Attn: Democrats ─ Stop Giving Greg Abbott What He Wants


Meg Gawron

Amid the pandemic, a frequently disregarded portion of the GOP gained notoriety: Republican Governors. In a recent article, The Washington Post referred to Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida (R), Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota (R), and Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas (R) as the “vanguard of GOP resistance to public health mandates.” As the article aptly notes, both DeSantis and Abbott have banned mask mandates, but this hardly qualifies them as thought leaders. Yet, people seem to keep referring to them as such.

Liberal news sources from The Washington Post to Vice have made Republican Governors, particularly Greg Abbott, front page news. From Abbott banning local officials from mandating masks in their regions to the announcement that he has contracted COVID-19, journalists have reported on Abbott religiously– and Democrats, nationwide, have dutifully shared these articles and infographics so everyone can watch Texas in abject horror. Unfortunately for them, that’s exactly what Abbott wants.

Okay, maybe he doesn’t want everyone to be horrified, but in a political climate where “owning the libs” is the centerpiece of the GOP’s strategy, the coverage does exactly what he needs it to.

Gov. Greg Abbott is up for reelection in 2022, and despite facing several challengers in the primary, even Democrats are sharing articles calling him a leader. With that kind of press, how could he lose? While his polling numbers are starting to dwindle, he’s winning the optics game. Even with increasing criticism from his own party, the election is still considered “Abbott’s to lose.” That assessment seems fair, considering that Gov. Abbott has raised over $55 million for his reelection campaign, more than any Texas candidate has raised in the state’s 176-year history.

It’s insufficient to just say Gov. Abbott wants attention; that can be said of any politician. Instead, there is something unique about how the governor is covered in the news that works to his benefit. National headlines about state governance typically do one of two things: prompt outrage or elicit praise. For Greg Abbott, these headlines do both, often while furthering the causes he supports.

By now, every major news outlet has reported that Abbott has contracted COVID-19. While Abbott is firmly anti-mandate, he, through personal choice, is fully vaccinated, making this a breakthrough infection. CNN declared that this experience should teach Abbott that masks work, emphasizing that should reverse his stance on mask mandates. The article acknowledges that this is a lesson Abbott is bound to ignore, but the implications of Abbott’s infection and its coverage may go far deeper than the maintenance of the status quo. 

As of August 16, only 45% of Texas is fully vaccinated and less than 60% of the state has received their first dose. While Abbott has encouraged his state to get vaccinated, his efforts appeared half-hearted and failed to convince many of his constituents to get the jab. Breakthrough infections are to be expected and cases involving unvaccinated patients now make up the vast majority of deaths, but when these breakthroughs happen at the highest level of vaccine-hesitant states, the greatest negative impact will be to that state’s vaccination rates. Spreading the news of Gov. Abbott’s asymptomatic case will not change his mind about mask mandates, but it can very easily convince the unvaccinated and the partially vaccinated that they don’t need the vaccine.

The discussion of Greg Abbott’s infection often includes one seemingly key and outrageous detail: he attended a maskless campaign event the day before. However, Democrats need to consider the consequences before grabbing their pitchforks. Can crowded, maskless events (where, statistically speaking, most people are unlikely to be vaccinated) be superspreader events? Absolutely! That’s why the CDC recommends even fully vaccinated people don masks in high transmission areas. Will the mass criticism of these events followed by limited to no outbreak encourage more of these events? Again, yes. When people share messages, they amplify their reach, but it’s not always clear what messages are gaining traction. Disease spread by asymptomatic vaccinated people, like Gov. Abbott, is something that the CDC has yet to publish data on. While this is an important thing to monitor, using an unknown to drum up concern is bound to panic the Left and bolster the Right. To raise concerns and be wrong seems to be one of the most dangerous things Democrats could do as we attempt to beat the pandemic.

It’s important that people remain informed and that constituents stay critical, so this is not to tell you to stop reading and writing about Greg Abbott and other Republicans. But if you’re a Democrat (or anyone who has a vested interest in not amplifying Republican messaging), here are a few ways to not do what Greg Abbott wants:

  • To journalists, be cognizant of what you write. Do you really want to give someone you’re being critical of the reputation of a ‘vanguard’? How could your words be adapted for messaging you disagree with? Is the detail you’re adding something the people need to know, or is it just to maximize the clicks on your article?
  • To Texans, don’t give up. Greg Abbott hasn’t won the gubernatorial race yet and, despite what experts have said, this race isn’t his. Learn about what Abbott has done and then amplify the message of a candidate who promises to do what you believe in. Talk to your neighbors and your peers about what can be done to improve your state. Channel your outrage into motivation and prevent the governor from getting the kind of attention he thrives on.
  • To the vaccinated, talk to people about it! It’s easy to shame the unvaccinated and people hosting maskless events, and even easier to call them selfish and move on. However, the majority of unvaccinated people aren’t declining the vaccine out of malice for the human race. Data suggests that people who are not vaccinated are more likely to schedule an appointment if a friend or family member discusses it with them. (Technically, Greg Abbott doesn’t care about this one– it really benefits the country, though, so it’s staying on the list).
  • To people on social media, stop spreading outrage and start spreading insights. Yes, the title of that slidedeck was eye-catching, but who does it help? Instead of sharing the things that make you angry, start looking for and sharing ways to solve it. The next time you want to share something about how another state is run, ask yourself if you want to give that event a national audience. And if you’re sharing it to start a discussion, know what direction you want to steer it in.

So, yes, people have given Republican Governors what they have wanted for months. Attn: Democrats─ today is the perfect day to stop.

Meg Gawron
Meg Gawron

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Contextualizing the Protests in Cuba, the Embargo, and Additional Sanctions

Sam Adams

Recent protests on the Cuban island filled Western newspapers in July, including a cacophony of calls for regime change and further intervention in the socialist-led nation. Thousands took to the streets in cities across Cuba in the largest protest to have taken place since the fall of the Soviet Union, certainly the largest show of dissidence since President Díaz-Canel took power April 19th, 2018. The less covered and oft-downplayed counter-protests saw at least tens of thousands of participants, however, with the government even saying that numbers reached over 100,000 marching in support of the revolutionary government. 

