Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Why It Matters that Gary Johnson Doesn’t Know What Aleppo Is

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson made a big mistake. Asked what he would do about Aleppo, he responded with “What is Aleppo?”:

Once the point was clarified, he then proceeded to give a meandering answer in which he repeatedly called Syria “a mess”. He did not address the refugee crisis and the closest he came to offering any position on Aleppo was to suggest that we need to “join hands with Russia”. There was no indication of what goals Johnson might have in a negotiation with Russia nor any explanation of how he would pursue those goals. A lot of people, including Johnson himself, are making excuses for this. Their excuses are bad. Here’s why.

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Does Colin Kaepernick Have a Case?

San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback Colin Kaepernick has drawn controversy for his decision to sit during the singing of the American national anthem. He said:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

The protest undoubtedly puts the 49ers in a difficult situation–if they stand by their quarterback, they risk offending conservative supporters and if they repudiate him they risk offending supporters of Black Lives Matter. If they try to thread the needle, they risk upsetting all sides. From a football standpoint, protests like this are bad business. This is why Kaepernick makes no attempt to justify the protest from a football standpoint–for him, the issue is bigger than football. It takes a strong commitment for an athlete to do something like this. In 1996, the Denver Nuggets’ star point guard, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, also chose to sit during the anthem. He was fined $30,000 and traded to the Sacramento Kings at the end of the season, even though he had just had a career year averaging almost 20 points per game shooting almost 40% from three point range and 93% from the free throw line. All the Nuggets got in return was Sarunas Marciulionis, an ageing shooting guard who had been slowed by a crippling leg injury and averaged just 10 points per game for the Kings that year. Abdul-Rauf’s new team stuck him on the bench behind mediocre journeyman Anthony Johnson, and Abdul-Rauf was out of the league two years later. He was only 28. Three years later he attempted a brief comeback for the Vancouver Grizzlies–a Canadian franchise at that time–but it quickly fizzled. Abdul-Rauf was one of the greatest off the dribble shooters of his generation. Phil Jackson compared him to this year’s MVP, Steph Curry:

He infamously dropped 51 points on the Utah Jazz’s hall of fame point guard John Stockton, an elite defender with multiple all-NBA defensive team awards who holds the all-time career steals record (and it’s not close):

But in the middle of his prime he was cast aside for pennies on the dollar because the Nuggets did not want their brand associated with his politics. Abdul-Rauf received death threats for years, and in 2001 his home was burned to the ground–Abdul-Rauf suspects it was arson by the klan. That’s the risk Kaepernick is taking for his beliefs. He and his family may lose a lot of money and the safety of their property and persons may even be called into question. So I want to take what he’s saying seriously and consider its substance.

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What’s Going on with the Dakota Access Pipeline?

There are protests in North Dakota over the half-complete Dakota Access Pipeline. The plan is for the DAP to carry 400,000 barrels of oil per day from North Dakota to existing pipeline infrastructure in Illinois. This is about half the capacity of the larger Keystone XL Pipeline, which President Obama cancelled in response to protests from environmental groups. While Keystone was planned to transport Canadian shale oil, the DAP is a domestic pipeline transporting American fracking oil. Because it is a domestic pipeline, regulatory standards are not as high for the DAP, and this has made it easier for the pipeline to secure the relevant permits. While there has been some media coverage, the DAP protests have been pushed to the periphery of the American political agenda by the US presidential race, which has at this point devolved entirely into horse race reporting–who is winning, why they are winning, what the loser needs to do to turn things around, etc.–with no serious policy emphasis. This does the issue a disservice, so I’d like to take a closer look at it.

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The Case for a Coup in Turkey

In July Turkey experienced a failed military coup against the elected government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the conservative Justice and Development Party (in Turkish, Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi or AKP).  The Turkish government blames the coup on Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish preacher living in exile in the United States whom the government regards as a terrorist. It is demanding his extradition, but the United States has to this point refused to comply without hard evidence connecting Gülen to the coup. In the meantime, the Turkish government has declared a state of emergency and begun suspending, imprisoning, or firing tens of thousands of political opponents, including 9,000 police officers, 21,000 private school teachers, 10,000 soldiers, nearly 3,000 judges, 1,500 university deans, and more than 100 media outlets have been forcibly shuttered. This political purge is an escalation of a pattern of behavior that existed before the coup. For a long time Erdoğan and the AKP have concentrated power, acting against the press and against Turkey’s civil society and eroding Turkey’s secular norms. Those who support Erdoğan tell a story in which an embattled democratically elected president is beset by a would-be junta, but the situation in Turkey is considerably more complicated than that, and there is a strong case that Turkey’s constitution is not up to the task of protecting Turkey’s political system from increasingly unlimited abuse.

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The Left in Britain: Debating the Merits of Corbyn and Smith

The British Labour Party is having another leadership contest, just one year after current leader Jeremy Corbyn defeated three rivals, 59.5% of the vote. Corbyn’s opponents have rallied behind a single challenger, Owen Smith. Smith’s supporters claim that Labour cannot win an election under Corbyn while Corbyn’s supporters claim that Smith is a Trojan horse for a Tory-lite party establishment. As the campaign has unfolded, Corbyn has sought to reassure supporters that he has a credible electoral strategy while Smith has sought to persuade Labour voters that he is a strong advocate for the left. Who is right and what is going on? Let’s have a think.

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