Saturday Commentary and Review #148
Venezuela Sets Its Sights on Guyana?, Only Newsom Can Go To China, Two Challenges to American Nationalism, Going Cashless is a "Bad Idea", RIP Shane MacGowan
Every weekend (almost) I share five articles/essays/reports with you. I select these over the course of the week because they are either insightful, informative, interesting, important, or a combination of the above.
Request: Please hit the like button at the top of the page. The more likes these entries get, the more attractive it is to new readers. This place continues to grow, and I would like to maintain the momentum. Just click the button at the top like this:
One of the most obvious strengths that the United States of America possesses is its geographic location. Bounded on both sides by vast oceans, it also has the run of the Western Hemisphere thanks to the lack of any domestic competitor to its unrivaled power, and due to its strict enforcement of the Monroe Doctrine which takes the position that any foreign meddling in the Americas is a potentially hostile act against it. When you combine this fortuitous defensive geographical setting with the abundant natural resources available to it, and an aggressive policy of neighbourhood maintenance on top of both of these factors, it makes the USA an impregnable redoubt.
The history of US interventions in Latin America is a long, long one, and it is something that most of you are already familiar with. Whether you cheer on the overthrow of the Allende regime in Chile in 1973, or lament the removal of the Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954, you can find many, many examples of American meddling from the Rio Grande all the way down to Tierra del Fuego. It is their backyard after all, whether you like it or not. Much like Russia will not tolerate NATO in Ukraine, the USA would never tolerate a Chinese client regime in Mexico, for example. The Cuban Missile Crisis showed us to which lengths the USA will go to in order to enforce the Monroe Doctrine.
Personally, I generally do not get as critical towards US interventionism in the Americas as I do when the Americans decide to insert themselves somewhere where they don’t belong in the Old World. This is easy for me to say as I am not from Nicaragua, or Chile, or El Salvador, etc. etc. etc. If you grant me the indulgence of being a pure analyst, I can argue for why the Monroe Doctrine is a valid one, so long as you permit me to separate theory from practice.
The USA remains the world’s biggest oil producer, but being number one is not sufficient for US strategic and economic concerns. Attempting (but failing) to remove Russian oil from the global market risked sending the price of crude sky high, and crashing economies around the world, including its own. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened. American policy planners continue to brace for oil price increases, which is why the USA eased some of the sanctions on Venezuelan oil. Venezuela is a big oil producer and is an OPEC member, and by bringing its product to the US market, the Americans can use it as a form of price insurance alongside satiating market demand.
The most important alliance the Americans had during the Cold War next to NATO was its alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Access to cheap oil fueled its economic growth, and the 1973 Oil Crisis underlined just how important this access was, not just to the USA, but to the West as a whole. Oil politics matter, even if its importance can sometimes be exaggerated. The world economy runs on oil, and controlling its production, and even more importantly, controlling who has access to the product, allows for an incredible amount of leverage over others.
I bring this up, because there is trouble a-brewin’ along the border between Venezuela and Guyana. In 2015, ExxonMobil discovered 11 billion barrels of oil off of the coast of Guyana, promising to “change the country forever”. The oil titan struck a lucrative deal with the government there to explore and produce oil for the global market, making the country’s strategic value to the USA (and regionally as well) rocket overnight. There is one big problem, however: Guyana’s border with Venezuela has been disputed for 200 years now, with the dispute never being fully resolved. To this day, Venezuela still claims the Essequibo region of Guyana, which is roughly 2/3rds of the country’s entire landmass:
Venezuela’s government has recently launched a referendum drive that it insists is non-binding and advisory only, on whether Essequibo should belong to it, and whether its residents should become Venezuelan citizens. Guyana is protesting, and the Brazilian army has been sent to the region that abuts this territory. I’ll turn to Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism to explain what is going on:
On Wednesday (Nov 29), the Ministry of Defence of neighbouring Brazil announced it was sending military reinforcements to its northern border as a precautionary measure. The northern Brazilian state of Roraima, in the middle of the Amazon jungle, shares a border with both Venezuela and Essequibo and Brasilia is concerned that the ratcheting tensions between its two neighbours could descend into violence.
