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Archive for November, 2016

Huns and Hyphens

[ 1 ] November 30, 2016 |

What’s a Wednesday evening without a bad slapstick anti-German comedy from 1918 that features Stan Laurel in a supporting part?

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Prince John

[ 57 ] November 30, 2016 |

I don’t usually just compose posts that consist of tweets. But extraordinary times call for unusual measures.

It goes on.

The Colonial Booze Trade

[ 18 ] November 30, 2016 |

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We all need things to read other than articles where liberals and the left yell at each other over the election, depressing election post-mortems, and pieces describing the horrors to come. So how about some good reading on the colonial booze trade?

In 1713, because of the lobbying of the powerful brandy producers frantic at having lost the British market during the War of Spanish Succession, a law was passed in France making it illegal to either produce or import distilled alcohol made from anything but wine, a law that stayed in effect for most of the eighteenth century. While English rum was making its way into the Royal Navy, onto fishing vessels headed for Newfoundland and slaving vessels headed for West Africa, and English molasses into the kitchens of both England and New England, the French metropolitan restrictions on rum production and exchange ran both broad and deep, in the first instance dramatically decreasing the value of both French rum and French molasses. Rum produced on the French islands remained the drink of slaves and expanded to some degree throughout the Americas, most often as return cargo for shipments of provisions coming from both French and British northern colonies.

Distilled alcohol was certainly making its way into France’s northern colonies of Louisiana, Acadia, and Canada in the seventeenth century. It was consumed in the towns of Montreal, Quebec, Trois-Rivières, and Port-Royal (and New Orleans in the eighteenth) and traded with Amerindians in the fur trade, but it was not derived from sugar cane syrup. Instead it was almost exclusively French brandy, shipped in the seventeenth century from La Rochelle, and later from the other major Atlantic ports such as Nantes and Bordeaux, as well. Although there are no records establishing exactly when brandy was first introduced to New France as a trade good, it was almost certainly in the first third of the seventeenth century, well before sugar cane plantations and refineries were established on the French-occupied islands of the Caribbean.

Despite this early date, it is likely that the Dutch or the English were, in fact, the first to trade some kind of brandy with Amerindians at Orange in the early seventeenth century. There is evidence that English fur traders in what is now Maine were trading aqua vitae for furs in 1633, and that the Dutch were trading their own brandy for furs in the same decade. Somewhat ironically, there are strong possibilities that the Dutch brandy being traded had as its base material sugar syrups from the French Caribbean islands. The same transatlantic trade in French sugar syrups that produced the spice breads that Du Tertre noted in the 1660s delivered the base material to Dutch distillers in their own country.

Getting thirsty here.

An Unusual Twist in the Trump-Appoints-Mnuchin Story

[ 53 ] November 30, 2016 |

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As you may have heard, it looks like Donald Trump has picked Steven Mnuchin to be his candidate for Secretary of the Treasury. As they should, Democrats have seized on this news, because Mnuchin is an ex-Goldman Sachs hedge funder, and is moreover implicated in the foreclosure crisis from his time at OneWest Financial. What’s interesting about this pick is that Mnuchin is also a movie producer (yet another reason why Trump’s neo-Nazi supporters are crying foul…) which makes him part of my little world of politics-meets-pop-culture. And not just any movie producer; here is a list of some of the films that he’s been responsible for:

  • X-Men: The Last Stand.
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
  • Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer.
  • Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice.
  • Suicide Squad. 

In other words, he’s not just a corrupt plutocrat who’s been put in charge of much of the Federal government’s financial regulatory apparatus, he’s also responsible for the worst super-hero films ever, the “sullen ground” against which Marvel’s “bright metal…show[s] more goodly and attract more eyes.” If this is his private-sector experience, it doesn’t bode well for the future of America’s economic policy.

Now, to be fair, he was also involved with X-Men: First Class, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the Lego Movie, and Mad Max: Fury Road, so it’s not all bad. On the other hand, given that he was also involved with Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, Predators, Prometheus, and The Legend of Tarzan, I’m going to chalk those up to a stopped clock being right twice a day and conclude that this guy generally has a losing track record.

So one small silver lining if this guy survives the confirmation hearings is that superhero movies might get better on average…

 

Advent in the Trump Era

[ 136 ] November 30, 2016 |

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I am non-religious. I grew up Lutheran, which cured me of all religion. Didn’t turn me into an atheist. Basically, because I can’t know if there’s a higher power, I don’t care enough to bother with it. The same is truth of math.

