Is Trump’s White House Turning Into a Greek Tragedy?

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Alexis Papazoglou is a lecturer in philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

A ruler defying traditional norms, with the unshakable conviction that he is right, claiming his decision is in the interest of national security and preempting any criticism as a plot to overthrow him. 

No, it’s not who you think. I’m actually referring to the Greek tragic character Creon. In Sophocles’ ancient tragedy Antigone, Creon is the ruler of the Greek city Thebes and victor of a civil war that finds Polynices, the defeated, dead. Creon orders that Polynices is to be left unburied, and that anyone who attempts otherwise will be punished by death. Although the two may seem worlds apart, Creon’s decision has important parallels with President Donald Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey, and his subsequent actions, including reportedly contemplating the firing of special counsel Robert Mueller. Creon has been credited with highlighting why Greek political culture was doomed to failure. Trump’s bold actions, likewise, raise important questions about the nature and future of American democracy.

A state that finds itself in a position of internal contradiction cannot survive. 

Creon’s decision to leave Polynices unburied is within his purview, but it is a violation of the Greek custom that the dead bodies of enemies are to be returned to their families for proper burial. What is more, Antigone, Polynices’ sister, claims that she is bound by “divine law” as a woman to bury dead family members. Creon dismisses Antigone’s stance as self-righteous indignation and, despite warnings from the prophet Tiresias that this will not end well, arrests and imprisons her. Eventually the Chorus, representing public sentiment, finds the courage to speak out against Creon’s decision, but by the time he realizes his mistake, it is too late. 

 

Antigone makes for more than just a compelling drama. The 19th-century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel thought this ancient play displayed an important lesson: A state that finds itself in a position of internal contradiction cannot survive. 

According to Hegel, Antigone portrays an internal contradiction of Greek life, a clash of the two sets of rules that defined it: on the one hand, the rules of the public sphere set by the ruler of the city-state, and on the other, the rules of the private sphere, set by the gods. Creon refused to recognize Antigone’s actions as legitimate, failing to see that they were in accordance with the imperatives of Greek culture. What the play shows is that when the two domains of Greek life came into conflict, there could be no resolution other than the eventual replacement of the Greek city-state by the Roman world, a world in which the private sphere was legally protected from interference, including by the state, thus removing the possibility of the private vs. public sphere clash we see in Antigone.  

Trump’s clash with Comey and those investigating his potential obstruction of justice can be seen as an instance of a similar contradiction between two sets of rules that currently bind the American state: on one side, the will of the democratically elected president, and on the other, the rule of law, guaranteed by nonpolitical institutions such as the FBI and the judiciary. Like a modern Creon, Trump refuses to recognize that the actions of Comey and other investigators were not motivated by personal caprice, but in fact were dictated by norms that define the American state and its institutions. This clash is nothing new, and there has always been a tension between the president’s executive power and a system of “checks and balances.” Still, the president using his power to prevent a legal investigation of potential wrongdoing by himself and his campaign may be the most blatant conflict we have seen between the two sets of rules, one that completely undermines the very principle of the president’s accountability to the institutions that make up American democracy. 

Hegel saw contradictions like this as the motor of history. The question, then, is in what direction will this contradiction be resolved? Will it reinforce the non-party-political institutions that check the president’s exercise of power, or will Trump manage to shift American democracy into an even more executive-centric form of rule? If Sophocles’ play is anything to go by, we can count on Trump continuing to ignore critics who expose his actions as in conflict with American democratic norms, and proceeding as though he is the only legitimate source of power. Judging by the determination the judiciary and the FBI have shown so far, Trump will face many “Antigones” willing to sacrifice themselves in the process. Either way, American democracy as we know it might not survive such an explicit contradiction at its heart. 

How Vietnam Learned to Stop Poaching and Love Its Beasts

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When I lived in Da Nang five years ago, I’d often ride my Honda Wave out to the Son Tra Peninsula. Only five miles from the city center, I could follow narrow concrete Jeep tracks deep into pristine tropical forest that harbored more than 100 species of fauna, including an endangered and emblematic langur, the red-shanked douc. On a number of occasions I saw the monkeys, with their endearing red faces, white beards and maroon leggings, but I also saw — hidden in the undergrowth — the scooters of poachers and bird trappers.

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A red-shanked douc in Son Tra, Vietnam.

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For decades Vietnam has seemed indifferent to its wildlife. Vietnamese traditional medicine makes use of everything from bear bile to pangolin scales, and plenty of customers clamor after status symbols like ivory. What’s more, Vietnam is an important hub in the global network that supplies neighboring China, the world’s largest consumer of illegal wildlife products. But since my days in Da Nang, the country is finally starting to shake its reputation as a hot spot for poaching. Caring for animals has started to become cool.

