How one leader in the FBI, now under criminal indictment, may have been compromising the bureau’s investigation of Russian influence on Trump

Craig Unger is described on Wikipedia as “an American journalist and writer. He has served as deputy editor of The New York Observer and was editor-in-chief of Boston Magazine. He has written about George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush for The New Yorker, Esquire Magazine, and Vanity Fair.” That is all accurate, but it’s an understatement.

Unger is one of the most fearless, uncompromising journalists around. To give but one example, he was one of the few writers who meaningfully followed up on questions about why President George W. Bush arranged for members of the Saudi royal family and their entourages to leave the United States on secret flights in the aftermath of 9/11.

Unger has also been relentless in following up on the many ways that Donald Trump and his family have likely been used (and probably blackmailed) by the Russians, and how Trump over the years has assiduously cultivated ties to the FBI in New York and Washington — and how those circumstances have now likely led to an FBI scandal of mammoth proportions:

In the course of writing two books on Donald Trump’s ties to Russia, the same question occurred to me again and again: How is it possible that I knew all sorts of stuff about Donald Trump, and the FBI didn’t seem to have a clue? Or if they did, why weren’t they doing anything with it?

Specifically, I knew that:

Starting in 1980, an alleged “spotter agent” for the KGB began cultivating Trump as a new asset for Soviet intelligence.

The Russian mafia laundered millions of dollars through Donald Trump’s real estate by purchasing condos in all-cash transactions through anonymous corporations that did not disclose real ownership.

Trump Tower was a home away from home for Vyacheslav Ivankov, one of the most brutal leaders of the Russian mafia, and at least 13 people with known or alleged links to the mafia held the deeds to, lived in, or ran alleged criminal operations out of Trump Tower in New York or other Trump properties.
Trump was some $4 billion in debt when the Russians came to bail him out via the Bayrock Group, a real estate firm that was largely staffed, owned, and financed by Soviet émigrés who had ties to Russian intelligence and/or organized crime.

Much of my material came from FBI documents. A lot came from open-source databases. It made no sense. There was an astounding amount of data on the public record. The FBI had launched enormous investigations of the Russian mafia in the 1980s. They had staked out a New York electronics store that was a haven for KGB officers. They knew that’s where the Trump Organization bought hundreds of TV sets. They had their eyes on Ivankov and other Russian mobsters who were denizens of Trump’s casinos and bought and sold his condos through shell companies.

They had to know that Trump laundered money for and provided a base of operations for the Russian mafia, which was, after all, a de facto state actor tied to Russian intelligence. They had to know that the Russians repeatedly bailed Trump out when he was bankrupt. They had to know that Russia owned him.

I’m well aware of the strict secrecy that accompanies ongoing investigations as a matter of procedure. But once the Mueller Report was finally released, it became crystal clear that Robert Mueller’s investigation dealt only with criminal matters, not counterintelligence. Trump had been thoroughly compromised by Russia and was a grave threat to national security. But the FBI wasn’t doing anything about it!

One reason for that may have been that on far too many occasions, FBI men in sensitive positions ended up on the take from the very people they were supposed to be investigating. And on January 23, a bomb dropped: We learned that the latest of these is Charles McGonigal, the former head of counterintelligence for the FBI in New York, who ended up working for billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a major target in the Trump Russia investigation. McGonigal was indicted in Manhattan on charges of money laundering, violating U.S. sanctions, and other counts relating to his alleged ties to Deripaska. He was also indicted in Washington, where he was accused of concealing $225,000 he allegedly received from a New Jersey man employed long ago by Albanian intelligence.

Unger adds:

Nevertheless, Trump appears to have gotten exactly what he sought. As it happens, Kallstrom worked closely with McGonigal and cultivated friendships not just with Trump but also with Rudy Giuliani. Together, they are suspected of being party to an internal campaign just before the 2016 election that spurred FBI Director James Comey to publicly announce he was reopening his investigation into Clinton’s emails.

