Gah! I’m super late with today’s video! Just like 40 minutes shy of the deadline! So I’m not going to do the half-assed ruminating I was planning. But it gives me an opportunity to ask an important question. Does anybody read these things? I put time and effort into these blog posts every week, and I’m not sure anybody even looks at them. So do you look at them? Let me know, either in the comments or on twitter if you’re not down for the Disqus. Many thanks…
The video I just published put me in a depressing frame of mind. Venezuela is definitely something to be taken seriously. People are dying, and a country is disintegrating. The sanctions that the Trump administration announced today could very well cause mass starvation. But do you ever get the sense that this is all a bad joke? On both sides, we’ve got hardliners who talk a lot about opposing the other country on grand principled grounds. But both sets of awful leaders desperately need each other. This whole kabuki theater does get people killed, but the main point isn’t taking down the dictator, or taking down the imperialists.
The main point is holding on to power. Maduro uses aggression from the US to justify his power. US presidents, Republican and Democratic, use foreign leaders who set themselves up as antagonists to justify our defense expenditure and cover up for our own leaders failures. It’s all a really sad joke. A joke that kills people.
Hey there. Today’s video talks about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the weird way in which she’s helping put forward one of my very conservative priorities… a more powerful Congress. What the video doesn’t get into is the general “socialism” panic, and what I think of her specific policies. I’ll get into that a bit here, but the first thing to remember is that Ocasio-Cortez does not actually have much institutional power. She can put things on the agenda, she can make specific issues or problems a one-day wonder, but as a freshman congresswoman, she doesn’t actually have the ability to do much in the Congress itself.
First off there’s the topic of her socialism, which some report may already be fading out of her messaging. She’s definitely much more left-wing than the US national average, and maintains that “the workers” are her number one priority. She also focuses on a lot of identity politics issues. That makes a ton of sense for a representative of some of the most diverse and left-leaning places in the country. It’s actually kind of surprising that the Bronx and Queens weren’t already represented by a left-wing firebrand. It’s nothing to flip out about.
So keeping in mind the fact that Ocasio-Cortez doesn’t actually have much real power, let’s dive into what little we know about her legislative program. First off is the Green New Deal, an attempt to bundle together some environmental and jobs programs. I’m on record as not caring much about the environment, and being pretty confident that technology would handle the issue. But that was during the Obama years when things were actually moving in a good direction. Trump’s aggressive promotion of industrial dead ends like coal, and insane decision to let everybody else make the rules for the environment while the US sulks at home, make me a lot less calm on this issue. So I’m happy to see more rabble-rousing about it. That said, Ocasio-Cortez will have trouble getting the Green New Deal past the leadership of her own party, let alone past this president.
Second taxes. Honestly her suggestion of a 70% tax rate on those making more than 10 million dollars a year doesn’t go anywhere near far enough. I believe our national debt and annual deficit to be a near existential crisis. It threatens the world as we know it. More taxes are essential. Now, while Ocasio-Cortez might want more taxes, she does not care about the deficit. After decades of being the only ones who actually cared about the national debt, the Democrats are now beginning to take their cue from the Drunken sailor fiscal habits of the Republicans. Under the banner of “Modern Monetary Theory” they are filing in behind Dick Cheney and his famous proclamation that “Deficits Don’t Matter”. Now, I don’t claim to understand money. But I do know some history. The British didn’t think deficits mattered during the world wars either. Then they had to give up their Empire. I think this MMT thing is just an excuse to accelerate us off a cliff. That said, Ocasio-Cortez couldn’t possibly be worse for the public finances than the Republicans have been for the past 40 years.
Third, Identity Politics. Honestly I just love that. Remember, I’m quite possibly the country’s only proud conservative SJW. Her standpoint on abolishing ICE, and reforming policing fits quite well with mine. Also I kind of enjoy all this “sisters of color in power” social media stuff. I don’t find it threatening in the slightest, and those who do should probably engage in some self-reflection on why that is. This is a process as old as time. The history of New York in particular is one of ethnic group after ethnic group coming to power and building fiefs for themselves. It’s a key part to the melting pot and eventual assimilation. One of the tragedies of the 20th century is that the growing power of the federal government, and especially the white suburbs over inner cities, meant that these local positions of power still existed but had lost their significance in most places. Flint, Michigan or Newark, New Jersey can have as many black Mayors as it wants, it’s not going to bring about real changes in power or wealth. The removal of legal bars to success for people of color 50 years ago was a great victory, but the fact that real power was so much further away than it was for earlier Italian and Irish populations kept real progress from being made. This new, dramatically more diverse congress is a long delayed step forward, and it’s going to be great for all of us.
