October 6, 2018

Crisis: US High Court Down, Brazil & Dictators, America & Fascism, Exit Democracy, Anti-Semitism


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from October 6, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Saturday, October 6, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from October 6, 2018:
1. The High Court Brought Low
2. Could Brazil Return to a Dictatorship?
3. America Is On the Road to Becoming a Fascist State
4. The Suffocation of Democracy
5. 'We Are Facing a Monster'
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. The High Court Brought Low

This article is by The Editorial Board on The New York Times. It starts as follows:

So what now?

The degrading spectacle of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation process is behind us; the degrading era of his service on the Supreme Court lies ahead. If senators vote as expected on Saturday, Judge Kavanaugh, with a razor-thin victory on an almost strict party-line Senate vote, will be sworn in as the newest associate justice of the Supreme Court as early as next week.

Credible accusations of sexual assault, lies told under oath, explicitly partisan attacks on the senators trying to assess his fitness to serve: None of it was enough to give Republican leaders more than momentary pause in their campaign to seize decisive control of the Supreme Court.

Yes, quite so.

Then again, the opening question - ¨So what now?¨ - is not being answered. I shall answer it myself after the next and last bit that I quote from the present article:

And while Mr. Trump had plenty of qualified, highly conservative lawyers to pick among, he chose to insist on Judge Kavanaugh. The result was a confirmation process, and now almost certainly a justice, tainted by dishonesty, shamelessness, self-pity, indifference to women’s fears and calculated divisiveness — the hallmarks, in other words, of Mr. Trump’s politics.

Having first sickened the White House and then Congress, the virus of Trumpism is about to spread to the Supreme Court itself.

The Court has had a majority of Republican-appointed justices for nearly half a century, of course, and its credibility has endured, despite controversial decisions like Bush v. Gore, which handed the White House to a Republican president. But the elevation of Judge Kavanaugh represents something new.

The nation is now facing the possibility of three or four decades with a justice credibly accused of sexual assault, one who may well be the deciding vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, or at least make it so hard for a woman to exercise her constitutional right to make her own medical decisions that the ruling is effectively nullified. Thirty to 40 years with a justice whose honesty was tested and found wanting. A justice so injudicious in his manner that thousands of law professors, and a retired Supreme Court justice, opposed his confirmation.
Yes again.

And I completely agree that ¨
The nation is now facing the possibility of three or four decades with a justice credibly accused of sexual assault¨ and that ¨Thirty to 40 years with a justice whose honesty was tested and found wanting. A justice so injudicious in his manner that thousands of law professors, and a retired Supreme Court justice, opposed his confirmation¨.

Then again: What to do now?

I know my answer, but that indeed is easier for me because I am neither an American nor do I live in the USA:

If I know of any future decision by the Supreme Court that has been made by its majority of Republicans that is important enough to comment on, I will write that I utterly disregard any decision by the Supreme Court that has an utterly incompetent rapist as a judge - for yes: I think Kavanaugh did try to rape Ford; he has not at all been properly investigated; and I also think, together with over 2400 American law professors, that he is an utter incompetent.

2. Could Brazil Return to a Dictatorship?

This article is by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! It starts with the following introduction:
Voters in Brazil head to the polls on Sunday in an election that could reshape the political landscape of South America. Polls show the current front-runner is the far-right Jair Bolsonaro, a former Army officer who has openly praised Brazil’s military dictatorship, which lasted from 1964 to 1985. Bolsonaro has a long history of making racist, misogynistic and homophobic comments, and has risen in the polls since September 8, when he was stabbed while campaigning. His campaign directly benefited from the jailing of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in April, who had been leading in all presidential polls before being forced to drop out of the race. Lula’s handpicked successor, Fernando Haddad, is currently placing second in most polls. We speak with Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. He has been covering the election from Rio de Janeiro.
Yes, quite so. Here is the first bit of Greenwald that I quote from this article:
AMY GOODMAN: (...) Glenn, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the significance of what is happening right now in Brazil, and particularly on Sunday, the election?

GLENN GREENWALD: To begin with, the significance is that Brazil is a country of 210 million people, so it’s the fifth most populous country in the world, right behind the United States, the second largest in the hemisphere and the most influential in all of Latin America. It’s also the seventh-largest economy in the world, with major oil reserves.

