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Tuesday, July 28, 2020

We are witnessing the fall of a great power


Crispin Hull

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Just how rotten is the United States' political system? The answer is rotten, as in it will only take a small kick for the whole edifice to fall in, let alone a big kick like COVID-19.

The idea is about as fanciful as the collapse of the Soviet empire seemed in 1987, when President Ronald Reagan famously demanded: "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall." Yet, a short time later, a little chink in the Iron Curtain at the Hungary-Austria border saw the whole rotten regime collapse.

Almost nobody predicted it, with the notable exception of Soviet dissident Andrei Amalrik. Amalrik is not as well known as dissidents like Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn because he was killed in a car crash in 1980 - but not before his writings had been smuggled out to the West. Amalrik was unlike other dissidents, who sought East-West accommodation and a little softening of the Soviet hard line while still under a communist regime (because the end of the regime seemed a hopeless cause).

Instead, Amalrik pointed out in detail the inherent rottenness of the Soviet communist system, which he said would be gone by 1984. He was not far out. He pointed out the circumstances in which a great power succumbs to self-delusion because it imagines itself to be indestructible.

Charles King, Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., wrote an essay in the most recent Foreign Affairs magazine outlining Amalrik's theory of great power decay, very cleverly avoiding directly applying it to the US.

King wrote: "The 'comfort cult', as Amalrik called it - the tendency in seemingly stable societies to believe "that 'reason will prevail' and that 'everything will be all right'" - is seductive. As a result, when a terminal crisis comes, it is likely to be unexpected, confusing, and catastrophic, with the causes so seemingly trivial, the consequences so easily reparable if political leaders would only do the right thing, that no one can quite believe it has come to this ...

"Viewed from 2020, exactly 50 years since it was published, Amalrik's work has an eerie timeliness. He was concerned with how a great power handles multiple internal crises - the faltering of the institutions of domestic order, the craftiness of unmoored and venal politicians, the first tremors of systemic illegitimacy. He wanted to understand the dark logic of social dissolution and how discrete political choices sum up to apocalyptic outcomes."

Look at the US now. Its president is so psychiatrically disordered with narcissism that he is incapable of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis in a coherent, empathetic way. Everything he says and does is through a prism of himself. He has now turned his whole re-election campaign into one of race hate, law and order and a bizarre invention of a threat from "left-wing fascists".

But worse, the US seems to have a national self-delusion that once Trump loses and is gone, everything will return to normal. The delusion extends to a belief that the COVID-19-stricken economy will bounce back to normal in a V shape.

Trump is as much just a symptom of the underlying rottenness as an integral part of it, even if his sucking up to authoritarian leaders in Russia, China and North Korea is unprecedented.

The underlying weakness in present US democracy is that partisanship has become so extreme that the nation is incapable of dealing with the major issues that face it. COVID-19 has illustrated that starkly, with every word and act predicated on party allegiance. Meanwhile, other problems like race, police violence, gun control, inequality, the health system, climate change and energy policy go unattended.

The motives of "the other side" are routinely vilified without evidence. The Democrats are blamed for everything. The Republicans can do no wrong. And to a lesser extent, vice versa. My side of politics, right or wrong.

In a vicious cause-and-effect circle, the imperative of winning at all costs corrodes the political process, and the corroded political process makes winning at all costs even more imperative.

The Trump presidency has made all this worse, but the seeds were there long before. He has appointed incompetent ignorant toadies to the most senior positions in his cabinet and the bureaucracy. He has undermined the Supreme Court with appointments based on politics, not law.

For a long time, the electoral process has been corrupted by state governors drawing unfair electoral boundaries so that the Republican Party is grossly over-represented in Congress compared to its vote, and has won the presidency twice this century with a minority of the vote.

The electoral process has also been corrupted by runaway bribery through political donations.

Another vicious circle has emerged. The politicised Supreme Court from 2010 on has refused to control corporate and individual political donations - thus favouring the Republicans.

Donations from billionaires, mainly to the Republicans, consequently boomed from just $17 million in 2008 to $611 million in 2018 - and rising. This results in policies more skewed to the wealthy and conservatives, and therefore greater inequality. These policies include engaging in wars in remote places where the only real US interests are those of war profiteers. In turn, these policies result in more donations from billionaires, who get repaid manyfold, and who now have as much if not more control of the process than voters.

