Donald Trump has had a pretty extraordinary week. He’d already made himself a lot of friends in Washington, DC through his willingness to bomb Syria. But on Wednesday in particular he reversed himself on a number of issues he campaigned on. He is now endorsing positions he campaigned against when Hillary held them. This shift is heartening in some ways. People are breathing a sigh of relief. But can we trust him? And is a return to the Washington, DC playbook such a good thing anyway? I don’t trust Trump. And my roommate Ray really doesn’t trust Trump. Click here to view our wide-ranging discussion. It strays a little closer to the Democratic party line than I’m happy with, but hey, enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Words are important. Last week’s video on Gibraltar inspired a lot of confusion in the comments. People didn’t seem to understand why I found the statement from the UK’s Michael Howard so offensive. So this video explains in detail. Using violent words in a time of international uncertainty can lead to violence. History shows us this.
The video was already too long, so I left out examples of how this happens. In the pre-industrial era you could see this sort of thing all the time. Lands were ruled by Kings and Nobles, with a delicate sense of honor, who would sometimes start wars over verbal insults. The Spanish Armada, the most famous example of tension between Spain and Great Britain is one example. The Spanish tried to invade Britain for a number of reasons, among them religious words, but some of them were personal. Phillip II of Spain was angry that the English Queen Elizabeth had rejected his son’s hand in marriage.
You can see the importance of the words of leaders in the run up to World War I. Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914 tells the tale. For decades European leaders used belligerent nationalist talk about their enemies to legitimate their rule. They found that this got out of control. Their newly moneyed and literate publics took these words to heart, and ran ahead of their rulers in their hatred of the other. World War I was started by a perfect storm of idiocy, but a lot of it started with words. When the few leaders with sense could see what was happening, they found that they were constrained by the nationalist beast they had unleashed. That beast ended up eradicating the power, and sometimes the lives of most of Europe’s royal families. It’s a great book, and an important read as we fall back into the nationalist maelstrom. I’d suggest giving it a look…
Trump just took the first of what I expect will be many military actions. By destroying one of Assad’s airfields he’s taking a bull in a china shop approach, and it’s hard to see how this works out well. What this video emphasizes, and what very few people ever mention, is how weak Assad is. Prior to the Russian intervention he was reliant on a diminished air force to brutalize his people. Assad is a very bad man. But we should not be working towards the collapse of his regime. At the moment, Assad controls most of the population centers of the country. The rebel forces have been getting progressively more fundamentalist throughout the six year war. If Assad loses his air power, there is little to stop those forces from making great strides. Any serious movement by these forces towards Aleppo, or Damascus will result in tremendous new refugee flows. By taking this action, Trump has given the Jihadists a new lease on life. It is hard to see how this action benefits anybody other than Al Queda and ISIS.
After Ray and I shot this video I began to see reports that Russia had been informed of the attack before it was carried out. This is of course a good thing. We really want to avoid blowing up Russian soldiers. But the question of timing is important. Did the Russians know this was coming two hours before, or 24 hours before? Presumably Assad knew about this as soon as the Russians did. You can’t pack up an airbase in a day, but you can certainly fly out all the useful elements. Assad friendly media is reporting that 15 fighters were destroyed. This could be a real problem. If Assad just lost 15 useful fighters, then his air force has been significantly degraded, and the rebels have a new lease on life. But if they were 15 old or broken down fighters then this is largely cosmetic. So Trump’s action was either horrifically misjudged or useless. Either he’s given Idlib’s Jihadists an incredible gift, or he’s just engaged in the classic Clintonite “Shooting a 30 million dollar rocket at a tent to poke a camel in the ass”. Either way, it’s hard to see this action as a useful one.
Over the past day or so, we’ve seen a ridiculous controversy over the status of Gibraltar emerge. This territory, attached to Spain, but owned by Great Britain for 300 years or so, has made it into the news for the first time in a while. It’s a silly story, but it stems from much more serious developments. On Wednesday of last week, the Brexit process finally got underway. The Gibraltar issue, and the deranged comments of former Conservative leader Michael Howard, aren’t all that serious. But there’s nothing funny about the story.
