Third Culture Queen vol. 8

Commentary on today's crises of grand strategy and modern thought

There are several news stories that caught my attention the past couple days but Trump’s use of military children in his latest attack on birthright citizenship takes the top commentary spot today.

(If you’re curious about my feelings toward the AL GOP’s obsession with Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota – check out my most recent blog post.)

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Tal Kopan broke the news that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued guidance that the Department of Homeland Security "no longer considers children of U.S. government employees and U.S. armed forces members residing outside the United States as 'residing in the United States' for purposes of acquiring citizenship.”

Why does this matter? I’ll give you a Leftist reason and a Libertarian reason.

Leftist: the military is predominantly made up of the poor, people of color, and immigrants who this policy targets in order to create additional obstacles to American citizenship.

Libertarian: the government has no right to demand this excess bureaucracy of anyone, but especially the men, women and nonbinary folks who serve in our military.

Do not be persuaded by the administration’s rhetoric.

Trump is the trial balloon king. He is testing the American people to see how far he can push us on the citizenship question. He already knows he can demonize and disenfranchise Black and brown folk without any consequences to his base. Now he’s slithering his way into institutions that most Americans consider “untouchable” (namely, the military).

Voter suppression is voter suppression. It doesn’t matter if it targets a few dozen people abroad or a whole county’s voter rolls – we can’t allow it.

David Kubat explains the change in more detail. I disagree with him on the severity but, in the tweets below, David presents several other ways our military members are disenfranchised every day.

The United States and its “patriotic” people talk a big game.

That’s all it is though.


Modern Thought

  • Black Socialists of America Is Putting Anti-Capitalism on the Map (The Nation)

    What we want BSA to be as time goes on is essentially a national collective and network for black leftists who are trying to build on what we’re calling “dual power projects.” Cooperation Jackson’s project—a federation of predominantly black-owned worker cooperatives based out of Jackson, Mississippi—is utilizing the tools of what we call the “solidarity economy movement” in order to build on this idea of economic democracy and community control. They’re doing it under an explicitly eco-socialist, anti-capitalist politics.

    And so we want to catalyze the development of Cooperation Jacksons throughout the country, and we want to be able to support and connect these various initiatives.

  • Can high-speed train firms soar amid Boeing’s woes? (Ozy)

    And even after the 737 MAX returns to the skies, there’s no guarantee travelers will readily accept these planes. In a May survey by Barclays Investment Bank, 44 percent of respondents said they would want to wait a year or more after the 737 MAX is cleared before flying on it.

    A growing movement against the aviation sector — in part because of its carbon footprint — presents another challenge the industry will need to overcome to get back on its feet, says John Grant, an analyst with British aviation intelligence firm OAG. “We’ve seen the start of some anti-flying campaigns that have grown and had some momentum,” says Grant. “I think what describes it best is the flight-shaming lobby.”

  • Jack Ma: AI could enable a 12-hour work week (Axios)

    Alibaba Group chairman Jack Ma told the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai Thursday that artificial intelligence should enable people to work 4 hours a day, 3 days a week, Bloomberg reports.

  • Life on the Mississippi (History Today)

    The writings of Mark Twain, then, have made the river into an imaginative space that belongs to the world. Yet another effect of those resonant images has been to obscure the real river. The Mississippi might have been moribund for Twain in 1882, but for others it was only just coming to life. Twain was not wrong, of course: the steamboating world that he had known in his youth was certainly fading. The river was still a vital economic highway in the heart of the nation, but railroads, with their speed and convenience, had taken away almost all of the passenger traffic. Between 1870 and 1910, there was a 70 per cent reduction of steamboat tonnage between the important river towns of St Louis and New Orleans; by 1909 the last direct service between them came to an end. A series of particularly destructive and disruptive floods did not help either. Piecemeal efforts to control the Mississippi availed little. It would take the truly devastating deluge of 1927 and the subsequent Flood Control Act of 1928 for significant attention to be paid to the problem. Yet still the river floods. Indeed, in 2019 the river has been in flood for longer than at any time since 1927.

  • NASA investigating first ever crime committed in space (Economic Times)

  • System Under Strain: World’s Swelling Refugee Population Has Shrinking Options (Council for Foreign Relations)

    A quarter billion people worldwide live outside their country of nationality. Most of them are migrants, people who opt to leave their countries seeking greater opportunity. One-tenth of them, though, are refugees. They are fleeing political persecution and other acute threats: barrel bombs in Syria, razed villages in Myanmar, or political turmoil, crime, and hyperinflation in Venezuela. Most refugees go to countries neighboring their own, in part so that they can return home when circumstances change.