Tragically, American exceptionalism - "we are the first and best democracy on Earth" - contributes to the self-delusion of indestructibility. There is nothing automatically self-correcting in US democracy. Even the so-called checks and balances are not working - they are causing gridlock, rather than adding a bit of mild caution to a system that is overall supposed to be geared to problem-solving, not political point-scoring.

The system has become so warped that those disenfranchised, disempowered and disenchanted are taking to the streets, questioning the legitimacy of the whole system.

The only question is whether the taking to the streets can break these vicious circles, or whether it is just another step in the decline and fall of a great power.

Whatever happens, Australia must not go any further in the direction the US has gone in the past few decades.

Crispin Hull is a former editor of The Canberra Times.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

July 22 2011 In A Country As Peaceful As NORWAY

Right-wing radicalism leads to terrorism, but many people still don't understand it.

Here is the story of July 22 2011 when a young right-wing radical by the name of Anders B.Breivik became the worst mass killer in Norway, a country you almost never hear of when it comes to mass shootings and terrorism.

What happened?

Nine years ago to this day, on July 22 2011, Breivik detonated a fertilizer bomb outside the tower block housing the office of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg in Oslo, resulting in eight deaths.

Video shows horror of Oslo bombing's aftermath - CNN.com

Within a few hours of the explosion he travelled to Utรธya island, the site of a camp for Worker's Youth League, (the young members of the Norwegian Labour parti) posing as a police officer in order to take the ferry to the island, and then fired intermittently for more than one hour, killing 69 with one murder victim as young as 14 years old.


Background:
He had grown up with an abusive mother in a small flat in Oslo. 
During her pregnancy Breivik's mother already developed a disdain for him. She claimed that he was a "nasty child" and that he was "kicking her on purpose". She had wanted to abort him but at the time that she returned to Norway from the UK, she had already passed the three months threshold for an abortion. Psychologists reports stated that she thought that Breivik was a "fundamentally nasty and evil child and determined to destroy her.

In February 1983, on the advice of her neighbors, Breivik's mother sought help from the National Centre for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (SSBU) in Oslo. There the mother then stayed during the day with Breivik and was observed by psychiatrists for about one month. The conclusion of the stay from the psychiatrists was that Breivik should be placed in the foster care system. That, however, never happened.
Breivik was exempt from conscription to military service in the Norwegian Army and had no official military training. The Norwegian Defence Security Department, which conducts the vetting process, say he was deemed "unfit for service" at the mandatory conscript assessment.

After the age of 21, Breivik was in the customer service department of an unnamed company, working with "people from all countries" and being "kind to everyone". A Former co-worker described him as an "exceptional colleague", while a close friend of his said he usually had a big ego and would be easily irritated by those of Arab or South Asian origin.

According to Belarussian opposition figure Mikhail Reshetnikov, Anders Breivik underwent paramilitary training in a camp organised by retired KGB colonel Valery Lunev. According to Reshetnikov, Breivik visited Belarus three times and built lasting connections with the country. 


Breivik claims that in 2002 (at the age of 23) he started a nine-year-plan to finance the 2011 attacks, founding his own computer programming business while working at the customer service company. 
In May 2009, he founded a farming company under the name "Breivik Geofarm". It was this entity which eventually made it possible for him to purchase ammonium nitrate fertilizer.

In 2010, he visited Prague in an attempt to buy illegal weapons. He was unable to obtain a weapon there and decided to get weapons through legal channels in Norway instead. He bought one semi-automatic 9 mm Glock 34 pistol legally by demonstrating his membership in a pistol club in the police application for a gun license, and the semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14 rifle by possessing a hunting license.
As he admits in his manifesto he used the company as a cover to legally obtain large amounts of artificial fertilizer and other chemicals for the manufacturing of explosives. A farming supplier sold Breivik's company six tonnes of fertiliser in May. Breivik also bought a small quantity of an explosive primer from an online shop in Poland,
During the early years of his preparations Breivik wrote a 1,518 pages "manifesto" which he calles "2083 A European Declaration of Independence".

Breivik admitted that much of this was quotations from writings he had copied and pasted from other authors. The entire file was emailed to over 1000 email addresses 90 minutes before the attack took place.  The document describes two years of preparation of unspecified attacks, supposedly planned for late 2011, involving a rented Volkswagen Crafter van (small enough not to require a truck driving licence) loaded with 1,160 kilograms (2,560 lb) of ammonium nitrate/fuel oil explosive (ANFO), a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic rifle, a Glock 34 pistol, personal armour including a shield, caltrops, and police insignias and a full police uniform.
The manifesto also expresses support to various right-wing NAZI groups. But Breivik was focussed on muslims being the subversive element in western society, and he blaimed the liberal labour government of Norway for the destruction of the traditional white society of Norway. Breivik was anti multi-culturalism, admired the mono-culturalism of Japan and South Korea, as countries which don't accept refugees. Ultimately he demanded the forced deportation of all muslims from Europe.