Ultimately, of course, America found out that none of Hillary’s emails were classified. The Times story on the subject was misleading at best. The “reopened” investigation was short-lived and appeared to reflect the wishful thinking of the pro-Trump leaker in the bureau, whether it was McGonigal or someone else. Likewise, the Times headline declaring “no link” between Trump and Russia seemed to reflect wishful thinking on the parts of Kallstrom, Giuliani, and McGonigal—not reality.

But the damage had already been done. When voters cast their ballots on November 8, they thought that the FBI had given Trump a clean bill of health but was still investigating Hillary. McGonigal and company may well have made the difference in tipping the election to Trump.

Republicans have used the alleged lack of an indictment in the FBI’s Trump-Russia investigation as proof that the Democrats’ suspicions about Trump are unfounded and politically-motivated, Now it turns out that the FBI investigation may have been derailed by an FBI leader who has a vested interest in making sure that Trump’s unsavory connections to Russia never saw the light of day.

Let’s hope the government re-opens the investigations of Trump’s Russia entanglements since it’s clear the ones conducted by the FBI thus far were likely compromised by the Russians themselves.

Worrying developments in the country that brought you Hitler and the Nazis

I’m not sure if it’s justified, but the idea that this kind of stuff is happening in a country with Germany’s history seems extra crazy:

Special Forces in Germany have arrested 25 people suspected of supporting a domestic terrorist organization that planned to overthrow the government and form its own state, the federal prosecutor said on Wednesday.

In early-morning raids carried out across the country, some 3,000 police and Special Forces officers detained people believed to be members and supporters of the group, which prosecutors said had been formed in the past year and was operating on the conviction that “Germany is currently ruled by members of a so-called deep state” that needed to be overthrown. Prosecutors said that two other people had been arrested outside Germany, one in Austria and another in Italy.

Among those detained were a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany party who had served in the German Parliament, a member of the German nobility and a Russian citizen accused of supporting the group’s plans. Federal prosecutors said that they were investigating a total of 52 suspects.

The group’s plans included an armed attack on the German Parliament building, known as the Reichstag, the prosecutors said, and members had organized arms training and attempted to recruit personnel from the German security services. The prosecutors added that the group’s members had also formed a sort of shadow government that they intended to install if their plans were successful. It remains unclear, however, how close they were to acting on those ambitions.

The prosecutors described the group, which they did not identify, as being influenced by the ideologies of the conspiracy group QAnon and a right-wing German conspiracy group called the Reichsbürger, or Citizens of the Reich, which believes that Germany’s post-World War II republic is not a sovereign country but a corporation set up by the victorious Allies.

Many of those arrested had military training and included former German soldiers, including from the army of the former East Germany, and were known to have been heavily armed with weapons acquired illegally. The group was most likely formed in late 2021, the prosecutors said.

It gets weirder and more worrisome:

Among those arrested was a man who had tried to make contact with representatives of the Russian government over the plans, according to the statement, though there were no indications that they had received a positive response from the Russian sources they had contacted.

German news media widely identified the man as Prince Heinrich XIII of Reuss, a descendant of a former German royal family. The Reuss family has long distanced itself from Heinrich XIII because of his involvement in the Reichsbürger scene.

Another of those detained, identified by prosecutors as Birgit M.-W., was suspected of being appointed to head the justice arm of the group. German media identified her as Birgit Malsack-Winkemann, a judge in Berlin and member of Alternative for Germany. She served as member of Parliament from 2017 to 2021.

Thanks to the internet, these people can now easily find one another and echo chamber their pathologies to one another ad infinitum.

I long for the days when these people used to be isolated cranks who were only able to give voice to their craziness at family gatherings.

“Oh, that’s just Uncle Howard. He thinks he was abducted by aliens and that the government is controlled by lizard people. Ignore him. Here, have some more mashed potatoes.”

Back in the days before World War II when the term “German Royalty” meant much of the British Royal Family before they changed their name to Windsor.

