Sunday, November 27, 2016

Noam Chomsky interviewed by Al Jazeera

I agree with most of Chomsky’s points, but differ on at least one.* It’s true that Hitler was a true ideologue while Trump appears to have no core positions or values. The resulting lack of predictability is indeed a cause for great concern. But it’s a mistake to leave it at that, suggesting that we can’t really know which of Trump’s changing stances would come to dominate on any issue.

Trump’s psychology has been consistent for decades. His boundless greed, his constant craving for attention and approval, his vindictiveness, his sadism, his desire to dominate, his contempt for perceived weakness and admiration of repressive and autocratic regimes, his ready calls for violence, his racism and misogyny, his disregard of domestic and international law – these are all inherent facets of his authoritarianism (I’ll have much more to say about this soon). Despite his intellectual vacuity and impressionability, authoritarianism, which structures his entire personality and worldview, makes his choices and responses more predictable.

* Another: I’m not nearly as sanguine about the strength of institutions such as the media, and even if press freedoms are more powerfully enshrined now than they were in the past, they won’t survive by default, but will require organized resistance and action.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Monday, November 14, 2016

Hans Miklas

Hans Miklas isn’t a real person. Well, I assume there are people past and present with that name, but this isn’t about any of them. It’s about a character in Klaus Mann’s 1936 novel Mephisto. Miklas stood out because I was finishing the book in July when I read this article by David Frum paraphrasing and synthesizing the statements of some Trump supporters he talked to:
You people in the Acela corridor aren’t getting it. Again. You think Donald Trump is screwing up because he keeps saying things that you find offensive or off-the-wall. But he’s not talking to you. You’re not his audience, you never were, and you never will be.

…In our America, the gender gap closed a long time ago—and then went into reverse. Obama in the Oval Office was humiliating enough. But Hillary will be worse: We’re going to lose any idea at all that leadership is a man’s job.

…You tell us we’re a minority now? OK. We’re going to start acting like a minority. We’re going to vote like a bloc, and we’re going to vote for our bloc’s champion. So long as he keeps faith with us against you, we’ll keep faith with him against you.
TV Tropes’ surprisingly thorough description of Mephisto* considers the character of Miklas – “the Nazi-sympathizing actor who grows disillusioned once Hitler actually takes power” - an example of “Break the Haughty,” but this doesn’t seem to me accurate. In fact, he’s presented sympathetically by Mann. In contrast to the successful and self-serving Höfgen, Miklas is a sickly, struggling young man who wants to see the haughty cut down to size. He believes Hitler’s triumph will mean the fall of the rich and arrogant – the elites who lord their position over people like him, humiliate them from a position of unearned power, and stand in the way of their path to glory.

The main characters in the novel are stand-ins for real people: Hendrik Höfgen, the famous actor who enjoys continued success after he chooses to collaborate with the Nazis, is Gustaf Gründgens (you can read more about him here); his wife Barbara is the author’s sister, the writer and actress Erika Mann; her father, the privy councillor Bruckner, is their father, Thomas Mann. I don’t know whether Hans Miklas represents a real individual or a composite. In any case, he illustrates some of the motivations for support for authoritarian movements.

The two most noble major characters in the novel view the Nazi sympathizer with compassion and pity. Otto Ulrichs, the principled Communist, often defends him as a misguided youth whose legitimate grievances and defiance have been exploited to bad ends:
Hans is basically a good fellow, I know he is, because I have often talked with him. With anyone so young you have to work hard and patiently. There is a chance he can still be won over to the right side. I don’t believe he’s already lost to us. His rebelliousness, his utter dissatisfaction have taken the wrong direction – you know what I mean? (28)
Miklas’ personal and economic struggles, despite his talent, hard work, and efforts to get ahead, have led him to rage and blame:
Ninety-five marks a month…. With that kind of money it’s hard to stay a decent human being. (29)

Naturally, he feels he’s being slighted and gets bad parts. He blames his lack of success on us – he believes we’re in league against him because of his political leanings. (29)
Central to Miklas’ character is that he’s driven by resentment and grievance, which Nazism both nurses and folds into its political philosophy. He’s told that the management of the theater where he works, whom he perceives as mistreating him, is “‘Jew-dominated’ and ‘Marxist-oriented’” (29), giving a racial and political cast to his personal animus and rage.