The protests initially broke out on July 11th and lasted for about a week’s time before petering out as the initial fervor faded. The concerns of the protestors varied, with some in the streets due to the government’s coronavirus response, lack of vaccines, an ailing economy, and disillusionment among younger Cubans. All of which are extremely valid concerns as the virus continues to rage around the globe, and while economies continue to struggle with emerging from the ever-continuing pandemic. While many of the complaints are valid, and the necessitation of the right to protest must be guaranteed, some protestors were clamoring for something that has only had disastrous effects: American military intervention and regime change. Cuban Americans in Florida have been at the vanguard of calls for President Biden to invade the Caribbean Island, on a humanitarian and regime change basis. 

If history would serve correct, as it often does, American military intervention in Cuba would be disastrous to say the least. The consequences of the recent departure from Afghanistan by American and allied forces should be a clear indicator of what would become of another regime change and occupation campaign. The American role in Cuban affairs is and has historically been over-pronounced, beginning with the US occupying the nation following its defeat of the Spanish alongside Cuban rebels in the Spanish-American War (also known as the Cuban War of Independence). 

Read More on Afghanistan HERE

The Americans would go on to invade Cuba four additional times following May 20th, 1902, when the US officially announced the end of its military occupation of the island and Cuba declared independence. The justification of the interventions varied from protecting American business in the sugarcane industry, to crushing an Afro-Cuban led revolt, as well as invading to defeat leftist insurgents although the Cuban government repeatedly declared it would handle the situation. All three situations utilized the enshrinement of the Platt Amendment in the Cuban Constitution, virtually making Cuba a protectorate of the US rather than a fully independent nation. The language of the amendment gave the US a massive amount of discretion in its enaction. Specifically, Article III required the government of Cuba consent to the right of the United States, while also allowing the US to construct what would become known as Guantanamo Bay. Not until 1934, in accordance with his “Good Neighbor Policy”, did President Roosevelt repeal the Platt Amendment, ending the repeated involvement of the US military in Cuba since 1898. 

Since the rescinding of the Platt Amendment the United States relations with Cuba have fluctuated extremely: from openly working with elected officials, to supporting strongmen, assisting coup d’états, and ultimately attempting a CIA-led invasion, followed by decades of crippling sanctions. The events of the 1950’s and 60’s have been extremely influential on the relations of the two nation’s beginning first with the seizure of power by General Fulgencio Batista in March of 1952. 

General Batista had already led a prior coup in 1933, toppling a provisional government which had replaced Dictator Gerardo Machado. In this revolt Batista amassed a cult of personality and rose to one of the most powerful men in Cuba, leading the nation through several puppet presidents and institutions until being elected President in 1940. Following the end of Batista’s term, he then traveled abroad and lived in the United States, investing huge sums of money he had amassed through his monopoly on political power in Cuba from 1933-1944. Batista would then find the need to return to Cuba under perceived rise in corruption and collapse of public works, running for president in the 1952 elections that were to take place in June.

Batista and his wife visit the Cuban Ambassador in Washington DC

Batista, though, was not as popular among the Cuban people as he had calculated, and all indications pointed to Batista losing the 1952 elections. Prior to his defeat materializing Batista took decisive military action against the elected government of President Carlos Prío Socarras, who ironically had participated in Batista’s previous coup in 1933. Three months before the elections were to take place in March, Batista, with support of the armed forces, took over the Presidential Palace as well Havana proper in effect ousting the elected government. 

While having constructed the 1940 Constitution, which by all measures was a progressive document, Batista didn’t return to its promises but instead reneged on all previously progressive positions and grew increasingly conservative in ideology and authoritarian in practice. During his 1950’s rule, Batista was incredibly corrupt, inviting American Mobsters onto the Island to run its casinos and embezzling funds from Congress, amassing a huge fortune with everyday Cubans footing the bill. Batista would then rule with the backing of the United States until being overthrown via popular revolution led by Fidel and Raul Castro alongside Che Guevara in early January of 1959.

Cuban Revolutionaries, from left to right:
Che Guevara, Raul Castro, and Fidel Castro

The turn of the decadeand ruling powers in Cubamarked the greatest shift in American policy, as for years it had been one of either controlling the island or backing various political leaders, with Castro’s ascendence turning the US position to downright hostility. The ideology of the Marxist-Leninist revolutionaries was arguably the nail in the coffin for US-Cuba relations; as the latter became closer with the Soviet Union, the US grew increasingly hostile with the island. On January 3, 1961, citing “unwarranted action by the Government of Cuba that placed crippling limitations” regarding the ability for the Embassy to function, the US government officially closed its embassy in Cuba.

Shortly before closing the embassy, on October 19th, 1960, President Eisenhower authorized the partial embargo which would be the initial step toward the blockade we know today. That step to the embargo of today was made less than 18 months later on February 3, 1962, following the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, President Kennedy signed Proclamation 3447, which declared an embargo on all trade between the US and Cuba. The embargo would be strengthened a year later with the Cuban Assets Control Regulations, an economic sanction that forbade financial transactions with Cuba, cutting off Cuba from all American business and banking institutions. 

Following a thaw in the 70’s under the Carter Administration, the US returned to its hardline stance under the George H.W. Bush and Clinton Administrations in the 90’s passing both the Cuban Democracy Act (1992) and the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act of 1996. The bills further prohibited US business dealings with Cuba, extending the ban to foreign subsidiaries of US companies, restricted remittances, and allowed sanctions against companies that invested in formerly American owned property, seized as a result of the nationalizing of Cuba’s resources and land. President George W. Bush further increased sanctions and their penalties which would largely stay in place until the re-establishing of relations under the Obama Administration. 