It’s only the first of many Brexit related crises to come. As this Brexit process unfolds over the next two years there are going to be a lot of angry people. The British government has made promises to its people that will not be honored. The unraveling of the EU system across Great Britain will have tremendous effects, and may even result in the unraveling of the EU itself. Petty arguments over things like Gibraltar may seem ridiculous today, but they may not a few years from now. As the over-arching systems dissolve in acrimony, these idiot nationalist issues will come to the fore once again. The Gibraltar story isn’t funny because it’s a sign of things to come. Check out today’s video to learn more.
This video marks one of those “satisfying but not satisfying” moments. It’s quite unpleasant to be proven right so quickly. For over a year now I’ve been warning that the disintegration of the EU would lead to a resurgence of nationalist issues between European states. I’m a bit shocked to see one come up so early, and so far West. I’ve also predicted that this disintegration will lead to broader violence a decade or so down the line. I hope I’m wrong about that. Check out my Brexit play-list to learn more.
Oh Russia! As I’ve made clear, I don’t think much of the continued furor around that country’s role in the US election. But that barely scratches the surface of the silliness surrounding discussions of Russia’s geopolitical position. The US foreign policy establishment has been jawing for years about Putin’s “impending” invasion of the Baltic countries, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. This has always been ridiculous. A year and a half ago I made a video pointing out 3 reasons why it would never happen. It has reached a pretty large audience.
Donald Trump’s election has prompted a new wave of Baltic paranoia, however. On the campaign trail, Trump spent a fair amount of time insulting our NATO allies. Some are afraid he won’t honor our commitments to the Baltics in the event of a Russian invasion. I think these fears are exaggerated. But what if they were true? If Russia had the all powerful military machine it is credited with then maybe the Baltics would be in trouble. It doesn’t. In fact, the 2017 Russian budget imposes a 25% cut on Defense spending. Even without NATO, I’m quite confident Russia wouldn’t invade Estonia. It’s just too dangerous for Putin. Washington, DC will continue pretending Russia is a real threat, rather than a skilled exploiter of situations in countries the US has already destroyed. For those of us outside the beltway however, I’ve put together another video laying out the dismal geopolitical situation facing Russia. I hope you enjoy it..
AHCA has failed! But what does this mean for Donald Trump? My suspicion is that this is what Trump and Bannon wanted all along. My roommate Ray disagrees with me strongly. We’ve decided to bet on the outcome. I think some kind of broader coverage Trumpcare plan will come out within the next six months. Ray disagrees. The loser will be forced to endure some form of social media shaming. What do you think that should be?
Indonesia is an extraordinary country, and it’s doing very, very well. But the only time we seem to hear about it in the United States is when somebody is whining about Sharia law. This video clears up the record on both counts. It documents the country’s incredible success, and points out how Aceh’s adoption of Sharia law isn’t anything to freak out about, and may even be a useful model.
Sharia law is a fascinating topic. If you watch Fox News you may have the sense that it is some lock-step box of evil that you can plug into a country to turn it into Afghanistan. In fact it means something different in every place it has been implemented. The Saudi Arabian version we are most familiar with is quite rare. Some countries treat it as an additional source of law. Some use aspects of it for family law issues. Some try to keep it in mind when drafting some aspects of their law. Having a special fear of “Sharia” makes about as much sense as having a special fear of the Code Napoleon. And No, it’s not coming to the United States any time soon. 99.9% of the public discussion of this issue is just idiotic. My hope is that this video is part of the .01%
One quick programming note. In the video, when I correct the Breitbart headline I’m actually wrong. A version of Sharia has been applied to all of Aceh province, which amounts to 2% of the population of Indonesia. In the video I corrected the headline to reflect that. But the article appears to actually talking about the North Aceh Regency, which has a population of 500,000 not 5 million. So
Steven Pinker talks about the “expanding circle of empathy”. Today’s video is an exercise in that. The concept, as I understand it, goes something like this. When we were all living in caves, we looked out for our family and that was about it. As societies develop, the circle of empathy expands. We look out for our tribe, our city, and over the past couple hundred years or so we’ve begun to see entire nation states as “our people”. Many of the challenges and victories of the past couple decades can be explained through this concept. Fights over everything from civil rights for other races and orientations, to environmentalism and animal rights are generated by differing ideas of the circle of empathy.