China’s is losing its grip on COVID, which should worry the entire world

Columbia University history professor Adam Tooze has an excellent column up at Substack addressing China and COVID:

Amongst Xi’s regime’s proudest boasts is the fact that China has registered only slightly more than 5000 COVID deaths compared to more than 1 million suffered by the US. From 15 May 2020 to 15 February 2022, whilst many thousands around the world were dying from COVID every day, there were only two COVID-19 deaths in mainland China. Even allowing for propagandistic understatement of the Chinese numbers, Xi’s China has clearly been far more successful in protecting its population from the worst effects of virus than any country in the West. As a result, it cannot be stated too often, China’s life expectancy overtook that in the United States in 2021, a truly historic marker.

But now, only weeks after Xi’s triumphant party Congress, the zero covid policy is in crisis. The disease is spreading and China’s population is no longer willing to put up with it.

Desperate locked-in workers and indignant students have taken to the streets. Bottle-throwing residents have waged pitched battles with riot police. Chinese diaspora communities have braved the ominous presence of embassy security officials to stage protest meetings.

This is clearly a test of Xi’s authority, the most profound since he has taken power. One must profoundly admire the courage of the protestors and sympathize with the outrage and desperation triggered by successive waves of capricious lockdowns. In large parts of China, ordinary life has become hard to sustain. At the same time it is hard to resist Schadenfreude at the expense of Xi. Xi Jinping’s ‘myth of infallibility’ is being tested.

But as attractive as it may seem to side with the protests against Zero Covid this begs the question. What is the policy alternative? The fact that abandoning zero COVID would be a blow to Xi does not make that the right policy. The dilemma facing Beijing goes beyond the question of Xi’s legitimacy. As ludicrous as zero COVID has come to seem, as oppressive and capricious as its intrusions are in the everyday lives of Chinese people, it has saved huge numbers of lives. And if Beijing were to follow the demand to abandon the policy, this would likely result in a public health disaster not just for the CCP but for China.

Omicron is less dangerous than Delta but its infectiousness is extremely high. If the pandemic is allowed to run unchecked, hundreds of millions of people will become infected. Even with a low rate of severe cases, China’s medical system will be placed under impossible strain, not just in a handful of cities as in 2020, but across the country. Hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people, if not more, will likely die.

Tooze notes also that there may be a way out, if China is willing to do thus far it has resisted:

There is a way out of Beijing horrendous impasse: mass vaccination and an ample supply of anti virals to help patients fight the disease. But that begs the question.

China was the first country to vaccinate. It has vaccines which when used in a triple dose are highly effective against hospitalization and death. The lack of mRNA vaccines is not the issue. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of China’s huge population have completed the basic two-course regime. Where Beijing has failed is in rapidly delivering the third and fourth round of boosters and in ensuring that the most vulnerable population, those over 60, are properly covered. As of the latest figures cited by Bloomberg, “only 69% of those aged 60 and above and just 40% of over 80-year-olds have had booster shots.” That leaves tens of millions of elderly with no protection at all. They are the people who died in Hong Kong.

As far as I am aware there is no fully convincing explanation for this failure to provide comprehensive coverage particularly of the elderly.

There are a lot of good studies in the specialist literature in medical sociology and psychology that help to explain some of the vaccine resistance.

China became a victim of its own haste in rolling out vaccines on a rough and ready basis to those under the age of 60. This created the perception that the vaccines were not properly tested or safe for use amongst more fragile elderly people.

China has an unfortunate track record of vaccine scandals and the lack of good data on the safety and efficacy of China’s shots among the elderly in homegrown vaccine’s clinical trials does not build confidence.

Health workers have been cautious about recommending vaccines for those with high blood pressure or autoimmune disorders and given the negligible chance of COVID infection, there seemed little reason to take the risk. In most of China, COVID has never been more than a news report. Thanks to the success of the 2020 measures, many cities have never logged a single case and elderly people regard the threat as very remote.