Cuban Political Cartoon depicting “El Bloqueo” or the “Blockade” as it’s known in Cuba

Under the Obama Administration, Cuba-US relations were the warmest since the Castro’s came to power following the toppling of the Batista regime. The pair of countries re-opened their respective embassies, while under Obama the US alleviated some of the sanctions concerning financial transactions, travel to the island, and official trade between the nations. Even with this much progress toward normalization having been made, most if not all has been lost as the Trump administration rushed to reimpose sanctions Obama had rolled back, as well as imposing additional sanctions while additionally listing Cuba as a sponsor of Terrorism – joining Iran, Syria, and North Korea.

All this history of US involvement in Cuban affairs along with the turbulent relationship between the two nations brings us back to the recent protests we have seen. Thousands of people took to the streets protesting food and medicine shortages, the handling of COVID, as well as police brutality and political freedoms. Each are more than valid reasons to protest, and such problems should be met immediately by the Cuban government. On the international stage the Cuban government has been met with widespread condemnation on the use of police and security forces to disperse protestors, as well as the arrest and detention of some protestors. To date, upwards of 700 people have been detained by the government for their role in the protests, which government officials often label as riots. While it isn’t a positive development in Cuba, it would serve the US government, international community, and media class to recall just one year ago the protests that rocked the US from coast to coast, north to south, for months. 

Cuban Security Forces respond to recent protests

In those protests, which were in response to an extrajudicial killing of an unarmed Black man by US Police Forces, millions, not thousands, took the streets demanding at the very least a reformation of police forces and at the most complete restructuring of power and redistribution of wealth in the nation. Of those protesting, which were also often labeled riots by government officials, over 10,000 people were arrested in the first weeks alone, while those not arrested were met with tear gas, steel-rubber coated bullets, and baton charges. Journalists were fired upon with tear gas and rubber bullets, including a reporter struck while on air, as well as another being arrested on live TV. Such a comparatively harsher response to valid protests against governmental action should be expected as a scene unique to oppressive regimes… although it was (and is) the status quo in the United States. 

American Security Forces responding to popular protest across the US

In remembering our own mass protests, and the government’s response, it seems hypocritical at best and malevolent at worst for the US to respond in such a hostile manner. President Biden issued additional sanctions on Cuba, on top of the Trump-era sanctions the President promised to rescind on the campaign trail. If our President truly wanted to aid the people of Cuba he wouldn’t have levied additional sanctions against the government, sanctions of which were designed with isolation, suffering, and regime change in mind rather than anything else. The State Department’s own documents outlined the early strategy of the US toward Cuba which would become the status quo:

“If the above are accepted or cannot be successfully countered (points detailing Castro’s and Communist influence and popularity), it follows that every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba. If such a policy is adopted, it should be the result of a positive decision which would call forth a line of action which, while as adroit and inconspicuous as possible, makes the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation, and overthrow of government”

Memorandum From the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Mallory) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs (Rubottom)
WashingtonApril 6, 1960.

Considering the historical positions of the United States, its own documents, and the continuity of strategy across the Trump-Biden presidencies, I find it hard to believe the United States has a moral and political upper hand with Cuba as the former often postures. That sentiment was borne out in the international community in a recent UN vote that blasted the continued embargo of Cuba with the General Assembly voting 184 in favor of a resolution condemning the blockade. Only two nations voted against, predictably the United States and its hardline ally Israel, after voting with the US in 2019. Brazil chose to abstain from the vote, as did US allies Colombia and Ukraine. This rendition of the resolution calling for an end to the embargo has now been passed by the UNGA 29 times since 1992. 

To truly help the Cuban people, the United States must come into compliance with the vast majority of the world, as well as its allies, and end the embargo of Cuba while rescinding relevant sanctions. The “economic warfare,” as the Cuban foreign minister puts it, has no place in American diplomatic efforts. They haven’t worked in most casesCuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuelawhere they’ve all been employed to enact regime change. The reality on the ground is that these measures hit the people the US claims to want to help the hardest. It’s time for the US to end the embargo, render aid to Cubans in need following normalization, and then diplomatic efforts can proceed. Historically, as ties have warmed, so has the Cuban Government often softened its stance. In 2021, after all the suffering we’ve seen in this pandemic, we must do the objectively correct thing and end Cuba’s isolation, for it’s their suffering that our diplomatic polices exacerbate. 

Sam Adams
Sam Adams

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by Alex Bonilla
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The Fall of Afghanistan

Sam Adams

Helicopters touching down on the roof of the embassy in Saigon and evacuating American personnel—along with very few allied South Vietnamese—was the scene precipitating the American pullout of forces from Vietnam. It seems those optics are destined to repeat themselves in America’s latest foray, as Afghan National forces are quickly and steadily overpowered by the Taliban on the heels of an American pullout from its longest war. 

For one to label the Taliban’s recent advance across Afghanistan as swift would understate the complex web of logistics and troop movements at play. Between the two, the Taliban is under-equipped and outmanned compared to the Afghan National Defense Forces. The Afghan National forces also boast an Air Force, with the Taliban’s most advanced aerial capability being unmanned drones. These facts only beg the larger question of what exactly is happening in the South Asian nation, why the armed forces are collapsing, what is the government’s plan to respond, if one exists, and, frankly, how long will the Afghan government and Kabul remain in place? 

The decision to withdraw American and allied troops was announced by President Biden in April, with plans for nearly all foreign forces to be out of the country by September; four months later than the plan originally negotiated by former President Trump. The Taliban, for their part in accordance with said deal, pledged not to attack foreign forces as they prepared for withdrawal, though Afghan National Forces were not part of that moratorium on violence. Directly following the announcement by President Biden of the departure of foreign troops, the Taliban began their current offensive. 

The armed group began their assault, tearing through the traditionally insecure rural swathes of Afghanistan, slowly encircling provincial capitals and seizing border crossings in the progress.  Early signs of the coming collapse of the Afghan Army came in the falling of the Islam Qala border crossing with Iran, as well as the Spin Boldak crossing with Pakistan. The Islam Qala district and border crossing fell to the Taliban on July 9th, with customs and government officials fleeing into neighboring Iran. This came mere days before the Taliban’s seizure of another key border post, Spin Boldak, on the border with Pakistan, on the 14th of July. It’s estimated that tens of millions of dollars ($) worth of trade come through the two ports each month.