Last week, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (aka Lula) sent his senior adviser, Celso Amorim, a former minister of defence and foreign secretary, to Caracas to meet with the President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, to express the Brazilian government’s concerns about the risk of war breaking out between the two countries. That meeting does not appear to have had the desired effect. On Wednesday, Lula posted a message on X reminding that (machine translated):
When a country decides to go to war, it is declaring the bankruptcy of dialogue. And I came into politics through dialogue, and I believe that it is much more sensible and effective to waste a few hours at negotiating tables than to go around shooting at random, killing innocent women, children and men.
The Brazilian government is particularly concerned about the possible fallout from a popular consultative referendum the Maduro government is holding this Sunday on the country’s territorial claims over Essequibo. The referendum includes five questions, the fifth of which is whether citizens agree that incorporating Essequibo as part of Venezuela’s own territory and granting its “current and future population” Venezuelan citizenship is a good idea.
Why are the Venezuelans doing this, and why now?
The move is largely seen by Maduro’s critics as an attempt to shore up domestic support at home and is also a response to Guyana’s increasingly close military ties with the US. Caracas insists that the referendum is purely consultative and non-binding, and that it has no intention of annexing the territory. But at the same time it is increasing its military activity close to the border with Essequibo, ostensibly to combat illegal mining activities.
Ominously, Venezuela’s Minister of Defence Vladimir Padrino López recently said the dispute with Guyana “is not an armed war, for now.”
“Go out and vote (in the referendum). This is not an armed war, for now, it is not an armed war,” he said, adding that the members of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces (FANB) will be “permanently on guard” for “any action that threatens” the country’s “territorial integrity.”
The government of Guyana is also raising the stakes. Up until last week it had repeatedly denied allegations from Caracas that it was planning to invite US Southern Command to set up a forward operating base in Essequibo. But then last Friday the country’s Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo said in a press conference:
“We have never been interested in military bases, but we have to protect our national interest… We’re going to be working with a number of countries on greater defence cooperation. We will have from the US Department of Defence next week two visits to Guyana, by two teams. And then several other visits in the month of December and then high level representation from the Department of Defence here.”
In other words, it appears that US Southern Command is about to set up a new forward operating base, or bases, in a territory that is still very much in dispute. That territory is not only rich in oil and gas but also boasts other mineral deposits, including Gold and Bauxite, as well as huge fish stocks and fresh water supplies. Also of note is Jagdeo’s mention of “a number of countries” with which it is seeking “greater defence countries.” Those countries include Canada, which has mining interests across Latin America, and Brazil.
The US and Guyana already signed an agreement in 2020 to undertake joint military patrols in the Essequibo region, ostensibly for “drug interdiction” and to provide “greater security” to the South American country. Southcom has signed similar agreements with the governments of Ecuador and Peru in recent months (as we have covered here, here and here) and is looking to do the same with Uruguay.
Venezuela has every reason to be paranoid regarding US designs on it. After all, it has now tried several times to overthrow its government. Parking a US military base right next to it (to add to the ones already in place in Colombia) should scare them, and rightly so.
At the same time, this type of belligerent talk from Caracas does it no favours whatsoever. A Venezuelan entry into Guyana or even declaration of annexation of Essequibo would give the USA more than enough reasons to hit the Maduro regime and remove it permanently.
Yves does a good job and explaining the long, long history of this border dispute, so instead of excerpting that long portion, I will turn to the matter of oil (and more):
For the moment, it is Guyana’s vast untapped energy supplies that are of most interest to the US government and corporations. As a 2018 report by US Southern Command conceded, the US will have increasing difficulties securing enough energy to meet domestic demand in the decades to come. Though the report does not mention Guyana directly by name, it leaves little doubt that the US economy’s main source of energy supplies in the years to come will be its direct neighbourhood.
