concern that the process, which is safe, would lead poultry farmers in the U.S. to be more negligent in the keeping of their chickens.
Another key factor relating to the reduction targets on pesticides is how Europe increasingly views risk assessment. In the English language, the words “hazard” and “risk” are used interchangeably, yet in the scientific world, they mean different things. “Hazard” is the ability of something to cause harm, while “risk” is the degree to which it actually is harmful. For instance, the sun is a hazard when going to the beach, yet sunlight enables the body’s production of vitamin D and some exposure to it is essential. As with everything else, it is the amount of exposure that matters. A hazard-based regulatory approach to sunlight would shut us all indoors and ban all beach excursions, rather than cautioning beachgoers to limit their exposure by applying sunscreen. The end result would be to harm, not protect human health. A risk-based assessment would take into account the varying factors present in the real world.
The twisted logic of hazard-based regulation is all too often applied in crop protection regulation, where it creates equally absurd inconsistencies. For instance, if wine was sprayed on vineyards as a pesticide, it would have to be banned under EU law, as alcohol is a known and quite potent carcinogen at high levels of consumption. All this is rationalized through an inconsistent and distorted application of what Europeans call the “precautionary principle.” Needless to say, Europe is practically the only region in the world that governs food standards in this fashion, and many countries have complained about this before the World Trade Organization.
EU institutions have a rigid and fundamentalist view on nature and agriculture. In a speech in May, the EU’s commissioner for environment talked about the European food strategy in a nature-based way: “When you have adequate protection, properly enforced, nature pays you back.” He added, “This is a strategy for reconnection with nature, for helping Europe to heal.” To do so, Brussels endorses organic agriculture and “agro-ecological practices.” The science (or lack thereof) of “agro-ecology” deserves an article all its own, but in essence, it means no pesticides, no genetic engineering, no synthetic fertilizers, and in many cases no mechanization. This method of farming has been described as “peasant farming” and “indigenous farming,” and rejects all the progress of modern agriculture. According to its own proponents, it reduces agricultural output by 35 percent on average.
With the current recession, one wonders what the consequences of these radical changes will be in Europe. U.S Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has been very present in European media, reminding authorities that modern farming is a great asset, that their choices will lead to bad outcomes, and that a trade deal across the Atlantic will be virtually impossible if Europe diverges even more from reasonable norms.
He’s right: the view of modern agriculture as a destroyer of nature is seriously flawed. Stanford University researchers have found that if we farmed in the same manner as 60 years ago, an area equal to the entire land mass of Russia—three times the size of the Amazon, four times that of the European Union—would have to be cleared of forest and natural habitat and brought into agricultural production. Adding to that, high-yield farming has avoided 161 gigatons of carbon dioxide since 1961, while research from the United Kingdom has shown that moving all current agriculture to organic farming would increase greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70 percent.
The black-and-white view from which organic is good while conventional agriculture destroys ecosystems is a mere caricature of the reality of farming. If EU member states do not reject the “Farm to Fork” strategy, then they’ll lead their continent down a dangerous path towards less food security and higher prices. That isn’t in the interests of nature, farmers, or consumers.
Bill Wirtz comments on European politics and policy in English, French, and German. His work has appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Examiner, CityAM, Le Monde, Le Figaro, and Die Welt.
The post Europe Looks Backwards on Agriculture, Endangers a Trade Deal With the U.S. appeared first on The American Conservative.
President Donald Trump’s willingness to criticize America’s traditional allies has generated a fierce backlash. Members of the infamous Blob, the foreign policy establishment, have united to defend virtually every member of every alliance.
No doubt, cooperation to advance shared interests is advantageous. However, that does not require one-sided peace guarantees to nations capable of defending themselves. And it makes no sense to ally with a country that does not advance U.S. security. Like Turkey.
Ankara has long enjoyed a reputation for being strategically important, anchoring Europe’s southeast, limiting Soviet advances into the Mediterranean through the Black Sea and into the Middle East overland. The U.S. still uses Incirlik and Izmir Air Bases to extend its military reach. Ankara has been held up as a model Islamic democracy.
Even during the Cold War, NATO paid a high price for Turkey’s inclusion. Authoritarian, military-dominated governments in Ankara enforced a ruthlessly secular public space; there were several coups, hard and soft. In 1974, Turkey invaded and partitioned the Republic of Cyprus. War almost erupted with Greece and for a time Congress barred arms sales to Ankara. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ankara became a regional guardian without serious duties, while its unstable, military-dominated coalition politics and weak economy didn’t look like much of a model for anyone.
The 2002 victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) transformed Turkey. Originally the AKP presented itself as responsibly religious, pro-Western, and liberal, eager to democratize Turkish society, exclude the military from politics, and join the European Union.
However, by the end of the decade, Erdogan and his party had immersed themselves in corruption and initiated authoritarian rule. His commitment to Islam turned harsh and political. Rule of law, individual liberties, and democratic procedures all were sacrificed to enhance regime power. The 2016 attempted coup was Erdogan’s Reichstag fire, justifying the brutal crackdown and purge that he’d long wanted and may have planned. Last year, for the first time, Erdogan tampered with the actual vote, forcing a rerun of the Istanbul mayoral race, which his party ended up losing twice. Next time he may be more desperate—and simply steal the election.
The cumulative impact has been to destroy what was always a flawed and limited democracy. The group Freedom House rates the country as not free. The State Department points to “reports of arbitrary killings; suspicious deaths of persons in custody; forced disappearances; torture; arbitrary arrest and detention of tens of thousands of persons,” and that’s just the start.
All of which has undermined NATO. The Europeans take democracy more seriously than during the Cold War. Indeed, they justified the alliance’s post-Cold War expansion as a means of integrating the former communist states of Central and Eastern Europe into the West. The allies also perceive Russia’s slide backward into authoritarianism as part of its menace.
Even more problematic for NATO is Ankara’s increasingly independent and hostile foreign policy. Russia is Europe’s only conceivable serious adversary. Yet Erdogan has become the equivalent of a fifth columnist, more likely to support Moscow than Brussels.
His policy toward Russia was irresponsibly reckless when, five years ago, Ankara shot down a Russian warplane operating in Syria for briefly straying into Turkish airspace. Had war erupted, Washington would have been expected to confront nuclear-armed Russia.
Erdogan then staged a dramatic policy pirouette and joined with Moscow to manage the denouement of the Syrian civil war. Moreover, Ankara decided to purchase the S-400 air defense system, triggering an administration cut-off from the F-35 program and congressional demands for economic sanctions. The Russian and Turkish governments have still ended up on opposite sides in the fight over opposition-controlled Syrian territory, Libya’s civil war, and the growing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, they so far have maintained their political bonds.
Indeed, Ankara’s allegiance to NATO looks a lot like Italy’s pre-World War I membership in the Triple Alliance. When armies started marching, Rome refused to honor its promises and eventually entered the war on the other side (bribed by the Entente with promises of Austro-Hungarian territory). How likely is Turkey to declare war on Russia to help defend, say, Estonia?
This factor alone warrants ejection of Ankara from the transatlantic alliance. However, Turkey’s involvement in Syria is not just a problem of cooperation with Moscow. During the early years of the civil war, the Erdogan government allowed the Islamic State free transit across the Turkish border; Turkish intelligence is believed to have directly assisted the group. Moreover, Erdogan family and staff members may have profited through trade with ISIS. Ankara also launched two invasions targeting Washington’s Kurdish allies, which led the ground assault on the Islamist movement’s Syria-based “caliphate.” Turkey employed Islamist Arabic forces, which committed ethnic cleansing and other atrocities against the Syrian Kurds.
Now Ankara is threatening war against fellow NATO members and prospective EU partners. Perhaps the most enduring dispute is over control of Aegean Sea waters. Greek islands near Turkey greatly restrict the latter’s sovereignty over areas that Ankara considers to be its own. Air and naval confrontations between Greece and Turkey are routine.
Moreover, Ankara continues to occupy much of Cyprus 46 years later. The presence of undersea oil and natural gas created a new dispute, leading to naval clashes between Turkey and the internationally recognized Cypriot government. Ankara is promoting energy exploration in areas claimed by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey. Israel also is involved, working with Cyprus and Greece. Turkey’s relationship with Israel remains poor, and the Erdogan government recently ignored U.S. objections to meet with leaders of Hamas.
Ankara entered Libya’s continuing civil war on the side of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, from which Turkey extracted a maritime boundary agreement giving the latter energy development rights in waters claimed by Cyprus and Greece. Ankara broke the United Nations arms embargo and safeguarded its weapons shipments with a naval escort, which led to confrontations with Greek and French ships deployed to enforce the ban.
Ongoing ground combat in Libya could trigger a larger conflagration. Ranged against Turkey are France, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, and Russia. Much could go wrong. Imagine an exchange of fire between American allies, with Russia tossed in for good measure. Most everyone would see Washington as the inevitable defense backstop, expected to go to war over some damn fool thing in the Mediterranean, to paraphrase Otto von Bismarck.
Finally, Turkey appears poised to intervene in the burgeoning conflict between Armenia, backed by Russia and Iran, and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, Azerbaijani territory largely populated by ethnic Armenians, seized after a lengthy conflict that ended in an uneasy ceasefire in 1994. Ankara subsequently helped train the Azerbaijani armed forces; in the latest flare-up it has been accused of shooting down an Armenian aircraft and introducing Syrian mercenaries in the fighting. The claims are unverified, but Turkey has publicly backed Baku, promising weapons and training.
These many seemingly isolated actions reflect an increasingly aggressive Turkish foreign policy. In his speech last Thursday to Turkey’s National Assembly, Erdogan suggested a far-reaching revisionist agenda: “There is no chance left for this distorted order, in which the entire globe is encumbered by a handful of greedy people, to continue to exist the way it currently does.” He also dismissed the effectiveness of outside pressure: “those who ignored our country in the region for years—and confronted us with maps and demands that would imprison us into our coasts—first tried the language of threat and blackmail after the steps we took.”
So Ankara no longer is the perceived ally of old. With the Cold War over, nothing requires the U.S. to ignore the autocratic elephant that was always in the room, even during the Cold War. Worse are the divergent security interests. No one in the West knows how far Turkey is prepared to push. If Ankara ends up in a shooting war with someone, including Russia, Europe and the U.S. could be dragged along.
Erdogan long ago dissipated any reservoir of trust with other Western powers, but some analysts advocate waiting for him to leave the political scene. However, at age 66 he could rule for another decade or more. Moreover, both his Islamism and nationalism enjoy strong domestic support; antagonism toward the West and especially America is strong. Even a more democratic regime would not be inclined to yield on important geopolitical questions. For instance, over the last decade the expansive maritime doctrine known as “Blue Homeland,” seeking control over waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel, has gained widespread support.
Out of disappointment rather than anger the U.S. should disconnect militarily from Turkey, freeing both countries to act as they believe necessary, while preserving a strong mutual diplomatic presence. At the very least Washington should remove nuclear weapons from Turkish bases and reconsider arms sales to Ankara. Moreover, NATO should review Turkey’s status. Easing Ankara out of the transatlantic alliance would improve Western security.
