Third Culture Queen vol. 9

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

I love college football and the first Saturday of the season did not disappoint!

Bama won (#RollTide) and Tennessee experienced, arguably, the greatest loss in program history which was icing on the cake:

Even by the absolutely dismal standards of the past decade, as the program has slid into irrelevance, this 38-30 loss to Georgia State was Rock Bottom for Rocky Top.

The Panthers were coming off a 2-10 season and were picked to finish last in their division of the Sun Belt. Given the Sun Belt’s bottom-feeder status, that put Georgia State squarely in the running to be considered the worst of the 130 teams in the FBS subdivision. And yet the Panthers just went into Neyland Stadium and humiliated Tennessee, while collecting a $950,000 guarantee check along the way.

This was meant to go out earlier this week but I was busier than expected. I haven’t really been able to process the events of this week – from Britain losing its mind to the Bahamas devastation to our president’s pageant idiocy – and so, no analyses today.

Next week, I’m changing up on the format so be on the lookout for volume 10!


Modern Thought

  • CA advances bill that would 'lead the world' on gig worker rights (The Guardian)

    AB5 passed California’s state assembly 53 to 11 in May and was passed Friday in a vote of 5 to 2 in the state senate’s appropriations committee. It will now move to the full senate for a vote on 13 September.

    The legislation will enact protections established by the California state supreme court in a May 2018 decision known as Dynamex, which uses a three-part test to determine if contractors qualify as employees entitled to protections and benefits.

    Under Dynamex, a company will have to complete an “ABC test” to classify a worker as a contractor, proving they are (a) free from the company’s control, (b) doing work that isn’t central to the company’s business, and (c) have an independent business in that industry.

    If the worker doesn’t meet all three of these standards, they will be classified as an employee and entitled to benefits including unemployment insurance, health care subsidies, paid parental leave, overtime pay, and a guaranteed $12 minimum hourly wage.

    AB5 would affect a number of industries relying on workers classified as contractors, including nail salons, construction companies, day cares, and others – with some exemptions. It would also fundamentally change the way gig economy companies such as Lyft and Uber function in California.

  • How Gulf South communities are creating their own Green New Deal (Scalawag)

    The Gulf South Green New Deal will lay out a set of legislative priorities centering these communities, which can then be used as both the basis for new legislation and to hold politicians accountable as they actualize the national Green New Deal.

    Organizers all over the Gulf South have been fighting this tide of environmental destruction for decades. To create a Gulf South Green New Deal platform, GCCLP is gathering these voices from across the region—with an emphasis on indigenous people and people of color—and facilitating conversations between them. From these conversations, GCCLP and their partners will develop a  policy platform. 

    Collins said conversations have centered around self determination, allowing for the frontline communities in the South to step into power and have a say in their own future.  She said the group aims to challenge the economy of extraction, where the profits from work done in the South is reaped by a wealthy few largely outside of the region. She used the example of Louisiana, which is one of the biggest energy producers in the country, but one of the poorest states. In 2018, the International Energy Agency valued the United States energy sector at $350 billion.  

  • She spent more than $110,000 on drug rehab. Her son still died. (Vox)

    American rehab is dominated by a 12-step approach, modeled after Alcoholics Anonymous, that only works for some patients and doesn’t have strong evidence of effectiveness outside of alcohol addiction treatment.

    That’s often coupled with approaches that have even less evidence behind them. There’s wilderness therapy, focused largely on outdoor activities. There’s equine therapy, in which people are supposed to connect with horses. There’s a confrontational approach, which is built around punishments and “tough love.” The research for all these is weak at best, and with the confrontational approach, the evidence suggests it can even make things worse.

    “It is a scam,” Carol Beyer, founder of Families for Sensible Drug Policy and a mom in New Jersey, told me. She estimates she spent well over $100,000 on treatment — including 12-step and “tough love” programs — and still lost her two sons to drug overdoses.