But while I may not be religious in any way, it’s also important for the left to recognize its religious allies and allow them to embrace causes and justice in terms of religious language. Too often, we cede religious messaging, especially Christianity, to the right. That’s a bad and sad thing, because a Christian message for the left has a lot of value, even if I don’t really care about it. Thus, I have to appreciate this reckoning with religion after the election. Plus Christians should be encouraged to swear more.

Information Warfare and the Progressive’s Dilemma

[ 89 ] November 30, 2016 |

I assume that I don’t need to spend a lot of time reminding readers of the following:

  1. The 2016 election was a breakout year for fake news, and much of that news aimed to delegitimize and demonize Hilary Clinton.
  2. Wikileaks not only supplied significant raw material for these efforts, but was also a vector of packaged disinformation on Twitter.
  3. Russian information-warfare operations played some role in all this—via hacking and Wikileaks, Russia Today and Sputnik, and paid social-media trolls.
  4. Various corners of the online left operated as a vector for anti-Clinton disinformation campaigns. Some of this was related to Russian information warfare. Some of it was not.
  5. Some of those on the left who acted as vectors believed they were spreading truth. Some didn’t care. Some probably knew that they were sharing dubious information, but thought that the end justified the means.
  6. Many of those corners of the left became part of this process during the primary; the increasingly heated contest between Sanders and Clinton probably made them more vulnerable to disinformation through the duration of the election.
  7. We will probably never have a complete understanding of where this disinformation came from, nor the breakdown of the ‘types’ involved.

On top of this, we may be seeing similar patterns elsewhere in the western democracies.

Amid growing concern across Europe over the impact on democratic processes of fake news and Russian interference, Italy is shaping up to be the continent’s next major battleground thanks to the sophistication and wide reach of the Five Star Movement (M5S) propaganda machine.

This machine includes not just the party’s own blogs and social accounts, which have millions of followers, but also a collection of profitable sites that describe themselves as “independent news” outlets but are actually controlled by the party leadership. These sites relentlessly regurgitate M5S campaign lines, misinformation, and attacks on political rivals – in particular, centre-left prime minister Matteo Renzi. One of them, TzeTze, has 1.2 million followers on Facebook.

Under lurid, all-capped headline phrases such as “THE TRUTH THEY ARE TRYING TO HIDE FROM US”, the party’s blogs, TzeTze, and other sites in the network have crossposted scores of fake stories. These include claims that the US is secretly funding traffickers bringing migrants from North Africa to Italy, and that Barack Obama wants to topple the Syrian regime to create instability across the region so China cannot get access to its oil.

Stories are often sourced to Kremlin-owned sites such as Sputnik, and the M5S editorial line is sympathetic to Putin and highly critical of the US and mainstream EU leaders.

“The drumbeat is incessant. Every day, all day,” one Italian journalist told BuzzFeed News.

All of this generates something of a dilemma for progressives.

On the one hand, we’re committed to free speech. We know full well the dangers that can come from tarring dissidents as foreign agents and ‘useful idiots.’ When Fox and other conservative outlets claim that George Soros is orchestrating anti-Trump protests, we understand what’s going on—and why it should make us very nervous.

On the other hand, we also should recognize that every item on my list is true. We should be deeply alarmed at the implications for deliberative democracy in the United States (and elsewhere). In this respect, there’s an analogy with Clinton’s expanding lead in the popular vote. Neither that, nor the disinformation campaign involving a foreign power, make the election illegitimate. But they both suggest something is broken, and that we need to take steps to fix it.

The tensions here are all around us, and they’re not going away. Read more…

Castro and Africa

[ 50 ] November 30, 2016 |

Cuban president Fidel Castro (R) expresses his joy in meeting former South African president Nelson Mandela at Mandela's office in Johannesburg 02 September 2001 . Castro who took part in the UN World Racism conference in Durban used the opportunity to visit Mandela, whose health is affected by cancer.                  AFP PHOTO YOAV LEMMER (Photo credit should read YOAV LEMMER/AFP/Getty Images)

One of the greatest arguments in favor of Fidel Castro was his anti-colonial, anti-racist foreign policy in Africa. Two essays discuss this critical part of his legacy. First:

Cuba’s involvement in Africa started with its support of Algeria’s liberation struggle against France, then moved to the Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 1964 Castro sent his personal emissary, Che Guevara, on a three-month visit to a number of African countries. The Cubans believed there was a revolutionary situation in central Africa, and they wanted to help, argues the historian Piero Gleijeses.