Most Washington policymakers treat alliances like diamonds, believing them to be forever. Yet whatever Erdogan’s political future, Turkey is likely to remain estranged from America and the West.
Which means Washington needs a more realistic policy toward Ankara. The U.S. should collaborate with the latter when possible and confront it when necessary. Most important, the next administration should stop pretending that Turkey is an ally, let alone a reliable one.
Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is author of Foreign Follies: America’s New Global Empire.
The post Washington Should Stop Pretending to Be Turkey’s Ally appeared first on The American Conservative.
Psychopaths are a dangerous lot. They lie as easily as they breathe and when they’re not busy gaslighting people they’re hunting for bits of sensitive information to exploit later on. Clinical therapists recommend that the best way to deal with psychopaths is to avoid them.
Yet most people are loath to abandon the little monster that is the smartphone. Particularly denizens of the Beltway. These users would be well advised take a sober look at their mobile devices and acknowledge the true nature of what they’re dealing with.
The Mighty Wurlitzer Reborn
In the years leading up to World War II the German government launched a campaign to put a low-cost radio in every household. The end result was the “People’s Radio” or Volksempfänger—a government-subsidized receiver which utilized what was then cutting-edge technology to flood the airwaves with propaganda. These little boxes served as the primary interface between the ruling elites and the rest of German society.
Look closely and a similar pattern emerges circa 2020. Only now everyone is staring down at their palms. Captivated by social media as they caress thin, handheld screens with gentle flicks. Though technology has evolved, the goal remains the same: to spin carefully tailored narratives that subconsciously produce approval while leading onlookers to believe that they do so of their own free will. The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, referred to this process as the “engineering of consent.”
Spies are notorious for disseminating propaganda. The Central Intelligence Agency has a long and storied history of conducting psychological operations (PSYOP). Indeed the agency was so adroit in this domain that one senior official likened its clandestine messaging apparatus to a “Mighty Wurlitzer.”
In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, the United States commenced Operation Earnest Voice, conscripting an army of digital sock puppets to infiltrate social media groups abroad and promote the war on terror. Similar efforts continue to this day with other countries joining the fray. The 2016 presidential election witnessed the handiwork of Russian “active measures,” which employed social media to sow discord in the body politic and, as one report put it, “undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process.”
The underlying playbook isn’t necessarily new. An article in the New Yorker observes that “for half a century, Soviet intelligence backed Western protest movements whose leaders were often unaware that they were benefitting from K.G.B. support.” According to former intelligence officers the basic recipe is as follows: spies identify fault lines, reach out to aggrieved segments of the population, fan the flames, offer material support, justify violence with glittering generalities, and martyr the dead. What’s new is the venue that spies are entering to do so.
In 2017 the mainstream press whipped itself into a lather about “Russian Meddling.” But it’s crucial to recognize that, in terms of dollars spent, the relatively meager sums spent by Russian spooks to stir the pot are dwarfed by more prolific domestic programs.
Michael Bloomberg’s primary run in 2020 comes to mind. One man’s failed attempt to purchase the presidency flushed approximately half a billion dollars down the pipes. Russian spy chiefs can only dream of that kind of operational budget. And Bloomberg is just one politically active billionaire among dozens in the United States. Robert Mercer invested $15 million to develop social media tools to influence U.S. voters—something to keep in mind when candidates externalize their lack of success on a shadowy third party.
The Thought Police are Here
It’s not just the information which you read that makes a difference, though. It’s also what you don’t read. Sometimes this is a matter of official secrecy, the result of a burgeoning national security complex which is so vast and compartmented that it escapes congressional oversight. Other times vital facts are omitted because media outlets are acting as gatekeepers. Recall how editors at the New York Times knowingly sat on James Risen’s story about NSA surveillance. Possibly a favor to the security establishment that was extended with the expectation of special access later on.
The raging popularity of social media has enabled the major league players of Silicon Valley to rival their forerunners in the press. Big Tech’s approach has been incremental, starting with outliers on the fringe. For example, it goes without saying that Alex Jones is inflammatory and his outlandish beliefs regarding aliens and psychedelic drugs put David Icke to shame. So it may not have raised many eyebrows when he was banned for life from YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter.
But what happens when a larger trend comes into focus? Like when Google was caught developing a censored search engine, known as Dragonfly, for deployment in China. Or when moderators move from Alex Jones to James Woods. Or when Facebook starts banning pages and accounts representing QAnon, a movement which the mainstream press casts as a group of gullible conspiracy theorists.
On a side note, it’s not like there are factual grounds for QAnon’s worldview. What with all the sexual predators among the elites (e.g. Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey, Woody Allen). And only a complete idiot would believe that there are insiders who are secretly plotting against the President. So when Netflix openly promotes a movie like “Cuties” there’s absolutely no reason for people to look around and conclude that there might be something to QAnon’s rambling. Right? Whew, what a relief we got that all cleared up.
Taking recent events into consideration, there have been clams of widespread ideological bias. These are difficult to verify because scientifically rigorous data on censorship is rare, limiting public knowledge to a series of anecdotal cases rather than a broader systemic analysis. Furthermore, the nuts and bolts of the automated algorithms and human processes leveraged by Big Tech are confidential. All of this makes allegations of partiality worthy of official investigation.
Big Brother is Watching You Watch
Due to their versatility, smartphones are incredible tracking devices. They generate a wide range of location data that’s derived from sources like GPS, Wi-Fi access points, infrared sensors, Bluetooth beacons, and cellular carrier networks. Everywhere these devices go, they’re quietly interacting with their environment, leaving a trail of legally admissible forensic evidence—even in cases where people mistakenly believe that they can disable it.
Silicon Valley claims that they only want to allow companies to show you ads, but the police certainly seem to have a healthy interest in this kind of information—especially during periods of civil unrest.
And it’s not just data that smartphones transmit to their surroundings. Over time, as personal data accumulates, smartphones become a deep reservoir of sensitive information: photographs, video footage, email, instant messaging, and cloud storage credentials, just to name a few. Combine this with the aforementioned tracking capabilities and it’s no surprise that smartphones are prized as intelligence targets.
Even in the paranoid scenario of a one-time burner phone activated out in the boonies, voice recognition software is now standard fare amongst intelligence services. The NSA used this technology to hunt Saddam Hussein. They’ve had almost two decades since then to perfect their arsenal. Ergo the simple act of speaking on a telephone may be enough to compromise security, which may explain the rising popularity of encrypted messaging apps like Telegram, Signal, and WhatsApp.
Sadly, what people don’t understand is that these well-known “secure” messaging applications have a ten-story bullseye plastered on them, and spies have already made substantial progress towards defeating them. For instance, researchers have found that service providers can surreptitiously add new users into private messaging groups. These invisible guests can then eavesdrop on the group’s “secure” messages, rendering encryption useless.
You may be thinking: “But companies like Apple wouldn’t cooperate, would they?” In light of the NSA’s Prism program it would be naïve to presume that somehow clandestine assistance and spymaster bonhomie magically ground to a halt. The C-suites are well aware of what happened to Lavabit.
Using malware is another technique which has been applied with ample success, both by the American intelligence community and foreign security services. It’s so popular that an entire industry has emerged to cater to the market demand for commercial hacking tools. Your author can attest to this. Once spies have a foothold on your phone they can do whatever they want, whether data is encrypted or not. If spies want access, they’ll get it. So, “Is this smart phone secure?” is the wrong question. The correct one is, “Which set of intelligence agencies have access?”
Do Not Touch or Approach the Glass
The evangelists of Silicon Valley like to market technology as a means of liberation—a lucrative Ponzi scheme where every problem that technology creates must be solved with ever more technology. Sadly, recent history demonstrates that technology has proven to be far more effective as a means of control. Entire geographic regions are now subject to the authoritarian tools that prophets like George Orwell and Aldous Huxley warned about, leading to a future where everyone carries a pocket-sized telescreen.
Clearly the utility of smartphones is a lure. Just like Hannibal Lecter, these blobs of metal and plastic find novel ways to make themselves useful while they silently steal our autonomy and pursue ulterior motives. Honestly, one can only marvel at the sheer cunning of a sales pitch which convinces iPhone “zombies” to literally pay for their own surveillance and indoctrination. The contrarians who elect to place liberty above convenience will need to tread carefully. In a brave new world of thought crime and newspeak, here there be monsters.
Bill Blunden is an independent investigator focusing on information security, anti-forensics, and institutional analysis. He is the author of several books, including The Rootkit Arsenal and Behold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex. Bill is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.
The battle lines in the supposed war between reason and tradition, science and faith, in the 18th and 19th centuries are a fitting entry point into the life and work of Fyodor Dostoevsky. The Russian novelist viewed the world in cosmic terms. Philosophical irrationalism plays a vital role in most of his novels, as does an ongoing ideological showdown between reason and faith. For Dostoevsky, reason could never fully explain human existence. In a letter to his brother Mikhail in 1838, Dostoevsky claimed that “To know nature, the soul, God, love…These things are known by the heart, not by the mind.” The “mind is material faculty.”
Dostoevsky published his debut novel, Poor Folk, in 1846. The tension in his writing between the spiritual and the material was still in flux at this early stage of his career. He was still gleaning ideas from friends and foes in the St Petersburg literati, especially the Petrashevsky Circle. This was a small gathering of enthusiastic writers and critics who met weekly to debate literature, philosophy, politics, and social equality.
A point the late Joseph Frank continually stresses in Lectures on Dostoevsky is that early Russian literature was mostly theological—controlled by religious ideals derived from Byzantine Christianity. That changed in the late 17th century with Peter the Great. As part of a modernizing project for the Russian empire, the Tsar believed the Russian nobility and literate class should reeducate themselves according to Western standards. A split thus occurred in Russian society between the secular literary ruling class and God-fearing illiterate peasants.
This caused a schism within the Russian intelligentsia, too. The rational materialists became known as Westernizers. They mainly spoke French, held their own language and traditions in contempt, and worshiped at the altar of European culture. The Slavophils sought to link Russia’s future with its early historical values. Namely: its Christian faith. They believed Europe was another fallen Rome and noted the glaring similarities: spiritual unity being sacrificed for self-interested ego-centric decadence, moral disorder, and perverted sensuality. Dostoevsky began his career as a skeptical Westernizer. But he eventually became a committed Slavophil.
That spiritual and cultural identity was solidified in a road-to-Damascus moment, which arrived suddenly in 1849. Along with the rest of the Petrashevsky Circle, Dostoevsky was arrested. This was part of a larger plan by Nicholas I to suppress intellectual freedom across Russian society, which he feared would threaten the social order.
Dostoevsky spent nearly a decade away from Russian public life. The latter part of his sentence required him to serve as a soldier in the Russian army. Four years were spent in a Siberian prison with peasant convicts, but the lasting psychological wound came at the beginning of his sentence. Russian law at the time called for a mock execution to be staged in cases where a death sentence had been pardoned. All relevant props were thus arranged in the Peter and Paul Fortress, St. Petersburg, where Dostoevsky was kept under lock and key. Prisoners were blindfolded. A firing squad stood before them. Carts of coffins were lined up. A priest arrived with a cross, and last confessions were heard.
