Foreign Influence Dispatch Ep029

The 'Merica Edition • Protests and Riots • 100k Dead • SpaceX Launch

Thanks for checking out the newsletter for episode 29 of the Foreign Influence Podcast. No, you don’t necessarily need to hear the episode to enjoy this, but really, why wouldn’t you? It’ll be the best half hour of your day. Promise.


Choose sides.

You have to choose sides.

The US is on fire. Protests and riots and peacekeeping and police violence.

You must choose sides.

But I can’t. I won’t.

A maddening fact about the stupid world is that multiple, seemingly contradictory facts about a situation can all be true at once.

  • There is substantial evidence that blacks face unequal treatment and outcomes under the US judicial system.

  • Not all cops are racists.

  • Protests against injustice are an absolutely vital part of our system of democracy. Most protestors are peaceful and trying to make a better world.

  • Peaceful protests are almost always hijacked by people who want to commit violence against police or property and who want to loot. Some people just like to watch the world burn - both on the left and right.

  • Police are essential. In normal times they do a job I certainly wouldn’t want to do. Every traffic stop could prove fatal. There are truly dangerous people in the world. And I wouldn’t want to face an angry crowd.

  • Far too often the dangerous people are the police - again, especially for people of color. And if they want to devolve a peaceful protest into chaos, well, they have the gas canisters.

  • I think many people go into policing because they like the sense of power.

  • I think many do the job out of a sense of service.

  • A few cops are indeed bad apples.

  • Most aren’t. But a code of silence protects them.

  • Police should try to de-escalate situations more often.

  • Protestors shouldn’t throw objects at them.

  • Burning and looting are wrong. Period.

  • Unprovoked attacks on peaceful protestors are wrong. Period.

You must choose sides. Protestors or police. Pick.

No. I refuse.

It’s always tempting to mix outrages together and use them as excuses. But you don’t have to excuse bad acts to win the day. You shouldn’t excuse bad acts to win the day. If you make those excuses - moral excuses - then the ultimate victim is the truth. And that’s no way to build a just society.


So, I refuse to choose sides. At least, not the sides as they are defined for me.

If you make me choose one of these sides - protestors or police - I question your motives, your judgment, and your values - perhaps all three.

Regarding motives, my first guess is that you have political goals. You’re seeking partisan advantage and are trying to activate and solidify your base. I won’t play that game.

As for judgment, blindly excusing bad acts makes me question your ability at moral reasoning.

And finally values, as I mentioned, I resist political tribal loyalties, but I’m not some sort of moral relativist. Instead, I’m a believer in the promise of the Enlightenment tradition upon which the United States was founded:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That commitment to equality and reason and dialogue guides me. It clearly does not leave room for bigotry of any kind, even despite the hypocritical history of the Founding Fathers. And it transcends tribal loyalties and temporary political advantage. At least, it should.


Speaking of tribalism, I have a non-American friend (nationality obscured to protect the innocent) who is struggling to understand how Americans can’t find common ground. Surely everyone agrees there’s a problem? Here was my response, make of it what you will:

I think both extremes might agree things are messed up, but for completely different and incompatible reasons. Speaking stereotypically of the extremes, the right would say blacks are lazy complainers who can't get their own house in order, as they choose to be criminals, have broken families, do drugs, etc. The left would say all white people are irredeemably racist, even if they don't know it consciously, and will do everything in their power to keep blacks down, even to the point of being okay with cops murdering them. Now, there's a vast spread in the middle that feels some of these things, but maybe not all or not as intensely. But finding common ground is very, very hard when your tribe is pulling you in those directions.


By the way, the flag flying upside down, as above, is very much on purpose. According to military code:

The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

Seems fitting.


On with the show

Of course this is a newsletter for the latest episode, so let me include some links to what we talked about.

Here’s the video of the George Floyd being arrested and dying. It’s horrific. All of the officers at this scene were eventually fired, and the police officer who had his knee on Floyd’s neck has been arrested and charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter. The other three might face charges eventually, as well.

As we mentioned, Pres. Trump did provide some appropriate, measured, and sympathetic remarks on the death of George Floyd:

Unfortunately, since then, much of his tweeting has not been about reconciliation, but instead inflaming violent action against protestors. If only he had stuck with this tone, maybe further violence could have been defused. But as I mention in the episode, I think, for him, being a peacemaker is political loser, so we get what we have.

By the way, to repeat, burning and looting are wrong. I have no respect for those people. But let’s be clear, it’s not always the original protestors. Instead, they’ve had to defend their protests against people would foment violence and confrontations with police for their own purposes, both left and right. You can find examples of that here, here, here, here, and here.

I’m sure you’ve already seen plenty of images of protestors and rioting. Here’s a useful round-up of police violence occurring across the country. It’s ugly. And it’s causing some people to say we’re not living through a nationwide protest but a nationwide “police riot”.

Also discussed in the episode:

  • Reporters are getting arrested, live on TV, and injured.

  • In a discussion of the language of these events - is it a protest, riot, uprising, insurrection? - I brought up Ferguson, Missouri. You can find out more about how the police were abusing their power in order to fund the city here.

  • Regarding Singapore and how it manages race relations, find out more about its ethic integration plan and more on how it clearly places discussion of race “out of bounds”.

We also mentioned that recent incident in Central Park in New York City in which a white woman outrageously called the police when faced with a black man simply asking her to put her dog on a leash, as required by park rules. Watch the video. Just unbelievable.

By the way, she has been fired from her job, and she might face charges.

And finally, in the section where I discussed redlining, I was wrong. I indicated that it wasn’t official government policy, but nope, it sure was. And under the administration of my personal political hero, FDR, too - dammit.

US Coronavirus Deaths in Proper Perspective

As we discussed on the show, the US has the greatest number of deaths connected to the coronavirus pandemic of any country in the world. (If you believe the numbers out of China, that is.) In fact, headlines blared this fact for several days. Look, I think the Trump administration response has been erratic and inadequate and likely led to far more deaths than we might have otherwise had. But let’s at least put numbers in context. You have to adjust for per capita of some kind. If you do that, according to the tracking website Worldometers, the US is only #12 in deaths per million people. Still horrific, but we are certainly not the worst country in the world - yet.

The Good News

As you might already know, we always finish the show with some good news, because man, we all really need some.

Of course, Space X successfully launched two astronauts into space and has now docked with the International Space Station. Just inspiring. Elon Musk has said and done some stupid things during the coronavirus outbreak, but full credit to vision and his team here. You can soak it up on the SpaceX YouTube channel.

And finally, some good news from the ongoing protests.

An example of protestors protecting police:

And there are several examples of some officers trying to de-escalate the situation - here, here, and as we played on the program, one sheriff in Michigan laid down his helmet and baton and walked with protestors:

That’s the way to do it.


Alright, 2020, honestly, I think you can just calm down now. Take a break.


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