Trying out a new format today! Folks may have noticed that traffic has been declining a bit on the channel. I’d been wondering about this for a while, but over the holiday season I did a deeper dive, and decided to figure out why. The simple fact seem to be that YouTube’s requirements have changed. It’s true that they are less likely to point to controversial topics from small channels, but my videos are no longer algorithm friendly in a more important way as well: They’re just too short.
People may prefer short videos, I certainly do. But YouTube wants people to watch for longer. Long established YouTuber Veritasium maintains that you need to have an average watchtime of around 8 minutes for YouTube to get excited about putting your video in front of more people. Can’t get to an 8 minute watch time if most of your videos are under 8 minutes long, as mine are. So, with today’s video, I’m switching things up a bit. I’m trying to mix the produced videos with more improv-ed riffs. Let me know how you think it’s going!
Man, I was really hoping to make it to Egypt one last time before I started critiquing the Sisi regime. Oh well! This regime could have as much as a decade to go, so no pyramids for me for the foreseeable. I feel like Egypt’s dictatorship forced my hand a little bit, by threatening to invade Libya to back up one of the region’s most pointless strong men, Khalifa Haftar. It’s a shame. I do hear mixed things about Egypt under Sisi. Some claim the economy has turned around, though I don’t see much proof of it. Some claim that he brings stability, but it looks to me like the sort of stability the Shah of Iran provided in the 1970s.
If your regime is based savage repression, as Sisi’s very much is, it tends to lead to bad decisions. I believe that this threatened intervention in Libya is potentially one of those very bad decisions. Today’s video lays out why Libya is a conflict that Egypt should avoid getting more involved in.
I don’t like covering breaking news topics. I’m happy to produce a video on a deep seated issue that gets sparked by something in the news, but I don’t like making predictions or doing video takes about an on-going story (that’s what twitter’s for!). Mid-stream analysis, the bread and butter of the cable news networks, is largely bullshit. Unfortunately, for today’s video, Khalifa Haftar of Libya ambushed me. On March 26th, I promised to do a video on Libya, a topic I had already been researching for a week or two. On April 4th, Khalifa Haftar invaded Western Libya, throwing everything up in the air.
Half of this video was drafted before April 4th. As the news has rolled in, my estimate of Haftar, already pretty negative, continued to plummet. I have tried to make this video consistent and informative in its presentation, but I’m not sure I pulled it off. A video’s title is very much a part of the experience. Usually it just advertises and reflects the content, but I think with today’s video, more buffeted by events than I like, the title may present the conclusion. I shot this video last Thursday, and have continued to research and follow developments as they have come. Haftar is not the savior he is sometimes presented to be. I hope today’s video gets that across.
This video would not have been possible without the International Crisis Group’s Libya coverage. On country after country I have found their work invaluable. They tend to be my starter source for one-shot videos like this where I won’t be reading multiple books.
After today’s video had been shot, the Wall Street Journal confirmed that Haftar has Saudi Arabia’s full support in his destruction of Libya’s chances for a settlement.
I used this headline on Haftar and the Muslim Brotherhood in the video. Keep in mind that the National is a United Arab Emirates publication, so this article may be more useful for what the UAE wants you to think about Libya, than what is actually going on.
I also used this headline from Reuters, and the article provides a nice discussion of Egypt’s shady bombing campaigns in Libya. Reuters is a US publication, so of course it’s going to downplay the fact that Washington, DC is, at root, the responsible party in this nightmare.
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.
In recent years the focus of the channel has changed. I dive in deep on what’s going on in certain countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Syria or Yemen. This new, in depth approach has been great for the channel, and I think it also makes for much better videos. When something comes up with one of those countries, I usually have a pretty good idea of what I want to say, and I usually have some good, under-covered context to add to the conversation. Writing those scripts rarely takes more than 5 or 6 hours. My research on those countries is constantly on-going, and I don’t have to think too hard to put together something I’m proud of.
This one was different. I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, I only promise to do a better job than any cable news channel. This is super easy with the countries I’ve been covering for years. Venezuela is new for me. For years I’ve wanted to do more Latin America coverage, but I haven’t had the time to do the in depth reading that is necessary. It’s impossible to avoid having an opinion on Venezuela of course, but they are not really “MY” opinions. It’s what I’ve been force fed by other news sources. That made writing this one super tough. I had to try to cut through the layers of bullshit and say something original. The story of what’s really behind Venezuela’s drop in oil production was one I’ve wanted to tell since May, but the framing was super difficult. I just don’t have the necessary context, which I hope I made clear… Today’s video went through multiple drafts over multiple weeks. I hope you think it was worth the wait!
I don’t necessarily have too much trouble with hypocrisy. Any adult realizes that we’re all hypocrites to some degree. But we should know what we’re doing. And the level of hypocrisy illustrated in today’s video is pretty extraordinary. Yemen and Ukraine are two of the world’s hot spots. Essentially the same thing is happening in both countries. A more powerful neighbor is trying to invade and change them. If we care about international law, we should be more willing to make these comparisons more often.
Also, watching today’s video, I realized that I’m being deeply hypocritical in the video. I was so excited to make this comparison that I left my own country out of the analysis. The United States invades countries more frequently than anybody else does. The vid should definitely have mentioned that. But I think the point still stands. One day the US might be able to be constrained by international law as well. If we’re going to get there, we have to be willing to try to look at all conflicts with a little more objectivity. Which is hard for hypocrites like us…
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.
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!
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.