Then, in January this year, Southcom Commander Laura Richardson explained, with disarming frankness, US’ strategic interest in Guyanese oil in a speech to the Atlantic Council:
This region, why this region matters, with all of its rich resources and rare earth minerals: you’ve got the Lithium Triangle which is needed for technology today; 60% of the world’s lithium is in the Lithium Triangle, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile. You just had the largest oil reserves, light sweet crude discovered off of Guyana over a year ago. You have Venezuela’s resources as well with oil, copper, gold. China gets 36% of its food source from this region. We have the Amazon, lungs of the world. We have 31% of the world’s fresh water in this region too.
The US began taking an interest in Guyana, which boasts one of the lowest population densities on the planet, in 2015 — the same year that a consortium of firms led by Exxon Mobil discovered huge deposits of oil in waters off the coast of Essequibo. For decades Washington had more or less stood on the sidelines of the territorial dispute over Essequibo, calling for a “timely resolution” through bilateral negotiations. But that all changed in 2018, when it began calling for the hugely controversial 1899 arbitration decision to be upheld.
In the same year, Guyana filed an application before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) asking the Court to reaffirm the 1899 arbitration award that established the boundary between Guyana and Venezuela. In 2020, the ICJ ruled against Venezuela, whose government refuses to acknowledge ICJ jurisdiction on the matter.
As the Washington Post reported in 2017, the discovery of oil in Essequibo was the perfect revenge for Exxon’s then-CEO Rex Tillerson, whom Donald Trump would later go on to appoint as his secretary of state:
Rex Tillerson hadn’t been CEO of ExxonMobil very long when the late president Hugo Chavez made foreign oil companies in Venezuela an offer they couldn’t refuse. Give the government a bigger cut, or else.
Most of the companies took the deal. Tillerson refused.
Chavez responded in 2007 by nationalizing ExxonMobil’s considerable assets in the country, which the company valued at $10 billion. The losses were a big blow to Tillerson, who reportedly took the seizure as a personal affront.
Only Tillerson didn’t get mad, at least in public. He got even.
Flash forward to May 2015. Just five days after former military general David Granger was elected president of the South American nation of Guyana, unseating the country’s long-ruling leftist party, ExxonMobil made a big announcement.
In the deep blue waters 120 miles off Guyana’s coast, the company scored a major oil discovery: as much as 1.4 billion barrels of high-quality crude. Tillerson told company shareholders the well, Liza-1, was the largest oil find anywhere in the world that year.
For tiny Guyana (population 800,000), the continent’s only English-speaking country and one of its poorest, it was a fortune-changing event, certain to mark a “before and after” in a country long isolated by language and geography.
There was just one problem with this undersea bonanza. Venezuela claimed the waters — and the hydrocarbons beneath them — as its own.
Clearly drilling in the disputed area was potentially a good business decision for ExxonMobil, not some sort of elaborate revenge scheme by its CEO
But revenge had been served. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor, was livid.
“There is a brutal campaign against Venezuela of lies, funded by ExxonMobil … which has great influence at the Pentagon,” Maduro declared, calling the dispute an attempt to corner Venezuela and precipitate “a high-intensity conflict.”
Is the USA about to successfully bait Venezuela into invading Essequibo? Lula has tried to talk some sense into Maduro, but it seems that it didn’t work. On the speculative side, I am certain that some will claim that Maduro might invade Guyana to coordinate the Russian invasion of Ukraine with that of Hamas’ raids into Israel as a strategy of stretching out US resources and attention.
The United States wants to hand over responsibility of Ukraine (and its war, especially the bill for it) to the EU while winding down the for now successfully contained conflict in Gaza, so that it can finally (!) complete its long-awaited “Pivot to East Asia”.
Bipartisan consensus on foreign policy is much, much more the rule than the exception in the USA, and the examples are endless. One that I frequently trot out is how the American establishment firmly backed Trump’s attacks on China, giving him grace there while denying it to him everywhere else (except when he launched missiles at Assad’s forces). China is THE main target in the eyes of US policy planners.