The Chinese population and the regime also suffered from “other people’s problem”-syndrome. Not unreasonably they convinced themselves that COVID was an issue for the failed and degenerate West. Rather than joining a broad global front to endorse precautionary vaccination and boosting with whatever vaccinations were too hand, Beijing allowed the media to spread questions about the efficacy and safety of vaccines in general.

Vaccines are the way out. Vaccines have always been the way out since they were introduced. Not lockdowns. Not masks. Not testing. Vaccines.

And yet, in my cohort of over-60 friends and family, I am still the only one who has gotten the bivalent booster. Many of these people are not vaccine-resistant. I really don’t know what the explanation is for how many older Americans who know better are not keeping their vaccines up-to-date. It’s puzzling why the simple act of protecting oneself from illness and death is not a default behavior.

Imagine being trapped in a foreign dictatorship while being forced to pay a business debt that isn’t yours

This story is wild:

It has been nearly five years since police here told Henry Cai, a U.S. citizen from California, that he couldn’t leave China.

Just before Christmas 2017, he was stopped at the airport at the end of a business trip. Mr. Cai later learned somebody was trying to force him to pay an outstanding debt of several million dollars owed by a Beijing company where he was a director and shareholder.

He thought it was a misunderstanding and expected it to be sorted out quickly. And yet here he remains, stuck in China, the target of a form of Chinese justice known as an exit ban.

His is believed to be the longest-running case of such legal purgatory for an American businessman. Now 61 years old, Mr. Cai has wrangled with China’s judicial bureaucracy, tested the limits of U.S. diplomacy and depleted his savings.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal he said he fears deteriorating U.S.-China relations—which are in the spotlight with the first meeting between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping as heads of state on Monday—have worsened his quandary.

The U.S. has accused China of using exit bans on Americans and other foreigners “without fair and transparent process under the law.” Diplomats say Americans trapped in legal jeopardy abroad increasingly occupy their time.

Mr. Cai hasn’t been charged with a crime. Instead, court records outline a financial dispute between business partners that has included a police investigation. Mr. Cai said he is being squeezed to pay a debt that isn’t his.

You can read the rest of the Wall Street Journal article by James T. Areddya and Brian Spegele at this link.

Henry Cai, trapped in China. (WSJ photo.)

When a loving family-run business turns to distrust and rancor

An amusing article in today’s Wall Street Journal about what happens when close-knit Indian families who run a business together have serious falling outs:

B. Vivekanandhan, the 51-year-old owner of a popular restaurant called Moonrakers, competes fiercely for customers in this southern Indian holiday town. So fiercely, in fact, that fists have flown.

His chief foes are his own flesh-and-blood. His older brother operates a seafood joint called Moonwalkers right across the street. Just down the same lane, his younger brother runs Moonrocks. The menus are nearly identical.

“Sometimes it’s like a street fight,” Mr. Vivekanandhan said. “People say, ‘This is a complicated family. We just came down to eat.’ ”

India prides itself on close-knit families who often live together and run companies side-by-side. All that togetherness can spawn epic business breakups.

Ninety-one percent of companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange are family controlled, and nearly all small-to-medium-size companies are owned by families, said Kavil Ramachandran, a professor at the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. By comparison, about 35% of Fortune 500 companies are family-controlled.

In the southern Indian city of Chennai, rival branches of a family run competing versions of a snack chain, both called The Grand Sweets & Snacks. The founder had two daughters, who split the business about a decade ago after their families clashed. They sliced the original shop in half by hanging plastic sheeting down the middle.

Priyanga Madhan, the founder’s 38-year-old granddaughter, said the breakup was inevitable because she and her cousins kept fighting over the company’s future. She now runs half of the business on behalf of her mother.

One of her cousins, Saravana Mahesh, 50, said his branch of the family no longer speaks to Mrs. Madhan’s side, even when they run into each other at the flagship shop, now split by a concrete wall. “It is still awkward, even after 12 years,” he said.

