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Departures with Robert Amsterdam
31 minutes | 13 days ago
After the failed putsch, we talk antitrust
Zephyr Teachout is a renowned US law professor, activist, author, and columnist with an expertise in anti-corruption, but we couldn't help but begin our conversation during this podcast to respond to the shocking events in Washington DC on the 6th of January 2021, when a mob of violent rioters forced their way into Congress. With four people dead, three bombs found, the nation may never be the same. So what happens next? What will the consequences be? "There seems to be a desire to just rush ahead two weeks and to sort of treat this as if we can just sweep it under the rug," Teachout says, but this would be a major mistake. "Trump, Hawley, and Cruz didn't necessarily expect to win, but were playing to social media and really achieved a lot of what they desired because there was no real plan of maintaining control, but there was a plan of really inciting a deep distrust of the peaceful transfer of power. I think of this as a very significant assault on constitutional democracy." Teachout continues: "Even with just two weeks left, it is important that there be immediate consequences. And I wish that the House was moving forward with Articles of Impeachment, and then separately the House and Senate looking at removal of members who were actively undermining the peaceful transfer of power.". Amsterdam and Teachout also discuss her brilliant new book, "Break 'Em Up: Recovering Our Freedom from Big Ag, Big Tech, and Big Money," which presents an impassioned critique of the various corporate monopolies which have taken over American life and distorted our economy and politics. "The essence of the book is to say that we are facing a democratic threat," she says. "They are threatening our media infrastructure, our legal infrastructure, and our political infrastructure by taking over political parties - and then also directly governing." The situation is not hopeless, however. Teachout argues that there are many tools available at our disposal to recover our freedom and protect democracy from corporate influence - and that begins with antitrust and anticorruption laws that address the power structures instead of just individual criminal liability.
28 minutes | 23 days ago
How China's memory of WWII evolved from victim to hero
For much of China's history, the Communist Party leadership sought to portray the country's experience in World War II as that of a victim of Japan. But now, as China grows much more powerful and influential, the historical memory is also adapting to tell a different story. This week we are joined by Rana Mitter, a professor of history at Oxford University, who is the author of "China's Good War: How World War II Is Shaping a New Nationalism." Mitter's book argues that China’s reassessment of the World War II years is central to its newfound confidence abroad and to mounting nationalism at home. These arguments, which include the promotion of China's role in creating the postwar global order, are reinforced by stronger efforts of public memory of the war, including museums, movies and television shows, street art, popular writing, and social media. Through these lens, "Wartime China" emerges as victor rather than victim. This reinterpretation of history has both positive and negative impacts on China's ability to conduct diplomacy under growing nationalism.
26 minutes | a month ago
Why America chose hegemony
The United States is a country that spent most of its history avoiding interventions, avoiding entanglement in great power politics, content to be isolated looking after their own affairs. Then suddenly, in just the past 75 years, it has become the world's preeminent armed power in a position of global leadership. How did such a dramatic remaking of America's role take place so quickly? Historian Stephen Wertheim explores this question and more in his fascinating new book, "Tomorrow, the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy," examining the months leading up to Washington's decision to enter the conflict and the impact this decision had on reshaping the nature of the international system leading up to today. "For most of America's history, the United States did not seek and did not tell itself it was seeking military dominance across the globe," Wertheim says. "Having military dominance, stationing bases around the world, being responsible in principle for enforcing world order - that was not what the United States was doing from its founding to 1940. And so a choice had to be made to put the United States on a fundamentally different path. And it was made, I argue, in the 18 months between the fall of France in the middle of 1940 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941." Wertheim continues by breaking down the misapprehension regarding the tug of war between "isolationists" vs. "internationalists," which didn't actually take place, and instead obscures this sea change in the desire for US global leadership. Instead, American leadership was carefully weighing whether it would be possible to preserve a limited Western hemisphere trade bloc while giving up the rest of the world to the Axis powers, and then eventually expanding these areas wider and wider that they considered should be defending for US interests.