Policies can encounter bumps along the road, and sometimes adjustments have to be made. The attempts to contain China economically have run into a few roadblocks, requiring some “re-jigging”. Oftentimes, this “re-jigging” of policy is misinterpreted as “thawing of relations”, when it is actually just buying time while tweaking policy, or simply PR diplomacy to lull an opponent into a sense of complacency. I think that this is definitely the case when it comes to the perceived thaw between Washington and Beijing at the moment.
China is very, very suspicious of US designs in East Asia, and rightly so. Therefore, it would make sense for them to reach out to Americans who are plugged into power, but not as belligerent towards it as the median US congressperson is. In early 70s, fierce anti-communist Richard Nixon famously “went to China” to open it up (and to weaken the Soviet Union). Only someone like him with impeccable anti-communist credentials could do such a thing without severe reputational harm, or without incurring insinuations or accusations of treachery.makes the argument that California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, could be doing the same thing in the present context, one which is very, very different from half a century ago:
As we’ll detail, Newsom recently pulled off an under-reported diplomatic coup by not only getting a rare in-person meeting with Xi Jinping, not only getting Chinese state-run media to sing his praises, but apparently getting1 Xi to come out in person to the Nov 11-17 APEC Summit in his home city of San Francisco, California.
In advance of Xi’s visit, Newsom just held up a hand and rolled up SF’s seemingly permanent homeless encampments. He spent the political capital to do this, overriding all the Democrats paid by the city to feed drugs to addicts. Of course, Newsom could have done this at any time2 to the homeless industrial complex, but why now? Because their local business model is temporarily less important than his global power model: the question of how to hold onto power for his Party when his country is in decline.
If Newsom pulls it off, we may soon see rapprochement between the farthest culturally left party in the world (the ultra-woke American Democrats) and the farthest culturally right party in the world (the ultra-nationalist Chinese Communists). That is, after the last few years of kicking and screaming, the declining Democrats may actually settle for a power-sharing agreement with the Communists to become their allies — and perhaps eventually their clients. At least, that’s certainly what Chinese state-run media seems to think of Newsom’s visit!
There is quite a lot that I disagree with in this essay, but it’s good to see how others think about these things. Now what exactly is Balaji talking about?
Why do we see Xi meeting with Newsom and then flying out to San Francisco for an in-person meeting at an eminently skippable summit in the middle of the chilliest period for American/Chinese relations in decades? Toyota has something called the Five Why’s, which we can use here.
Why are SF’s streets suddenly clean? Because Xi is coming.
And why is Xi coming? Because Newsom likely got him to come, as the trip wasn’t confirmed before Newsom’s meeting.
And how did Newsom do that, when so many others failed? He may have promised him something.
Again, the context that’s been underreported is that everyone else from the Democrats has been trying something like this, but all of them failed. Blinken, Yellen, Raimondo, and Schumer were all rebuffed, while the Chinese “welcome more Newsoms to come.”
So, no one else among the Democrats was seemingly able to pull off a deal whose hazy outlines already resemble at least Nixon-Mao if not Molotov-Ribbentrop. Because after all the recent water under the bridge, a Newsom-led Democrat/Communist rapprochement would be an epochal shift. It’d be a ruthlessly pragmatic move in which a younger Democrat finally acknowledges that their party is no longer a total overdog capable of waging simultaneous wars against tech, Trump, Russia, and China — and must make peace with at least one rival tribe.
Balaji is not insinuating a Chinese-controlled Newsom/Dem Administration, insisting that this would be an alliance of perceived equals. I am not convinced by this argument so far.
“Allying with China against the GOP”:
So, the Democrats need to make peace with some rival tribe to retain power. Would that mean reaching out to their domestic Republican rivals, their “fellow Americans”? Hell no! Democrats won’t hire Republicans and 95% of Democrats won’t marry them either. So they certainly won’t ally with Republicans in any except the most cynical of ways — to get them to pay the bills and die for empire.