The scene was recreated in The Idiot (1868). The novel’s central protagonist recalls hearing a story from a man who believes he has just minutes left to live. “His uncertainty and repulsion before the unknown [was] terrible,” Prince Myshkin explains. But biographical evidence also survives. It comes from Nikolay Speshnev who was also part of the Petrashevsky Circle. The communist and atheist recalled the moment both men began contemplating the prospect of immediate death. Dostoevsky turned to him and said: “We shall be with Christ.”
In the post-Siberian novels, Christian symbolism became a ubiquitous presence in Dostoevsky’s work, where a single theme continually raised its head: the ongoing struggle in humankind between good and evil. In Crime and Punishment (1866) we witness a world where trust in reason alone destroys all emotional ties between human beings. In Demons (1872) Shatov bluntly declares that “reason never [has] the power to define good and evil,” and in The Brothers Karamazov (1880) faith is presented in fundamental terms: nothing less than absolute devotion to Christ’s teachings will suffice.
In Dostoevsky: A Writer in His Time, Frank notes how “Life for Dostoevsky was [now] as it had been for Keats, a vale of soul making into which Christ had come to call mankind to battle against the death of immersion in matter and to inspire the struggle towards the ultimate victory over egoism.”
Most standard 19th century novels embraced human reason with open arms. It sat well with the regimented values of bourgeois society: especially its narrow-minded fixation with wealth, social status, and material success. Dostoevsky’s work, by contrast, is closer to poetic tragedy: a world where social relations and religious metaphysics cross paths with dreams and visions unbound by space, time, or materialist matter. Dostoevsky’s harshest critics often claimed that his novels didn’t reflect the reality of the age he was writing in. They also suggested that his pathological characters would be better off locked behind bars in a mental asylum than polluting the pages of prestigious Russian literary journals.
But those critics appear to have misread the central point of Dostoevsky’s work: that reality itself is a questionable concept. This would seem to explain why Dostoevsky’s characters constantly operate within an eschatological framework. If perpetual anxiety, guilt, and doubt are their dominant emotions, it’s hardly surprising. They spend much of their time contemplating the possibility of hell or paradise beyond the grave. Deeply indebted to the Biblical tradition, this moral and mythological framework gives Dostoevsky’s readers the required tools to think about another one of his central themes: moral transcendence.
He felt any individual could achieve it, if they had the willpower. Once ego was parked at the door, breaking free from their narcissistic chains of vanity would come next. And, eventually the individual could move beyond their own selfish drives and appetites. Only then, Dostoevsky believed, was real freedom a possibility. Two key words are important here: acceptance and faith. Accepting that we never possess total control of the individual and collective life we lead, which is really just a random set of events with no preordained path or pattern. And putting faith in the idea that we live in a world that will always exist beyond the realm of human understanding.
JP O’Malley is a journalist, writer and cultural critic, who writes for a host of publications around the globe on literature, history, art, politics, and society.
On October 8, Jed Lyons, the chief executive officer of Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, wrote an email to Dr. Andrew Nathan of Columbia University explaining why the publisher had cancelled my book The Last Imperialist as well as the book series, Problems of Anti-Colonialism, of which it was to be a part. Nathan had written a letter to the publisher on October 3 expressing his “dismay” at the cancellations, which followed a social media petition. As Nathan concluded: “When a publisher yields to pressure to reverse its decision to publish a book that has passed peer review and editorial review, it does great damage to the cause of academic freedom.”
In his email of response, Lyons insists that the editors “have tried very hard to straddle the political divide by publishing books by authors with a wide array of political points of view. In making publishing decisions, we do not discriminate against conservative authors any more than we do liberal ones.”
The reason for cancellation in this case, he explains, was not the political pressures of a petition campaign launched on September 26 that had gathered steam on social media. Rather, “we were made aware of problems regarding his previous work.” To illustrate, Lyons provided a link to an online commentary published by the Cato Institute in 2017, noting “Cato is hardly a left wing think tank.” Thus, the cancellations were not acts of censorship or political ideology but about upholding standards: “We trust their judgement as well as that of other detractors of Bruce Gilley’s academic work.”
The article he linked to was “The Case Against ‘The Case for Colonialism’” written by an adjunct scholar in the Cato Institute’s Defense and Foreign Policy Department, Sahar Khan, and published on the Cato website on September 19, 2017. It was a response to my article “The Case for Colonialism,” that was withdrawn from the Third World Quarterly with my consent days later in the interests of the physical safety of the staff of the journal.
Let’s start with obvious points of form. If the publisher had these concerns, why did it not let me know, and why am I finding out via a letter to a friend? In addition, whatever debate sparked by “The Case for Colonialism” article, how did that affect my book The Last Imperialist, which is a biography of a colonial official that passed peer review and carried endorsements from two giants in the field of colonial history, Jeremy Black and Tirthankar Roy? More broadly, I am the author of five academic press books and countless articles, which have together been cited more than 4,400 times. Why did the furor over one article justify the cancellation of a completely different work?
To the more general point about that furor over the 2017 article, there have also been many scholarly defenses of the article, and criticisms of the hysterical reactions it elicited from the academic community, including the one that Lyons sent to Nathan to justify cancellation of my book. As one Canadian critic wrote: “To read the reaction, you’d think he’d fed a puppy into a tree shredder live on the internet.”
As it happens, I have been working on a journal-length rebuttal of those criticisms. My main point, to spoil the ending, is that the so-called “errors” of my article are not errors at all, but rather are self-referential appeals by anti-colonial scholars to the shoddy scholarship of other anti-colonial scholars. The rot in colonial history, I conclude, is very deep indeed. Nothing short of a complete rewriting of almost everything published in the last half century about colonialism will allow us to recover something like an authentic history of that period.
Still, many will remain unconvinced, and that’s OK. Such debate is at the heart of the scholarly, and more broadly Western democratic, tradition. What is worrisome is that a major private publisher has decided to take sides after a quick Google search and then uphold its decision as based on “academic standards.”
Let me then address the specific arguments made in Khan’s article for Cato. For good measure, I will also respond to the elaborated critique that Khan wrote in another article, “Libertarians Shouldn’t Accept the Case for Colonialism,” published on October 9, 2017.
Before addressing specific charges, it is important to note the ways that Khan writes herself out of authority from the get-go. One of the key points of the prosecution against me in matters of colonial research has been that I am a political scientist who did not earn his doctoral credentials in colonial history. The same, as it happens, is true of Khan, a political scientist who specializes in contemporary security issues. While I have published three peer-reviewed articles on colonialism (one in the leading journal African Affairs), Khan has published nothing in this area as far as I can tell. It is not clear with which disciplinary credentials she is charging me with academic ignorance.
Secondly, while Cato might not be a left-wing think tank, as Lyons notes, Khan is most assuredly a left-wing scholar. Her writings sit squarely within the center-left mainstream of the American academy. She wrote darkly about my article being part of “President Trump’s apparent sympathy for radical right‐wing groups.”
Khan also weakens her authority by beginning her September article with the disclaimer: “The problem is not that the article is offensive (which it is).” In fact, dozens of powerfully argued books and articles by reputable scholars have argued the case for colonialism over the years. If Khan finds that “offensive”, and believes it is part of some Trumpian conspiracy, how can she possibly be in a position to objectively judge the arguments and the evidence?
Khan also discredits herself by repeating a lie that the article failed peer review, a lie that the Third World Quarterly publisher Taylor & Francis refuted at length (and can still be seen on the article landing page.)
Finally, showing her ideological hand rather too well, Khan insists that my article shows “there is a need to decolonize International Relations and other literatures.” To make a long story short, the “decolonize research” agenda is a far-left, anti-Enlightenment attempt to wrest political power from existing knowledge systems by declaring the old rules of evidence “racist” (or whatever the latest calumny is).
So without knowing any of her charges, Khan is hardly a reliable witness for Lyons to cite in making a major decision such as cancelling a book and series. But put all this aside.
Khan makes five major complaints against my article in her double-barreled assault. One is that I cite the research done by the British scholar Berney Sèbe concerning the resurgence of colonial heroes in national narratives in Africa but that I fail to agree with Sèbe’s conclusions about what it all means. I interpreted the evidence he marshals as evidence that (as many others have argued) post-colonial narratives about the joys of decolonization are on the wane. Khan charged that I “ignore postcolonial scholarship” that can never bring itself to say this and thus ties itself in jargon-ridden, self-contradictory knots to avoid it, as Sèbe does. Guilty, as charged, your honor. But hardly problems in my scholarship.
Next, Khan says I am wrong to say that decolonization was “sudden” which is, she tells us “empirically inaccurate” because calls for decolonization had existed for decades before the burst of departures from roughly 1946 to 1966. “This may be news to Gilley but decades of emancipatory struggles is not ‘sudden’.” To put it simply, I did not say “emancipatory struggles” were of recent vintage, although I think that is true too. I said decolonization, the act of going from colony to independent state, was an unexpected and rapid development in most places. This may be news to Khan, but that is the overwhelming consensus of the literature, and it is certainly the testimony of people like Sir Alan Burns who were actually there.
The biggest piece she bites off is to say that my claims that overall colonialism was objectively beneficial to subject populations across a range of issue areas, as well as subjectively legitimate among them, is wrong and that this has been “thoroughly documented and researched.” Therefore there is no debate. One piece of evidence: “The British exploited differences between the Hindu and Muslim communities in the sub‐continent, creating deep resentments and divisions that persist today due to the 1947 Partition.” That very old saw about how colonialists magically conjured ethnic resentments ex nihilo is out of date, to say the least, as evident in the work of people like Camille Lefebvre at the French National Center for Scientific Research.
To the larger issue, it is true that I did not sufficiently document the research supporting those larger conclusions. I have since produced what is in effect the missing bibliography of the paper, Contributions of Western Colonialism to Human Flourishing. To put it politely, the anti-colonial emperor has no clothes.
Fourth, Khan makes the claim that it was not the anti-slavery campaigns of colonial powers like Britain that put an end to the global slave trade and then to slavery itself but “decolonization and wars of independence.” That is flatly contradicted by that old friend of the historian, chronology. Most slavery had disappeared by the mid-19th to late-19th centuries as a result of imperial expansion. Independence did not come for a century more. How can a cause come a century after an effect? Khan’s claim here is very far outside mainstream scholarship on the end of slavery.
Fifth, she rejects my consideration of new “charter city” colonies created voluntarily between rich and poor countries because of “the repressive nature of colonialism and the avenues it provides for gross violation of human rights.” Yet even from the “libertarian” perspective she urges on her readers, colonial rule brought far more freedom (especially for women and minorities) than the most likely alternative in those times and places. No one seriously doubts that except perhaps some Hollywood executives making action-hero movies about fantasy African states. It also reflects a remarkable degree of historical amnesia about what has been going on in most of the former colonial areas, including her homeland of Pakistan, since so-called “independence.” If colonialism offended libertarian values, sudden, unprepared independence was far worse.
Finally, Khan is bold enough to charge that colonialism impoverished the colonized, a claim whose rejection occupies several pages of research listings in my online bibliography. She also gives us this sentence: “Colonialism first and foremost was about mercantilism, an economic system that prioritizes the state’s ability to accumulate wealth, not on the people’s access to this accumulated wealth.” Whatever the distribution of wealth, no colonialism means no wealth. Even her own sentence implies this.