33 minutes | a month ago
A Turkish diplomat's view of global politics
Over the past several years, Turkey's relations with both the European Union and the United States have come under strain by factors both internal and external. The complexities of these relationships, in addition to the management of tensions with Russia and the Middle East on numerous fronts are not often clearly understood, even by well informed observers. This week we have the unique opportunity to hear an insider's perspective from the highly respected former diplomat and senior statesman Onur Öymen, whose numerous diplomatic postings included Ambassador to Denmark, Ambassador to Germany, Permanent Representative to NATO, and Under Secretary of State for National Security. Dr. Öymen is the author of the new book, "Political Memoirs: Resisting Pressure," which was recently released in Turkish, English translation pending in the future.
29 minutes | a month ago
Syria almost built a democracy in 1920, until the West came along
Following the World War I breakup of the Ottoman Empire, Prince Faisal came into Damascus to declare his determination to build a constitutional democracy which would serve as the primary building block of a new sovereign state with guaranteed rights for a pluralistic population. Secular modernizers and Islamic reformers created groundbreaking new alliances which could have served as governance models across the Middle East. But instead, Syrian democracy appeared to be too threatening to British and French colonial interests in the region. The two Western powers refused to recognize the Damascus government and instead imposed a system of mandates on the pretext that Arabs were not yet ready for self-government. In July 1920, the French invaded and crushed the Syrian state. The story of this period is told in exquisite narrative detail and deeply researched insights by Dr. Elizabeth Thompson, a professor of history at American University and the author of the new book, "How the West Stole Democracy from the Arabs: The Syrian Arab Congress of 1920 and the Destruction of its Historic Liberal-Islamic Alliance." In this conversation with Robert Amsterdam, Dr. Thompson speaks about the unknown twists and turns of King Faisal's rise to power and rapid downfall, and why we continue to see the ramifications of this anti-democratic intervention by the West that is often ignored in many retellings of the Arab world's experience with democracy and state building.
31 minutes | a month ago
What we failed to see in 1933
A favorite historical hypothetical question we often hear tossed around is what should the world have done differently to halt the rise of Nazi Germany and prevent World War II from taking place. But the truth is, the number of signals and signs of this approaching threat were numerous and often rather clear, and so were the opportunities to take action. But instead, Western liberal democracies hesitated and blinked. Paul Jankowski, a Professor of History at Brandeis University and the author of the excellent book, "All Against All: The Long Winter of 1933 and the Origins of the Second World War," believes it would be reckless for us to ignore these lessons from history in our consideration of current geopolitical challenges. In this podcast interview with Robert Amsterdam, Jankowski discusses many of the lesser-known developments in the winter of 1933, from Japan's consolidation of power in China, Mussolini's expansion into Africa, and how disputes over debts and trade broke the alliance structures of 1918. As all these disparate events were taking place, Nazi ideology was quickly devolving into racialist extremism, while attitudes of isolationism and pacificism in France, the UK, and US were preventing any sort of intervention or containment. Given the current spread of far-right nationalism and populism taking place now, have we managed to learn anything from 1933?