The seizures came amid numerous reports of Afghan military personnel and police fleeing ahead of Taliban advance by the thousand. The Taliban, in the earlier weeks of the offensive, seemed intent on strangling the central government by quickly taking border crossings, undermining the government’s ability to finance their troops while filling Taliban coffers. The prospect of losing rural districts to advancing Taliban forces was expected following the exit of foreign forces, although the bitter string of defeats, cross-border retreats, and loss of border crossings had to serve a debilitating blow to the morale of Afghan National Forces as well as handicapping the economic capabilities, strategic maneuvering, and supply routes of the Kabul Government.  

The losses of the Kabul government were quickly written off by Western allies, as a predictable consequence of the retreat of foreign forces. The Taliban’s troop movements and attack strategy have been extremely calculated, first taking swathes of rural territory to facilitate supply lines, moving then to take strategic border crossings, and most recently the encircling and assault of provincial capitals. The strategy follows a line of encirclement, then of strangling the central government into submission. Highlighting the steady loss of territory to the Taliban is the tally of districts under its control: on April 13th, the day of the announcement of the withdrawal of foreign troops, 194 districts were contested, 129 under Government Control, and only 77 under control of the Taliban. Today, as is depicted below, the Taliban control 247 districts, 97 are contested, with the government in control of only 63, including Kabul at the time of this writing. 

The outset of August proved to be the busiest time for the armed group as the they had for the most part completed its strategy of encircling provincial capitals, often taking surrounding districts with little to no resistance from Afghan troops. At this point the only recourse for the government had been to attempt to mobilize anti-Taliban public volunteer “uprising forces” in effect boosting the manpower and resistance the ANSF can project. Even this though hasn’t proved to slow down the group as the Taliban have amassed more territory than the group has held to date, bolstered by the gains of their blistering August offensive. 

District Control Map, Data sourced from the Long War Journal, Graphic by AP News

Focusing solely on the actions in August, we see a group that seems to far outmatch the government forces, albeit outnumbered, it is a reach to now say the Taliban aren’t armed similarly to the ANSF considering the amount of territory, cities, and bases the Taliban have taken. With the previously mentioned tactic of encirclement in mind, the Taliban invoked their next phase, seemingly of choking off the government from controlling provincial capitals, while continuing to isolate Kabul. In doing so, the Taliban took their first provincial capital on August the 6th, seizing Zaranj, the capital of Nimroz province. This seizure served as the writing on the wall for defending Afghan government forces as by the end of the week on the 8th, the Taliban had captured and were administering four provincial capitals, including Sheberghan and Kunduz, major cities in the oft-restive Northern region. During the Taliban’s time in power during the late 90s and early 2000s the provinces in the Northern region came together in the anti-Taliban “Northern Alliance”, almost the entirety of the former bastion of Taliban resistance has been seized by the group, with Sheberghan and Kunduz being the key cities to fall in the region. 

Members of the “Red Unit” the Taliban equivalent to Afghan Special Forces

The momentous advance of the Taliban has yet to be stopped by government forces, from seizing their first capital August 6th until the writing of this article, the early hours of August 14th, the former has seized 20 provincial capitals, a majority of the 34 provinces. On Saturday morning the 14th the Taliban began a multi-pronged assault to take the last government held city in the North, Mazar-i-Sharif, as embattled President Ghani pledged to keep fighting. 

The armed group continues to put pressure on Kabul as well, albeit indirectly, as the group has taken the second and third-largest cities of Herat in the West and Khandahar in the South. In a more direct move, the Taliban on the morning of August 14th seized Logar province and had begun to enter the Char Asyab district located just 7 miles south of Kabul. The attacks by the group on heavy populated areas such as Herat, Khandahar, as well Lashkar Ga of the strategic Helmand province are especially dangerous to civilians, as extremely confined urbanized warfare leads to higher civilian casualties. According to a United Nations report, civilians’ casualties have returned to a 2017-2018 peak of over 5,000, with newly renewed violence being the culprit, of the 5,000+ casualties, 39% were attributed to the Taliban, with 25% being attributed to pro-government forces, often via airstrike targeting anti-government forces. 

The prospect of urban fighting, including airstrikes inside the city of Kabul, had been an absurd scenario only months ago, although now considering recent gains seems a more and more likely scenario. As more and more land, provincial capitals, and infrastructure fall to the Taliban, the prospect of Kabul as a reprieve from direct conflict is no longer the reality on the ground. In direct response to these territorial losses and in fear of what may happen over the span of the next few days, the Americans as well as some other European countries are sending thousands of troops to Kabul to assist not its defense, but their retreat from the embattled capital. The New York Times reports that an additional 3,000 Marines will be sent to Kabul, with another 4,000 stationed in Kuwait on stand-by. While only American personnel will be evacuated, the United States has been attempting to arrange third-party nations to host translators and other Afghans who assisted the coalition; it is unclear what, if anything, is keeping Biden from simply accepting those who assisted US forces on a humanitarian and asylum basis into the United States immediately. 

“A displaced Afghan woman prepares to light a fire to boil water at an IDP camp in Mazari Sharif, northern Afghanistan.”  © UNHCR/Edris Lutfi

At the time of writing over 400,000 people have been displaced in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year, joining the almost 3 million Afghan people already internally displaced due to fighting. The UN estimates that 250,000 have become displaced since the beginning of the Taliban offensive in May, with some 80% of that number being women and children fleeing fighting. Clean water, food, and shelter are hard to come by amid the deteriorating security situation, and very few places, if any are free from fighting. 

