I have loved the Empire State building since I was a child. But have you ever thought about that name? “Empire State”? That’s how New Yorkers saw their state in the early 20th century. New York led the country that was going to lead the world. Parsing the exact definition of “Empire” intended in the name is a much longer topic than a blog post can cover. But that vision, of New York as a leader, went straight to the top. Al Smith, the president of the company that built the building was a former governor of New York.
This video documents how that vision has faded, and how far from national leadership the people and politicians of New York have fallen. I think I’ll have a lot more to say on this topic in future, but I wanted to briefly lay out the facts this week.
The Amazon HQ2 competition has gotten a lot of attention. People aren’t thinking this through. There is one location that is almost certain to get the new headquarters. Washington, DC is where the future of Amazon as a company will be decided, so that’s where Amazon needs to be. All this other stuff is window dressing, and information gathering for Amazon’s already formidable data machine.
I’ve decided to use this video to kick off another one of my periodic jeremiads about the growing centralization of power in the United States, and the fact that all that power is pouring towards Washington, DC, or at least will be. Back before Trump was elected I used French history to illustrate what happens when you do away with local sources of power. Also of interest is my discussion of the true network of power that runs the united states, and my long discussion of the military industrial complex.
This one is part sequel, part explanation. A couple weeks back I published a video entitled “Washington, DC Has Won The War In Syria”. One of my central points was the thought that while the US government had met many of its messed up priorities, the US people and the world and general had in fact lost. It became clear from the comments that this did not get across.
So I put together the video I’m uploading with this post. I think it answers criticisms, but it also does more with that. It reckons with the larger consequences of the Syrian war for geopolitics, and the prospects of world peace and prosperity in general. It starts specific and gets very very general. Syria is a depressing issue, and my weariness with its unrelenting horror may come across in this video. But I try to end on a hopeful note.
Budgets are boring right? Not really. They are certainly complex, and passing them is complicated, as Washington, DC’s seemingly perpetual shut-down dance shows. But the question of paying for government is the most important one imaginable. Time and again in history we see great empires brought down by the simple question of “How do we pay for this?”
In the 1500s the Spanish Empire encircled the world, and controlled something like half of Europe, if not more. Their American territories brought a constant stream of precious metals. They were brought down mostly by the fact that they didn’t understand inflation, and defaulted on their debt repeatedly. In the 1920s the British Empire reached it’s largest extent. The “Sun Never Set” on the British Empire. 40 years later it was gone. Because they couldn’t pay for it. The holders of British debt in the United States got to dictate British foreign policy in a few crucial instances.
This video may not strike you as very serious. But seriousness is the whole point. We use Iran to justify a lot of bad behavior. Just a week or so back, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that we’re going to indefinitely hold territory in Syria because we don’t like the fact that Iran has influence in a country it has had influence in for decades. We use the “seriousness” of the Iranian threat to ourselves and Israel to justify stuff. This doesn’t mean we’re actually serious about the Iranian threat.
Because if we were serious about countering Iran, we’d be using every possible opening. We’d have the ability to both deal with them diplomatically, and oppose them militarily in proxy wars, just like the Cold Warriors of Yore. But we don’t. Because nothing about US foreign policy is serious. Other than its consequences for the world. This video is a thought experiment, asking how we’d tread Iran’s president Rouhani if we were truly serious about countering threats from Iran.
The conflict in Afrin may have been my most requested topic ever. I’m glad that folks have forced me to at Syria again. I was dreading it a bit, though, because the subject is super depressing. The war is both horrific and infantile, where some players are desperately hanging on, and others are just idly running around destroying things and destroying people.
The United States would be the prime example of the latter. We’re barely aware of what we’re doing, and what has happened. We are constantly told that Syria somehow means that US leadership is waning, or that other actors are “winning” the war. Believing this requires complete ignorance of the real power dynamics here. The US is much more powerful than any other belligerent, and by any objective analysis my government is the only entity that has “won” anything here. If Syria was a board game, Washington, DC would be the winner. But Syria isn’t a board game. It’s a country that has been destroyed. It may take decades, but there will be consequences. This video lays out the whole depressing state of affairs in Syria today, and yes, it also deals with Afrin.
