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Archive for October, 2018

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Ele não: Not him. But barring a miracle, it will indeed be him after the second round of the Brazilian presidential election on Sunday. Jair Bolsonaro has been called the “Trump of the tropics” but he is far worse. Quoting Glenn Greenwald—who has lived in Brazil for the past dozen or so years—Bolsonaro is, in temperament, ideology, and personal history, closer to the Philippines’s Rodrigo Duterte or Egypt’s Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (or Saudi Arabia’s MBS, one may add) than to the unspeakable occupant of the White House. Trump may be a neo-fascist, dixit the very conservative Daniel Pipes, but there’s no neo for Bolsonaro. He’s the genuine article. As for possibly being an outright Nazi, “he is not there yet,” so advances historian Federico Finchelstein of the New School for Social Research, in Foreign Policy magazine, but “things could change quickly if he gains power.” In this vein, Bolsonaro is, as journalist Vincent Bevins writes in the NYR Daily, not merely nostalgic for the fascistic military dictatorship of the 1964-85 era—and who celebrates its torturers—but will, once he has the opportunity, “reintroduce the dictatorship’s political ethos, preserved and intact, into modern Brazil”—if Brazil’s institutions, particularly the judiciary, and a hypothetically united democratic opposition don’t succeed in constraining him, as The Economist magazine hopes they will (cf. The Economist editorializing that Bolsonaro’s election would be a “tragedy” with The Wall Street Journal’s editorial endorsing him; the American right does indeed love strongmen, so long as they lean toward fascism).

Brazil is not the United States, of course—the latter’s democratic institutions and culture, for all their defects, are more robust than the former’s—though one is struck by some similarities between the two when comparing the rise of Bolsonaro and Trump. There are, e.g., the sharp economic inequalities in the two countries—Brazil has the 19th highest Gini index in the world in one ranking, with the US in 39th place, of 157 countries; so both in the top quartile—and with race and the legacy of slavery being a significant variable. Related to this is the virulent hatred on the Brazilian right—upper and middle class, mainly white—of Lula and his Workers’ Party (PT), recalling the race-fueled detestation of Obama by US Republican voters. A sizable portion of the Republican Party electorate could not abide the image of a mixed-race president and with an exotic, foreign-sounding name. Likewise in Brazil with the lower class trade unionist Lula, the hatred of whom went well beyond the corruption scandals in which he and his successor, Dilma Rousseff, were implicated, and the grave economic crisis that marked the PT’s final years in power (which, it should be said, does explain a part of Bolsonaro’s surge). Say what one will about Lula but his Bolsa Família program had a significant impact in reducing poverty and raising living standards among Brazil’s (mostly black) poor—and which many bourgeois Brazilians found intolerable.

Another notable similarity is voting. The United States’s disreputable history in this regard needs no reminder, nor does the present effort at voter suppression by the Republicans—and who seek, à terme, to entirely gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Present-day Republicans, in their majority, do not believe, au fond d’eux-mêmes, in universal suffrage, not for American citizens of color in any case (for the latest on the subject, see Michael Tomasky’s review essay in the November 8th NYRB). In Brazil, the right to vote, as Thomas Piketty reminded us in an incisive, informative column, was subjected to a literacy test until the 1988 constitution, thus disenfranchising the majority of the potential electorate. Poor, illiterate Brazilians only voted for the first time in the 1989 presidential election—barely thirty years ago—in which Lula received 47% of the vote in the second round (and attaining 61% when he won for the first time, in 2002).

And then there are the “3 Bs” (BBB)boiBibliabala (beef-Bible-bullet)—i.e. the coalition of large land owners, evangelicals, and the gun lobby, which has a powerful bloc of deputies in Brazil’s National Congress—and whose size and power will only increase with this election. As for the boi part, the latifundia class, in addition to being inherently reactionary, is waging a violent campaign against the movement of landless laborers—and with the land owners rather obviously enjoying the total support of Bolsonaro—and, in cahoots with criminal gangs of loggers and miners, is spearheading the destruction of the Amazon rain forest and threatening the physical integrity of its indigenous peoples (on this very real danger, see this piece in Climate Home News). Bolsonaro just promised that he won’t take Brazil out of the Paris Agreement, with the proviso that Brazil’s “sovereignty” be respected—which is another way of saying that he won’t formally withdraw from the accord but will ignore it all the same.