After all, in 2023, the entire point of being a Democrat is the holy war against the Republicans — the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobes responsible for every form of oppression, the straight white males (and white-adjacents) who need to be politically dispossessed to defend democracy. This has been the constant message from media and academia for decades now, and the result is BLM/Hamas.
Smarter Republicans do understand how much Democrat hatred is directed at them in the name of stopping hate, but the dumber ones think Democrats are somehow “with them” against China, that politics stops at the water’s edge, and that war with China would somehow unify America — even though neither the war in Iraq nor the war on COVID accomplished anything but division, and even though every social graph shows that it’s not one country but two parties.
After all, US manufacturing and the US military ain’t what it used to be. China is #1 in steel, #1 in trade, #1 in high speed rail, and #1 in shipbuilding. Meanwhile, the US is struggling to produce enough weapons for just Ukraine and Israel, let alone a war with China. And it estimates that it’d lose more troops in one week fighting China than in one decade in the war on terror.
By contrast, a Democrat/Communist pact may mean China resumes buying Treasuries, ships goods to lower inflation, filters Democrat-designated “misinformation” on TikTok, and intercedes with Iran and Russia — all of which could produce domestic and foreign policy gains that help keep Democrats in power. It’d be a Chinese bailout6 of American Democrats, when their numbers otherwise look extremely grim.
And that’s why Newsom may be willing to negotiate a separate peace7 with Xi between Democrats and Communists, leaving Republicans out in the cold. Again, this is barely an inference at this point; China “welcome[s] more Newsoms to come” and Newsom wants to be“China's long-term, stable and strong partner”. Newsom says “divorce is not an option”, and we haven’t seen Xi smile like that in a long time.
Prior to being Governor of California, Newsom was Mayor of San Francisco, which was Senator Dianne Feinstein’s home turf for a long, long time. One thing that Balaji does not mention in his essay is just how tied into China the late Senator Feinstein was via her husband’s government contracts. It made them quite a lot of money. There is no mention of reports that Feinstein’s driver and gofer was a Chinese spy. Newsom comes out of this scene, so speculation as to his Chinese contacts is valid.
Balaji’s piece suggests a sellout of the USA far beyond the corporate sellout of US industry by way of offshoring to China these past several decades. Could China back a Newsom candidacy? Sure, it would make sense if he would be in favour of detente. An alliance between China and the Dems? That for me is a bridge too far.
Read the rest of his argument here.
Three months ago, I wrote this essay:
I wanted to cover the subject in a single entry, but quickly realized that it would do the subject an incredible disservice. I then realized that I had to do a lot more reading to cover the subject over the course of several essays in order to attain a high level of quality. Be on the lookout for this series in the new year.
The subject of American Whites and their relationship to the USA is a hot one, andhas done a good job in getting to the heart of the matter in this short piece:
Scott is a self-described American nationalist, and has highlighted “two challenges to American nationalism”:
Conservative writer Aaron Renn recently argued against the concept of Christian nationalism that the whole term is out of sync with American society and culture.
America is not a “nation” in the European sense. Nationalism was a 19th-century European state-building movement. It was about constructing national identities out of the people in various estates and villages who spoke different dialects of the same language. America, on the other hand, is a continental empire—even if, like “nationalism,” “empire” is another word we would not use to describe ourselves. Manifest destiny was not about forming a nation out of a pre-existing sub-region with a shared history but about conquering and taming the West. America has always been something of a protean nation: restless, forward-looking, growth-oriented, constantly churning, changing and building. This makes it a bad fit for the imposition of some static concept of “nationhood.”
Renn argues it would be better for Americans to look to their own history and traditions for ways to make our country better. He prefers the term “America First” rather than nationalism, as he claims it resonates more with our people than the latter term. He says what we “need today, perhaps, is a modern-day FDR—a thoroughly American character who built solutions that would appeal to the people of this country.”