  • Teaching the Contradictions of Stone Mountain (The Bitter Southerner)

    Stone Mountain embodies another contranym: the word bound. This word can mean both going to a place and being held in place, moving toward or being shackled to something. There is a subtle difference in vocabulary, but a significant difference in meaning between Simon & Garfunkel singing about being homeward bound and someone being housebound due to arrest or sickness. In the South, we’re bound for the future, progress, and inclusion; but we remain bound to the past, distortions of it, and exclusion because of it. This leaves us stuck, treading water in the present. Stone Mountain is built by the ghosts of the past, projects the laser-infused chaos and confusion of the present, and hosts the diverse audience of the future.

    All these elements oppose each other while remaining inexplicably tethered. Depending on which street you look down in Atlanta, it is both home to the Civil Rights Movement and the historic epicenter for the rebirth of the Klan. Two opposing narratives exist in spite of and because of one another. The South has changed and is changing, but it still has big scars from the past. Some of the biggest ones remain etched in stone.

  • The Dictators’ Last Stand: Every New Autocrats Weakness (Foreign Affairs)

    This is not true of populist dictatorships. As the case of Erdogan illustrates, populists come to power by promising to deepen democracy. This makes it much easier for them to build dictatorships in countries in which a majority of the population remains committed to democratic values. Instead of accepting an explicit trade­off between self-determination and other goods, such as stability or economic growth, supporters of populist parties usually believe that they can have it all. As a result, populists often enjoy enormous popularity during their first years in power, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, and India’s Narendra Modi have demonstrated.

    Once they consolidate their authority, however, populist dictators fail to live up to their most important promise. Elected on the hope that they will return power to the people, they instead make it impossible for the people to replace them. The crucial question is what happens when this fact becomes too obvious for large segments of the population to ignore.

  • The Next Recession Will Destroy Millennials (The Atlantic)

    Millennials got bodied in the downturn, have struggled in the recovery, and are now left more vulnerable than other, older age cohorts. As they pitch toward middle age, they are failing to make it to the middle class, and are likely to be the first generation in modern economic history to end up worse off than their parents. The next downturn might make sure of it, stalling their careers and sucking away their wages right as the Millennials enter their prime earning years.

    The toxic combination of lower earnings and higher student-loan balances—combined with tight credit in the recovery years—has led to Millennials getting shut out of the housing market, and thus losing a seminal way to build wealth. 

    As a result, Millennials have not benefited from the dramatic rebound in housing prices that has occurred since the financial collapse and the foreclosure crisis. Millennials have also been forced to shell out hundreds of billions of dollars in rent as housing costs have skyrocketed in many urban areas. This represents a large generational transfer of wealth from the young to the old. Boomers own the houses and bar municipalities from building more of them, thus benefiting from rising prices and soaking up endless rent checks forked over by younger and poorer families.

    Could the Millennials make up this lost ground? Perhaps, if wage growth suddenly and dramatically accelerates, urban cores start to build millions of new homes, and Congress announces a student-loan debt jubilee. But financial experts consider it unlikely. Millennials missed out on the big asset boom that occurred between 2010 and the present, and “appreciation is unlikely to be as rapid in the near future as it was during the recent period,” argue economists at the Federal Reserve. “With the baby boomers occupying most of the top jobs and much of the housing, Millennials are doing less well than their parents,” concluded Credit Suisse. “We expect only a minority of high achievers and those in high-demand sectors such as technology or finance to effectively overcome the ‘millennial disadvantage.’”

  • White Looks: Should white critics cover black culture? Only if they’re able to own their whiteness. (Longreads)

    Whiteness makes even an alien piece of culture palatable. When that palatability is removed, when blackness (nonwhiteness in general) gets to own itself — which should be cause for celebration! — it confronts the world of whiteness you, if you’re like me, may not even recognize you live in; that world so potent it can even block out your very own nonwhiteness. “Our culture is so segregated,” Soraya McDonald, culture critic for The Undefeated, said when I interviewed her. She said it like a sigh. She also mentioned, as if it even needed to be, that obviously even she doesn’t “know everything about black people”: “I think what’s really necessary, especially for white journalists, is to be aware of their whiteness and to be aware that whiteness is not neutral.”