23 minutes | 2 months ago
Peering into the online abyss of anti-Semitism, white nationalism, and incel misogyny
While the Internet has given us a lot of good things, from comprehensive consumer choices to powerful movements to hold the powerful accountable, it also has its darker corners where hatred is thriving, where acts of terrible violence in the real world are inspired. As a Jewish writer who had often been targeted by anti-Semitic and misogynistic attacks online, Talia Lavin decided to go undercover and dive deep into these strange online worlds, where she finds deeply vulnerable, alienated, and dangerous individuals who pose a considerable threat to society. Her latest book, "Culture Warlords: My Journey into the Dark Web of White Supremacy," presents a number of real stories of people she encountered during these investigations which helps us understand how extremists find themselves pulled toward white nationalism online. Lavin argues that it is wrong for us to consider white nationalist terror attacks such as the Charleston Church shooting, the attack on the Christchurch mosque, or the Tree of Life Synogogue shooting in Pittsburg as "lone wolf" attacks. Instead, these attacks are being carried out by individuals who are specifically radicalized. "It doesn't take that many people influenced by an extremely heightened level of violent rhetoric by a continual saturation in dehumanization to create tremendous amounts of fear and to rip communities apart with grief," Lavin says. "I would say that I'm still pretty scared of these guys. Sometimes their fragility means that they're ripe for mockery. Other times, it means they're ripe to snap." Lavin and host Robert Amsterdam discuss the history of anti-Semitism in the United States, and how it came to represent a intellectual keystone for US white supremacists, and how, in its international expression, anti-Semitism is trans-partisan, a rhetorical force mobilized on the right and the left. "The real rhetorical function of the Jew, the reason why Jews are such a persistent target, is that they have more or less assimilated into whiteness," Lavin says. "So they get portrayed by the white power movement in the US as a cunning kind of fifth column subverting whiteness from within. (...) So the primary function that the Jews serve is this idea of a kind of omnipotent, infinitely resourceful, infinitely cunning enemy that is hell bent on your destruction." And in doing so, Lavin agues, the men hiding in these darkest corners of the Internet come to believe that they are the most oppressed members of society, that it is they who have a duty to right the wrongs - often by violent means.
29 minutes | 2 months ago
What an expert on coups d'état has to say about the situation in the United States
This week we are pleased to welcome to the podcast Erica De Bruin, an Assistant Professor of Government at Hamilton College and the author of the new book, "How to Prevent Coups d'État: Counterbalancing and Regime Survival." At the time of this conversation with Robert Amsterdam, the Michigan Republican Party board of electors had refused to certify election results from one of the most populous counties, then certified, then sought to rescind their votes after receiving phone calls from President Donald Trump. Later that same afternoon, President Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, gave a disturbing press conference chock full of unproven allegations and evidence-free conspiracy theories. So is this truly a coup attempt? Not so fast, says Prof. De Bruin, who literally wrote the book on coups. "Scholars that study coups across the globe understand them to be illegal, overt attempts to seize executive power within a country, backed by the use of force," De Bruin says. "I think that thus far, the actions taken within the Republican party don't fit this definition, but they're incredibly worrying." "What I think we might be approaching here, if I were to make this argument, is what we think of as a 'self-coup,' where a leader tries to overstay their term in office," De Bruin says. "That typically happens through technically legal means where someone who's in power will try to get a legislature to sign off on delaying elections or will use court challenges to try and reverse an electoral outcome. And that those are the types of steps that these could be laying the groundwork for. (...) Those types of attempts can end up being more successful because they proceed through these supposedly 'legal' means." Amsterdam and Prof. De Bruin go on to discuss the findings in her book and the strategies that can be put in place to resist coups, as well as discussing the comparative experiences and insights from events in Turkey, Thailand, and Venezuela in recent years.
30 minutes | 2 months ago
The disastrous misadventures of US-led regime change in the Middle East
For the past 70 years, the United States has toyed with interventionism in the Middle East on numerous occasions, from Iran to Afghanistan (twice), Iraq, Egypt, Libya, and Syria, among others. And yet, despite the consistently disastrous consequences of these efforts, the same policies continue to attract support, as US decision-makers consistently underestimate the costs and fail to learn the lessons of the past. Dr. Philip H. Gordon, a former diplomat and a Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, joins the podcast this week to discuss his excellent new book, "Losing the Long Game: The False Promise of Regime Change in the Middle East." Although one can sympathize with those suffering under a brutal, tyrannical regime engaged in atrocities, there seems to be a common failure to grasp that when you remove a regime, a security vacuum is opened up where chaos thrives, which is very hard to fill. "The costs are almost always much higher than anticipated, and there are always many unintended consequences. And that's the history I think we need to keep in mind as we think about it today," Dr. Gordon says. "This is not history for history's sake. This is an active agenda item [as the Trump administration has discussed pursuing regime change in Iran]. Before we do that, we should really think about how we've done it in the past, why we've done it in the past and how it worked out. So maybe we can avoid some of those mistakes in the future." Instead, Dr. Gordon argues, diplomacy, deterrence, and engagement are much more effective tools to achieve positive outcomes for US interests in the regime. Sanctions, he says, have a limited use in US foreign policy only for specific purposes - however that's often not how we see them used. In the case of the Iran nuclear deal, sanctions were effective because they were broadly implemented internationally and made the negotiation possible. When the goal of sanctions is regime change, Gordon says, it never works. Massive sanctions for decades on Cuba, North Korea, without a specific goal short of regime change, it has been a total failure. "What I'm opposed to when it comes to sanctions is this fantasy that if you just squeeze hard enough, the regime will actually go away. Most of these regimes, especially the most brutal ones, are willing to see the population suffer infinitely before they're willing to turn over power to someone else," Gordon says.