In April, Nguyen Mau Chien, a rhino-trafficking kingpin, was arrested in Hanoi along with two accomplices after years of collaboration between governments and nongovernmental organizations in Africa and Asia. Even two years ago, experts say, such a takedown would never have been possible. “If you look at the situation on any given day, Vietnam seems a hell basket for conservation,” says Doug Hendrie, an American expat wildlife activist who has worked in Vietnam for 20 years. “But if you compare where we are now with where we were just 10 years ago, it seems like we’re living in a different country.”

Education for Nature Vietnam has expedited a [conservation] process that would have come with economic development anyway. But wildlife doesn’t have time to wait.

Doug Hendrie, wildlife activist

The seeds of the conservation movement starting to bloom in Vietnam were sown in 2000, when Education for Nature Vietnam was founded as the country’s first environmental NGO. Three years later, Nguyen Phuong Dung joined the organization, armed with a degree in foreign languages. Soon she was running a program focused on reducing consumer demand for wildlife products; in 2005, she set up a public hotline at a time when few Vietnamese knew what wildlife crime was, much less what to do if they witnessed one. “We would have a hard time even getting police to respond to reports of a live clouded leopard in a market,” Nguyen recalls.

 

Meanwhile, the rest of the ENV team worked with government to tighten legislation and with police to ensure that laws were enforced. ENV petitioned the government to remove bear bile from the list of medicines sanctioned by the national health insurance program and established outposts in 17 towns and cities around the country. Nguyen teamed up with influential celebrities to produce public service announcements that aired on TV and radio stations.

In the past two years, these conservation efforts have finally reached critical mass: Consumption of bear bile is down 61 percent, and calls to the hotline are up 200 percent. “ENV has expedited a process that would have come with economic development anyway,” says Hendrie. “But wildlife doesn’t have the time to wait.”

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Rhino horns seized in a police raid are displayed at a customs office in Hanoi on March 14, 2017.

Source STR / AFP / Getty Images

And what about my langurs in Da Nang? In 2013, the year after I left Vietnam, GreenViet, a small NGO founded by young primatologist Ha Thang Long, turned its attentions to the Son Tra Peninsula. “We were having a hard time protecting monkeys from poaching in the remote forests of central Vietnam,” says GreenViet communications officer Le Thi Trang. “So we thought we’d try a more urban environment.” The decision has paid off. By promoting the langur as an icon of Da Nang — not easy, given that monkeys are considered bad luck — GreenViet has managed to mobilize the residents to protect their new mascot. In the past four years, there have been only two poaching cases, though it seems unlikely that means the problem is nearly solved. Although the construction of luxury hotels on the peninsula threatens the langurs’ habitat, GreenViet is confident that living so close to a city could save the species from extinction.

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Lam Kim Hai, a veterinarian with Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, holds an injured pangolin in Cuc Phuong National Park in Ninh Binh province.

Source Hoang Dinh Nam / AFP / Getty Images

Save Vietnam’s Wildlife focuses on protecting armadillo-like pangolins, whose scales are believed to augment breast milk, although no scientific evidence supports this folk belief. Since its inception in 2014, the NGO has conducted education programs with schoolchildren and law enforcement officers, worked with authorities on legislation, released nearly 400 pangolins back into the wild and opened Vietnam’s first pangolin and carnivore conservation and rescue center. Surveys conducted by SVW in conjunction with the Humane Society International show reduced consumption of pangolin meat in recent years and increases in the confiscation of illegally harvested pangolins.

One issue facing conservation in Vietnam is the disparity in motivation between wealthy cities and the underdeveloped countryside where poaching occurs. Some experts also cite an age split between progressive millennials and their more traditional elders. But if social pressure continues to reduce demand, coupled with a tightened border security, conservationists hope that poachers will soon have nowhere to sell their products. Even China seems to have seen the light — up to a point. Demand for ivory has been halved in the past four years, and Beijing has pledged to eliminate the ivory trade by the end of 2017.

Just before I left Vietnam, I rode out to Son Tra one last time. As I approached the headland of the peninsula, wind in my hair and sea air in my lungs, I was greeted by a barbed-wire fence across the road. Sitting on my bike, watching the yellow hard hats of construction workers swarm on the beach below, I was convinced that my children would never see a douc langur in what was left of the wild. Now, only five years later, I’m starting to think that maybe I was wrong. 

* Correction: The length of time for reduced consumption of pangolin meat has been altered from the original version of this story.

8 Ways to Get Weird in Seattle

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Among the things Seattleites avoid sharing with outsiders is their affinity for the rain, so frequently disparaged by the rest of the U.S. But that disdain for sogginess is considered a plus for those who look past the precipitation to enjoy the secret spaces that Seattle has to offer, weird spaces that have remained favorite guilty pleasures to those in the know. So feel free to explore the likes of the Space Needle and Pike Place with everyone else, but to really know what the city gets up to? Check out these random camp experiences.