    It’s embarrassing that I have to be told this. That as a grown adult I have to be told that everyone is human first. Minorities don’t have to be told this. Those whom white culture labels as “other” question their worldview naturally because the dominant culture has always forced them to, while failing to do so itself. “The point of seeing the racing of whites is to dislodge them/us from the position of power, with all the inequities, oppression, privileges and sufferings in its train,” wrote Dyer, “dislodging them/us by undercutting the authority with which they/we speak and act in and on the world.” That’s the critical shift — to acknowledge that your perspective, as Wallace put it, isn’t “the most logical, reasonable way.” It involves not just seeing your own race, but understanding that race alone doesn’t define everyone else. Of course, no one wants to be aware of their race all the time — just ask any person of color — but isn’t it the least we can do? “If radical change is truly desired in such a place, then those who have the bounty of privilege should shoulder the greater risk,” artist Xaviera Simmons wrote in The Art Newspaper this summer. Anyone, who, frankly, is not white, is regularly made to feel uncomfortable. To force ourselves to feel the same way, isn’t it the least we can do?

American Empire

  • How white women’s “investment” in slavery has shaped America today (Vox)

    So I start the book by talking about how white slave-holding parents trained their daughters how to be slaveowners. They give them lessons in slave discipline and slave management. Some even allow for their daughters to mete out physical punishments.

    Slave-holding parents and slave-holding family members gave girls enslaved people as gifts — for Christmas sometimes, when they turned 16 or when they turned 21.

    Women cannot do many of the things that men can do in this period of time. One thing that they are allowed to do by law, and this is particularly the case in the South, is invest in slavery.

    And that’s exactly what they do. Not only do they inherit enslaved people, but they also go into slave markets. They buy enslaved people. They’ll hire them out and they’ll collect their wages. Then they use those wages to buy more slaves.

    They open businesses, and they employ those enslaved people in their businesses, those businesses make a profit, they use those profits to buy more slaves. So they are investing in the institution of slavery in the same ways as white men are.

  • Military trial for alleged 9/11 plotters scheduled to begin in 2021 (CNN)

    The long delayed trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others charged with plotting the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks has been set by a military commission to begin on January 11, 2021, according to a military Trial Scheduling Order released on Friday.

    The capital case trial is scheduled to take place at the US Naval facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. If convicted Mohammed is likely to receive the death penalty.

    The trial scheduling order which was signed by the military judge US Air Force Col. W. Shane Cohen says the January 2021 date was selected "to ensure a fair and expeditious processing of this case."

    Mohammed has been linked to numerous al Qaeda plots in the run up to the deadly 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington DC, including the 1998 bombings of US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 2000 attack on the US Navy warship the USS Cole.

    He was captured in Pakistan in 2003 and was held by the CIA for a period of time before being transferred to Guantanamo Bay in 2006. (Related: The Hill)

China & the Indo-Pacific

  • Middle Powers, Joining Together: Vietnam and Australia (The Diplomat)

    The above highlights of the visit show Hanoi’s view of Australia from four vantage points.

    First, as a vibrant and fast growing economy, Vietnam sees Australia as s partner for shared prosperity. Areas where both sides can complement each other include agriculture, connectivity, energy, digital economy.

    Second, as an emerging middle power in a region central to major power competition, it is Vietnam’s long-held view that Australia is a reliable partner to diversify its relations. For Vietnam and indeed many countries in the region, the constructive engagement of Australia and other middle powers are hoped to temper the worst impulses of major countries as competition intensifies. Australia’s readiness to deepen cooperation with Vietnam on strategic issues in defense and security has positive impacts that extend beyond bilateral channels. 

