We certainly heard a lot about Trump and Saudi Arabia this weekend. Considering the content of this channel, it won’t surprise you to hear that I found it disappointing, and disturbing. But more than anything else it was distracting. This whole trip was a distraction from Trump’s woes back in Washington, DC. But Trump’s Saudi Arabia clown show was also a distraction from something we should have all been paying more attention to. It was good news for once!
It was all a tremendous distraction from Iran. After months of predictions that he would lose, Iran’s moderate president Hassan Rouhani triumphed in his re-election campaign. Iran chose openness, despite the repeated rejections and abuse hurled at them by the United States. This is a very big deal. The hardliners that have ruled Iran since the revolution continue to abuse power. It makes me believe that peace in the region might finally really (eventually) be possible.
But nobody paid any attention. Trump and Tillerson issued their customary condemnations of Iran this weekend, calling them out for supporting terror, even while being hosted by Saudi Arabia, Iran’s sworn enemy, and the main inspiration behind almost every terror attack of the past 17 years. Tragic stuff. It’s already causing problems for Rouhani back in Iran. This video lays out the details….
Crowd-funded Media is essential. I’d like it if I could continue to do it, but that’s beside the point. We’ve got a lot of great institutions that do essential reporting and analysis. From newspapers, to universities, and even think tanks. But all of these institutions have obvious and hidden stake-holders that they are accountable to. We all know about the way that news organizations have to keep their advertisers happy. But Universities and think tanks have less obvious issues as well. Schools and think tanks are dependent on the US government for a lot of their funding. Schools have rich foreign students to attract. It’s not that this necessarily makes their coverage dishonest, it’s just that they won’t look into certain topics. This excellent New York Times article pointed out how completely large think tanks are owned by sovereign wealth funds and other large players.
None of this is a secret. It just isn’t talked about much. But it’s one of the most important factors impacting the way we see the world. Which is one of the reasons I started the More Freedom Foundation five years ago. I may not be able to continue to do this work, but we need someone to do it. It’s only individuals, and small groups of individuals that can truly look at the world honestly. Today I published a video on why I may be a joke, but I’m a joke worth supporting.
I launched a fund-raising drive last week, and the response has been incredible. We’re a third of the way to the goal just one week into the two month drive! I’m humbled and grateful to all of you, not just those who have chipped in on Patreon. Your views, likes, subscribes, comments and reads make this whole thing possible. So I’ve decided to give away a free essay. “Your War On Drugs, 6,000 Words on the Shame of the Nation” will be available for free for the kindle from May 22nd to May 26th. For those of you without a kindle I’ve attached a pdf version here…
So I’ve finally gotten it together to do a Podcast type thing. Jon Coumes of Safe for Democracy, one of my favorite podcasts, sat down with me to have a wide-ranging conversation. We discussed the “Everybody’s Lying About Islam” video series and essay at great length and got into US policy in Iran, and US foreign policy more generally. Jon is a pretty left-wing guy, and I am not. But when it comes to US foreign policy, we’re pretty much on the same page.
We also cover how essential it is to have independent media voices like ourselves. We may be a little biased on that topic…
You can listen to the podcast from YouTube, or you can download the Mp3 I’ve attached to this post. I hope you enjoy it!
Oh, Sharia. The amount of time I’ve spent dealing with comments on this topic over the past couple weeks is something I shudder to contemplate. We’re supposedly about inspiring democracy and development in the US, but we insist that it only proceed along certain lines. We completely forget that we traveled a long road to get to our current state of gender relations, religious tolerance, and legal rights and obligations. If a developing country doesn’t instantly conform to our 21st century post-industrial set of mores, we reserve the right to panic and insist on changes.
We also ignore the fact that our government has been eagerlyparticipating in the spread of the worst ideas and approaches in Modern Islam. By all means, provide outlets for actual dissidents from these countries, who want to develop a better approach. But we need to look more seriously at our own approach to the Muslim world before we start angrily insisting on our vision of how Islam should be practiced. I find the whole conversation very irritating, which may come across a little too strongly in this video.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… That quote describes the state of my YouTube channel pretty well. The Everybody’s Lying About Islam series has been a roaring success. It has racked up almost 20,000 views over the past couple weeks. The channel’s daily views seem to have stabilized at about 300% higher than what they were two months ago, and about double my best previous month. I’m selling piles of essays. This is all great!