It’s not really the focus of today’s video, which I wanted to keep light, but it really is fucking outrageous what the Defense Department is trying to pull off with its new National Defense Strategy. The Pentagon continues to use terrorism as a blank check for assassinations, kidnappings, and hyper-militarization in dozens of countries all over the world. The Pentagon has used it to scare the US public for decades now. They want to keep doing all of these things. But now that terrorism is fading, they want to perform a magic trick, keep all their money and toys, and continue with business as usual.
And they’re getting away with it. Washington, DC is super absorbed with talking about how much it hates Donald Trump, but is acting with surprising unity. Trump has started a trade war with China. The Department of Justice is pursuing cases against Chinese businesses with unprecedented and shocking vigor. The recently vacating “adults in the room” at the Defense Department were obsessed with China too. Every media group lightly poo poos Trump’s treatment of China… and then jumps on the bandwagon to talk about how scary and sinister China is. It’s outrageous really. Sigh.
Well at least we’re attempting to hold them accountable. Spill your glass for the War on Terror. It was a terribly wasteful and pointless way to spend a couple trillion dollars and a couple million lives.
I think I may need to do a series about “Bab el Mandeb-ia”. This crucial strait between Yemen, Eritrea and Djibouti has enormous potential. It’s the choke point of one of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes. But unlike Panama, or Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia, the countries surrounding the “gate of tears” seem to have received a curse rather than a blessing. There is so much packed into this region. Tiny countries like Djibouti and behemoths like Ethiopia, Christians, Muslims and Jews, the world’s richest countries and some of the poorest, long-standing US interests, and brand new Chinese bases, this strait has everything.
If the Bab el Mandeb is mentioned in the context of US geopolitics it’s usually looked at as a threat. Some insurgent group or US rival could capture the strait and cause great damage. This possibility exists, but it’s far more interesting to look at the potential. Places like Panama, the mouth of the Baltic sea, and even, to a lesser extent, the straits of Malacca, exist in a much more homogenous cultural context than the countries surrounding the Bab el Mandeb. There is a culture unifying “Bab el Mandeb-ia” but it’s been torn apart by centuries of abusive empires, ideological strife, and general impoverishment. If some of the trends I talk about in today’s video come to fruition, we could see one of the world’s most impressive places return to prominence. That would be a fantastic thing to watch.
Today’s video, in addition to almost being late, and a lot more difficult to put together than most, tries something new. Rather than talk about what is, or what was, I go in depth on what could happen if we continue on our current path. Essentially today’s video is science fiction. I’d like to do more of this. There isn’t enough imagination in foreign policy discussion. There should be more thinking about where we are going. This can be pretty negative, like today’s forecast of how a war between the US and Iran would go. But it can also be positive.
There’s an assumption that politics and geopolitics should be serious, boring stuff. This is a problem, because it fundamentally misunderstands what we’re dealing with here. Everything in government and politics is based on fantasy. Everybody’s trying to figure out what comes next, and also imagine it. Not reckoning with this fact has led to people taking the past 15 years of US foreign policy seriously, which is a terrible mistake. It’s had very serious consequences, but it’s basically one big practical joke that everybody is expected to take seriously for some reason.
I read a lot. It’s roughly 75% history, and 25% science fiction. Some might see that 25% as recreational, but I don’t necessarily see it that way. History is the study of the past, Science Fiction is the study of the future. By looking at both, I think I get better at understanding the present. Which is a long way of saying I might be doing more Sci-Fi themed vids like today’s in the recent future.
One thing we don’t cover about history, is how bad everything was, and just how recently. The era covered in today’s video (ca. 1710-1711) came AFTER the United Kingdom’s great revolution in governance. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 supposedly set in motion the chain of events that gave us modern parliamentary democracy. This country subjected to the mad whims of a love triangle was one of the freest and best run in the world at the time. After Queen Anne’s death, the British crown was given to a bunch of German protestants, who initially didn’t even speak English, helping constitutional development along. But as recently as 105 years ago, most powerful countries in the world were subjected to personal rule of one degree or another.