    Third, as an active and responsible member of ASEAN, Vietnam finds in Australia another important source of promotion for ASEAN’s values such as security, peace, prosperity, safety and freedom of navigation and overflight. With regards to the Indo-Pacific, Australia had offered its own vision of the Indo-Pacific region rooted in stability, peace, prosperity, cooperation, respect for international law, open markets, among others. At the same time, Australia welcomed the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific as an “essential” component of regional cooperation.

    Finally, Vietnam can learn from Australia’s example in international affairs as a constructive and forward-looking middle power. Middle powers like Australia generally see themselves as promoters of the common good, “bridges” between nations or group of nations and promoters of the values of peace, dialogue, cooperation, adherence to international law and multilateralism, among others. Australia’s efforts to increase North-South cooperation or support of ASEAN’s common position regarding the South China Sea issue are concrete examples. (Related: Australian Financial Review)

  • Pakistan PM: The World Can’t Ignore Kashmir. We Are All in Danger. (NYT)

    On Aug. 5, in its most brazen and egregious move, Mr. Modi’s government altered the status of Indian-occupied Kashmir through the revocation of Article 370 and 35A of the Indian Constitution. The move is illegal under the Constitution of India, but more important, it is a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions on Kashmir and the Shimla Agreement between India and Pakistan.

    And Mr. Modi’s “New India” chose to do this by imposing a military curfew in Kashmir, imprisoning its population in their homes and cutting off their phone, internet and television connections, rendering them without news of the world or their loved ones. The siege was followed by a purge: Thousands of Kashmiris have been arrested and thrown into prisons across India. A blood bath is feared in Kashmir when the curfew is lifted. Already, Kashmiris coming out in defiance of the curfew are being shot and killed.

    If the world does nothing to stop the Indian assault on Kashmir and its people, there will be consequences for the whole world as two nuclear-armed states get ever closer to a direct military confrontation. India’s defense minister has issued a not-so-veiled nuclear threat to Pakistan by saying that the future of India’s “no first use” policy on nuclear weapons will “depend on circumstances.” Similar statements have been made by Indian leaders periodically. Pakistan has long viewed India’s “no first use” claims with skepticism.

    With the nuclear shadow hovering over South Asia, we realize that Pakistan and India have to move out of a zero-sum mind-set to begin dialogue on Kashmir, various strategic matters and trade. On Kashmir, the dialogue must include all stakeholders, especially the Kashmiris. We have already prepared multiple options that can be worked on while honoring the right to self-determination the Kashmiris were promised by the Security Council resolutions and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

  • Special Report: Hong Kong leader says she would 'quit' if she could, fears her ability to resolve crisis now 'very limited' (Reuters)

    Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she has caused “unforgivable havoc” by igniting the political crisis engulfing the city and would quit if she had a choice, according to an audio recording of remarks she made last week to a group of businesspeople.

    “If I have a choice,” she said, speaking in English, “the first thing is to quit, having made a deep apology.”

    Lam suggested that Beijing had not yet reached a turning point. She said Beijing had not imposed any deadline for ending the crisis ahead of National Day celebrations scheduled for October 1. And she said China had “absolutely no plan” to deploy People’s Liberation Army troops on Hong Kong streets. World leaders have been closely watching whether China will send in the military to quell the protests, as it did a generation ago in the bloody Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing.

    Lam noted, however, that she had few options once an issue had been elevated “to a national level,” a reference to the leadership in Beijing, “to a sort of sovereignty and security level, let alone in the midst of this sort of unprecedented tension between the two big economies in the world.”

    Related: “If we burn, you burn with us.” – The People of Hong Kong Will Not Be Cowed by China

Europe, Russia & Central Asia

  • 5 takeaways from Germany’s regional elections (Politico EU)

    The far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) posted the strongest electoral results since its founding in 2013, finishing second in two regional elections in the eastern states of Brandenburg and Saxony on Sunday.

