October 19, 2018

Crisis: On DeVega & Browning, On Browning Himself, On Facebook, On Kashoggi


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from October 19, 2018

This is a Nederlog of Friday, October 19, 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 four crisis files that are mostly well worth reading (and there will be five again tomorrow):

A. Selections from October 19, 2018:
1. Historian Christopher Browning on the Trump regime: We’re “close to
     the point of no return”

2. The Suffocation of Democracy
3. The Autocracy App
4. Jamal Khashoggi: or why you don’t trust the MSM
The items 1 - 4 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. Historian Christopher Browning on the Trump regime: We’re “close to the point of no return”

This article is by Chauncey DeVega on Salon. It starts as follows and is here partially because of Christopher Browning, who is interviewed in it, as is briefly explained below:
History can teach us many lessons about Donald Trump and his rise to power. As shown by his deeds, words and policies, Trump is an authoritarian and a demagogue who has, so far, been restrained by America's weakened democratic institutions and norms. Trump has repeatedly shown contempt for America's cosmopolitan, pluralistic multiracial democracy. He and his supporters would smash that order and a create a new one based upon white racial authoritarianism (as well as naked plutocracy) if, and when, they have the opportunity to do so.
Yes, I think that is basically correct.

Here is more, starting with a number of questions, and ending with an introduction of
Christopher Browning:

What lessons do the fall of German democracy after World War I and the rise of the Nazis and Adolf Hitler hold for the United States in the age of Trump? What role does an assault on democratic norms and traditions play in the rise of fascist and authoritarian movements? In what ways are "traditional" Republican elites like Mitch McConnell responsible for an "outsider" such as Donald Trump taking power? Is dissent being criminalized in the United States by Trump and his followers? What is "illiberal democracy," and how will it do the work of authoritarianism in the U.S. and elsewhere? Is Trump a fascist, or is he better described using another label?

In an effort to answer these questions I recently spoke with Christopher R. Browning. He is the Frank Porter Graham ­Professor of History Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an expert on the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. He is the author of several books, including the most recent "Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave-Labor Camp." Browning is also the author of the recent and widely-read essay "The Suffocation of Democracy," which appeared both online and in the Oct. 25 edition of The New York Review of Books.

I could make many remarks about the quoted bits, but make only two:

The first is on ¨Is Trump a fascist, or is he better described using another label?¨. Here regular readers will not be amazed if I say that I think that Trump is best defined as a neofascist, which I defined as follows:

Neofascism is a. A social system that is marked by a government with a centralized powerful authority, where the opposition is propagandized and suppressed or censored, that propounds an ethics which has profit as its main norm, and that has a politics that is rightwing, nationalistic, pro-capitalist, anti-liberal, anti-equality, and anti-leftist, and that has a corporative organization of the economy in which multi-national corporations are stronger than a national government or stateb. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a social system.

This is my definition (and may be compared with my definition of fascism) and the reason I call Trump a neofascist is that the above definition effectively proposes 11 criterions, while Trump clearly satisfies all eleven criterions.

I also think this is quite clear, but then again I know that the term ¨neofascism¨ is quite undefined except by me (as far as I know) and seems not to be used by any journalist I have read in the last ten years (at least).

And my second remark is that I do like and admire Christopher Browning, indeed especially because of his most prominent book ¨Ordinary Men¨ that I read quite a few years ago, because it did clarify a number of questions I had about Nazi Germany and German concentration camps, which I had mainly because both of my parents were in the resistance against the Nazis in Holland, as was my father´s father, while both my father and his father were arrested in August 1041 and convicted as ¨political terrorists¨ to concentration camp imprisonment, which my grandfather did not survive.

Back to the article. In the quotations that follow, bold statements are by DeVega, and the non-bold statements are replies by Browning. Here is the opening question plus part of Browning´s answer:

As a historian and expert on Nazi Germany, how are you feeling? What were your first reactions to Donald Trump's rise to power?

The first reaction was frustration. We are caught in a situation where none of our previous political experiences as a country when democracy was functioning well, albeit far from perfectly, equipped us to deal with this situation. I sensed that it would be a tyranny of the majority which would create this type of crisis. This is why, of course, we have the Bill of Rights and other checks on power. But what we really have now with Donald Trump and the Republican Party is a tyranny of the minority, where gerrymandering, voter repression and the Electoral College give a minority of the population a majority vote even when they don't have control of the presidency or the House and Senate.

