November 1, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


The Gulag Archipelago: A New Foreword by Jordan B Peterson (Jordan B. Peterson, 11/01/18, Quilette)

It is a matter of pure historical fact that The Gulag Archipelago played a primary role in bringing the Soviet Empire to its knees. Although economically unsustainable, ruled in the most corrupt manner imaginable, and reliant on the slavery and enforced deceit of its citizens, the Soviet system managed to stumble forward through far too many decades before being cut to the quick. The courageous leaders of the labor unions in Poland, the great Pope John Paul II and the American President Ronald Reagan, with his blunt insistence that the West faced an evil empire, all played their role in its defeat and collapse. It was Solzhenitsyn, however, whose revelations made it positively shameful to defend not just the Soviet state, but the very system of thought that made that state what it was. It was Solzhenitsyn who most crucially made the case that the terrible excesses of Communism could not be conveniently blamed on the corruption of the Soviet leadership, the "cult of personality" surrounding Stalin, or the failure to put the otherwise stellar and admirable utopian principles of Marxism into proper practice. It was Solzhenitsyn who demonstrated that the death of millions and the devastation of many more were, instead, a direct causal consequence of the philosophy (worse, perhaps: the theology) driving the Communist system. The hypothetically egalitarian, universalist doctrines of Karl Marx contained hidden within them sufficient hatred, resentment, envy and denial of individual culpability and responsibility to produce nothing but poison and death when manifested in the world.

For Marx, man was a member of a class, an economic class, a group--that, and little more--and history nothing but the battleground of classes, of groups. His admirers regarded (continue to regard) Marx's doctrine as one of compassion--moral by definition, virtuous by fiat: "consider the working classes, in all their oppression, and work forthrightly to free them." But hate may well be a stronger and more compelling motivator than love. In consequence, it took no time, in the aftermath of the Russian Revolution, for solidarity with the common man and the apparently laudable demand for universal equality to manifest its unarticulated and ever-darkening shadow. First came the most brutal indictment of the "class enemy." Then came the ever-expanding definition of that enemy, until every single person in the entirety of the state found him or herself at risk of encapsulation within that insatiable and devouring net. The verdict, delivered to those deemed at fault, by those who elevated themselves to the simultaneously held positions of judge, jury and executioner? The necessity to eradicate the victimizers, the oppressors, in toto, without any consideration whatsoever for reactionary niceties--such as individual innocence.

Let us note, as well: this outcome wasn't the result of the initially pristine Marxist doctrine becoming corrupt over time, but something apparent and present at the very beginning of the Soviet state itself. Solzhenitsyn cites, for example, one Martin Latsis, writing or the newspaper Red Terror, November 1, 1918: "We are not fighting against single individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class. It is not necessary during the interrogation to look for evidence proving that the accused opposed the Soviets by word or action. The first question you should ask him is what class does he belong to, what is his origin, his education and his profession. These are the questions that will determine the fate of the accused. Such is the sense and essence of red terror." It is necessary to think when you read such a thing, to meditate long and hard on the message. It is necessary to recognize, for example, that the writer believed that it would be better to execute ten thousand potentially innocent individuals than to allow one poisonous member of the oppressor class to remain free. It is equally necessary to pose the question: "Who, precisely, belonged to that hypothetical entity, 'the bourgeoisie'?" It is not as if the boundaries of such a category are self-evident, there for the mere perceiving. They must be drawn. But where, exactly? And, more importantly, by whom--or by what? If it's hate inscribing the lines, instead of love, they will inevitably be drawn so that the lowest, meanest, most cruel and useless of the conceptual geographers will be justified in manifesting the greatest possible evil, and producing the greatest possible misery.

Members of the bourgeoisie? Beyond all redemption! They had to go, as a matter of course! What of their wives? Children? Even--their grandchildren? Off with their heads, too! All were incorrigibly corrupted by their class identity, and their destruction therefore ethically necessitated. How convenient, that the darkest and direst of all possible motivations could be granted the highest of moral standings! That was a true marriage of Hell and of Heaven. What values, what philosophical presumptions, truly dominated, under such circumstances? Was it desire for brotherhood, dignity, and freedom from want? Not in the least--not given the outcome. It was instead and obviously the murderous rage of hundreds of thousands of biblical Cains, each looking to torture, destroy and sacrifice their own private Abels. There is simply no other manner of accounting for the corpses.

What can be concluded in the deepest, most permanent sense, from Solzhenitsyn's anguished Gulag narrative? First, we learn what is indisputable--what we all should have learned by now (what we have nonetheless failed to learn): that the Left, like the Right, can go too far; that the Left has, in the past, gone much too far. Second, we learn what is far more subtle and difficult--how and why that going too far occurs. We learn, as Solzhenitsyn so profoundly insists, that the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And we learn, as well, that we all are, each of us, simultaneously oppressor and oppressed. Thus, we come to realize that the twin categories of "guilty oppressor" and "justice-seeking victim" can be made endlessly inclusive. This is not least because we all benefit unfairly (and are equally victimized) by our thrownness, our arbitrary placement in the flow of time. We all accrue undeserved and somewhat random privilege from the vagaries of our place of birth, our inequitably distributed talents, our ethnicity, race, culture and sex. We all belong to a group--some group--that has been elevated in comparative status, through no effort of our own. This is true in some manner, along some dimension of group category, for every solitary individual, except for the single most lowly of all. At some time and in some manner we all may in consequence be justly targeted as oppressors, and may all, equally, seek justice--or revenge--as victims. Even if the initiators of the revolution had, therefore, in their most pure moments, been driven by a holy desire to lift up the downtrodden, was it not guaranteed that they would be overtaken by those motivated primarily by envy, hate and the desire to destroy as the revolution progressed?