Khan’s articles, and Rowman & Littlefield’s attempt to take shelter behind them, are evidence of how badly needed alternative sources of information are. Many people will disagree with my arguments and continue to publish rebuttals. That is as it should be. But for a major publisher to take sides in the debate and then claim it is upholding freedom and political neutrality is a sad moment. It does no service to anyone’s values—liberal, conservative, or libertarian.
Bruce Gilley is professor of political science at Portland State University and a member of the board of the National Association of Scholars.
Connoisseurs of the history of American conservatism will recall that Russell Kirk first proposed to Henry Regnery that his book ultimately titled The Conservative Mind be called, instead, The Conservative Rout. Consult your own feelings about today’s world, dear reader, and reflect with the wise author of Ecclesiastes that truly there is no new thing under the sun.
If Kirk could feel, circa 1953, smack-dab in the middle of the Ozzie and Harriet era, that conservatives had been routed, what should we who live in the disastrous year of 2020 call what has happened to them? The word massacre strikes one as far too sunny. Obliterated, perhaps? Annihilated? I suppose canceled might be the most temporally appropriate term.
Since late May, when America’s center-right institutions, already having proven themselves all but useless during the coronavirus pandemic, could not bring themselves to publicly condemn mob violence, cultural Maoism, and incipient revolution, the nation’s conservatives have been anxiously calling, texting, and emailing one another to ask: what the hell just happened? And where do we go from here?
To both questions, but especially the latter, compelling answers have been hard to come by. It’s not hard to understand why. Kirk may have thought conservatives had it hard in the early 1950s, faced as they were with a new and powerful military-industrial complex, unprecedented economic and political centralization, and an increasingly pervasive mass culture. But—such has been the success of their movement—70 years later conservatives are not only saddled with feckless center-right institutions. They are still faced with all the problems of the 1950s plus the overt and thoroughgoing hostility of, let’s see, the media, the education establishment (at all levels, public and private), the entertainment industry, big business, big technology, big philanthropy, and virtually every professional association, and even, to a large extent, professional sports, the military, and the police.
In the face of such a Washington Generals-esque record of success, one naturally opens Andrew Bacevich’s new Library of America volume, American Conservatism: Reclaiming an Intellectual Tradition, with something less than a heart brimming with hope. Is it probable that the conservative intellectual tradition has the resources we need to mount what Daniel McCarthy has rightly referred to in these pages as a counter-revolution? Is there anything useful in conservatism’s past? Hasn’t conservatism failed?
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It is interesting to page through Bacevich’s anthology with these questions in mind. Perhaps the best that can be said for the conservative tradition is that it delayed the Revolution for several generations. Conservatives really did help defeat Soviet communism; the victory had its costs, but it was certainly a victory. Conservatives managed to mount a popular case against socialism (although it must be confessed, as traditionalist conservatives have pointed out, that capitalism did much of socialism’s atomizing work for it, and more efficiently). And conservatives managed to help hold the line somewhat in the field of law; without their work, the deluge in our courtrooms would have come faster and more furiously.
But beyond that? America’s conservative intellectuals can claim to have effected some unquantifiable delay of our cultural catastrophe, at best. Conservatives could not even conserve the principle of two genders, for Pete’s sake. Other ideals presented and defended in these pages—from Kirk’s contention that civilizational health requires “many sorts of inequality” to Eugene Genovese’s call for a conservatism that “demands submission to a moral consensus rooted in elementary piety”—would be considered by all but hard-core conservatives today as ranging from quaint to shockingly retrograde. For 100-plus years (if we accept Bacevich’s dating of the tradition) American conservatives have been talking, organizing, fighting, and about the only ideas of theirs to take root in the fields of public life were those which had to do with economics, national defense, and private property. Today, conservative ideas about all three are in trouble, much less conservative ideas about family, religion, community, and human nature.
And yet one is struck by how philosophically penetrating, how phenomenologically on-point, most of Bacevich’s selections are. If American conservatism has not been blessed by a spokesman, or spokeswoman, of real genius, it has certainly not failed to be shaped by profoundly insightful thinkers and powerful writers. William F. Buckley’s prose continues to charm. No one could craft a more lucid argument than Willmoore Kendall. No one was more fearless than Zora Neale Hurston. No one cut through the bullshit with more wit than Antonin Scalia, or with more wry precision than Joan Didion.
Yes, unexpectedly and delightfully, Didion and Hurston are both included here, along with rising thinkers like Andrew Sullivan and Patrick Deneen and writers who were not claimed by or lived outside the bounds of Conservatism Inc., like Randolph Bourne, Christopher Lasch, Wendell Berry, and Charles Beard. Libertarians, too, are given fair representation—perhaps a little too fair, in a volume devoted to conservatism—in the persons of Frank Chodorov, Murray Rothbard, Milton Friedman, and others. The major neoconservatives and Straussians—Richard John Neuhaus, Harry Jaffa, Allan Bloom—are present and accounted for. Only the paleoconservative wing of the tradition receives somewhat short shrift (Pat Buchanan, who turned out to be right about almost everything, probably deserved inclusion). Bacevich has done his job well.
In light of contemporary circumstances, the most resonant pieces are those from African Americans Glenn Loury and Shelby Steele. Well before the advent of Twitter, that curse upon humanity, it took extraordinary courage for black men and women to buck progressive orthodoxies on matters of race. Loury, writing in 1995, explains that too many blacks are caught in a racial “loyalty trap” that keeps them from engaging in the kind of communal self-reflection necessary for real social progress, a trap that spurs them too often to display a “finely honed moral outrage concerning American racism” that is sometimes placed in defense of the indefensible.
Steele, writing in 1991, provides a moving meditation on affirmative action. He gives affirmative action its logical and sentimental due. Yet he does not shrink from the conclusion that, in practice, affirmative action “indirectly encourages blacks to exploit their own past victimization as a source of power and privilege. Victimization, like implied inferiority, is what justifies preference, so that to receive the benefits of preferential treatment one must, to some extent, become invested in the view of one’s self as a victim. In this way,” Steele concludes, “affirmative action nurtures a victim-focused identity in blacks.”
Even the most dull-witted observer can see that the same dynamic, 30 years later, has seeped well beyond racial borders. Steele predicts as much. “The power to be found in victimization, like any power, is intoxicating and can lend itself to the creation of a new class of super-victims who can feel the pea of victimization under twenty mattresses,” he prophesies. As for reparations, Steele foresees more harm than good from the implementation of such a scheme. “Suffering can be endured and overcome, it cannot be repaid. Blacks cannot be repaid for the injustice done to the race, but we can be corrupted by society’s guilty gestures of repayment.”
If anything lies at the core of the conservative tradition, it is this sort of mature understanding of the human heart.
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Today Steele and Loury are associated with 1776 Unites, a project of mostly black intellectuals that is attempting to counteract and delegitimate the New York Times’s race-focused 1619 Project. Here we get a glimmer of why conservatism failed. 1776 Unites recognizes the power of myth. It is as a myth, as a master narrative, that liberalism has been so successful. Myth and master narrative are the business of popular education and popular culture, and those spheres of life have been almost exclusively owned by liberalism since World War I, at least.
However perceptive its insights, conservatism has by contrast been too intellectual. The overarching liberal narrative that happiness is the fruit of an individual’s achieving freedom by breaking loose from unchosen constraints was opposed by no conservative counternarrative of comparable strength, certainly not in popular education or popular culture. Not even close. What grand, overarching nonliberal myth America has had has been the nationalist myth of American exceptionalism—a myth, alas, that is easily assimilable to the liberal-progressive story.
In short, stories have consequences. More so, perhaps, than ideas.
Ah, well. Even if, on the world’s terms, they failed, we ought to honor the conservative thinkers who preceded us. After all, as American conservatism reminds us, conservatives have always thought their task a nearly impossible one. Does that make them born losers, as some have maintained, or merely realists? It hardly matters. What matters is that we never got the culturally powerful conservative mythology we needed, and now we reap the whirlwind. God help us.
Jeremy Beer is chairman of the American Ideas Institute. He has worked in the nonprofit sector since 2000. He is the author of several volumes, including as co-editor of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, and his most recent book, Oscar Charleston: The Life and Legend of Baseball’s Greatest Forgotten Player.
Late last month, New Urbs web editor Addison Del Mastro asked a thought-provoking question on Twitter:
“What can urbanism really say about classically urban places facing steep, long-term decline?”
It is truly an excellent question, and it got me thinking about what “urbanism” actually means today, and what it could mean for the legacy cities located in America’s industrial heartland in the future.
Urbanism, and its related neologism, urbanist, is one of those words whose meaning is a bit fuzzy. I consider myself to be one, and I find common cause with many others who describe themselves as such. In a nation whose default cultural orientation on nearly every urban policy issue is toward more low-density development, more separated land uses, more highway lanes, more ugly architecture, and more social and economic segregation, we need more urbanists.
But we need wise and effective urbanists. We need people who are capable of convincing and persuading others to do their part to improve the way our urban places are planned, designed, and built. We need people who can work with others to make our urban places better.
What we don’t need are foolish and ineffective urbanists. We don’t need people who make the self-indulgent mistake of believing that aggressively badgering and hectoring others or belittling the places that they live, in a quest to demonstrate ideological purity, will make our urban places better.
We don’t need what I have described as urbanist virtue signaling—where urbanists act as theoretical and pedantic puritans who care more about aggressively demonstrating their theological purity and rooting out heretics, rather than actively making places better.
And this gets me to the heart of what I see as a major challenge for urbanism today, particularly as it relates to urban places that have faced, and may still be facing, steep, long-term decline.
Today, there is an unmistakable strain of elitism that permeates many urbanist discussions about planning and public policy issues. It can tend toward snobbery, especially when it comes to housing and land use issues (reflexive disdain for single-family housing is particularly common). But even more frequently, it is (often unintentionally) dismissive of disinvested and economically challenged places.
The most widely read and disseminated urbanist thinking around urban design and public policy has little or nothing to say about heavily disinvested places. It is written mostly by, and for, people who live in economically successful places.
There is no reason that it has to be this way. It certainly could have a lot to say about heavily disinvested places, but it doesn’t. Instead, it revolves around the economically successful places where the most influential writers and media outlets reside. It is written by and for the front-row people who inhabit the front-row places that Chris Arnade discusses in his excellent book, Dignity.
Consequently, most urbanist discourse, and the public policy issues upon which it focuses most heavily, presupposes a level of affluence and community development capacity that is simply not present in most cities and towns, including places like Buffalo, Cleveland, and Detroit—which are quite large.
Urbanism and urbanists focus heavily on topics like gentrification, stratospheric housing prices, rent control, NIMBY-ism, single-family zoning, and rail transit that, to one degree or another, are often not live or pressing issues in many places in urban America.
I am not arguing that these are not important issues to people in many places. I am not saying that we shouldn’t continue to talk about them or think about them. I am simply suggesting that they are not very pressing or important to people in many other places.