This all comes amid the American withdrawal from the War. What was the reason for our being there? What did we gain? Who did we help? As Americans we might ask ourselves these questions, as we should always question our government’s actions. The answer is a painful nothing and no one. To be privileged enough to ask what we gained is indicative of the differences of power and suffering in the United States’ longest running conflict. The Afghan people suffered mightily for 20+ years of War between foreign forces allied with the government and insurgents, only for foreign forces to create a security vacuum following their hasty retreat. Questions must be asked of the feasibility of the Americans’ occupation in the first place, did the short-sightedness of conquering a lesser military in the Taliban cloud the complications of forming a working government that served all Afghan people. Why was the security situation as insecure as it was prior to announcing a withdrawal, why was the situation stagnant for years? Most of our questions will forever remain as they are, questions, one thing is certain though, Kabul will eventually come under direct pressure and will in all likelihood fall in the coming days and weeks rather than weeks and months. Continued suffering of the Afghan population writ large is certain. 

One must wonder what the South Vietnamese thought as they saw the last American helicopters abandon them to the advancing armies of the North, one must wonder why 46 years later the American imperial military machine has made the exact same mistakes. Most of all one must wonder why Americans have allowed this practice of military intervention, further destabilization, and retreat to ravage many a country and civilian population. Another thing is certain, this destructive practice cannot continue, in perpetuity military adventurism has historically caused the fall of empires, continuing down this path, the United States could be the next. 

Updated August 14th 1:23PM EST: Capital of Balkh Province, Mazar-i-Sharif, has fallen to the Taliban. Mazar-i-Sharif was the last major city remaining under Government control in the Northern region.

Updated August 15th 1:21PM EST. President Ashraf Ghani flees to neighboring Tajikistan as Taliban fighters enter Kabul.

Updated August 15th 3:58AM EST: Taliban fighters seize Jalalabad last Government controlled city outside of Kabul, completely encircling the capital.

Sam Adams
Sam Adams

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Viktor Orban and Hungary’s Backsliding Democracy

by Sam Adams

Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Viktor Orban presented himself to the Hungarian people as the harbinger of a new time, railing against any vestiges of Communism in the former Soviet state. Clinging to the reactionary rhetoric of anti-communism and championing liberalism Fidesz underperformed in its first initial showings in the 1990 and 1994 Parliamentary elections, leading Orban and its leadership to take a more conservative turn ideologically. The solution as Orban saw it was to move from a liberal centrist party to a center-right party, while forming alliances with parties almost solely on the Hungarian right. The announcement came at the 1993 Party Conference, in consequence many of Fidesz leaders split from Orban and the proposed rightward shift, leaving Viktor Orban as the party’s unrivaled front man.

The subsequent elections following the re-orientation of Fidesz in 1998 saw surprising success as the Party received slightly less votes than the Socialist Party although Fidesz received the most seats in Parliament due to the allocation of seats at both a regional and national level. Fidesz joined in a governing coalition with two other center-right and right wing parties, due to the mandate being an extremely small margin, the government could not implement any sweeping changes.

Lacking any real legislative power to effect changes with their fragile 1998 majority Fidesz would fail to return to a majority in 2002 and would be relegated to the opposition until 2010. Due to a change in Party politics, Orban was forced to step down as the leader of Fidesz while Prime Minister in 2000; returning to Party leadership following the 2002 loss of the Premiership to the Socialist Party and its liberal governing coalition. Following subsequent failures to capture the reins of government in 2006 Parliamentary elections, Orban faced pressure to step down as the face of Fidesz. Reprieve from calls for his resignation came only when it was revealed in a closed Party meeting that the governing Socialist party had lied to the nation specifically with respect to the state of the economy and more broadly the Hungarian nation’s interests in order to retain votes. The infamous speech known as the Oszöd Speech would upend Hungarian politics and led to massive street protests and marked a nationwide, if not continent wide tarnishing of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP); the speech hamstrung Fidesz and Orban’s greatest political adversary paving the way for a return to power for the latter.

The elections that precipitated the Oszöd Speech would have far reaching ramifications, with Hungary’s political landscape completely remade following the scandal as well and the 2008 financial crisis. Seizing on the Socialist Party’s growing unpopularity and corruption and while weaponizing high unemployment following the 2008 economic crisis Orban and Fidesz positioned themselves at the forefront of the polls, while the far-right Jobbik Party saw a bump in popularity as well. The results in the 2010 Parliamentary elections saw a stunning capture of a super majority by Fidesz, passing an important interval that would allow the party to freely make constitutional changes. The results were particularly shocking considering the shares of seats lost by the Socialists, diving down from 192 seats in 2006 to a meager and legislatively powerless 59 seats in 2010. This underscored a truly full-fledged collapse of the Socialist Party in Hungary, forcing the former political hegemon to scramble to form any meaningful opposition to Orban while attempting the process of repairing the party and organizing for future elections.

Upon his ascension back to the top of Hungarian politics Orban began to ensure and insulate his power, undermining the nation’s long fragile democratic institutions. One of the first actions Orban took was to rewrite the 1989-90 Constitution that was authored following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The changes enacted by the re-authoring of the Constitution sparked outrage among civil liberty groups, NGO’s, the EU, as well as the United States; some of the most controversial changes include restrictions on the media during election campaigns, limits the power of the Constitutional Court, lowers retirement age of judges, as well as dictating the state show “preference” to “traditional” family relationships. Some of the most impactful when it comes to the state of democracy in the country came with the changes to the Constitutional Court, as well as the limitations imposed on the media during campaign season. Those restrictions on media stated that only state-run media may campaign for politicians, an insular policy for Fidesz to monitor the media while only allowing pro-Fidesz literature and advertising in attempt to ensure the ruling party maintained its grip on power. With reference to the Constitutional Court, Orban modeled his takeover after that of Turkish autocrat Recip Tayyip Erdogan. Both men in seeking control of the highest judicial institution in their respective countries expanded the number of court members, packing new seats with members explicitly loyal to the executive rather than the democratic process in the two nations. Confusing critics and possibly in a move to dissuade international criticism both men also expanded the criteria for cases making it to the Constitutional Court, were the budding autocrats supporting the Court by adding new members coinciding with a greater caseload, or was the court-packing solely to undermine the Court’s ability to check the Executive?