Hence the establishment of the hungrily growing and most often fatal list of class enemies, right from the very first moments of the Communist revolution. The demolition was aimed first at the students, the religious believers and the socialists (continuing, under Stalin, with the old revolutionaries themselves), and was followed soon thereafter by the annihilation of the successful peasant farmer "kulaks." And this appetite for destruction wasn't of the type to be satiated with the bodies of the perpetrators themselves. As Solzhenitsyn writes, "they burned out whole nests, whole families, from the start; and they watched jealously to be sure that none of the children--fourteen, ten, even six years old--got away: to the last scrapings, all had to go down the same road, to the same common destruction." This was driven by the perceived--even self-perceived--guilt of all. How else was it possible for the hundreds of thousands or perhaps even millions of informants, prosecutors, betrayers and unforgivably mute observers to spring so rapidly into being in the tumult of the Red Terror?

Thus the doctrine of group identity inevitably ends with everyone identified as a class enemy, an oppressor; with everyone uncleansibly contaminated by bourgeois privilege, unfairly enjoying the benefits bequeathed by the vagaries of history; with everyone prosecuted, without respite, for that corruption and injustice. "No mercy for the oppressor!" And no punishment too severe for the crime of exploitation! Expiation becomes impossible because there is no individual guilt, no individual responsibility, and therefore no manner in which the crime of arbitrary birth can be individually accounted for. And all the misery that can be generated as a consequence of such an accusation is the true reason for the accusation. When everyone is guilty, all that serves justice is the punishment of everyone; when the guilt extends to the existence of the world's misery itself, only the fatal punishment will suffice.

It is much more preferable, instead--and much more likely to preserve us all from metastasizing hells--to state forthrightly: "I am indeed thrown arbitrarily into history. I therefore choose to voluntarily shoulder the responsibility of my advantages and the burden of my disadvantages--like every other individual. I am morally bound to pay for my advantages with my responsibility. I am morally bound to accept my disadvantages as the price I pay for being. I will therefore strive not to descend into bitterness and then seek vengeance because I have less to my credit and a greater burden to stumble forward with than others."

Is this not a or even the essential point of difference between the West, for all its faults, and the brutal, terrible "egalitarian" systems generated by the pathological Communist doctrine? The great and good framers of the American republic were, for example, anything but utopian. They took full stock and full measure of ineradicable human imperfection. They held modest goals, derived not least from the profoundly cautious common-law tradition of England. They endeavored to establish a system the corrupt and ignorant fools we all are could not damage too fatally. That's humility. That's clear-headed knowledge of the limitations of human machination and good intention.

But the Communists, the revolutionaries? They aimed, grandly and admirably, at least in theory, at a much more heavenly vision--and they began their pursuit with the hypothetically straightforward and oh-so-morally-justifiable enforcement of economic equality. Wealth, however, was not so easily generated. The poor could not so simply become rich. But the riches of those who had anything more than the greatest pauper (no matter how pitiful that "more" was)? That could be "redistributed"--or, at least, destroyed. That's equality, too. That's sacrifice, in the name of Heaven on Earth. And redistribution was not enough--with all its theft, betrayal and death. Mere economic engineering was insufficient. What emerged, as well, was the overarching and truly totalitarian desire to remake man and woman, as such--the longing to restructure the human spirit in the very image of the Communist preconceptions. Attributing to themselves this divine ability, this transcendent wisdom--and with unshakable belief in the glowing but ever-receding future--the newly-minted Soviets tortured, thieved, imprisoned, lied and betrayed, all the while masking their great evil with virtue. It was Solzhenitsyn and The Gulag Archipelago that tore off the mask, and exposed the feral cowardice, envy, deceit, resentment, and hatred for the individual and for existence itself that pulsed beneath.

Fortunately most of the Soviet leadership--but Mikhail Gorbachev in particular--failed to understand Solzhenitsyn's insight and believed that by allowing more open discussion that dissidents would take advantage of the opportunity to criticize Stalin and certain flaws in how Communism had been administered.  Instead, they attacked the Revolution, Lenin and the entire system root and branch and delegitimized the regime in its entirety. They had understood Solzhenitsyn as the Party had not.

PODCAST: Kevin McKenna on Solzhenitsyn, the Soviet Union, and In the First Circle (EconTalk, Sep 10 2018)

Russian Literature Professor Kevin McKenna of the University of Vermont talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about the life and times of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. This is the opening episode of the EconTalk Book Club for Solzhenitsyn's masterpiece In the First Circle: The First Uncensored Edition. A subsequent episode to air in the next few weeks discusses the book itself.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Steve King Loses It After Being Asked If He Identifies as a White Supremacist (INAE OH, NOVEMBER 1, 2018, Mother Jones)

During a candidate forum in Des Moines Thursday, King became increasingly agitated after a participant recalled an incendiary 2017 tweet from the congressman that stated, "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies"--remarks King double-downed on despite widespread condemnation. The audience member began to draw a comparison between King's tweet and the xenophobic social media posts by the suspected shooter in Saturday's Pittsburgh synagogue massacre. "You and the shooter both share an ideology that is fundamentally anti-immigration," the participant said.