    At the root is a tension baked into the refugee regime. The preamble to the 1951 convention recognizes “that the grant of asylum may place unduly heavy burdens on certain countries, and that a satisfactory solution of a problem of which the United Nations has recognized the international scope and nature cannot therefore be achieved without international co-operation.” But regional and international institutions lack the means to compel such cooperation. Integration and resettlement have always been the prerogatives of states.

    Countries do, however, have an obligation to provide asylum to anyone who arrives at their territory with reason to fear persecution under the convention’s criteria. Some countries do this on a group basis in cases of mass arrivals; otherwise, asylum seekers’ claims are individually evaluated. And while this poses up-front costs, countries that have played a lead role in settling refugees, such as the United States, have benefited over time from these new arrivals. (See Where They Settle section for more.)

  • The Sunset of Neoliberalism (Jacobin)

    The point is that, at least in the primaries, we’ve seen no meaningful critique from Democratic politicians charging Trump with insufficient militancy in world affairs. For the time being, US foreign policy resembles the relative quiescence of the years following withdrawal from Vietnam, a period then excoriated by Cold Warriors as one stricken by the “Vietnam syndrome.”

    The cherry on top of this cake is the ice broken by Sanders on Israel and Palestine. His statements of support for Palestine, however qualified, are a departure from the preceding decades of Zionist boosterism. In a different time, his opponents would be trying to make hay out of his statements. This time around, the best his rivals for the nomination can offer is silence.

  • What Germany Can (and Can’t) Teach America About Reparations (LitHub)

    My central thesis stands opposed to much of what Améry wrote in “Resentments,” but the essay remains enormously valuable for the light it sheds on the victim’s moral psychology. It also underlines what the author Ta-Nehisi Coates called the crucial element of reparations: a revolution of national consciousness, a spiritual renewal. Imagine an America where people were ashamed to hang portraits of their Confederate ancestors in uniform or to cling to the statues that honor them. Imagine an America where the raw and brutal truth of slavery and racial terror were integrated into historical narratives of American exceptionalism.

    The first condition of such a transformation would be profound: sincere apology for the torment that nonwhite Americans suffer. It’s revealing that the U.S. Congress did not even issue an apology for slavery until 2008: until you grasp the reach of your sins, you cannot really apologize for them. 

    (Related: Foreign Policy)

American Empire (“The Greater United States”)

  • 3-Way Lead as Dem 2020 Picture Shifts (Monmouth)

    The poll finds a virtual three-way tie among Sanders (20%), Warren (20%), and Biden (19%) in the presidential nomination preferences of registered Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters across the country. Compared to Monmouth’s June poll, these results represent an increase in support for both Sanders (up from 14%) and Warren (up from 15%), and a significant drop for Biden (down from 32%). (Related: AP, Business Insider)

  • American Cyber Command hamstrung Iran’s paramilitary force (MIT Review)

    American officials say that a US cyberattack against Iran that was launched earlier this summer has had a lingering impact on the Iranian military's ability to target oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, according to a new report in the New York Times.

    Iranians are reportedly still recovering targeted systems, networks, and data after the cyberattack which was launched in June at a peak in tensions between Iran and American allies.

    The players: The attack was launched by US Cyber Command. It targeted and reportedly wiped out a key database used by Iran's paramilitary forces known as the Islamic Revolutionary Guards. The Revolutionary Guards is responsible for mine attacks that hit two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, US officials allege. Iran denies responsibility. (Related: Council of Foreign Relations)

  • Federal Election Commission to Effectively Shut Down (Public Integrity)

    Federal Election Commission Vice Chairman Matthew Petersen announced his resignation today. 

    This means the agency that enforces and regulates the nation’s campaign finance laws will effectively shut down — something that hasn’t happened since 2008 — because it won’t have the legal minimum of four commissioners to make high-level decisions.

    This is a de facto FEC shutdown more than two years in the making and something for which commissioners have long been girding

  • The Man Who Couldn’t Take It Anymore (The Atlantic)

    “Do you know the French concept of devoir de réserve?” Mattis asked.

    I did not, I said.

    “The duty of silence. If you leave an administration, you owe some silence. When you leave an administration over clear policy differences, you need to give the people who are still there as much opportunity as possible to defend the country. They still have the responsibility of protecting this great big experiment of ours. I know the malevolence some people feel for this country, and we have to give the people who are protecting us some time to carry out their duties without me adding my criticism to the cacophony that is right now so poisonous.”