I’m generally a fan of expanding the circle. As I get older and crustier, I’m sure to object to stuff new generations come up with, but as of 2017, I’m pretty down with most expansion efforts. There’s one in particular that I try to get out ahead of. I spend a lot of time thinking about geopolitics. So much of what is written on the topic in the US fails to see things from the other side. It’s not that I’m not patriotic, it’s just that I think US interests are better served when we understand how other people are feeling. An expanding circle of empathy is a good in and of itself, but there’s also a utility there.
This video started off within one circle of empathy, and ends up in a broader one. Empathy is hard. The makers of Kong: Skull Island may have worried about the first circle, but as their actions and this video show, they put zero thought into the second.
Everybody loves Silicon Valley. I do too! They are building the future etc. etc. But when we set out to build a constituency for Globalism they present a real challenge. Disrupting things is nice, but if this past election taught us anything it’s that people are feeling just a bit too disrupted. A populace that is losing economic ground to a changing economy isn’t going to get excited about Amazon or Facebook’s commandeering of larger and larger slices of the economy.
We talk a lot about bubbles when it comes to politics. But they apply to economics too. If you’ve got a college education and a great job, it’s likely that you and your friends delight in the ease and convenience of every new service and app. Many outside of privileged circles do as well. But they’re just as likely to feel left out as their prospects steadily fade in the new economy.
People should be working to build the future. And not just to make money off of it. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg took a crack at it recently. His manifesto has some interesting ideas, but it was disconcerting how closely it aligns what is good for the world with what is good for Facebook. We need to build a better, safer, more free world. Silicon valley is vital, but the Globalist effort can’t be left to Tech Utopians looking to make a buck. All we’ll find in that direction is dystopia and more electoral disaster…
I’m honestly not sure how serious I am about this one. But I am sure that our current party system is broken. The Republicans and Democrats simply don’t represent the true tensions of 21st century living. I’d like to use the discussion of Globalism to pick apart what parties that actually represented opposite sides of a discussion might look like.
“Globalist” as it stands now is mostly a term of abuse. It’s a catch all term used to describe the “transnational elites”, and depending on the flavor of conspiracy you prefer it can refer to the UN, the Elders of Zion, or telekinetic space lizards. The only people who take the term seriously are nuts. I think that’s a missed opportunity. In fact, “Globalist” is a neat way to describe one of the positions on the most important question posed by globalization: How do we strike the right balance between sovereignty and connection?
To what extent should each country cooperate with other countries? Where should the lines be drawn? What is international law? Where does each country draw the line? These questions are fascinating. On many issues I think Sovereignty should be respected more. But I also know that a country has to make allowances to international consensus if it wants to compete in the 21st century.
I can’t claim to have the answers here. I’ve got some thoughts. But we don’t discuss this stuff enough. The decisions just seem to get made, while the two major parties run around arguing about guns, abortion, and the methods we should use to bomb other countries into the stone age. The important conversations on globalization and sovereignty get left to cranks like Alex Jones. That’s too bad. The current plight of the EU should be a cautionary tale. For too long the folks in charge assumed that they could just get on with European integration, without really making the case for it. Well there are new folks in charge in the UK now… We can’t afford to leave this discussion to the nationalists and the cranks. With this series I hope to elevate the discussion a bit.