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.
Remember the too big to fail banks? They are still a problem. I don’t know when the next crisis is coming, but it’s inevitable. Too many of the problems at the root of the 2008 crisis have never been solved. This video lays out how Dodd Frank made everything worse. But it has created a situation that won’t be improved by repeal. It’s one of those catch-22 things basically.
I love it when the environment I’m in inspires a video. San Francisco is an interesting place. There’s a ton of money everywhere, and a ton of poverty too. I’m currently in the midst of a tour of the West Coast, staying anywhere there is a free couch, and San Francisco has probably been the most inspiring city. That’s not necessarily a good thing. Market Street, where the bulk of this video is set, has a ton of history (For California). The street has seen multiple cycles of boom and bust since the mid 19th century. The current vibe is definitely boom.
A few blocks away the Salesforce Tower is currently going up. It will be the tallest building in San Francisco and the second tallest west of the Mississippi. It’s hard not to think of the “edifice complex”. Nothing signals a coming downturn like a massive new skyscraper. NYC’s Empire State and Chrysler Buildings went up during the beginning of the great depression. The buildings that ended US dominance in the Skyscraper game, Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, were finished in 1996, one year before the Asian Financial Crisis. The Burj Khalifa, the biggest of them all (so far) signaled a financial crisis for Dubai.
The Salesforce Tower ends the video, but it definitely cast the mindset for the whole thing. That and Wells Fargo’s hilariously bloated presence in downtown SF put me in mind of financial crises past and future. I don’t know when the crisis will hit. Who knows, we could be at the beginning of a great boom rather than its end. But if our banks continue to be structured the way they are, we’re going to be in trouble eventually regardless. Hugs!
This video convinced me to put together a new playlist “MFF on the Markets“. The channel tends to be a little more focused on history and geopolitics, but I’ve been a stockbroker and a corporate lawyer in my day, so I’ve got some stuff to contribute on the topics of law and markets when I can stomach it. I was surprised that the playlist came to 34 videos. Check ’em out!
Certain white people like to bitch about identity politics. There are elements of this argument that I understand, and partially agree with. But if we’re going to discard identity politics white people should go first.
Last weekend I saw “I am Not Your Negro” a documentary film based on the words of James Baldwin. You should go see it. It helped me formulate some ideas I’ve been mulling over since listening to the soundtrack to the Hamilton musical. If you voted for Clinton, the chances are higher you know all about Hamilton. If you voted for Trump you may have no idea what I’m talking about it. The video does a fairly good job of explaining the phenomenon.
What follows is another white guy pontificating on race relations. Feel free to avoid it.
I believe that the United States could have a post-racial future. As James Baldwin says in the video above, we can forge a new identity on this continent. Many would argue that we already have. Most of my college professors held that the concept of “Whiteness” as currently practiced in this country is a wholly American invention. This was always served with heaping mouthfuls of Marxist interpretations of labor relations, so I’m not sure I’m completely on board. But I’ll eagerly concede that “White” and “Black” are slippery definitions. Italians weren’t necessarily seen as white 100 years ago, and the Irish weren’t 50 years before that.
Some would argue that the definition of “Whiteness” requires an “Other” to use as contrast. In this view the Italians and Irish assimilation to US whiteness relied upon the out group of African Americans to look down on. I’m not sure I buy that. But I’m happy to retire the concept of whiteness entirely. If the 20th century was the story of the color line, why not let the 21st century be the story of its disposal?
Accession to white privilege used to be the sign of successful assimilation. We can do better. Here’s a standard white privilege line: “What’s with all the hyphenations!? Why can’t we just be Americans!?” I’m actually kind of sympathetic to that, not that it’s my business how folks define themselves. Most people pushing that line, however, would probably take issue with the video above. In particular the fact that the only white guys in Star Wars movies seem to be the bad guys nowadays has been a real sticking point for a lot of white people. There seems to be a growing movement for “White Rights”.
Leaving aside about a million other objections to that idea, it strikes me as the wrong strategy. If you’ve got a problem with “identity politics”, jumping on the bandwagon is exactly the wrong way to go about opposing it. If you’re interested in a color-blind “American” identity, then you should be celebrating the de-whiting of our national mythology. An “American” identity should be built on our civic culture and history. To do that well, we need to make that culture and history as accessible as possible.
US history has never just been about folks from Europe. Paler folks were in the drivers seat for a lot of it. But people of color were making contributions every step of the way, and not just involuntarily. We need to do a better job of highlighting that fact. “Hidden Figures” my pick for the year’s best film, does an excellent job of just that. It surfaces the true story of African American women who contributed to the engineering of the space race. It’s also a lot of fun. These uses of history are to be applauded, and we need more of them.