The Biblia: evangelical churches have grown spectacularly in Brazil over the past four decades—the neo-Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God is the largest—sweeping up some 25% of the population—and with evangelicals projected to overtake Catholics in number by 2040. They are present in all social classes and parts of the country, particularly in the south and on the periphery of the cities, notably Rio de Janeiro. The evangelicals are, needless to say, no different in their world-view and politics from their US counterparts—and are naturally strong supporters of Bolsonaro. US evangelicals will be celebrating Bolsonaro’s victory.

And the bala: Brazil has long been one of the more violent countries in the world, as one knows, a product of extreme economic inequalities and a racially stratified society, and where the legacy of slavery—which was far more consequential in number and mortality than in the American South—has never been confronted by the dominant classes. Crime has been a major preoccupation of all Brazilians—and rightly so—but it’s not as if it hasn’t always been. And one reason the place is so violent is that it’s awash with firearms. When there are lots of guns floating around in private hands, people will get killed. In 2005, during Lula’s first term, a referendum was held to ban the sale of firearms and ammunition, which lost by a wide margin. Polls two months prior to the vote, however, showed it succeeding, but then the American NRA intervened with money and propaganda, decisively contributing to the referendum’s failure. And now the Brazilian gun lobby is stronger than ever, and with Bolsonaro pledging to remove all restrictions on civilians arming themselves.

BBB: for a US Republican, what’s not to like?

As I am not a Latin Americanist, let alone a specialist of Brazil, this is as much as I’ll say about the place. For analyses by persons with specialized knowledge, here are a few informative articles I’ve read lately:

In the Spring 2018 issue of Dissent magazine, by Bryan McCann, president of the Brazilian Studies Association and Professor of Latin American History at Georgetown University, “Brazil’s New Right.” The lede: “Since Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment, Brazil has been in political turmoil. With ex-president Lula’s recent surrender, a new right threatens to become the decisive force in the 2018 elections.”

In Mediapart (October 24th), “Au Brésil, l’élection de Bolsonaro serait ‘pire qu’un retour aux années de plomb’.” The lede: “Pour l’historienne Maud Chirio, l’élection probable de Jair Bolsonaro à la tête du Brésil constitue un péril fasciste sans précédent, et qui ne tombe pas du ciel dans une démocratie fragilisée depuis plusieurs années. Entretien.”

On the Intercept website, a 38-minute interview/discussion (October 24th), led by Glenn Greenwald, with two journalists from The Intercept Brasil, Bruna de Lara and Victor Pougy.

I’m thinking about liberal and progressive Brazilians—including friends and acquaintances—who are surely in a state of despair, if not terror.

As to what awaits them, see the video in the tweet below.

À suivre, malheureusement,

UPDATE: Some links from the Fondation Jean-Jaurès:

Brésil: élections présidentielle à haut risque démocratique (October 25th). The lede: “Suite au premier tour de l’élection présidentielle, qui s’est tenu le 7 octobre 2018, et du très inquiétant résultat obtenu par le candidat d’extrême droite, Jair Bolsonaro, Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky [Directeur de l’Observatoire de l’Amérique latine de la Fondation Jean-Jaurès, chercheur à l’IRIS] revient sur la dérive anti-démocratique que connaît le Brésil depuis quelques années et décrypte le programme du candidat extrémiste.”

Brésil: la ménace de l’extrême droite (October 24th; 18 minute video interview). The lede: “Après le premier tour de l’élection présidentielle au Brésil, le 7 octobre 2018, la position de favori du candidat d’extrême droite Jair Bolsonaro fait peser une très grande menace sur la démocratie. Quelles seraient les conséquences de sa victoire? Carol Proner, avocate et professeure de droit international à l’Université fédérale de Rio de Janeiro, livre son analyse à Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky, directeur de l’Observatoire de l’Amérique latine de la Fondation.”

Brésil: défendre une démocratie menacée (October 12th). The lede: “Le 7 octobre 2018, un candidat d’extrême droite, nostalgique des années noires de la dictature militaire, est arrivé en tête au soir du premier tour de l’élection présidentielle brésilienne. Ce résultat a créé une onde de choc au Brésil comme chez tous les démocrates. Le sociologue espagnol Manuel Castells, professeur à l’Université de Californie à Berkeley, a réagi en adressant une lettre ouverte aux intellectuels du monde, leur demandant de faire savoir leur indignation et d’appeler au refus de l’abjection. Jean-Jacques Kourliandsky, directeur de l’Observatoire de l’Amérique latine de la Fondation Jean-Jaurès, a traduit cette lettre.”

