The 100 million

Holodomor Ukrainians

Ukrainians fleeing starvation

For the second year running, the US remembers the victims of the most lethal ideology that has ever blighted the human race:

On the National Day for the Victims of Communism, we honor the memory of the more than 100 million people who have been killed and persecuted by communist totalitarian regimes. We also reaffirm our steadfast support for those who strive for peace, prosperity, and freedom around the world.

Since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, we have witnessed the effects of the tyrannical communist ideology—anguish, repression, and death. Communism subordinates inherent human rights to the purported well-being of all, resulting in the extermination of religious freedom, private property, free speech, and, far too often, life. These horrors have included Ukrainians deliberately starved in the Holodomor, Russians purged in the Great Terror, Cambodians murdered in the killing fields, and Berliners shot as they tried to escape to freedom. The victims of these and many other atrocities bear silent testimony to the undeniable fact that communism, and the pursuit of it, will forever be destructive to the human spirit and to the prosperity of mankind.

Today, we remember all who have been denied the great blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under oppressive communist regimes. Together, we mourn the unbearable losses so many have endured under communism, and we renew our pledge to continue advancing the cause of freedom and opportunity for all.

Virginia also becomes the first US state to join in commemorating the National Day for the Victims of Communism, and the 18th state to recognize the Holodomor, in which an estimated 4 million Ukrainians were deliberately starved to death by Stalin, as a genocide.

The Berlin Wall came down 29 years ago, on November 9, 1989.

Bannon vs Frum debate on populism

Be it resolved: The future of Western politics is populist, not liberal.

Steve Bannon says yes, David Frum says no. Full debate here:

The moderator expands on the topic a bit: “Is the West living through a populist sea-change that will irrevocably transform our politics? And can these longstanding liberal values – liberal values of trade, society and politics – push back against this populist surge and reassert their primacy in the 21st century?”

It’s a spirited argument and worth watching in full. Bannon achieved a decisive victory in this one. Before the debate, only 28% of the audience agreed with the resolution, while 72% disagreed. After the debate, 57% agreed while 43% disagreed. [UPDATE: Munk Debates screwed this up. The actual, corrected post-debate figures are 28% pro vs 72% con. Thus, audience opinion was unchanged.]

The debate was held in Toronto. Twelve people were arrested in a protest outside the venue, during which one police officer was hit with a stick and another was punched in the face.

Bolsonaro

Right-wing populist nationalist Jair Bolsonaro, of the confusingly named Social Liberal Party, sweeps to victory as Brazil’s new president-elect, winning 56% of the votes in the runoff election against left-wing candidate Fernando Haddad. Brazil being the world’s fifth most-populous country (#2 in the Western Hemisphere), this is certainly a result worth noting.

Bolsonaro’s campaign slogan: “Brazil above everything, God above everyone.”

Andrew Fishman reports in The Intercept:

Bolsonaro, who has taken aim at the media throughout his campaign, chose to make his first statement after the election via Facebook Live, rather than a press conference. “We could not continue to flirt with socialism, communism, populism, and the extremism of the left,” he said. The broadcast was picked up by major TV networks, but repeatedly froze due to connection issues.

Brian Winter of Americas Quarterly provides a useful rundown of what, in his estimation, Bolsonaro’s victory means:

1. Bloodshed.

If there’s one thing Bolsonaro’s supporters and critics tend to agree on, it’s that upcoming months will bring an onslaught of death in Brazilian cities.

This is after all Bolsonaro’s number-one policy priority: relaxing laws and rules for security forces, allowing them to shoot first and ask questions later (to an even greater extent than today, considering police already kill 5,000 people per year). The goal is to intimidate or kill drug dealers, thieves and other criminals – and thus reverse the inexorable rise in crime since democracy returned to Brazil in 1985.

Bolsonaro sounds like a Brazilian Duterte. Of course, Brazil already has plenty of bloodshed, with “a homicide epidemic that killed a record 63,880 people in 2017,” as Winters notes.

2. Pro-business economic policy. […]

3. Near-total alignment with the Trump administration.

As stated above, the United States has become a kind of North Star for Bolsonaro and his acolytes – so much so that the candidate even saluted the American flag and chanted “USA! USA!” with the crowd at a campaign event in Miami last October.

This would have been career suicide for virtually any other Brazilian candidate over the past 30 years. But in today’s climate, supporting the U.S. has become a kind of code for rejection of the ideological left, which governed Brazil from 2003-16 and led the country into its current disaster. […]

This will play well with Bolsonaro’s base, and put Brazil more firmly in line with other South American governments. Argentina, Colombia, Chile and (arguably) Peru are also now run by center-right presidents who have aligned themselves with Trump, although with less enthusiasm than Bolsonaro likely will.

4. Erosion of democracy and its norms.

Here, again, there can be no mistake – Bolsonaro despises democracy, at least the version that has been practiced in Brazil over the past 30 years.

And the promised End of History, having failed to arrive everywhere from Cambodia to Spain, continues to recede into the misty distance…

Having said that:

It’s worth mentioning that he may not have to [ignore or trample democratic practices and norms to get his way]. The outcome of Sunday’s election means Bolsonaro will be dealing with a far more pliant Congress than previously expected, especially if he wins the runoff by a healthy margin and has a strong mandate. Much of the judiciary may also support him.

Here’s Reuters on Bolsonaro’s policy platform.

Bolsonaro Facebook

President-Elect Bolsonaro makes first public statement on Facebook Live

Internet voting is insane

I have a bad feeling about this:

West Virginia is about to take a leap of faith in voting technology — but it could put people’s ballots at risk.