While Cuba record in the Horn of Africa was mixed under Castro (it followed the Soviet Union’s lead in militarily aiding Ethiopia’s dictatorship against a Somalian invasion and Eritrean independence fighters), successes did follow elsewhere, where it pursued a more independent foreign policy.

Even as Cuba’s intervention struggled in Congo, Amilcar Cabral, leading a guerrilla struggle against Portuguese colonialism in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde, asked for Cuban assistance. Between 1966 and 1974 a small Cuban force proved pivotal in the Guineans’ victory over the Portuguese. Following the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau finally won independence.

Cuba’s involvement in the freedom of South Africa from white minority rule was even more dramatic. Twice – in 1976 and again in 1988 – the Cubans defeated a US-supported proxy force of the South African apartheid army and Angolan “rebels”. These instances were the first times South Africa’s army was defeated, a humbling experience that the apartheid regime’s white generals still, in retirement, find hard to stomach.
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As Gleijeses told Democracy Now! in December 2013, at the time of Mandela’s passing, black South Africans understood the significance of these defeats. The black South African newspaper the World wrote about the skirmishes: “Black Africa is riding the crest of a wave generated by the Cuban victory in Angola.”

Gleijeses remembered Mandela writing from Robben Island: “It was the first time that a country had come from another continent not to take something away, but to help Africans to achieve their freedom.”

Castro’s policy in Africa was far more progressive and humane than the United States, France, and England, that’s for sure. That’s doubly true for South Africa, where Castro was offering critical support for the African National Congress at the same time that Dick Cheney was openly supporting apartheid.

It was the beginning of the love affair between Castro and the people of Cuba and Nelson Mandela and the freedom fighters of South Africa, as well as across our continent, where he is today being mourned and celebrated as a freedom fighter himself.

That love blossomed in 1966 when Havana hosted the Tri-Continental Conference, a meeting of leaders from national liberation movements in Asia, Africa and Latin America, including South Africa’s.

And the relationship between Castro’s Cuba and the liberation struggle of South Africa grew deep roots when, in the 1970s and 1980s, Cuba provided military training and other forms of assistance to South Africans.

I was privileged to meet Castro in 1987, when Cuba helped prepare me for my mission into South Africa for the African National Congress’s Operation Vula. As part of that operation, members of the exile leadership infiltrated South Africa as the advance guard working clandestinely in the country.

I can still feel the energy Castro exuded. I remember the unreserved readiness with which he responded to our requests to help my mission as the commander of Operation Vula. He bore none of the posture of a person seeking to make his presence and power felt. I felt myself become a better person in his company — better in the sense of wanting to never stop making a difference to the lives of others.

Our interactions with Castro and the Cuban people reinforced a deeper understanding of the significance of the freedom for which we were fighting. During the late 1970s and ’80s, the A.N.C. and its military wing had their main camps in the People’s Republic of Angola. So did Swapo, the Namibian liberation movement.

From the moment Angola achieved independence in 1974, the military might of the apartheid South African state was turned to overthrowing the Angolan government. Angola survived in large part because Cuba sent its soldiers to give their lives for the freedom of the people of Angola, Namibia and South Africa. Their blood has seeped into the soil of my continent.

In the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale in Angola, which lasted from 1987 to 1988 and was one of the largest battles on African soil, Castro committed thousands of elite Cuban troops to fight for freedom.

That bloody battle buried the apartheid regime’s military ambitions and paved the way for the peace accord mediated by the United States and signed in 1988. It led to the withdrawal of all foreign belligerents from Angola and the independence of Namibia. The agreement also led to the closing of the A.N.C.’s camps in Angola — a development that ultimately helped bring the apartheid regime and the liberation forces headed by the A.N.C. to negotiate South Africa’s transition from white minority rule to democracy.

Mandela, in notes for what was intended to be a sequel to his autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” wrote: “Men and women, all over the world, right down the centuries, come and go. Some leave nothing behind, not even their names. It would seem they never existed at all.”

The world will always know that there once was a man named Fidel Castro. Africans will never forget him. His unshakable anticolonial and anti-apartheid beliefs guarantee a revered place for him in the hearts of South Africans.

I guess if Fidel Castro was a monster, so was Nelson Mandela.