Jésus t’aime: le Brésil pris au piège des évangélistes (March 28th; 1 hour 37 minute video). The lede: “L’Observatoire de l’Amérique latine de la Fondation Jean-Jaurès a reçu Lamia Oualalou, spécialiste de l’Amérique Latine, auteure de Jésus t’aime! La déferlante évangélique (Éditions du Cerf, 2018).”

2nd UPDATE: Le Monde has a must-read two-page enquête (October 27th issue), by Nicolas Bourcier, “Rio de Janiero, la ville colère.” The lede: “A quelques heures du second tour de la présidentielle, dimanche 28 octobre, la cité carioca, qui a voté à 60 % pour le candidat d’extrême droite Jair Bolsonaro au premier tour, n’en finit plus de soigner sa gueule de bois après l’euphorie des années Lula.” When 60% of the voters in a city like Rio vote for a fascist, one knows that the crisis—economic, insecurity, etc—is grave. The article dwells on the heartbreaking fire that destroyed Brazil’s National Museum on the night of September 2nd-3rd, a “cultural suicide” that was entirely preventable and which, in itself, symbolized the shipwreck of contemporary Brazil.

3rd UPDATE: Matias Spektor, who teaches international relations at the Fundação Getulio Vargas in São Paulo, has an informative article in Foreign Policy (October 26th), “It’s not just the right that’s voting for Bolsonaro. It’s everyone.” The lede: “Brazil’s populist firebrand is relying on conservative values, fear of crime, anger about corruption, and rampant fake news to gain support from across the political spectrum.”

4th UPDATE: For the apologists and doubters, of which there are more than a few, here is Jair Bolsonaro in his own words.

5th UPDATE: Vox has a useful 9-minute video explaining Brazil’s corruption scandal and Operation Car Wash.

6th UPDATE: Of the many instant analyses of Bolsonaro’s victory, I thought this one by Le Monde’s Nicolas Bourcier, “La victoire d’un illusionniste sans scrupule,” was good.

See also the Le Monde tribune, “Bolsonaro a été élu avec une forte proportion de votes des fidèles évangéliques,” by Sao Paulo-FGV professor Luiz Felipe de Alencastro.

And for a portrait in Le Monde of Paulo Guedes, the “Chicago Boy” who has inspired Bolsonaro on the economy, go here.

7th UPDATE: Slate has two pieces (October 30th and 31st) on fake news and the popularity of WhatsApp in Brazil (which I first heard about last month at a talk here in Paris by the well-known Brazilian political scientist Leonardo Avritzer).

8th UPDATE: A friend in Brazil recommends the English version of the daily newspaper Folha de S.Paulo as a good source of information on the country.

9th UPDATE: Bard College professor of political studies, Omar G. Encarnación, explains (November 1st) in Foreign Policy magazine why “Bolsonaro can’t destroy Brazilian democracy.” The lede: “Brazil’s new president is a throwback to its authoritarian past—but the country is more resilient than it used to be.” I’m already feeling a little bit better…

10th UPDATE: NYU historian and Latin Americanist Greg Grandin has an informative piece in The Nation (October 29th)—where he has had a number on Brazil over the years–”Brazil’s Bolsonaro has supercharged right-wing cultural politics.” The lede: “The new president-elect is an agent of the world’s most reactionary tendencies, many of them exported from the United States.”

11th UPDATE: Brian Mier, editor of the left-leaning Brasil Wire website, has a commentary (October 31st), “Why Bolsonaro won: beyond the cliches.” I’m not sure about some of what he says—and he could use an editor himself—but his analysis is interesting.

12th UPDATE: New York magazine’s David Wallace-Wells, who specializes in climate change and environmental issues, poses the urgent question (October 31st), “Could one man [i.e. Jair Bolsonaro] single-handedly ruin the planet?”

