Friday, December 22, 2017

Casablanca, Morocco: Most Underrated City in the World

I wasn't expecting much when I arrived in Casablanca, Morocco. The Bogart-Bergman movie was not filmed here--it took place almost entirely in a Hollywood movie studio. Even so, several enterprising businesses have not disavowed the link, and a Rick's Cafe replica exists. 

When I arrived, I realized I had stepped into the equivalent of Morocco's NYC. Although Rabat is the official capital, most of Morocco's economic activity occurs in Casablanca, its largest city. Pollution is not noticeable, but grime is. Here are two photos, unfiltered, of the exact same area. 
Beautiful place, beautiful weather.

For whatever reason, no one has cleaned up Casablanca, so fewer tourists choose it over Marrakech, Chefchaouen, and Fes--a big mistake. Casablanca has medinas, beautiful architecture, attractive costs, and arguably the grandest mosque in the world. While London and Vancouver suffer rain or snow, the weather is almost perfect in December. 
Hassan II Mosque.
In addition, just one hour away by train is Rabat, which houses the Tomb/Mausoleum of Mohammad V, another stunning attraction. Cost of the train ride? About 4 USD--the same from the airport to the city center. (I stayed at ibis Casa Voyageurs next to the train station, avoiding the need for taxis.) 
Outside the Tomb.

Although Rabat has its own large mosque (Assounna) and a surprisingly good museum of modern art, nothing can compare to its tomb. You need only one day in Rabat, but it will be one of your most worthwhile experiences. 

You will want to spend three to five nights in Casablanca. With its fairly new Alstom-built tram, getting around the city is convenient, though the ticket machines could use an upgrade. (Choose the English option on the home screen and buy two trips, which should generate a renewable card.) 

A typical itineary will include seafood at the Central Market (tram stop: Marche Central); 

the modern Seddiq mosque in the business district; the Habous district, which contains incredible Andalusian-style architecture and the beautiful Muhammadi Mosque or al-Mohammadi Mosque; and of course the Hassan II Mosque. (Don't forget to wear respectful clothing, as you would if you were visiting the Vatican.) 
Cafes are everywhere, so you can try tagine with beef or lamb and the famous Moroccan mint tea. The avocado shakes were an unexpected bonus. [Update: don't miss "kika," or Moroccan almond cake.] 
Avocado shake with mint tea. Inside the teapot are mint leaves.

I enjoyed pastries at Patisserie Serraj, an institution since 1954, and sugarcane from street vendors (about 50 cents). If you see an outdoor market, you can buy meat or liver from a butcher and take it to BBQ at a nearby stall. 
Cost: 60 dinars or about 6.40 USD

Not one person overcharged me, and everywhere I went, I saw an old elegance, the kind you expect to exist only in movies. 
Morocco is famous for its tiles. Visit the museum inside the Hassan II complex.
Perhaps Casablanca wasn't filmed in Morocco, but I don't mind--no movie could ever capture its variegated beauty. Come before everyone else discovers this gem. 

Bonus: I took the train to Fes (about three and a half hours from Casablanca). I didn’t like Fes except for a cute crafts bazaar (Poterie de Fes) located outside the walled medina. 
On the way back to Casablanca, I stopped at Meknes, which has the best vibe of all the Moroccan cities I’ve seen. Meknes is where the youth are, and it might be the most open-minded city in Morocco. Perhaps that’s one measure of a society’s success: the more the adults let the youth roam free, the more the circle of life can continue. Why? Because all kids stretch the boundaries of authority as much as possible to see if the social fabric foisted upon them is stable. If the adults are fair and confident rulers, the rules they’ve made—both formal and informal—will bend but not break. This generational testing, this stretching, is what we call progress—if we’re lucky. #Youth #DontTrustAnyoneOver30

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


I have never felt as sorry for Muslims as I did in Tunis.

Mohamed Bouazizi’s name and spirit are missing. The men here dally in dark cafes, drinking tea with mint leaves, watching soccer. There is no trace of any revolution. Ben Ali is somewhere comfortable, his Saudi backers even more comfortable. The new-old government in Tunisia’s capital have banned a political party, forgetting Britain's lessons with Sinn Fein. Hundreds of people dead in 2011, for what?

I have never felt as sorry for Arabs as I did in Tunis.