Dick’s Drive-In

Dick Spady was serving great burgers fast at low prices in Seattle long before Ray Kroc happened upon the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino, California. Some 63 years later, in a city with a remarkably sophisticated food scene, more than 175,000 denizens of the Emerald City recently vied with one another to get Dick’s in their neighborhoods. In what has to be the epitome of understatement, Jim Spady, company vice president and son of the founder, says, “Our most valuable recommendations always come from satisfied customers.” With a menu virtually identical to that of the first location in 1954 (burgers, fries, shakes, soda and sundaes — period), Dick’s and, of course, making Dick jokes is loved by Seattleites.

 

Fremont Solstice Naked Bike Ride 

Speaking of dick jokes … each year, the Fremont Solstice Cyclists give the annual Fremont Solstice Parade everything they’ve got — and, for some, that means giving up their clothes. Many opt to cycle naked with the parade each year to celebrate the return of summer. In fact, the event has become something of an institution in the city’s artsy Fremont neighborhood, which is known for its heavy counterculture influence. “The ride is a celebration of ‘Fremont weird,’ ” says Lynsi Burton, who writes for Seattle pi, a local news website. “It’s about friendship, bonding and community, not exhibitionism.” Still, when it comes to celebrating the summer solstice, certain residents do go all out — literally.

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The Painted Cyclists of the Fremont Solstice Parade.

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Unicorn Bar

The queen of the alternative scene in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, Unicorn combines a French circus atmosphere with wickedly powerful drinks and bar food delicacies such as Unicorn Balls. OK, so they’re actually deep-fried pork balls with ginger, scallions and sweet chili aioli, but every food that Unicorn serves is deep-fried — including its hamburgers. The signature dessert— Unicorn Droppings — has been described as what would happen if a banana and a chocolate bar wrapped themselves in a blanket of pastry and copulated in a vat of boiling fat. This, along with Unicorn’s carnival atmosphere, death-defying drinks and raucous crowds (seemingly all celebrating their 21st birthday), make for a night you’ll struggle to remember. Truth be told, yeah — it’s probably best you forget.

Go There: More Emerald City Weirdness

  • Mystery Soda Machine: Nobody knows who put this rusting pop dispenser on the corner of John Street and 10th Avenue, nor who restocks it and collects the coins. Press the mystery button and see what fizzy beverage fate hands you.
  • Topless Coffee Shops: Women wear bikinis, lingerie or just pasties while pouring your steaming-hot coffee  —  the only drawback being that it tastes like coffee poured by women wearing bikinis, lingerie or just pasties. 
  • Weird Steve’s House: An ode to “horror vacui” — the fear of empty spaces — this klepto’s dream home is filled with quack instruments, funeral paraphernalia, antique toasters and wreaths of human hair. You can view it all online.
  • The Fremont Troll: He’s 18 feet tall, encased in concrete and clutching an old Volkswagen. And while your mother may have taught you not to hang out beneath overpasses, it’s perfectly safe to pay him a night visit.
  • Meowtropolitan: Cat cafés are all the rage in China, but we’re skeptical. Still, if you can get over the ickiness of paying to see cats in what’s essentially a feline strip club— touching allowed! — then more power to you.

The Almost Unbearable Greatness of Hockey’s Unsung Hero

Eddie Giacomin

There’s a certain dissonance when you watch film from the 1960s. Not just the older film stock and unfathomable fashion choices, but in the case of older sports videos with hockey goalie nonpareil Eddie Giacomin, there’s something else you can’t put your finger on. Until you can. In a sport where the puck can sometimes reach speeds of almost 109 miles per hour — the current speed holder being the estimable Zdeno Chára of the Boston Bruins — Giacomin is not wearing a mask.

Eddie Giacomin

“Fast Eddie” takes to the ice in 1975.

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“I do think you see the puck better without a mask,” Giacomin told the Hockey News in 1970. And if seeing is believing, the seasons leading up to 1970 — when Giacomin led the National Hockey League with 37 wins in 1968 and 1969, along with being a Second Team All-Star — should be enough to make you a believer. If hockey’s not your thing, this might be a reach, but the fact that Giacomin, a 5-foot-11 Canadian, chose hockey over baseball and football, where he had left a mark, is noteworthy when you consider it was years before anyone in hockey even wanted him in hockey.

“Why are you giving him some kind of special bonus, anyway?” The phone line from New York crackles to life with the voice of 85-year-old Stan Fischler, “the Hockey Maven,” suffering fools none too gladly. Fischler knows more about hockey than lots of us know about lots of other things, having won two New York Emmy Awards for his reporting and commentary on hockey for MSG Networks. “Giacomin was a good goalie. Not a GREAT goalie.”

In Fischler’s mind, the difference between good and great was simple: cups. Stanley Cups, to be exact. And while Giacomin is a bona fide Hall of Famer, hockey’s biggest prize eluded him. No Stanley Cup? No claim to greatness, offers Fischler. But this didn’t stop Emile Francis, a semi-visionary general manager (“but a horrible goalie,” according to the irrepressible Fischler), from running Giacomin up the flagpole to see if he was worth being saluted.