And what the Western media has often been doing and talking about Bolsonaro is calling him Brazil’s Trump, which drastically and radically understates the case. He is much closer to, say, Duterte in the Philippines, or even General El-Sisi in Egypt, both in terms of what he intends to do and wants to do, and what he is able to do, given the fragility of Brazil, which is an extremely young democracy that exited a military dictatorship only 33 years ago, and therefore doesn’t have the same kind of institutions to limit what someone would want to do, the way, say, the United States or the U.K. would. So it’s an extremely dangerous moment for this country.
That sounds extremely dangerous - and I do take it that Greenwald knows very well of what he speaks about.

Here is some more:
GLENN GREENWALD: (..) His model for how he wants to deal with crime are the world’s worst dictators, people like Pinochet. He’s advocated that we do things like in the Philippines, where we just send the military and the police to just indiscriminately slaughter whatever—whoever they think is a drug dealer or a criminal, without trials. He believes in military rule. He doesn’t regard the military coup of 1964 and the 21-year resulting military dictatorship as a coup or as a dictatorship. He regards it as something noble and wants to replicate it. And he has the entire top level of the Brazilian military supporting him and behind him.
I say.

Well... the possibility is not at all discussed by Greenwald in this article, but if this is what he fears, and it clearly is, I would seriously consider leaving Brazil fast (for Greenwald does live there). And this is a strongly recommended article.

3. America Is On the Road to Becoming a Fascist State

This article is by Robert Scheer on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

In a compelling essay for The New York Review of Books this month, Christopher R. Browning, a leading historian of the Holocaust and Nazism, outlines the frightening parallels between the United States and the Weimar Republic. “No matter how and when the Trump presidency ends,” he writes, “the specter of illiberalism will continue to haunt American politics.”

Jason Stanley would agree. A professor of philosophy at Yale University and the author of “How Fascism Works,” he contends that failures of democratic governance have forged a society eerily reminiscent of pre-war Germany—one in which there’s a growing appetite for the kind of ultranationalism espoused by Donald Trump. Indeed, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has openly praised the Immigration Act of 1924, which not only created quotas and bans on certain immigrant communities but served as a model of sorts for Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.”

I say, for I did not know about Christopher Browning´s article - which is reviewed as the next item in this Nederlog.

Then again, I must provide a personal reason why I like Browning, which in fact is mostly based on a reading of his book ¨Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland¨, and that personal reason is that both my father and my father´s father were arrested in 1941 for being in the Dutch Resistance, which meant that my father survived more than 3 years and 9 months in four German concentration camps, and that my grandfather (already in his early 60ies) was murdered there.

Next, Browning´s explanation for the behavior of ordinary men in a totalitarian system (both Nazism and Soviet ¨socialism¨) makes a lot of sense to me (and I am also a philosopher and a psychologist, academically).

This is from the Wikipedia:

While the specifics of this book deal with killings performed by otherwise average men, the general implication of the book, consistent with the theories advanced by Stanley Milgram, is that when placed in a coherent group setting, most people will adhere to the commands given, even if they find the actions morally reprehensible. Additionally the book demonstrates that ordinary people will more than likely follow orders, even those they might personally question, when they perceive these orders as originating from an authority.

I think that explanation is basically correct (and I also read and liked Milgram).

Back to the article. Here is Robert Scheer:

Robert Scheer: Hi, I’m Robert Scheer, and this is another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, Jason Stanley, who has written a book called How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them, published by Random House. And you teach at Yale, right? And you’ve written a number of interesting books about propaganda, and this fits in. The basic hook here is Trump, and people being frightened about the echoes of fascism, not only in this country but throughout the world. And your book attempts to examine the architecture of fascism, its origins and so forth.

This is correct as far as it goes and indeed I did not read ¨How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them¨ but I found this interview not very enlightening, and the main reason is that I do not have any idea whatsoever what Stanley might mean by ¨fascism¨. (The last link is to my - quite informed - definition.)

There is for example this bit:

JS: (..) In How Fascism Works, however, what I’m trying to do is I’m trying to sort of draw attention to the fact that there are familiar aspects of fascist politics that have always been here, and to which our country has always been vulnerable. One thing about coming from my Holocaust background–my parents are both survivors, were refugees; they weren’t in camps, but they were refugees–they were always attendant to these details.

But ¨that there are familiar aspects of fascist politics that have always been here¨ (and anywhere else, by the way) is extremely obvious in quite a few senses, especially if you do not define fascism at all.

Incidentally, my mother was also in the Dutch Resistance, but was never arrested, whereas both my father and grandfather were in concentration camps. Also - incidentally - my communist father was knighted very briefly before he died, mostly because he was the main designer of a Dutch National Exhibition about the resistance and concentration camps.

