Ancient Egypt’s Aten – The First God – by James K Hoffmeier (Aeon) 12 Feb 2019

The first God

Out of the many gods of ancient Egypt an inspired Pharaoh created a monotheistic faith. What was Atenism and why did it fail?

Aten

A small stele, probably used as a home altar, depicts Akhenaten and Queen Nefertiti with their three eldest daughters. Aten is represented as a sun-disc with the Sun’s rays ending in hands proffering Ankh signs to the royal couple. Amarna period, c1340 BCE. Courtesy the Neues Museum, Berlin

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More than 3,000 years ago, ancient Egypt, with its myriad gods and goddesses, saw the founding of two monotheistic religions within a century of each other. One is associated with Moses, the Bible and ancient Israel’s faith, which is the foundation of Judaism and Christianity. The other burst on to the scene around 1350 BCE, flourished for a moment, and was then eclipsed when its founder died in 1336 BCE. We call the religion Atenism. Where did it come from? And why didn’t the world’s first monotheism last?

(1954 Movie ‘The Egyptian’ from the popular novel by Mika Waltari concerning the times of Akhenaten  (2:13:03 min) )

In the 4th millennium BCE, there were two distinct cultures in Egypt: one in the Delta (north) region, the other in the south. This geographical and political dualism had its counterpart in religion. In the north, the most powerful god in the Egyptian pantheon was Re, the sun god. His cult centre was in a suburb of present-day Cairo, still known by the ancient Greek name Heliopolis, ‘City of the Sun’, and his principal icon was a pyramid-shaped stone called the benben. The pyramids and obelisks still familiar today owe their shape and symbolic significance to this ancient solar image. By his agency, Re created other gods, over which he was chief, as well as humans. Re’s son was Horus the sky-god, represented as a falcon, and the Pharaohs were the incarnation of Horus. So their title was ‘Son of Re’.

Meanwhile, in the southern town of Thebes (modern Luxor), the god Amen emerged as the most powerful religious force. As his name suggests in ancient Egyptian, Amen is the ‘hidden one’ and is often depicted in human form with blue skin, representing the blue sky or atmosphere. Amen’s principal cult centre was Karnak Temple in Thebes. Around 2000 BCE, then, there were two dominant deities in Egypt: Re, who reigned in the north, and Amen, who ruled the south.

Northern and southern Egypt were embroiled in civil war between c2150 and 2000 BCE. Rival pharaohs ruled Egypt, resulting in parallel kingships based in Memphis in the north and Thebes in the south. It was left to a 11th-dynasty ruler, the Theban Mentuhotep II to unify the land through war around 2000 BCE. By around 1950 BCE, Amenemhet – meaning ‘Amen is foremost’ – founded another dynasty, the 12th. He was the first to incorporate Amen into his name. Amen’s time had come. In a unifying gesture, Amenemhet moved the capital north, back to the Memphis area where Upper and Lower Egypt meet, with his devotion to Amen intact. He called his new capital Itj-tawy, ‘Seizer of the Two-Lands’, and likely here he fused together Amen and Re into a single, powerful deity: Amen-Re, who was called ‘the king of the gods’. Amen-Re’s influence spread through all Egypt, and for 600 years he had no rival atop the pantheon. Karnak mushroomed into the largest temple complex in ancient Egypt as ruler after ruler honoured this god, his consort, Mut, and Khonsu, their son.

The Karnak complex expanded significantly between 1500 and 1350 BCE when the 18th-dynasty monarchs ruled. While Memphis remained the political capital, Thebes was considered the imperial capital. From Karnak, divine oracles directed the kings to conquer neighbouring lands, and they duly obliged. Egypt’s empire stretched north and east to beyond even the Euphrates River, and in the south, Nubia, the northern half of Sudan, was colonised. Tribute and booty poured into Egypt during this century and a half, with Karnak Temple and its powerful priesthood the major recipients. There is no greater testimony to the prosperity of this era than the colossal building projects of Amenhotep III (1390-1353 BCE) at Karnak and Luxor Temples, largely in the name of Amen-Re. Egypt and its god Amen-Re had reached the zenith of power. But no one could have foreseen how quickly things would change with the death of Amenhotep III.

The crown-prince Thutmose, eldest son of Amenhotep III, was set to follow his father to the throne. However, the prince died unexpectedly, leaving the succession to his younger brother. This prince, also called Amenhotep, might have been only in his mid-teens when his father died in the 38th year of kingship, around 1353 BCE, when he became Amenhotep IV. His youth is demonstrated in a carved scene in the tomb of a high-ranking official named Kheruef where the new king is shown making offerings to the gods under the watchful auspices of his mother, rather than standing alone or with his queen, the famous Nefertiti. The gods to which he is depicted making offers are Atum and Re-Horakhty (both solar deities). Atum is presented as a human with a kingly crown on his head, while Re-Horakhty is a human with the head of a falcon, a sun-disc upon the raptor’s head. It appears that, from the outset, Amenhotep IV had an affinity for traditional sun-gods. He was not yet a monotheist.

Based on an inscription dated to regnal year 1 of Amenhotep IV at the sandstone quarry of Gebel el-Silsileh (south of Luxor), we learn that here the new king began his first building project. It records the hewing out of a large benben stone for ‘Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which (or who) is in the Aten in Karnak’. This lengthy name seems to be a theological creed, and is often called the ‘didactic name’ of Aten. No earlier form of the sun-god employed such a lengthy name. So this is new.

Little is known about this temple as it was destroyed after the king’s death, and the blocks reused to build other edifices in the area. Only a handful of decorated and inscribed blocks have survived, and some remain partially visible in the 10th Pylon or gateway at Karnak. One of these blocks, which now graces the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, shows the new deity: ‘Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which is in the Aten’. Only the head of the falcon is preserved. A large sun-disc sits on its head, which has a cobra wrapped around the disc with its head flaring up just above the falcon’s beak. This initial representation of the sun-god looks just like the solar deity, Re-Horakhty. On the right side of the scene, the king himself is depicted and above him the lower portion of a sun-disc is preserved. It has cobras on both sides, and hanging from their necks is an ankh-sign, the so-called key of life. Three more ankhs are connected to the underside of the Sun.

Something changed, and the king built at least four temples to Aten

Another block believed to be from this same temple preserves only a portion of a larger scene. It too contains the creedal name, but it depicts the image of the god Shu, whose name occurs in the creedal formula, along with his wife, Tefnut. Here, she is called ‘the father of the gods’, and the first god created by Atum is associated with atmospheric or cosmic light. It is clear from this early temple block that the introduction of this new form of the sun-god did not preclude mentioning primordial deities such as Shu and Tefnut. That means that Amenhotep had no aversion to ‘the gods’: at this stage, he could not even be called a henotheist, or one who worships one deity without rejecting the existence of others.

But something changed between the king’s second and fourth regnal years. During this period, he built at least four temples to Aten in eastern Karnak. These sanctuaries were later dismantled, but thanks to the Egyptian penchant for recycling building material, the temple blocks were reused elsewhere. Over the past few decades, tens of thousands of inscribed blocks from these later edifices have been collected by Egyptologists. Over time, they have become dilapidated, thereby exposing the earlier stone. The sandstone blocks in question were of a different size than those used to construct previous temples (called talatat by Egyptologists). Because of their unique size, they are easily recognisable when reused.

