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First thoughts on election of Moon Jae-in as president of Korea

The election turned out just as expected. Moon Jae-in won with just over 40 percent, right around where the final polls predicted. The moderate and conservative split the hard-on-North-Korea vote. In fact, the next three candidates combined, conservative Hong Jun-pyo (KLP), moderate reformer Ahn Cheol-su (People’s Party), and reformist conservative Yoo Seoung-min (Baerun), combined for over 50 percent.

While Moon has expressed the desire to visit North Korea “if the time is right” and talk, he might be constrained by the political and security situation, I write in a forthcoming column I will link to.

UPDATE: My article is now published: A new president and new opportunities in Korea

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The Warped Marxist-Feminist Ideology of the Kurdish YPG

An Exclusive Eyewitness Account of an American who Trained with the Kurdish Syrian Rebels

Getting retired from the United States Marine Corps at age 23 with zero deployments under my belt was a huge blow to what I figured to be my destiny on this planet. That “retirement” came in 2010 after three years on convalescent leave, recovering from a traumatic brain injury sustained stateside. I got my chance to vindicate myself in 2015 by volunteering to fight in Syria with the Kurdish Yeni Parastina Gel (YPG), or the “People’s Protection Units” in Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish language).

The YPG is the military apparatus of the Partiya Yekitiya Democrat (PYD), the Democratic Union Party, and one of the main forces of the Syrian Democratic Forces fighting ISIS and Bashar al-Assad’s regime. While they are a direct ideological descendant of the Soviet Union, their take on Marxism has a much more nationalistic bent than that of their internationalist forebears. At their training camp that I attended, they constantly spoke of their right to a free and autonomous homeland–which I could support. On the other hand, they ludicrously claimed that all surrounding cultures from Arab to Turk to Persian descended from Kurdish culture. One should find this odd, considering that the Kurds have never had such autonomy as that which they struggle for.

All of this puffed up nationalism masquerading as internationalism was easy to see through. The Westerners were treated with respect by the “commanders” (they eschewed proper rank and billet, how bourgeoise!), but the rank and file YPGniks were more interested in what we could do for them and what they could steal from us (luckily, my luggage was still in storage at the Sulaymaniyah International Airport in Sulaymaniyah, Iraq). By “steal from us,” I mean they would walk up to a Westerner/American and grab their cap, glasses, scarf and whatever else they wanted and ask “Hevalti?” which is Kurmanji for “Comraderie?” and if you “agreed” or stalled (a non-verbal agreement) then they would take your gear and clothing. “Do not get your shit hevalti-ed,” the saying went.

Not only was their idea of Marxism fatuous, their version of feminism was even worse.

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Korean presidential hopefuls campaign with children’s song on final day

It’s the last day of campaigning before the Korean presidential election to replace impeached and indicted Park Geun-hye. That means Korea’s top candidates have mobile campaign platforms set up in Seoul to give speeches and sing children’s songs.

The song they really love to sing is a modified version of “Airplane” (비행기), which is itself a version of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The lyrics, “Let’s fly…”, have been replaced with the names of the candidates (listen for “Mun Jae-in” and “Hong Jun-pyo” in their respective songs).


Overall, the mood and location of the rallies seems to reflect the particular personalities and support bases of each candidate.

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What both sides would say about healthcare if they were honest

With the passage of the “Obamacare repeal” bill in the United States by Republicans in the House of Representatives last week, the debate over healthcare is full of bad faith arguments, oversimplifications, and lies.

Much of what the bill does is being mischaracterized, starting with “repeal.” The bill didn’t call for repealing Obamacare. It would change Obamacare. It would cut Obamacare. But it wouldn’t repeal Obamacare.

The Republicans, arguably because they are in the majority and thus must put forward an expansive argument about what their bill will do, are responsible for some of the most egregious dishonesty. But the Democrats have been intellectually dishonest in some of their attacks on the bill, too. It doesn’t “classify rape as a preexisting condition.”

The main reason each side has to resort to bad faith arguments is because they don’t want to be honest about the ideological underpinnings of their convictions and the costs and benefits of each approach.

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May elections: Why Korea and United States should consider two-round voting

It looks like when Koreans go to the polls to elect their next president on Tuesday, May 9, it will be the sixth time in their seven elections as a democracy that the winner did not receive a majority of the vote. Coming two days after the second round of the French elections, it ought to be a time for Koreans and citizens of other democracies around the world to consider the pros and cons of two-round voting systems.

In the wake of the Park impeachment scandal, Koreans are once again debating why their presidents are such bad leaders and what can be done to fix the system. Park is only the third Korean president to have been arrested after leaving office. Another, Roh Moo-hyun, committed suicide in the midst of an investigation. Presidents in the pre-democratic era have been assassinated, deposed by coup, and died in exile. One proposed reform is to allow for Korean presidents, who are restricted to a single five-year term, to run for reelection. “In order to get them motivated to not be as unpopular as they usually end up becoming, a good idea is to give them the opportunity to run for a second term,” John Lee said in an interview with Bombs + Dollars.

Another idea would be to have two-round elections.