These topics, by and large, are further up the pyramid on Maslow’s hierarchy of urban development needs. Many urban places struggle with issues that are much closer to the base of the pyramid.
What is lacking is what my friend and colleague, Pete Saunders, describes as “Rust Belt Urbanism,” an urbanism that can speak to and focus on the authenticity, resilience, and affordability of older industrial cities, while also squarely acknowledging their cultural, economic, and social challenges.
Here are two examples of challenges that are live issues in many of America’s back-row legacy cities, which do not filter up very much into the front-row urban policy discourse.
The first challenge involves weak real estate markets. Most urbanist discussions are about the challenges that places with overheated real estate markets face. Rents are too high. There is too much demand, even at current prices. People are looking for a fire extinguisher.
But when your real estate market is undervalued and weak, and your assets are underwater, a fire extinguisher is the wrong tool for the wrong disaster.
In weak markets, development of nearly any type, whether residential or commercial, becomes difficult-to-nearly-impossible. There is too little demand, even at current prices. This is a constant struggle in many urban neighborhoods, and even across entire cities, in the Great Lakes region.
In these markets, it is often very difficult to make the financials pencil out for any type of real estate project, whether it is new construction (sales prices/rents/lease rates are too low to turn a profit) or renovation of existing buildings. Even for projects which appear to be potentially profitable, it becomes a Herculean task for developers to build their capital stack. It is not uncommon for a developer to have to cobble together a dozen or more funding sources just to make a project happen. All but the most committed, creative, and audacious developers just stick to the more prosperous suburbs.
The challenge in these markets does not revolve around the fallout from too much prosperity, too much development, and too much neighborhood change. The challenge revolves around too little prosperity, too little development, and not enough neighborhood change.
A second challenge involves the implementation of urbanist best-practices in land use, zoning, architecture, and urban design.
Let me say from the outset that I am a proponent of zoning code reform that less heavily regulates use and more heavily regulates urban form. I am a proponent of more robust urban design standards that create walkable and traditional-looking urban places. I like buildings that are not set back from the sidewalk. I like as little surface parking as possible.
But having said that, I am not an academic. I am not a theoretician. I am a practitioner. I am a pragmatist. And I am here to tell you that many of these principles, important as they are, and as much as I believe in them, are very difficult to implement in places with weak real estate markets.
In many urban neighborhoods, there is a very real-world trade-off that must be navigated between what an urbanist would consider bad urban design and no development at all. You might think this is not the way that it should be. I agree. It doesn’t seem fair that more prosperous places should have a greater ability to require better looking architecture and urban design than less prosperous ones. But that is often the way it is.
Many disinvested places are desperate for development of any kind. There are neighborhoods that have seen nothing but closed stores, vacant buildings, demolished houses, and empty lots for years and even decades.
The fact of the matter is that they often have very little leverage to require what an urbanist would see as good urban design, because the real estate market is so weak. Each extra requirement on a developer, whether that is additional windows and a different garage configuration on a new house, or a masonry façade and a different parking lot configuration on a new store, is going to add complexity, uncertainty, and most likely, cost, to the development process.
Now, I didn’t say that these places have no leverage. I said that they often have very little. Many economically challenged places believe and perceive (often correctly) that if they want development, they may have to settle for less than the ideal from an urban design standpoint. They often find themselves in situations where they feel like they have to take it or leave it.
A lot of people will argue that there are plenty of low-cost best practices in urban design that can be adopted and codified by these places, and that is true. Weak-market cities shouldn’t hide behind the fact of their weak market and use it as an excuse for rejecting traditional and time-honored urban design principles.
But there is a very real (and completely justified) fear in these places that if they are perceived as being too strict and burdensome with their zoning and urban design requirements, the developer will simply walk away and build whatever they were going to build there in the nearest suburban jurisdiction, where either the design standards are more lax, or where the profits will be far higher.
A place like the Akron suburb of Hudson, Ohio (median household income $129,000) can get away with forcing a developer to build a McDonald’s that would fit in colonial New England. It can get away with making people put windows in their sheds and requiring them to be cladded with siding that matches their house.
But in many weak-market cities and neighborhoods, it becomes far more difficult to push for more stringent design requirements. It is not impossible, but it is difficult, time consuming, fraught with risk, and potentially a hardship for low- and moderate-income residents. The weaker the market, the harder it is.
In many urban neighborhoods, the predominantly low-income and working-class residents are understandably so eager for new housing, jobs, retail, and investment of any kind, that they are not going to care much about setbacks, fenestration, or parking requirements.
People in these places are practical. If there is any risk that overly aggressive zoning regulations or urban design requirements could drive potential development away, they are going to err on the side of less aggressive ones. They will always see a less than architecturally ideal house or store that is actually built as far superior to an ideally designed one that never actually will be.
What many urbanists would see as pedestrian or vulgar—a stand-alone Chipotle or Tim Horton’s, surrounded by surface parking, for example—is often greeted with open arms. There are no long and tortured debates about architectural fineries or chain retail versus local retail (there is often no retail). These are the types of academic discussions that upper-middle class people in more economically prosperous locales have the luxury of indulging in.
We need an urbanism that acknowledges these realities. We need one that meets these places where they are and acknowledges the often less-than-ideal situations that they currently find themselves in. We need an urbanism that identifies creative and workable solutions to help them overcome the challenges that are associated with weak real estate markets, in order to create better looking, better functioning urban places. The people in places like Flint and Youngstown deserve them every bit as much as the people in Berkeley and Cambridge.
I am not arguing for an either/or urbanism that ignores strong-market places or weak-market places. I am advocating for a both/and urbanism that recognizes the ways in which places in the nation’s midsection have been hollowed out by the consolidation of nearly every type of economic activity, as wealth, prestige, and power has transferred from many places to just a few. Many of these places are going to continue to struggle for the foreseeable future, no matter how much they do right at the local level, due to global and national economic realities that are bigger than any of them.
But, in the meantime, let’s at least develop an urbanism that can provide the creative ideas to help them to do what they can at the local level. This is a big country with a lot of different places and a lot of real estate market diversity. It is time that urbanists started thinking about all of it.
Jason Segedy is the director of planning and urban development for the City of Akron, Ohio. Segedy has worked in the urban planning field for the past 25 years, and is an avid writer on urban planning and development issues, blogging at Notes from the Underground.
This New Urbanism series is supported by the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation. Follow New Urbs on Twitter for a feed dedicated to TAC’s coverage of cities, urbanism, and place.
Our recent annual summer drive back to my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio took us through Nashville. While I was waiting to check into our room at the hotel, I noticed a woman entering the hotel lobby. If I had to guess, I would say that we were roughly 15-20 feet away from one another. As I turned towards her, with my mask under my chin, she looked at me and made the following declaration to all who could hear: “In no way will I ever stand near someone who is not wearing a mask. When you are done with this guy, you can come get me outside.” And just last week, while at the grocery store, I walked by a young man in one of the aisles. When he saw that I was not wearing a mask (and he was), an interesting encounter ensued. As we passed by each other, he did a sideways type of bend that enabled him to “move out of the way.” Apparently, the Matrix-style move enabled him to avoid catching SARS-COV-2.
It seems safe to assume that these encounters are not personally unique. What such incidents reveal is the profound psychological character surrounding the nature of masks. At least in America, it is certainly the case that there is a rather broad spectrum on the enforcement of mask mandates. Some businesses and institutions can be less restrictive than others on this enforcement, depending upon the state in which you live. And even within a given state, there tends to be significant variations. In Houston, for example, living in Montgomery County versus Harris County can give two rather different stories surrounding the concern over SARS-COV-2.
Even keeping in mind all these national and local differences, the requirement to wear masks in America is still universally upheld. And one of the primary reasons why this is the case stems from the predominant narrative surrounding the effectiveness of masks themselves. This particular narrative is worth briefly exploring.
The trajectory for the prevailing narrative begins by undermining the veracity of whether masks are as effective as we might suppose. At best, much of the data concerning the effectiveness of masks for slowing the transmission of a respiratory virus like SARS-COV-2 has been rather limited. In fact, according to Marilyn Singleton, M.D., J.D., the recommendation to universalize mask-wearing “was published without a single scientific paper or other information provided to support that cloth masks actually provide any respiratory protection.” Since the truth claim about masks plays little substantive role in this regard, then the structure of the narrative as we experience it can now become a bit clearer.
Perhaps more than anything else, it is the psychological character of wearing a mask that is significant. In other words, the most compelling effect of wearing a mask is the psychological satisfaction and feeling of safety that it provides for the individual. Arthur Allen wrote precisely on this point when contrasting the narratives surrounding the 1968 Asian Flu and that of 2009 Swine Flu. For Allen:
How we categorize what happens around us can profoundly affect our perceptions of risk. In 1968, Americans had not been exposed to a steady stream of disturbing news about a bird flu virus in Asia. Pandemic was not a household word associated with terror and globalism, the way it is now. Although many noticed that 1968 was a bad flu year, most of us lacked a doom-laden category in which to place that information. We went about our business, free of excessive virus fright. We’ve all heard, now, about how fearsome pandemics can be, and thanks to the remarkable advances of molecular biology and computing, we have an easier time identifying them. But it turns out that putting a name to something is not only a way of taming it. It can also be a way of spreading needless fear.
With Allen’s reasoning in mind, it seems increasingly evident that the driving narrative behind mask mandates is one rooted in fear. And this helps to better explain why the psychological character of wearing a mask is so convincing and effective. We can feel comforted knowing that we are globally united to help “flatten the curve,” or simply to “mask up.”
In saying all of this, we must still call to mind an important caveat: wearing a mask, in principle, is not intrinsically evil. At a base level, one is not morally compromised by having to wear a mask. Thus, we should be cautious in making ourselves martyrs because we refuse to do something which, again, is not morally disordered. At the same time, it is no longer disputable that there is a push to condemn those who question wearing masks as being, at some level, morally compromised. Newsweek was even willing to cite a study claiming that those who do not wear masks tend to be narcissistic and inclined towards sociopathic behaviors.
The polarizing conditions in America have certainly escalated the context in which the stories about why we should wear our masks are to be told and understood. The question concerning masks seems to have little relation relation to truth anymore. The issue frequently seeks protection behind the tropes of “science” and “facts,” as Dr. Singleton alluded to in her report. The real concern is not simply that mask mandates are being called into question. What is unsettling is that masks have become just one more opportunity for identity politics to manipulate our attempt to understanding reality.
In Book II of the Republic, Plato contends that the most effective way to educate citizens is to “tell them tales” or “stories.” Unfortunately, the story about masks has educated us for too long. We must swim against this rather powerful current, and break the crippling weight of our present fear.
Brian Jones is a Ph.D Candidate in Philosophy in the Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.
It should seem obvious that dyeing one’s hair is nothing like getting surgery or taking sex hormones to pose as the opposite sex. Yet over the past several years of organizing against and resisting the gender identity industry, I have come upon this conflation a number of times by transgender activists. Variations on this have come in the form of “it’s just like getting a nose job, or breast enhancement surgery, or tattoos,” which isn’t true. None of these things are like attempting to alter your sex, and it isn’t just a matter of degrees in medical alterations.