Breivik's rhetoric is not unheard of. Over the last three years we have heard a lot of the same or similar from the US president and from many leading republicans. The main difference between Norway and the US is the fact that Norway had a mono-culture until about the mid-seventies, while the United States has been multi-cultural and multi-racial since 1776. The fact that a country's population has not grown used to multi-racial citizens after such a long time is concerning, to say the least. 

What happened to Anders B. Breivik?
On 25 July 2011, Breivik was charged with violating paragraph 147a of the Norwegian criminal code, "destabilising or destroying basic functions of society" and "creating serious fear in the population", both of which are acts of terrorism under Norwegian law. On August 24 2012, Breivik was adjudged sane and sentenced to containment—a special form of a prison sentence that can be extended indefinitely; with an approximate period of 21 years and a minimum time of 10 years, the maximum penalty in Norway.
He is currently zoning his prison sentence in a high security prison unit. He has described himself as a monster.
Mass killer Breivik threatens hunger strike for better games and ...

Friday, July 17, 2020

I DIDN'T WRITE THIS BUT WHOEVER DID IS HILARIOUS!!

Dear Diary 2020 Edition,
In ❄️ January, ๐Ÿ”ฅ Australia caught on fire. I don’t even know if that fire was put out, because we straight up almost went to war with Iran ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ท . We might actually still be almost at war with them ๐Ÿค”. I don’t know, because ๐Ÿ‘ฉ Jen Aniston and ๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿป Brad Pitt spoke to one another at an awards ๐Ÿ† show and everyone flipped the crap out ๐Ÿ˜ฒ, but then there was this thing happening in ๐Ÿฆ‡ ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ China, then ๐Ÿ‘‘ Prince Harry and Megan ✌๐Ÿผ peaced out of the Royal family, and there was the whole impeachment trial ๐Ÿ‘ฉ‍⚖️ , and then corona virus ๐Ÿฆ  showed up in the US ✔️“officially,” but then ๐Ÿ€ Kobe died ๐Ÿ˜ญand UK ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง peaced out of the European Union.

In February, ๐ŸŒฝ Iowa crapped ๐Ÿ’ฉ itself with the caucus results and the president was acquitted and the ๐Ÿ‘ฉ๐Ÿผ‍๐Ÿ’ผSpeaker of the House took ten. Whole. years. to rip up a speech , but then The๐Ÿ‘จ‍๐Ÿ”ฌ ๐ŸŒŽWHO decided to give this virus a name COVID-19, which confused ๐Ÿค”some really important people ๐Ÿ‘” in charge of, like, our lives, into thinking there were 18 other versions before it, but then Harvey Weinstein was found guilty๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿป‍⚖️, and ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ Americans started asking if Corona beer ๐Ÿบ was safe to drink๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿป‍♀️, and everyone on Facebook became a doctor ๐Ÿ‘จ‍⚕️ who just knew the ๐Ÿค’flu like killed way more people than COVID 1 through 18.

In March, stuff hit the fan๐Ÿ‘ฟ. Warren dropped out of the presidential race and Sanders was like Bernie or bust ๐Ÿ’ฅ, but then Italy ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น shut its whole country down ๐Ÿšท, and then COVID Not 1 through 18 officially become what everyone already realized, a ๐Ÿ˜ฑpandemic and then a nationwide state of emergency ๐Ÿ†˜was declared in US ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ , but it didn’t really change anything, so everyone was confused or thought it was still just a flu ๐Ÿ’๐Ÿป‍♀️, but then COVID Not 18 was like ya’ll not taking me seriously? ๐Ÿ’ก I’m gonna infect the one celebrity everyone loves and totally infected Tom Hanks๐Ÿ‘จ๐Ÿป, get y’all to close all of the schools so y’all can ๐Ÿ™๐Ÿผ appreciate teachers ๐Ÿ‘ฉ‍๐Ÿซ for once (because you can’t teach them anything other than how to use a touch screen๐Ÿคฆ๐Ÿป‍♀️ ) close down all of salons so you can’t get your ๐Ÿ’‡‍♂️ hair or your nails done๐Ÿ’… , everyone had to work from home and attend Zoom meetings in their underwear. The ๐Ÿ“‰ DOW took a crap ๐Ÿ’ฉ on itself, and most of us still don’t understand why the stock market is so important or even a thing ๐Ÿค” (I still don’t), We were then all introduced to ๐Ÿ… Tiger King and the ONE thing we can all agree on this year , ๐Ÿ‘๐ŸผCarol totally killed her husband⚰️ ..... whacked him! And then Netflix was like you’re welcome, and we all realized there was no way we were washing our hands enough in the first place because all of our hands are now dry and gross and were all searching for lotion now.