13th UPDATE:  Roberto Simon—senior director of policy at Americas Society/Council of the Americas—and Brian Winter—editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly—have a must-read piece (October 28th) on the Foreign Affairs website, “Trumpism comes to Brazil: Bolsonaro salutes the U.S. flag—and breaks with a tradition of independence.” It begins:

It was early fall in southern Florida, and a standing-room-only crowd of about 300 gathered at a steakhouse to see a right-wing presidential candidate whom most experts were dismissing as too radical, divisive, and inexperienced to win office.

The candidate was not Donald Trump but Jair Bolsonaro (…) Many in the crowd had themselves fled Brazil’s spiraling violence and the worst recession in its modern history, which had caused the economy to shrink nearly ten percent on a per capita basis from 2014 to 2017. The 300,000-strong diaspora in Florida, like many of their relatives back home, were hungry for the most anti-establishment figure they could find.

Bolsonaro took the stage 40 minutes late and delivered a speech unlike that of any significant Brazilian presidential candidate in recent memory. He defended the legacy of Brazil’s dictatorship, vowed to protect the country from communists and “thieves,” and slammed “fake news” back home. “What I’m saying there [in Brazil] is very similar to Trump here,” Bolsonaro concluded. “If I’m elected, you can be sure Trump will have a great ally in the Southern Hemisphere.” And then, as the crowd chanted “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!,” Bolsonaro turned around and saluted a TV image of a waving American flag.

No comment.

14th UPDATE: Léa Salamé’s November 5th “Invité de 7h50” on France Inter was the well-known Franco-Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado, who had interesting things to say about what he thinks will and will not happen with Jair Bolonaro in power, e.g.

Sebastião Salgado ne conçoit pas la politique de Jair Bolsonaro comme celle d’une dictature. L’armée n’est plus une armée politique, mais une armée de techniciens, affirme-t-il. Et étonnamment, elle peut aussi constituer le meilleur rempart écologique pour préserver l’Amazonie.

Listen to the interview here.

15th UPDATE: WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog has a post (November 7th) by University of São Paulo political science postdoctoral fellow Ryan Lloyd, “Brazil is unpredictable right now. Here are 3 possible scenarios for incoming president Jair Bolsonaro.”

16th UPDATE: Paul Krugman explains (November 9th) in a “wonkish” column, “What the hell happened to Brazil?: How did an up-and-coming economy suffer such a severe slump?”

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Still the Evil Kingdom

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I labelled Saudi Arabia the “evil kingdom” in two posts here and here some five-and-a-half years ago. It had long gone without saying, in North America and Europe at least, that the Baathist regime in Iraq—followed by its cousin in Syria—was the bloodiest, cruelest, and all-around most repressive in the MENA region. I had thought such myself through the 1990s, giving the palmarès for overall awfulness to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. And Saddam was indeed everything one could say about him. But looking into the matter more closely in the last decade, I determined that—when it came to internal repression—Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi was every bit as bad as Saddam—and was a greater destabilizing force regionally to boot. And then looking just a little more closely, it became manifest that Saudi Arabia was hardly a nicer place than Saddam’s Iraq when it came to domestic repression, and was, in fact, far worse outside its borders, with its aggressive promotion of Wahhabism across the planet—wherever Muslims were to be found—the Saudi roots of Al-Qaida, ISIS, et on en passe. So why weren’t the Saudis taken to task on all this. Because they were allies of the US and other Western powers, duh.

But with the rise last year of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, a.k.a. MBS, who was touted as a reformer and modernizer by high-profile US pundits, I thought—briefly—that maybe my view of Saudi Arabia needed revising. LOL. Between the criminal, near genocidal, Saudi-led destruction of Yemen, the unhinged campaign against Qatar, the brutal crackdown on domestic dissent, and the now certain murder of Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul—the grisly details of which everyone has read; if not, see the coverage in Middle East Eye—MBS looks to be, as analyst Rula Jebreal put it on Al Jazeera today, a Qadhafi “on steroids.” Far from being a reformer, MBS is establishing a Bonapartist dictatorship far more repressive than its predecessor—though without Napoleon Bonaparte’s brilliance as a military strategist or state modernizer.

If one is going to read just two pieces today on the Jamal Khashoggi affair, I highly recommend these, both by Washington insiders:

Jamal Khashoggi’s long road to the doors of the Saudi consulate,” by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, which I found most informative—and which cites the brilliant political scientist Barnett Rubin, who knows more about Afghanistan than just about anyone.