Next month, it will become the first state to deploy a smartphone app in a general election, allowing hundreds of overseas residents and members of the military stationed abroad to cast their ballots remotely. And the app will rely on blockchain, the same buzzy technology that underpins bitcoin, in yet another Election Day first.

“Especially for people who are serving the country, I think we should find ways to make it easier for them to vote without compromising on the security,” said Nimit Sawhney, co-founder of Voatz, the company that created the app of the same name that West Virginia is using. “Right now, they send their ballots by email and fax, and — whatever you may think of our security — that’s totally not a secure way to send back a ballot.”

But cybersecurity and election integrity advocates say West Virginia is setting an example of all the things states shouldn’t do when it comes to securing their elections, an already fraught topic given fears that Russian operatives are trying again to tamper with U.S. democracy.

“This is a crazy time to be pulling a stunt like this. I don’t know what they’re thinking,” said David Jefferson, a computer scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories who is on the board of Verified Voting, an election security advocacy group. “All internet voting systems, including this one, have a host of cyber vulnerabilities which make it extremely dangerous.”

I demand paper ballots! What is so hard about this? A security expert weighs in:

This is crazy (and dangerous). West Virginia is allowing people to vote via a smart-phone app. Even crazier, the app uses blockchain — presumably because they have no idea what the security issues with voting actually are.

As for what those security issues are:

Today, we conduct our elections on computers. Our registration lists are in computer databases. We vote on computerized voting machines. And our tabulation and reporting is done on computers. We do this for a lot of good reasons, but a side effect is that elections now have all the insecurities inherent in computers. The only way to reliably protect elections from both malice and accident is to use something that is not hackable or unreliable at scale; the best way to do that is to back up as much of the system as possible with paper. […]

Last year, the Defcon hackers’ conference sponsored a Voting Village. Organizers collected 25 pieces of voting equipment, including voting machines and electronic poll books. By the end of the weekend, conference attendees had found ways to compromise every piece of test equipment: to load malicious software, compromise vote tallies and audit logs, or cause equipment to fail.

It’s important to understand that these were not well-funded nation-state attackers. These were not even academics who had been studying the problem for weeks. These were bored hackers, with no experience with voting machines, playing around between parties one weekend.

Communism is cool

Black Panthers

Black Panthers

The late 1960s are calling and they want their ideology back:

“Learning from the New Communist Movement”

Socialists today don’t have to reinvent the wheel — we can learn from the successes and failures of past American radicals, including the New Communist Movement.

With the popularity of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the explosion in membership in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), socialism is suddenly central to the national political conversation. And it’s happening in the United States. Despite being a country long argued to be uniquely allergic to all talk of class conflict and any alternative to capitalism, here we are, watching many Americans question whether we should remake our political and economic systems from top to bottom.

DSA membership has mushroomed since the 2016 election from 7,000 to more than 37,000 today.

But this isn’t the first time mass numbers of people in the United States have considered socialism. It also happened half a century ago, when the New Left raised questions about capitalism, imperialism, racism, sexism, and much more. At the end of the 1960s, those questions were taken up by the New Communist Movement (NCM), a collection of groups in the Marxist-Leninist tradition. While the movement was made up of organizations that had different answers to burning political questions, on the whole, these groups were inspired by the left-nationalist projects of the day, including domestic movements like the Black Panthers and Puerto Rican nationalist groups, and international communist movements in Cuba, Vietnam, and especially China.

Speaking of China, the officially Communist country is increasingly discovering that it has little use for actual Communists. It would kind of ironic if China ended up leading an anti-Communist crusade against the US.

This will end well: South Africa edition

South Africa marks a milestone as the government moves to expropriate farm land without due compensation. More seizures are likely to follow under the new policy of “comprehensive land reform” — which doesn’t quite roll off the tongue, but it sounds better than “theft”:

THE South African government has begun the process of seizing land from white farmers.

Local newspaper City Press reports two game farms in the northern province of Limpopo are the first to be targeted for unilateral seizure after negotiations with the owners to purchase the properties stalled.

While the government says it intends to pay, owners Akkerland Boerdery wanted 200 million rand ($18.7 million) for the land — they’re being offered just 20 million rand ($1.87 million). […]

It comes as the South African government pushes ahead with plans to amend the country’s constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

The seizures are intended to test the ability of the government to take land under existing laws, which the ruling African National Congress has previously stated is allowable if “in the public interest”. […]

If the seizures go ahead, it would be the first time the state refuses to pay market value for land. Since the end of apartheid in 1994, the ANC has followed a “willing seller, willing buyer” process to redistribute white-owned farms to blacks.

Here’s a bit more background on the new policy (August 1):

SOUTH Africa’s ruling party says it will push ahead with plans to amend the country’s constitution to allow for the expropriation of land without compensation.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the decision on Tuesday following a two-day meeting of the African National Congress, which had earlier signalled its intention to redistribute land under the current laws.

The South African parliament in February voted in favour of a motion, brought by the radical Marxist Economic Freedom Fighters and supported by the ANC, to send the matter to parliament’s Constitutional Review Committee.

“It has become patently clear that our people want the constitution to be more explicit about expropriation of land without compensation, as demonstrated in public hearings,” Mr Ramaphosa said in a video message addressing “fellow South Africans, comrades, friends”.

“The ANC [has] reaffirmed its position that a comprehensive land reform program that enables equitable access to land will unlock economic growth by bringing more land in South Africa to full use and enable the productive participation of millions more South Africans in the economy.”

If history has taught us anything, it’s that forced redistribution of land usually ends well, and rarely leads to large-scale violence and starvation.

Curiously, a Bloomberg article dated Thursday reduces all these recent developments to the following highly deceptive sentence: “South Africa has not seized or condoned the seizure of any white-owned farms to date and hasn’t changed its constitution, although it is considering doing so.”