Of course, none of this means that Castro was a saint. He obviously wasn’t. But his incredible support for African peoples against colonialist and racist regimes seeking to oppress them is a very important part of his legacy and for this he deserves a great deal of credit.

No IP in the TPP Anymore

[ 17 ] November 30, 2016 |
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The Statute of Anne

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at the state of intellectual property protection in the wake of the death of the TPP:

What does the death of the Trans-Pacific Partnership mean for U.S. intellectual property (IP) rights abroad? The United States pushed heavily, and controversially, for the inclusion of significant IP protections in the TPP. This push is consistent with a broader effort on the part of the U.S. government to include robust IP protection in just about every bilateral or multilateral trade agreement since the turn of the century.

 

Foreign Entanglements: Shit Fucked Up

[ 0 ] November 30, 2016 |

On the latest episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt Duss and Daveed Gartenstein-Ross discuss the condition of Things Trump:

Reasonable moderate David Brooks laments how political polarization makes it impossible to elect someone like Barack Obama president

[ 74 ] November 30, 2016 |

It’s funny because it’s true.

If Obama offered a deal to raise taxes through tax reform while reducing entitlements, Brooks would write a sad column about how nobody was willing to raise taxes through tax reform while reducing entitlements. If Obama favored education reform, an infrastructure bank, and more high-skill immigration, Brooks would write a sad column about how nobody favored those things. When Obama supported market-oriented health-care reform, Brooks opposed it as an extravagant government takeover. Then later he wrote a sad column about how “we’d have had a very different debate if we knew the law was going to be a discrete government effort to subsidize health care for more poor people” rather than “an extravagant government grab to take over the nation’s health-care system.”

The effect of all this commentary was not to empower the moderate ideas Brooks favored, but to disempower them. Brooks was emblematic of the way the entire bipartisan centrist industry conducted itself throughout the Obama years. It was neither possible for Obama to co-opt the center, nor for Republicans to abandon it, because official centrists would simply relocate themselves to the midpoint of wherever the parties happened to stand. The well-documented reality that the parties were undergoing asymmetric polarization was one they refused to accept, because their jobs was to be bipartisan, and it is difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon not understanding it.

As Jon says, Brooks’s job is literally (OK not literally but almost) to be the oh so sad voice of reason located at the putative midpoint of the political spectrum, no matter where that spectrum happens to be.

Seven years from now he’ll probably have the sads that no one is advocating the reasonable moderate view that the blacks and the Mexicans should be deported to Madagascar.

Another Post-Mortem

[ 490 ] November 30, 2016 |

 

After getting over the worst of the shock from the results of the ’16 election, I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts and take some lessons from it.

1.) I’ve learned that R’s will beat feet to the polls for literally anyone. It doesn’t matter if candidate is a cranky Crypt-Keeper (McCain), a blundering, over-privileged automaton with good hair (Romney), or a sentient yam with bad hair–R’s and R-leaners VOTE. It’s why the past 3 elections–which had no business being close–were close. Angry white people vote en masse. Because they are motivated by spite, and, as I’ve learned, that’s pretty much the most powerful motivator there is. Until Dems and D-leaners vote with such passionate unity, we will be at a disadvantage.

2.) D’s and D-leaners obviously expect a Bill Clinton or Barack Obama to be at the top of the ticket each election. D-leaners clearly expect whipsmart men who employ soaring rhetoric to inspire their constituencies. So those of us work with the Dems (because as progressives that pretty much what we have) obviously need to offer up consistently (politically) sexy candidates (who–sad to say–should probably be men) or we can expect a dangerous number of liberals to sit at home with their thumbs up their asses, making smug, ironic podcasts.

3.) The breathless coverage of Trump’s scandals, especially the Access Hollywood misogyny was silly and naive. We live in a country awash in misogyny–even lots of women don’t give a shit about the kind of lechery and disrespect Trump exhibited. Until we fix our enormous sexism problem, we can probably expect more Trumps to perform well. As a smart tweep noted, the AH video probably did more to hurt Hillary’s campaign than Trump’s, because she took eye off the ball (a progressive economic message) and focused on something lots of Americans simply don’t give as a crap about (treating women shittily).

4.) My husband noted that the mood probably just wasn’t right for a Hillary candidacy. While he supported Hillary, he–rightly, I think–noted that Bernie Sanders came across as a fighter. And the American people were clearly spoiling for a fight. And a fighter. I think Hillary simply came across as dignified, compassionate and boringly competent. And a boringly competent continuation of the Obama administration was simply not something that was going get asses in booths.

