Weekend Reading

This is how it looked here on the farm in late October a few years back. We’re not there yet, but it’s close. Wile E. Coyote has run past the cliff’s edge but has yet to fall. The leaves are set to change, summoning up traffic jams of flatland gawkers, but just now we’re in silent suspension, hanging in the air, waiting for the start of the race to autumn.

I see this morning that larger news organizations have picked up the article I found yesterday in a little website called TheLocal.se. It’s a feel good story. If you skipped over it then, go back and check it out.

That discussion of the post-Cold War world that’s been missing for years is suddenly wide open, so it’s mostly political theory in this weekend’s reading, kind of academic. If you’re deep in an absorbing novel, permission to skip over this week’s list. But given the roiling unease in the Western democracies, the state of our political systems is worth some thought.

The unapologetic American interventionist Robert Kagan has published one of his periodic little books, this one called The Jungle Grows Back, and to support it, here is Kagan’s The World America Made – and Trump Wants to Unmake in Politico. (The American president not falling into any of the academy’s self-defined niches adds a little spice to all the arguments here).

Graham Allison says Kagan’s world was never thus in The Myth of the Liberal Order from Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom in an ungated article at Foreign Affairs (and Allison has been around just about since the creation of the post WWII order).

David Frum and Stephen M. Walt separately suggest the implausible this week. Frum writes that The Rebublican Party Needs to Embrace Liberalism in The Atlantic, and Walt chimes in with Socialists and Libertarians Need an Alliance Against the Establishment at ForeignPolicy.com.

There’s lots more, across the spectrum. See Peter Beinart’s call for a new Democratic foreign policy (hint: rehabilitate Finlandization), Hal Brands in Bloomberg and Daniel Larison in The American Conservative (who’s not buying Kagan). That ought to get you started.

In case you’re not enamored with political theory, here’s one more thing, completely different. Check out Norwegian Knut Arne Gjertsen’s blog. He has been to the gorgeous Faroe Islands and come back with a bunch of photos and fun tales.

And I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my book Out in the Cold, about the Faroese village of Saksun.

See you next week.

 

Shock and Awe

President Trump called the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership the worst arrangement ever concocted by mankind anywhere, pretty much. In his words, it would have been “a continuing rape of our country.”

He similarly criticized NAFTA, savaged Mexico and Canada and tore at the United States’ relationship with both close allies. He was particularly vocal in his anger at the Canadian dairy industry “Because in Canada, some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers,” Trump has said.

Thank goodness our savior is making American great again. The Negotiator in Chief has wielded his magic wand and voilà! A miracle! In an article headlined USMCA deal seen as win for Canada’s Trudeau, the Trump-friendly Washington Examiner reveals the awesome might of Trump the Negotiator:

“The move is expected to allow U.S. producers to gain 3.6 percent of the Canadian (dairy) market, up from the 3.25 percent that had previously been negotiated under the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which Trump pulled the U.S. out of.”

That’ll show ’em.

Weekend Reading

Only one must-read this weekend from here in soon-to-be-stormy Appalachia:

A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come, an epic, semi-autobiographical article by historian Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic magazine.

Ms. Applebaum has written extensively on the former Soviet Union and East Bloc, including a book that was really seminal for me, called Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, about a 1991 road trip across just collapsed eastern Europe. A Washington Post columnist married to Radek Sikorsky, a former Polish Foreign Minister, she’s uniquely positioned to write a first-person account of the changes in Poland over the past not quite thirty years.

And there have been astonishing changes. On my first trip to Warsaw, in March and April of 1992, state-owned enterprises, the stores in the buildings that lined the streets, had largely gone bust, and newly private commerce from Gdansk on the Baltic Sea to Tiranë, Albania on the Adriatic, was largely carried out through an ad-hoc system of hastily-assembled kiosks between the storefronts and the streets, Here is an example from near the Warsaw train station, a snapshot from 1992:

Today Warsaw presents as a modern, if still Stalinesque architecture-afflicted city.

But all is not well, in Poland or as Ms. Applebaum describes, Hungary and other parts of eastern Europe as well. Her article is well worth your time as a marker of the state of the region today. Especially if, as we look to be here, you are shut indoors with a storm raging outside.

Next week we return to Africa with a post on 3 Quarks Daily at the beginning of the week. I will repost it here next Wednesday. See you next week.

