November 23, 2018

Crisis: Chomsky & Bolsonaro, Law, Sanders' Agenda, Ecuador & Assange, Chomsky & Depravity


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 23, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Friday, November 23, 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 November 23, 2018:
1. Noam Chomsky Warns Against “Disaster” Under Jair Bolsonaro
2. The Rule of Law
3. Sanders Urges Democrats in New Congress to Embrace This Detailed
     Progressive Agenda

4. Ecuadorian Embassy Sours on Julian Assange
5. Noam Chomsky: Moral Depravity Defines US Politics
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. Noam Chomsky Warns Against “Disaster” Under Jair Bolsonaro

This article is by Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh on Democracy Now! I abbreviated the title and also inform you that on yesterday's Democracy Now! - November 22, 2018 - there are no less than 5 interviews with Noam Chomsky.

I think they are all interesting, and for today's Nederlog I chose the one that interests me the most right now. It starts with the following introduction:
As Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro prepares to take office in January, we return to our conversation with world-renowned political dissident, linguist and author Noam Chomsky shortly after the election. Bolsonaro’s impending presidency marks the most radical political shift Brazil since military rule ended more than 30 years ago. Bolsonaro is a former Army officer who has praised Brazil’s former military dictatorship, spoken in favor of torture and threatened to destroy, imprison or banish his political opponents. Bolsonaro has also encouraged the police to kill suspected drug dealers, and once told a female lawmaker she was too ugly to rape. Noam Chomsky calls Bolsonaro a “disaster for Brazil.”
I completely agree with Chomsky - and remember also that Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, and has the sixth largest population, namely of more than 210 million persons.

Here is more, also on Bolton and Bolsonaro:
NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, it’s entirely natural for Bolton to welcome Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro is definitely his kind of guy. He’s vicious, brutal, a strong supporter, enthusiastic supporter of torture. He was a little bit critical of the military dictatorship—because it didn’t kill enough people. He thought it should have killed 30,000 people, like the Argentine dictatorship, which was the worst of the U.S.-backed dictatorships in Latin America. He wants to throw the country open to investors, turn Brazil into a kind of a caricature of a country. This includes opening up the Amazon to his agribusiness supporters. It’s a serious blow, if not even a death knell to the species. It means virtual genocide for the indigenous population. According to Bolsonaro, they don’t deserve a square centimeter. But, by and large, just the kind of guy that Bolton would greatly admire.
Yes indeed. This is about the Brazilian economy:

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Among the Cabinet ministers that Bolsonaro is likely to appoint is Paulo Guedes. Could you say something about his background? He’s going to be Bolsonaro’s chief financial adviser, the head of the so-called super ministry combining the current planning, finance and industry ministries. What is this person’s background?

NOAM CHOMSKY: Well, Guedes is a ultra-right-wing Chicago economist. He’s spent time in Pinochet’s Chile. He’s been very frank and open in interviews in the Brazilian press about his plans. It’s very simple: As he puts it, privatize everything—everything, infrastructure, anything you can think of. The reason, the motive, is to pay off the debt which is owned by the predatory financial institutions that have been robbing the country blind. This will give away the resources of the country for the future. And as I mentioned, one part of it is Bolsonaro’s favorite program of opening the Amazon to agribusiness. So, he’s exactly the kind of person who succeeded in driving Chile’s economy to utter disaster within only a few years.

I again completely agree. Here is the last bit that I quote from this interview:

NOAM CHOMSKY: So, this is the man who’s one of their great admirers, is now taking over the Brazilian economy. And it will be a heyday for investors. Stock market loves it. They think they’ll be able to rob freely. Brazil does have enormous wealth and resources, which they’re glad to get their hands on. For the future of Brazil, it’s a disaster, I think; for the region, quite harmful. One of the things that Guedes has already said is that they may pull Brazil out of Mercosur, the South American trade system that had been established and, in fact, Lula had pushed forward. And for the world, it will also be a potential disaster. Destroying—if they proceed to destroy the Amazon, that is a very serious attack on the environment.

But again, that’s just in line with Bolton, Trump, exactly what they’re doing right here.
Yes, again I agree completely. Then again, there is also something on which Chomsky and I probably disagree:

I think the election of Bolsonaro as president was mostly due to the stupidity and ignorance of the majority of its voters - and if you doubt this (as you may) please reread the first bit by Chomsky above. But this is a strongly recommended article - and if you liked the above, you will probably like the other four interviews on Democracy Now! of November 22.