Giacomin was one hell of a competitor, was pretty acrobatic and he could stop a puck.

Stan Fischler, hockey expert and commentator

Giacomin, later known as “Fast Eddie” on account of his penchant for beating the forwards to the puck, gamed up to make up for what he may have lacked in pure talent. Not only via slick acrobatic stuff on the ice, but also with that real kind of gritty shit that gets you into the Hall of Fame.

“You ever have your hand skated over with hockey skates? You know what that feels like?” asks longtime journeyman forward and former coach Kevin Conahan. The question was rhetorical since, according to Conahan, it feels like getting sliced with a sword … and to keep playing afterward? Most are not doing it, but Giacomin did in the 1971-72 Stanley Cup playoffs. In a game that saw his team beating the Chicago Blackhawks. Yeah, that kind of gritty shit.

 

“Look, back then, goalies were arguably tougher than the MMA pros of today,” says Gregory Kosanovich, a 15-year beer leaguer who had been lucky enough to skate with guys who played junior and minors, and some former San Jose Sharks. “They played without masks and were frequently scarred badly in the face to the point of permanent disfigurement and even blindness.”

A take seconded by Fischler, who supports the notion that goaltenders today can’t hold either a candle or a stick to those of Giacomin’s ilk. “Without a mask it’s a different game — different angles and how you have to approach the net,” Fischler says. With today’s goalies stretching the tape at 6 feet 5 inches sometimes, and at least 210 pounds, according to Fischler, artistry is gone. “Fear played a big factor back then,” Fischler says. “How you moved, the kind of guts you had facing down anything coming his way, everything. Giacomin was one hell of a competitor, was pretty acrobatic and he could stop a puck,” he admits.

Like it owed him money. Fast and hard.

Eddie Giacomin

The face that faced 1,000 pucks.

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The year after Giacomin led the league in wins, he got eight shutouts and the Vezina Trophy for best goaltending. Leading all of us unrepentant Giacomin lovers to fall back not only on the long shadow he cast on the league in the early ’70s but also the fact that sometimes good goalies are carried by great teams, and a Stanley Cup is not an automatic indicator of goalie greatness. 

Beyond that, on the back of a bad Rangers team in 1975, Giacomin was waived to the Detroit Red Wings, and when he came back to New York to play against his old team, he got a standing ovation. And what’s more, New Yorkers cheered for Eddie throughout the game, even booing their own team when they could and screaming his name over and over again: Eddie. Eddie. Eddie!

The evening’s outcome? Red Wings 6, Rangers 4.

Brazil’s Rand Paul: Can Libertarianism Fix Crime and Corruption?

Fabio Ostermann

Fabio Ostermann’s office in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre boasts a bookshelf with rows dedicated to Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises. On top sits a copy of the American Declaration of Independence, a ukulele and a cartoon blow-up doll of Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, dressed in the black-and-white stripes of a prison uniform, sporting an inmate’s number.

Over the former president’s mouth, it reads “Menos Marx, mais Mises” — less Marx, more Mises, the latter referring to libertarian pioneer Ludwig von Mises.

Ostermann, 32, is a key player in Brazil’s growing libertarian movement, which has risen against a backdrop of the country’s collapsing left. He’s led youth groups on college campuses, co-organized some of the country’s largest-ever protests — which may have helped impeach the country’s leftist president, Dilma Rousseff. Now, he’s the president of the Social Liberty Party in his home state, which he is reforming to defend classical libertarian ideals.

He ran and lost for mayor of his hometown of Porto Alegre, but now has his eye on a lower house seat in 2018 — and on launching a larger campaign in next year’s presidential and congressional elections to occupy the political vacuum created by the left’s disintegration with a rebranded, youthful, American-influenced libertarianism. Ostermann’s brand of libertarianism calls for widespread privatizations, deregulation of the economy and open trade markets. He’s pro marijuana legalization and favors gay marriage. Sound familiar? For Americans, it should: Ostermann was trained by the United States’ most influential libertarian organizations — the Cato Institute, the Atlas Network and the Charles Koch Foundation. The latter, a grant-distributing organization, was founded by Charles Koch, one of the famous Koch brothers, who own the second-largest privately held company in the U.S. and are best known for using their vast fortune to support right-wing political causes. 

It Americanizes our political debate.

Camila Rocha, Ph.D. student studying the emergence of libertarian think tanks in Brazil

Ostermann, once a left-leaning law student (like many young people at the time, as he puts it), found his way into the D.C. “think tank scene,” as he says, after finishing university in Brazil. He took a course on libertarian theory with Cato and earned a Koch summer fellowship to work at the Atlas Network. Newly evangelized, Ostermann returned to Brazil in 2009, where he co-founded Estudantes pela Liberdade — the Brazilian chapter of Students for Liberty, another U.S.-based libertarian group.