Intense body modifications, including breast enlargement or reduction, though they can fall into dangerous territory if they are medically unnecessary, are not in the category of attempting to change what we are at our core. We are not our noses. We are not our un-inked skin or our hair color or the size of our breasts. What we are is a sexually dimorphic species. Our sex is what keeps us whole.
I often hear that adults who change their sex markers should be able to do as they please, to express themselves, even as the line is drawn at changing sex markers for, or giving hormones and drugs to, children. Adults should be able to make up their own minds, or so the argument goes, all in the name of freedom and individual choice.
But why? Why should adults be granted legal documents and risky and harmful surgeries, and allowed to become life-long medical patients as a means of expressing themselves? Why should they do it when the changes wrought by these allowances come at great cost to society? This is an especially pertinent question given recent retractions by a prominent psychiatric journal, which now states, as the ranks of detransitioners grow, that surgeries to change sex markers don’t fix people’s mental health.
In Western cultures, adults are being granted new birth certificates and driver’s licenses that reflect the opposite sex, or third sex, not gender, as the term “transgender” would denote. Gender refers to sex stereotypes. Opposite gender (sex-stereotype) performances can be played out without drugs, wrong sex hormones, surgeries, and a lifetime of dependence on the medical-industrial complex. These gender stereotypes can be played out without changing official documents denoting our sex. Musicians and other artists do it frequently. What society is now allowing is for governments to create a social falsehood out of sex, with technology and pharmacology embedding this lie into law and language.
Those of us who want to live in a world that is at least somewhat ordered to the natural need to ask what happens when others are allowed this lie and what makes their free expression more important than what we desire. Even if their issue is intense body dysphoria, which I imagine is painful, why does the emotional pain of a few trump what it means to be human?
Right now, women are losing their rights to sexual privacy. Rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, women’s homeless shelters, change rooms, and bathrooms are being adapted to sex-neutral spaces that allow biological males. This is a safety issue, yet it’s being completely ignored to accommodate a few men. More importantly, it’s an attempt to violate and deconstruct the boundaries that makes us a sexually dimorphic species. Women bleed. They menstruate. They have to remove clothing to urinate and change menstrual products. They breastfeed. They carry babies. They have bodily needs that men do not have, and their bodies should not be privy to men without permission. Danger is a secondary, though not inconsequential, issue. Boundaries are important for structure over chaos, for privacy, for safety, and for wholeness. Why is respect for the boundary of sex being eroded and coded into law?
Women’s sports are no longer women’s sports if men claiming a different gender expression are granted access. So far, we are not reordering society for those who are blind or deaf, though there are a lot more of them than those referring to themselves as “transgendered.” Yet women’s organizations, birthing centers, and health facilities are rearranging language that deconstructs female biology into parts, purportedly so women who choose to alter their sex markers feel comfortable.
Lesbians are encountering more males claiming to be women than they are women on their own dating sites. Men are being offered not just the sexually objectified women of their dreams on their sports magazine covers, but the drugged and surgically adapted male to look like the sexually objectified female of their dreams. This is all being normalized at a rapid pace.
In medicine, law, language, and crime statistics, there is chaos. This is the point of the gender identity industry. Society is being sold a bill of goods by the corporate state, which is following technological advancement over a cliff. The media outlet Market Watch has stated clearly that the rise of medical procedures to change sex markers is due to the technological ability to do so. The technology creates the demand, not the other way around. This corporate bill of goods wants to make a human right out of a crime against humanity, out of a eugenicist pursuit of changing human biology, until what we are is beyond human, or inhuman.
Martine Rothblatt, founding father of the transgender empire, self-identified “transgender woman,” and renowned transhumanist, in 2016 spoke at the Trans History Forward Movement conference in British Columbia. The conference was organized by the Transgender Chair at the University of Victoria (a position—first of its kind—purchased by another rich, powerful man claiming to be a woman). Rothblatt suggested that techno-transhumanists attempt to use the same procedures as techno-transgenders to make legal changes allowing for alterations to human biology.
The implication is clear: Rothblatt and some of the richest and most powerful men in the world—like Bill Gates, Ray Kurzweil, Peter Diamandis, Elon Musk and others—are willing to sacrifice our reality as a sexually dimorphic species to their technological and megalomaniacal eugenicism. As they do so, it behooves us to consider the conflation of superficial changes to our bodies with changing who and what we are.
Jennifer Bilek is an investigative journalist, artist, and concerned citizen. She has been following the money behind the transgender agenda for six years. She blogs at the 11th Hour.
The post Not Just a Tattoo: Transgenderism Attacks Our Fundamental Humanity appeared first on The American Conservative.
The stage set the scene.
Though only one figure was a conservative, both sparring partners played it conservatively Wednesday night, right down to the plexiglass dividers. The tango between Vice President Mike Pence and California Senator Kamala Harris was, as expected, a different clash than the spectacle put on by the aspirant presidents a week prior.
Debate moderator Susan Page of USA Today focused heavily on the Coronavirus. “Knowing that we have to get ahold of what has been going on— and we need to save our country,” Harris remarked. “And Joe Biden is the best leader to do that, and frankly this administration has forfeited their right to re-election, based on this.”
Pence, on the other hand, advanced a talking point that has gained circulation especially as New York Times’ opinion writer Ross Douthat laid it out last month: the contention that a Biden administration would have handled the COVID-19 crisis all that more deftly is likely a canard.
“Like what Trump and I and our task force have been doing every step of the way,” Pence replied. “I mean, quite frankly, when I look at their plan that talks about advancing testing, creating new PPE [Personal Protective Equipment], developing a vaccine, it looks a little bit like plagiarism.” The blow was targeted at Biden, whose own travails with filching material derailed his first presidential campaign. “Which is something Joe Biden knows a little bit about,” Pence said, to a clearly miffed Harris.
Still, the best barometer that the gathering was more staid and less controversial than Trump vs. Biden, round one, was probably the market reaction. Stock futures rose Thursday morning, and President Trump revived hope that a stimulus package could be passed before Election Day, telling Maria Bartiromo that his administration was having “productive talks” with the Speaker’s office and Nancy Pelosi.
Trump, of course, remains essentially not on speaking terms with the woman second in line to the presidency. All eyes are, instead, on Treasury Secretary Mnuchin who has maintained the greatest personal rapport with the San Francisco congresswoman. While prospects for a deal remain bleak Thursday morning — as harrowing as the polling for the president in this campaign — the impact of the Pence-Harris debate is probably to, at least, stop the bleeding for Team Trump.
Trump’s aggressive show of force last week against Biden in Ohio was not for everyone. Cowen analyst Chris Krueger wrote that he disagreed with the “notion that debate was a dumpster fire: by definition, dumpster fires are contained.” Cowen’s memo was called “Crazy Train.” And the barrage of positive COVID-19 tests for senior administration officials, including Trump and his wife, has been nothing short of humiliating for a White House accused of addressing Coronavirus with flippancy.
The Democrats have tried to maintain message discipline on healthcare, and Harris was no exception.
“If you have a pre-existing condition: heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer, they’re coming for you.” The administration has a pending lawsuit before the Supreme Court to strike down the entirety of the Affordable Care Act. But Trump has maintained in that eventuality he would replace Obamacare with something “better” and Pence said Harris’ contention was “nonsense.”
When asked about the more fearful anxieties surrounding Trump’s administration and a possible transition of power, Pence ducked and cried foul on the other side. And “first and foremost, I think we are going to win this election,” the vice president said.
And Pence has long been noted as more establishmentarian than Trump. The list of achievements he touted Wednesday night in Salt Lake City blended Trumpist endeavors and language, such as trade nationalism and law and order, with goals more consistent with Reaganism.
“President Donald Trump has launched a movement of everyday Americans from every walk of life,” said Pence. “I have every confidence that the same Americans who delivered that historic victory in 2016 — they see this president’s record, where we’ve rebuilt our military, we’ve revived our economy through tax cuts and rolling back regulation, fighting for fair trade, unleashing American energy, we appointed conservatives to our federal courts. And we stood with the men and women of law enforcement every single day.”
Following the debate, the president signaled that he believed his deputy had won.
Just one month before the Presidential election, antitrust is in the air. The House Judiciary Committee released its report on antitrust enforcement Tuesday, and Attorney General Bill Barr is reportedly pushing to bring an antitrust case against Google as soon as possible.
Conservatives have not traditionally been the party of antitrust; there is a common intuition among Republicans that the free market will resolve any of the abuses of individual companies, and that enforcement would stifle competition and innovation.
But when it comes to Google, the winds of change are here. While Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, and Apple have all been subject to conservative critique at times, no company is more in the crosshairs than the search giant—and no company has done more to invite conservative scrutiny.
Conservatives should indeed seek antitrust enforcement against Google. Google’s brazen censorship is as much a product of its monopoly power as its anti-conservative bias. Ending Google’s antitrust amnesty—and enforcing the laws on the books—is both legally sound, and an important component of any project to remove the sword of Damocles hanging over conservatives online.
ANTI-CONSERVATIVE BIAS + MONOPOLY POWER = TROUBLE
A Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that Google is not the impartial platform it purports to be. Google, according to the WSJ, made algorithmic changes to favor bigger businesses over small ones, made behind-the-scenes adjustments to features like “auto-complete,” and maintained blacklists of websites.
Beyond the WSJ’s reporting, there is plenty of evidence of Google’s mistreatment of conservatives. Social media users flagged last year how Google mysteriously removed any hint of Hillary Clinton’s email scandal from their autocomplete results, while other major search engines featured the suggested search prominently. There was also the instance of The Federalist being temporarily demonetized based on misrepresentations made by an NBC journalist, and a ton of reporting from Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari about the reaction of the company to President Trump’s election in 2016. (Surprise: they weren’t happy about it).
Consider also the recent, temporary disappearance of a number of conservative websites from Google search results. In September, a “glitch” on the Google website led to a number of websites simply disappearing from their search results, including Breitbart, the Daily Caller, and my own publication Human Events. Google’s PR department insisted this was all a misunderstanding, suggesting that their algorithm isn’t even slightly biased.
That said, Google’s anti-conservative bias alone is not the problem: the issue is the combination of that bias and Google’s monopoly power. As the House Judiciary Committee report notes, Google receives roughly 80% of all search queries on desktop, and over 90% of all search queries on mobile. This dominance means that conservative consumers have few remedies for Google’s abuses: if you are a news website, and you lose 90% of your incoming traffic from search engines, that’s the ballgame.
Moreover, a common intuition of conservatives is to assume that such abusive and consumer-unfriendly practices can be competed away; a Google competitor should come along, provide service to an underserved market, and solve the abuses. But it’s the existence of a competitive market in the first instance that would make this possible, and that clearly does not exist in search: as the Judiciary Committee report notes, Google’s closest competitor, Microsoft’s Bing, captures only 6% of the general online search market.
If monopoly power is part of the problem, then antitrust enforcement is part of the remedy. Antitrust law exists to punish anti-competitive behavior and the exploitation of monopoly power. Google may be exploiting that monopoly power in a novel way; instead of trying to extract monopoly profits, they are trying to use their power to impose their political preferences on the country writ large. But exploitation is exploitation, and our government should not turn a blind eye.