Efforts to piece together this massive jigsaw puzzle (actually four puzzles!) have been a challenge, but some impressive scenes have been reconstructed on paper from drawings and photographs of the decorated blocks. From these scenes, the four original temples were identified. One key Egyptologist leading the effort to assemble the blocks was the historian Donald Redford (then of the University of Toronto), who sought to glean as much information as possible from the scenes about the formative years of Atenism.

In 1925, French Egyptologists working at Karnak Temple were summoned to examine some strange demolished statues that were uncovered outside the eastern wall of the temple complex during the excavation of a drainage canal. After exposing more of the statues, which turned out to represent Akhenaten and temple blocks, the work was abandoned, and the area largely forgotten. Fifty years elapsed before work resumed in 1975. As a graduate student, I had the privilege of working with Redford on these excavations between 1975 and 1977. We re-excavated the now-covered area exposed in 1925, and then moved north where we uncovered the southwest corner. Years later, the northwest corner was found too.

Between the corners, an entrance was cleared where the avenue of statues continued west, perhaps toward one or more of the other Aten temples. The telltale talatat blocks were used throughout. The western wall was 715 feet (220 metres) wide. Ongoing work has uncovered traces of talatat walls and statue fragments below the village farther to the east of our excavation area, showing that it was a square structure. This makes it the single largest temple built at Karnak up till that time. And the name of the temple, critical to understanding the origins of Atenism, is found on talatat blocks: Gemet Pa-Aten, ‘The Aten is Found’.

By studying the carved reliefs and texts on the blocks, a number of conclusions could be reached about this new religion. Significantly, it was within the large, open courtyard that a royal jubilee was celebrated, and in fact this might have been the main function of Gemet Pa-Aten. Royal jubilees were normally celebrated on or around the 30th anniversary of the coronation (that’s when Amenhotep III did his), and they rejuvenated the kingship. At around age 19-20, Akhenaten surely did not need such a boost!

At coronation, the throne name of the king was revealed. When construction on Gem Pa-Aten began, in the 2nd or 3rd regnal year, the king still used his birth name Amenhotep. But before the project was completed around his 4th or 5th year, without explanation he dropped that name and adopted the name by which he is known in history: Akhenaten. It means ‘He who is beneficial to the Aten’. The blocks from early in the project that had ‘Amenhotep’ written on them were erased and replaced by his new name.

Images of other deities were expunged, and the plural writing for ‘gods’ scratched off

The iconography of the deity in this temple (and the others at Karnak) was altered to reflect the king’s changing theology. The falcon image virtually disappears, only to be replaced by the ubiquitous sun-disc with extended Sun rays, and the extended name ‘Re-Horakhty who rejoices in his horizon in his name of Shu which is in the Aten’ is written in a cartouche, a device used to identify royal names. With the jubilee, Akhenaten seems to signal that the Aten was now the ultimate ruler, replacing Amen-Re.

This alteration of the king’s name was the first step in a programme to exterminate Egypt’s most powerful deity. What followed was a systematic programme of iconoclasm in which images of Amen and writings of his name throughout Egypt were desecrated and removed. Beyond Egypt’s north Sinai border, in recent excavations I directed, limestone door lintels inscribed with the name of Amenhotep II (Akhenaten’s great-grandfather) were uncovered. Here too, ‘Amen’ was obliterated from the cartouche, and so was Amen-Re’s name. The zealots were careful, however to preserve the writing of Re, which is written with the sun-disc sign (the same hieroglyph used in Aten’s name). The temples of his father, Amenhotep III, were not off-limits. ‘Amen’ is hacked out of the cartouches and images of Amen were erased, even in temples in distant Nubia (Sudan). In some instances, images of other deities were also expunged, and there are cases where the plural writing for ‘gods’ (netjeru) had been scratched off.

A decision was also reached around the 5th or 6th year to abandon Thebes and establish a new capital in middle Egypt called Akhet-Aten (also known by the modern Arabic name ‘Amarna’), meaning ‘the Horizon of Aten’. This pristine land had not been sacred to any deity before. No city or temples previously stood there. Only temples to Aten were built there, and the largest was called Gemet Pa-Aten. With the move of the royal family to Akhet-Aten, a third and final form of Aten’s name is introduced: ‘Living Re, Ruler of the Horizon, Rejoicing in the Horizon in His Name of “Re, the Father, who has come as the Aten”’. Gone are ‘Horakhty’ and ‘Shu’, two deities, and only Re the sun-god who manifests his power in or through the visible Aten or sun-disc remains. The king no longer tolerated any divine name or personification of a force of nature that could be construed as another deity.

The exclusivity of Aten and the campaign to exterminate Amen and other deities is proof positive of a movement from polytheism to monotheism. If doubt remains that Akhenaten was a monotheist, consider some elegant and touching lines in The Great Hymn to the Aten, inscribed on the wall of the tomb of the high official named Aye at Amarna:

O sole god beside who there is none …
You create the earth according to your desire, you alone:
People, all large and small animals, all things which are on earth, which walk on legs,
Which rise up and fly with their wings.
The foreign lands of Syria and Nubia, (and) the land of Egypt …
The lord of every land who rises for them, the Aten of daytime, whose awesomeness is great.
(Now concerning) all distant countries, you make their life …
(O you) who gives life to the son in his mother’s womb, and calms him by stopping his tears;
Nurse in the womb, who gives breath to enliven all he makes …

The themes of universalism, divine oneness, the exclusivity of Aten and his tender care for all creation drive home the point that ‘there is none’ beside Aten. This is a monotheistic statement not unlike the Islamic confession ‘there is no god but God’. And on the theme of divine oneness, the Jewish Shema comes to mind: ‘Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’ The sun-god was a universal deity: wherever one went in the world, the Sun appears.

(A popular novel of Akhenaten’s times ‘The Egyptian’ by Mika Waltari)

Atenism was a monotheistic experiment. But what instigated such a radical shift from the polytheistic orthodoxy that had flourished in Egypt for millennia, and what led to the demotion of Amen-Re from his preeminent status, a position he had held for centuries? Here, there is little agreement among Egyptologists. There are those who think that this religious move was designed to wrest power from the Amen priesthood’s dominance that challenged the crown itself. Simply put, it was a political move. But this view does not adequately consider Akhenaten’s genuine devotion to Aten as reflected in the incredible temples dedicated to him, not to mention the intimacy expressed towards Aten in the hymns.

Others consider Atenism to be simply the climax of an evolution that had been underway for more than a century, in which Re had been moving towards universal status. This interpretation, however, does not take into account the programme of iconoclasm towards Amen and other deities, and the disappearance of traditional images of the sun-god (human form, falcon head, pyramid images, etc). One could advance Aten without eradicating Amen in a polytheistic system.

My theory is that Akhenaten himself very early in his reign (or even just before) experienced a theophany – a dream or some sort of divine manifestation – in which he believed that Aten spoke to him. This encounter launched his movement which took seven to nine years to fully crystallise as exclusive monotheism. Great idea, but based on what evidence? Mention has already been made of the two major Aten Temples called Gemet Pa-Aten constructed at Karnak and Akhet-Aten. A third temple by the same name was built in Nubia. Three temples with the same name is unprecedented, and suggests that its meaning, ‘The Aten is Found’, was vitally important to the young king’s religious programme. Could the name of the three sanctuaries memorialise the dramatic theophany that set off the revolution?

Akhenaten also uses the same language of discovery to explain how he found the land where he would establish the new city, Akhet-Aten. The aforementioned boundary inscription records Akhenaten’s words when travelling through the area that would become his new capital:

Look, Aten! The Aten wishes to have [something] made for him as a monument … (namely) Akhet-Aten … It is Aten, my father, [who advised me] concerning it so it could be made for him as Akhet-Aten.