    “And don’t you have a duty to warn the country if it is endangered by its leader?”

    “I didn’t cook up a convenient tradition here,” he said. “You don’t endanger the country by attacking the elected commander in chief. I may not like a commander in chief one fricking bit, but our system puts the commander in chief there, and to further weaken him when we’re up against real threats—I mean, we could be at war on the Korean peninsula, every time they start launching something.”

    But about this treacherous political moment?

    “You’ve got to avoid looking at what’s happening in isolation from everything else,” he said. “We can’t hold what Trump is doing in isolation. We’ve got to address the things that put him there in the first place.” Mattis speaks often about affection: the affection that commanders feel for their soldiers, and that soldiers ought to feel for one another—and the affection that Americans should feel for one another and for their country but often, these days, don’t. “ ‘With malice toward none, with charity for all,’ ” he said. “Lincoln said that in the middle of a war. In the middle of a war! He could see beyond the hatred of the moment.” (Related: Hyperallergic)

  • The Rise of the Native American Electorate (Mother Jones)

    Indigenous people in the United States did not have the right to vote until they were made citizens in 1924, decades after being excluded from the 14th Amendment, which promised citizenship to “all persons” born on US soil. Indigenous voting rights weren’t guaranteed in all 50 states until 1962, when Utah became the last state to grant suffrage to Natives living on reservations. 

    In the process of securing the lands that became the United States, the federal government ratified hundreds of treaties with Native tribes, many of which are still legally binding. Yet the terms of those treaties—from promising large swaths of land to providing services like education, health care, and housing—have often been outright ignored. Funding for federal agencies that fulfill treaty obligations, like the Indian Health Service and the Bureau of Indian Education, is often on the chopping block. Many such services went unfunded during the December government shutdown. 

    The US indigenous population is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the general population, meaning that as roadblocks to their voting rights continue to be dismantled, their role in elections will likely expand. Natives are becoming a “significant demographic” in key presidential battleground states, says Julian Brave NoiseCat, a journalist who belongs to the Secwepemc and St’at’imc Nations. “If you’re hoping to win Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, or Minnesota, the Native vote is not inconsequential.” 

  • U.S.-Taliban near deal, Afghani PM resolved to hold elections on time (WaPo)

    PM Ghani’s government is not a party to the U.S.-Taliban talks.

    The negotiations entered their ninth round Friday in Qatar, and both sides said they hope to work out the final issues soon. Under a draft agreement, the United States would withdraw 5,000 troops in coming months and could pull out 9,000 more by next year. The Taliban, in return, would cut ties with al-Qaeda.

    Still unclear is whether the insurgents would agree to a permanent cease-fire and to talks with the government. A Taliban spokesman said Saturday the agreement would be completed after discussions on implementation and “some technical points.” Both sides rejected reports Saturday that they had agreed to form an interim government in Kabul.

    Ghani said last week he would not accept a delay in the Sept. 28 polls even if the insurgents were to announce a cease-fire. The Taliban, he told ToloNews TV, “are a part of this country, but they are not the determinant of the fate of this country.” He said his job as president is “to save the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan . . . to save the system at any cost.” (Related: The Hill)

China & the Indo-Pacific

  • China’s Global War on Terrorism (Slate)

    Beijing might look to export elements of its repressive security apparatus to protect its interests abroad and its borders. Its “automated authoritarianism” model—along with the technology and know-how—might be particularly appealing to authoritarian (and even nonauthoritarian) countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Singapore, and Turkey. With its low regard for human rights, China would be willing and capable of assisting its allies and client states by providing the technology, know-how, and maintenance to sustain it. To deploy such a system at scale, China would need to forge new alliances and cement existing ones, although this is not entirely unfeasible given Beijing’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and aggressive campaign to push telecom company Huawei as the 5G backbone of the future.

    By implementing its own version of counterterrorism abroad, China could seek to transition from the more subtle, soft-power approach it has typically favored to a more militaristic and security-conscious modus operandi.

  • China’s Spies Are on the Offensive (The Atlantic)

    Espionage and counterespionage have been essential tools of statecraft for centuries, of course, and U.S. and Chinese intelligence agencies have been battling one another for decades. But what these recent cases suggest is that the intelligence war is escalating—that China has increased both the scope and the sophistication of its efforts to steal secrets from the U.S. “The fact that we have caught three at the same time is telling of how focused China is on the U.S.,” John Demers, the head of the National Security Division at the Justice Department, which brought the charges against Mallory, Hansen, and Lee, told me. “If you think about what it takes to co-opt three people, you start to appreciate the actual extent of their efforts. There may be people we haven’t caught, and then you have to acknowledge that probably a small percentage of the people who’ve been approached ever go as far as these three did.”