Yes, I think this is true. Here is more:

The second feeling is bewilderment. As a  rational thinker, someone who believes in the Enlightenment project and liberal democratic norms, I assumed that the truth and basic facts were a type of sunshine. If you put enough of this light out there for the public, they would make good decisions. But now, with Trump and his enablers, systemic serial lying is rewarded. The very notion that there are facts and discernible truths are being rejected by a good percentage of the American people. We are stuck in a situation where President Trump's spokespeople say things like, “Well, we have alternate facts," or "The truth evolves," or "The truth is not true." Basically, the truth has become utterly instrumental to close to half the population.

Well... yes and no.

I do - up to a point - share Browning´s ¨feeling of bewilderment¨, but then again I think my main two reasons for sharing it with Browning is that he and I are alike in both being intelligent and having a university education. And since there are only a minority of academically educated persons, of whom again only a none too large part is really intelligent (as Browning undoubtedly is), I may be a bit less bewildered than Browning (but don´t know).

And I also have a remark on Browning´s ¨The very notion that there are facts and discernible truths are being rejected by a good percentage of the American people¨:

I agree this is so, but I do have an explanation which I think is basically quite correct, even though I have never or hardly ever seen it shared by journalists: That (bolding added) ¨facts and discernible truths are being rejected¨ must be due to a combination of stupidity and ignorance combined with a kind of narcissism of the stupid.

And I grant that while I never had a high opinion of the intelligence of most people, what I have learned over the past more than five years of reading parts of 35 news-related sites every day is that my estimates of the average stupidity and ignorance were too high: it´s considerably worse and more widespread than I thought.

Here is Browning on the partial parallelism of Nazi Germany and Trumpian America:

What went wrong post-World War I in Germany is instructive, but it is not an exact parallel for what is happening today in America with Donald Trump. One thing that is clear, however, is that if people do not accept the ground rules by which democracy operates, and winning at all costs and incivility become the norm, then things fall apart. There has to be an acceptance of the norms and rules, and a sense of obligation to one another and the democracy, by the broader political community.

I agree there is not an exact parallel and that there are in fact considerable differences, but I believe that my explanation that many ¨people do not accept the ground rules by which democracy operates¨ basically because they are stupid and ignorant makes this a quite important problem, in part because it also is solvable - if at all - only in the future and not now.

Here is Browning on calling Trump ¨a fascist¨ (and more):

Is Donald Trump a "fascist" or, as I have often described him, a "proto-fascist" or "American fascist"? Is such language accurate or helpful? 

I think that calling Trump a "fascist" takes our eye off the ball. I'm a little hesitant to use that language.
We are at a point now in the United States with Donald Trump where democracy is beleaguered. But it is in the form of a new kind of authoritarianism, what I call "illiberal democracy," where the whole system does not need to be changed entirely. You don't need a vast army of secret police. You don't need concentration camps. You don't need to lock up all your opponents.
Ultimately, I don't think that Hitler as dictator is the right template or the right model for understanding Trump and lot of these other regimes that we're dealing with today around the world.
In fact, there is another reason why calling Trump ¨a fascist¨ is helping little: Anyone who seriously studies the meaning of the term ¨fascism¨ - see e.g. here: On Fascism and Neofascism: Definitions  - will find that there are easily more than 20 different definitions of the term, many of which are not compatible.

Therefore the least that should be done - rationally speaking - by anyone calling anyone else ¨a fascist¨ is that a definition of the term is supplied, but it is precisely this that is exceedingly rare (and the definitions that are offered are often both poor and partial and not proper definitions).

Also, I am not happy with Browning´s term ¨illiberal democracy¨, mostly because it sounds too much like an oxymoron, like ¨cold heat¨. There is a similar term by Sheldon Wolin, namely ¨inverted totalitarianism¨, which is explained in an article I wrote in 2014, namely here to which there is a supplement here, that also gives links to earlier interviews that Chris Hedges had with Wolin (which are quite interesting and worthwile to read).

I should add that I also have some troubles with understanding
¨inverted totalitarianism¨, but I think it is a better term than ¨illiberal democracy¨.

Also, I think Browning is probably correct in saying that ¨
I don't think that Hitler as dictator is the right template or the right model for understanding Trump¨ but it also may be a bit early for that kind of judgement.

Here is the ending of this interview (and it is still Browning who is speaking):
What scares me the most is the significant number of Americans who form Trump's base and are not going to abandon him. Factor in apathy among other Americans and then Democrats and liberals and progressives are not going to win the next two very crucial elections. My other worry is that the Democrats do not have leadership. No one person has emerged yet with the status necessary to challenge Donald Trump.

Well... I agree on ¨the significant number of Americans who form Trump's base and are not going to abandon him¨ but then again I would explain that (for the most part) by their being stupid and/or ignorant , which alas cannot be cured now.