A fatal abandonment of American leadership: The disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi drives home the consequences of the Trump administration’s refusal to champion democratic values around the globe,” by Ben Rhodes—former deputy national-security adviser to Barack Obama–writing in The Atlantic.

À suivre.

UPDATE:

2nd UPDATE: The gauchiste webzine Jadaliyya has usefully compiled its articles and documents on dissent in Saudi Arabia in one piece (October 17th): “Outrage overdue: Saudi Arabia’s long history of dictatorship and opposition.”

3rd UPDATE: See Rula Jebreal’s posthumous “secret interview” with Jamal Khashoggi in Newsweek (October 19th), “The Saudi journalist’s views of Islam, America and the ‘reformist’ prince implicated in his murder.”

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Continuing from yesterday’s post, the question is what should Democrats do now, now that the far right-wing Republican Party has a lock on the SCOTUS for years to come, until one of the five majority justices drops dead—and assuming that happens when the Democrats control the White House and Senate (and that Trump hasn’t had the opportunity to add a sixth or even seventh hard-right justice in the meantime). An ultra-conservative SCOTUS majority has been a specter that all Democrats and progressives—myself included—have dreaded, and now it’s reality.

The principal focus has been on Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, of these being repealed, which would of course be terrible, though perhaps not as calamitous as one may fear, as abortions are already difficult-to-impossible to obtain in many red states but will remain legal in blue states (and maybe some red as well) in the absence of Roe. The real danger is in further gutting the Voting Rights Act, upholding extreme partisan gerrymandering, striking down remaining campaign finance laws, and, above all, turning the clock back to the Lochner era in economic legislation and collective bargaining—thus rendering unconstitutional legislation passed by a future Democratic congress and signed by a Democratic president. The specter of this is truly nightmarish.

But I am not in a state of despair or depressed. Not that I’m serene: Kavanaugh’s confirmation is indeed a dark day in American history, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s not over for the Democrats—provided, of course, that they win elections, beginning next month and continuing in 2020. The Dems do have options. For starters, the Kavanaugh confirmation, so Matthew Yglesias submitted in Vox three days ago, “will delegitimize the Supreme Court — and that’s a good thing,” continuing that “it’s time America woke up to the radical right that’s run the Court for years.” In a similar vein, Paul Starr of The American Prospect wrote:

…Democrats should [certainly not] have ducked this fight. There’s no way to win in politics or in anything else if you give up in advance. And the Kavanaugh battle may bring about one good result, though it’s nothing to cheer about.

Many Americans have an out-of-date view of the Supreme Court as a bulwark of liberalism. In fact, Republican presidents have made 15 out of the last 19 Supreme Court appointments, and the rulings of the most recently appointed justices have increasingly followed partisan lines. The decisions about same-sex marriage and a few other highly publicized cases have even misled many liberals and progressives into thinking the Court is more liberal than it is. Now that Kavanaugh is replacing Anthony Kennedy, they should be disabused of that illusion.

John Judis drove the point home in a spot-on column today in TPM, “What needs to be done in the wake of Kavanaugh’s confirmation,” which begins:

In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and confirmation as a Supreme Court justice, several liberals have argued that if the Democrats win a majority again in the White House and Congress, they should consider packing the court and even limiting the tenure of court justices. I agree with these proposals by Paul Starr in The American Prospect and Barry Friedman in The New York Times. But the court’s role as a reactionary institution – one that desperately needs reform – began before Kavanaugh’s nomination.

The court became a reactionary institution – one that has subverted rather than protected American democracy – when it began in 1976 its series of campaign finance rulings. These rulings – from Buckley v. Valeo in 1976 through Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 – have removed any restraint first on candidate spending in campaigns and then on individual and corporate donations to candidates and parties. The result has been that the underlying premise of political democracy – that political equality would trump (sorry to use that word) economic inequality — no longer prevails. Instead, economic inequality subverts political equality by giving the wealthy and economically powerful a greater say in our elections.

And further down, Judis concludes:

There are two conclusions I’d draw from this. First, the problems with the court didn’t start with Kavanaugh this week or even Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. They started in 1976. Secondly, if liberals have any dreams of moving American beyond the New Deal toward a genuine social democracy, they need to find a way to overturn the spate of campaign finance rulings from the court and reinstitute a genuinely democratic reading of the first amendment in their place. If it takes packing (or threatening to pack the court, as Franklin Roosevelt did), that’s fine. It’s within the bounds of the Constitution.