Later in the same inscription, the king again repeats the line: ‘It is my father Aten who advised me concerning it.’ These texts point to an initial phenomenological event in which the king discovered the new form of the sun-god and then, through a later revelation, Aten disclosed where his Holy See should be built.

With Atenism, the evolution from polytheism to monotheism occurred rapidly, in just a few years

Historians of religion over the past 150 years thought that such a shift to monotheism must have been a gradual development taking place over millennia. Just like every field of learning in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the academic study of religion was shaped by evolutionary philosophy, an extension of Darwinian thought. From this perspective, religion began in the hoary past from animism, where everything – trees, rivers, rocks, etc – was possessed by spirits; followed by totemism; then polytheism; henotheism; culminating finally in monotheism. This linear development took thousands of years, it is claimed, moving from simple to complex forms. Some thinkers maintain that monotheism was achieved in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE for the ancient Jews, a development mirrored among Greek philosophers, in Zoroastrianism and other Asian religions during the same general period. But with Atenism, as the evidence suggests, the evolution from polytheism to monotheism occurred rapidly, in just a few years, contrary to the traditional understanding that monotheism appeared eight centuries later.

Some have toyed with the idea that either Moses influenced Akhenaten or vice versa. Indeed, Sigmund Freud in his book Moses and Monotheism (1939) opined: ‘I venture now to draw the following conclusion: if Moses was an Egyptian and if he transmitted to the Jews his own religion, then it was that of Ikhnaton, the Aton religion.’ But there is simply no evidence for such a connection. As noted, Akhet-Aten was located in central Egypt, more than 200 miles away from the Land of Goshen in the northeastern delta where the Bible places the Hebrews. Based on an inscription made upon the stones that marked the city’s boundaries, Akhenaten vows that he would never leave this sacred zone: ‘I shall not pass beyond it.’ This means that the kind of contact between Moses and the Pharaoh reported in the book of Exodus could not have occurred given the distance between the two.

The main reason I reject the theory of one religion impacting the other is that each one is based on its own theophany. The Lord God appeared to Moses at the burning bush in Sinai and revealed his name, Yahweh, according to Exodus. Akhenaten had his own divine encounter that gave rise to Atenism. Put another way, both religions stand on their own distinctive revelations.

Typically, what is needed for a religion to endure is that a leader or prophet who believes he or she received a divine message has a band of faithful followers to disseminate the tradition, and a set of authoritative writings is preserved for future generations. This is the case of Moses and the Torah (the Law). Similar is the case for Christianity with Jesus, his apostles and the New Testament Scriptures, and likewise Muhammad and the origins of Islam and the Quran, as well as Joseph Smith, the Latter Day Saints and the book of Mormon.

Akhenaten’s movement lacked followers who shared his convictions so that, when he died, his family and the priests and officials who had served him jettisoned Atenism and restored Amen-Re atop the pantheon of deities and reopened closed temples. His daughters, whose birth names all included ‘Aten’, were renamed with Amen instead, and his eventual successor traded in his previous name: Tut-ankh-aten became Tut-ankh-amen. Aten’s temples were demolished, the great city Akhetaten was deserted, and the various hymns to Aten that expressed the theology of his religion remained memories on the walls of tombs. Not one of these has been found in later writing to indicate that a scriptural tradition resulted.

If indeed Moses lived in the 13th century BCE as many scholars today believe, then it seems likely that Akhenaten was the first human in recorded history to embrace the exclusive worship of one god. But it is the teaching of one God expressed in the Hebrew Bible that has endured the test of time, and remains the longest lasting monotheistic religion. Atenism was an idea whose time hadn’t yet come: a shade of the great monotheisms to be.

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Exercise May Help to Fend Off Depression – by Gretchen Reynolds (NY Times) 13 Feb 2019

Jogging for 15 minutes a day, or walking or gardening for somewhat longer, could help protect people against developing depression.

 

Jogging for 15 minutes a day, or walking or gardening for somewhat longer, could help protect people against developing depression, according to an innovative new study published last month in JAMA Psychiatry. The study involved hundreds of thousands of people and used a type of statistical analysis to establish, for the first time, that physical activity may help prevent depression, a finding with considerable relevance for any of us interested in maintaining or bolstering our mental health.

Plenty of past studies have examined the connections between exercise, moods and psychological well-being, of course. And most have concluded that physically active people tend to be happier and less prone to anxiety and severe depression than people who seldom move much.

But those past studies showed only that exercise and depression are linked, not that exercise actually causes a drop in depression risk. Most were longitudinal or cross-sectional, looking at people’s exercise habits over a certain period or at a single point of time and then determining whether there might be statistical relationships between the two. In other words, active people might be less likely to become depressed than inactive people. But it’s also possible that people who aren’t prone to depression may be more likely to exercise. Those types of studies may be tantalizing, but they can’t prove anything about cause and effect.

To show causation, scientists rely on randomized experiments, during which they assign people to, for instance, exercise or not and then monitor the outcomes. Researchers have been using randomized trials to look at whether exercise can treat depression after people already have developed the condition, and the results have been encouraging.

 

But it would be almost impossible to mount a randomized trial looking at whether exercise prevents depression, since you would need to recruit a large number of people, convince some to exercise, others not, follow them for years and hope that enough develop depression to make any statistical analysis meaningful. The logistics involved would be daunting, if not impossible, and the costs prohibitive.

Enter Mendelian randomization. This is a relatively new type of “data science hack” being used to analyze health risks, says Karmel Choi, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychiatric genetics at Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who led the new study.

With Mendelian randomization, scientists zero in on small snippets of genes that vary from person to person. These variants are passed out before birth and do not change afterward; they are not altered by upbringing. Thanks to large-scale genetics studies, scientists have associated many of these snippets with specific health behaviors and risks. People with certain gene variants are, for example, more likely to overeat or be physically active than people without that variant.

More recently, scientists realized that these differences in people’s DNA offered, in effect, ready-made randomized trials designed by nature, since the variants occurred in mathematically random fashion.

Because of that inherent randomization, scientists could crosscheck the numbers of people with or without a snippet related to a health risk or behavior, such as, say, a strong likelihood to exercise, against another health outcome, such as severe depression. And if a large percentage of people with the variant did not develop the condition, scientists felt they could conclude that the behavior related to that variant caused the change in risk for the other condition.

And that result is what Dr. Choi and her colleagues found when they applied Mendelian randomization to exercise and depression. To reach that conclusion, they turned first to the UK Biobank, an enormous database of genetic and health information for almost 400,000 men and women. There they identified people who carried at least one of several gene variants believed to increase the likelihood someone will be active. Most of those people were active, and few of them had experienced depression.

People without the snippets, meanwhile, tended to move less, and they also showed greater risks for depression.

Delving deeper, the scientists found that, statistically, the ideal amount of exercise to prevent depression started at about 15 minutes a day of running or other strenuous exercise. Less-taxing activities like fast walking, housework and so on also afforded protection against depression, but it took about an hour a day to have an effect.

Finally, to be sure that physical activity was affecting the risk for depression, and not the other way around, the scientists repeated the Mendelian style of analysis on a separate large genetic database. This time they looked for gene variants related to depression and whether people who carried those variants and a propensity for depression tended to be physically inactive. It turned out, they did not.

So, the researchers concluded, physical activity in this analysis lowered the risk for depression, but depression did not affect whether people exercised.