As to the Democrats: My main worry is that Hillary Clinton may still have the power to assert herself as Trump´s opponent in 2020, which would be ludicrous but seems quite possible. And this is a very strongly recommended article

2. The Suffocation of Democracy

This article is by Christopher Browning on The New York Review of Books. It starts as follows:
As a historian specializing in the Holocaust, Nazi Germany, and Europe in the era of the world wars, I have been repeatedly asked about the degree to which the current situation in the United States resembles the interwar period and the rise of fascism in Europe. I would note several troubling similarities and one important but equally troubling difference.
Of course this is the same Browning as in item 1. The questions a historian like Browning were asked were quite justified, and here is part of his answer:
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.
I think this is a bit schematic, but that is hardly avoidable in an article like this, and it is also mostly correct in my opinion.

Here is more:
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).
This is quite correct. Here is Browning on invoking the Nazis as explanation for Trump:
Such similarities, both actual and foreseeable, must not obscure a significant difference between the interwar democratic decline and our current situation.
Invoking the Nazi example was understandable then, and several aspects of democratic decline in the interwar period seem eerily similar to current trends, as I have noted. But the Nazi dictatorship, war, and genocide following the collapse of Weimar democracy are not proving very useful for understanding the direction in which we are moving today.
Actually, I don´t know, for I do not know ¨the direction in which we are moving today¨. I agree with Browning that Nazism and Trumpism are not the same, but otherwise I do not know.

Here is Browning on
“illiberal democracy”:
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.”
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 have said already why I do not consider “illiberal democracy” a happy term, and why I like Wolin´s ¨inverted totalitarianism¨ a bit better: See here.

Then there is this on the present power of great wealth:
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 completely correct as is the following remark on the radical decline of the trade unions:
Another area in which Trump has been the beneficiary of long-term trends predating his presidency is the decline of organized labor.
Since the 1970s that social contract has collapsed, union membership and influence have declined, wage growth has stagnated, and inequality in wealth has grown sharply.
The increasingly uneven playing field caused by the rise in corporate influence and decline in union power, along with the legions of well-funded lobbyists, is another sign of the illiberal trend.
Precisely so. Then there is this on ¨the media¨:
The highly critical free media not only provide no effective check on Trump’s ability to be a serial liar without political penalty; on the contrary, they provide yet another enemy around which to mobilize the grievances and resentments of his base. A free press does not have to be repressed when it can be rendered irrelevant and even exploited for political gain.
This seems a bit misleading for two reasons: First, I think Browning should have distinguished between the mainstream (or corporatist) media and the non-mainstream media; and secondly, while one can blame the corporatist media for helping Trump or for maintaining non-factual ¨explanations¨, I think - while I have considerable criticism of the non-mainstream media - I do not think they can be fairly blamed for Trump´s rise and relative popularity.

Here is the ending of Browning´s article:
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.
The Trump presidency may end (unlike Hitler´s Germany) with a nuclear war. And as to Trump and Nazism: As I´ve said, I think Trump is a neofascist in my sense, but I agree with Browning that the parallelism is partial. And this is a strongly recommended article. 
3. The Autocracy App

This article is by Jacob Weisberg on The New York Review of Books and is in fact about Facebook. It starts as follows:

Facebook is a company that has lost control—not of its business, which has suffered remarkably little from its series of unfortunate events since the 2016 election, but of its consequences. Its old slogan, “Move fast and break things,” was changed a few years ago to the less memorable “Move fast with stable infra.” Around the world, however, Facebook continues to break many things indeed.

In Myanmar, hatred whipped up on Facebook Messenger has driven ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. In India, false child abduction rumors on Facebook’s WhatsApp service have incited mobs to lynch innocent victims. In the Philippines, Turkey, and other receding democracies, gangs of “patriotic trolls” use Facebook to spread disinformation and terrorize opponents. And in the United States, the platform’s advertising tools remain conduits for subterranean propaganda.

Yes indeed - and I think I should warn you right now that this is a quite good article that unfortunately is too long to properly excerpt, for which reason the excerpts that appear in this review are all taken from the beginning of the article.

Here is one of Zuckerberg´s biggest and sickest lies:

To drive progress, Zuckerberg always argued, societies would have to get over their hang-ups about privacy, which he described as a dated concept and no longer the social norm. “If people share more, the world will become more open and connected,” he wrote in a 2010 Washington Post Op-Ed. This view served Facebook’s business model, which is based on users passively delivering personal data. That data is used to target advertising to them based on their interests, habits, and so forth. To increase its revenue, more than 98 percent of which comes from advertising, Facebook needs more users to spend more time on its site and surrender more information about themselves.