He particularly delights in the struggles and failures of Hendrik Höfgen and the Jewish actress Dora Martin, who “both belonged, in his view, to the same privileged, un-German, reprehensible clique” (31). He dreams of seeing them brought low:
‘That Martin woman’, he went on, his malicious, sickly young face sunk in his thin, not too clean hands, ‘they say she is always mouthing these salon-Communist phrases – her and her thousand marks every night. But there’s going to be a clean sweep of that crowd – even Höfgen will have to face up to that before long. (31)
For Miklas,
the beautiful day was when the Führer would at last come to power and his enemies would all be destroyed. And destruction would certainly descend on the most pernicious and fearful enemy of all – Höfgen. The overthrow of the object of his hatred, whose career Miklas followed from afar with impotent wrath, would be the most enjoyable event of the Great Day. (151)
The book’s heroine, Barbara, respects and pities the genuinely suffering and angry Miklas, while abhorring his social and political views. She believes he’s treated badly by the more powerful people in the theater and “is looking for something to cling to which can raise him up” (118). She sometimes takes him to lunch and listens to his complaints and wishes:
Never before had she sat at the same table with a man who voiced the kind of opinions that this boy put forward with such fanaticism. It became clear to her that he detested or despised everything that was dear and indispensable to herself, her father and her friends. What was he getting at when he violently attacked ‘corrupt liberalism’ or jeered at ‘certain Jewish and Jew-loving circles’ which according to him were sending German culture to the dogs? Yes, thought Barbara, he means everything I have ever loved or believed. When he says ‘Jewish rabble’, he means spiritual values and liberty. And deep down she felt afraid. (116)

What brought joy to such a mysterious creature as Hans Miklas? What ideas and ideals fired his aggressive enthusiasm? He dreamed of a German culture cleansed of ‘Jewishness’. Barbara could only shake her head in astonishment. When her strange companion contended that ‘the shameful Versailles treaty’ should be torn up and the German nation must again be ‘ready for battle’, his eyes lit up and even his forehead appeared to shine. ‘Our Führer will restore the German people’s honor!’ he cried. ‘We will no longer tolerate the shame of the republic, which is despised by foreigners. We want our honor back again – every decent German demands that. And there are decent Germans everywhere, even in this Bolshevik theater. They should hear how Herr Knurr speaks when he isn’t afraid he is being overheard. He lost three sons in the war. but he says that wouldn’t have been so bad if Germany hadn’t lost its honor. And it is the Führer – and only the Führer – who can restore our honor. (116-17)
When Barbara warily tells Miklas that “If one day Germany really becomes what you and your friends want it to be, than I would rather have nothing more to do with it. I would leave the country,” Miklas, eyes gleaming, responds
I can believe it. A whole mob of gentlemen and ladies are going to make a run for it – that is, if we let them go and don’t put them behind bars. For it will be our turn! Then at last the Germans will once again have their say in Germany. (117)
Barbara, a well-meaning liberal, tries to understand Miklas’ perspective, but is unable to fathom the depth of his resentments, and his choices and perceptions strike her as irrational. “Why does he get so worked up about German honor?” she wonders.
What mental picture does he have of this vague concept? Is it so enormously important for him that Germany should once again have tanks and submarines? Surely he should first see that he get rid of his dreadful cough and have a success in a good part and earn more money so that he can eat his fill every day. (117)
When she asks why, given his hatred of elites and the establishment, he doesn’t join the Communists, he responds that the Communists “have no patriotism for the fatherland, but are supranational and dependent on Russian Jews. And the Communists don’t know anything about idealism… We want our own revolution. Not one that will be directed by Freemasons and the Elders of Zion.” (118) Miklas insists that Nazism will explode the system:
When our day arrives and our Führer takes over supreme power, then that’s the end of capitalism and the economy of the big bosses. The servitude of usury will be abolished. Big banks and stock exchanges that bleed our national economy white can close their doors, and no one will mourn them. (117)
When Barbara points out, accurately, that “the Führer who wanted to dismantle capitalism was in fact receiving a good deal of money from heavy industry and large landed proprietors,” Miklas “furiously repulsed the assertion as ‘typical Jewish calumnies’” (118).

Following an altercation, Höfgen has Miklas fired from the theater. Miklas, whose rage has grown, is reinvigorated through his work as a leader of the Nazi Youth movement. He’s jubilant when Hitler comes to power:
In the first weeks after the government takeover by the National Socialists and their Führer, Miklas had felt he was in heaven. The great and beautiful day, the day of fulfillment, awaited so patiently and with so great a longing, had at last arrived. It was an explosion of joy. Young Miklas had sobbed and danced with happiness. In those days his face had shone with wild enthusiasm and his eyes had glowed.