The organization had matured in time for 2013’s mass protests over increasing bus fares, dissatisfaction with government services and Rousseff’s reelection. “We saw an opportunity,” he says. From that came the Free Brazil Movement. They started rallying hard to impeach Rousseff. On March 15, 2015, Free Brazil and other organizations mobilized 3 million people to protest in 229 cities across the country — the largest protest since the fall of the military dictatorship in 1985. The rest is history. Free Brazil remains controversial, in part for protesting Rousseff so heavily without levying the same criticisms against right-wing President Michel Temer. Ostermann has since left. The group has splintered, and he reflects that the group became too partisan, with some of its leaders cozying up to traditional political parties.

 

This makes Ostermann part of an increasing number of Brazilians who are coming of age in the image of American libertarian think tankers. Atlas, for instance, holds an increasing presence in Brazil, where it offers several online and in-person seminars in Portuguese. Skeptics see the ideological cultural exchange as nothing new. “I think it’s just continuing a tradition; Americans have always manipulated us,” says Juremir Machado da Silva, a columnist and radio show host, citing the U.S. alignment with Brazil’s military dictatorship. 

Camila Rocha, a Ph.D. student at the University of São Paulo who’s studying the emergence of U.S.-style libertarian think tanks in Brazil and Latin America, says Atlas teaches young Brazilians how to found think tanks, manage libertarian organizations, develop an internet presence and, crucially, become what she calls a “polemista” (a polemic figure) via op-eds and media appearances. Between Atlas and Cato, they’ve trained many of the leaders of Brazil’s new right wing. “It Americanizes our political debate; it brings those proposals to the Brazilian context,” Rocha says. “Libertarianism itself is something that never even existed in Brazil, this ultra-individualist vision.” She cites the calls for privatization sans regulation. “And they call for privatizations of sectors in Brazil that have always had the consensus they should be public and free, like education and health care.” 

But American-imported or not, Ostermann speaks about policy in his national context. If elected, Ostermann’s first policy order of business would be the mass privatization of Brazil’s $70 billion-plus social safety net. He supports voucher systems for private schools and health care. “I don’t think the government has the competence or capacity to manage these services in a country as chaotic as Brazil,” he says, though he’s happy to let the government spend on sanitation, security and “basic infrastructure.” (That doesn’t include soccer stadiums, he adds, in sardonic reference to some $25 billion spent on the World Cup and the Olympics in 2014 and 2016 — though that number is frequently contested in Brazil.) 

When talking marijuana legalization, he situates his pro stance in response to Brazil’s bloody drug landscape, where drug crime causes near-constant violence in urban centers. In 2015, Brazil had more than 56,000 homicides, landing it the world’s highest murder rate in terms of absolute numbers, which in large part is due to drug-related crimes. In turn, Brazil also has the world’s fourth-largest prison population. “To leave drug traffickers and cartels to have a monopoly over marijuana is a crime against society and an ineffective way to spend taxpayer money,” he says.

Ostermann defends this latter stance despite the fact that it may have lost him his race last year. It’s his obsession with ideological purity that might keep him and his party from finding success. “I think Brazil isn’t prepared for this — Brazilian politics is very polarized right now. It’s black and white, right or left,” says da Silva. “To voters, I think he comes across as too in the middle; he wants to be both at the same time … this discourse in Brazil doesn’t stick.”

How to Turn Up the Heat on North Korea

North Koreans wave to soldiers

John McLaughlin teaches at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and was deputy director and acting director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004. Follow him on Twitter: @jmclaughlinSAIS.

The new South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, visits Washington this Friday at a moment when U.S. diplomatic and military options for dealing with North Korea are tightening. China remains central to Washington’s success or failure, but America faces tough choices in seeking to apply maximum pressure on Pyongyang.

The death last week of University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier after a year in North Korean detention added a poignant note to what had been mainly concern about the North’s accelerating nuclear and missile threat. The North has carried out five nuclear tests, two in 2016, with the last achieving the magnitude of the U.S. bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. By various estimates, Pyongyang already has somewhere between 12 and 20 nuclear bombs, and its missile program is moving quickly through tests to master the difficult steps required to get an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) across the Pacific to the U.S. West Coast. 

One thing I learned in dealing with the North Korean problem is to never get too far out of step with South Korea.

American military options are limited, relying mostly on defensive measures — systems to shoot down North Korea missiles. The White House is hoping to base some anti-missile systems in South Korea, though the new government in Seoul is wavering on this. To further guard against anything with intercontinental range, the United States on May 20 successfully tested a more robust anti-missile system on one of its own long-range missiles. For extra security and to further pressure supreme leader Kim Jong-un, we could also propose basing some systems in Japan and on U.S. vessels to move along regional coastlines near North Korea. 