Families can be so complicated. And, as I’ve gotten older, I know definitively that most of them are dysfunctional in their own ways.

I remember when I was young and watching the Brady Bunch from the perspective of living with an extremely dysfunctional family, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a family like that? Where nobody gets drunks and fights in the front yard so the cops are called, but instead works together to figure out how we’re going band together to help our sister who breaks her nose right before the big prom when Billy the football team captain had just asked her out?”

If only!

I’ve known families who approached that level of love and commitment to one another, and they always seemed like aliens. I was always half-expecting the perfect mom and perfect dad and perfect kids to suddenly split in half as aliens shed their human disguises and reveal that it was all an other-wordly field experiment in earth family dynamics.

In the southern Indian city of Chennai, rival branches of a family run competing versions of a snack chain, both called The Grand Sweets & Snacks. The founder had two daughters, who split the business about a decade ago after their families clashed. They sliced the original shop in half by hanging plastic sheeting down the middle.

Fascist rumblings in Europe got quite a bit louder last weekend

The fascist storm clouds in Europe are becoming darker:

The election of the first woman prime minister in a country always represents a break with the past, and that is certainly a good thing,” Hillary Clinton said to an Italian journalist at the Venice International Film Festival earlier this month. She was speaking of Giorgia Meloni, a member of the Chamber of Deputies, who could make history if the Brothers of Italy party does as well as expected in Sunday’s elections.

That would be one sort of break with the past. But Meloni would also represent continuity with Italy’s darkest episode: the interwar dictatorship of Benito Mussolini. As Clinton would surely concede, this is not such a good thing.

If Meloni comes to power at the end of this month, it will be as head of a coalition whose other members—Matteo Salvini’s League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia—were each once the main force on Italy’s populist right. Brothers of Italy, which was polling at 23 percent earlier this month, has overtaken these more established parties and would represent the bloc’s largest component.

Brothers of Italy, which Meloni has led since 2014, has an underlying and sinister familiarity. The party formed a decade ago to carry forth the spirit and legacy of the extreme right in Italy, which dates back to the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the party that formed in place of the National Fascist Party, which was banned after World War II. Now, just weeks before the 100th anniversary of the March on Rome—the October 1922 event that put Mussolini in power—Italy may have a former MSI activist for its prime minister and a government rooted in fascism. In the words of Ignazio La Russa, Meloni’s predecessor as the head of the Brothers of Italy: “We are all heirs of Il Duce.”

Putting Sec’y Clinton’s tone deaf assessment aside, this move to the right is happening in places on the continent that we might never thought could happen given what happened during World War II.

Italy’s not the biggest shock of them, at least from my personal experience. I have two close friends from Italy who now live in the U.S.

Both of these men are educated and progressive. But, in late-night meandering conversations with them — after a few strong drinks — the tenor of their politics changes from progressive to vaguely fascist, especially when the subject of immigrants is broached.

However, as writer Jen Kirby notes in this Vox article, this turn to the extreme Right is not just an Italian phenomenon:

These shifts are happening as Europe enters another precarious moment: a war on the continent that is increasingly unpredictable, and an inflation and energy crisis that will deepen as winter approaches.

The politics of Sweden, in northern Europe, and Italy, in the south, are very different, and the historical origins and reasons for the far right’s recent successes in each of those countries are unique. But, the far right shares certain trends across Europe — and, really, the globe. What is happening in Sweden, and Italy, is not all that different from what is happening in Brazil, or India, or the United States of America.

Pietro Castelli Gattinara, associate professor of political communication at Université Libre de Bruxelles and Marie Curie Fellow at Sciences Po, said that the far right is a global movement and a global ideology, even though one of the core tenets of these parties is a kind of nativism. That translates into a rejection of migration, but also of the social and cultural changes taking place within societies. The “woke” culture wars may look different in the US or Italy, but they are a feature of the modern far-right.