In ๐ŸŒง April, Bernie finally busted✌๐Ÿผ himself out of the presidential race ๐Ÿƒ , but then NYC ๐Ÿ—ฝbecame the set of The Walking Dead ๐Ÿ’€ and we learned that no one has face masks ๐Ÿ˜ท, ventilators, or toilet paper, or THE FREAKING SWIFFER WET JET LIQUID , and by now our ๐Ÿฆoutgrowth is showing, so there’s a shortage on ๐Ÿ“ฆ box hair dye and all of our hair dressers are like , ๐Ÿ˜ฑ NO DONT DO IT!!! But, then Kim Jong-Un died, but then he came back to life … or did he? Who knows, because then the Pentagon released ๐ŸŽฅ videos of UFOs and nobody cared, and we were like man, it’s only April….

In ๐Ÿ’ May, the biblical end times kicked off , historical locust swarms, we learned of murder hornets ๐Ÿ and realized that 2020 was the start of the Hunger Games๐Ÿ™ˆ however people forgot to let us know. people legit started to protest lockdown measures with ๐Ÿ”ซ AR-15s, ๐Ÿ€⚾️sports events were cancelled everywhere. But then people all over America finally reached a breaking point with race issues and violence. There were ๐Ÿ—ฃprotests in every city๐ŸŒƒ ,which was confusing to some of us because people were definitely gathering in ๐Ÿ‘ซcrowds of more than ๐Ÿ–๐Ÿผ๐Ÿคš๐Ÿผ10 and for sure closer than 6 foot away ⬅️➡️from each other . Those people must have forgotten about the ๐Ÿ˜–pandemic called COVID Not One Through 18. Media ๐Ÿ“บ ๐Ÿ—ž struggled with how to ๐Ÿคฌfocus on two important things at once, people in general struggle to focus on more than one important thing. A dead whale ๐Ÿ‹ was found in the middle of the Amazon rain forest ๐ŸŒณ after monkeys ๐Ÿ’ stole COVID 1 Through 19 from a lab ๐Ÿ”ฌ and ran off with them, and either in May or April (no one is keeping track of time now) that a giant asteroid ☄️ narrowly missed the Earth๐ŸŒ.

In ☀️ June, common sense just got thrown ๐Ÿคพ๐Ÿผ straight out the window and somehow ๐Ÿ˜ท wearing masks became a ๐Ÿ›political thing, but then everyone sort of remembered there was a pandemic, then ๐Ÿ‘จ‍๐Ÿ”ฌscientists announced they found a mysterious undiscovered mass at the center of the earth, and everyone was like ๐Ÿ™…๐Ÿฝ‍♂️๐Ÿ™…๐Ÿป‍♀️๐ŸšงDON’T YOU DARE TOUCH IT, but then everyone took a pause to realize that people actually believed Gone With The Wind ๐Ÿ’จ was like non-fiction, but then it was also announced that there is a strange ๐Ÿ›ฐradio signal coming from somewhere in the universe ๐ŸŒŒ that repeats itself every so many days ๐Ÿ—“ , and everyone was like ๐Ÿ‘ฝ DON’T YOU DARE ATTEMPT TO COMMUNICATE WITH IT‼️๐Ÿšซ but then America reopened ๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿผfrom the shut down that actually wasn’t even a shut down, and so far, things have gone spectacularly .... not that great ๐Ÿ‘Ž๐Ÿผ. All of the Karen’s came out at once, and people started tearing down ๐Ÿ”จ statues. Everyone is on Facebook arguing ๐Ÿคผ‍♀️ about masks ๐Ÿ‘ƒ๐Ÿผ, but then Florida ๐Ÿ– was like hold my beer ๐Ÿบ and let me show you how we’re number one ๐Ÿฅ‡ in all things, including new Not Corona Beer Coronavirus. Then we learned there was a massive dust cloud ☁️ coming straight at us ๐Ÿ“from the Sahara Desert ๐Ÿซ , which is totally normal, but this is 2020, so the ๐Ÿ‘ป ghost mummy thing is most likely in that dust cloud. We then ๐Ÿ“š learned of meth-gators ๐ŸŠ , and I'm like that is so not on my flipping 2020 Bingo card ๐Ÿ˜ก can we use it as the free space?? ๐Ÿคท๐Ÿป Then we learned that the Congo's worst ever Ebola ๐Ÿšจ outbreak is over ๐Ÿ˜“, and we were all like, there was an Ebola outbreak that was the worse ever? ๐Ÿ‘€ ....... and don’t forget we just discovered FLYING SNAKES! ๐Ÿ, seriously! FLYING SNAKES!!!!