"Do not associate me with that shooter," King said angrily. "I knew you were an ambusher when you walked in the room, but there is no basis for that, and you get no questions, and you get no answers."

The heated exchange continued, as the participant asked what qualities might distinguish King's views from that of the shooter's. "But do you identify as a white supremacist?" he asked.

"Stop it!" King shouted.

"Then why did you meet with a white supremacist organization in Austria?" 

"You're done," King said, before telling security to remove the questioner.

...for not being able to name any differences.
Posted by orrinj at 4:43 PM


'In love with democracy,' Ilhan Omar draws diverse supporters in bid for Congress (Allison Herrera and Peter Majerle, 11/01/18, PRI)

Omar fled her native Somalia when she was 8 years old and spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya. She came to the US as a 12-year-old and eventually settled in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, which has long been a first stop for new arrivals in the US. There, she "fell in love with democracy" and started spending time as a community organizer until she ran for office. [...]

"She worked hard for it," says Isse. "It wasn't easy for her in our community to understand that she is the candidate. A lot of times, you know, we have reservations about women running for office."

"She represents and inspires many young Muslim women because people always stereotype about how wearing our veil is an oppression," says Shabbeleh. "And once they see Ilhan, who is so progressive and really vocal they could see that, no, we're exactly the opposite of what you assumed."

And she has inspired other Somali women. Earlier this fall, Sarah Mohamed Khalif, a 21-year-old Somali woman won a seat on a city council seat in Leuven, Belgium. On Twitter, she has praised Omar and said she too hoped to win an election.

In Sweden, Leila Ali Elmi is also inspired by what Omar has achieved. Elmi, like Omar fled Somalia when she was young. And like Omar, she went into politics. Earlier this summer, she was elected to parliament as a Green Party member. She's watched Omar's campaign and the success she's had in the US.

"Because she is a woman and because she is a woman of color, women are inspired by her to break into politics, which is male dominated," says Elmi. 

When Omar first ran, Shabbeleh's daughter was just 12 years old. Earlier this year, her daughter started high school and said she wants to run for student council. "Because she wants to start change. And that's the kind of behavior Ilhan has inspired," says Shabbeleh.

For Omar, the inspiration to get involved in politics came from her family, who were always talking about politics, world news and democracy over meals.

"What I always emphasize is that I am a representative who happens to be Somali," Omar says. "I am not a Somali representative. I am not a Muslim representative. I am not a millennial representative. I am not a woman representative. I am a representative who happens to have all of these marginalized identities and can understand the intersectionality of all of them in a very unique way."

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Trump Admin Poised to Cave on Iran Sanctions (Adam Kredo, November 1, 2018, Free Beacon)

The Trump administration is poised to offer a series of major concessions to Iran that will let it escape key economic sanctions that the administration once vowed would kick back into force in the next several days, according to multiple U.S. officials and administration insiders familiar with the state of play. [...]

While President Donald Trump vowed to enforce a bevy of new sanctions, senior officials in both the State and Treasury Departments caved to pressure from European allies and Iran, officials confirmed to the Washington Free Beacon.

Iran is now set to continue doing business on the international banking system known as SWIFT, sources said. Additionally, the Trump administration will grant waivers to several countries allowing them to continue purchasing Iranian oil, another concession that the administration once said would not take place.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


In New Hampshire, smoking saved my life (Rod Liddle, 11/01/18, Spectator USA)

I almost got killed this week. I went for a very early morning walk in a New Hampshire forest, in the icy rain. Black coat, black hood, black trousers. And so the hunter saw this hunched, awkward, shambling black beast, stumbling over sodden logs, and immediately raised his rifle to his eye and cocked the trigger. One thing, and one thing only, saved me. The armed cracker, looking through his telescopic lens, thought to himself: 'Hey, it's a bear -- but it's... smoking a cigarette?' And so, at the last second, refrained from pulling the trigger.

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 AM


Washington State Teachers Are Learning to Disarm Shooters With Aluminum Tee-Ball Bats (EMILY GILLESPIE October 31, 2018, Fortune)

To prepare for a potential school shooting, a Washington state school district is training its teachers to arm themselves-not with a gun but with an aluminum bat.

Teachers and staff at the Dayton School District, located in the southeast corner of the state, went through a safety training that included learning how to use an aluminum tee-ball bat to fend off an active shooter, King5 News reports.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Cory Booker talk sees more than 200 attendees (Anthony Robles, 11/1/18, The Dartmouth)

As Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) took selfies and recorded videos with students and community members following a Get Out the Vote rally on Sunday night with Rep. Annie McLane Kuster (D-NH), a young girl approached Booker and told him that he "should run for president." In response, Booker told her, "If I run, I want you on my team."