Mendelian randomization remains a mathematical exercise, of course, and in the real world, people’s lives and behaviors are shaped by more than genetics. Many factors no doubt play a role in who develops depression. The gene variants related to being active could, for instance, also and separately play some kind of antidepressant role, Dr. Choi says, adding that the intertwined genetic and behavioral linkages between exercise and mental health will require many more studies to disentangle.

But already these results do provide “strong evidence” that being physically active, whatever your genetic makeup, can help protect against depression, Dr. Choi says.

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US Right Wing Street Fighters – The Proud Boys’ Lesson for Conservatives – by Robert Hampton • 14 Feb 2019

The brawl between the Proud Boys and the Antifa in New York on October 12.
The brawl between the Proud Boys and the Antifa in New York on October 12, 2018

 

The Proud Boys could only have arisen in the Trump era. A multi-racial fraternity dedicated to “Western chauvinism” and brawling with the Antifa is not something the Tea Party could have produced.

There’s always been an element of the ridiculous in the Proud Boys. They have a distinctive uniform consisting of a black-and-yellow Fred Perry polo shirt with a MAGA hat. Their initiation rite requires potential members to take a beating until they can name five brands of cereal. And even though “Western chauvinist” sounds like a more polite way of saying white supremacist, the Proud Boys boast more racial diversity than the Antifa. And the music video for the group is . . . something else:

The Proud Boys represents the absurdity that is “Trumpism” shorn of racialism. The group’s ideology is amorphous, and often resembles libertarian talking points – for example, “glorifying the entrepreneur.” The Proud Boys’ only two clear principles are support for Trump and a desire to fight the Antifa. That appeared to be enough to attract members, but that second quality has proven to be the group’s undoing.

One fight in New York City led to criminal charges for several members and a leadership crisis within the group. Gavin McInnes resigned as leader following reports(that turned out to be inaccurate) that the FBI had classified the Proud Boys as an extremist group. Milo Yiannopoulos followed suit and publicly disassociated himself from the group. A new chief, Jason Lee Van Dyke, was selected, and then quickly departed, adding to the group’s turmoil. On top of all this, the group has been kicked offnearly every social media platform and payment processor due to its numerous brawls.

McInnes is now suing the Southern Poverty Law Center over its designation of the Proud Boys as a hate group. McInnes claims in his lawsuit that the designation has cost him business and amounted to “tortious interference.” This Alt Lite figure also wants the SPLC to stop connecting him to hate groups, while also wanting the “anti-hate” smear operation to cease which claims that the Proud Boys are violent. It’s unclear whether this lawsuit will succeed or not. What is clear is that it shows the present disarray of the group and how it’s trying to clean up its image.

A lot of folks on the Dissident Right have reveled in the Proud Boys’ misery because of the group’s cuckery. Some have even argued that their cucking is why the group is in decline. If only they had stood by White Nationalists and not insisted on their opposition to the Alt Right, the argument goes, they would be in better shape right now.

That’s a silly argument. The real reason the Proud Boys are in decline is because of their dedication to street violence – the quality which both attracted support as well as the attention of law enforcement. Of course, much of their violence was in self-defense against the Antifa’s aggression and wouldn’t be prosecuted by a sane system. But nevertheless, it was a group primarily based on violence, which is hazardous for the Right. Every group dedicated to violence will face law enforcement scrutiny and brutal coverage from the press. The Proud Boys seemed unable to overcome those challenges.

The Antifa can engage in political violence at will thanks to the support of the media and cultural elites, as well as deep-pocketed legal defense funds. The Right cannot hope for such support at present. Many normie conservatives loved to watch videos of the Proud Boys knocking out the Antifa, but that is in no way comparable to the Left’s moral imperative to “punch Nazis.” Major outlets such as CNN have run glowing profiles of the Antifa and their commitment to “civil rights.” Even the Antifa’s numerous attacks on journalists have not convinced the cultural elites to drop their admiration for the black-clad anarchists. This is a double standard that is unjust, and yet we cannot change it.

Meanwhile, Right-wing groups that engage in violence can expect to face the full force of the law and media condemnation. The Proud Boys’ brawl in New York City last October well illustrates this point. Ten Proud Boys were charged in connection with a fight that broke out following a speech by Gavin McInnes. Two Proud Boys approached a group of Antifa demonstrators, which prompted one of the anarchists to throw a water bottle at the Trump supporters. A brawl ensued, and the Proud Boys emerged victorious.

But footage of the fight went viral on the Internet and the media demanded harsh justice. As a result, the victorious Proud Boys were rounded up and charged with rioting and attempted assault. The members face stiff sentences if found guilty. Interestingly, authorities are prosecuting these Proud Boys without the cooperation of their supposed victims, who refuse to identify themselves to police. The state wants punishment more than the Antifa does.

As a side note, a fact from the case that highlights the non-racialist character of the Proud Boys is that one of their members who was charged is a Latino skinhead. Another one is a white man who is married to a black woman. That man was – hilariously – labelled a white supremacist in the press.

All of this hoopla is over one single Saturday night fight. Additionally, the Proud Boys are having trouble getting the funds together to pay for the legal defense of their indicted brothers. The Antifa would never have this problem, as they have the National Lawyers Guild on their side and ready to help them in their legal troubles.

The lesson from all this is that it’s foolhardy for Right-wing groups to dedicate themselves to political violence. The Proud Boys are trying to learn from this lesson, and no longer encourage their members to participate in street brawls. But the damage to the group is already done and it’s unlikely it will recover from its present troubles.

Violence committed by the Left will either be ignored or justified by the media, as well as all “respectable” liberals. At the same time, violence committed by the Right will be condemned by everyone, including by most Right-wingers. Liberals have the power to wield the state against the Right, and violence gives them the pretext to do so. As seen by the Department of Justice’s inaction on the Antifa, conservatives are incapable of forcing the state to do the same against violent Leftists.

The Proud Boys managed to get a wide range of support for their brawls that White Nationalists could never receive, and yet that goodwill has not enabled them to raise sufficient legal funds nor get the charges against them dismissed. Yes, Right-wingers will always get the blame for street brawls, regardless of who started it. But actively seeking such brawls is just asking to get your group deplatformed and sent to jail. Every Right-wing group will suffer censorship, attacks, and press scrutiny. It’s just part of the deal.

The thirst for violence adds state pressure to the list of troubles. The Proud Boys could stand up to press smears, but withered under pressure from law enforcement. As most groups would. Very few people will stick around while your group is being swarmed by feds, and only a fraction are willing to go to jail for the cause. It’s hard enough for Right-wing groups to attract support without the possibility of jail time.

Self-defense is never wrong, but that’s different from basing your group’s entire existence upon brawling with the Antifa. In America’s current climate, the Right only stands to lose if it embraces political violence.

Misinformation Is About Who You Trust – Not What You Think – Two philosophers of science – By Brian Gallagher & Kevin Berger (Nautilus) 14 Feb 2019

Mis

Two philosophers of science diagnose our age of fake news.

I can’t see them. Therefore they’re not real.” From which century was this quote drawn? Not a medieval one. The utterance emerged on Sunday from Fox & Friends presenter Pete Hegseth, who was referring to … germs. The former Princeton University undergraduate and Afghanistan counterinsurgency instructor said, to the mirth of his co-hosts, that he hadn’t washed his hands in a decade. Naturally this germ of misinformation went viral on social media.