So here comes July…. at this point we are over it , just tell us what’s next .... ๐Ÿ‘ฝ Aliens? ๐Ÿ”ฑZeus? ☄️ Asteroids? Artificial Intelligence becomes self aware? Can it just be something cool ๐Ÿ˜Ž or fun for once? Maybe even a good laugh , like hahaha ๐Ÿ˜‚ April Fools! We all actually wouldn’t mind that joke at this point.

Also, why didn't I know about the whale in the Amazon? Or a few other things because I just can’t keep up anymore!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Status

Some things have been balling up and that gives me enough of a reason for another posting.

While the lack of American tourists is leaving me idle for the summer, I have been "inventing" things to stay busy. Staying busy is still the best excuse to get up in the morning. It's been a process to get through. Initially I felt restless and went about it aimlessly. Sending longing looks down the empty parking lot at the Roosevelt Park wasn't very satisfying neither in the short nor the long run. So I started looking at what kind of projects would be on my neighbour's agendas. First I painted a rail along a deck for a retired military lady. When that was done I discovered that the front entry deck at another neighbour's place had rotted out and broken down. That sure made my handyman's brain kick in and I offered to build a new deck for the guy. He is 83yrs. and has lost his wife of 50 years marriage last fall. And he is not the handyman-type of guy, so can need some help.

The plan developed to build the new deck with treated lumber, as one had the desire to make it last a wee bit longer than the previous one, build with regular lumber.

But I quickly ran into a problem. The building supply market, which happens to be the only one from Canada to deliver to this remote paradise, was out of treated materials. SOLD OUT was the message I got. So I had to call the other outfit in town. After a lengthy phone consultation they happened to "find" just enough for my order. So holding this for my project became the task of the day, and so I was quick to whip out my credit card to pay, and promised to pick up the load the next day. Now they say a guy is not a guy without a pickup truck, so, yes, I have one and was out the next morning to make the 55mile run to town. But before I could start the trip, I got a phone call from someone on the US side talking about bringing a boat across the bay to get it processed for import to Canada. And they had an appointment at 9am with Canada Customs, at my harbour. I call it "my harbour" as I happen to be in charge for it. That phone call happened while I was still deep in the woods walking with Dixie. So I had to turn around my dog and get myself into the harbour to make sure there would be space enough for a 58ft motor yacht. I had to chase away a skiff, and by then I could see a motor boat coming from Eastport, ME.  It was the yacht, alright, and minutes later I had her alongside the dock. Turned out it was a brand new 2.5Mill Dollar thingy. 
A Canadian family, famous for their super market chain, is the owner.
Customs came to the wharf shortly after for processing the paperwork for the boat. The whole visit was over one hour later, and I could finally go to town.
With 15% sales tax the total tax charged is gonna be $375,000. 

The deck was built the next day and since we had a few boards left over, I built a small bench for my neighbour.

And while I am trying to find some sense in not being able to do what I love most, which is talking about our paradise here, some of our American summer residents are getting a wee bit antsy, for not to say angry with Canada having closed the border. Some are sitting right south of the bridge starting to pull out tricks to get through the border. Some have even started to call our politicians to start making changes. While we do understand their eagerness to get to their summer homes, we also think that it is way too early and that a re-opening of the border at this point would jeopardize the effort put down earlier to keep the virus from entering this country as much as possible.
The U.S. is topping 60.000 Covid cases pr. day, and anyone with a brain must see that we don't need to partake in this Covid party which is currently going on south of the border. 

So how about blaming Trump for this mess, rather than our PM Trudeau?