Booker is considered by many to be a leading contender for the Democratic Party's nomination in the 2020 presidential elections. On Sunday, Booker also stopped at the University of New Hampshire and headlined a fundraiser in Durham before finishing his day at Dartmouth in his first visit to New Hampshire, which hosts the first primary in the country.

When Kuster introduced Booker in front of a packed audience of over 200 people in Filene Auditorium, she jokingly referred to him as the next Democratic presidential nominee.

Last cycle, the Daughter went to see John Kasich and said she liked him nearly as much as Jeb but would need to see him again before she decided....
Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


How Did Life Emerge? (ADAM GAFFNEY, November 1, 2018, New Republic)

In his new book Universe in Creation: A New Understanding of the Big Bang and the Emergence of Life, Roy Gould, an education researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, argues that life is neither a miracle nor an aberration, but an inevitability whose emergence is dictated by the laws of nature. He frames his book around a question posed by the physicist John Archibald Wheeler in 1983. "Is the machinery of the universe so set up, and from the very beginning," Wheeler asked, "that it is guaranteed to produce intelligent life at some long-distant point in its history-to-be?"

Gould answers Wheeler's hypothetical in the affirmative.

Posted by orrinj at 4:18 AM


Trump Admin Says It's Open to Suggestions to Prevent Far-Right Violence. Here Are a Few. (Michael German and Faiza Patel, October 31, 2018, Just Security)

First, words matter. President Donald Trump's own words, obviously, but also those of government officials investigating these acts of violence. When law enforcement officials have enough information about motive - as they surely do in these cases - they should make clear that they are treating the cases as terrorism. [...]

Perhaps more importantly, the FBI should investigate these crimes with the urgency and priority that is the hallmark of "international" terrorism investigations. In the aftermath of an attack committed by a Muslim (whether an American citizen or foreign-born), no stone is left unturned to ensure there is no broader plot. For attacks on minorities, law enforcement officials often quickly announce that the perpetrator was acting alone and highlight mental illness as a possible factor. While that may well be true in some cases, the communities attacked deserve to know that all avenues of investigation have been explored, and it is the FBI's job to give them that reassurance.

The FBI should also reorient its mission to ensure that it pays enough attention to threats to minority communities. Since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI's No. 1 priority. Civil rights enforcement - which includes hate crimes, the charges typically levied in cases such as the Pittsburgh synagogue attack - ranks far lower, fifth on the Bureau's priority list. These crimes should be treated equally seriously.

Data from 2010, the most recent publicly available, show that just a few hundred agents are assigned to domestic terrorism, out of several thousand assigned to counterterrorism duties. FBI Director Christopher Wray recently claimed that the Bureau had approximately 1,000 open domestic terrorism investigations. But that doesn't tell us how many of those investigations or prosecutions target minorities as perpetrators rather than as the victims, a particularly important question given the Bureau's long history of suspicion of these very communities (from Hoover's targeting of civil rights groups up through the FBI's fantasy "Black Identity Extremist" movement).

And if the White House doesn't act, Congress should not stand idly by. Since 9/11, it has held scores of hearings on the threat from ISIS and al-Qaeda but has mostly ignored the danger posed by violent far-right movements. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


GOP hopefuls say they fight insurance companies, just like Obama (Glenn Kessler, November 1, 2018, Washington Post)

"I looked into Scott's stance on preexisting conditions. The truth is that Scott stood up to insurance companies. And he voted to protect people with preexisting conditions."

-- "Suburban mom," speaking in an ad for Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.), released Oct. 28, 2018

"Now I'm leading the fight to ... force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions."

-- Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), in a campaign ad for her Senate race, released Oct. 24

"I support forcing insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions."

-- Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), in an ad for his Senate race, released Oct. 24

"Obama would force insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions."

-- Barack Obama "coin" ad, released Oct. 2, 2008 [...]

Did it suddenly become 2008 all over again?

Before Obamacare, insurance companies could consider a person's health status when determining premiums, sometimes making coverage unaffordable or even unavailable if a person was sick or had a condition that required expensive treatment. The ACA included a series of provisions that prohibited such practices, but then Republicans spent years trying to repeal the law.

Now some Republicans are stealing Obama's rhetoric and claiming they will do what the ACA - which remains largely intact, despite President Trump's efforts - already does. It's certainly an interesting turnaround.

Everyone, understandably, wants credit for the Heritage Plan.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


How Bolsonaro Happens: Seven points about the Brazilian Presidential Election (Andre Kenji de Sousa, 10/26/18, Ordinary Times)

#3) When it comes to the economy, Bolsonaro is much more similar to the 5 Star Movement/Lega Nord coalition in Italy than with Trump.

There are several comparisons between Trump and Bolsonaro, and lots of political observers saying that Trump would enact a "Brazil first" economic policy.

A big part of the problem here is that Brazil is already a pretty closed economy.  Brazil basically uses tariffs and taxes to force manufacturers to produce goods locally. If you buy a smartphone in Brazil, it's a smartphone assembled in Brazil to avoid import duties of 60%. Basically, when Trump says that if Apple wants to avoid taxes, then they should assemble their iPhones in the United States, he's saying that the United States should be more like... Brazil.

Brazil already has lots of tariffs, and they are not that popular because... surprise, they make everything more expensive. (It's not a coincidence that Foxconn is building a plant in Wisconsin after building two plants in Brazil.)