The next steps for Congress and the executive branch are straightforward. First, Congress needs to provide additional resources to the FTC and DOJ to prosecute antitrust cases. The total budget of the FTC is roughly $330 million, and that’s spread between antitrust and consumer protection. Meanwhile, the DOJ’s Antitrust Division has $180 million in total.
That might seem like a lot, but it’s chump change in comparison to the resources that Google can bring to bear. Google has a market cap of one trillion dollars; they could spend an amount equal to DOJ’s entire antitrust budget without breaking a sweat. Congress needs to redress this imbalance; otherwise, Google can confidently wage a legal war of attrition against the government.
Second, Congress should look to clarify existing antitrust law to make it easier for our enforcement agencies to bring cases. In a number of different doctrinal areas, including predatory pricing and potential competition, the Supreme Court has developed the law in a manner that makes it nearly impossible for plaintiffs to prevail. But the Supreme Court is simply interpreting laws passed by Congress; Congress itself can clarify the law and make the doctrine more consumer-friendly and less Google-friendly.
Both of these recommendations—to increase funding for antitrust enforcement, and to clarify antitrust law to make it easier to prosecute—are in Rep. Ken Buck’s minority report in the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust investigation. Not all House Republicans signed on to Buck’s report, due to its stringent criticism of Big Tech’s abuses and its openness to the use of antitrust enforcement. That is a shame; conservatives should not stand idly by while Google wields its monopoly power against them.
As for DOJ, the remedy is simple: it’s time to bring an antitrust enforcement action against Google. No more amnesty. There have been reports for weeks that Bill Barr has been pushing for a case to be brought, in the face of internal resistance from career prosecutors. As the head of DOJ, Barr must and will prevail, and the DOJ should ensure that Google is not above the law.
None of these antitrust efforts directly target Google’s anti-conservative bias, but they should be supported nonetheless; by weakening Google’s monopoly power, and in conjunction with efforts to reform Section 230, antitrust enforcement can open up the space for new companies to compete with Google’s censorship machine. That’s something any conservative who wants an open, competitive internet where conservatives can express themselves freely should support.
Will Chamberlain is the publisher of Human Events and serves as Senior Counsel to the Internet Accountability Project.
With declining public sentiment about the tech industry and its impact on society, we’ve witnessed a growing chorus of advocates and policymakers arguing that now is the time for the federal government to take drastic action. Indeed, half of Americans now favor breaking up and more strictly regulating major technology companies, while only 11% think the companies should be regulated less.
This punitive sentiment has been on full display in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law, which has undertaken a year-long investigation of Big Tech, recently bringing together a hearing with the CEOs of Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. The effort reached its conclusion on Tuesday, with the publication of a 449-page report (as well as a shorter minority report) making recommendations for substantial legal changes that could pave the way to broad new enforcement and regulatory actions.
The committee’s effort has taken a great deal of time and thought, and in that respect is commendable for how Congress should approach issues of this complexity and magnitude. There are also some good ideas in both reports, like promoting data portability and interoperability, and making our antitrust agencies more capable. Yet, I also worry the committee’s effort fundamentally gets its premises wrong, fixating on four companies with little in common but their size, and pursuing them with a single-minded focus worthy of Captain Ahab.
As a former YCombinator-backed startup founder and Senate committee staffer, I fear these “break-them-up” factions—from Sen. Elizabeth Warren to Tucker Carlson—are embracing the wrong idea about what American innovation and competition policy should strive for, and being altogether too dismissive about the likely negative consequences for the rest of the innovation ecosystem if they prevail.
I get the emotional appeal—as trust in institutions and actors big and small collapses, there’s something satisfying about knocking today’s Tech Titans down a peg. Perhaps particularly so for conservatives, who fear their viewpoints are no longer tolerated in a digital public square managed by San Francisco liberals.
But the U.S. government shouldn’t aim to punish founders and entrepreneurs for being too successful, regardless of their ideological leanings. Good competition policy should help every company—from incumbents to startups—be more productive, create jobs, and operate in a competitive market under clear rules. What we really need is a policy framework that helps all companies grow better, rather than arbitrarily punishing the top few.
Instead of seeking to break up or otherwise enforce heavy-handed action against a handful of big firms—tying up all sides in years of costly litigation—what if the better choice is to pursue regulatory reforms that would improve competition up and down, from market-dominant incumbents to scrappy startups?
What choices am I talking about exactly? One view, from Stanford’s Mark Lemley and Andrew McCreary, argues that the blunt instruments of traditional antitrust remedies are too hard to get right, and too costly to mess up. Even if we did break them up, we could be facing a new set of Big Tech firms a few years later. Instead, they argue that systemic incentives that drive concentration should be addressed directly through regulatory changes.
Anyone who’s watched the startup market in recent years knows that Lemley and McCreary have a point. Even if you can come up with a substantially better product than Facebook or Google, given the scale of these platforms and barriers like network effects, one’s prospects at an investor pitch meeting wouldn’t be strong, if you could even get a venture capitalist to take your call. Instead, structural incentives push founders to pursue quick payoffs by getting acquired by larger firms (which can then absorb or kill the acquisition), or even designing their startup with this in mind from day one. In a longer paper, Lemley and McCreary spell out some policy “carrots and sticks” to address this that are well worth exploring.
Another interesting regulatory reform approach to promoting tech competition comes from Cory Doctorow, who argues for policy changes to enable permissionless competition. Doctorow’s argument harkens to a prelapsarian technological world (i.e. the 1980s and 1990s) in which there were fewer policy barriers to new firms entering the market and competing with, or augmenting, the offerings of larger firms without their permission. Think of the third-party cartridge maker who’s producing toner cartridges for your name-brand laser printer, or the mobile-phone spare-parts company that’s producing replacement screens for your unhappily fractured iPhone. That’s competition that pushes prices down, and gives consumers more options. Similarly, in the online platform space, the now defunct startup Power.com would have let users have more control over their social media feeds by aggregating them in one place, until a lawsuit by Facebook shut it down.
Doctorow’s key point is that competition enabled by interoperable systems ought to be something that’s encouraged, rather than hindered, by our policy frameworks—in particular, overbroad intellectual property laws and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Fixing the anti-competitive effects of these laws would have to be a part of a public-policy commitment to establishing an “interoperator’s defense,” offering a unique approach to driving both the creation of new public-facing businesses and the revitalization (through competition) of older ones.
There are numerous approaches like these that aim to promote innovation and competition system-wide, outside of seeking forced breakups. Such approaches warrant greater discussion and scrutiny in Congress and the administration, which has been altogether too fixated on a few prominent firms, and the emotionally satisfying but imprudent call for breaking them up.
Garrett Johnson is a co-founder and executive director of the Lincoln Network, a nonprofit working to bridge the gap between Silicon Valley and DC. He also co-founded SendHub.com, a venture-backed YCombinator startup.
The myth that Donald Trump is Vladimir Putin’s puppet just won’t die, even though ample evidence demonstrates that the president’s policy toward Russia has actually been surprisingly hardline and confrontational. Such pervasive paranoia has led to a rebirth of McCarthyism in the United States and is preventing a badly needed reassessment of U.S. foreign policy. In short, threat inflation with respect to Russia and an obsession with the phantom danger of presidential treason continues to poison our discourse.
The end of the exhaustive FBI and Mueller commission investigations into “Russia collusion” was never going to put the treason innuendoes to rest. Subsequent developments, such as unsupported charges that Moscow paid financial bounties to the Taliban to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, served to keep the narrative alive. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi epitomized the ongoing efforts to make imputations of disloyalty stick. “With [Trump], all roads lead to Putin,” Pelosi said in late June 2020. “I don’t know what the Russians have on the president, politically, personally, or financially.”
In a September 21 Washington Post op-ed, former New York Times correspondent Tim Weiner echoed Pelosi’s perspective. He asserted that
despite the investigation by former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, despite the work of congressional intelligence committees and inspectors general — and despite impeachment — we still don’t know why the president kowtows to Vladimir Putin, broadcasts Russian disinformation, bends foreign policy to suit the Kremlin and brushes off reports of Russians bounty-hunting American soldiers. We still don’t know whether Putin has something on him. And we need to know the answers — urgently. Knowing could be devastating. Not knowing is far worse. Not knowing is a threat to a functioning democracy.
Only visceral hatred of Donald Trump combined with equally unreasoning suspicions about Russia, much of it inherited from the days of the Cold War, could account for the persistence of such an implausible argument. Yet an impressive array of media and political heavyweights have adopted that perspective.
As during the McCarthy era in the 1950s, challenging the dominant narrative entails the risk of severe damage to reputation and career. In September 2020, The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald disclosed in an interview with Megyn Kelly that he had been blacklisted at MSNBC, primarily because he’d disputed the network’s unbridled credulity about Russia’s alleged menace and President Trump’s collusion with it. When Kelly asked him how he knew he was banned, Greenwald responded: “I have tons of friends there. I used to go on all the time. I have producers who tried to book me and they get told, ‘No. He’s on the no-book list.'”
Although an MSNBC spokesperson denied that there was any official ban, the last time Greenwald had appeared on a network program regarding any issue was in December 2016, just as the Russia collusion scandal was gaining traction. The timing was a striking coincidence. Greenwald insisted that he was told about being on the no-book list by two different producers, and he charged that his situation was not unique: “[I]t’s not just me but several liberal-left journalists — including Matt Taibbi and Jeremy Scahill — who used to regularly appear there and stopped once they expressed criticism of MSNBC’s Russiagate coverage and skepticism generally about the narrative.”
It would be bad enough if blows to careers were the extent of the damage that paranoia about Russia and Trump had caused. But that mentality is inhibiting any effort to improve relations with a significant international geostrategic player that possesses several thousand nuclear weapons.
The opposition to any conciliatory moves toward Russia has reached absurd and toxic levels. Critics even condemned the Trump administration’s April 2020 decision to issue a joint declaration with the Kremlin to mark the date when Soviet and U.S. forces linked up at the Elbe River during World War II, thereby cutting Nazi Germany into two segments. The larger purpose of the declaration was to highlight “nations overcoming their differences in pursuit of a greater cause.” The U.S. and Russian governments stressed that a similar standard should apply to efforts to combat the coronavirus. It should have been noncontroversial, but some condemned it as “playing into Putin’s hands.”
That theme has been even more prominent since Trump’s decision to move some U.S. troops out of Germany. Even some members of the president’s own party seem susceptible to the argument. During recent House Armed Services Committee hearings, Congressman Bradley Byrne invoked Russia. “From a layperson’s point of view, it looks like we’ve reduced our troop presence in Europe at a time that Russia is actually becoming more of a threat,” Byrne said. “It looks like we’re pulling back, and I think that bothers a lot of us.” Such arguments have been surprisingly common since the administration announced its plans in late spring. Allegations that Trump is “doing Putin’s bidding” continue to flow, even though some of the troops withdrawn from Germany are going to be redeployed farther east in Poland—a step the Kremlin will hardly regard as friendly.