During the torchlight procession in honor of the Reichskanzler, the Führer, the Savior, how he had roared in the in the streets and moved his limbs like a man possessed, swept along by the frenzy which seized not only a city but also a whole nation. Now all promises would become facts. Without any doubt a golden age was about to dawn. Germany had its honor restored, and soon its society would be transformed and wonderfully renewed in the form of a real people’s community. For so the Führer had promised one hundred times, and the martyrs of the National Socialist movement had sealed this promise with their blood. (174)

The fourteen years of shame were over. Everything up to now had been only struggle and preparation; now life began in earnest. Now at last men could work together for the construction of a healthy and powerful fatherland. (175)
A Nazi official arranges a job for Miklas at the state theater, and when it appears that Höfgen and his other antagonists have been humiliated and vanquished, he’s ecstatic – “The magic of this situation was so potent that it enabled the young man to overlook many things he might otherwise have found disappointing” (175). But gradually he begins to see the truth:
Was it really a new, a better world in which he now moved? Had it not many of the old world’s shortcomings that he had so bitterly hated – and even some new faults unknown till then? Hans Miklas did not yet dare admit such things to himself. But from time to time his young face assumed the clenched, sorrowful expression of defiance that it had worn in the Hamburg days. (175)
It appeared to Miklas that (alongside the persecution of thousands of political opponents and racial targets of the Nazis, be they members of the “establishment” or not) the old elites had at last received their comeuppance, but new elites quickly took their place, and people were servile and deferential toward these new establishment figures:
Germany had its honor restored, for Communists and pacifists sat in concentration camps and some of them had already been executed; and the world became really frightened of a nation that acclaimed such a Führer. But the renewal of social life had not yet begun: of socialism there was still no sign. (175)

The state of affairs that Nationalist agitators used to term the ‘boss economy’ had not disappeared…but had taken even worse and more extravagant forms. And among actors there were still ‘celebrities’ who looked down on the smaller fry, drove to the stage door in sleek limousines, and wore fabulous fur coats. (175)
But Miklas, “who had believed with too much fervor to succumb so soon to disenchantment,” clung to his belief: “Everything can’t be achieved instantly… Not even my Führer can manage to do that. We must have patience. First Germany must recover from the long years of humiliation” (175-6).

But having believed the social order would be upended and a new world begun, Miklas finds his faith destroyed when he learned that Höfgen – his nemesis and a former Communist and proclaimed Nazi-hater – was not only starring in the production in which Miklas had a minor part but had connections to the upper echelons of Nazi society. Witnessing Höfgen’s growing success and political protection is the final straw for Miklas, who now can’t hide from himself that Nazism wasn’t what he had believed it to be:
In the past he still had hopes and a great faith to sustain him. Now he had nothing left. He went around saying, ‘It’s all shit. We’ve been betrayed. The Führer wanted power and nothing else. What has improved in Germany since he took over? The rich have only become worse. Now they talk patriotic bilge while they make their deals – that’s the only difference. The intriguers are still on top. (198)

How can the Führer stand by and let all this happen – so many dreadful injustices? The rest of us were fighting for the movement when it hardly existed, and now they want to push us aside. (198)
Miklas meets his sad end when other young Nazis come to arrest him, drive him out to the forest, and murder him. His colleagues at the theater are told he was killed in a car accident, and don’t see fit to question it.

As Mann knew (the novel opens with an extravagant gala hosted by the Nazis and brimming with German and foreign elites), the desperate Miklas wasn’t representative of Nazi followers, and he isn’t of Trump’s followers, either – Trump lost among the lower-income groups and won among the higher ones. But both movements certainly include cadres of struggling people propelled by grievance, resentment, a sense of entitlement to power, and a hatred of elites. Many of them rely on government programs to survive.

The signs were there all along that Trump would betray them, and now it’s probably just beginning to sink in:

“If you voted for Trump because he’s ‘anti-establishment,’ guess what: You got conned”

“How Trump Conned America”

“Trump Campaigned Against Lobbyists. Now They’re on His Transition Team”

“With Trump’s Election, a Bonanza for Washington Lobbyists”

“Donald Trump’s administration is going to be a bonanza for bankers”

“Trump's victory sparks bankers' hopes for new deal”

Trump wants Dodd-Frank repealed.

“Paul Ryan Says Medicare Privatization Is On”

“Ryan Plans to Phase Out Medicare in 2017”

“Comparing the Clinton and Trump Tax Plans”

“Who Benefits From Donald Trump's Tax Plan?”

“While You Weren’t Looking, Donald Trump Released a Plan to Privatize America’s Roads and Bridges”

It’ll be a long and ugly road from a golden age about to dawn to “everything can’t be achieved instantly” to “It’s all shit. We’ve been betrayed.” Many won’t be able to take that road – having followed the Right down their destructive path for so long, blaming the Democrats and the vague “establishment” for their problems, they will continue to have faith in Trump and his party and to blame the Left for sabotaging their great plans. But some will recognize the bitter taste of betrayal.