That is: ¨Privacy¨ - of your name, your face, your opinions, your values, your mails, your writings, your pornography, your friends, the friends of your friends, your bank account, your income, your physical and mental health,  your experience, your degrees, your opinions, and anything else - is (according to the billionfold liar Zuckerberg) is ¨a dated concept and no longer the social norm¨ and therefore all your private data should be given to Zuckerberg (and are taken besides by the secret services of almost every country and by Google and other mega-rich firms, but by almost nobody else, simply because it is too costly).

I also think that Zuckerberg may still think that the vast majority of the over 2 billions who were tricked by Zuckerberg in making him mega-rich are "dumb fucks, who trust" him, for that is what he said some years ago, but then I am neither a dumb fuck nor do I trust Zuckerberg, but I do grant that he deceived over 2 billion "dumb fucks" and may have destroyed much of the press.

Here is more on Zuckerberg:

With each apology, Zuckerberg’s blundering seems less like naiveté and more like malignant obliviousness. In an interview in July, he contended that sites denying the Holocaust didn’t contravene the company’s policies against hate speech because Holocaust denial might amount to good faith error. “There are things that different people get wrong,” he said. “I don’t think that they’re intentionally getting it wrong.”

Yes, I think it is clearly malignant, and it was probably so from the very start.

Here is more on what may be - quite correctly, in my view, but not according to Wikipedia - be called totalitarian American corporations:

Vaidhyanathan does not think our concerns should stop with Facebook. He says that Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google also share a totalizing aspiration to become “The Operating System of Our Lives.” But Facebook is what we should worry about most because it is the only one within range of realizing that ambition. It currently owns four of the top ten social media platforms in the world—the top four, if you exclude China and don’t count YouTube as a social network. Zuckerberg’s company had 2.2 billion monthly active users in June 2018, more than half of all people with Internet access around the world. WhatsApp has 1.5 billion, Facebook Messenger 1.3 billion, and Instagram 1 billion. All are growing quickly.

This is all quite correct. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

What would the world look like if Facebook succeeded in becoming the Operating System of Our Lives? That status has arguably been achieved only by Tencent in China. Tencent runs WeChat, which combines aspects of Facebook, Messenger, Google, Twitter, and Instagram. People use its payment system to make purchases from vending machines, shop online, bank, and schedule appointments. Tencent also connects to the Chinese government’s Social Credit System, which gives users a score, based on data mining and surveillance of their online and offline activity. You gain points for obeying the law and lose them for such behavior as traffic violations or “spreading rumors online.”

Yes indeed: The totalitarian American corporations - Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google - are introducing their own kind of totalitarianism, which will probably end up to look much like China, which is extremely rapidly growing more and more totalitarian, as nearly all Chinese are now checked and controlled and punished with the help of the totalitarian internet (to which Google is planning to make a huge contribution).

Also, there is a lot more in this article, which is strongly recommended.

4. Jamal Khashoggi: or why you don’t trust the MSM

This article is by Catte on The Off-Guardian. This starts as follows:
The alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a mass media rollout, every bit as sparsely verified and every bit as questionable as the official Skripal narrative, but this fact is being overlooked due to the cognitive dissonance involved in who is being blamed.
In fact, I review this article mostly because I agree that his fate ¨is a mass media rollout¨ that is in fact ¨sparsely verified¨. I have no idea what happened to him - and it may be that the papers are right, but the problem is simply that there is (so far, at least) very little evidence.

Here is some more:

We are being bombarded with what one commentator rightly described as Grand Guignol narratives of slaughter, dismemberment, torture, all based on the kind of flimsy claims and dodgy alleged technologies we are already more than familiar  with in a different context. Despite an almost total lack of hard evidence,  we are being told the missing Khashoggi is not just definitely deceased, but horribly murdered and definitely by the Saudis.

This is also correct. Here is the last bit from this article that I quote:

Do we currently know the man is dead? Let alone who may have killed him? I don’t think we can make that claim. We have an allegedly vanished journalist. We have a number of unproven claims, of varying plausibility. None of this is evidence of anything.

Yes, the Saudis are blood-soaked and vile. Yes they are, or have been up to this time, allies of the empire, but that’s no reason to buy a bare and unconvincing mainstream narrative that just happens to implicate them We need to keep repeating the mantra. Khashoggi’s murder, whether ultimately real or not,  appeared in the media, not because it happened but because it was useful for someone to say that it had. If he had been murdered at some other time when such news served no purpose it would have been buried with his body, airbrushed away.
I think this is also very probably correct 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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