2. The Rule of Law

This article is by Robert Reich on his site. It starts as follows:

Democracies depend on what’s known as the “rule of law.” It’s based on three fundamental principles. Trump is violating every one of them.

The first is that no person is above the law, not even a president. Which means a president cannot stop an investigation into his alleged illegal acts.

Precisely. There is more in the original, but I move to the second principle:

The second principle of the rule of law is a president cannot prosecute political opponents or critics. Decisions about whom to prosecute for alleged criminal wrongdoing must be made by prosecutors who are independent of politics.

Yet Trump has repeatedly pushed the Justice Department to bring charges against Hillary Clinton, his 2016 rival, for using a private email server when she was Secretary of State, in alleged violation of the Presidential Records Act.

During his campaign, Trump led crowds in chanting “lock her up,” called Clinton “crooked Hillary,” and threatened to prosecute her if he was elected president.

After taking office, according to the New York Times, Trump told White House counsel Donald McGahn he wanted the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton. McGahn responded that Trump didn’t have the authority to do so, and such action might even lead to impeachment.

Yes. And here is the third principle:

The third principle of the rule of law is that a president must be respectful of the independence of the judiciary.

Yet Trump has done the opposite, openly ridiculing judges who disagree with him in order to fuel public distrust of them – as he did when he called the judge who issued the first federal ruling against his travel ban a “so-called” judge.

Last week Trump referred derisively to the judge who put a hold on Trump’s plan for refusing to consider asylum applications an “Obama judge,” and railed against the entire ninth circuit. "You go the 9th Circuit and it’s a disgrace,” he said. He also issued a subtle threat: “It’s not going to happen like this anymore.“

In an unprecedented public rebuke of a sitting president, John Roberts, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, condemned Trump’s attack. “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

Yes, but I do want to correct John Roberts:

First of all, while it may be true that there are no "Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges", in fact that is not the issue. The issue is whether there are conservative lawyers who are almost always nominated by Republican presidents, and non- conservative lawyers who are almost always nominated by Democrats - and this seems plainly true to me.

Besides, I do not think that either Kavanaugh or Thomas or Gorsuch belong to "an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them".

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

Almost a half-century ago, another president violated these three basic principles of the rule of law. Richard Nixon tried to obstruct the Watergate investigation, pushed the Justice Department to prosecute his political enemies, and took on the judiciary. 

But America wouldn’t allow it. The nation rose up in outrage. Nixon resigned before Congress impeached him.

The question before us is whether this generation of Americans will have the strength and wisdom to do the same.

Yes, I agree, and this is a strongly recommended article.

3. Sanders Urges Democrats in New Congress to Embrace This Detailed Progressive Agenda

This article is by Jon Queally on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

While affirming that he "strongly" disagrees with former Newt Gingrich, who led the GOP in the House in the mid-1990s, "on virtually every issue," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is calling on Democrats in Congress to rip a page of out the Georgia Republican's playbook by creating—and aggressively pushing—a new progressive version of the Contract With America in order to galvanize the nation, offer real solutions to its most urgent problems, and go beyond being simply anti-Trump.

In stark contrast to Gingrich's original version—"a radical right-wing agenda full of tax breaks for the wealthy, massive cuts to programs vital to working families, and racist and cruel bills to 'reform' welfare and our criminal-justice system"—Sanders argues in a Washington Post op-ed on Thursday that Democrats should instead forge a vision that "reflects the needs of working Americans — centered on economic, political, social, racial and environmental justice."

I agree with Sanders (and don't care whether or not Gingrich did something verbally similar more than 20 years ago).

Here is more:

While celebrating the "Blue Wave" in the midterms that saw Democrats reclaim control of the U.S. House and acheive major wins in state houses and governors' mansions nationwide, Sanders writes that while it is clear a majority of the American people "rejected President Trump's agenda benefiting the wealthy and the powerful, as well as his racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and religious bigotry," it simply "is not good enough for Democrats to just be the anti-Trump party."

If Democrats, he writes, "want to keep and expand their majority in the House, take back the Senate and win the White House, Democrats must show the American people that they will aggressively stand up and fight for the working families of this country — black, white, Latino, Asian American or Native American, men and women, gay or straight. This means addressing the crisis of a broken criminal-justice system and reforming inhumane immigration policies. But it also means fighting to expand a middle class that has been disappearing for more than 40 years, reducing inequality in both income and wealth — which has disproportionately hurt African Americans and Hispanics — and aggressively combating climate change, the most urgent threat facing our planet."