24 minutes | 2 months ago
When the news industry becomes an instrument of state power
Having gone through the tumultuous experience of this past election in the United States, with provocative propaganda, disinformation, fake news, and pervasive and extreme distrust, many feel like we're experiencing an unprecedented moment. But arguably, we've been here before. This week we are joined by Prof. Heidi Tworek, author of "News from Germany: The Competition to Control World Communications, 1900–1945," for a fascinating conversation about the very early days of information warfare, back when when the great powers competed to control and expand their empires through the support of media. Tworek explains how her years of archival research revealed a concerted effort taking place over the course of 50 years as Germany struggled to gain control over global communications - and nearly succeeded. Her book News from Germany is not a story about Germany alone. It reveals how news became a form of international power and how communications changed the course of history.
21 minutes | 2 months ago
Election Special: American Democracy under Attack by the President
President-elect Joe Biden has won the 2020 US Presidential elections, but outgoing President Donald Trump is continuing with a show of defiance. Right from the heart of Philadelphia where the final votes are being counted, we are joined by constitutional and international law expert, Prof. William Burke White, who shares his view of what's been happening throughout the long process of the election count, the unexpectedly strong performance of downticket Republican candidates, and President Donald Trump's limited legal remedies to contest the outcome of the election.
28 minutes | 3 months ago
The complex legacy of Shinzo Abe
Up until his recent resignation due to health concerns, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe cast a long shadow as one of the most remarkable global statesman, shaping the country's alliances and leadership position in an extremely difficult and threatening region of the world. Journalist and author Tobias Harris, author of "The Iconoclast: Shinzo Abe and the New Japan," joins the Departures podcast to discuss the complexities of the legacy he leaves behind, and the challenges his successor Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will face. Harris argues that one aspect of Abe's legacy will be his transcendence of partisan factions, as the coalitional nature of the Liberal Democratic Party allowed the organization to internally battle over policy positions and cabinet positions as opposed to the Prime Minister dictating policy to his party. And yet, despite the cross-factional consensus Abe was able to develop and the nationalist pursuits of great power status and the reforms of Abenomics, "his legacy is one of failure, at least by his own terms," says Harris.
22 minutes | 3 months ago
The audacity of election rigging in Tanzania
On Wednesday, October 28, 2020 the Republic of Tanzania held presidential elections. Though many feared that it would be neither free nor fair, what came to pass was much worse than could have been imagined. Robert Amsterdam, the host of this podcast, acts as an international attorney for the main opposition candidate in this election, Tundu Lissu, so consider that a disclaimer that we are not objective. We did however seek out an expert voice to talk about what is happening in Tanzania and why. Dan Paget, a professor at the University of Aberdeen and the author of numerous academic articles on President John Magufuli and the politics of Tanzania. "My reaction is one of shock, whether we predicted it or not," says Paget in the interview with Amsterdam. "It's a 'pinch yourself moment' when an election appears to be rigged on this scale and rigged with such audacity, rigged in some ways so blatantly, and in many cases so amateurly, while on top of that, while the election results are still being counted." "The day-to-day oppression and harassment of the opposition has been a constant feature of Tanzania politics, but never on this scale, not since 1995," says Paget. "So I think that there has been a sea change in the degree of authoritarianism." During the podcast interview, Paget highlights the view that Magufuli is seeking to make opposition to the state party "inconceivable." Why else would the government move to decapitate the most well known opposition leaders in their own strongholds with so little credibility of doing so?