“New ideas coming from abroad are considered a danger to the nation-state,” Castelli Gattinara said. “We see that quite strongly when it comes to civil rights and, in particular, gender equality.”

Her entire interview with Gattinara is instructive and worrisome.

I get the impression that most of the people I know, including well-informed progressives here in the U.S., cannot be bothered to care much about what is going on in Europe right now. They think that fascist gains are temporary blips on the political radar in well-established liberal democracies. Or they think, even if fascism gains in Europe, it will not affect us here.

Which are the exact same things everyone thought in Europe and the U.S. in the 1930s.

We fight not to get rid of fascist political movements, as they will always be there lurking beneath the surface, ready to move into any voids created by economic or social turmoil. We fight to keep them from taking over while the rest of us are looking the other way, preoccupied with seemingly more pressing concerns.

fascism in italy
Fascism in Italy is making an alarming comeback.

Sweden, one of the world’s most progressive democracies, elects right-wing extremists to run country

More proof (if we needed any) that the ascendance of far-right politicians and crazy proto-fascists ideologies is happening around the world, and not just in the U.S.

Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson has conceded defeat in the country’s close-fought election, paving the way for the far-right Sweden Democrats and allied parties to attempt to form a government.

The center-left Social Democrats, led by Andersson, received 30.3% of the vote, reaffirming its position as the country’s largest party with almost all the votes counted.

However, the left-of-center parties — the Social Democrats, along with three others — failed to achieve a majority in Sweden’s 349-seat parliament, or Riksdag.

Instead, a right-wing group of parties, led by Ulf Kristersson’s center-right Moderates, looks to have won a narrow majority of seats, and will have the first go at forming an administration.

This so-called “blue bloc” includes the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats. The party, once shunned by the political establishment, recorded its best election result yet with 20.5% of the vote.

It represents a historic turning point in Swedish politics.

The Sweden Democrats now stand on the cusp of gaining influence over government policy. The nationalist party campaigned on law-and-order issues following a rise in gun violence and has vowed to bring in longer prison sentences and reduce immigration.

Sweden, a Scandinavian country of roughly 10.5 million, has a reputation for being one of Europe’s most progressive states and consistently ranks among the happiest nations in the world.

Fascism never really went away after World War II. It’s just been biding its time on the fringes until populations with short (or no) memories forget what a disaster they were last time.

I guess the days of thinking only the Americans with Donald Trump were the easy marks for the loony Right.

Combatting right-wing extremism is a never-ending process, sadly.

Right-wing fascists, who have often clashed with their fellow countrymen in Scandinavia, have slowly been gaining ground even in progressive countries such as Sweden.

The royal family is really just a company — and a fabulously profitable one, at that

This article in the New York Times today ought to give pause to anyone on this side of the pond who still admires the British monarchy.

It examines the manner in which Prince Charles — now King Charles — has managed to become even more grandly wealthy than before by building up the Duchy of Cornwall:

The conglomerate’s holdings are valued at roughly $1.4 billion, compared with around $949 million in the late queen’s private portfolio. These two estates represent a small fraction of the royal family’s estimated $28 billion fortune. On top of that, the family has personal wealth that remains a closely guarded secret.

As king, Charles will take over his mother’s portfolio and inherit a share of this untold personal fortune. While British citizens normally pay around 40 percent inheritance tax, King Charles gets this tax free. And he will pass control of his duchy to his elder son, William, to develop further without having to pay corporate taxes.

The growth in the royal family’s coffers and King Charles’s personal wealth over the past decade came at a time when Britain faced deep austerity budget cuts. Poverty levels soared, and the use of food banks almost doubled. His lifestyle of palaces and polo has long fueled accusations that he is out of touch with ordinary people. And he has at times been the unwitting symbol of that disconnect — such as when his limo was mobbed by students protesting rising tuition in 2010 or when he perched atop a golden throne in his royal finery this year to pledge help for struggling families.

