[…] Streaming’s impact on the way artists make music goes all the way to the top. Take Chris Brown, whose upcoming album Heartbreak on Full Moonhas 40 tracks, and not because he has so much to say. The famously unscrupulous pop star has found a way to boost his streaming numbers, which in turn inflate sale figures, and will, he hopes, send his album shooting up the charts quicker than it otherwise would.
Even Spotify is reportedly gaming the system by paying producers to produce songs that are then placed on the service’s massively popular playlists under the names of unknown, nonexistent artists. This upfront payment saves the company from writing fat streaming checks that come with that plum playlist placement, but tricks listeners into thinking the artists actually exist and limits the opportunities for real music-makers to make money. Spotify did not respond to questions about the accusation*, but this is not the first time Spotify, which pays minuscule streaming fees, has been accused of bilking artists.
A cynic might look at all of this and shrug his shoulders. Craven opportunism has been a part of the music industry since the first concert ticket was sold. But even if the money-grubbing isn’t new, the manner in which it’s grubbed is. And no matter who’s doing it, the effect is the same: Music is devalued.
Donald Trump was having dinner at Mar-a-Lago with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on February 11 when a message arrived mid-meal, courtesy of Pyongyang: North Korea had just tested a new, solid-fuel, intermediate-range ballistic missile, fired from a mobile—and therefore hard-to-detect—launcher. The president pulled out his 1990s flip-phone and discussed this event in front of the various people sitting within earshot. One of these diners, Richard DeAgazio, was suitably agog at the import of this weighty scene, posting the following comment on his Facebook page: “HOLY MOLY!!! It was fascinating to watch the flurry of activity at dinner when the news came that North Korea had launched a missile in the direction of Japan.”
Actually, this missile was aimed directly at Mar-a-Lago, figuratively speaking. It was a pointed nod to history that no American media outlet grasped: “Prime Minister Shinzo,” as Trump called him, is the grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, a former Japanese prime minister whom Abe reveres. Nobusuke was deemed a “Class A” war criminal by the US occupation authorities after World War II, and he ran munitions manufacturing in Manchuria in the 1930s, when Gen. Hideki Tojo was provost marshal there. Kim Il-sung, whom grandson Kim Jong-un likewise reveres, was fighting the Japanese at the same time and in the same place.
As I wrote for this magazine in January 2016, the North Koreans must be astonished to discover that US leaders never seem to grasp the import of their history-related provocations. Even more infuriating is Washington’s implacable refusal ever to investigate our 72-year history of conflict with the North; all of our media appear to live in an eternal present, with each new crisis treated as sui generis. Visiting Seoul in March, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson asserted that North Korea has a history of violating one agreement after another; in fact, President Bill Clinton got it to freeze its plutonium production for eight years (1994–2002) and, in October 2000, had indirectly worked out a deal to buy all of its medium- and long-range missiles. Clinton also signed an agreement with Gen. Jo Myong-rok stating that henceforth, neither country would bear “hostile intent” toward the other.
In light of Friday’s rioting, recent statements made by Hamburg officials ahead of the G-20 seem naive in the extreme. One came from the Hartmut Dudde, the head of operations for the Hamburg police, who said: “If we say here’s where things stop, then that’s where they stop. We will also take action. We’re not going to wait if crimes are being committed.”
Another statement came from his boss, Hamburg Police Chief Ralf Martin Meyer. “We are better prepared than we ever have been,” he boasted in the run-up to the G-20.
And then, of course, there’s the statement from Hamburg Mayor Olaf Scholz, who promised the city’s residents: “Don’t worry, we can guarantee your safety.”
But on Friday, July 7, none of these sentences applied. Even that morning, a marauding gang was raging through the Hamburg neighborhoods of Ottensen and Altona, setting cars on fire by the dozens. Later in the day, a mob raged for hours in the alternative Schanzenviertel neighborhood, long a hotbed of leftist activity. They broke windows, lit barricades on fire, looted stores and threatened to kill police. Many would later say hyperbolically that it was like “a war zone.” Others described the scene as anarchy — as though the state had receded before the mob.
The question that must now be answered is clear: What went wrong?
This week is the first anniversary of the failed coup against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a coup he has used since to further alienate his opponents. Most recently, on 16 April, he won a referendum to become head of state and head of government simultaneously, emerging as the most unassailable Turkish politician since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk established the secular republic in 1923.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Atatürk shaped Turkey in his own image as a western society. In his Turkey, the state banished religion to the private sphere and discriminated against pious citizens. But since 2003, Erdoğan has dismantled Atatürk’s societal model, flooding political and education systems with rigidly conservative Islam, as well as pivoting Turkey away from Europe and the west.
This is, paradoxically, Erdoğan’s Atatürk side. Of course, Erdoğan does not share his values, just his methods. Just as Atatürk reshaped Turkey, so Erdoğan is building a new country, but one that sees itself as profoundly Islamist in politics and foreign policy – to make it a great power once again.
Erdoğan is an anti-Atatürk Atatürk. As I explain in my book The New Sultan, having grown up in secularist Turkey and faced social exclusion at a young age because of his piety, Erdoğan is motivated by animosity towards Atatürk’s ways. Yet he has dismantled Atatürk’s system by using the very tools that the country’s founding elites provided: state institutions and top-down social engineering.
Poland’s rightwing government is pulling out all the stops for what it sees as its greatest foreign policy achievement to date: a visit to Warsaw today by US president Donald Trump. In what has to be acknowledged as wily diplomacy, the Law and Justice (PiS) government is appealing to the US president’s achilles heel: his vanity, reportedly luring him with promises of adoring crowds, in contrast to the chillier receptions he can expect in western Europe.
The ruling party is bussing in its supporters from all over Poland, encouraging them to take part in a “great patriotic picnic” on the occasion of Trump’s visit. The idea is to make the big man feel as good about himself as possible, which will hopefully benefit Poland in some way, such as a more categorical assertion that Nato would – under US leadership – protect Poland from any aggression from Moscow.
PiS is working hard to tickle Trump’s ego. The party’s leader and Poland’s most important politician, Jarosław Kaczyński, described Trump’s decision to visit Warsaw as a “new success” for Poland. “[Others] envy it, the British are attacking us because of it.” Meanwhile, the defence minister, Antoni Macierewicz, described Trump as “a man who is changing the shape of the world’s political scene”, adding that his “historic” visit would “once and for all, erase [Poland’s] experience of occupation and Soviet enslavement”.