30 minutes | 3 months ago
How victims of Argentina's Dirty War sparked a global campaign to end torture
From 1976-1983, a brutal military dictatorship disappeared some 30,000 citizens and arrested and tortured scores more in Argentina. As a young lawyer at the time known for representing dissidents and political prisoners, Juan Méndez himself was arrested and subjected to torture. The story of his career, rising to become the Special Rapporteur on Torture to the United Nations, Special Advisor to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, and also Co-Chair of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, is a remarkable example of personal experience translating into powerful global advocacy. Méndez joins the Departures podcast this week along with Alfredo Forti, a member of Amsterdam & Partners LLP, for a discussion on what it was like to live through the dirty war, some of the key cases they've worked on, and the Istanbul Protocol - a new set of proposed guidelines for documenting torture. A professor of Human Rights Law in residence at the American University – Washington College of Law, Méndez is the author (with Marjory Wentworth) of "Taking A Stand: The Evolution of Human Rights."
31 minutes | 3 months ago
Compressed modernity and the burden of being Korean
Korea is a deeply unique, complex, and interesting place in the world. Upended by repeated waves of war and occupation throughout its history, the modern nation has propulsively launched itself in the stratosphere culturally and economically and grown perhaps faster than any other. This presents undeniable benefits and prosperity, but also a number of accompanying social discontents, from racism to identity fissures to pervasive mental health issues. Theodore Jun Yoo, an associate professor in the Department of Korean Language and Literature at Yonsei University in Seoul, joins the podcast this week to discuss his very interesting new book, "The Koreas: The Birth of Two Nations Divided." Jun's book presents a "demythologized history" of the North Korea-South Korea split, with a focus on a number of deeply compelling personal stories and interviews with subjects supported by broad multidisciplinary empirical research. Why is it that a country that has been so incredibly successful, prosperous, and dynamic should continue to be haunted by such complex social issues? Jun's own family story is just one beginning to a series of interesting ideas exploring the complexity of Korean identity and the impact of "compressed modernity."
17 minutes | 3 months ago
What the showdown between Roosevelt vs. JP Morgan tells us about the Trump era
We often defer to superlatives when describing our current political age, but the truth is that in many respects, we have been here before. In the summer of 1901, the tycoon JP Morgan was assembling a merger that would give him a monopoly position over America's railroads. His strong supporter in the White House, President William McKinley, was then suddenly assassinating, bringing a less hospitable interloper into power, President Theodore Roosevelt. In Susan Berfield's new book, "The Hour of Fate: Theodore Roosevelt, J.P. Morgan, and the Battle to Transform American Capitalism," the reader is brought into close contact with the characters, personalities, and ambitions which would come to define the role of money and raw financial power in US politics. Speaking with Amsterdam on the podcast, Berfield says she was drawn to the question during this period that is still relevant today - how do we hold business to account and create a version of capitalism that is fairer and more equal? The story of Roosevelt's first years in power as told by Berfield, coming into direct conflict with one of the world's most powerful business figures, is given an interesting and detailed treatment, and the results sometimes conflict with some of the portrayals we have become accustomed to.
32 minutes | 3 months ago
TikTok on the Auction Block
For more than 20 years, Mike Masnick has been writing prolifically on the intersection of technology, freedom of speech, IP law, and politics at the award-winning blog Techdirt, helping to elevate awareness of how these crucial issues are impacting society. Joining the podcast with Robert Amsterdam today, Masnick discusses the recent drama around the Trump administration's peculiar intervention against the popular Chinese-created video app, TikTok, and what this means for the future free and open internet and innovation in Silicon Valley. Following last month's executive order to effectively "ban" TikTok from US users (which is now held up in appeals), a number of potential buyers have come forward, interestingly some with close financial ties to the president's re-election campaign. Masnick is not buying the argument that TikTok represents a unique national security threat to the United States, at least not a threat any different from the common data brokers collecting information from a wide variety of apps. "There are lots of apps that collect too much data, and there's no evidence that they are doing anything particularly nefarious with it," says Masnick. "If there are concerns about that data and China getting access to it, there are lots of ways that they could get access - for example by just walking up to one of many, often American owned, data brokerage firms and laying down a credit card and pretty much obtaining access to that same data." Masnick and Amsterdam also discuss the Trump administration's recent interest in repealing Section 230, the cornerstone legal framework that allows for free expression online, as well as the lobbying power of the copyright industry, state-sponsored efforts to spur innovation, and what policies and practices by the big social media companies could have an impact on the upcoming election.