Today, he ascends to the throne as the country buckles under a cost-of-living crisis that is expected to see poverty get even worse. A more divisive figure than his mother, King Charles is likely to give fresh energy to those questioning the relevance of a royal family at a time of public hardship.

That part about inheriting billions without having to pay taxes like every other schlub is likely not sitting well with many people.

Sort of put Charles’ promise to serve Britain “until I die” in a different light, does it not? I’d serve every day until I die if someone threw in $28 billion.

I wonder how the Crown can possibly survive now that the beloved Queen is gone. Taking money from a grandmother figure who served in a world war is one thing. But I doubt Charles inspires that kind of loyalty, and I doubt William will, either.

The Firm.

After the initial shock of the death of a monarch, more people are starting to ask if what she represented was really as good as it was portrayed to be

As the initial shock of Elizabeth II’s death has started to lessen, and with it the time when people in love with the idea of The Queen can scream “too soon!” regarding criticisms of the Crown, cracks have been begun to appear in the hagiography that has thus far been emblematic of the media coverage, at least on this side of the Atlantic.

Such is the case with this piece in the New York Times by Hari Kunzru, whose ancestors fought in bloody battles to overthrow the the brutal and rapaciously greedy monarchy in the far-flung empire.

The British elite have always understood that the monarchy is a screen onto which the people project their own fantasies, and Elizabeth’s greatest asset as queen was her blankness. She liked dogs and horses, and rarely betrayed strong emotions. She seemed to accept that her role was to be shown things, so very many things: factories and ships and tanks and local customs and types of cheese and the right way to tie the traditional garment, to receive bouquets of flowers from small curtsying girls, and in return never to appear bored or irritated by what was surely often a boring public role.

The queen bridged the colonial and post-colonial eras. But for those of us who have a complicated relationship to Britain’s imperial past, the continuity represented by Elizabeth was not an unmitigated good. My father’s side of our family was made up of staunch Indian nationalists who worked for the end of imperial rule in 1947. Like many other people around the world whose families fought the British Empire, I reject its mythology of benevolence and enlightenment, and find the royal demand for deference repugnant.

Elizabeth was queen when British officers tortured Kenyans during the Mau Mau uprising. She was queen when troops fired on civilians in Northern Ireland. She spent a lifetime smiling and waving at cheering native people around the world, a sort of living ghost of a system of rapacious and bloodthirsty extraction. Throughout that lifetime, the British media enthusiastically reported on royal tours of the newly independent countries of the Commonwealth, dwelling on exotic dances for the white queen and cargo cults devoted to her consort.

You can also read this very good piece by the Times‘ Serge Schmemann, titled, “Queen Elizabeth Embodied the Myth of the Good Monarch.”

And then there is this piece by Maya Jasanoff, titled “Mourn the Queen, Not Her Empire.”

I see these pieces not as trampling on the memory of a Queen who was indeed admirable in so many ways, but rather as attempts to say that, as good as she was, she represented a system and monarchy whose history is the opposite of the anodyne public performance art she embodied.

I think young people — in Great Britain, as well as around the world — are, if you are to believe news coverage since Elizabeth’s death, more willing to see the monarchy without rose colored glasses.

After all, if I support the movement to remove Confederate monuments as representations of a racist, murderous past — and I do support it — then how can we not turn the same critical eye to a monarchy which practiced murderous racism on a far larger scale?

The Queen at her coronation.

I’ll not be watching the funeral and coronation, thank you

As with many people, I’ve had conflicting feelings about The Queen. Mostly due to her family and family history.

I felt admiration for the figurehead, Elizabeth II, thrust into a largely ceremonial role as monarch she didn’t want, the same role that is widely thought to have caused the early death of her beloved father. She embodied much that was good, and much that was very bad, about Britain and the British monarchy.

There was nothing ceremonial about the fabulous inherited wealth passed down and around in a royal lineage full of inbred social climbers. Lords and ladies and princes and princesses galivanting around the Commonweath in luxury to cut opening ribbons and give tepid speeches about charities they likely knew little about.