I agree, but I also note that so far these are ideals rather than practical proposals.

But then there is this:

Specifically, argues Sanders, the new Democratic majority in the House should spend its first 100 days next year passing an unmistakably bold legislative agenda that includes:

I will list in a moment the list of Sanders' points, but will do so without their associated texts (which you will find in the original). Here they are (but all minus texts):

  • Increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour and indexing it to median wage growth thereafter.
  • A path toward Medicare-for-all.
  • Bold action to combat climate change.
  • Fixing our broken criminal-justice system.
  • Comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Progressive tax reform.
  • A $1 trillion infrastructure plan.
  • Lowering the price of prescription drugs.
  • Making public colleges and universities tuition-free and substantially reducing student debt.
  • Expanding Social Security.

I agree with all of the above and this is a recommended article.

4. Ecuadorian Embassy Sours on Julian Assange

This article is by Michael Sontheimer on Spiegel International. This is from near its beginning, that refers to how the fact that there is a US criminal indictment against Assange:

The document in question was a government motion to keep a criminal indictment sealed. Such secrecy, the document notes, is the only way to "keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged." It goes on to say that "the complaint, supporting affidavit, and arrest warrant, as well as this motion and the proposed order, would need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested" and can no longer evade arrest and extradition.

This is something that Assange has always suspected but could never prove, namely that U.S. prosecutors have already filed or are close to filing charges against him and will soon issue a warrant for his arrest.

For the last six-and-a-half years, Assange has essentially been stuck in London, living in the Ecuadorian Embassy, a dignified brick building just a few steps from the world-famous department store Harrods in Knightsbridge. He doesn't get much sun and his hair has turned white as snow, as has his skin.

Yes. I also think Assange's hair is white anyway, but this only relies on my memory of some eight years ago (and watching some pictures today - and it was already white in 2006, when Assange was 35 and not locked up at all).

Anyway. Here is more:

The government in Quito has been providing Assange with political asylum since August 2012, but the relationship has recently soured and the Ecuadorian president would now like to see the Australian journalist leave the embassy sooner rather than later. In late March, Ecuadorian diplomats cut off Assange's internet connection and installed a jammer designed to prevent him from communicating with the outside world. Last month, the government issued new rules for dealing with their famous yet difficult guest.

In fact, Julian Assange also acquired Ecuadorian citizenship in December 2017. Here is more:

In 2010, WikiLeaks published documents in conjunction with the Guardian, the New York Times and DER SPIEGEL pertaining to U.S. war crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, the U.S. government has been after Assange and a grand jury in Virginia is investigating several people in connection with WikiLeaks, including Assange himself, the former WikiLeaks journalist Sarah Harrison of Britain and Jacob Appelbaum, a U.S. citizen who lives in Berlin. The basis of those investigations could be the Espionage Act of 1917, which allows for penalties of up to life in prison. The message is clear: Potential copycats should think twice about taking on the U.S. government and its intelligence services.

Well... in fact Assange claims - I think correctly - that he is a journalist and not a spy, and that all he does as a journalist is to make public documents that the USA's governments do not like to see published. Besides, very many more journalists than Assange receive and publish documents that the government of the USA (or other governments) does not like to see published.

I think it is a mistake to describe Assange as a spy or to accept that term even though the USA's government insists on using it.

Here is more, on Assange in the last half year:

[On March 28, 2018] the Ecuadorian foreign minister had a jammer installed in the embassy to disrupt mobile phone reception and Assange's internet access was cut off. With that, he lost his most important link to the outside world.

Since then, only Assange's assistant, a legal advisor and his lawyers have had access to him. Friends and journalists are no longer able to visit the WikiLeaks founder and his mother can likewise no longer see him. Assange is almost completely isolated.

Assange believes that an application for his extradition has been prepared and is sitting in the U.S. Embassy in London. He believes that as soon as he falls into British hands, he will be locked up pending extradition or be immediately placed on board a plane to the U.S.

Yes - and the Ecuadorian government acted wrongly, in my opinion. And not only that:

The embassy also drafted a new set of rules to regulate everything pertaining to Assange's asylum. According to those rules, all of Assange's visitors, including his lawyers, must provide the serial numbers of their telephones and other electronic devices and list their social media accounts. The Ecuadorian government reserves the right to share this information with others.

