Occasionally I will come across a “news” article that is so mind-numbingly bad that I have to address it. “Trump Allies Push White House To Consider Regime Change In Iran” Published in Politico two days ago, was bad enough that I decided to do a full conversation on the topic. I don’t want to call out the individual author. But I do want to call out the mind-set. This article, which is mostly given over to uncritically reproducing the comments of hyper-hawkish think tanks and politicians, is typical. This is the way most of our mainstream news outlets see the world. That’s a tragedy. And practically speaking, it will not serve us well a few decades from now, when we are no longer the only country with any real power.
Jon Coumes of Safe For Democracy was kind enough to come on and discuss this terrible article with me…
In the US we are pretty sure we hate the Chinese Communist Party. But we will miss it. What this video lays out is the service that that party provides to the rest of the world. The Party would like us to think it’s responsible for Chinese growth, and that might have been true once. But today it acts instead as a limiting factor on Chinese growth. The Chinese Communist Party gives the rest of the world the breathing room necessary to make sure that China’s rise isn’t too destabilizing.
One note to those watching from Latin America. Did it bug you that this video seemed to use “America” to refer to the United States? Well it didn’t, and that formulation was very conscious. I’ve got a lot more thinking and researching to do, but I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about geopolitics in a hemispheric sense. I’m becoming convinced that the American countries, north and south, have a lot more that unites them than divides them. But I suppose that’s a very obvious thing for a guy from the US to think. Like I said, there’s a lot more thinking to do on this topic, and what the United States would have to give up to build a true “American Community” and century, but I’d love to hear what you think…
Also, I wanted to mention it in the video, but didn’t get the chance. Like many of my better ideas, this came out of a work of Science Fiction. This video was inspired in part by the book “Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War” by P. W. Singer. Singer lays out a somewhat fanciful picture of what a war between the US and China would look like. It’s interesting that his war requires a post-Communist China to be plausible in the slightest. It’s a fun read, blurbed by all manner of Defense Department muck-a-mucks, including HR McMaster, the current National Security Adviser, if I remember correctly. Well worth a read, if that’s your type of thing. I found it’s simple laying out of the weakness of the Chinese Communist Party to be one of its best observations.
Nobody has anything nice to say about Turkey anymore. That’s a shame. If there’s a news story it’s about Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the ways he’s taking new powers, purging and repressing. That’s all very important stuff, but I think it’s missing the forest for one particularly tall tree. I lived in Turkey for five years, and I’ve been thinking about the country for a while. There are some basics that the doomsayers are avoiding. This video presents what sort of functions as my Grand Unified Theory of Turkey Optimism. Islam is important, Erdogan is important, and the economy is important. But what is most important is Urbanization.
This theory can actually be applied to the politics of a lot of countries, not least the United States of America. The tension between rural and urban populations is a universal, whether we’re talking about China’s Hukou issues, or the 2016 US election. Thailand is another country that pops to mind. We’re all, as a planet, still going through a pretty insane process of transition. Our parents or great-grandparents were mostly farmers, and now we’re mostly urban dwellers. That’s going to keep having an impact for centuries to come. I hope this video helps you think through these issues a bit more.
It has been an incredible week at the More Freedom Foundation. I’ve spent a lot more time than I like to admit refreshing the real-time view statistics and just repeating “Wow!” As this video shows, viewership this past week was up by a factor of ten from two months ago. This is tremendously satisfying, and I’m endlessly grateful to all of you, the viewers and readers for making this possible. It’s now possible to call this weird project of mine successful. That’s amazing.
But there’s a bit of an odd contrast here, laid out in this video. As the channel reaches new heights of success, I’m crashing in some friends’ guest room and taking care of their dogs. The dogs are awesome, and it’s a lot of fun. But it’s not what I should be focused on right now. For the past year I have been floating from couch to couch, trying to make this YouTube channel a success. It’s been amazing, dropping into so many different lives and cities, and I’m tremendously grateful to the friends that have put me up, and the Patrons whose pledges have covered my travel and living expenses. It’s great, but it’s tiring. I really want an apartment of my own, after most of a year on the road. I’ve got new projects to work on, and it’s difficult to do that when I’m staying at a new place every week or so.
It’s easy to get pessimistic about the US-Saudi relationship. I’ve just spent 15 videos illustrating its many evils, and the incredible costs it has imposed on the world. The amount of money involved is staggering, and generations of US government officials are complicit in this tragedy. But I really do believe it’s about to end. That’s why I started this series with a video entitled “Saudi Arabia Is Finished“. This problem won’t end because of virtue, or justice. It won’t even end because somebody in power makes a decision. It will end because of economics and an inexorable shift in the political calculus.
This week I illustrate this process by talking about another “eternal” lobby. For decades Big Tobacco ruled Washington, DC. Long after everyone knew that cigarettes were lethal, it was business as usual for the large corporations that made them. They owned the congressmen, and they had the money, so things barely changed. They funded think tanks and studies that denied the truth, or tried to hide it. Sure their incredible privilege was slowly chipped away. TV advertising was banned. In the 1980’s it became more difficult to smoke in public buildings. These small losses were easy to ignore, because the relationships were strong, and the US government knew where its bread was buttered. Sort of like a nuclear deal with Iran actually. And then in the 1990s it all changed.