In 1956, freed from the yoke of French colonialism, President Habib Bourguiba convinced the Tunisian National Assembly to pass the Personal Status Code, which prohibited polygamy, defined court procedures for divorce, granted universal suffrage, and required the consent of both parties to a marriage. “With this one law, women became equal to men before the courts.” (Third World Women Speak Out, by Perdita Huston)

But Bourguiba miscalculated. Tunisia’s rural villagers did not know about the Personal Status Code. When a country is illiterate, how can they know the capital city’s intentions for them? They continued the old ways.

What happened to the ideals of this leader of women’s rights, this Arab feminist? Where is his spirit in Tunis? It is in a street named after him and a statue. (At least the street is lively.)

I have never felt so sorry for Arabs and Muslims as I did in Tunis.

A capital city should be filled with activity and discussion, but Tunis at night is dead. Most shops close at 8pm, street lighting is irregular, and finding the way back to my riad is difficult. Only stray cats, graffiti, and small garbage heaps acknowledge me. Sanitation workers cannot clean the garbage heaps from the busy day quickly enough—the streets are too narrow, too winding, too dark. I have seen men using handheld carts, the kind farmers attach to the back of oxen, hauling garbage alone.
There may not be enough money to fix potholes, install proper lighting, clean graffiti, create a flag that doesn’t look like a Turkish copy, or improve sanitation, but the police near the presidential palace ride shiny BMW motorcycles. In the city centre, numerous security forces carry the latest semi-automatic weapons.

Tunisian women have not convinced politicians to pay them to stand around with guns, but they have their own defense tactics. When an impatient grandmother wearing a black headscarf crosses a busy street, she wags her finger at each oncoming driver, not bothering to look, confident cars will stop.

I have never felt so awful for Arab Muslims as I did in Tunis.

Wherever I go, I enter at least one government building and take a photo. I take the photo behind the security barrier or entrance check. The photo is always of something harmless or within easy sight, something I can zoom in from outside if needed. In San Francisco, California, the police officers do not bother me, even when I loiter in their lobby. They have discretion and are above following pointless rules for the sake of following rules. Their job is to keep the peace and bothering a potential taxpayer does not make sense.

In Havana, in Tunis, and in any society with too few women workers and too much security spending, the story is always the same. When I step inside Tunisia’s Ministry of Finance and take a photo of the tiled wall, an armed and uniformed security guard runs up to me and grabs my arm, angrily ordering me not to take photos. He knows his job is pointless, but he must follow orders, tu comprends? Not following rules affronts his manhood, and in Tunisia’s post-colonial world, enforcing pointless rules is his raison d’ etre.
Other government workers, equally useless, not used to commotion, come outside their offices to observe. They have very nice suits. A nonconformist in a Tunisian government building must be an interesting sight to behold. Meanwhile, EU finance ministers approved a blacklist of 17 jurisdictions deemed as tax havens. Tunisia is on the list.

I have never felt so despairing for young Arabs as I did in Tunis.

When I ask a guide the following day if we can enter a government building, the one over there with the interesting tiles, he calmly explains the building I would like to enter is for government employees. He does not need to add the word “only.” It is understood in Tunisia, which held democratic elections for the first time in 2012, the government does not work for him.

I have never felt so sad for young Muslims as I did in Tunis.

My host, a kind man named Oussama, the owner of both French and Tunisian passports, tells me politicians loyal to Ben Ali, the president who fled to Saudi Arabia after the student-led revolt in 2011, are re-gaining power. It is unclear whether the police or military would arrest Ben Ali if he returned, despite outstanding warrants for money laundering and drug trafficking.  

Oussama opines that the students’ 2011 nonviolent approach may have been a mistake. He does not look like a man who favors violence. He is slender, calm, has many books in many languages. He explains that after the revolution, the state disappeared and the mafia entered the void, but now the state is making a comeback. Unfortunately, Tunisians have lost the most important thing—their energy, so palpable in 2011. Young Tunisians today say they—the politicians—are all the same, which is the worst possible outcome. I do not tell him my successful Arab friend in America refers to the “Arab Spring” as the “Arab Winter.”

I have never felt so happy for Arab Muslims as I did in Sidi Bou Said.
The sidewalks are (mostly) clean, excellent coffee exists in enough places, students with laptops write eagerly, and no one objects to people taking harmless photos. Posh restaurants, late hours, and stunning views of the sea and mountains seem indigenous, as does the color blue. It is impossible to be sad in a city where almost everything has been painted blue by man or Allah.
I have never felt so optimistic for African Muslims as in Sidi Bou Said.