…but it’s nowhere near enough. I’m selling dozens of essays, not hundreds. The spike in viewership would have made a real difference… if YouTube hadn’t pulled like 90% of the advertising for all political news channels over the past few months. I’ve been doing this for three years, and I’m living on other people’s couches. At a certain point I’ve got to pull the plug. So, this video sets a deadline. If I can’t get my crowd-funding dollars up by July 15th, 2017, my 38th birthday, it’s time to throw in the towel.
I would love to keep doing this, and if enough people chip in on Patreon, I will. But whatever happens I will always be grateful to all of you for making this dream seem possible! It’s been an amazing run. Many thanks!
Well this is awkward. I’ve been building a case against James Comey for years. That doesn’t necessarily mean I wanted him removed. Comey over-politicized the FBI long before the 2016 election. He’s got an agenda, and he pushes it, while also portraying himself as some sort of super-cop. Under a normal president I’d have been happy to see him go. But under Trump?
A take-down of James Comey would have been part of my next series on US criminal justice. His pushing of antiquated and mildly racist ideas from the top of the FBI was another hindrance to fixing policing in this country. It’s unlikely his replacement will be much better, but his replacement won’t have Comey’s history of supporting notions like the “Ferguson Effect”. He will be a blank slate.
James Comey was the hero of his own story. Beyond his potential utility against the Trump administration, Comey was also a great character. I was hoping to get to him in a more formal fashion, but now all he gets is a video reacting to his firing. That’s politics, I guess!
Covering FATCA gave the MFF YouTube channel its first big break. But I’ve always disliked bringing it up since then. There’s the fiendish complexity for one thing. But it also smashes so many of the convenient fictions we believe about US power. We like to tell ourselves that the US is just another country. Sure, we’re powerful, and we do what we can to help, but generally we let the world do as it pleases. FATCA makes it clear that very little of that is true.
The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act passed in 2010. It was implemented worldwide in 2014. Throughout this process, I expected there to be international outrage over the way that the law imposed US oversight and control over every bank in the world. The legislation is Imperialist in a very straightforward way. Surely, the world couldn’t possibly let us get away with it? But they have.
This video covers an enforcement action carried out last week in India. Millions of Indians were required to fill out a form or lose the use of their bank accounts. This wasn’t too onerous a requirement, and while it certainly caused some stress, it probably didn’t destroy any lives. But that’s not the point. Millions of Indians were required to do something last week, on their own soil, by US law. American Empire is very real, and very ignored. FATCA may be the most egregious bit of law-driven US empire. But then again it may not be. It could be the tip of the Iceberg. The complexity of bureaucracy and modern life itself keeps us from knowing…
Donald Trump’s proclamations of Fake News are often unfair, and are always meant to distract from his extraordinary failings as a president. But sometimes he’s got a point. This story, about the woman convicted for laughing at Jeff Sessions, is one example. The basic fact may be true. It was laughing, and the disorderly conduct that followed it, that got this woman convicted. But that’s not the way it is being used.
It’s being used as the sign of creeping authoritarianism, or the idea that Washington, DC is changing in an important way. What’s more authoritarian than a trial for laughter!?!? Well, I can tell you from personal experience that that is not the case. In fact, I was a juror, in a trial for exactly this sort of thing in the Obama administration. Needless to say, there were no mainstream media stories about the evils and authoritarianism stemming from that case. This video tells that story.
As any familiarity with my channel will tell you, I am deeply committed to opposing Donald Trump. What I am aware of, that few people at the Washington Post, or the Democratic National Committee seem to be aware of, is the fact that we need to persuade people who don’t agree with us to slay this dragon. When Trump gets up there and shouts “Fake News!” it shouldn’t be this easy for his followers to believe him. There’s this idea that his supporters are all anti-rational resentment bots who will support him no matter what. There’s certainly some of that. But I know plenty of smart people who find his approach interesting, if embarrassing, and are on the fence. A media that does exactly what Trump says it does, and produces “Fake News” like this, is not going to get the “Trump-curious” on our side of the fence.