Spanish history really is amazing. As someone from the United States, who has spent a fair amount of time in the Middle East, I tend to focus on British and ancient history. Last year my family took a trip to Spain and Morocco and I really got a sense of what I’m missing. Spain has its roots in a fascinating conflict and mixture between Roman, Medieval Christian, and Islamic cultures. The Crusades focusing on Jerusalem, a much more transitory affair, get a lot more press. Which seems nuts. You’ve got to go back to 1961 and the surprisingly woke, and gloriously bloated, Charlton Heston film El Cid to find a treatment of the Spanish Reconquista in popular culture.
This is a shame, because it’s an incredibly epic story. You’ve got Medieval culture clash that literally ends the SAME YEAR, 1492, as a new and even more momentous clash between continental civilizations. The Crusades don’t have the conquest of a continent as their aftermath. The lack of coverage may have something to do with the fact that Spanish history, and Latin American history hasn’t always been the happiest. Here’s hoping that that changes in future years. I’m definitely excited to do some more work on the topic, and I am super excited to be covering it in this week’s video…
The most important news is often the stuff we never hear about. This is especially true in the era of Donald Trump’s twitter feed. With this video, I attempt to uncover one of the more important aspects of Trump’s presidency, the career of Jeff Sessions at the Department of Justice. As Attorney General, Sessions is attempting to roll back a solid decade of progress in the arena of criminal justice, from civil forfeiture to marijuana legalization.
It’s frustrating to watch Sessions efforts be ignored. When Trump goes after him he even comes close to “resistance hero” status, or at least garners some sympathy. Jeff Sessions does not deserve our sympathy.
The fall of Christian Constantinople to the Muslim Turks is one of the most significant events in Eurasian history. Some use the date it happened, 1453, as the break point between “Medieval” times and the “Early Modern” era. The threat of the Ottoman Empire was an important thing too. It motivated a lot of the state consolidation and military advancement that gave us modern Western Civilization. The threat of “the Turk” is long passed, but we don’t challenge the basic assumptions that that struggle has left us with. We don’t need the dream of a fallen Constantinople for propaganda purposes anymore. We should acknowledge what actually happened. That’s what this week’s video aims to do.
You all may have noticed that I consciously avoid the term “Byzantine Empire” here. The Byzantines did too. In fact the term wasn’t even invented until centuries after they had gone. They knew themselves as Romans, so that’s how I try to refer to them as well. This confusion has its origin in a bit of archaic racism. The Enlightenment thinkers that drew European History together didn’t like the Greeks much. For them Rome was based in Rome. It was the great civilization of Cicero and Augustus, it spoke Latin and it ended in 476.
The Western bits of the Empire did in fact fall in 476. But the Eastern Half had a full 1,000 years of history ahead of it. The Western European historians of the 1700s found this kind of thing distasteful. Altogether too Eastern. The Eastern Roman Emperors, with their constant murdering of each other, their pretensions to imperial divinity, and tasteless bling weren’t really their sort of Romans. So they invented a whole new name for them, the Byzantines, based on the original Greek name of Constantinople. I’m a big fan of Rome, and I have some of the same prejudices, but I don’t feel the need to distinguish the way the folks in the 1700s did. So I tend to use the term “Eastern Roman Empire” rather than “Byzantine Empire”.
The past week’s developments in Iran are tremendously exciting. Diverse and unexpected elements of the Iranian public have started taking to the streets to protest the regime that has failed them for most of the past 40 years. After a few days of very little press coverage in the United States, we now have a torrent of commentary. But it all strikes me as missing something. US coverage of Iran is limited by the way that US media sees Iran. With this video I delve into the problem…