In some sense, Bolsonaro resembles the Lega Nord / 5 Star Movement in Italy.  Brazil, like Italy, needs to do unpopular reforms: the country spends too much on pensions -- something close to 11% of the GDP -- and spends too much on government workers (too many people doing administrative tasks, and too many people being too expensive for those administrative tasks). Like with the coalition in Italy, Bolsonaro's coalition wants things that do not necessarily add up.

Bolsonaro's economic guru is Paulo Guedes, a Chicago Boy who was always popular among free market libertarians in Brazil. On the other hand, another of his lieutenants, Major Olimpio, now a senator-elect, almost ran as the running mate for the gubernatorial candidate of Lula and Dilma in São Paulo. One of Olimpio's issues with Lula and Dilma is that he thought that both were too conservative on pensions.

The truck drivers' strike that happened in May is also a sign of problems to come: oil prices are increasing, and that means inevitable increases on diesel prices, unless fuel subsidies are increased. The same increases that helped to bring about the truck drivers' strike.

This fragile alliance between people that like the status quo and those who want free markets might be a problematic marriage.

#4) There is not so much of a pro-Bolsonaro vote as that there is a Anti-PT vote.

The PT, the Workers' Party, was founded in 1981 by a coalition of union leaders and intellectuals. Lula, one of these union leaders (who would become a President), became a kind of legend as the leader of a sequence of strikes among steelworkers (particularly auto workers) in 1978-80.

Lula's rhetorical style is a mixture of Jesse Jackson in the 80's and Bill Clinton. Lula, who never finished the equivalent of Middle School, does not care for speaking with perfect grammar nor for using fancy words. Lula gives speeches like a working-class dude talks in the bar. One of the reasons why Lula gets so many votes in rural areas in the Northeast (one of the poorest regions in Brazil) is a local version of the bubba vote: there is a cultural identification between Lula and low-income people in the Northeast.

That also meant that Lula was an easy target. People in the middle classes outside the Northeast always saw Lula as an uneducated ignoramus.

The fact that the PT was not only the party of labor unions but also the party of academics created a perfect mix for cultural wars.

The dynamics of Brazilian elections since the 80s have been a push-pull between people voting for the PT on one side, and people opposing the PT on the other side. That allowed center-right parties to win elections with completely mediocre candidates, just because they were not the PT.

Polls show large rejection for Bolsonaro, but they also show even larger rejection for the PT. It's the most common dynamic in Brazilian politics.

The idea of a candidate from a pretty small party with little political experience winning the Presidency because of the anti-PT vote is not exactly new. In 1989, Fernando Collor (then a first-term governor of Alagoas, a small state in the Northeast) was elected President.

The fact that PT has held four consecutive mandates doesn't help either. Additionally, Dilma Rousseff was a clumsy politician, who created lots of unnecessary problems in the economy, and the country faced a huge recession under her watch.

#5) Without Dilma's Impeachment and Lula's arrest, it would be very difficult to imagine Bolsonaro being elected.

Ironically, without two controversial political events, Brazil would probably be having an election with two normal, boring politicians.

In 2014, Dilma Rousseff was reelected by a relatively small margin. She was elected in a coalition with PMDB, a center party that was then the largest party in Brazil. It was mostly a marriage of convenience, where Dilma would get the votes from the PMDB in Congress, and PMDB would name people for the ministries.

By that agreement, the PMDB named the vice-president, Michel Temer.

When Dilma's approval rating soured after a strong recession, Temer and his allies began to articulate the idea of Dilma's impeachment. The idea, which was supported by a lot of people on Wall Street, was that Temer could pass the "reforms" that Lula and Dilma could not enact.

Sure, you put in as President a guy that was not elected to be President, who will then enact a program of reforms that were rejected on the previous election. What could go wrong? To make things worse, Temer was not really used to dealing directly with voters. He was basically a parliamentary leader in the Lower House of Congress. He had other politicians as his main constituents, and he was also was married to a woman that was 43 years his junior. Plus his party was far from clean when it came to accusations of graft and corruption.

In the end, surprise, Temer was incredibly unpopular.  So unpopular that he became toxic to the parties that supported Dilma's impeachment -- basically all the major parties on the center-right.

That situation created a vacuum that favored Bolsonaro. It was not that different from what happened in the 90s in Italy, when Operation Clean Hands devastated all the major parties and created the opening for Berlusconi, previously an outsider to Italian politics.

Brazil has a golden opportunity to make the reforms it requires democratically.

The Dictator (John Lee Anderson, Apr. 11th, 1998, The New Yorker)

Augusto Pinochet, all quibbling about definitions aside, is that rarest of creatures, a successful former dictator. According to Chilean opinion polls, roughly a quarter of his fellow-citizens revere him. He has few modern parallels, except perhaps Francisco Franco. (Pinochet was the only foreign head of state to attend Franco's funeral, in 1975. Ferdinand Marcos sent his wife, Imelda.) Like Franco, Pinochet is an ultra-conservative Catholic nationalist, a military officer with an unremarkable personality who suddenly rose to prominence. Both men imposed their power through violence, and used security forces to maintain it. And, over time, both transformed their societies and built strong modern economies. Pinochet knows that he is frequently compared to Franco, and he is cagey about the analogy. "There is an appropriate leader for each country," he said guardedly. "Franco was necessary for Spain." [...]