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Careful of labels: The Tommy Robinson vs Quilliam story

On May 2, the Quilliam anti-extremist organisation in London was the site of an altercation between Quilliam members and Tommy Robinson, formerly of the English Defence League, and a cameraman. Tommy now works for the British branch of Ezra Levant’s right-wing Canadian news network, Rebel Media.

Tommy had gone to the offices of Quilliam to complain about an article in The Guardian newspaper by Quilliam’s researcher named Julia Ebner, about the rise in right-wing extremism in the UK, and how it and Islamist extremism feed off each other. This broad point is often well made and cogently put by Quilliam members like Maajid Nawaz, Adam Deen and Haras Rafiq who is Quilliams’ CEO. It is a convincing case for how extremism on all ideological fringes breeds a mirror image reaction on the opposite fringe.

The issue Tommy had with the article was with this specific paragraph, with the most contentious section highlighted:
That the far right has moved from the fringe into the mainstream demonstrates the massive support that white supremacist movements have attracted from digital natives. Their online followership often exceeds that of mainstream political parties: with over 200,000 followers, Tommy Robinson’s Twitter account has almost the same number of followers as Theresa May’s.

Tommy decided to confront the article’s author by going to see her at Quilliam’s London headquarters. As seen in the video uploaded to Rebel Media’s Youtube channel, Tommy tried to gain access to the building, was asked by Adam Deem if he had an invitation, and when he said he didn’t was asked to leave. Tommy then proceeded to interrogate Deen about whether he thought he was a white supremacist.

Once he was on his own, he re-entered the ground floor lobby, and given no-one was around, decided to go downstairs to see who he could find. Having done this, he ran into the various staff members and researchers who make up the Quilliam team, found Julia in a small conference room with other members, and proceeded to shove his microphone in their faces, while his cameraman filmed them all. A scuffle ensued when Deen tried to stop the incident by apparently grabbing Tommy’s microphone and recording equipment attempting to stop the cameraman filming. Tommy spoke to Haras Rafiq, and the police who were called then escorted Tommy and his cameraman off the premises.

Let me be plain. This was absolutely unacceptable conduct on Tommy Robinson’s part. He violated Quilliam’s security, and the organisation has now had an emergency relocation to new secure premises. He trespassed without permission, and intimidated members of their staff. This, despite all his protestations, made him look like the aggressor rather than the victim, the opposite of his aim. Also, he lost credibility in insisting he’s not an extremist when he copied tactics used by Islamist and other far-right organisations like Al-Muhajiron and Britain First. Added to this, the reaction of members of Quilliam’s staff, who understandably felt surprised and threatened was non-conducive to de-escalating the potential for physical conflict, as their snatching of the microphone and other film equipment only made the situation worse.IMG_0139

That said, let’s consider why Tommy was there, while in no way offering it as an excuse for his actions. Maajid Nawaz and Haras Rafiq have gone on record and repeatedly stated that they do not believe Tommy is a white supremacist, and that the article, which they had no editorial oversight over, was not intentionally worded to portray him as such. That’s all very well, but as Andrew Neill said on the BBC’s Daily Politics, the sentence structure and its chronology strongly implies that Tommy is a white supremacist. Despite Maajid Nawaz’s protestations to the contrary, there is no getting around this. Apparently English is Julia Ebner’s 3rd language, so it is perhaps understandable that her wording could be considered a little awkward in places. However, this is also little comfort as it shows the laxness of the editorial process both within Quilliam up to this point and at The Guardian. 

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Bret Stephens, climate change, and “debate”

Bret Stephens is a good writer and a bright conservative mind. From the paranoid demagoguery that has taken over the American right, to the threats facing democracy around the world, to American foreign policy, and more, he had valuable things to say about many topics on the Wall Street Journal editorial page. What he is not, however, is an authority on global warming or climate change.

So it is strange that such a talented columnist decided to write about climate change in his first column in his new role with The New York Times. While he didn’t dispute that climate change is happening, he did question whether scientists and reporters asserting it is happening, with what he characterized as “total certainty,” undermines their case.

The left-wing responded just as expected: Joe Romm, environmental obsessive of ThinkProgress/Climate Progress, and the very publicly activist climate scientist Michael Mann both said the Times never should have hired him, and Mann called for people to unsubscribe. Conservative predictably responded that the left is anti-free speech and doesn’t want a debate.

Both sides should spare us the unhinged hyperbole. Of course no one should unsubscribe from the Times just because of one columnist writing one column.

But at the same time, open debate about Stephens’ views—and those of anyone else—should be encouraged. The right says they want a debate. Let’s have one.

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No, British National Anthem is not promoting any far-right ideology

Back in October, a Student Union leader of King’s College London wrote a Facebook post, saying he thought the National Anthem should be banned because it promoted far-right ideology, white supremacy and xenophobia. He also said that nation states are a really bad idea.

First, why does this trivial issue occupy someone in a position like the vice president for welfare and community at the KCL SU? Surely this post requires a lot of time? Doesn’t he also have some studying to do?

Anyway, I disagree entirely with Mr Abdullahi’s premise and argument. As such, in response to his use of his right to free speech to criticise what he sees as an out-dated institution, I’ll use my right to free speech to rebut him.