Furthermore, Assange must now also pay a share of the costs the embassy incurs by putting him up.
This in fact hands over the necessary details to be spied upon by every government's secret service from every visitor.

Anyway... In fact, one other reason why I reviewed this Spiegel article, in which there is a lot more than I quoted, is to see how the European "liberal press" reports on Assange. I'd say: So, so. And this is a recommended article.

5. Noam Chomsky: Moral Depravity Defines US Politics

This article is by C.J. Polychroniou on Truthout. This is from near its beginning:

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam (..) what do you consider to be the most striking features of the latest manifestation of American democracy in action?

Noam Chomsky: The most striking features are brutally clear.

Humanity faces two imminent existential threats: environmental catastrophe and nuclear war. These were virtually ignored in the campaign rhetoric and general coverage. There was plenty of criticism of the Trump administration, but scarcely a word about by far the most ominous positions the administration has taken: increasing the already dire threat of nuclear war, and racing to destroy the physical environment that organized human society needs in order to survive.

These are the most critical and urgent questions that have arisen in all of human history. The fact that they scarcely arose in the campaign is truly stunning — and carries some important, if unpleasant, lessons about our moral and intellectual culture.
We should recognize that these are extraordinary crimes against humanity. They proceed with little notice.

The Democrats helped defeat these critically important initiatives by ignoring them. They scarcely mentioned them “in digital or TV ads, in their campaign literature or on social media,” a New York Times survey found. Nor, of course, were they mentioned by the Republicans, whose leadership is dedicated to driving humanity off the cliff as soon as possible — in full knowledge of what they are doing, as easily demonstrated.

I almost completely agree with Chomsky, but I do have an addition to make to his "The fact that [the nuclear and environmental threats] scarcely arose in the campaign is truly stunning — and carries some important, if unpleasant, lessons about our moral and intellectual culture":

Quite so, and my suggestion (once more, and this is the stronger with me since I believe this since more than 50 years, even though hardly anyone who writes as a journalist ever mentions these two facts, as I think they are) is that these "lessons about our moral and intellectual culture" are (in my opinion) that the majority of most voters anywhere are not intelligent and not informed about what they are voting on, but are stupid and ignorant.

Also, I am not saying all are (for there clearly are intelligent and informed voters), but I am saying most are (also see item 1) - and if you disagree, two probable reasons are that you are less intelligent than I am and/or that you know less about politics.

Here is more:

Noam Chomsky: (..) It’s hard to find words to describe what is happening before our eyes.

The same is true of the second truly existential threat: nuclear war. A few weeks before the election, Trump announced that the US is withdrawing from the INF treaty, which eliminated short-range missiles deployed in Western Europe and Russia — extremely hazardous weapons, which have only a few minutes flight-time to Moscow, posing a decapitation threat, a sudden attack that would destroy any possibility of response. That, of course, sharply increases the danger of a nuclear response to warnings given by automated systems that have often failed in the past, thus ending all of us.

Anyone familiar with the record knows that it’s a virtual miracle that we have so far avoided terminal nuclear war.
Precisely. Here is more:
Noam Chomsky: (..) In conditions of economic distress, a sense of hopelessness, justified contempt for institutions, and understandable anger and resentment about what is being done to them, people can become easy prey to demagogues who direct their anger toward scapegoats, typically those even more vulnerable, and who foster the symptoms that tend to rise to the surface under such circumstances. That’s been happening, worldwide. We see it in election after election in many countries, and in other ways.
Well...yes...but: Once again, if ordinary voters, with an IQ between 85 and 115 (which is were most of them will fit) vote (in effect) for nuclear war, for environmental destruction, or vote in leaders like Trump and Bolsonaro - who is for torture, for dictatorship, and for imprisoning, banishing or murdering his political opponents - I conclude that the voters who did so are in majority stupid or ignorant.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
Noam Chomsky: (..) Research in academic political science has revealed that a large majority of voters are literally disenfranchised, in that their own representatives pay no attention to their wishes but listen to the voices of the donor class. It is furthermore well established that elections are pretty much bought: electability, hence policy, is predictable with remarkable precision from the single variable of campaign spending, both for the executive and Congress. Thomas Ferguson’s work is particularly revealing, going far back and including the 2016 election. And that is a bare beginning. Legislation is commonly shaped, even written, by corporate lobbyists, while representatives who sign it have their eyes on funding for the next election.
Yes, I again fully agree. There is a whole lot more in this article, that is strongly recommended.


[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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