The next day, as serendipity would have it, the authors of The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread—philosophers of science Cailin O’Connor and James Owen Weatherall—sat down with Nautilus. In their book, O’Connor and Weatherall, both professors at the University of California, Irvine, illustrate mathematical models of how information spreads—and how consensus on truth or falsity manages or fails to take hold—in society, but particularly in social networks of scientists. The coathors argue “we cannot understand changes in our political situation by focusing only on individuals. We also need to understand how our networks of social interaction have changed, and why those changes have affected our ability, as a group, to form reliable beliefs.”

O’Connor and Weatherall, who are married, are deft communicators of complex ideas. Our conversation ranged from the tobacco industry’s wiles to social media’s complicity in bad data. We discussed how science is subtly manipulated and how the public should make sense of contradictory studies. The science philosophers also had a sharp tip or two for science journalists.

Berger_BR-1
Fact Checkers: “We’re philosophers of science and felt the manipulation of science is immediately relevant to our culture and really should be understood,” says James Weatherall (right), about why he and Cailin O’Connor (left) wrote The Misinformation Age.…………………….

What do you think of a commentator on a TV show with an audience of about 1.5. million people saying germs aren’t real?

Cailin O’Connor: [laughs] We disagree!

James Weatherall: We’re against it.

O’Connor: In fact, there’s a long history of people having wacky false beliefs. People believed there were animal-plant hybrids—and these were naturalists. People believe all sorts of crazy things about the human body. If you understand beliefs in this social perspective, where people are passing them from person to person, and we have to trust each other and can’t verify things for ourselves, it’s not unexpected that we would have some wacky beliefs. But I don’t know about a person who says germs aren’t real in this day and age!

Weatherall: This is a perfect example of what we’re talking about. Acting as if germs don’t exist is going to lead to a lot of bad outcomes. You’re going to get sicker. You’re not going to treat surgical sites the right way. But it’s also something where you can’t really check yourself. Most of us don’t have microscopes to see germs. It’s the same with climate change. You can freely go around saying either the climate isn’t changing or that anthropogenic sources had nothing to do with it. Without getting any immediate feedback, without anything going wrong in your life, you can form these kinds of beliefs.

What inspired two philosophers of science to wade into misinformation?

O’Connor: I’ve been worried about climate change since I was 5 years old, and here we are 30 years later and still not doing anything about it. This is absolutely insane. It’s clear the marketplace of ideas isn’t working. We’ve allowed ourselves to be influenced by big oil and gas for over 30 years. But it was the 2016 election that prompted us. We just started writing it right after the election. We just sat down and said, What can we do, given our research skills, to improve this public crisis about false belief?

When it comes to misinformation, twas always thus. What’s changed now?

O’Connor: It’s always been the case that humans have been dependent on social ties to gain knowledge and belief. There’s been misinformation and propaganda for hundreds of years. If you’re a governing body, you have interests you’re trying to protect. You want to control what people believe. What’s changed is social media and the structure of communication between people. Now people have tremendous ability to shape who they interact with. Say you’re an anti-vaxxer. You find people online who are also anti-vaxxers and communicate with them rather than people who challenge your beliefs.

The other important thing is that this new structure means that all sorts of influencers—the Russian government, various industry groups, other government groups—have direct access to people. They can communicate with people in a much more personal way. They can pose on Twitter and Facebook as a normal person who you might want to interact with. If you look at Facebook in the lead up to the 2016 election, the Russian Internet Research Agency created animal-lovers groups, Black Lives Matter groups, gun-rights groups, and anti-immigrant groups. They could build trust with people who would naturally be part of these groups. And once they grounded that trust, they could influence them by getting them not to vote or by driving polarization, causing more extreme rhetoric. They can make other people trust them in ways that would have been very difficult without social media.

It’s not fraudulent. They haven’t done anything wrong. But it’s misdirection.

Weatherall: People tend to trust their friends, their family, people who they share other affinities with. So if the message can look like it’s coming from those people, it can be very effective. Another thing that’s become widespread is the ability to produce easily shareable visual media. The memes we see on Twitter or on Facebook don’t really say anything, they conjure up an emotion—an emotion associated with an ideology or belief you might have. It’s a type of misinformation that supports your beliefs without ever coming out and saying something false or saying anything.

How does misinformation spread through science?

Weatherall: The philosopher of science, Bennett Holman, argues that the right way of thinking about the relationship between industry and science is as an arms race where you develop a new sort of epistemic standard. Do you want to get a drug approved? It’s got to be a randomized clinical trial. Previously there were lower standards for what sorts of evidence were needed to demonstrate the efficacy and safety of the drug. But as scientists and regulators come up with new standards for dealing with possible misuse of evidence, groups who want to influence public belief or public policy come up with more sophisticated ways of getting around those.

What’s a good example of an industry using sophisticated techniques to manipulate science?

Weatherall: In the 1960s, the scientific consensus had become clear that there was a link between tobacco products and cancer. The tobacco industry recognized a number of things very quickly. One, this was almost certainly true—their own scientists were getting the same results. Two, it was disastrous for them. Three, they were not going to be able to come up with a compelling evidence-based argument that tobacco was safe or beneficial. But they realized they didn’t need to. All they needed to do was emphasize the uncertainty present in any kind of scientific endeavor. They made the case the evidence isn’t in yet and it’s rash to act. It’s too soon for individuals to give up smoking. It’s too soon for the government to intervene.

O’Connor: There’s this naive view that they pay off scientists and scientists start saying tobacco is safe. In fact, they have all these subtle and insidious methods that are not fraudulent and don’t subvert the norms of science. In the tobacco case, they went out and found all the studies where mice painted with tobacco tar didn’t get cancer. There were a bunch of those studies done by independent scientists. The industry then shares all those. That’s not fraudulent. They haven’t done anything wrong. But it’s misdirection.

 

Weatherall: The tobacco industry also funded good research into mesothelioma, the cancer caused by asbestos. They did this because they wanted to go into court and say, “Yes, these people have lung cancer, but there are other environmental factors besides cigarettes that could explain the rise of lung cancer over this period.”

O’Connor: Bennett Holman and Justin Bruner give a great example of heart arrhythmias. When people were first studying anti-arrhythmic drugs, the question was, “Are these going to reduce heart attacks?” Other scientists asked, “Do they reduce arrhythmia?” Big Pharma funded the latter group. It poured money into scientists asking whether these drugs reduced arrhythmia. In fact, they did. But they also increased heart attacks and were responsible for upward of 100,000 premature deaths by heart attack. So, again, independent researchers were doing exactly what they were doing before. It was just that some of them now had a lot more money and that shaped the evidence.

Weatherall: Whenever there’s an economic incentive to get people to believe something, you’re going to find organizations doing their best to get out the evidence that supports their case. But they may not think of themselves as propagandists. They may simply be engaging in the kind of motivated reasoning that all of us engage in. They’re finding the evidence that happens to support the beliefs they already have. They want whatever it is that they believe to be true. They don’t want to feel like they’re bad people. They’re trying to get the best information out there.

O’Connor: Well, in some cases, they’re more cynical than that.

Weatherall: In some cases, they’re more cynical. I don’t mean to say that they’re all just fine. I just want to emphasize that it can be subtle.

O’Connor: One of the things we recognize, coming from this philosophical perspective, is scientists are humans. Scientists are people too. And of course scientists are fallible, and of course scientists have political and social beliefs. But that’s normal. Everyone has to have some beliefs. The problem is industry has weaponized what’s normal to their advantage. For example, an ex-manager of DuPont accused the scientists working on CFCs in the ozone hole of not being objective because they had political motives. Well, yes, they had a political motive to protect us from cosmic radiation. That was used against them but in no way undermined the actual evidence they were gathering.