I take history very seriously, I’m a big fan of Western Civilization and I’m also a committed Anglophile. The details of the ideas and culture that shaped the Founding Fathers are incredibly important. We should never lose sight of those things. But it’s also important to recognize that our sense of the American Founding isn’t completely accurate at the expert level either. 150-odd years of US friendship with the UK has probably over-emphasized the example of the British system in our study of law and government. Examples like Switzerland and an array of Southern European republics were more important to the Founders than is currently recognized. It doesn’t make sense to be sticklers for a particular expert vision of the Founding Fathers, because it’s not “perfect” either. History is always incomplete.
History nerds like me will always be playing in this toolbox, and that’s great. But US history isn’t just history. It’s also myth, renewed and changed with every generation. On the popular level, things like “European Heritage” and “Judeo-Christian Tradition” are over-emphasized. Lincoln saw these United States as the “last, best hope of Earth”, not the last best hope of white Christian dudes.
Look at that picture of “Black Thomas Jefferson” above. How cool would it be if 100 years from now, the main thing people saw as weird about the depiction was the fact that his clothes look odd? Perhaps that oddness would prompt a future student to look further into the details of the Founding Fathers. Depictions of the Founding Fathers that “look more like America” could lead to a broader class of US history nerds. And what could be better than that?
Oh, one last show note. If I remember my history (and my Hamilton) correctly, Thomas Jefferson was out of the country during the writing of Constitution. That could be construed as an error in the video. Sorry. If you caught and were annoyed by that, I love you, and am grateful you’re watching my stuff.
Everybody thinks that the Middle East is different somehow. It’s really not. The real reason it’s a mess isn’t “centuries old hatreds” or the “oil curse”. 30 years ago, much of the rest of the world was just as screwed up. The reason the Middle East is still a mess, is because it remains the subject of competition between regional and world powers. The US and Saudi Arabia against Iran, and Israel against everybody else (supposedly), has kept a “Cold War” dynamic going in the Middle East long after it has faded everywhere else.
China, the only power that may one day rival the United States, is a paid up member of the US system. “Competition” in the rest of the world is about “Trade Wars” not “War Wars”. The US has provided a good enough deal to get everyone on the same page. Donald Trump wants to end that. He has a straightforwardly mercantilist, or even mercenary way of looking at the world. As I put it in the video, he wants to replace a generous deal with “F#*K you, pay me!”. These rough edges might be in the process of being shaved off, but it’s worth looking at what would happen to the world if he got his way.
Trump’s world would be one of renewed competition between the US and regional powers on every continent. It wouldn’t be one of great power war, not during Trump’s term anyway, but it would mean more proxy wars. Likely locations are some you’ve heard of, like Ukraine and Libya, and some you might not have thought of, like Thailand and Azerbaijan. Political tussles that are worked out locally today would quickly attain an international dimension. The Cold War’s ability to turn every local issue into competition between the US and the USSR was extraordinary. In a world of renewed competition between regional powers, this dynamic would resurface. In the words of Thucydides…
“the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.
Let’s try to avoid that shall we?
I should probably explain what I’m up to with this World War 3 Series I’ve been developing over the past couple months. On one level it’s a shameless bid for views. YouTube loves World War 3. There’s a lot of stuff out there insisting that world war is imminent. One of the most annoying bits of fake news during the 2016 election was the assumption that Hillary Clinton would bring it about if she were elected. My annoyance has now transitioned to the folks who insist that Trump is going to turn the world into a cinder. The chances of that are definitely higher than they would have been under Clinton, but I think they are still pretty trivial. If we’re looking for a partner for World War III, we’ve got the same problem we’ve had since 1989. Nobody’s really interested. In the first episode in this series “Will Trump Start a War With China?” I address China’s inability to challenge us today, and Trump’s possible role in encouraging a conflict down the line. In Part two, “Is Russia Winning?” I laid out why they are pretty clearly not.
So in one sense, the point of this series is to get people to relax. But it’s not that I don’t think World War 3 is possible. In fact I think it’s inevitable. The only question in my mind is when it happens. Will it happen 50 years from now, or 500 years from now? It’s our responsibility to push that day off for as long as possible. That’s the point of this series beyond the clicks. The internet shouldn’t be talking about World War III the way it does, but it’s a good thing to think about nonetheless. We humans are violent folks. Past performance is no indicator of future results, of course, but the every year that goes by without a conflagration is a win for us. We need to think more seriously about how to keep that streak going. Which is exactly what today’s video tries to do.