In 2006, former Secretaries of Defense William Perry and Ash Carter (newly retired) proposed a preemptive strike to deal with what was then seen as a future North Korea intercontinental nuclear capability. That option was always bound to risk serious North Korean retaliation with conventional weapons capable of pounding Seoul. But the risk has now become unacceptable given North Korea’s expanded stock of missiles, some of which may already be nuclear capable. Perry recently said he would not consider a preemptive strike today. 

 

One thing I learned in dealing with the North Korean problem is to never get too far out of step with South Korea. We must never forget that it’s their peninsula, that they know things we may not and that they deserve a decisive vote in any proposed action. When South Korean president Moon visits Washington next week, he will come with proposals for some combination of pressure and engagement, the latter aimed at getting North Korea back to the bargaining table. The White House should give him a fair hearing. 

North Korea missle

This April 15, 2017 picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 16, 2017 shows Korean People’s ballistic missiles being displayed through Kim Il-Sung square during a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.

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Moon’s engagement ideas trace back to the late 1990s when, as an adviser to then President Kim Dae-jung, Moon participated in what Kim called his “sunshine policy.” The theory was that a mix of joint economic projects, family visits, investment and tourism would expose the North to outside influence and gradually moderate the regime’s behavior. Kim Dae-jung and one successor recognized that the policy did not achieve all that they’d intended, but argued that it calmed North-South relations to a degree and was not in place long enough to get a fair test.

Moon has not been clear on what kind of pressure he recommends for the North, but the U.S. might be able to persuade him that stepped-up sanctions would also help push Kim Jong-un into talks. Moon has mentioned a freeze of the North Korean nuclear program as a worthy intermediate goal. To have real bite, sanctions would have to be expanded to include penalties for any banks that do business with North Korea — the approach the U.S. used to pressure Iran to suspend its nuclear program. Some Chinese banks would be hit, likely provoking protest from Beijing, because such sanctions would deny these banks access to the U.S. banking system and, by extension, to the international financial network.

China did go along with such sanctions against Iran, but Beijing probably puts North Korea in a different category because it is next door and a long-time Chinese partner. China also wants to avoid pressures on Pyongyang that could fracture the regime and strengthen Western influence on the peninsula. At the same time, China has incentives to cooperate: It worries about the destabilizing effects of nuclear weapons in the hands of a young, untested North Korean leader; it values its economic relationship with the U.S.; and Beijing certainly doesn’t want to risk spurring development of Japanese and South Korean nuclear arsenals. 

Another possible tool for pressuring Pyongyang is the Proliferation Security Initiative, a program begun by George W. Bush and signed by 105 countries. It authorizes cargo inspections of vessels suspected of carrying banned nuclear and other materials. Given widespread concerns about the North selling its nuclear and missile technology, we could make a case for more frequently inspecting North Korean vessels as part of a program to increase its commercial and economic isolation. 

If some such combination of pressure and engagement does not get Kim Jong-un to the table, and if he eventually achieves a nuclear-capable ICBM, we will have to rely on classic deterrence: any use of such weapons being met with devastating retaliation. This worked during the Cold War, but we had diplomatic relations with a fundamentally stable Soviet Union and a long tradition of bilateral negotiations and arms control — all of which are missing in this case.

So deterrence is not ideal. But it is what kept the Cold War cold, and that, combined with missile defense, may be the burden we and North Korea’s neighbors will ultimately have to bear.

Should the U.S. Be a Christian Nation? We Asked, You Answered

Religion

Our question last week delved into faith: Does religion have a role in politics? And should the United States be a Christian nation? Here are your thoughts, edited for clarity. 

Robert Boyce

The U.S. was founded on the principle of religious freedom, and by instituting Christianity into the law (even more so than it already is), we would be not only marginalizing non-Christians (even more so than they already are), but also disobeying the wishes of the Founding Fathers who are so often the topic of conversation when the right wing so often discuss what they perceive as wrong with this nation.

Kristina Hughes

Indeed, the U.S. should remain a Christian country. It’s what we were founded on after all. It’s what makes us proud to be who we are. 

This does not mean that in our country, we allow things that are inhumane, even though they might be part of someone’s religion. Case in point: Sharia law and the cutting off of [the] clitoris of young women. This is cruel and inhumane, and when minors are subjected to this violation of their body, it should be 100 percent illegal, and those who force this should be prosecuted. 

Those who live in our country should be appreciative that they are here, worshipping, and should not then tell us Christians that we cannot celebrate our holidays. Just because we are open to allowing others to worship does not mean we should have to shield ourselves. We should be allowed to say Merry Christmas without feeling like it’s a crime!

William Davis

America, simply, IS Christian. The only separation is to keep the fed OUT of the church’s face. Protect freedom OF religion … NOT FROM religion!

 

Joe Summer

Yes, everything from our history is Christian. Our currency, the world’s benchmark, reads “In God We Trust.” We swear our elected officials in with a Bible. It is our country and our colorful, rich history.

