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In Defense of Not Mourning Queen Elizabeth

Plus: Aretha Franklin's FBI file is declassified, Coinbase challenges Treasury Department sanctions of cryptocurrency technology, and more...

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By now you have surely heard that Queen Elizabeth II has died. Traditional media and social media are full of lovely eulogies, ruminating on her legacy, her "life of diplomacy," her "dignity and dedication," and "grace, humanity and fortitude." Born in 1926 and queen since 1952, her reign has spanned generations. "Only Britons well into their 70s can remember a time before the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who remained a unique symbol of continuity and duty in a period of extraordinary upheaval," notes The New York Times.

That seems like a polite way of saying that Queen Elizabeth II has seen some serious shit go down. She also presided over a country that started or benefited from a lot of it. She inherited the legacy of colonialism and atrocities sanctioned by the British royal family—and perpetuated this legacy. During her 70-year reign, she served as head of state of over 30 countries.

Understandably, many people around the world aren't too keen on mourning the queen's passing. Some are using it as an opportunity to condemn British colonialist activities throughout history (including during Elizabeth's reign). Some are using it as an opportunity to mock or critique the monarchy. Some are using it as an opportunity to celebrate. (See, for instance, the #IrishTwitter, #BlackTwitter, or #ScottishTwitter hashtags right now.)

The queen was "a fixture of stability," but "we should not romanticize her era," writes Harvard history professor Maya Jasanoff in a New York Times op-ed, noting the suppression of anticolonial movements in places such as Kenya, Cyprus, and Aden, Yemen, during Elizabeth's reign and the queen's alleged opposition to Scottish independence. Jasanoff suggests that with Elizabeth now gone, "the imperial monarchy must end too."

All of this seems as healthy, normal, and fair as the glowing tributes.

Any leader—perhaps especially a monarch, extra especially a monarch who reigned for seven decades, and extra extra especially a monarch who reigned for seven decades over a crumbling and often cruel empire—will mean many different things to different people, depending on their vantage points. To some, Queen Elizabeth II is a beloved symbol of British nationalism, refinement, and tradition. To others, she's a symbol of Britain's wretched history of racism, colonialism, and all sorts of atrocious acts. Asking those in the latter group to shut up right now in the name of civility and decorum is no more right than asking those grieving the queen to quiet down.

Yes, Queen Elizabeth II was a mother, a grandmother, a wife, and a friend. But she was also a monarch, not just some nice old lady living a private life. She had subjects. Many of those subjects, or their descendants, have experienced hardship and trauma under her reign or the reign of her family members before her. Even if not all of this is directly tied to her, the British royal family carries some serious baggage and she's a representative of that.

Let people celebrate. Let people grieve. Let people be frank and open in their emotions. There's room in the queen's death discourse for glowing tributes and for honest reckoning, too.


FREE MINDS

Aretha Franklin's FBI file has been unsealed. The declassified documents present a maddening record of how the federal government kept tabs on Aretha Franklin. The agency tracked Franklin's civil rights activism and her friendships with folks like Martin Luther King Jr. and Angela Davis. "The notes on Franklin's friendship with Dr. King include close documentation of her performances at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), of which King was president," notes Pitchfork:

The FBI characterizes the shows—which took place in Atlanta, Georgia, and Memphis, Tennessee, in 1967 and 1968—as "communist infiltration" events. A subsequent note in the file is titled "Assassination of Martin Luther King. Racial matters." It alleges that Franklin was said to be involved in a free, "huge memorial concert" at Atlanta Stadium, donated by the Atlanta Braves. The show "would provide emotional spark which could ignite racial disturbance this area," according to an FBI source. In the end, the SCLC scrapped that memorial service and held a three-mile procession to Morehouse College instead….

The FBI identified Franklin as a prospective performer at supposedly threatening events far more often than she actually appeared at them. In 1971, for instance, an FBI source infiltrated the Boston branch of the Young Workers Liberation League, which was apparently planning an Angela Davis benefit that "might be held at the Boston Garden with Aretha Franklin." Her planned performance at a Black Panther Party event in Los Angeles, which she cancelled due to timing issues (for which she later apologized), is documented in a file covered in "Top Secret" and "Classified" stamps. "Bobby Seale, Chairman of the Black Panther Party, has directed the Los Angeles Black Panther Party to initiate plans for a major rally culminating in free food distribution to the poor black people in Los Angeles," it reads. "Source also advised that Gwen Goodloe wanted to contact Negro singing stars Aretha Franklin and Roberta Flack to possibly assist in the event."

Find the full FBI file here.


FREE MARKETS

Coinbase is funding a lawsuit that challenges Treasury Department sanctions of Tornado Cash smart contracts. Tornado Cash is a type of crypto mixer—it's "designed to create a disconnect between the cryptocurrencies that a user deposits and withdraws," explains Chainalysis. "At a high level, they work by pooling the funds deposited by many users together, shuffling them in a seemingly random fashion, and then subtracting a small service fee and returning the remaining funds to each depositor." This is done through decentralized, autonomous "smart contracts" and creates privacy in cryptocurrency transactions. (Bloomberg explains it well here.)

In August, the Treasury Department announced sanctions against Tornado Cash, accusing it of laundering "the proceeds of cybercrimes," including "over $455 million stolen by the Lazarus Group, a Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) state-sponsored hacking group."

Coinbase is asking the Treasury Department to remove these sanctions. "We have no issue with the Treasury sanctioning bad actors and we take a hard stance against unlawful behavior. But in this case, Treasury went much further and took the unprecedented step of sanctioning an entire technology instead of specific individuals," Coinbase CEO and co-founder Brian Armstrong wrote on the company's blog yesterday. More:

The problem here is twofold: (1) there are legitimate applications for this type of technology and as a result of these sanctions, many innocent users now have their funds trapped and have lost access to a critical privacy tool, and (2) we believe the Treasury exceeded its authority, given by Congress, by sanctioning a technology.

At Coinbase, we've been fighting illicit activity since the very beginning, and while we share Treasury's commitment to fighting crime, we believe this action harms innocent people and threatens the future of decentralized finance (DeFi) and web3 specifically.


QUICK HITS

• Steve Bannon has been charged with money laundering and conspiracy in conjunction with money he purportedly collected to help build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. "Prosecutors accused Bannon of defrauding donors who contributed more than $15 million to a private fundraising drive, known as 'We Build the Wall,' for the former Republican president's signature wall," reports Reuters. Bannon has pleaded not guilty.

• After a hearing yesterday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) has pulled her dreadful Journalism Competition and Preservation Act.

• The White House has released a set of dangerous new principles for the internet:

• The Justice Department will appeal the appointment of a special lawyer to oversee the handling of the documents seized from former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

• J.D. Tuccille encourages everyone to embrace a little bit of a "prepper mindset."

• The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking an emergency court order to stop a Los Angeles County jail's booking facility from holding people in what it calls "horrific, inhumane conditions."

• The Cato Institute held an interesting panel discussion on the book Classified: The Untold Story of Racial Classification in America.