May 16, 2023

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


'The Gulag Archipelago': An Epic of True Evil: Published 50 years ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's account of the Soviet Union's barbaric system of forced labor camps is arguably the 20th century's greatest work of nonfiction. (Gary Saul Morson, May 5, 2023, WSJ)

Dedicated to "all those who did not live" to tell their story, "The Gulag Archipelago" demonstrates a nadir of humanity with nearly unfathomable cruelty. In one memorable passage, Solzhenitsyn muses that if the intellectuals of Chekhov's plays who wondered what things would be like in a few decades had learned "that prisoners would have their skulls squeezed within iron rings; that a human being would be lowered into an acid bath . . . that a ramrod heated over a primus stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the 'secret brand'); that a man's genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe of a jackboot . . . not one of Chekhov's plays would have gotten to its end because all the heroes would have gone off to insane asylums."

Those who had admitted some of the horrors often blamed them entirely on Stalin, as if Lenin would not have done such things, but, Solzhenitsyn demonstrates, Lenin set up the system of terror and the Gulag while making clear that both were to be permanent features of the new regime. To those Westerners who imagine that this bizarre system of punishment could not happen in their country, Solzhenitsyn cautions: "Alas, all the evil of the twentieth century is possible everywhere on earth."

How was such evil possible? Shakespeare and Schiller clearly did not grasp evil, Solzhenitsyn instructs, because their villains "recognize themselves as evildoers, and they know their souls are black," but those who commit the greatest harm think of themselves as good. Before interrogators could torture prisoners they knew were innocent, they had to discover a justification for their actions. Shakespeare's villains stopped at a few corpses "because they had no ideology," nothing to compare with Marxism-Leninism's "scientific" and infallible explanations of life and ethics. "Ideology--that is what . . . gives the evil-doer the necessary steadfastness and determination . . . the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good . . . in his own and others' eyes."

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


The failure of the Durham report (Andrew Prokop, May 16, 2023, Vox)

Buried in the middle of the report is a section explaining why Durham went down the rabbit hole for so long -- laying out what he tried and failed to prove.

Basically, Durham became enamored of an intelligence analysis by the Russian government from 2016 which had made it into American hands. The Russians assessed, per then-CIA Director John Brennan's summarized notes, that Hillary Clinton had approved a plan to "vilify Donald Trump by stirring up a scandal claiming interference by Russian security services." However, the US intelligence community did not know whether this Russian assessment was accurate.

Durham appears to have believed this could be the Rosetta Stone decoding the Trump/Russia scandal. Through his team's suspicious eyes, this Russian analysis could blow the whole thing wide open -- revealing the whole scandal as, per the phrase repeatedly used by the report, a "Clinton Plan." Maybe top DOJ and Obama White House officials were in on the plan and helping it along to hurt Trump. Further, if Clinton allies had given knowingly false information to the government in the hope of getting Trump investigated, that would be criminal.

But the reality fell far short of Durham's hopes -- as the report he produced attests. And in its discussions of the supposed "Clinton plan," Durham's investigation has been revealed to be sloppy and misleading, and betrays the kind of partisan bias it had projected on its adversaries.

The important thing to remember about the humiliating dry wells these guys keep digging is that they are successfully exposing everything Hillary and Joe did wrong: nothing.

Posted by orrinj at 2:35 PM


The Republican Party Isn't A Political Party (Anymore) (DENNIS SANDERS, MAY 16, 2023, Ordinary Times)

In a democracy, political parties select candidates, mobilize voters, raise money for candidates and hold government accountable, among other things. These are all duties that the Republican Party used to do. However, over the last few years, they have lost control of each of these functions. Some of this has happened under "reforms" that ended up weakening the power of political parties. Reforms like the primary system have weakened both major parties, but while it might have damaged the Democrats, it eviscerated the Republicans by driving out moderates and lifting up fringe candidates. One of the earliest examples came in 2010 when moderate Republican Mike Castle a representative from Delaware was on tap to become the next Senator for the First State. But an unknown candidate named Christine O'Donnell beat Castle in the primary and the seat went from a sure thing for the GOP to a Democratic seat.