William Harbig

IMHO there is no place in politics for religion. Nor is it right to use the law to impose religious beliefs, or behavior mandated by them, on those who might not agree or accept them. To do otherwise is tyranny.

Brittany Harrington

Religion currently does play a role in politics, but it shouldn’t. Christianity itself is hard to define; so it’s almost impossible to determine what a “Christian nation” would be. Christianity should be simply following in Jesus’ footsteps and loving thy neighbor, but instead the church has become an oppressive corporation that cherry-picks parts of Scripture to bolster discriminatory practices that keep a select few elite in power.

Sandra

I’m an American living in the Middle East. I’ve lived here 30 years. Beirut, to be specific. And I can tell you people may say a problem is political, but underneath it’s always religion. We’ve had small civil wars and big ones. I’ve been through it all, and it’s always religion, religion. Scratch the surface and it’s religion. Oh, you’ll have to peel some layers away but in the end, it’s religion.  

Marty Dressel

My conclusion is that yes, religion played a role in this election. Unfortunately, as Americans watched, it was a negative role.

Joe Duffy

William Penn founded Pennsylvania on religious tolerance. On our currency, we inscribe “In God We Trust.” We say  “God Bless America.” We have separation of church and state. God has a place in our lives, and we are “WE the People.”

Allan Xiao

God doesn’t allow abortion, God doesn’t allow … Says who? In fact, who wrote the Bible? Not God …

All the wars powered by religion (ISIS, al-Qaida, Iraq, etc.). Yes, religion may be part of it, but I’m sure there were other motives. The whole WMD thing pretty much turned out to be a complete lie, but “we had to invade in order to protect and do what’s right.”

And I guess you can tell I’m nonreligious. I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican because I refuse to be associated with a herd (for better or worse). Again, our political system is rigged; the majority of citizens are basically treated by politicians like a herd of dumb (misinformed, uneducated) sheep. And religion is just another way to drive the herd.

Janet Kim 

I believe America is in a state of decline as witnessed by the Trump cabinet. Betsy DeVos and Mike Pence want to promote our nation as a Christian nation, exclusive of respecting other religions. Our country was founded on religious freedom. We are a nation of diversity, not exclusion.

What do you think? Let us know by emailing thirdrail@ozy.com or commenting below.

Hit the Beach With This Caribbean Band’s Banana-Sweet Beats

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Third track in and I’m already soaking in a slow-mo trance. It’s beach sand between my toes. It’s splashing around in the waves. It’s banana-sweet guitars and hot showers of brass. The name of the song is “Hummingbird,” and if that means I’m supposed to feel like I’m buzzing and floating, then, baby, I am.

Welcome to the sounds of Ondatrópica, a music project run by 39-year-old Colombian producer and cumbia wizard Mario Galeano Toro and 37-year-old British DJ Will Holland, aka Quantic. Their March 2017 record Baile Bucanero showcases 38 musicians from around the region digging up and brushing off the buried (musical) treasures of Colombia’s Providence Island, a former English colony overrun by the Spanish that sits off the coast of Nicaragua. This is a place where cumbia, calypso and other Caribbean and Colombian sounds from way back when are brought to life through modern electronic bass and keyboard as well as native island instruments. Can you actually make music on horse jaws? You can, and they do, on Providence Island. 

The twittering horns, amusing melody and cruise-ship tempo could be right out of Wes Anderson’s next film.

Galeano spent four months recording with Quantic on the island. And now Ondatrópica is taking its musical treasure to Latin American capitals; even Paris and New York City are catching on. In Europe and the U.S., “people seem to be going crazy” for tropical dance parties inspired by Ondatrópica’s creations, Galeano tells OZY. Colombian electro-cumbia group Bomba Estéreo (profiled by OZY in 2015) is receiving international attention and in turn helping upstarts like Ondatrópica get legit.

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Mario Galeano Toro performing with Ondatrópica in Bogotá.

Source Ondatrópica / Facebook

Galeano studied Arabic and African music in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, before returning to Bogotá, where he started DJ’ing. His idea was to show the city’s rock lovers there was something else to cumbia, a genre his people had come to view strictly as Christmas music. Galeano went beyond Bogotá, though — he started hooking up with Mexican cumbia fanatics and Argentine groups toying with the sound, like the Zizek collective in Buenos Aires. In 2012, the British Council gave him and Quantic resources and the green light they needed to put together Ondatrópica. 

What you hear on Baile Bucanero “is an outpouring of psychedelia. There’s an African-American spirit there from the 1960s and 1970s, and a whiff of Fela Kuti,” Colombian music expert Luisa Piñeros tells OZY. Indeed, there is a lot going on. Take “Lazalypso,” for example: The twittering horns, amusing melody and cruise-ship tempo could be right out of Wes Anderson’s next film. And then there’s “Trustin’” — something more brooding, a dark soul carried by a plodding reggae beat. 