Pinochet climbed up through the officers' ranks, and in 1971 he was made commander general of the Army's Santiago garrison. He was by then the author of several books on military geography and on geopolitics. In August, 1973, Salvador Allende, who had become President three years earlier, appointed him Commander-in-Chief of the Chilean Army. Mrs. Pinochet says she couldn't believe it when her husband told her the news; she thought he was joking. Then, less than three weeks later, the Army staged a coup and Allende killed himself during the attack on La Moneda, the Presidential palace. Her husband would rule Chile, and she would become the First Lady. "My husband had taught me that in a normal career he'd get to be colonel. Anything above would be good fortune and a bit of luck. He became a general because of politics. They call me messianic for saying so, but I believe it was divine Providence that he got to be President."

He stayed in power for seventeen years. Upward of three thousand people were killed or "disappeared" while he was in office, and tens of thousands more were imprisoned or fled into exile. The new constitution, which was passed in 1980, gave Pinochet an eight-year term as President, but he was so confident of his popularity that in 1988 he held a referendum proposing that his tenure be extended for another eight years. To his surprise he lost, and stepped down from office two years later. A civilian, democratic government was reëstablished, and a Christian Democrat was elected President. Next year is an election year, and the man widely tipped as the winner, Ricardo Lagos, is a former Allende aide and a Socialist.

The country that the new democratic leaders inherited is prosperous, forward-looking. Santiago, the capital city--where one in every three Chileans now live--sprawls in a fertile bowl of land beneath the Andean cordillera_,_ its air amber-colored with smog, the surrounding snowcapped mountains no longer visible most days. Blue- and black-tinted glass-and-marble office blocks are displacing the villas that used to make up the city's poshest neighborhoods; vineyards are being plowed up to make way for shopping malls and American-style subdivisions. At the intersections of the traffic-clogged roads, huge billboards advertise credit cards, cell phones, and laptop computers. Santiago is a Latin-American beachhead of the thrusting, free-market ethos that transforms urban areas everywhere into mosaics of industrial parks, freeways, office complexes, and suburban sprawl. In this new Chile, the modern, fortresslike American Embassy enjoys a prominent position in a walled compound situated between the Mapocho River--an odoriferous gray flow of water that bisects Santiago--and a shining outcrop of office blocks and hotels known locally as Sanhattan.

"All of this is new. All of it! What was here before . . . was chalets, bungalows. It was beautiful, but it was . . . something different," General Julio Canessa says. "And all of this was done by the horrible Pinochet." Canessa is being theatrically sarcastic. He believes that Pinochet suffers from the same unfair criticism that taints Franco's place in history. "If it hadn't been for Franco," Canessa says, "Spain would still be part of Africa."

Chile's vaunted economic miracle was brought about by the so-called Chicago Boys, a group of Chilean disciples of the American economist Milton Friedman, who were given free reign to put their theories into practice in the mid-seventies. They encouraged generous incentives for foreign investors and the privatization of businesses that the Marxist Allende had nationalized. This resulted in an average annual economic growth rate of seven per cent for the past fourteen years, a rate three times the over-all Latin-American average. A recent United Nations study of life expectancy, salaries, access to health services, and educational standards rated Chile higher than any other Latin-American country.

This performance brought Augusto Pinochet many admirers among conservatives, including Margaret Thatcher, who sent an aide to Chile to spend six months studying Pinochet's economic reforms before she embarked on her own in Britain. [...]

The chaotic, three-year attempt by Salvador Allende to take Chile on the "road to socialism" was opposed by a large portion of the Chilean population. Allende was elected with only a third of the vote, but after he took office he moved quickly, nationalizing the copper mines and other industries, conducting large-scale land reform, and increasing government spending on social-welfare programs. He alienated the armed forces, the private sector, and traditional political parties, including the Christian Democrats. As some members of his Popular Unity coalition government pushed for more radical changes, right-wing militants responded with bombings and killings, and leftists prepared for a civil war. When the coup finally came, not many Chileans were surprised, and many middle-class citizens openly applauded it, although they could not have known that Chile would soon become a proving ground for the grisly anti-Communist dirty wars that were waged in Latin America during the seventies and eighties. If Radovan Karadzic can be given authorship of "ethnic cleansing," then Augusto Pinochet can probably be credited with adding los desaparecidos--"the disappeared"--to the modern lexicon. [...]

Pinochet's most substantial claim to being a good leader is that he oversaw the Chilean economic miracle. With Congress closed down, and political parties and union activity outlawed, there were no obstacles to the implementation of Milton Friedman's program of a free-market "shock treatment." Drastic cuts were made in public spending to cure a hyperinflating economy. Banks were deregulated, interest rates freed, and import tariffs slashed; state-owned enterprises were sold off. In response, the junta obtained lenient refinancing for Chile's foreign debt and munificent loans from the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and other financial institutions.

Pinochet made sure that the armed forces received some of the benefits of the flourishing economy. By law, the military receives ten per cent of the profits from the copper industry, Chile's main export earner, which is still under state control. The nationalization of copper was one Allende measure that was popular across the political spectrum. Copper had been controlled by United States mining interests for decades and was a contentious national-sovereignty issue.