They were interesting, in a TMZ kind of way, as long as you don’t look too deeply in their bloody past to discover where all that money came from. Elizabeth II headed a family who lived their lives in studied indifference as they stepped over a lot of corpses — in Ireland, Africa, India, and elsewhere — to get and keep their money and monarchy.

To take just one example: under British rule, India shifted its focus toward cash crops like cotton, sugar cane, and tobacco that could not feed local populations. They imported food from other parts of the empire to feed its citizens. This policy, combined with the unequal distribution of food, led to 24 famines killing tens of millions between 1850 and 1899 alone.

The policy was not to interfere in grain markets even in time of famine, originating with the economic theories of Adam Smith. Famine relief was to remain as cheap as possible and ideally follow natural market forces. Racism was an influence, as Britain would interfere for their own poor, but never in India unless famines became too severe. The most startling case was the Bengal famine if 1943, which killed up to 3 million people. Britain policy chose not to import extra food into India after Japan took over Burma.

Britain also destroyed the existing system of Indian businesses in favor of British ones who shipped their profits back to Britain, leaving India a nation of servants without generational wealth. This was repeated throughout the British Empire.

Much of Britian’s aristocracy, including the royal family, can trace its generational wealth back to the exploitation of people of color during the British Empire.  These are families who should be paying reparations, not staging elaborate garden parties.

They were interesting, in a TMZ kind of way, as long as you don’t look too deeply in their bloody past to discover where all that money came from. Elizabeth II headed a family who lived their lives in studied indifference as they stepped over a lot of corpses — in Ireland, Africa, India, and elsewhere — to get and keep their money and monarchy.

Elizabeth II’s sense of duty and decorum contrasted with her dysfunctional family that is the largely the creation of her inability to be the mother and sister she ought to have been. She had a willing helper in husband Phillip, whose notions of masculinity and femininity, power and poverty, were toxic influences on Elizabeth and the rest of the family. (I imagine Elizabeth arriving at the pearly gates, only to be told, “Sorry, that awful Phillip and the equally detestable Queen Mother didn’t make it. But here’s a pack of corgis to lead you inside!)

I understand that, as a constitutional monarch, her functional power over day-to-day British politics was limited. And that too much overt public meddling might have caused problems of another kind for the Crown. But what behind-the-scenes powers she did have she did not use wisely when they were most needed. She was also a bigot on other issues — hello, gay rights? — although with age she seemed to mellow out of some of those.

I think the most interesting thing to happen in her last year of life was when she announced that, on her death, as son Charles ascended to the throne, his wife Camilla was to be known as Queen Consort.

That was huge.

Camilla, the divorcee (nee adulteress) whose sneaking around with Charles contributed greatly to all the drama and infighting that would eventually lead to the death of Princess Diana, would be given a title nobody thought possible at the time Elizabeth’s father was thrust onto the throne by her uncle The King choosing his love for an American social climber. He chose her over his monarchy because the Church of England would never allow him to marry a divorcee.

I wonder if The Queen finally confided to someone near the end of her life that she realized it all didn’t have to happen the ways that it did. The abdication. The early death of a much-loved father not emotionally equipped to be King. Her becoming the Queen she never thought she would be. Charles being miserable with a first wife he did not have to choose. The traffic accident that night in a Paris tunnel that killed the most beloved member of the royal family.

In any case, I still think the monarchy is outdated and silly. I’ll not be watching the funeral nor the coronation.

But I understand what The Queen meant to millions of her subjects who loved her and her reign. Then there are the countless others around the world who felt a connection to her as a diminutive grandmother figure in dowdy hats.

So I’ll not be whining about the non-stop coverage because, to much of the white world, she was and will always be the only Queen who mattered to them. That makes for a bit of understandable public keening and wailing, even though I’m going to ignore what amount of it I can.

British-caused famines in India killed tens of millions. Notice the dead or dying little babies.