    For the past 20 years, America’s intelligence community’s top priority has been counterterrorism. A generation of operations officers and analysts has been geared more toward finding and killing America’s enemies and preventing extremist attacks than toward the more patient and strategic work that comes with peer competition and counterintelligence. If America is indeed entering an era of “great power” conflict with China, then the crux of the struggle will likely take place not on a battlefield, but in the race for information, at least for now. And here China is using an age-old human frailty to gain advantage in the competition with its more powerful adversary: greed. U.S. officials have been warning companies and research institutions not just of the strings that might be attached to Chinese money, but of the danger of corrupted employees turned spies. They are also worried about current and former U.S. officials who have been entrusted with protecting the nation’s secrets. (Related: Foreign Affairs)

  • India’s quest to dominate the Indian Ocean (The Daily Times)

    This has been further evident in Prime Minister Modi’s emphasis on greater engagement with the littoral states of the Indian Ocean. After securing a landmark victory in the 2019 general elections, PM Modi chose the Maldives and Sri Lanka as his first official visit abroad for this term to consolidate India’s position in the Indian Ocean. Such choices clearly show India’s foreign policy priority in the IOR. Moreover, Mr Modi adopted an agenda, which is led by trade and investments, to achieve its great power status, benefitting its economy at the same time. A reflection of his Indian Ocean outreach is, thus, reiterated in the Budget 2019-20, which, in itself, is aimed at maintaining such a hegemonic influence. India not only economically assists such smaller states in terms of their trade and economic development but is also attempting to build a lasting military relationship with them. This is to play a significant role in its blue water great game. This is further evident in India’s plans to build up its naval and air bases in 300 islands of Andaman and Nicobar.

  • Why Indonesia's Capital Move Has Environmentalists Worried (City Lab)

    The first phase of the $33B new city will encompass nearly 5,000 acres on the island of Borneo. Construction of this phase is planned to begin in 2021 and be finished by 2024, according to the news site Mongabay. The entire city, targeted for completion in 2045, will occupy about 495,000 acres of land, two-and-a-half times the size of New York City. The Indonesian government says at least 50 percent will be open green space, with parks and gardens, as well as a zoo and a sports complex, “integrated into the natural landscape such as hilly areas and river systems,” in the words of planning minister Bambang Brodjonegoro.

    It’s all part of a grand strategy to make Indonesia’s capital a “forest city”—one that will not only leave Borneo’s protected forests undisturbed, but will also “restore the environment in Kalimantan,” Brodjonegoro said.  

    The news comes months after Jokowi—motivated in part by the need to cement his anticipated reelection winvowed to take action on a decades-old capital relocation plan. Jakarta is currently home to 10 million people (30m metro), and the new capital is slated to accommodate up to 1.5 million, mostly government employees and their families. 

Europe, Russia & Central Asia

  • Boris Johnson Is Planning A Series Of Extreme Measures In The Coming Weeks To Force Through Brexit (Buzzfeed News)

    BuzzFeed News has learned that in the last few days, PM Johnson’s senior team — led by his chief of staff Dominic Cummings and director of legislative affairs Nikki da Costa — has explored a number of increasingly controversial proposals it could deploy depending on the success of rebel attempts to thwart Brexit. The ideas under consideration include the following:

    • Attempting to disrupt a Commons debate on Northern Ireland power-sharing due on Sept. 9, a day which could be used by rebels to attempt to delay Brexit. It is described by Johnson allies as a “time bomb” set for them in the final weeks of Theresa May’s premiership.

    • Determining whether Johnson would be breaking the law by ignoring any successful rebel legislation or refusing to resign in the event he lost a vote of no confidence.

    • Using a variety of mechanisms, including a potential budget, to create new Commons debates and further reduce time for rebels to act.

    • Using the prorogation of Parliament to “kill the bill” by rebel MPs and force them to table it again after the Queen’s Speech on Oct. 14.

    • Creating new bank holidays to prevent the House of Commons from being recalled during the prorogation period.

    • Filibustering any bill by rebel MPs attempting to force Johnson to delay Brexit when it reaches the House of Lords.

    • Ennobling new pro-Brexit peers as a last resort to kill any such bill in the Lords.