Aside from one major financial crisis in the early eighties, caused by bad investments and overspending, Chile's economy has grown rapidly. Along with the new foreign investments came credit cards and a robust stock market. Private, employment-linked schemes began to replace state-provided social-security and health-insurance programs; new private schools and private universities were built. Chile today has the largest middle class in Latin America, estimated at sixty per cent of its population; a ninety-five-per-cent literacy rate; low infant mortality; an average life expectancy of seventy-four years; and declining poverty levels.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 AM


The big secret about the Affordable Care Act: It's working just fine  (Ezekiel Emanuel October 31, 2018, Washington Post)

First, enrollment is strong. During last year's enrollment period, nearly 12 million Americans bought insurance on the exchanges, and more than 25 percent of them were first-time customers. [...]

Second, premiums are lower. For Americans shopping on the exchanges, many are getting a great deal. Across the market, premiums are down in 2019. Yes, you read that right: down. A few weeks ago, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that average premiums for the benchmark silver plan are down 1.5 percent. As supporters of the ACA have consistently argued, the 2017 premium spikes were a one-time adjustment. After a few rocky years, insurers are figuring out how to price the market, and premiums are leveling out.

For example, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina recently announced that it was able to cut premiums for coverage offered in the individual market, including the health-insurance exchange, by 4.1 percent. This is the first rate decline in the North Carolina individual market ever, and it might have been larger had federal and state policy not worked at cross-purposes.

And North Carolina is not alone. According to CMS, of the 39 states on, five had double-digit declines, led by Tennessee with a drop of more than 25 percent. Other populous states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, had declines exceeding 14 percent. Only three states had double-digit increases, and all the states were small: Hawaii, North Dakota and Delaware. More important, the subsidized premiums across all states rose a mere 2 percent. This increase was lower than for private, employer-sponsored insurance, where premiums rose by an average of 5 percent for families and 3 percent for individuals.

These declines in premiums reflect the broader success of the ACA in controlling health-care costs. For eight years since the ACA passed, health-care costs have moderated, growing much less than during the George W. Bush administration. Indeed, per-person costs in Medicare and Medicaid have declined, and per-person costs in private insurance have increased on average less than 4 percent annually since 2010.

Finally, in 2019, many health-insurance companies are joining or expanding their presence on the ACA exchanges. 

Who could have predicted that companies would be scrambling to get back in on the action and costs would deflate....

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


India, Korea Said to Agree Outline of Iran Oil Waiver With U.S. (Heesu Lee  and Debjit Chakraborty, November 1, 2018, Bloomberg)

India and South Korea agreed with the U.S. on the outline of deals that would allow them to keep importing some Iranian oil, according to Asian officials with knowledge of the matter.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


A Thorn in the Kremlin's Side (JENNA LIFHITS, October 31, 2018, Weekly Standard)

Bellingcat has found itself at the heart of some of the Kremlin's touchiest affairs over the last few years--starting with the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine in July 2014. A Russian missile killed the 298 passengers onboard and sparked months of disinformation and denials. The tragedy was "a massive catalyst both for the work of Bellingcat but also the development of the field of online open-source investigation as a whole," says Eliot Higgins, Bellingcat's founder, who is based in Leicester, England.

Higgins and a crew of volunteers cut through the Kremlin's falsehoods about what happened to the flight known as MH17, ferreting out the origins of the missile launcher used in the downing and tracking its journey into Ukraine. Obsessive curiosity is Higgins's trademark. Blogging under the name Brown Moses, he became known for using YouTube videos to identify the weapons being used in the Syrian civil war. At Bellingcat, he has put together a roster of skilled contributors who specialize in sorting through just such information mazes.

One is Aric Toler, a Kansas City-based researcher with a background in Russian literature. Toler started "for fun" in 2014, helping on the MH17 reports. He ended up working on project after project and with Bellingcat's website gaining popularity and funding, was brought on full-time. About half of the organization's income comes from grants and donations from groups like the Open Society Foundations and the National Endowment for Democracy or from crowdfunding for specific research projects. The other half comes from Bellingcat's workshops on how to responsibly leverage open-source information. Toler helps lead these five-day seminars for journalists, analysts, and others, which are offered in Western capitals as well as near Russia's border in Georgia and Armenia.

Open-source reporting centers on analyzing publicly available material in an effort to pin down objective facts about an individual or incident. Bellingcat walks people through the process on its website, showing how you can verify a video or identify the weapon used in an attack. The site's reports detail how the underlying information was obtained. "The hope is that my audience will see the process of verification and investigation, learn from that, and participate, so they learn how verification works and become skilled investigators themselves," Higgins told the Columbia Journalism Review.

Even as the site staffs up, it continues to crowdsource its work. Bellingcat asks readers whether they can identify the location of a particularly obscure photo or video, for example, or figure out what time it was taken. "It's kind of like a game, who can figure it out first," says Toler. "Some people garden and some people do other things. It's just a hobby that people have."