Outside of the rewriting of the Constitution and augmenting it’s specialized Court, Orban and Fidesz launched a concerted attack on the nation’s democratic institutions such as the judiciary, the press, the election commission, as well as the tax service. Part of Orban and Fidesz’s attack was to load the judiciary, tax authority, and election commission with party/Orban loyalists in attempt to subvert the institutions obligation to democracy, re-orientating it to rather protect Orban and the Fidesz Government. Furthermore, Orban initiated a system of control over local government modeled after a Putin policy in Russia known as a “vertical of power”, Orban’s variation included the centralizing of some local government functions via the newly written Constitution as well as Orban handpicking allies and party Loyalists as local governors.

Lastly an element of the decaying of democracy and rule based law comes the demonization, discrimination, and harm done to minorities in Hungary. Two groups in particular have been targeted by Orban and Fidesz in order to rile up support among their center to far right base, those being migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East and North Africa as well as the LGBTQIA+ community. During the refugee crisis that the greater-EU faced during the mid-late 2010s Orban and his Party took an extremely hard line against migrant quotas proscribed by the EU to it’s member states, all the while demonizing refugees and migrants as terrorists, as well as describing those fleeing violence as individuals trying to overturn the predominance of Christianity in the EU and greater Hungary. Orban went so far as to erect 4-meter high fences along his nation’s border with Croatia and Serbia in order to stem the flow of migrants seeking the EU all the while describing the refugees as “poison” and asserting his nation didn’t want or need “a single migrant”.

More recently Orban has drawn the specter of the EU and drawn international condemnation for his Party’s recent passage of a set of laws that rights groups and the West have described as discriminatory towards the LGBTQIA+ community. The law mimics a set of discriminatory laws put forth by Russia, and can be considered the “banning of gay people from featuring in school educational materials or TV shows for under-18s”. The newly passed laws have already spurned concern within the already oft targeted community, casting a dark shadow over a recent drag competition, in which a contestant said, “We are afraid to get on the tram. When we do so, we put our hands in our pockets to hide our painted nails. We have always done this, though”. The outrage was such that at this year’s delayed 2020 European Football Championship the mayor of Munich, the location of a Germany v Hungary match, asked UEFA, the competition’s governing body, for permission to light the stadium up in rainbow colors. The request was denied by UEFA who claimed to be staying “politically neutral” on the matter, missing the point that neutrality on this issue is siding with discrimination. The mayor of Munich plans to instead light the entire city up with rainbow colors and flags in protest of the Hungarian law as well as UEFA’s compliance.

While the politics of a football match are leagues away from democratic backsliding, the collective outrage from the international community, corporations operating in Hungary, the EU, and rights groups is positive, and the pressure must be continued. Orban and Fidesz have laid bare the fragility of democracy and demonstrate that if an EU and NATO member can participate in democratic backsliding and the undermining of institutions then it can happen anywhere. Democracy is a constant work, taking it for granted is a privilege, and ignoring warning signs of institutional decay and backsliding can and will have wide reaching ramifications for the future.

Sam Adams
Sam Adams

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Action Exhibitions

Mind-Bending Images By Master Photoshop Artist Blur Reality & Dreams

by Jordana Landres


Digital artist, surrealist photographer & retoucher Erik Johansson infuses his prints with images portraying an untamed imagination and a bended reality that is, by turns and definition, startling, touching, and wonderfully strange.

Think for a moment about the softened melted clocks in Salvador Dalí’s masterpiece “The Persistence Of Memory.” The surrealism movement lives on in the image-altering tools of Photoshop and the creative powerhouses using it, seeming to channel the hands, mind, and brush of Dalí.

Take a look for yourself…

You can check out more of Erik’s work at his website (with behind the scenes videos), and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

~ All images copyright Erik Johansson ~

Jordana Landres
Jordana Landres

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The Future of The Internet, As Told By Someone Who Profits Off Its Predictability

An Interview With Matthew Allin, CEO and Founder of Digisize LLC. His website can be seen here.

by Dana Bell

When you hear the term “digital marketing campaign,” 90% of the time they’re talking about Facebook or Google. Because they’re the two largest gatherings of human beings right now.

Matthew Allin

Last week, I met with Matthew Allin at a coffee shop in Sacramento, CA to discuss his digital marketing company Digisize. To nobody’s surprise, the conversation quickly developed into greater discussions about the internet and privacy in the Digital Age. Here’s what the future of the internet might look like, according to someone who calls it “predictable.”

Dana: What is Digisize?

Matthew: It is a digital marketing agency focused on helping business owners profitably and predictably scale their practice—

At this point, a man called out Matthew’s name from behind us. I assumed he was simply known by his many business cohorts at this surprisingly upscale coffee shop I’d selected for our meeting, but it was just his coffee order. He continued:

Matthew: —using the power of the internet.

Dana: How did you get started?

Matthew: A friend and I started by walking around and talking to businesses that still didn’t have a website for whatever reason and tried to convince them to get one. We discovered the broad industry of digital marketing and the many services within it, so we decided to expand.

From there, we split as business partners….

After joking about whether Matthew “Zuckerburg’d” his partner, the discussion began to focus on the greater implications of businesses like his.

Dana: If you said “Digital Marketing Campaign” to someone fifty years ago, it wouldn’t mean anything. So what does that mean now and why is it so important?

Matthew: It really just means accomplishing an objective through whichever means necessary on the internet, and that can come from a variety of different platforms and services depending on what the objective be. Generating new clients, getting more exposure, or using your existing customer base of information and emails to send an email to them. It can mean a lot of things.

But the campaign is really just accomplishing whatever objective you’re trying to generate for your business.

Dana: Earlier you said “the predictability of the internet.” Do you believe the internet is predictable? Why?

Matthew: Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. When you’re trying to target a specific group of people, you quickly find out what works and doesn’t work and then you use that going forward to improve your campaigns.