    The results, coming on the heels of the party’s strong showing in both the last German general election in 2017 and May’s European Parliament ballot, suggest the party’s anti-foreigner, anti-establishment message continues to resonate with a large swath of the German electorate, especially in the east.

    Support for the far-left Die Linke party, which has been a fixture of eastern Germany’s political system, collapsed in both states to about 10 percent, reflecting in part a migration of some voters from the populist left to the far right.

    While Germany’s establishment parties are likely to retain control of both states, the AfD’s surge illustrates the difficulty centrist parties face in combatting the rise of populism in Europe’s largest country.

  • Finland Seeks Improved Security Ties With Sweden, Norway (Sputnik)

    In his recent speech to ambassadors, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö mentioned superpower tensions and a "volatile" global situation, rife with conflicts in various parts of the world.

    "What's new to the situation since the end of the Cold War is that the power struggle is now expanding more openly on all continents", Niinistö mentioned, identifying the United States, China and Russia as three "poles" of modern geopolitics. "This triangle, with Washington, Beijing and Moscow in each corner, now sets its mark on the entire international security situation", Niinistö said.

    "This is why I convened an unofficial meeting between the prime ministers, defence ministers and home ministers from Finland, Sweden and Norway in early September. The idea is for the first time in this arrangement to create space to exchange ideas about security policy in a free form", Niinistö said, as quoted by national broadcaster Yle. (Related: Signal)

  • Greece Offers Loan to UK in Bid for Parthenon Marbles (Greek Reporter)

    “In this context, given the significance of 2021, I will propose to Boris [Johnson]: ‘As a first move, loan me the sculptures for a certain period of time and I will send you very important artefacts that have never left Greece to be exhibited in the British Museum’.”

    The run-up to Greece’s bicentennial independence celebrations in 2021 offers an excellent opportunity for Athens to “step up its campaign to win back from the British Museum the Parthenon sculptures,” the newspaper says.

    Mitsotakis added that Greece’s “demand for the return of the sculptures remains in place.” He warned Britain that is fighting a losing battle on the issue. “I don’t think [Britain] should be fighting a losing battle. Eventually this is going to be a losing battle. At the end of the day there is going to be mounting pressure on this issue.”

    The Observer notes that last week France responded with unexpected enthusiasm to Mitsotakis’ request to return part of the Parthenon frieze to Greece. The classical carving is regarded by the Louvre as the most precious in its possession. (Related: The Harvard Crimson)

  • Italy’s Great Schism (Foreign Policy)

    It is a tale of two Catholic churches. One is focused on social justice, welcoming migrants, helping the poor, protecting the environment, defending the virtues of the European Union, and building bridges rather than walls. It proudly sports a cosmopolitan identity and talks about diversity and inclusion. It firmly opposes leaders like Salvini and U.S. President Donald Trump, whose ideology is one “that always ends badly—it leads to war,” as Pope Francis said in a recent interview with the daily La Stampa, adding that he’s concerned “because we hear speeches that resemble those of Hitler in 1934.” The poster child of this Catholic Church is Greta Thunberg, the Swedish environmental activist whose initiatives have been blessed by the pope.

    The other Catholic Church stresses the importance of tradition and defending the so-called Judeo-Christian West from mass immigration, pledges to protect the traditional family, and fights permissive laws on abortion and LGBT rights. It is skeptical of a bureaucratic, highly secularized EU and believes that Christianity thrives in a world organized around nation-states as opposed to supranational organizations. This faction fears that the current Vatican leadership may eventually turn the church into a progressive NGO.

  • The realities of a no-deal Brexit (The Spectator)

    No developed country has taken itself out of a trade bloc since the war because the costs of deliberately making trade substantially more difficult with your closest neighbours are obviously large. No trade deal has ever been struck between partners actively seeking to get further apart. Trade deals have always been between those aspiring to converge and to increase trade flows, not diverge and decrease them.