Men and women sit together on rooftop salons, black and Arab Africans walk side by side, and men do not need soccer or cigarettes to socialize. Police officers with shoulder-strapped guns are also here, but they bring a different energy. They are more purposeful, more determined, more proud. One plainclothes officer in Sidi Bou Said is worth ten uniformed personnel in Tunis.

I have never felt happier for African Arabs as in Carthage.

Carthage has the nicest houses, the most money, the best-paved roads, and the most interesting history in Tunisia. Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca, was born here, his military tactics striking fear and respect into the hearts of the Roman Empire.

Tunisia’s most vibrant cultural center is here, away from most government ministries. Inside, surrounded by movie posters, I see, for the first time, Heinrich Böll speaking on television. Outside in December, young men and women of every shade of color mull about, chatting and laughing.

I have never felt so happy for Arabs and Muslims as in Carthage. 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Simple Truths: De Facto Segregation

Author's note: I just discovered this post from many years ago. It's a draft, but I can't capture my original train of thought, so I am publishing it below "as is." I'm very surprised at #3, because I now firmly believe segregation, assisted by poor public transportation, is the cause of almost all major issues in modern countries. I don't mean only race-based segregation--I mean segregation of all kinds. In nature, birds of a feather may flock together, but if the human race's survival depends on "getting used to each other," segregation must be actively fought with the same planning and precision militaries fight wars.

Truth #3: Segregation may help minorities, at least in modern-day America.

Look at the history of assimilation in America. Which groups have been successful? How have they been successful? And why have we had so much "white flight"? Is "white flight" just a term for rich people trying to avoid an influx of poor people of a different color? Or is it a practical response to unwanted cultural change?

I don't know the answers to the aforementioned questions, but I do know there is safety in numbers. In America, as much as we advance the "melting pot" theory, the real power is in concentration, not integration. Democratic societies function based on elected representatives. Who chooses the representatives? The majority. If your group--whether professional, religious, or racial--is in the majority, chances are, your group will maximize its political potential. In contrast, if your group is in the minority, you will be dependent on the kindness of the majority to ensure your prosperity.

In good times, everyone is usually on the same page--it's the bad times that cause miscommunication and violence. History shows that when things get bad enough, majorities have no problem gassing millions of Jews, locking up Japanese-Americans, detaining and torturing Arabs and Muslims without due process, and so on.

In short, when the economy is doing well, Americans love assimilation; however, problems tend to arise during each recession.

Truth #4: Most people don't even know our two biggest problems.

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a massive problem--so is trying to compete in a globalized economy. Sure, other major problems exist, such as cybersecurity, a crumbling infrastructure, and a declining K-12 education system, but nuclear weapons and globalization stand out because we don't necessarily have the answers yet. 

Prague, Czech Republic: Deservedly Weird

The Czechs are weird. My first day, a college student took pity on me, a confused-looking tourist on the tram (I should have downloaded the Jizdni rady IDOS app earlier), and invited me to a show. The show turned out to be one of the trip's highlights and better than the 300 koruna performance at a fancy Prague museum. 
How did I get into this small gathering? Through a revolving door filled with heavy books. Why a revolving door? Because this is where the Czech intellectuals met, in secret rooms, to plot against their Soviet occupiers. 

Like much of Europe, the Czechs were occupied by Nazis. Just three years after the end of WWII, the Czechs, having expelled Nazis and fascists, had to battle Communism, which included the Soviet re-taking of property that had been returned to their rightful Czech owners in 1945. The three-years' bout of independence wasn't forgotten when the Soviets came; if anything, the sight of the sickle and hammer reinvigorated the Czech spirit. 

Consider the (pre-Soviet) heroic but ultimately tragic Heydrich assassination attempt, memorialized in the National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror. Short version: the British helped a small team of Czechs successfully assassinate the local Nazi police chief, then received cooperation from local church leaders to hide the Czech shooters in an underground crypt below a small church. The way to the crypt requires pushing through an inconspicuously heavy, half-revolving door. (See a pattern?) Unlike visitors today, the Czech shooters had to hide in darkness, armed only with candles for light. (I didn't see a toilet, by the way.) 