For a coffeeshop, once you isolate a group of “coffee lovers,” you can have a predictable system where you pour in “this much” money to expose your deals to “this many” people, and “this many” people will come in for that deal. You use those numbers to your advantage.

Dana: What kind of businesses have you done that for?

Matthew: A wide variety, I think my first campaign was a mens skincare brand that I helped with social media support and influencer marketing campaigns. Also a personal trainer. I did a facebook campaign for him to offer free personal training sessions. From there, a couple websites for local businesses. Now, we’re doing work with law firms and helping them grow their business.

Dana: So a lot of it is focused on social media?

Matthew: Yeah, although it does depend on what the business is. A lot of businesses don’t stand to benefit from a social media presence as much as a full website that garners traffic. A lot of that money can be better spent on advertising than making your social media look good.

Dana: So what would you do for a musician or dentist?

Matthew: That’s a good question, I’m actually currently helping a friend promote their music through a campaign. Platforms like DropTrack and Playlist Hunter have curators on Spotify and Apple Music with a directory of playlist curators that will consider your client’s song to be included in quality playlists. There’s also industry contacts, like record labels. It’s about getting the song into as many people’s hands as you can.

Dana: It’s all about virality.

Matthew: Definitely.

Dana: What’s in the future for Digisize?

Matthew: I think we will continue to grow our client base as well as expand our team, which I have for fulfilling campaigns. I would like to open an office eventually.

Long-term, I think that in the future of digital marketing in general, as platforms continue to simplify their user experience, we’re going to see more and more business owners try and “take matters into their own hands,” in terms of digital marketing efforts. I would love to help business owners do that. Set up a campaign, show them how it works, and then hand it off to them. A lot of people are starting to do that.

I would even love to help develop a platform for business owners to be able run their own campaigns. When you hear the term “digital marketing campaign,” 90% of the time they’re talking about Facebook or Google. Because they’re the two largest gatherings of human beings right now. That’s where there’s the most opportunity to be leveraged. I think business owners will begin to run their own campaigns.

Have you heard of that whole “dropshipping” fad? Where people would buy their stuff from China and then sell it for American prices?

Dana: No, never heard of that. That’s really bad, right?

Matthew: Yeah, it’s pretty exploitive. A lot of those Instagram ads you see are people doing that. I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to start a business that helped people, that’s what I find fulfilling in the digital marketing world.

Dana: Considering the predictability of the internet, do you think it’s fulfilling because it is possible to kind of “crack the code” and make anybody famous?

Matthew: Yes, Yes, Yes, I do. Yes, there is a way to crack the code. There is a “best route” for anyone trying to accomplish anything on the internet, and it’s just a matter of finding that. It’s a lot of trial and error, but you can find that route.

There’s a problem if someone who has no digital presence whatsoever expects fast results. If you want 100 customers next week but you don’t even have a Facebook page, we need to get that first.

Dana: Do you think COVID-19 has forced businesses to accept new ways of doing things?

Matthew: Absolutely, Almost every business had to adapt with the pandemic. For the most part, people embraced it. Those that didn’t got burned, and those that did have an advantage now because they are more acclimated to the digital ecosystem.

One of the personal trainers, I had to pause their campaign for a bit until they began to take outside sessions, which we then marketed.

Dana: Can you think of any industries we should be looking out for?

Matthew: I posted something on LinkedIn, it said “for every business that saw their revenue plummet during the pandemic, another saw their revenue grow.” Those that embraced the circumstances now have more options and pathways to bring in new business.

Once you have a predictable system, you can only improve it. The beauty of digital marketing is the optimization; you can never have a campaign that runs too well.

Dana: But aren’t those ad campaigns so successful because these apps read our minds? They know who we are and what we do every second of the day. They know how long we looked at a certain pair of shoes. Do you think ad companies benefit from that? Is there an ethical question here?

Matthew: Absolutely they benefit from it. “Remarketing” is what you were talking about, with how long you stay on an ad. If you watch half of a video ad, you’ll see it four, five more times. That’s probably the most powerful component of digital marketing.

Even before digital marketing was a thing, people were saying repetition is the most important part of advertising. That’s where a majority of the profits come in. If you see an ad over and over again, you’re in that company’s system.

Dana: Forever?

Matthew: Yeah, forever.

Dana: Have you seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix?

Matthew: Yeah. That was a very weird experience for me, because I am an advertiser that leverages those platforms that can be seen as predatory.

To the ethical question, I think as the digital ecosystem grows closer to us there will be an important discussion to be had about the limitations of how much a single company can target you. At a certain point, it does become predatory.

Dana: I saw an interview with Bo Burnham where he said the internet shouldn’t be accessible to people under 18. Do you think there’s a future where the internet is adult-only?

Matthew: That’s an interesting hypothetical. I think more likely there would be a more regulated version of the internet, which there certainly should be. Children shouldn’t be subjected to the same remarketing campaigns, which could bombard them with advertisements that reduce their self esteem.

There used to be much more defined boundaries. When the TV switched to Adult Swim, we all knew.

Dana: I’ve heard stories of women finding out they were pregnant from social media ads, which is terrifying.

Matthew: I can say that I can not target ads based on things people have said on or around their phones, but it is crazy the amount of detail you can use to isolate an audience. Hobbies, job titles, even places you’ve searched and websites you’ve been to.

Dana: Do you think people should start reading privacy policies and terms of services more often on sites that sell their data?

Matthew: Definitely. It’s only going to become more important as time goes on and platforms continue to evolve. We have to be the ones that check those businesses and decide where the line will be drawn in terms of how much we allow ourselves to be analyzed.

Dana: Do you as advertisers on the internet have to keep any laws in mind while doing this?

Matthew: Not too many. There’s still “DO-not-call” laws, and “dripped emails,” a sequence of automatic emails over a period of days, aren’t allowed, but for the most part it’s free-reign.

Dana: The internet is this lawless, last frontier. We’ve created a universe in our laptops and it’s pretty unregulated. So if you could make up one law for the internet, what would it be?