Packing the Court. The idea is in vogue among Dems, as it needs to be. When they’re back in the saddle in 2021 inshallah, they should add two new SCOTUS justices—just do it—and then propose a deal with the Republicans, that they will not add any more if the Repubs agree to a constitutional amendment—though a simple law on this may constitutionally suffice—mandating fixed terms for SCOTUS and all other federal judges. A single 18-year term is being bandied about by most who’ve expressed a view on the question, though I would go for a 12-year renewable. On the matter of SCOTUS term limits, I wrote about this myself some seven years ago. It was not de l’actualité back then but sure is now. Its time has come.

Failing court packing, a Democratic president and Congress could simply decide to go nuclear and ignore SCOTUS rulings—just tell the Court to f*** off and proceed to implement legislation Kavanaugh & Co had ruled unconstitutional—as Slate’s excellent reporter on courts and the law, Mark Joseph Stern, has spelled out. The Democrats would be provoking a major constitutional crisis but with the Court acting as a brazen partisan body and thus illegitimate in the eyes of at least half the American population, what choice would the Dems have short of packing? Charles M. Blow’s NYT column yesterday was aptly entitled, “Liberals, this is war.” Indeed. It is a war launched by the Republicans. On this, there can be no dispute or doubt. And if war is what they want, then war is what they’ll get.

À suivre.

UPDATE: On lifetime terms for SCOTUS and federal judges, author/writer Lawrence Goldstone says in TNR (October 9th) that “The text of the Constitution says no such thing.” A simple law passed by Congress would suffice to set fixed terms.

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It’s been a foregone conclusion for days. I had some hope when Jeff Flake pulled his Friday the 28th delaying act that the FBI investigation would turn up something to give him and Susan Collins cover to vote no on Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. How naïve of me. Given the white-hot rage of the Republican Party base—which hardly needs Trump to channel that rage—there was not a snowball’s chance in hell that Kavanaugh would be rejected, even if the FBI investigation had not been the farce that it was.

On Kavanaugh’s unfitness for the SCOTUS, James Fallows summed it up well:

previously argued that, entirely apart from the allegations of sexual  misbehavior, Kavanaugh had proved himself the wrong person, in three ways:

  • His explosive, angry, non-judicious temperament;
  • His openly embraced partisan outlook;
  • His record of demonstrable equivocations, evasions, and outright lies under oath. (Again, beyond discussions of Deborah Ramirez or Christine Blasey Ford.)

That I, personally, think this doesn’t matter. But it is significant that:

  • 2,400 law professors do;
  • As does a former dean of Kavanaugh’s oft-mentioned alma mater, the Yale Law School (“For as long as Kavanaugh sits on the court, he will remain a symbol of partisan anger, a haunting reminder that behind the smiling face of judicial benevolence lies the force of an urgent will to power”);
  • As does a former Republican-appointed Supreme Court justice, John Paul Stevens;
  • As does The Washington Post’s editorial page, which had supported every Supreme Court nominee since Robert Bork, including Clarence Thomas;
  • As does Ben Wittes, a close friend of Kavanaugh’s, who had supported him before the hearings;
  • As, implicitly, does Kavanaugh’s champion, current White House counsel Don McGahn, who according to The New York Times said that an extended investigation of Kavanaugh could be “potentially disastrous” for Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
  • And as do many people who have known him through his life.

A sample from the Post’s editorial:

Finally, Mr. Kavanaugh raised questions about his candor that, while each on its own is not disqualifying, are worrying in the context of his demand that Ms. Ford and his other accusers be dismissed and disbelieved. These include his role in the nomination of controversial judge Charles Pickering while working for Mr. Bush, his knowledge of the origin of materials stolen from Democratic Senate staff between 2001 and 2003, and his lawyerly obfuscations about his high school and college years….

And what of Mr. Kavanaugh’s political philosophy?… We would not have opposed Mr. Kavanaugh on that basis, just as we did not think GOP senators should have voted against Sonia Sotomayor because they did not like her views. Rather, the reason not to vote for Mr. Kavanaugh is that senators have not been given sufficient information to consider him — and that he has given them ample evidence to believe he is unsuited for the job. The country deserves better.