The popularity of the Shia Sunni “Eternal Hatreds” myth is mostly about Iraq. It’s a bit sad really. The power of this meme comes from the desperate wish of the American thinking classes to find anything else to blame for Iraq. And Syria as well. If these two groups are destined to fight each other forever, then hey, it’s not really our fault. Bloody, endless warfare is just the natural state of the Middle East! Pay no attention to the fact that we isolated and brutalized Iraq for a decade, before destroying its government completely. Pay no attention to the funding and support we’ve been fire-hosing towards Sunni militants in Syria. This was all going to happen anyway!
I find the whole concept of religious war to be a bit over-sold. The standard go-to comparison from European history for the modern middle east is the 30 years war in 17th century Europe. In that war the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor went after some Protestant princes and 30 years later 25-30% of the German people had been killed. The Catholic-Protestant divide certainly had a lot to do with this conflict, but is that what it was really about? Not really. Catholic France spent a lot of time helping Protestant princes because they didn’t like the Holy Roman Emperor. The Holy Roman Empire had gotten along for most of a century with both Protestant and Catholic princes and regions. The war was started by, and perpetuated by political actors who saw more opportunities for land and power. Sure, some of the actors were primarily motivated by religion, but not many. And even the most vocally religious actors, like Gustavus Adolphus, the Protestant king of Sweden, and Ferdinand II, the Holy Roman Emperor, were pursuing very non-spiritual aims. Ferdinand’s attempt to impose Catholicism Empire wide was as much about administrative consistency and control as it was about doctrine.
This is all to say that war is a complicated state, and it’s never just about one thing. Wars can attain a life of their own. The roving mercenary bands of the 30 years war weren’t interested in conclusive battles, because that would mean an end to contracts and pillage. I fear that we may be reaching that stage in the Middle East at the moment. Throwing up our hands, and insisting on a simple religious explanation will not help us avoid that unhappy result.
We hear a lot about the problems of Islam. But the picture is always incomplete. One side of the conversation insists that Islam is evil and backward, and there is nothing to be done. The other side says nice things, and quietly mutters something about development, while running off to cash Saudi checks and bomb another Muslim country. There is something wrong with Islam. But it’s not in the Koran or the Hadith. As with many things, it’s a simple question of politics and development. This video lays out the real story.
I’m very pleased with this one. It gets back to my old obsession with European history, and the lessons that Europe’s development has for everybody else’s. A real historian will tell you that this is dangerous and reductive. But hey! This is a YouTube channel! There is one claim made towards the end of the video that I feel like I should back up and maybe qualify a bit. France and England ended up as the dominant powers in Europe for a while, and in the world as well. They were also the only two European powers that had the wherewithal to make real world-wide empire viable. Spain and Portugal certainly did some Empire-ing, but they squandered their first mover advantage with some Medieval ideas about finance, and their empires were vestigial more than anything else. The Iberian countries only held onto the bits of their empire that nobody else wanted. The Dutch Republic got the finance right, but their small size and vulnerability kept them from competing as a first rate power after their individual golden age. In the video I kinda, sorta claim that the relative religious tolerance of France and The UK made them dominant. Obviously there’s a lot more to it. But I really do think that their relative openness made a real difference. Also, thanks to the Louis kings, France has a reputation for religious intolerance. But Henry IV’s Edict of Nantes, decreeing toleration, lasted for most of the crucial 18th century, and Louis XIV’s revocation stood for barely a century, ending with the Revolution. French history is awesome, which is why I have a playlist dedicated to it.
I expect I’ll be playing with the theme of toleration more as this series continues. Saudi influence is already fading. Even if the Saudi state somehow survives, the rising fortunes of other Islamic countries means that its influence is slipping away day by day. But the attractions of extremism and religious rigor will remain. It’s always a seductive idea, both in the religious context and outside of it. “If only we stuck to our principles in a more rigorous and violent way, everything would be fine!”. As every civilization fails, there’s somebody tied to the mast screaming that.
The more I read history, the less convinced I am that that’s the right way to approach things. I’m still a conservative, mostly because I believe that the principles and institutions of the United States are uniquely worth preserving. But it’s fascinating how fanaticism kills everything, from the Byzantines, to the Nazis. When a civilization goes in whole hog for imagined traditional principles, it’s almost always on the way out. So even leaving aside the violence and tragedy of extremism, it’s becoming clear to me that it doesn’t even work. I’m not sure if that makes any sense. I’ll try to make this clearer in future videos. Until then, enjoy this one!