Weatherall: Another thing weaponized along similar lines is the fact that scientists disagree. They ought to disagree. If they weren’t criticizing one another, and disagreeing with one another, we wouldn’t have the grounds to trust the results of science the way that we do. But in cases where it looks as if scientists are disagreeing, it’s very easy for someone to say the jury is out, or the evidence isn’t clear. What often happens is that debates in scientific literature, in peer-reviewed journals, get settled. But then the debate will move to the newspapers and get explored on op-ed pages. It might be written by a scientist who’s doing the disagreeing. But there’s an illegitimacy to that. It reflects not sincere differences between people who are treating the evidence in the same way. It reflects a person who is no longer producing work of a sort that can meaningfully convince their peers of anything. So now they’re trying to convince people who are less equipped to evaluate it.

Fake news is shared more often by older people than by younger people.

So should the public be skeptical of scientists making their case in op-ed pages?

O’Connor: Not necessarily. In a lot of cases, scientists communicate with the public, and that can be a really good thing. What the public should be skeptical of are scientists who seem to be trying to argue for things in op-ed pages that they’re no longer able to publish in real journals. They should also be skeptical of scientists from some other field publishing an op-ed about a field they’re not part of.

Public trust in science wavers because of competing studies. One day coffee is good for you, the next it’s not. How should the public know what studies to trust?

O’Connor: If you’re a consumer, you should be looking for scientific articles that aren’t a one-off but rather package a lot of data from various studies. This should be true for journalists, too. There’s tremendous incentive to publish things that are surprising or novel because that’s how you get likes and clicks. But standards shouldn’t be about having popular articles about individual studies. Instead, when you’re writing about a topic, it ought to include a combination of good studies that show the science has been progressing for a while. That will give a much less misleading picture of the science.

Weatherall: We should say the incentive to publish surprising or novel studies applies to scientists too. They’re probably less interested in likes, but it’s how you get citations.

O’Connor: Right, there’s a huge novelty bias. When you look at social media, people share fake news more because it’s novel, exciting. They also share studies that fail to replicate much more than studies that do replicate, probably because these studies are more surprising, right? So, resisting findings that seem shocking, weird, or novel, is something that can maybe protect you from adopting a false scientific belief.

You write cultural beliefs often shape the problems that scientists work on. What’s a good example?

O’Connor: I teach a class on how gender values move into biology. In the 1970s, people did studies on the hormones of menopausal women, but they excluded from the study any women who worked outside the home. The assumption was they must have abnormal hormones if they were working outside the home. They must be “man-women” or something. So there you go. Cultural beliefs, which now seem kind of wacky, then seemed not so unreasonable, and influenced science.

Weatherall: In fact, there are cases where cultural beliefs affect whole communities of scientists over a long period of time. So it’s interesting to reflect on how that changes. And it invariably changes because the community changes, and sometimes it changes just because old people die, and younger scientists come in and realize, “Hold on, why are we assuming this?” And they make their career by criticizing something that used to be widely held and show that it was wrong. In other cases, things change because the community of scientists diversifies. For instance, and tell me if this is wrong, Cailin, more women started working in a field.

O’Connor: That’s true in many cases. There’s a famous example in primatology. If you look at early science on primate social behavior, it’s largely focused on the behaviors of male primates, especially aggression in social hierarchies. When women grad students started moving into the field, they focused on the behavior of female primates. That revolutionized the field of primate behavior because of the diversity.

What can scientists do to prevent their work from being propagandized?

O’Connor: That’s really tricky because often a lot of it is out of their hands. So, once you produce something, now people can use it however they want. But what needs to happen is a big-scale change: Industry has to stop being able to choose who they fund. As long as they’re able to control who they’re funding, even if they don’t corrupt the scientists, they can corrupt the science.

Cultural beliefs, which now seem kind of wacky, then seemed not so unreasonable, and influenced science.

How should science be funded?

O’Connor: Through the government or some kind of body held to very high standards of not being influenced by industry.

Weatherall: I think there’s a case to be made for a tax on industries that would otherwise be contributing money to scientific research. They recognize the importance of science for their kinds of products. So you might ask that there be a way of taking the money they would be spending and redirecting it to an organization that was selecting who was getting funded independently.

There was a recent study of Wikipedia that showed the most accurate and high quality articles were produced by an ideologically heterogeneous, diverse set of editors and writers. Does that square with your findings?

Weatherall: Yes, it’s consistent with the idea that science is best understood as a process that benefits from diversity. There’s another side to that, though. In a marketplace of ideas, which means a lot to us culturally, we think there’s nothing morally problematic about having whatever opinions you have, and expressing those opinions or beliefs. We tend to think that’s OK because true things are going to win out in time. In fact, they haven’t. If someone is monopolizing information flow, and interfering with what kind of information gets out there, that’s going to affect the efficiency of the marketplace of ideas. That’s what influencers, propagandists, and industrial groups are doing. Ideas aren’t spreading properly from one community to another. So we get enclaves. This is what polarization looks like—a failure of reliable beliefs to spread from one community into another community.

O’Connor: Because the marketplace of ideas doesn’t work, we are often voting as if a matter of fact is true or not. We vote for someone who doesn’t believe in climate change and then act as if climate change is not true. That vote doesn’t change whether it’s true, and that vote doesn’t change whether we’re going to face the consequences of climate change. So the problem here is that matters of fact shouldn’t be settled by public vote. They should be settled by gathering evidence and using that evidence to feed into our best tools to figure out what’s true based on it.

What are the best tools for good information?

O’Connor: Maybe we should have something like a ministry of information to decide what’s true.

Weatherall: I had a fascinating conversation with the policymakers in the European Union about their ability to engage critically with science. What they said was, Look, we agree that a certain kind of critical reasoning is essential to having true and reliable beliefs. Unfortunately, we’re elected to represent particular groups and particular interests, and so we don’t get to question certain assumptions because our constituents don’t question those assumptions, and so wouldn’t vote for us. We wouldn’t be doing our representative job if we were questioning those assumptions.

Isn’t that a cop-out?

Weatherall: Yes, but let’s look at our institutions. Look at the way that they’re failing. I think we could still have democracy with institutions that are better engineered, that are developed in response to the ways in which our current institutions are failing. We have some states that have direct voting on referenda and ballot measures. We need to find democratic institutions that are sufficiently representative, that are responsive to citizens but aren’t simply aggregating the opinions and beliefs of the large group.

How can democratic institutions avoid aggregating the beliefs of the large group?

O’Connor: The thing we suggest, though who knows how you implement this, is having people vote on the things they value. Say I value public safety. Or I value environmentalism. Or I value freedom from government intervention. So you’re voting on the kinds of things you prefer to have in your society rather than voting on actual matters of fact. Then your government should be implementing your values to create a better society, given the things that you want, but using the best evidence and facts to do that.

How can we intervene in social networks to direct people toward truth and facts?

O’Connor: All social media sites should be employing teams to fight active misinformation and disinformation. There should be teams who are constantly adapting to whatever the new sources of misinformation from Russia or industry are, and trying to fight them. On an individual level, it’s more tricky. People just don’t trust others who have different beliefs from them. But from a broader perspective, there are things that could be effective. A vaccine skeptic could find somebody who shares some other beliefs and sense of identity with them. Somebody who can say, Look, I understand why you feel afraid about vaccines or why you’re skeptical about them. Here are ways in which I, too, am like you and I understand your skepticism. Given this ground of mistrust, here are the reasons why I changed my mind and you could, too.