It's not just because of his Judaism that the Trumpbots hate George Soros.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Ex-GOP lawmaker: I voted for Gillum over DeSantis in Florida (CHRIS MILLS RODRIGO,  10/31/18, The Hill)
Former GOP Rep. David Jolly (Fla.) is one of a number of Republicans voting for Democrat Andrew Gillum over GOP candidate Ron DeSantis in the Florida gubernatorial election, according to the Tampa Bay Times. [...]

"I've spoken to Republican voters who under-voted in the 2016 presidential race because they couldn't bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton," he said.

"But this go-round, they're bringing themselves to vote for Andrew Gillum. There's a break-it-so-it-can-be-rebuilt element. I also really think it's just a plain rejection of all things Donald Trump and his surrogates."

"I've turned in my ballot. I voted for Andrew Gillum" Jolly continued. "The reason is simple: it's because I've served with Ron DeSantis."

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Pro-Trump Activists Blame Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens for Losing Kanye West (Will Sommer, 10.31.18, The Daily Beast)

Pro-Trump activists are fuming after Kanye West's announcement that he's "distancing" himself from politics, with the blame falling on two right-wing personalities--Turning Point USA's Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens--who fellow conservatives say used West to push their personal brands at the expense of the conservative movement.

"They really over-grifted that situation," said Lucian Wintrich, a former White House correspondent for Gateway Pundit.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


So much for "fake news" blowhards. Traditional national news sites are thriving. (MICHAEL GROTHAUS, 11/01/18, Fast Company)

Adobe Analytics aggregated data from over 400 large news websites and apps since January 2016 encompassing over 150 billion visits. From this data Adobe discovered:

Consumers are continuing to turn to established news sources, with major traditional national news outlets seeing 22% overall visit growth during the period.

What's interesting is that all the political drama in the U.S. is driving foreign traffic to U.S. national news sites, with nearly three out of every 10 visits to U.S. news sites coming from outside the country. [...]

Also, a full 28% of traffic will come to national news sites between the hours of 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Russia's Syria Problem: The Russians are discovering that success on the battlefield doesn't automatically translate to achievement of political goals. (ROBERT E. HAMILTON, 11/01/18, American Interest)

Russia's problems in Syria are now primarily political. They are the kinds of problems that killing "militants" and destroying "terrorist targets" can't solve. One way to examine these problems is geographically.

A look at the map reveals three areas where Russia's drive to reunite the country under Assad's rule is being thwarted. The first is Idlib, where some three million civilians and thousands of fighters are clustered in the opposition's last large stronghold in western Syria. The influence in Idlib of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, one of the strongest and most radical Syrian opposition groups, was always going to make the fight there bloody and difficult.

Russia and the Assad regime have complicated their problem in Idlib by funneling fighters from other opposition groups there after they conquered territory those groups controlled. Many of these were moderate opposition groups that were parties to the 2016 Cessation of Hostilities agreement but are now likely radicalized after their sustained interaction with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and their prior experience of being brutalized by Russian and Iranian tactics elsewhere in the country.

The enemy Russia now confronts in Idlib is not only stronger than it had previously been but also includes groups tied to Turkey, one of Russia's key partners in its drive to sideline the U.S. government and the United Nations in a postwar settlement. If Russia were to opt for a sustained bombing campaign to deal with its enemies in Idlib, it would certainly lose Turkey's support and could even bring on a confrontation with the Turkish military, which has forces deployed there. So Moscow chose to conclude an agreement with Ankara delaying military action in Idlib, kicking the can down the road.

Al-Tanf is another area where Russia's drive to unify Syria under Assad's regime is being thwarted. The problem here is the U.S. military. After several strikes by Russia and the Syrian regime on U.S.-backed groups in the region, the U.S. military established a garrison at Al-Tanf and declared a 55-kilometer security zone around this garrison. On several occasions it has enforced this zone by destroying vehicles or aircraft that have entered it.

Further complicating the situation around Al-Tanf is the existence of the Rukban camp for internally displaced persons, which sits inside the U.S. security zone. Russian claims that the Rukban camp harbors terrorists unnerve U.S. policymakers, who fear a bloodbath there if U.S. forces withdraw.

Finally, the U.S. presence at Al-Tanf, which is in the Syria-Jordan-Iraq tri-border region, is a source of reassurance for Jordan and complicates Iran's vision of a "Shi'a Crescent" stretching from Tehran to Beirut. A near-term U.S. withdrawal from Al-Tanf is therefore unlikely. But without pushing the U.S. military out of its garrison there, Russia can never satisfy its allies in Damascus and Tehran.

Syria's northeast is the last area where Russia's goals are being thwarted. Here again the problem is the U.S. military and its partner, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is a coalition of Kurdish and Sunni Arab militias. The SDF is well-led, well-trained, well-equipped, and has embedded U.S. military advisers, making it a formidable adversary. Russia's attempt to challenge the SDF by using Wagner Group mercenaries to attack it in February brought U.S. counterstrikes that killed more than 200 of the attackers.

In addition to its military success in liberating northeastern Syria from ISIL, including the group's "capital" of Raqqa, the SDF has proven politically adept. In each liberated area it has established civic councils to govern and provide essential services. The recent U.S. announcement that it will remain in Syria to thwart Iran there will boost the confidence of the SDF and further complicate matters for Moscow, Damascus, and Tehran.