Unfortunately, one of the parties involved in the assassination split after things didn't go exactly according to plan, and it's unclear whether he knew the Heydrich hit had worked. He eventually betrayed his colleagues, but the fact remains: the Czechs, unlike other Europeans, resisted. 
Tales from the Crypt
Adolf Kajpr, a Jesuit priest, attracted the Gestapo's attention because of his anti-Third-Reich writings and was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. Yet, he never wavered in his faith and published still relevant thoughts, such as the idea that liberal capitalism leads to atheistic humanism, but Communism promotes oppression and injustice, especially against religious adherents. Why? "[P]ure religious truths were regarded as a form of resistance against those who claimed to possess the entire truth, freedom, and power." (Note to self: totalitarians hate competition.) 
Incredibly, Czech nonconformity can be traced back to the first President of Czechoslovakia, Tomas G. Masaryk. He was expelled from Catholic school, married a rich French-American woman from Brooklyn, took her last name as his middle name, and as a matter of principle, refused to honor convention. (Politicians matter, folks. For better or worse, they help shape a country's image and ability to credibly claim a particular value in the future.) 
If this isn't available online when I get back to California, I'm gonna be disappointed.

Other Czech iconoclasts include playwright and eventual President Vaclav Havel. Below are two of my favorite passages from perhaps the Czech Republic's greatest citizen: 
From Disturbing the Peace (1990)
Imagine meeting in secret café rooms with a playwright and plotting to drive the law-and-order Soviets so insane, they'd give up and leave. It actually happened. The Czechs managed to resist non-violently and in crazy enough ways to make a report sent to Moscow impossible or incomprehensible. For example, when the Soviets first came, Czech resisters removed all the street signs. In a non-GPS, non-GNSS era, this action rendered the efficient Soviet machine slow, making navigation and mapping impossible. 

The Czechs were just getting started. Try to envision a 22 year-old Soviet soldier patrolling the streets of Prague with a Kalashnikov. He doesn't know where he's going because there are no street signs. When he walks around, trying to maintain order, he sees this: 
"What's going on?" he thinks. No one is attacking him, so he can't shoot. The artist cleans up after the performance, so there's no litter. It's not against the law to "crow." Does he just stand there, looking like an idiot? How does he explain this incident to his local superiors, who then have to report to straitlaced Moscow? If you're the 40 years-old local military commander, and you receive a call describing this performance--and others like it--do you even write a report? If you don't, you'll be accused of hiding information from Moscow, but if you do, you'll look like you've lost your mind, and you might lose your job. What do you do? What do you do?
Suffice to say, Vaclav Havel and his band of misfits prevailed--but only after college students, who so often sacrifice themselves to shame adults and the Establishment into doing what should be done, set themselves on fire. Remember these names: Jan Palach, Jan Zajíc, and Evžen Plocek--they are heroes and better men than you and me. 
Memorial at Charles University
When women today make the popular V-sign in photos, they may not know its full history. It was in Wenceslas Square where President Vaclav Havel, a poet and playwright, made the V-for-victory sign to thousands of Czechs who had finally won their freedom from Soviet occupation. 
At Wenceslas Square, the site of Palach's self-immolation in 1969.

After I left Prague, I read a delightful book by an Australian woman who moved there in search of a more interesting life. The passages below are from Rachael Weiss's book Me, Myself, and Prague (2008), but I recommend you start with her more polished and recent work, The Thing about Prague (2014). Her insights are spot-on about the Czechs, whom she politely calls "eccentric." 
Weiss correctly describes the Czechs as rude by Western standards, but one must also remember much of the world thinks Westerners are idiots for walking around smiling all the time for no reason. Me, I say the Czechs have earned the right to be any way they like. If they want to be eccentric, rude, and notorious for having affairs, more power to them. Anyone repelling armed soldiers using art, nonviolence, and sheer confusion ought to be able to put a man on an upside-down horse in the middle of a bazaar and act as if that's perfectly normal. 
Your eyes do not deceive you. It is what is is.

If you visit Prague, try Medovnik (honey cake), and think of the Czechs as perpetually drunk Germans. Czechs are usually blunt, so it often feels like you're getting yelled at or ignored with no middle ground. I'm no linguistics expert, but the way Czechs speak English indicates their language prefers to be precise and concise when possible. 

Just don't take anything too personally, whether it's the museum employee trying to be helpful by warning you not to buy a ticket because it's too late ("Why did you wait until you only had one hour left? You come tomorrow." I bought the ticket after realizing she wasn't actually giving me an order); to the sitting newspaper stand owner loudly demanding to know why you're standing in front of his stall (an American would just ignore the potential customer); to the waiter who ignores you even when you wave your hand trying to catch his attention. 