Can systemic changes really overturn false beliefs?

O’Connor: Of course, we’re always going to have some false beliefs because we’re social learners. It’s easy for false beliefs to propagate from person to person. But that doesn’t mean we’re always going to have the same degree of false belief. If you look at cultural evolution, we developed these cultural systems that help us do better with our brains. We’ve developed amazing learning systems that help little kids learn more effectively than in the past. We also can develop systems that allow us to do the best we can with the brains that we’ve got. It’s not just that we should give up and we’re hopeless. If we have some sort of regulations about what sorts of news people could publish, for example, we can protect ourselves from misinformation.

Weatherall: We can learn what sorts of things we can trust, what sorts of things are reliable. We have to hope that we’re going to become more successful, more effective, or more sophisticated about responding to misinformation that’s spread online. I think there’s evidence that this is happening. Fake news is shared more often by older people than by younger people. Deliberate misinformation is shared much more often by older people. There are a lot of possible explanations for that. One has to do with sophistication in the media. Younger people are more native to media, they are better at navigating it well.

O’Connor: Younger people are more savvy about identifying fake news, able to look at different aspects of some website and say, Oh, this probably isn’t real, and so are less likely to share it.

Brian Gallagher is the editor of Facts So Romantic, the Nautilus blog. Follow him on Twitter @brianga11agher.

Kevin Berger is Nautilus’ editor in chief.

Archive

Europe banked on George Soros instead of Viktor Orban on immigration, and will suffer the consequences – forever – Robert Bridge – 14 Feb 2019

 

Europe banked on George Soros instead of Viktor Orban, and will suffer the consequences – forever
A clash of ideas is occurring in Europe between Hungarian PM Viktor Orban and financier George Soros that will impact the continent forever. But Brussels is only interested in considering one option – the Soros option.

In any other period of European history, Viktor Orban would have been heralded as a noble statesman by many of his peers. The reason is rather straightforward. He is attempting to do exactly what other European leaders have done for centuries before him, and that is defending the continent from foreign incursions. But these are radical new times and the old rules no longer apply.

By now, most people are familiar with the mainstream media’s narrative on Europe’s plight. Millions of desperate migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, suffering the untold ravages of war and poverty, are streaming towards Europe’s borders in a quest for some semblance of peace and happiness. There is a lot of truth to that narrative; millions of innocent people have had their lives totally upended by senseless wars sparked by Western regime change operations. They deserve not only sympathy but physical assistance. At the same time, however, Europeans are expected to sacrifice everything to assist these new arrivals regardless of the cost. And the cost is nothing less than exorbitant.

In Germany, for example, asylum seekers are entitled to as much as €354 ($400) per month, while the state picks up the tab for rent and medical insurance. All told, Germany is expected to fork out – hold onto your hat – €77.6 billion ($86.2 billion) during the period from 2017 to 2020 on “feeding, housing and training” their new guests. In light of that massive assistance, is it any wonder that over one million people crashed Germany’s paper border in 2015 alone?

This leads us to an obvious question that the Western media never discusses: Would this great migration of people have occurred without the promise of generous handouts by European capitals? It seems that without some sort of security net in place, the majority of these people would not have risked such a hazardous journey. Moreover, there are huge budgetary considerations that cannot be ignored (yet are), for as any economist knows, money does not grow on trees.

George Soros, the head of Open Society Foundations, believes he has that problem figured out. “To finance it,” he explained casually, “new European taxes will have to be levied sooner or later.”

Really? Well, judging by the Yellow Vest protests occurring on a weekly basis in the French capital, initially sparked by the imposition of a new fuel tax, we have some good indication as to how enthusiastic Europeans will be for such a plan. In short, not very.

The questions don’t end there. How is it possible that George Soros has been able to sell his unproven and very expensive plan for open borders to the European people? We can take some guidance from the pithy expression “Money talks.” In that case, nobody has done more talking in Europe than Soros.

Over the years, the billionaire has assembled some 226 “reliable allies in the European Parliament to promote his vision of a brave new Europe. This cozy arrangement allowed his Open Society European Policy Institute (OSEPI), the EU policy arm of Open Society Foundations, to meet with members of the European Commission on 65 separate occasions last year alone.

It’s probably safe to say that those closed-door meetings had no small impact on the political landscape of Europe.

Enter Viktor Orban, the bane of Brussels, who is playing a role in European history that cannot be overestimated. The leader of fiercely independent Hungary has taken a “zero tolerance” approach to illegal immigration, refusing to permit a single illegal immigrant to enter his country. Meanwhile, other eastern European countries – Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia which, together with Hungary, form the anti-immigration ‘Visegrad Group’ – have taken similar steps. At the same time, across Europe right-wing parties are surging in popularity.

In direct defiance of Brussels, Orban has ordered the construction of a barbed wire fence that runs along Hungary’s southern border with Serbia and Croatia, a project that the mainstream media somehow conflates with “authoritarianism,” as if the concept of national borders never existed before in history. Orban sent Brussels a bill for half the cost of the fence, but it was never paid, of course. That’s too bad, because it could have been the smartest money the EU ever spent, since it would have spared Europeans the influx of mass illegal immigration.

The Hungarian leader has other ideas that Brussels will probably not be considering any time soon, like ways of addressing Europe’s dire demographic problem. This month, Orban announced a raft of new tax and loan incentives for families as part of government efforts to boost the birth rate without depending on immigration flows to accomplish that goal.

“There are fewer and fewer children born in Europe. For the West, the answer (to that challenge) is immigration,” he said in his annual state of the nation speech. “We need Hungarian children.” 

The plan has some merit. Mothers will be eligible for a 10 million forint ($36,000) subsidized loan, he explained. One third of the debt will be forgiven when a second child is born, and the entire loan waived after a third child is born.

Now compare Orban’s plan with that of the Hungarian-born George Soros, who somehow believes that maintaining strong national borders will “fragment the union.”

“Beggar-thy-neighbor migration policies, such as building border fences, will not only further fragment the union,” he wrote in Foreign Policy. “[T]hey also seriously damage European economies and subvert global human rights standards.” Building on that crooked foundation, Soros advised European lawmakers back in 2016 that the EU should spend €30 billion ($34 billion) to accommodate “at least 300,000 refugees each year.”

We already know who will be forced to pick up the tab on that massive expenditure, and it’s not George Soros.

One reason that Soros and his 226 “reliable allies” support the influx of migrants into Europe is they believe it will somehow offset the continent’s demographic and labor shortage. The latter part of that plan has already been proven a disaster. An OECD report found that less than 40 percent of immigrants had completed an “upper secondary school” education or higher, while another study showed that only eight percent of asylum seekers were hired by companies as skilled workers.

Despite clear signs that George Soros’ grand plans for the European Union are an utter failure, Brussels continues to heed his every word, while at the same time taking steps to punish Orban.

Just this week, Soros warned, with no loss of irony, that if Europe doesn’t “wake up” it will “go the way of the Soviet Union in 1991.” The financier fretted over the rise of far-right parties in Europe, which he believes will “enjoy a competitive advantage” in parliamentary elections in May. Yes, that is a very big possibility. Not once did he suggest, however, that just maybe his grand idea of open borders, made all the more tempting with cash enticements, might just have contributed to that “radical disequilibrium” of which he spoke.

If Europe is one day visited by the ghost of its fascist past, George Soros will only have himself to blame.

Influential people like Soros would have made a far greater impact had they advocated on behalf of peace in the Middle East and North Africa, speaking out on US-led interventionist wars that have prompted millions of innocent people to flee their homes.