The dragon was slain. Big Tobacco still exists. But in the 1990s they had to admit the lethality and addictiveness of their product. They had to shutter their fake science institutes. They were forced to pay some of the cost of the public health disaster they had created, and they were forced to fund a massive public relations campaign designed to destroy their market. It’s been fairly effective. Only 15% of US citizens are still smoking, down five percent from just a decade ago. Sure, much of their marketing budget and nefariousness moved overseas, but that’s slipping away now too. This video lays out how Saudi Arabia is experiencing it’s own Tobacco moment as we speak. It may not be obvious, but it is happening. Not because of truth or justice, but because the political calculus is shifting.
I don’t know much about the environment. I don’t even know if I think the Paris Climate Change Agreement was a good idea. But I do know that now that it exists, abandoning it is crazy. Whether you are a climate skeptic, or a climate enthusiast, the US seat at the table was vital. The agreement, as toothless as it is at the moment, is unprecedented for the scope of international participation involved. 15 years ago when Bush threw over the Kyoto protocol, it didn’t really matter. Some Europeans whined, and the developing countries were happy to do away with a possible constraint on growth. The picture today couldn’t be any more different. 195 countries have signed up for this agreement. China and India are enthusiastically on board. This is the direction the world is going. And the US has decided to go hide in the corner.
It’s embarrassing and it’s exactly the sort of thing that makes Trump’s presidency so damaging. The United States still has enough power left to keep acting like this through four or even eight years of a Trump presidency. But it’s the worst possible way to spend our last years as a hegemonic power. Today we still have enough power to ignore what the rest of the world wants. But that’s changing. The difference between the Kyoto protocol and Paris Climate accords show that very clearly. The world has tremendous resentment towards its lone superpower. Up until today they didn’t have a body to express that resentment through. US power means we dominate any club we belong to. Trump just gave the world a universal club, free of US influence. This will not be good for my country. Sad!
For years I’ve been mildly fascinated by Switzerland. In the US we mostly know it for a variety of banking scandals, but there’s a lot more going on there. It’s been independent for centuries, and is famous for being a very well run and boring place. I believe there is a lot in the model to admire. From the direct democracy, to the lack of personality driven politics, to the emphasis on the local, there’s a lot that I’d like to see more of in the United States.
Today I was lucky enough to chat with Quentin Adler, a Swiss attorney and political activist, about the Swiss system, its many benefits and few drawbacks. Quentin is the president of Service Citoyen, an association focused on reforming the Swiss obligation to serve the country. I learned a lot from our conversation, and I hope you do too.
Immigration is complicated. Donald Trump’s wall is not. It’s a really dumb idea. It’s designed to solve a problem that no longer exists. The full range of US policy towards Mexico over the past 20 years has actually been a rousing success. NAFTA played a part, allowing large scale migration played a part, and the incredible efforts of the Mexican people were the most important of all. If it weren’t for the insanity of the US drug war, Mexico would be well on its way to being a fully developed country.
It has a middle class now. A range of businesses are experiencing new success. Mexico is on the way up. As this video points out, the excess labor force has been almost completely employed. This Wall idea, 20 years past the point at which it would have any utility, will drive a wedge between the US and our newly successful neighbor to the South. The fears of pushing Mexico into the arms of China are probably over-blown, but why would we want to risk it? The Wall is a way to further screw up the relationship between the US and Mexico at exactly the wrong time. Furthermore, it’s completely pointless, as this video lays out.
Immigration has been bugging me a lot recently. The United States is a nation of immigrants, and I’m a big fan of more open borders in theory. The more I look into the actual practice of immigration, though, the less I understand. I’m completely convinced that we need more high-skilled workers. I would eventually like to see open borders between the Americas. But I do question why we continue to pack in low skilled workers in an era when low-skilled jobs are disappearing. It’s a puzzle. There is a lot more research I need to do. But I do know that the Wall is a really bad idea. Which is why I waded into these uncertain waters. To be continued…
“Turkey is Turning into Saudi Arabia” is a bit of a straw man, but it’s something I have actually heard. Looking into why this statement is incredibly silly is helpful though, and that’s exactly what today’s video does. One of the central problems of Saudi Arabia is that there was very little there before there was Oil. When Ibn Saud took Mecca and Medina in the 1920s he reportedly did it with an army of 5,000. As recently as 1960 there were still only 4 million Saudi Arabians. There are around 30 million today, and their entire lives, and parents lives, have been lived in the context of this medieval state. The Universities are all Wahhabi, because they’ve always been Wahhabi. There weren’t any universities (give or take one or two) 50 years ago.
Turkey only had around 19 million people in the 1920s. But there was already a range of universities, and a very complex and almost first world history of institutions and learning from the Ottoman Empire. The Turks have developed for the past 90 years in the context of secularism, and at least surface competition in a national- European context. That simply can’t be eradicated. The form of Islam that Erdogan and the AK party is pushing isn’t Saudi. It can’t be. That particular pathology is only possible with endless oil resources, and a pre-modern blank slate.
The secular elites are being culled from Turkey’s institutions. But Turkey can’t close itself off completely. The Secular elites that control most business in the country are probably showing up at the mosque more often, but they’re still there, and they still believe in what they, their parents and grandparents have always believed. The recent constitutional referendum actually showed some green shoots. Erdogan lost all the major urban centers of power, including Ankara and Istanbul. In the last election he won both those districts handily. Don’t get me wrong. Turkey is in for a rough decade or two. But the bones of that house are good. At the end of the day Erdogan needs international engagement and business. And a lot of the people who he needs for that will never fit into even his version of Islam. Also, the longer the AK party(Erdogan) is on top, the more western and cosmopolitan they become. I’ve partied a fair amount with high profile AK party members and their kids. Saudi Arabia isn’t going to happen in Turkey.