Despite the occasional rudeness and weirdness, you'll be pleased to know the Czechs, unlike most of Eastern Europe, have successfully integrated about 60,000 to 80,000 immigrants and made about half of them citizens. These Vietnamese immigrants weren't necessarily fleeing the North Vietnamese military--some relocated voluntarily as part of a later Communist alliance between Chinese-backed North Vietnam and the Soviet Union, which is why Vietnamese food in Prague is different from Vietnamese food in America. 

Besides excellent restaurants and cafés, Prague has too many tourist sights to list, but you should try the following: Charles Bridge, 
Basilica of St. James (aka Church of St James the Greater), 
I don't read Dan Brown's books, but look closely.

Church of St. Nicholas (in Old Town), the Dancing House, 
St. Vitus Cathedral (in Prague Castle aka Prazsky Hrad), the Franz Kafka Monument, 
Yes, the guy who wrote a weird story about a man who turns into an insect is Czech.

National Gallery aka Narodni galerie v Praze (with permanent and changing exhibitions in different locations--I enjoyed Julian Rosefeldt's "Manifesto," starring Cate Blanchett), Wenceslas Square (for its historical value--it's just a shopping area now), National Memorial to the Heroes of the Heydrich Terror, and Lobkowicz Palace. Five nights is sufficient. 

Lastly, here's a photo of dogs in the aforementioned royal palace. 
As you can see, you will never, ever be as weird as the Czechs. They are the original hipsters, and others will always be poor imitators. Unlike most artists today, their art and nonconformity had purpose, bravery, and substance, helping the Czechs achieve independence. The next time someone asks whether art and philosophy are useful, you can respond affirmatively--as long as you thank the Czechs. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

The Role of Patents in Monopolies

One of the lesser-known reasons behind M&A and consolidation of markets (aka less competition) is the role of patents. Even if a small company has great ideas, at some point, to get access to the broader market, they will need licenses. Over time, the cost of such licenses may become prohibitive, encouraging consolidation. This is why open source is so important, but it's also why governments have lost credibility over time.

Rather than address the causes of needlessly prohibitive barriers, governments have attempted to deal only with the results of an increasingly unwieldy legal framework, which merely adds to its complexity--and which generates even more contempt for the elites who benefit from it. 

Let's take a couple of recent examples: Uber/Waymo and Fitbit/Jawbone. They've sued each other, a process that is supposed to create a check and balance protecting innovation. Problematically, it's impossible to know whether any party actually committed legal violations or trade secret theft without each side spending millions of dollars in legal fees that do nothing to promote innovation. In some cases, companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars arguing about superficial similarities in mobile phone design, down to the curves and grooves in a mobile phone's case (e.g., Apple vs. Samsung). 

If you are a small company threatening the market share of a larger company, the larger company has an asymmetrical payoff in suing you early and often--even if its case has little merit. The smaller company then has to raise funding for non-innovative purposes or become more dependent on outsiders to survive. As such, the status quo biases winners and losers based on which innovators have access to the best or most powerful venture capitalists and lawyers, many of whom are connected to the existing political establishment, especially in states where judges run for election. 

Worse, governments cannot unilaterally reform the patent development or certification process, partly because the procedures are often based on subjective interpretation and therefore the random assignment of a particular government employee. (e.g., is Amazon's "one-click" technology truly deserving of a patent? If so, which parts?) 

Meanwhile, laws and regulations relating to interpretation continue to expand to resolve increasingly complex or new issues, frustrating even sincere government employees who may not have recent technological expertise or who may be receiving such expertise secondhand from biased experts. Absent wholesale removal of patent application screeners who disagree with the executive branch's interpretation of truly non-innovative or innovative patents--a definition that may change every four years--lawyers once again take the helm. Compounding problems, as law school tuition has increased, legal fees have risen, making experienced (and even inexperienced) lawyers less accessible for smaller companies.

Conclusion: every system of any kind, once it achieves stability (often misconstrued for success), has three choices: bar newcomers, which increases social tension, reduces consumer choice, and renders diversity impossible; make competition outside the established system affordable and feasible, which often increases segregation while creating more entrenched interests; or adapt and suffer sacrifice. The primary cause of almost all problems in the developed world today is the inability of all parties--both public and private--to choose the third option.