Matthew: The internet turns off at midnight! Probably something in terms of limitations for children. What kinds of businesses can advertise to them, and how many times they can be advertised to.

I would pass a law establishing a much more robust and diligent department in charge of identifying and disbanding online scam and fraud artists/schemes. It has become far too easy to fall prey to these scams in today’s day and age. As a small business owner myself, it’s disgusting to see how many people are cheated and robbed blind by the same resources I utilize to do the opposite.

I agree that the internet is definitely still in this wild west sort of vibe, and there’s still a lot of grey area to be explored, defined, and regulated. There should also be more content warnings, like Instagram has been having. Any kid with an internet connection can pull up a violent video of a cartel member murdering someone.

Dana: For people who have seen those videos, it can be shameful to admit. But for people who haven’t seen them, it’s hard to believe.

Matthew: They’re just as easy to find as cat videos on Youtube.

Dana: I think Netflix’s Don’t Fuck With Cats was about that specifically. I haven’t seen it. I don’t need to see it because I get it, I’ve seen enough of that.

Matthew: That was also something else to see last year with recordings of police brutality on twitter. People having that realization of “Woah, I wasn’t traumatized by that because of everything worse I’ve seen on the internet.”

Dana: Like Facebook moderators having PTSD.

Matthew: Yeah, it’s crazy that we have to ask someone, a human being, to spend their waking hours looking at the most horrific things possible on the internet. That’s their job, to safeguard everyone from that. Even still, stuff slips through the cracks.

Dana: Well, Digisize seems to be on the brighter side of the internet now.

Matthew: Yes, it does.

Matthew Allin is the CEO and Founder of Digisize LLC. His website can be seen here.

Dana Bell
Dana Bell

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Everything can be explained to the people, on the single condition that you want them to understand.

Frantz Fanon
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The World Was Not Prepared for Coronavirus─and It Will Not Be Prepared for the Next Pandemic Either

by Sarah Hyser
November 24, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has devastated the world, leaving no country untouched. Most states were ill equipped for a biological threat of this magnitude. Unfortunately, the world is just as unprepared for the next pandemic as it was for the COVID-19. Global health officials warn that states have not taken enough precautions to protect against another pandemic. After the COVID -19 epidemic ends, states need to act quickly to permanently mend their healthcare systems. If healthcare around the world is not improved, biological threats will continue to cause widespread destruction. 

On October 1, 2020, H. E. Van Ark addressed the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the Global Health Security Agenda. She argued that to prevent the next pandemic, states need to break the “Panic-then-forget” cycle. After an outbreak, states initially panic because they do not have the facilities in place to control the problem. During the outbreak, political officials promise that there will be changes made to the healthcare system that protect against another crisis. Finally, when the outbreak ends, states either do not make the necessary improvements to the healthcare system, or they put them in place and remove them later. The global community needs to repair the health system when there are no major outbreaks. It is not possible to solve a pandemic and improve the healthcare system simultaneously. The GHSA warns that the world still has not done enough to prepare for pandemics and following the coronavirus epidemic there will need to be major improvements to the global health system. 

Before the Coronavirus pandemic, international organizations warned of the inevitable outbreak of a new disease and urged states to securitize their healthcare systems before the pandemic hit. Most states have ignored this warning. The Global Health Security Index, for example, evaluates 195 countries’ ability to identify and stop biological health risks, the likelihood of an outbreak in their borders, the capability of the healthcare system, and the state’s ability to cooperate with the international community. The GHS Index reports that all countries, even high-income countries, are not prepared for a pandemic, and 75% of countries received “very low” preparedness scores. In 2005, The World Health Organization revised the International Health Regulations (IHRs) to prevent and mitigate the spread of contagious diseases without interfering with trade. According to the CDC, no member of the WHO is in compliance with the IHS regulations. These measures are not promising, but what improvements can be made?

At the Fast Company Innovation Festival in October of 2020, global health experts gave several recommendations regarding what states can do to prevent another pandemic. As a preventative measure, there must be a system to detect the outbreak of a new health crisis that covers the whole world. It is particularly important that states do not overlook their rural populations when creating this system. People living near wilderness have a higher chance of contracting a new zoonotic disease. A zoonotic disease refers to an illness that is transmitted from an animal to a human, and most health crises over the last century have been caused by these kinds of diseases. States must also create more facilities where vaccines can be stored and distributed. Again, it is vital that no community is overlooked when these facilities are implemented. 

Adding these new facilities may be less expensive than it seems. The United States would need “only $15-20 million over the next 5-10 years” to securitize the healthcare system. To put this number into perspective, the U.S. military budget is upwards of $700 billion dollars. Experts agree that securitizing healthcare would take both public and private funding, but the cost would remain relatively low. This investment would benefit the U.S. in more ways than one. A more secure healthcare system would protect against natural outbreaks, biological warfare, and bioterrorism, which are security threats that the U.S. has proven itself unprepared to handle. 

Following the pandemic, states can take strategic steps to better protect against viral outbreaks. The WHO administers Joint External Evaluations on each country to gauge what health supplies they lack, as well as what they have in excess that can be shared with countries in need. Each state should participate in these evaluations and improve what they can. The Global Health Security Agenda, an organization that increases information sharing, accountability, and sustainable development in the health sectors of all member countries, has committed 100 countries to improving their healthcare systems in strategic ways before 2024. Following the recommendations of health organizations like the WHO and the GHSA is the best way for states to improve their healthcare systems. 

Preventing the next pandemic may not be possible, but states can still increase preparedness to mitigate the damage. As of now, there is no reason to believe that the world is better prepared for the next pandemic than it was for the coronavirus. To end the cycle of “Panic-and-Forget,” states must act quickly after the pandemic to securitize their healthcare system. If states promise to meet the International Health Regulations, and other international health standards, it will lessen the chance of another severe outbreak. However, if states choose not to change their behavior, the next pandemic will be equally devastating as the coronavirus.

Sarah Hyser
Sarah Hyser

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