5.) As I mentioned on twitter, I counted on a sort of latent, self-preservational snobbery kicking in with potential Trump voters. It’s not that I thought we’d get many switchers. But I thought a fair number of R-leaners might find him too vulgar, too stupid, too buffoonish to vote for in the end. I’ve learned that that was wildly naive…and this loops around to my first point–R’s will LITERALLY vote for anyone who runs with an “R” after his name. Literally anyone. Even a Nazi!

In summation, fuck you all, and I hate everyone.

“Durr, It’s A Republic, Not a Democracy, Durr” And Other Terrible Arguments

[ 152 ] November 30, 2016 |

trump-supporters-3Actually, neither silent nor a majority

Whenever you observe that the Electoral College is indefensible, someone invested in the legitimacy of a president illegitimately chosen by the Electoral College is likely to retort that the Constitution established A REPUBLIC, NOT A PURE DEMOCRACY. This phrase is, as a late great writer once said, words next to each other:

Because of the strong tendency to valorize the founding fathers and the Constitution, many people will still defend and rationalize the Electoral College. But it’s exactly as indefensible as it seems on its face. Departing from the norm that the candidate with the most votes wins places the burden of proof on the deviant institution. Defenders of the Electoral College will often invoke the phrase “the United States is a republic, not a democracy,” or observe that the United States is not a “pure democracy.” But these explanations do not constitute meaningful defenses. Even if the American president, as in most other democratic countries, was elected by popular vote, the United States would still be a representative democracy, not a pure one. Given the complexities of American government in the 21st century, the concept of pure democracy, where every citizen votes on every policy issue or initiative, is meaningless.

The Electoral College has to be defended on its own merits. Which is a problem for apologists, because it can’t be. Indeed, even the origins of the Electoral College make it look worse, not better. Some founders, including James Madison, preferred a direct popular vote. But the Electoral College was a compromise made to accommodate other concerns. Some founders believed that the citizens’ political ignorance would be a problem, and that the public should have their votes filtered, first by elites in the Electoral College and then by members of Congress (where the founders, who didn’t anticipate the formation of a party system, expected most elections to be decided.)

The Electoral College also was designed to increase the representation of slave states; slaves, of course, did not vote but were counted as three-fifths of a person when apportioning the House of Representatives— which, in turn, determined the representation states received in the Electoral College. It should go without saying that both of these justifications are not merely inadequate but repugnant in 2016. Moreover, the Electoral College still has a distinctly white supremacist tilt, as it substantially over-represents white voters, a factor that contributed to Donald Trump’s victory despite losing badly to Clinton in the popular vote.

Some will defend the Electoral College on the grounds that it requires presidential candidates to pay more attention to small states. But there is little reason to give small states, already overrepresented somewhat in the House and massively overrepresented in the Senate, yet another thumb on the scale. Besides, if it were a good idea in theory, it doesn’t work in practice. As Ari Berman of The Nation observes, “94 percent of campaign visits and money went to just 12 states.” To defend the Electoral College on the grounds that it broadens the scope of presidential campaigning is truly perverse.

I don’t think the electors picking Hillary Clinton would be a good idea for various reasons, and of course if they did the House wouldn’t certify the result anyway. But the possibility and the response does underscore that belief in “originalism” is almost always opportunistic:

Three eminent legal scholars have advocated a more radical, short-term solution. They have argued that the Electoral College should fulfill its original function by having the electors independently choose Clinton as the better-qualified candidate with greater popular support. There is a certain dark irony to the fact that a system designed to prevent the people from choosing an unqualified demagogue has resulted in the election of an unqualified demagogue not chosen by the people.

But a move by the electors to override the Electoral College and elect Clinton would be a disaster. Her presidency would be fatally hobbled from Day One. The potential for violence would be terrifying, and the presidential election system would be permanently broken—and the Republicans would declare any future Democratic winner an unqualified demagogue. The cure would be worse than the disease.

Preventing someone like Donald Trump from becoming president was a core reason why the Electoral College was instituted. That doesn’t make electors exercising independent judgment a good idea — and, pace the framers, an actually democratic system for picking the president would have defeated Trump — but it does show that nobody can really defend the Electoral College, but people who stand to gain from minority rule feel compelled to rationalize.

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