Bonus: from Peter Thiel's From Zero to One

Bonus II: Much of globalization's discontents is merely new or freshly made capital moving from developed countries (that have not chosen to adequately reform existing legal systems) and into developing countries which lack similar barriers--exactly as one would expect new capital to behave in a rigged system.

Bonus III: Peter Thiel's ideas are not entirely new. See Elliott Sclar's words from 2001. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

A Primer on Modern History

The study of modern history is needlessly complicated. Unfortunately, most history teachers and professors spent their lives in a few countries or studied only a single subject, rendering them unable to provide the context students so desperately need. I have tried below to provide a straightforward framework acceptable to everyone. Without such a framework, historical understanding will fracture, and humanity will continue to repeat the same mistakes.
Since 1945, every single government and military has been focused on attaining or preventing others from attaining nuclear weapons. After the United States dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending WWII, politicians and military leaders realized existing defense/protection paradigms no longer applied. A country with the most skilled troops, superior munitions, most efficient supply chains, best hygiene (to prevent disease, which often killed more soldiers than active combat), and even superior strategy would not necessarily prevail. Now, only three things mattered: technology and the ability and willingness to use it. Developing brawn had given way to developing brains and gaining (accurate) information.

Military budgets prioritized R&D and began to emphasize covert operations. As governments continued competing for the moral high ground, questions became more complex. When was a first strike politically acceptable? How could one determine whether a recruit would keep secrets? How could countries identify the best minds in the world and entice them to relocate? (e.g., Operation Paperclip) 

Such a shift required a mix of intrigue, psychology, persuasion, media influence, and propaganda. Intelligence communities realized they would be key players in the new paradigm and, in an era prior to CCTVs and ubiquitous technological surveillance, reliable human assets and agents would be the difference between victory and defeat. Furthermore, where soft power and persuasion would not work, assassinations and abductions would--preferably through a third party ally. [Evidence: Operation Damocles; Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16 years-old son; Israel assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists Masoud Alimohammadi, Majid Shahriar, Darioush Rezaeinejad, Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, and possibly Ardeshir Hassanpour, mimicking USA's strategy against Germany.] 

Such tactics were not enough for military and intelligence units, which also resorted to false flag operations or coups on a much wider scale. [e.g., Gulf of Tonkin, Lavon Affair/Operation Susannah, 
Operation Ajax (1953), Operation Musketeer (1956)] Facing potential conflicts between civilian and military objectives, democratic regimes sought to limit international interference with domestic governance, causing ideological splits regarding the balance of law, order, and dissent. As domestic resistance increased, it had the potential to upend military alliances post-WWII, which involved important economic treaties and investments. (See “most favored nation” clause, which used USA's stronger currency to tilt trade in its favor: “The American workman, by 1960, had the highest standard of living in the world, and all due to what they genteelly called ‘the most favored nation’ clause in every commercial transaction with the East.” – Philip K. Dick

The failure of Western governments to foresee strong domestic resistance to international policies led to more secrecy in the name of national security, both at home and abroad. The private security industry, not subject to invasive government oversight, began its ascent. British-based Securicor is one example. In 1953, it specialized in delivery and logistics, eventually making its way into the telecom (aka surveillance and data-gathering) business. Today, it is part of G4S, the world's largest security company. With 585,000 employees, G4S is the world's third largest private sector employer and the largest in Europe and Africa. (See the film Logan (2017) for a dystopian view of the possible evolution of private security firms.) 

Returning to the 1960s, covert operations and violations of territorial sovereignty (Operation Menu) became more accepted within governments as the United States began to realize its superior armaments were not enough in Vietnam. As nuclear energy and more lethal weapons accelerated the risks of being outside established alliances, countries and military leaders were forced into one of two camps: pro-Soviet Union (which in practice often meant pro-China) and pro-American. Meanwhile, existing and aspiring world leaders learned that favorable (or in the case of Vietnam, unfavorable) media coverage and asymmetrical warfare—later used by Osama bin Laden—could defeat larger powers or at least convince them to leave. Like private security firms, the general media industries--in this case, television and radio--began their steady ascent. 

Its ability to influence world affairs now jeopardized by increasing Chinese and Soviet influence in Asia and Eastern Europe as well as domestic turmoil, America began addressing matters under its direct control more forcefully. American police started using the same tactics as the military and intelligence communities on their own people. (Potential lesson: once the military uses a particular strategy successfully, it is only a matter of time before the civilian government deploys similar strategies.) 