27 minutes | 3 months ago
Without virtue of the people, you can't run a democracy
Only a few years after the Arab Spring failed to convert Middle Eastern dictatorships into democracies (with the exception of Tunisia), many scholars and analysts stopped talking about it entirely, as if to pretend these events never took place. Harvard law professor and constitutional scholar Noah Feldman set out to change that with his latest book, "The Arab Winter: A Tragedy." "Why not try to think through what was good about it, what went wrong in its aftermath, and try to draw some lessons before we just end up in world where it's as though there just never was an Arab Spring," Feldman says. In his analysis of why for many states democracy failed to take root following these massive public uprisings and cries for self-determination, Feldman argues that most were unprepared for the management of deep divisions in the society. "The biggest challenges in the aftermath of a democratic transition are how to manage deep social division," Feldman says. "In Egypt, all of the parties were looking for outside actors, to Saudi Arabia, to the United States, and ultimately, the army, having allowed a takeover of a democratic government, changed its mind, and with the collusion of the public, got rid of the democratic government which had been elected." Amsterdam and Feldman also take the opportunity to discuss the recent death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the politically fraught prospects for the Republican nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett with just weeks to go before the elections.
33 minutes | 3 months ago
The stagnation of nostalgia in the twilight of the Trump era
This week we are pleased to be joined by Kurt Andersen, a polymath Peabody-award winning journalist, novelist, and radio host to talk about his latest book, "Evil Geniuses: The Unmaking of America." But before we get into the prerecord discussion of the book, we couldn't resist bringing Kurt back on the show for an update following one of the wildest weekends in American politics, as President Donald Trump was hospitalized for his COVID-19 infection and all the bizarre behavior that has ensued. Asked by host Robert Amsterdam what he makes of this bewildering but not unexpected turn of events, Andersen compares the experience to watching a television series, as Americans are left to wonder why the writers are trying to cram too much incident not just into the last episode, but the last 30 minutes. Judging by the video of the maskless ceremony in the Rose Garden last week, Andersen argues that Republican elites had "convinced themselves that the fantasy they were purveying, that this isn't really a problem, was true." Andersen's book "Evil Geniuses" spans a much broader section of recent American political history well before the election of Donald Trump, focusing on the early 1970s, highlighting many events and trends that made it possible to arrive to our current moment. Much of the book focuses on the willing role played by later Democratic administrations of advancing and consolidating a version of liberal economic policy that would later decimate social equality in the country, right at the same moment that the country began to stagnate culturally, with an emphasis on deepening nostalgia for decades past. Andersen discusses with Amsterdam why he chose to focus on this particular inflection point, when America stopped becoming more progressive and equal, and turned toward rolling back the New Deal consensus and put in place a different system that prioritized "market-based solutions" for all social problems.
26 minutes | 4 months ago
Trump may be sick, but he's not broke
Like no other president before him, Donald Trump and his inner circle have sought to monetize the White House - but has it been a good business? Dan Alexander, a journalist at Forbes and the author of the new book, "White House Inc.: How Donald Trump Turned the Presidency Into a Business," joins the podcast to discuss in detail the assets and revenues of the Trump empire, and how what's been presented in the New York Times' reporting on his tax returns may not be the complete picture. Shortly before we recorded the episode, the bombshell news broke that President Trump had tested positive for COVID-19. Alexander offers his analysis on how he believes that will impact the election.
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