Another option is the racialist one whereby racial identity can launch an ethnogenesis for American Whites:
James Kirkpatrick, a repeat Highly Respected guest, dismisses America altogether. He says whites need to accept they have no country and work toward achieving a homeland of their own.
“My policy is simply that white Americans have no core interest other than our own survival and upward development, and insofar as we have a greater loyalty it is solely to the European diaspora,” Kirkpatrick recently posted on X. “I'm white, and as such, I'm a stateless person. So my loyalty is to my people alone.”
He followed up with a poll asking: “Is ‘Zionism’ for white people justified and necessary? Or to put it directly, white nationalism, a state explicitly dedicated to the preservation of white people and our upward development, and to be a homeland for all whites.”
It’s not secret that American Whites by and large view themselves as Americans first, far more than any other racial group living within the USA today. Yet at the same time, the hyperracialization of US politics is leading to many American Whites placing more emphasis (or at least paying attention to/noticing) on their racial group as they are singled out for so much criticism/discrimination/etc.
Rejecting fantasists and hobbyists:
Too many on our side conjure up all kinds of fantastical ideologies that have zero chance of gaining power. It ranges from from theocratic monarchism to national bolshevism. To offline people, these niche ideologies sound like a very nerdy hobby rather than something that answers their everyday problems. Ordinary right-wingers prize patriotism, order, and faith. They don’t need some obscure philosophy to tell them these things are good. They just want a politics that defends what they care about and is expressed in terms they understand. “America First” resonates with them. It’s why Trump continues to use the term.
Kirkpatrick’s racialism as “too radical” for the normie:
Kirkpatrick’s challenge is much more radical. He feels we should abandon America entirely and see itself as a diaspora. It assumes whites have a strong racial identity separate from the nation they live in.
This framework imagines whites as downtrodden helots suffering under the occupier’s leash. They’re homeless both literally and metaphorically. Under this tyranny, whites have a strong identity with their fellow whites throughout the world. The answer to all these problems is for whites to have their own country, a white Israel. Much of this is influenced by anti-colonialist nationalism of the Third World, black nationalism, and pre-Israel Zionism.
This may be inspiring to some on the internet, yet it would strike ordinary people as very strange. Whites may not be in full control of their countries, but they do have homelands. They are not stateless people. They strongly identify with the countries they live in. This is particularly true for the white Americans we want to reach. They fly the flag outside their home, proudly stand for the anthem, and despise those who trash the country they love. It’s not even a question for them whether they have a state. They proudly live in it.
Seventy-two percent of white Americans say they are either very or extremely proud to be Americans. Just under 50 percent say they are extremely proud as compared to only 30 percent of non-whites who say the same. This strong pride in America contrasts with the lack of explicit racial consciousness among whites. Just 15 percent of whites feel their racial identity is important. Meanwhile, a majority of every other racial group says it’s important to them.
The median White American still identifies with his country first, and not his own racial identity. This can change, and a shift towards racial identity would open the door to Kirkpatrick’s view.
I ran a search of the term “cashless” on this Substack, and I noted that we have discussed this subject before. Here’s one example (scroll down to the bottom entry). I think I am like most of you where I do appreciate the convenience of paying by card, but still want the ability to pay with cash.
Prior to COVID-19, downtown London, UK was filled to the brim with ATMs/cash machines. You couldn’t walk down Oxford Street without tripping over them. Sometimes, there would be three machines lined up in a row. Now, you’re lucky if you can find one. The UK is well on their way towards becoming cashless, while the Norwegians are already its world leaders.
The crux of the opposition to a cashless society is that by eliminating cash transactions, our purchases are more easily tracked by authorities (and others). In light of what we now know about how governments and Big Tech collude to track our online activities, this is a valid concern. Brett Scott argues that a cashless society is bad, but that it is not a conspiracy. You might disagree:
Do bad things like climate change, conflict and corporate greed happen because powerful politicians and CEOs construct it like that, or do they emerge in the vacuum of human agency, in the fact that nobody’s actually in control? This is a question that confronts me in the campaign to protect the physical cash system against the digital takeover by Big Finance and Big Tech.