Surveillance, infiltration, and financially-debilitating lawsuits were used against antiwar groups and activists from MLK to Muhammad Ali to John Lennon. The term “law and order” became a justification for a proxy war against protesters, later morphing into President Reagan’s "War on Drugs." Ironically, countervailing forces that bolstered social change came partly from the military, which had relied on greater female participation in the private workforce during wartime as well as soldiers of color, including but not limited to Jackie Robinson

Politicians like America's Joseph McCarthy had used the media to blacklist anyone deemed an adversarial nonconformist in the 1950s at the same time the Soviet Union and its satellite forces were blacklisting and jailing dissidents.As power-hungry politicians gained more power, propaganda against dissenters became more widespread, with police officers in some jurisdictions ordered to attack nonviolent protestors while federal agencies (J. Edgar Hoover) spied on civil rights leaders. As lines between international and domestic operations blurred, the Watergate scandal was a natural and inevitable result. (See The Most Dangerous Man in America (2009).) 

Were it not for the courageous work of American whistleblowers and journalists (e.g., All the President’s Men (1976)), who often ignored conservative legal advice from their employers, secretive operations would have continued without abatement. Unfortunately, civilian resistance movements against the Eastern Establishment were not as strong as ones in the West, thus preserving the East's status quo--a status quo that would later prove to be unsustainable, essentially bankrupting the Soviet Union and ending its petro-military-industrial economic model. 

In the West, where the status quo was fraying, greater diversity flourished, both strengthening and weakening authoritarian impulses. Taking advantage of distractions in Southeast Asia and Central/South America, some countries decided to cooperate outside U.S. or Soviet-led alliances, much in the same way China would later exploit America’s failure to “pivot to Asia” after the costly and counterproductive 2003 Iraq War. [Examples: creation of ASEAN in 1967; “mid-level” countries like Argentina and Iran working to resume nuclear cooperation, only to see outside events interfere with their relationships, such as the Buenos Aires 1992 embassy bombing, in which neither Argentina nor Iran strangely derived any benefit.]

In 1973, the OPEC embargo added yet another disruptor to the existing world order, namely the integrity of the oil supply chain, which formed the underlying basis of U.S. dollar strength and numerous economic treaties. Post-Nixon and the cessation of active armed conflict between West and East, economic statecraft became the way forward, with America’s mighty Navy and more developed financial markets giving the West a clear advantage. Trade, oil, weapons development, and continued control of nuclear energy would dominate international relations until the birth of the internet in the 1990s. The formal dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991 provided America with the opportunity to create what President George Bush, formerly the CIA's Director, called a “new world order” on September 11, 1990, a period lasting until September 11, 2001. America's 2003 invasion of Iraq, driven by falsified pretenses, shattered America's reputation, allowing other countries to vie for global dominance. And here we are

© Matthew Mehdi Rafat (2017)

Bonus: another historical pattern is that when two countries enter into a treaty—whether to avoid war or after a conflict—often only one party intends on upholding the terms. The other party uses the break in tensions to disarm—both literally and figuratively—the other signatory, eventually invading the former enemy and prevailing through political chicanery.

Bonus: when we hear the term, "divide and conquer," we typically understand the term absent historical context. After WWII, the British, despite prevailing, were in debt and could not maintain their empire, which once spanned a quarter of the globe. They attempted to break up or partition several areas in order to more easily manage them and to allow Western powers to maintain naval supremacy. Singapore's break from Malaysia is one example--keep the port, leave the land. Divide and conquer. Yet, even with lesser security obligations, European powers, particularly the British and the French, could not afford empire status. By the time of the Vietnam War, Europe had effectively handed off empire duties and corresponding security--both for Westerners living abroad as well as Western-owned businesses--to the United States. 

Bonus: from Allison J. Truitt's Dreaming of Money in Ho Chi Minh City (2013): "The United States' massive military expenditures in Southeast Asia led to the collapse of its ability to maintain the dollar's fixed value relative to gold. When the US government put an end to the dollar's convertibility in 1971, it ushered in a new era of more flexible and more volatile exchange rates." 

Bonus: counterpoint from Singapore's Kishore Mahbubani's Has the West Lost It? (2018)

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Bonus: "History... is not merely something to be read... On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.  It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations." -- James Baldwin, USA (1965)