And from the Politico essay by Robert Post, former dean of Yale Law School:

Each and every Republican who votes for Kavanaugh, therefore, effectively announces that they care more about controlling the Supreme Court than they do about the legitimacy of the court itself. There will be hell to pay …

Judge Kavanaugh cannot have it both ways. He cannot gain confirmation by unleashing partisan fury while simultaneously claiming that he possesses a judicial and impartial temperament.

I watched today on YouTube the complete September 27th questioning, sans interruptions, of Christine Blasey Ford by prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, whose skirt the GOP senators on the Judiciary Committee hid behind. I found Dr. Blasey Ford to be composed and entirely convincing in her replies to Mitchell’s questions, as I did with her testimony on the 27th. The woman is highly intelligent, professionally accomplished, happily married and with a normal life—until proof to the contrary—and sans histoires; she has no reason whatever to be making things up. But the conservative pundit Michael Brendan Dougherty—whom I have found interesting and worth reading in the past—thought the uninterrupted video to be “pretty devastating”—toward Dr. Blasey Ford—as he submitted on Twitter, where he has asserted that he doesn’t believe her testimony, though without explaining why. This is crazy to me, as I simply cannot comprehend how one could think her befuddled, delusional, or an outright liar. But then, a conservative-leaning Never Trumper friend—and who happened to oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination—nonetheless told me the other day that not only was she not convinced by Blasey Ford’s testimony but opined that the good doctor may be “mentally ill”… Huh? WTF? Ça va pas, non?

Maybe there is something to the hypothesis that conservative and liberal brains may be wired differently

Timothy Don, an art editor at Lapham’s Quarterly, writes in The Nation (October 5th) that “I went to Georgetown Prep and knew Mark Judge—and I believe Christine Blasey Ford: There’s no question in my mind that she’s telling the truth.”

If one missed it, psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman—who is also a professor of clinical psychiatry and the director of the psychopharmacology clinic at the Weill Cornell Medical College—had an NYT op-ed on September 19th on “Why sexual assault memories stick.” The lede: “Christine Blasey Ford says she has a vivid memory of an attack that took place when she was 15. That makes sense.”

To this, one may add the piece (October 5th) by The Cut’s senior health writer Katie Heaney, “Almost no one is falsely accused of rape.”

One perhaps salutary effect of the Senate vote was to definitively put paid to lingering Democratic illusions about Susan Collins, whose bad faith speech in support of Kavanaugh was, so Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern writes (October 5th), “an insult to Americans’ intelligence.”

To Collins’s action, one may contrast North Dakota Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp’s ‘no’ vote, which was an admirable act of political courage in view of her tough reelection fight in that deep red state. Also worth reading is the statement by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

One thing is for sure, though, which is that the “Democrats could’ve exposed Kavanaugh’s dodges and deceptions” when he appeared before the Judiciary Committee, but “they blew it,” as Slate’s Ben Mathis-Lilley and Mark Joseph Stern explained at the time. The next time around, the Senate Dems will be well advised not to recidivate.

I have more to say on the subject. À demain.

UPDATE: Following up on Christine Blasey Ford having no reason to recount falsehoods or delusions to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Newsweek reports (October 8th) that she and her family cannot return to their home in California

due to the “unending” death threats she is receiving, according to her lawyer Debra Katz. Ford and her family are getting a continuous stream of death threats, and it may be “quite some time” before they are able to return home, said Katz.

Brett Kavanaugh said during his lachrymose Senate testimony that he had likewise received death threats, but there have been no reports that he and his family have had to relocate and cannot return to their home in Chevy Chase, or wherever they live.

There are death threats, and then there are death threats.

Seriously, anyone who thinks that Dr. Blasey Ford, given what she and her family are going through, is making shit up and seeking to deceive the nation, needs to have his or her head examined.