    • Exploring what the consequences would be if Johnson advised the Queen not to give royal assent to any legislation passed by Parliament delaying Brexit. (Related: Foreign Policy)

  • Italy crisis: PD and Five Star agree coalition deal after talks (BBC)

    The leaders of Italy's centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and populist Five Star Movement have agreed to form a coalition government.

    It was agreed that Giuseppe Conte should stay on as prime minister. The planned joint administration will serve until the next scheduled elections in 2023.

    "We consider it worthwhile to try this experience," the PD's Nicola Zingaretti said after meeting the president on Wednesday - the deadline for any deal.

  • Trump seriously considering blocking $250M in military aid to Ukraine (CNN)

    The push to block the aid package has been supported by Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney but opposed by some within the State Department and national security council, according to another source. National security adviser John Bolton was in Kiev Wednesday, where he met with Ukrainian officials, but there is little indication he raised the possibility of blocking the funding.

    A US Department of State official told CNN on Thursday that the policy on Ukraine has not changed, adding the US remains committed to a robust partnership between the two countries.

    But Trump's public deference to Putin and Russia has alarmed US allies and lawmakers. The issue has only been amplified by Trump's recent comments at the G7 summit, in which he seemingly downplayed Russia's military incursion in Ukraine and suggested that Russia be reinstated into the group of leading global economies.

    The US has provided Ukraine with more than $1 billion in security assistance since 2014 as it has sought to bolster the country's military, which is facing an ongoing conflict with separatists in the country's east, forces the Pentagon believes are backed, armed and even led by Moscow.

The Global South

  • Colombian rebels issue call to arms 3 years after peace deal (Axios)

    Why it matters: FARC and the Colombian government's 2016 deal ended a guerrilla war that spanned 50 years, killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions more, says NPR. But the rebel leaders now say that that President Iván Duque's government hasn't guaranteed their political rights, heating up the conflict once again.

    What they're saying: Former chief rebel negotiator Luciano Marin, known as Ivan Marquez, said in a video posted online, per AP, "When we signed the accord in Havana we did so with the conviction that it was possible to change the life of the most humble and dispossessed.... But the state hasn't fulfilled its most important obligations, which is to guarantee the life of its citizens and especially avoid assassinations for political reasons."

  • Global appetite for beef, soy fuels Amazon fires (Euractiv)

    “Extensive cattle farming is the main driver of deforestation in the Amazon, with just over 65% of deforested land in the Amazon now being grazed,” according to Romulo Batista, a researcher at Greenpeace.

    Brazilian soybean exports to China jumped nearly 30% last year thanks to the trade dispute with Washington that pushed Beijing to look for other sources of the crop it uses to feed cattle. (Related: Open Democracy)

  • Kenya joins ranks of oil-exporting countries (Al Jazeera)

    Kenya sent off its inaugural shipment of crude oil on Monday, becoming the first East African nation to join the ranks of petroleum-exporting countries.

    Though Kenya is still years away from building the infrastructure necessary to unlock its full commercial oil-producing potential, Monday's maiden shipment of more than 200,000 barrels revealed possible tensions over how the nation's crude wealth should be divided.

    In March, President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law the Petroleum Act of 2019, which allocates 75 percent of state-designated oil profits to the central government, 20 percent to oil-producing counties, and five percent to local communities.

  • UAE loosens Saudi alliance to push peacemaker image (Reuters)

    A loosening of UAE-Saudi ties has implications far beyond bilateral ties. A rift could undermine Trump’s “maximum pressure” push against Tehran, damage Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, and reverberate in other theaters of conflict, so extensive has the two partners’ influence been.

    The immediate source of strain is Yemen’s ruinous war. Friction had been growing for months over the conflict, which was initially expected to last a few weeks but has dragged on for years and killed tens of thousands with no end in sight.

    A wider cause is the UAE’s apparent decision to pivot toward narrower national interests, casting itself as the more mature partner that can stabilize the region, even if it means cutting losses and moving on without Riyadh.

    The UAE also appears keen to salvage its image in Washington, where the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi deepened worries that the kingdom’s foreign policy was growing impulsive and interventionist.

    “The UAE wants to be seen as the small country that facilitates peace and stability rather than an appendage to a triumphant expansionist Saudi,” said a source familiar with the government’s thinking.

  • Zimbabwe state doctors threaten strike over pay (Reuters)

    Zimbabwe’s teachers and doctors, who make up the bulk of the public service, on Monday rejected the government’s wage offer, with medical personnel threatening a strike if their demand to have their wages benchmarked in the U.S. dollar is not met.

    The Apex Council, which is an umbrella group for public sector unions, has demanded the equivalent of $475 for the lowest paid government worker.

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