 

 

No Apocalypse Yet in Sweden

Agree with Anne Applebaum’s thinking in Sweden’s election once again undercuts the populist myth of the racial apocalypse. Everybody made the Sweden Democrats really, really scary for international consumption, but after all they increased their vote share to 17.6%, less than half of either of the existing alliances. Days are getting shorter across Scandinavia, but the sky has yet to fall.

 

Weekend Reading

Don’t know about you but the anonymous column in the New York Times doesn’t make me feel better. An unknown group within the executive branch doing unknown things to undermine a presidency that’s doing it best to undermine itself. Not reassuring.

For years I bemoaned the over-long interregnum between the end of the Cold War and whatever came next. Everybody knew the institutions fashioned after the Second World War, the IMF, the UN, NATO, needed restructuring to factor in the rise of players outside North America and Europe and all the other new realities, but nothing seemed to budge.

Change is finally coming hard and fast. My ten-cent theory is that the catalyst was the 2008 sub-prime crisis and the endless austerity pursued after it, coupled with resentment that none of the responsible players in the financial industry was seen to pay. All facilitated by around forty years of dedicated Neoliberal economics.

The “Post-Cold War world” lingered until it didn’t. Now, with changes coming like lightning, most political thinkers trying to come to grips with the new, still unnamed era, gravitate toward the rise of the loosely defined idea of “populism.”

Too loosely defined, says Jason Frank in Populism isn’t the problem in the Boston Review. He writes,

For … prominent advocates of the populist thesis (there is a) common danger posed to democracy by such disparate leaders as Trump and Chavez, Orbán and Morales, Erdoğan and López Obrador, and such disparate political movements and parties as Podemos and the Tea Party, Syriza and Alternative for Germany, the Five Star Movement and the National Front.”

“As Roger Cohen argued in a recent New York Times op-ed, … the term … has “become sloppy to the point of meaninglessness, an overused epithet for multiple manifestations of political anger.”

– Balakris takes a look at one of Neoliberalism’s favorite ideas, privatization, in Italy’s bridge disaster: an inquest into privatisation at ft.com.
– Adam Tooze takes a look at The Forgotten History of the Financial Crisis in Foreign Affairs (You may have to sign up for this one).
– Scooted along by the Euro crisis, European politics took the lead in the phenomenon of vanishing center parties. The U.S. is catching up, writes Gracy Olmstead at The Week, in The vanishing political center.
– In spite of his article’s title, Timothy Shenk is optimistic in Is Democracy Really Dying? in The New Republic.
– And last on the general subject of the shrinking center, the Swedish general election is Sunday. Couple of articles:
So Long, Swedish Welfare State? by Nima Sanandaji in Foreign Policy, and
A Guide to What Could Be the Most Uncertain Swedish Election Yet by Nick Rigillo at Bloomberg

Lighter stuff: August is the hottest month in our part of the world, so two articles about the north:
Vikings Razed the Forests. Can Iceland Regrow Them? by Henry Fountain at the New York Times, and two book reviews in
The Big Melt by Tim Flannery at the NYRB.
– And finally, just for fun, a really well-written article I thoroughly enjoyed, a book excerpt, The Worst Ever First Day on the Job by Finn Murphy at Literary Hub.

Have a good weekend. See you next week.

Sad!

“In May 2015, there were 69,460 jobs in coal mining itself — only 15,900 of which were extraction workers or helpers, mining machine operators or earth drillers. That’s 0.019 percent of the American workforce that month.”

– That’s from the Washington Post. The Bureau of Labor Statistics website says there are 2,800 more coal mining jobs now than in the month President Trump was elected.

Count me as an opponent of the Trump administration, but doggone it, it’s hard not to feel bad for the president (Yep, I just wrote that) out rallying tonight in West Virginia, working the 0.019 percent, looking for friends.

Because back in Washington today his 2016 campaign manager was convicted of corruption, while his personal lawyer pleaded guilty to eight crimes, naming the president as a co-conspirator in campaign finance violations.

The president is a Tweeter, not a poet. But if he were:

“Witch hunt witch hunt,
crooked Hillary, Pelosi too!
Remember we hire only the best,
that I can tell you.” Believe me.

Quotes: On Juncker and the Right Time to Retire

“The atmosphere in Brussels has become, of late, reminiscent of the late Brezhnev era. We have a political system run by a bureaucratic apparatus which — just like the former USSR — serves to conceal important evidence. Especially when it comes to the health of its supreme leader, Jean-Claude Juncker.”

From the article Jean-Claude drunker – What’s ailing the President of the European Commission? by Jean Quatremer at the London Spectator.