 

To be sure, Ondatrópica is not for everyone. Lovers of profound indie lyrics might not find what they’re looking for. Hate the whiny trill of the accordion? This might not be for you, amigo

That being said, it’s hard to ignore the place where Galeano and Quantic recorded their tracks and all its enchantment: Providence. “The fact that it’s recorded on Providence Island shows how much interest Mario and Quantic have to go above and beyond,” says Piñeros. “In a few years, this will be an X-ray for what happened in one of the most prolific chapters of music in Colombia.” 

Baile Bucanero is available from U.K. label Soundway Records.

The Battle for a Free Internet in Africa

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Earlier this year, Valery Colong Nyiwung lost $10,000 in just three months — almost 10 times the annual per capita income of Cameroon. And it wasn’t from playing the ponies. The only bet the tech entrepreneur made seemed to have winning odds: co-founding ActivSpaces, one of Cameroon’s leading technology hubs and an enterprise — naturally — that’s heavily reliant on reliable internet service. Nyiwung’s bad luck was to establish his company in a West African country where the government “requests” that telecommunications companies shut down the internet whenever it wants to stifle political dissent in certain parts of the country. 

Good for repression, bad for business. And Nyiwung is far from alone in his predicament. According to the Brookings Institution, from July 2015 through June 2016, a total of nine internet shutdowns or network disruptions primarily for political reasons in seven African countries cost businesses there more than $400 million. That may not sound like much, but it’s an ominous trend on a continent where internet commerce is poised to contribute as much as $300 billion a year to the African GDP by 2025, according to a report from McKinsey & Company.

A government cannot say that it wants to fully get into the digital economy and treat the essential commodity of that economy in the way we have seen so far.

Julie Owono, Africa Desk, Internet Sans Frontières

A 2015 report from Telegeography showed that international internet growth in Africa continues to outpace other parts of the world, but this growth can only continue when the government understands that “it has more to lose than to win by censoring the internet,” says Julie Owono, head of the Africa Desk at Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders). “A government cannot say that it wants to fully get into the digital economy and treat the essential commodity of that economy in the way we have seen so far,” says Owono.

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Young men surf the internet at a cybercafe on June 20, 2012, in Nairobi.

Source Gettyimages

The Republic of Congo government blocked access to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and other platforms on the eve of the re-election of President Denis Sassou Nguesso, who has been in power for more than 30 years, citing “security and national safety of its citizens” as the reason. As a result, the business community there lost more than $72 million in 15 days. In 2016, Uganda’s five days of social media disruption ordered by the Electoral Commission for security reasons cost more than $2 million during voting and the inauguration of five-term president Yoweri Museveni.

Politically motivated shutdowns also have taken place in Gambia, Ethiopia, Chad, Gabon and Burundi. In 2016, Algerian businesses were collateral damage to the tune of more than $20 million when the government disrupted social media for six days as a way to stop students from cheating on exams, according to a report from the Brookings Institution.

 

Nyiwung describes his offline months with exasperation. And why not? After all, Buea is on the slopes of so-called Silicon Mountain, Cameroon’s tech capital. He’s supposed to be a driver of the new Cameroon economy. And yet those 94 days tell a discouraging tale of revenue lost: contracts in negotiation, time spent on daily two-hour commutes to Douala, where the internet was still up and running, lost opportunities. “I won’t say the cost has been recovered,” Nyiwung writes via WhatsApp, one of the unavailable messenger services during the network disruption. “It will never be recovered.”

Bigger picture, the downtime intended to thwart political dissent cost Cameroon’s economy an estimated $4.5 million, according to Access Now, an advocacy and policy organization dedicated to protecting the individual’s right to an open and free internet. Some experts think that figure doesn’t begin to cover the damage. “[It] doesn’t include the informal economy, which in a country like Cameroon a lot of people rely on to survive,” says Deji Olukotun, global advocacy manager at Access Now. “It doesn’t capture the social unrest that occurs, or the fact that people’s social services are cut off, and they can lose basic opportunities to support themselves.”

Telecommunication companies operating in pull-the-plug countries also have borne the financial brunt of government-mandated network disruptions. Yves Nissim of Orange Cameroon, the country’s second-largest telecommunication company, confirms that the organization lost 20 percent of its normal revenue because of the shutdowns in early 2017. The senior official also stated that two staff members were taken into police custody for unknown reasons, which is why the company complied with the government’s orders. According to Owono, telecommunication companies are faced with a Hobson’s choice: In order to operate in the country, the company agrees to comply with government mandates.

Legally, many African governments have enshrined the right to institute internet shutdowns of any kind. A study by Paradigm Initiative, which profiled 30 African countries, reports that cybersecurity legislation in most of these countries contains vague laws that give the government power to monitor user traffic, access user data, block websites, jail or fine individuals and companies for information shared online or shut down the internet if the government feels that it is in the interest of public safety.

Despite how much the internet has jump-started economies in Africa or created new ones, it doesn’t seem like enough of an incentive for the government to #KeepItOn.