You could say that O'Donnell's horrible showing was a fluke. But looking back from 2022, l'affaire "I'm not a witch" was prophetic. The GOP couldn't control keeping a nut job from winning the GOP nomination in a small state like Delaware. That was a warning Klaxon that the party structure of the GOP was brittle and ripe of someone to bring the entire national structure down.

Donald Trump may not be smart, but he can sense weakness and the GOP was a wounded animal in the woods. The national party had no way to stop him and the primary system allowed him to win a plurality. I can remember in 2016 commentators like Ross Douthat talking about how "the party decides," meaning the party had a way of getting rid of crazy candidates like Trump. But "the party decides" amounted to primary voters who wanted Trump.

The reason Trump won the GOP over isn't because of a racist, crazy base. Crazy people in a democracy is a given. Racist people in a democracy are a given. But political parties should be able to screen candidates before they happen to have their finger on the button. Political Parties aren't there to give the voters what they want but to give them competent candidates. The reason Trump is in control of the GOP and could possibly become president again is that the Republicans have no way of stopping someone like Trump from even becoming a serious candidate.

Once Trump was in control of the party he sought to make it a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Trump organization. He got rid of the rest of the decaying structure that didn't suit his purposes. For example, a political party spends a lot of time crafting a party platform that serves as a guide of what the party is all about and it is expected that party candidates will try to hewn as close to the platform as possible. But Trump didn't care about tax policy or the status or Puerto Rico. So, there was no platform in 2020 except supporting Donald Trump.

Donald Trump succeeded in finishing off the GOP as a political party. All of the functions of a party are spun off to other groups, many of which Trump controls. What the GOP is now is a lifestyle brand, and branding is something Donald Trump understands.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Flirting with anti-Semitism (Ian Buruma, 5/15/23, Qantara)

When political leaders and their admirers claim that George Soros, the Hungarian-American-Jewish philanthropist, is pulling the strings of world affairs, we know that anti-Semitism is not far off. But the anti-Semitic nature of these claims has not stopped Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, former U.S. President Donald Trump, and their followers from propagating them.

Both Orban and Trump often point to their support for Israel as proof that they are not anti-Semites. "No president has done more for Israel than I have," Trump boasted in October. Orban, for his part, has cited Israel and Hungary as "models of successful conservative communities". But he has also said that Hungarians "do not want to become peoples of mixed race" - a statement more redolent of old-fashioned racism than of sympathy for the Jewish people.

In today's political environment, however, being pro-Israel and anti-Semitic is not a contradiction. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the even more radical members of his cabinet have a great deal in common with the right-wing nationalist figures in Europe and the United States with whom they have aligned. 

Nationalists everywhere love each other because they share hatred of the "other." Which other is just a detail.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


May 15, 2023 (HEATHER COX RICHARDSON, MAY 16, 2023, Letters from an American)

Last night, Hunter Walker of Talking Points Memo broke the story that the digital director for right-wing representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ) appears to be Wade Searle, a devoted follower of white supremacist leader Nick Fuentes. Fuentes has openly embraced Nazism and Russian president Vladimir Putin's authoritarianism, and he is one of those to whom the alt-right Groypers look up.

Although Fuentes calls the Groypers "Christian conservatives," historian of the far right in the U.S. Nicole Hemmer told Walker: "The Groypers are essentially the equivalent of neo-Nazis.... They are attached to violent events like Jan. 6. Nick Fuentes, as sort of the organizer of the Groypers, expresses Holocaust denialism, white supremacy, white nationalism, pretty strong anti-women bigotry, he calls for a kind of return to Twelfth Century Catholicism. They're an extremist group that is OK with violence."

Walker has also identified an intern in Gosar's office as another Fuentes follower.

A February study by the Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that conducts independent research on religion, culture, and public policy, found that the so-called Christian nationalism at the heart of those like Fuentes is closely linked with a willingness to commit violence to make the U.S. a white Christian nation. The PRRI poll showed that nearly 20% of those who sympathize with Christian nationalism agreed they were "willing to fight" to take the nation back to what they incorrectly believe it always was.