Activism and accusations of conspiratorial thinking:
For more than eight years, I’ve advocated for the protection and promotion of physical notes and coins. I wrote a book called Cloudmoney: Why the War on Cash Endangers Our Freedom (2023). In that book, I point out that the public has swallowed a false just-so story that says we are pining for a cashless society. All over the world, public and private sector leaders claim that ‘our’ desire for speed, convenience, scale and interconnection drives an inevitable digital transition. This is supposed to bring a ‘frictionless’ world of digital payment-fuelled commerce, done at the click of a button or scan of the iris. The message is: keep up or else face being left behind.
The fact that so many leaders recite this script triggers some folks into thinking ulterior motives are guiding them, and it is true that the finance and tech sectors, for example, gain massively from the digitisation hype. Over the past few decades, they’ve launched various top-down attacks against the cash system, something I chronicle in my book. Physical cash is issued by governments (via central banks), whereas the units in your bank account are basically ‘digital casino chips’ issued by the likes of Barclays, HSBC and Santander. ‘Cashless society’ is a privatisation, in which power over payments is transferred to the banking sector. Every tap of a contactless card or Apple Pay triggers banks into moving these digital casino chips around for you. It gives them enormous power, revenue and data. They can share that data with governments but, more often than not, they’re using it for their own purposes (such as passing it through AI models to decide whether you get access to things or not).
By rejecting the story that cashless society is driven primarily from the bottom up, I sometimes get accused of being a conspiracy theorist. It’s not hard to imagine the outlines of a ‘conspiracy’ when you look at who benefits most from payments privatisation. Not only are Visa, Mastercard and the banking sector big beneficiaries, the fixation on digitisation also extends the power of Amazon and other corporate behemoths that are moving beyond the internet into the physical world via smart devices and automated stores that plug into digital finance systems. It’s a small jump to imagine how governments can piggyback on this digital enclosure to spy on us, or manipulate us.
This is a long essay, so click here to read the rest.
We end this weekend’s very long SCR with an obituary of Irish singer/songwriter Shane MacGowan (best known as the lead singer of The Pogues) by FbF favourite(Angela Nagle):
More than any artist I can think of, MacGowan captured the feeling of being carried away by all the dangerously beautiful emotions unlocked by alcohol. In his slurring raspy voice, he sang words of unguarded romantic devotion (“You’re the measure of my dreams”) and described a world animated by the drunken imagination (“the wind was gently laughing”).
The Pogues somehow succeeded in blending Irish traditional and rebel music with punk. Watch old footage, and you can still see that their concerts were attended by an unlikely combination of innocent-looking Irish country people and rowdy urban punks. The songs were full of raucousness, mischievous fun, wild misadventures, comedy, regret, pining and romance. Every year, “Fairytale Of New York” still overshadows all other Christmas songs: “It was Christmas Eve babe, in the drunk tank. An old man said to me, ‘won’t see another one’.” The magic of the song is that it undercuts the saccharine sentimentality of most festive fare, only to become the most sentimental and romantic of all Christmas songs: “Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you.”
Shane could only have been London-Irish. Through him a peasant folk tradition was reimagined with a fresh semi-outsider’s perspective in a modern, urban, countercultural form. He saw the potential in things that could have otherwise been dismissed as the old and the stagnant among the young Irish-Irish. The threads of cultural history that he brought together through the power of imagination spoke to new types of people all over the world.
Yes, I’ll repeat myself again: Angela is one of my very favourite writers alive today. Click here to read the rest.
Thank you once again for checking out my Substack. Hit the like button and use the share button to share this across social media. Leave a comment below if the mood strikes you. And don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t done so already.
And don’t forget to join me on Substack Notes!