Here is Scheer again:

RS: This patriotic appeal is a menace. And the fact is, even reasonable people are afraid to say that. You know, we look at Hitler and we say, oh, they had issues; they got a bad deal after World War I, they could say we have foreign enemies, they had serious economic problems, right, of the kind that we have been experiencing. And patriotism becomes blaming the other, becomes scapegoating the other. And it’s interesting; in Germany, by the way, Hitler didn’t scapegoat BMW and Mercedes and the big German financiers and so forth. He scapegoated unions, he scapegoated people resisting, he scapegoated the Jews and handicapped people and homosexuals. He didn’t go after the big-shots. And in this country, that’s what Trump does. You know, blaming everybody except Wall Street for our problems.

I think this is quite right. Here is the last bit of Stanley that I quote:

JS: What philosophers call liberal democracy, not the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party, Bill Clinton–you are absolutely right. Bill Clinton engaged in the most heinous and problematic racially coded messages. He took over the republican strategy, the republican Southern strategy, with his 1992 campaign to end welfare as we know it, thereby race-baiting with that vocabulary.

Well... I don´t like Bill Clinton for the stated and other reasons, but Stanley is (again) none too clear.

Incidentally, I lived in Amsterdam in the 90ies and did know several - quite intelligent - leftist or leftish Americans, who preferred living in Amsterdam over living in the USA, and who were much more sympathetic to Clinton than I was (who thought him a smooth fraud from the beginning), it seems fundamentally because he was a Democrat. I do not know how this was at that time in the USA, but it is my guess Clinton was judged by most Americans essentially on party-political lines. This is a recommended article.

4. The Suffocation of Democracy

This article is by Christopher R. Browning on The New York Review of Books. This is from near its beginning:

Today, President Trump seems intent on withdrawing the US from the entire post–World War II structure of interlocking diplomatic, military, and economic agreements and organizations that have preserved peace, stability, and prosperity since 1945. His preference for bilateral relations, conceived as zero-sum rivalries in which he is the dominant player and “wins,” overlaps with the ideological preference of Steve Bannon and the so-called alt-right for the unfettered self-assertion of autonomous, xenophobic nation-states—in short, the pre-1914 international system. That “international anarchy” produced World War I, the Bolshevik Revolution, the Great Depression, the fascist dictatorships, World War II, and the Holocaust, precisely the sort of disasters that the post–World War II international system has for seven decades remarkably avoided.

In threatening trade wars with allies and adversaries alike, Trump justifies increased tariffs on our allies on the specious pretext that countries like Canada are a threat to our national security. He combines his constant disparagement of our democratic allies with open admiration of authoritarians.
As I have said already (here) I like Christopher Browning. I think the above is probably correct, but I should add that I - for one, I suppose like the vast majority - do not have the required knowledge to adequately understand ¨the pre-1914 international system¨.

Here is more (and McConnell is Mitch McConnell): 
Whatever secret reservations McConnell and other traditional Republican leaders have about Trump’s character, governing style, and possible criminality, they openly rejoice in the payoff they have received from their alliance with him and his base: huge tax cuts for the wealthy, financial and environmental deregulation, the nominations of two conservative Supreme Court justices (so far) and a host of other conservative judicial appointments, and a significant reduction in government-sponsored health care (though not yet the total abolition of Obamacare they hope for).
I think all of the above is correct. Here is more:
The most original revelation of the current wave of authoritarians is that the construction of overtly antidemocratic dictatorships aspiring to totalitarianism is unnecessary for holding power. Perhaps the most apt designation of this new authoritarianism is the insidious term “illiberal democracy.” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and Viktor Orbán in Hungary have all discovered that opposition parties can be left in existence and elections can be held in order to provide a fig leaf of democratic legitimacy, while in reality elections pose scant challenge to their power. Truly dangerous opposition leaders are neutralized or eliminated one way or another.

Total control of the press and other media is likewise unnecessary, since a flood of managed and fake news so pollutes the flow of information that facts and truth become irrelevant as shapers of public opinion.
I do not know about this, although I think Browning is probably correct about Putin. I am more skeptical about Erdogan, Duterte and Orbán mostly because they have not governed for a long time (and I think they very well may become fully authoritarian soon).

Also, there is a parallel here with Sheldon Wolin´s (the link is to a Nederlog with a lot more about him) idea of ¨inverted totalitarianism¨ that I think is quite interesting, but Wolin is not mentioned in the present article.