His entire position seems to revolve around the fact that he finds the anthem racist and a remnant of the British Empire. It also apparently empowers far-right nationalists who glory in the old and timeworn idea of the nation state.

First of all, if Mr Abdullahi had actually looked into the history of the national anthem, he might find that it was written during the Jacobite rebellion in the 1740’s. If anything it is an anti-Scottish anthem more than anything else, as it was penned in reaction to Bonnie Prince Charlie storming south to retake the English throne for the Stuart dynasty.

Incidentally, if he wants to see examples of national anthems with less than savoury lyrics maybe he should look at the Chinese, the Mexican, the Algerian, the Turkish and the Vietnamese national anthems. These have some blood curdling lyrics that make Britain’s look meek in comparison.

The second issue with Mr Abdullahi’s misguided comments concern his “f*** the nation state” statement. By this comment, I guess Mr Abdullahi is against all forms of national sovereignty and identity. In other words, he seems to want to live in the world of John Lennon where there are no countries and we are all just one big happyfamily.

I’ve got bad news for him: the nation state is arguably the single biggest protection against external and inter-tribal violence in the history of humanity.

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Let’s be careful about France…

Predictably, pro EU, managerial Emmanuel Macron and far right Marine Le Pen moved on to the second round of French elections. In a historic result, none of the major parties, the Socialists, as well as the Republicans went to the second round, in what could be a historic first since the second world war. The socialist candidate of President Hollande’s party got only 6 percent votes, as his votes were divided between Macron and far left candidate Melenchon, who was another outsider, who won around 19 percent votes, similar to what the center right republican candidate Fillon got. Both Fillon and the Socialist candidate Hammon promptly endorsed Macron, and pointed out that far right is the biggest threat to French unity. The far left candidate, Melenchon, refused to endorse anyone.

Macron’s policies, are as most of the readers already know, fairly centrist and neoliberal. Contrary to what the media is trying to portray him as, he is as establishment as it gets. He is an investment banker by profession, and believes in reforming the market which includes controversial statements like changing French work hours as well as French taxation and French retirement plans. Macron is pro EU, extremely managerial, and pro immigration. The country is fairly divided, with almost half supporting Macron, and the top right half supporting Le Pen.

Le Pen is of course on her traditional right wing nationalist populist rhetoric. She is trying to market herself as an independent resigning from her party, but no one is buying it. She wants to “kill” the EU, cut off immigration, ban the Islamic Burqa and Mosques and forge a more nationalistic path for France. In fact the flurry of support for Macron from the republicans and the socialists only help Le Pen bolster the claim that she’s the only true outsider here in the race. While Macron wants to shape the race as one between centrism and populism; Le Pen is shaping it as one between patriots and globalists. She aims to kill Macron’s reputation as an outside who started his own party barely three months back, instead she wants to paint Macron as an open border globalist stooge in hands of Brussels and Berlin, who is all for globalization and open borders. Infact, if one combines the v
ote of far right Le Pen, and far left Eurosceptic Melenchon, the total count goes to 46 percent of the vote. 

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15 candidates, Trump posters, and a conservative divide in Korea

South Korea’s presidential election is coming up on May 9, and some supporters of break-away conservative candidates are using Donald Trump to make campaign appeals. Like most events that feature Donald Trump, it is chaotic.

Former president Park Geun-hye, who was the leader of the conservative Saenuri Party, was impeached in December, removed from office on March 10, and arrested March 31.

Her party quickly rebranded itself as the Korean Liberty Party, and Hong Jun-pyo, governor of South Gyeongsang Province, which borders Busan, was nominated as the KLP’s candidate for president in a primary that featured a paucity of strong conservative candidates. Former UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon briefly flirted with the idea of running for president as the conservative standard bearer, but apparently 2017, the year when the party is emerging disgraced from a major corruption scandal, just didn’t attract many takers. Hong is polling between 7-13 percent in recent polls.

Already Korean conservatives were divided by disaffection with Park. Even before the scandal was uncovered, the Baerun Party emerged as a group of conservatives in the National Assembly who didn’t strongly support Park. Now it includes 33 legislators and draws 3-4 percent of the vote.

Still, over a month after Park was removed from office, the grassy square outside of City Hall Station is filled with older conservatives waving Korean and American flags while bemoaning what they consider “a conspiracy to communize the South under the pretext of the unjustifiable presidential impeachment,” as a sign says.

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Representing the Saenuri supporters who still can’t let go of impeachment is Rep. Cho Won-jin, a legislator who has newly constituted a party with the name Saenuri and says he will “punish those who led her impeachment and seek Park’s release.”

But even the new Saenuri Party isn’t enough to satisfy all never-let-go conservatives. So on April 19, outside Sinchon Station, a university district nearby Yonsei and Ihwa universities lined with bars and restaurants, flag-waving middle-aged and senior Koreans campaigned for Nam Jae-jun, who served as leader of the National Intelligence Service under Park.

Nam, who represents the Unification Korea Party (or Patriotic Korea Party), said in 2013, “Unification is possible in 2015. Let’s die together to bring about the unification of our land under liberal democracy.”

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