Royalty discredited itself by leading us into the disaster that was World War One, and what was true 105 years ago was not true 95 years ago. Kings quickly slipped away, but we really seem to miss them, in defiance of all history and logic. The current discontent with our representative institutions in Europe and the United States leads me to believe that this warping of history is hurting us. We don’t realize just how much worse things were, and just how recently.
I wish I could make this channel about Yemen all the time. But I can’t. It would just get too depressing. It’s important to hit this topic as often as I can though. This doesn’t just come from my opposition to Saudi Arabia’s government, and the way they destabilize the region. Yemen is truly in the midst of a catastrophe. One of my regrets from the early stages of my Yemen series is the way that I use the UN’s blanket “12,000 people killed” language. The UN stopped counting the dead in Yemen years ago. A recent report puts the figures at over 55,000 dead.
And those are just the figures for the people who were killed directly by fighting. Large scale starvation is now reckoned to have killed 85,000 children in Yemen as well. The bodycount is mounting and the violence is getting worse. For nothing. For less than nothing. The Iran excuse the Trump administration keeps reaching for is a fantasy. It’s important for folks to know about this, because it’s not a difficult problem. The US could stop the war almost immediately, and it would lose nothing by doing so. Information is the key to the end of the tragedy in Yemen. That’s why I’ll keep making vids like today’s video, and why I’m quite proud of my series on the topic.
I often talk about the oil price on this channel. That’s what I do with today’s video. But I don’t think I talk about what incredibly good news the death of the oil market is. For the environmentalists this is a bit of a mixed bag, but I think on balance very good. The whole “peak oil” thing has turned out to not be a problem. 30 years ago it was mostly the US, Japan and Europe that were intensively using other people’s petroleum resources. We’ve more than tripled the number of people, and probably more than tripled the amount of consumption. And we’ve all survived. That’s pretty damn cool. The downside of course is that we’re producing more and more carbon. Cheaper oil prices are not a good thing for those worried about global warming in the short term. Oil is cheaper, more of it gets consumed, and more carbon gets dumped into the atmosphere. But it can actually be a good thing in the long term.
Lower oil prices provide the same sort of good news to environmentalists that it does to geopolitics nerds. Bad people have less power. If oil is permanently cheaper, that provides less money to all the people who used to use oil wealth to steer the world. As I keep pointing out, lower oil prices are leading to a collapse in terrorism. It will also lead to a collapse in oil industry influence in the United States and other countries across the world. We can already see it happening. The fact that electric cars have been allowed to go this far is an indicator of how much power the oil industry has already lost. The days when oil execs could confidently march into the government’s most powerful positions almost certainly ended with Rex Tillerson. The Oil industry’s global warming skeptics are still churning out their reports, but they look laughable to everybody now, including the oil executives who pay for them. The oil industry’s decline in prestige will cede the climate change conversation to the scientists and their friends in the environmental lobby almost entirely. Good news all around!
So what’s more important, the short-term pain of vulnerable populations in New York City or the long-term health of the city? Actually it’s a trick question. It’s not an either/or sort of question. New York City’s vulnerable populations are just as reliant on the success of the city as the rich and famous are. More so actually. NYC has been the prime example of the “Blue Model of Government” for quite some time. Public Sector Unions own the city (and the state). The largest public housing blocks in the country are a dominant feature of the architectural landscape. There’s a lot of mismanagement and waste in the education and social services sectors, but there’s also a lot of impressive work being done, that couldn’t be done elsewhere. New York’s mix of wealth and poverty is unique.
All of this, the good and the bad, is reliant on New York retaining its position as the country’s dominant economic hub. If the golden goose flies south, the place will fall apart. Sure, the rent would get cheaper, but a lot of the social services would just evaporate. I wasn’t actually joking when I compared NYC to Detroit, the US city that has lost over half of its population over the past fifty years. For those who think the comparison is ridiculous, I suggest you take a walk through the Bronx, a part of New York City that still hasn’t recovered from New York’s last economic collapse. Today’s video may seem callous in privileging the interests of business over poor New Yorkers, but I don’t think that’s what I was doing at all. The interests are the same.