Innocent people from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria deserve the same rights to peace and happiness without having to travel thousands of miles away from home to find it – which ironically leads them directly into the homelands of the people who invaded them in the first place!

In conclusion, it is highly disturbing that Brussels is willing to give so much credence to a billionaire financier with questionable motives for opening Europe’s floodgates to illegal immigration, while vilifying a democratically elected European head of state for attempting to exert some kind of order on a situation that is clearly way out of control.

@Robert_Bridge

Venezuela’s Maduro Shows No Sign of Being Overthrown – US Imperialists Flummoxed – By David Luhnow and Juan Forero (Wall Street Journal) 13 Feb 2019

Weeks after opposition claims presidency with U.S. backing, leftist leader’s military support holds firm

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, waving to supporters in Caracas on Tuesday.
Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro and his wife, Cilia Flores, waving to supporters in Caracas on Tuesday, 12 Feb 2019

CARACAS, Venezuela—Many among Venezuela’s opposition and its U.S. backers figured President Nicolás Maduro’s regime would crumble quickly after Washington threw its support behind a plan designed to sap his military support and spur his exit. It hasn’t happened that way.

Three weeks after the head of the country’s national assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president, Mr. Maduro remains firmly in control, prompting some to call that plan into question.

“The people who devised it in Caracas and sold it here [in Washington], sold it with the promise that if Guaidó made a move and [South American countries] and the U.S. came in behind, the military would flip and Maduro would go,” said a former senior U.S. official. “They thought it was a 24-hour operation.”

Mr. Maduro, who polls show is deeply unpopular among Venezuelans, could face an uprising at any time. But the longer he hangs on to power, the greater the likelihood of a long stalemate, raising the risks of violent confrontation and a regional crisis as new U.S. economic sanctions deepen the country’s economic collapse.

“Everything is predicated on that assumption that this will be quick. But what is the Plan B?” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington. “What happens if sanctions last six months? It’s devastating. And you get more refugees from Venezuela across South America.”

President Trump, asked Wednesday if he had a Plan B if Mr. Maduro remained in power, responded: “I always have a Plan B, and C, and D, and E and F. I have great flexibility. I probably have more flexibility than any man who’s ever been in this office.”

Meanwhile, an effort by Mr. Maduro’s foes to ship humanitarian aid from Colombia has been delayed repeatedly. And on Tuesday, thousands of soldiers lined up to sign a loyalty pledge to the government.

“We won’t tolerate…an intervention by an empire that is sharpening its claws because it wants our oil,” Maj. Gen. Jesús Sánchez Chourio, head of the army, said during the event, which was broadcast nationwide.

A big test for both sides looms on Feb. 23, when Mr. Guaidó and his allies say they will try to get U.S. food and medical supplies across the border from Colombia into Venezuela. Mr. Maduro has vowed to block it, and appears willing to go to extraordinary lengths to do so. On Tuesday, the government lined up dozens of convicts in orange jumpsuits from a nearby prison and vowed to use them to block the border.

The governor of one border state said he had armed militiamen standing by to use as sharpshooters against any opposition member who tried to cross with aid. Vice President Delcy Rodríguez even claimed the food aid was poisoned and would give ordinary Venezuelans cancer, without offering proof.

Trump Leads Allied Approach to Venezuela Crisis

Trump Leads Allied Approach to Venezuela Crisis
From the beginning of the Trump administration, critics have chided President Trump for not working more closely with allies. But right now the U.S. is working with allies in Venezuela. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains. Photo: Getty

The risk for Mr. Maduro is clear: Blocking aid will win him no friends at home or abroad, and violent confrontation with opposition supporters could spur defections in the armed forces.

But there are risks for the Venezuelan opposition, too. International agencies including the Red Cross say they can’t help distribute the aid because it would be seen as taking sides in Venezuela’s political crisis. The opposition said it has signed up some 200,000 volunteers to help distribute aid. But even if they get supplies across the border, they might struggle to distribute it effectively to those most in need.

“It’s totally unclear how they’re going to do it,” said Wilfredo Cañizares, a Colombian activist at the country’s border with Venezuela. “I hope this doesn’t end in tragedy.”

Among the many voices urging Mr. Maduro to remain defiant are advisers from Cuba, his government’s closest ally, said Eduardo Gamarra, a political-science professor at Florida International University. “The government thinks they can wait this out,” he said.

Venezuela’s military has been the final arbiter of who stays in power throughout much of the country’s history. Mr. Maduro’s government has used carrots and sticks alike to ensure the most important commanders—those in battalions in Caracas and other key cities who command the best-trained troops—don’t defect to Mr. Guaidó.

With the help of intelligence agents from Cuba, his regime has stopped uprisings and rooted out conspirators, said Rocio San Miguel, a Venezuelan military analyst. She said more than 180 military men have been locked up in military stockades for so-called political crimes against the regime. Among those detained, she said, are three battalion commanders arrested in March 2018.

In a country struggling with food and medicine scarcities, the regime has worked to ensure that commanding generals, colonels, intelligence and counterintelligence chiefs share in the spoils of a government whose officials have grown rich operating gold mines, distributing food and getting a cut from oil sales, Ms. San Miguel said. Those officers have declared their loyalty and been vetted by Venezuela’s Cuban allies.

“You don’t get to the very top of the Venezuelan pyramid by chance,” said Ms. San Miguel. “These people are committed. They have received benefits from the revolution.”

Alejandro Arreaza, a Venezuelan economist at Barclays, says the most likely outcome is political change within the next six weeks, as pressure rises within Venezuela to act before U.S. sanctions push the crisis-hit economy further into trouble.

But if there is no political solution, he sees the future as bleak.

“Without a solution to this impasse within days, we believe the country could be on a path into a fully anarchic situation that, if not tackled rapidly, could compromise its economic capacity to recover,” he said in a note to clients on Tuesday.

Mr. Arreaza estimates Venezuela could lose 700,000 barrels a day of its current output of roughly 1.1 million barrels within the next four to five months. For a government that depends on oil exports for virtually all its revenue, it would be a calamity, upping the risks of social upheaval. Without a political transition this year, most economists estimate a fall of between a quarter and a third of Venezuela’s annual economic output, which has already fallen by half over the past six years.

“I am sure the U.S. can produce an economic collapse here,” said Luis Vicente León, a prominent Venezuelan pollster. “What I’m not sure about is whether the economic collapse can get Maduro out. Then what’s the option?”

As the economy crumbles, support for the opposition strategy and Mr. Guaidó could fall, too, Mr. León warns. “The people won’t ever like Maduro,” he said. “But there is a big risk that they won’t want the opposition either, and that they start blaming you for a strategy that makes me live worse off than before and still hasn’t knocked out Maduro.”

Sanctions succeed in removing dictatorships only about 30% of the time, according to Gary Hufbauer, an economist at the Petersen Institute for International Economics who has studied the past century of sanctions. Regimes in the Middle East, from Iraq to Iran to Syria, have proved difficult to dislodge through sanctions, and Cuba has famously withstood a U.S. embargo for half a century.

“More than anything else, sanctions eventually work, but not alone. You need to exert a whole heck of a lot of things and it needs to be combined with internal pressure,” said Mr. Gamarra. “This is going to be a waiting game.”

Write to David Luhnow at david.luhnow@wsj.com and Juan Forero at Juan.Forero@wsj.com

Appeared in the February 14, 2019, print edition as ‘Risk of Stalemate Mounts in Venezuela.’

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