Here is more:
The unprecedented flow of dark money into closely contested campaigns has distorted the electoral process even further. The Supreme Court decision declaring corporations to be people and money to be free speech (Citizens United v. FEC) in particular has greatly enhanced the ability of corporations and wealthy individuals to influence American politics.
This is entirely correct - and indeed since this decision was (in my opinion) totally crazy - corporations are NOT people and money is NOT free speech, and whose who say so must be either out of their mind or else totally political and not properly legal at all - some may be inclined to disregard the Supreme Court as in majority a bunch of rightwing politicians rather than a decent court of law back to 2010 rather than to 2018 (with the nomination of Kavanaugh).

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

No matter how and when the Trump presidency ends, the specter of illiberalism will continue to haunt American politics. A highly politicized judiciary will remain, in which close Supreme Court decisions will be viewed by many as of dubious legitimacy, and future judicial appointments will be fiercely contested. The racial division, cultural conflict, and political polarization Trump has encouraged and intensified will be difficult to heal. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, and uncontrolled campaign spending will continue to result in elections skewed in an unrepresentative and undemocratic direction. Growing income disparity will be extremely difficult to halt, much less reverse.

Finally, within several decades after Trump’s presidency has ended, the looming effects of ecological disaster due to human-caused climate change—which Trump not only denies but is doing so much to accelerate—will be inescapable.
Trump is not Hitler and Trumpism is not Nazism, but regardless of how the Trump presidency concludes, this is a story unlikely to have a happy ending.
I think I agree wholly to the above, and this is a strongly recommended article. 

5. 'We Are Facing a Monster'

This article is by Veit Medick and Christoph Schult on Spiegel International. This is from near its beginning:

Knobloch: There have been worrisome developments earlier. A few years ago, for example, there was a right-wing extremist demonstration in Munich where marchers shouted, "Jews in the gas, Jews out," and the police didn't intervene. But it has never been as bad as it is today. For the first time, a party has made it into national parliament whose program can be summarized with the words: Jews Out.

DER SPIEGEL: You are referring to the AfD.

Knobloch: I don't actually want to even say their name. "Alternative for Germany," what impudence. But yes, I am referring to the AfD.

DER SPIEGEL: Do you view the AfD as a Nazi party?

Knobloch: What else are you supposed to call a party that disseminates a platform that makes Jewish life impossible? This party is opposed to ritual circumcision and seeks to ban the shechita of animals, through which meat becomes kosher for practicing Jews.

Knobloch is herself Jewish and German, but I think she may well be right (although I think more is involved in the AfD than mere anti-Jewishness).

Here is more:

Knobloch: I like how the single neo-Nazi in the Munich city council is being dealt with. He is simply completely ignored by the other parties. He files inquiries and they simply go unanswered.

DER SPIEGEL: But in Germany's federal parliament, the Bundestag, every deputy has rights. And with 92 members of parliament, the AfD is the largest opposition party. How can they be ignored?

Knobloch: There needs to be a consensus among all the other parties. The AfD has positioned itself outside of our liberal values. Period. It bothers me that there isn't even consensus on this point at the moment. What other viewpoint can there possibly be?

DER SPIEGEL: The debate surrounding how to deal with the AfD recently intensified after an extremely emotional plenary speech by former Social Democrat leader Martin Schulz, who linked the right-wing populists with fascism.

Knobloch: I thought Schulz's reaction was absolutely the correct one. Everybody needs to know who they are voting for when they cast their ballot for the AfD. Our task is to clearly draw the line.
This needs two remarks.

First, about ignoring anti-democratic, authoritarian, or plain Nazi parties: This does work up till now, at least, in Holland and in Sweden. I do not know about Sweden, but I do know about Holland, and my idea is that if Geert Wilders´ party gets to be the largest, most Dutch politicians will rapidly change and become more pro-Wilders.

And second about Martin Schulz: He is a professional politician, and I distrust ¨
emotional plenary speeches¨ by professional politicians, but I grant I have neither heard nor read it.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

Knobloch: Anti-Semitism used to be the rejection of a certain group of people. Today, it is simply hatred of the Jews.

DER SPIEGEL: Anti-Semitism has radicalized?

Knobloch: Absolutely.

DER SPIEGEL: Is there a recipe for fighting it?

Knobloch: Not enough is being done, that is the frightening thing. We have been calling attention to the problem for years. And there are actually institutions that should be taking action. Political leaders, for example. Security authorities. Educational institutions. All of them should focus on fighting anti-Semitism, especially given our history. But not nearly enough is being done.

I do not know whether Knobloch is right in maintaining that ¨Anti-Semitism has radicalized¨, but indeed I am glad that I am not living as a Jew in the present Germany. And this is a recommended article. 


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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