    No amount of repetition of ‘this will all be terribly easy’ ever makes it true.  It is not unpatriotic or ‘declinist’ to point out that a process of ‘differential disentanglement’ – which is actually what Brexit is –  will be hard, complex and lengthy. How, seriously, after more than three years can so much of our political elite still be in denial on this?

  • Unmasked: The Russian Men At Heart Of Italy’s Oil Scandal (Buzzfeed News)

    A longtime member of Putin’s United Russia party, Pligin is also a former senior member of parliament. His work on legislation to annex Crimea landed him on a European Union sanctions list. He co-founded a law firm with Deputy Prime Minister Kozak, a powerbroker — known as the “Cheshire Cat” because of his smile — who served as Putin’s chief of staff when he first became president, and who the US recently put on its sanctions list as a “member of the Russian leadership’s inner circle.” Pligin was also a student of Anatoly Sobchak, the former mayor of St. Petersburg known for kickstarting Putin’s political career.

    Italian prosecutors announced after the BuzzFeed News revelations that they were looking into whether Savoini and the two other Italians at the meeting had engaged in “international corruption.” In August, BuzzFeed News, Bellingcat, and the Insider revealed that Savoini travelled to Russia at least 14 times in 2018, and that a member of Salvini’s staff was booked on the same Aeroflot flights as Savoini from Milan to Moscow on Oct. 16 and on the evening of Oct. 18, following the meeting at the Metropol that morning.

    These revelations have come at the same time the Italian government has spun into crisis and collapsed, after Salvini pulled the plug on his coalition with the populist Five Star Movement. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he would step down, and during his resignation speech lambasted Salvini over his refusal to address parliament about the Metropol revelations or share any information about it with Conte’s office.

The Global South

  • African lender says China not trying to lead region into 'debt trap (Reuters)

    Debt sustainability was a key issue at this week’s meeting hosted by Tokyo with African leaders and international lenders on development of the continent, with eyes on China’s aggressive lending that some critics say has saddled poorer African countries with mountains of debt.

    African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina brushed aside such criticism, and urged Japan and China to not compete but play “complementary roles” in filling a massive funding gap for African infrastructure.

    “I don’t think there is a deliberate plan by China to indebt any country at all. I think China is fulfilling a very important role, which is in terms of infrastructure support,” Adesina told Reuters. “Africa is not in a debt crisis.”

    Japan nonetheless views its regional rival as a competitor for influence around the world, including in Africa and worries that a flood of Chinese money will weaken its diplomatic standing.

    Africa today has a financing gap of $68 billion to $108 billion a year for power, ports, rail, and airports, he added.

  • We, the peoples of the Amazon, are full of fear. Soon you will too (The Guardian)

    When your money comes into our communities it often causes big problems, driving our people apart. And we can see that it does the same thing in your cities, where what you call rich people live isolated from everyone else, afraid that other people will come to take their piu caprim away from them. Meanwhile other people starve or live in miserybecause they don’t have enough money to get food for themselves and their children.

    But those rich people will die, as we all will die. And when their spirits are separated from their bodies their spirits will be sad and they will suffer, because while they are alive they have made so many other people suffer instead of helping them, instead of making sure that everyone else has enough to eat before they feed themselves, which is our way, the way of the Kayapó, the way of indigenous people.

    You have to change the way you live because you are lost, you have lost your way. Where you are going is only the way of destruction and of death. To live you must respect the world, the trees, the plants, the animals, the rivers and even the very earth itself. Because all of these things have spirits, all of these things are spirits, and without the spirits the Earth will die, the rain will stop and the food plants will wither and die too.

    We all breathe this one air, we all drink the same water. We live on this one planet. We need to protect the Earth. If we don’t, the big winds will come and destroy the forest.

    Then you will feel the fear that we feel.

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