George Beebe, vice president and director of programs at the Center for the National Interest, aptly describes the potential negative consequences of fomenting public fear of and hatred toward Russia. He points out that
the safe space in our public discourse for dissenting from American orthodoxy on Russia has grown microscopically thin. When the U.S. government will open a counterintelligence investigation on the presidential nominee of a major American political party because he advocates a rethink of our approach to Russia, only to be cheered on by American media powerhouses that once valued civil liberties, who among us is safe from such a fate? What are the chances that ambitious early-or mid-career professionals inside or outside the U.S. government will critically examine the premises of our Russia policies, knowing that it might invite investigations and professional excommunication? The answer is obvious.
Indeed it is. America went through such stifling of debate during the original McCarthy era. The impact lasted a generation and was especially pernicious with respect to policy toward East Asia. Washington locked itself into a set of rigid positions, including trying to orchestrate an international effort to shun and isolate China’s communist government and see every adverse development in the region as the result of machinations by Beijing and Moscow. The result was an increasingly futile, counterproductive China policy until Richard Nixon had the wisdom to chart a new course in the early 1970s. This ossified thinking and lack of debate also produced the disastrous military crusade in Vietnam.
America cannot afford such folly again. Smearing those who favor a less confrontational policy toward Moscow as puppets, traitors, and (in the case of accusations against Tulsi Gabbard) “Russian assets” will not lead to prudent policies. Persisting in such an approach will exacerbate dangerous tensions abroad and undermine needed political debate at home.
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in security studies at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor at The American Conservative, is the author of 12 books and more than 850 articles on international affairs.
The post Paranoia About Trump and Russia is Dangerous for Our Foreign Policy appeared first on The American Conservative.
Does representative democracy matter during a pandemic? Or do we dispense with it in favor of unchecked rule by executives and health departments?
Those questions recently came to a head in Michigan, when the state supreme court struck down emergency powers that had been wielded by an imperious governor. Gretchen Whitmer, who seems to think she’s some kind of Upper Midwest Holy Roman Emperor, had been granted sweeping authority back in March to fight the coronavirus under an emergency management law passed in 1976. But that statute also held that after 28 days she needed the approval of the Michigan legislature, which eventually declined to renew the state of emergency. So she simply ignored them, citing a different 1945 law that allowed her to take “reasonable” action “to protect life and property or to bring the emergency situation within the affected area under control.” Under its auspices, she issued more than 180 executive orders in the name of public health.
By far the most audacious of these decrees came back in April, when with the stroke of a pen, Whitmer made it illegal to visit friends, relatives, even vacation homes. All private and public gatherings of any size were prohibited. Sales of carpeting, paint, and gardening supplies at large stores were all banned, though Michiganders could still purchase state-sold lottery tickets. They couldn’t go golfing, motorboating, or hire lawn mowing services, though they could apparently attend Black Lives Matter protests, as Whitmer herself did in June. There was no logical consistency to any of it, because there rarely is logical consistency in an autocracy. The only standard was the whim of Her Excellency the Governor, who believed it within her sole purview to decide whether other people could sell trowels.
The backlash was swift. Retailers and farmers complained that they couldn’t make sense of the byzantine rules and received little help from the governor’s office. Police departments refused to enforce the executive orders, viewing them as unconstitutional. Whitmer later rescinded some of the measures, though she also continued to issue restrictions, creating more confusion. The peasants began filing lawsuits, and after one initiated by several medical centers landed in a district court, the judge requested that the state supreme court clarify what the governor could and couldn’t do. The supreme court hearings did not go well for Whitmer. One of the justices accused her of making “probably the largest claim of executive power that any governor has ever made in the history of Michigan.” Another, a Democratic appointee, warned that “once rights are forfeited or once rights are taken, they’re difficult if not impossible for people to reclaim them or get them back.”
The ruling came down last weekend and Whitmer’s scepter was predictably confiscated. It’s been widely claimed, including by the governor herself, that the court ruled on partisan lines, four to three, with only Republican-appointed justices going against her. But that’s misleading. On the main question—whether under the 1976 law Whitmer needed the consent of the legislature to extend her state of emergency beyond 28 days—the court was unanimous, deciding against her seven to zero. The narrower ruling was over whether the entire 1945 emergency law should be struck down, which it was. It was a clear rebuke, yet there was the Countess of Kalamazoo herself on Saturday, insisting that she didn’t have to relinquish power for another three weeks. This was contradicted by her own Democratic attorney general, who said the next morning that she would no longer enforce the executive orders.
All of this has proven a mess for Michigan, not a state known for its volatile politics (George Romney was once governor there). And in fairness to Michiganders, the question was never whether the pandemic was a threat. It also wasn’t whether the state needed a quarantine regulatory framework—it obviously did and does. It was whether all that authority should be vested in one person. Whitmer, almost from the start, behaved with complete impunity. She ignored the concerns of the legislature (which initially supported her state of emergency). She undermined her own public health rationale when she marched socially undistanced with BLM. She stretched the government’s powers deep into the grooves of everyday life without any kind of accountability or democratic consultation. She shrugged away anger from protesters and business owners, bragging about her “thick skin.”
If Whitmer would now like to govern, then she can do what the rest of the known free world does: work with other lawmakers and competing interests to achieve consensus within the confines of the law. Does representative democracy matter during a pandemic? Cheers to Michigan’s supreme court for affirming that it does. Other states whose governors have been acting too singularly should take notice.
Yet there’s a broader issue in play here too, one that’s at the heart of that four-to-three decision. The Michigan court struck down the 1945 emergency law under what’s known as the nondelegation doctrine. This holds that one branch of government can’t transfer its assigned powers to another branch. The question was whether the statute, which allowed the governor unilateral authority during a disaster, was an improper delegation of the powers of the legislature to the executive. The court ultimately said yes, citing a unanimously decided U.S. Supreme Court case, Whitman v. American Trucking Associations, which created a test: “whether a delegation is unconstitutional depends on two factors—the amount of discretion and the scope of authority.” Since the law allowed Whitmer to claim an immense scope of power (over an entire economy, indefinitely), it couldn’t stand.
Another Michigan justice, in a dissenting opinion, pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court had only invalidated statutes under the nondelegation doctrine twice in its history. He noted that there were other avenues to rein Whitmer in: the legislature itself might have repealed the 1945 law. That’s a good point (though Whitmer would have vetoed any attempt to check her own power). Nevertheless the problem of legislatures delegating their powers to executive agencies is very real, and exists at the national level too. The federal administrative state now passes more rules than the president signs laws, government by unelected functionary. In which case, maybe we should consider whether the Michigan justices have a point. Maybe it’s time for the courts to start wielding the nondelegation doctrine less sparingly, to take Gretchen Whitmer’s royal waving as a cautionary tale.
Of course, the ideal solution would be for legislatures to reclaim their own authority, to stop the partisan squabbling and stand up for their greater institutions. But if you think that’s going to happen, I have some Michigan lawn fertilizer to sell you.
The post The Quarantine Queen Versus Representative Democracy appeared first on The American Conservative.
Gun control in America is a perpetual debate. From Gun Confiscation Orders (i.e. Red Flag Laws), a national registry (i.e. universal background checks), prohibitions on standard-capacity magazines, age restrictions, licensing, and prohibitions on where a person may carry a firearm, governments at all levels are constantly attempting to reinterpret our Second Amendment rights.
Americans are expected to take these arguments at face value; that they are intended to keep us safe. But in reality, these laws are methods to control not the weapon, but the individual.
This became obvious recently in both the tone and severity of the response surrounding Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager charged with fatally shooting two people amid the riots in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Rittenhouse and his lawyer say he shot in self-defense. But the narrative in both mainstream and social media has prejudged his guilt: the young Rittenhouse is a racist who wasn’t able to legally carry a firearm and acted on a premeditated plan to kill. He even crossed state lines to do it.
The debate’s framing is instructive, however. Rather than grappling with why the riots were allowed to go on in the first place, it focuses exclusively on whether or not Rittenhouse had broken any gun laws. Those opposed to what Rittenhouse had done tried to damage him in the court of public opinion by claiming he had broken some laws pertaining to the possession of firearms. But what they were really saying is, because the state of Wisconsin had not given Rittenhouse a license to carry a firearm to defend himself, he must be in the wrong.
Licenses are a way for the state to decide which rights a person can exercise and which ones they cannot. When a government has the power to approve or deny a right, the citizen immediately loses the upper hand to that government.
The 2020 pandemic caused by the Chinese coronavirus is the most current and pressing example of how a government powerful enough to permit you to exercise a right is powerful enough to take that right away. This power is felt acutely as state governments seek to compel individual behavior by leveraging their powers over licensing.
Licensing laws are supposed to keep business owners accountable for the products they sell and ensure that the states and federal government take their share of the businesses’ profits in taxes. The Chinese coronavirus, however, has given state governors leeway to invoke the power of the state against otherwise lawfully operating business.
In Texas, the Department of Licensing and Regulation considered penalizing businesses that defied the statewide order to remain closed. Fortunately, the department dropped those cases, but only after Texas Governor Greg Abbott intervened because of a national outcry by the GOP.
The governor amended his order, but not before it was used to jail Shelley Luther, who reopened her salon in defiance of the governor’s orders.
The Texas licensing law was sold—like all licensing laws—as a way to protect innocent people from bad actors. The people of Texas and their legislators could not have foreseen the licensing laws would be used in this way.
Similar threats have been made by other governors, with the same message: reopening a business without government permission could result in losing a business license. Without a license, a business cannot legally operate.
In Pennsylvania, Democrat Governor Tom Wolf said counties that do not follow his executive orders could lose liquor licenses and other certifications.
In Michigan, Democrat Governor Gretchen Whitmer implied that business owners who defy her executive orders will lose their state-granted license to operate. “Most businesses in the state have a license that is granted by the state”, she said. She justified this threat by claiming that staying open was putting people at risk.
This brings us back to the moments after the young Kyle Rittenhouse used defensive force against three grown, male attackers and likely prevented dozens of other rioters from injuring or killing him.
Many of the public detractors focused on whether he violated any licensing law in possessing the firearm. This deflects from the truth that Rittenhouse saved his own life from a violent mob, with a firearm, when the state wasn’t there to protect him.
Requiring licenses for firearms may sound like a way to keep dangerous individuals from acquiring means to do harm to the innocent. But, as we have seen in the case of the coronavirus lockdowns and the case of Kyle Rittenhouse, licenses are a way for governments to tyrannize us when we are at our most vulnerable.
Obtaining a firearm in 2020, a little more than a month before a presidential election, means long waits that are doubling time from purchase to possession of the firearm. In Washington, D.C. the wait is over a month to acquire a firearm after purchase.
The lessons are clear from the Rittenhouse trial and actions of governors during the Chinese coronavirus crisis. When the state asks for new powers, it is under the guise of furthering a public interest. But as we have seen, laws that appear mundane can be used to oppress Americans for otherwise legal, normal, and even ethical activities. We must also scrutinize the details of all proposed legislation. Laws must be carefully circumscribed to ensure that a future legislature, governor, or president cannot read into the law more than the drafters of that law intended. Laws must be narrow and specific. Otherwise the state will abuse these laws, and abuse us, during the next time of crisis.
Phil Reboli is a former Senate aide and the Director of Government Affairs at the Conservative Partnership Institute.