2nd UPDATE: The very smart and insightful Jamie Mayerfeld, who teaches political science at the University of Washington, posted this comment on Facebook (October 8th), which is well worth the read:

What can memory research tell us about Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh? Below I post two articles that address this question. (1) Benedict Carey and Jan Hoffman, “They Say Sexual Assault, Kavanaugh Says It Never Happened: Sifting Truth From Memory,” New York Times, September 25, 2018. (2) Avi Selk, “The junk science Republicans used to undermine Ford and help save Kavanaugh,” Washington Post, October 7, 2018

A few points made in the articles: Research indicates that during traumatic experiences such as assault the brain releases chemicals (including norepinephrine) that accurately sear certain details into the memory. Research also shows that in other contexts human memory is malleable, and people can form false memories. (Which bears emphasis, because our memories insist on their own truth!) Memories about traumatic events are less reliable if they are formed years later, and sometimes people, especially children, can be coached into forming false memories by relatives, professionals, and others. Therapy sessions sometimes induce false memories. The Innocence Project has charted the ways in which witnesses, including rape victims, can be led by police and prosecutors to misidentify perpetrators who are not previously known to them. See this webpage, including the powerful video. Elizabeth Loftus’s book “Eyewitness Testimony” (which I have not read) is a much-cited source. During the “sex panics” of the 1980s and early 1990s, when recovered memories were in vogue, Loftus and others argued that recovered memories were often false. I agree with this. There were some terrible cases of people being convicted on the basis of recovered memories that proved not to be true.

Having spent some time thinking about Ford’s allegations (I watched her Senate testimony twice), I am convinced that they are true. It’s clear that Ford’s memories of having been assaulted by Kavanaugh were present from the start, not formed later. The key moments are remembered vividly, as scientific research on trauma and memory would lead us to expect. Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge were not strangers to Ford, but people she knew. What we know of their behavior at the time lends credibility to Ford’s charges. Kavanaugh lied under oath to create a less incriminating picture of his youthful behavior, and he resisted a genuine investigation into Ford’s allegations. I think it is outrageous for Susan Collins to say that she believes Ford was assaulted but that Ford has misidentified her attacker. The evidence simply doesn’t support this view.

3rd UPDATE: Patti Davis—daughter of Ronald and Nancy Reagan—has an open letter (October 8th) in The Washington Post, “Dear Christine Blasey Ford: What a difference you made.”

4th UPDATE: Writer-journalist Lionel Shriver (who’s a she, and identifies as a libertarian) has a comment (October 13th) in The Spectator, “Why Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony didn’t make me cry,” that is worth reading and discussing.

5th UPDATE: Lara Bazelon and Jennifer Thompson, writing in Slate (October 17th), put paid to the contention that Christine Blasely Ford erred in fingering Brett Kavanaugh as her aggressor on that summer day in 1982: “Christine Blasey Ford’s memory of her assault isn’t a case of mistaken identity.” The lede: “It’s a convenient theory that allows us to believe both the accused and the accuser, but it undermines everything we know about mistaken identity in cases of sexual assault.” This is an important piece. Do read it.

6th UPDATE: Judi Hershman, a strategic communications coach and lifelong Republican (who was close to Kenneth Starr), has a piece in Slate dated November 5th—which should have been published three or four weeks earlier—entitled “I’ll never forget Brett Kavanaugh’s anger.” The lede: “I saw a frightening side of him in 1998. I saw it again at the Christine Blasey Ford hearing 20 years later.” And it prompted her to go to North Dakota to work on Heidi Heitkamp’s reelection campaign. Well worth reading (even if it changes nothing at this point).

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Charles Aznavour, R.I.P.

His death is, not surprisingly, dominating the news here today. As I didn’t grow up in France, I was not overly familiar with his music until I started living here permanently in the early 1990s. I’ve been a big fan since, needless to say. If there is a Frenchman or woman who is not a fan of Charles Aznavour, I would like to know his or her name. I’ve had Aznavour’s greatest hits double CD, 40 chansons d’or, since it came out and which I’ve listened to countless times. I will state categorically that Charles Aznavour is France’s greatest singer (chanteur) of our era, i.e. of my lifetime—and my wife, who knows French music better than I, entirely agrees (the greatest chanteuse is, of course, Edith Piaf). If I have to choose my three favorite Aznavour songs, they would be Emmenez-moi—depending on my mood, this one can almost bring tears to my eyes; je suis un sentimental, qu’est-ce que vous voulez—Désormais, and La Bohème.

Aznavour did not retire. His last concert was in January, at age 93. Watch him here at Paris-Bercy last November. His last television interview—25 minutes—was three days ago. And he had a concert tour coming up. At age 94. Amazing.

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