* The novel. I haven’t seen the movie. I would love to see the movie, but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere. It’s bizarre, given that it won the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1981. Why isn’t it a Criterion Classic?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Interlude – “Spirit in the Dark”

The first in my “Music for the Long Night” series:

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

“The Syrian Kurds Need More Than Weapons—They Need Political Support”

In the last presidential deba…cle, Hillary Clinton mentioned her plan to provide Kurds in Syria with small arms, as the Obama administration has discussed in recent weeks. This article by Patrick Lewis thoughtfully considers this policy:
The Obama administration is considering a plan to further arm the Kurds—whom many in Washington call “our most effective partner on the ground” in Syria—in order to incentivize Kurdish participation in an upcoming offensive against ISIS in Raqqa. Two weeks ago, the Chicago Tribune published an editorial endorsing this plan—the headline proclaimed this as “Step One” for “Fixing Syria.” And in presidential debates, including last night’s, Hillary Clinton has advocated a similar plan.

Expelling ISIS from Raqqa, the largest Syrian city under the group’s control and its self-declared capital, has been a primary U.S. military objective in Syria since the beginning of its intervention in 2014. Raqqa now carries (in the minds of U.S. political and military leaders, at least) great symbolic importance in the war on ISIS. So it’s no surprise when the Tribune declares that the many complications and dangers of sending even more arms to the Kurds can be brushed aside: “What’s important now is the ouster of the Islamic State from Raqqa.”

But in calling for more shipments of weapons to Syria without any semblance of a plan for a political solution to the 5-year conflict—nor the even longer conflict between Turkey and the Kurds—the Tribune is reinforcing the worst aspects of U.S. policy in the region. This policy remains overly focused on achieving short-term military victories at the expense of longer-term political settlements, without which a lasting peace is impossible. What’s more, this policy will almost certainly fail to achieve even the limited goals it has set out for itself, namely the capture of Raqqa.

What’s needed is dialogue around Kurdish demands for a federal system in Syria (with local autonomy for Kurds and other minorities); without this, simply delivering weapons will privilege a military solution over a diplomatic one. It will likely strengthen the most militant and hardline factions among the Kurdish leadership while continuing to sideline many of the political and civil society leaders most responsible for the ongoing experiments in radical participatory democracy that have inspired admiration from Western Leftists and liberals alike.

Aldar Xelil, a member of the executive committee of TEV-DEM (an umbrella organization coordinating civil society groups in Rojava), made a similar point in a recent interview. When asked about Clinton’s pledge during the debates to arm America’s Arab and Kurdish allies in Syria, Xelil responded, “Of course it is important to give support to Kurdish forces. However, this support cannot be limited to military aid. Any support that will be forthcoming must be provided in all areas; that is to say it must be political, diplomatic, economic and social support as well.”

Xelil cites the consistent exclusion of the PYD—the dominant Kurdish party in Rojava—from the Geneva peace talks on Syria as one area in particular where the U.S. has failed its declared partner. An increasingly common perception in Rojava is that America has repeatedly blocked the PYD’s participation in these talks out of deference to its NATO ally Turkey. (The PYD is a close ally of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has fought a three-decade insurgency against the Turkish state in the country’s Kurdish-majority Southeast.)

In late August, the U.S. gave its support to Turkey’s cross-border incursion into Syria, to go after ISIS as far south as Jarabulus. However, it is widely acknowledged (including by Turkish President Erdogan himself) that the Kurds and their autonomous cantons in Rojava were also a primary target. Thus it was hardly a surprise to anyone that within days of Turkey’s intervention, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were fighting with Turkish soldiers south of Jarabulus.

The Tribune argues that Turkey can be consoled by a U.S. pledge that “the Kurds wouldn’t be getting heavy artillery, just small arms and ammunition.” This is entirely nonsense, and as insulting to the intelligence of the Syrian Kurds themselves as it is to Turkey. More weapons without diplomacy in Northern Syria risks further inflaming tensions in both the Syrian conflict and Turkey, where the government has been waging a new “dirty war” on its own Kurdish population. Tens of thousands have been displaced and entire neighborhoods left in ruins while the American government has remained largely silent.

The renewed fighting in Turkey came after a multiyear peace process between Turkey and the PKK fell apart last summer, in large part due to tensions over Kurdish gains in Syria. This is partly the fault of the United States, which failed to see how its policy of military support for the SDF was destabilizing the peace process in Turkey.

Not only would Turkey be unhappy if the Kurds received more U.S. weaponry, but there’s no evidence the Kurds want to take the deal either. As long as the United States is unwilling to push Turkey toward a comprehensive settlement with Kurdish parties in both Turkey and Syria, it is entirely unreasonable to expect the Kurds to send their fighters into Raqqa (where hundreds could be killed) solely in exchange for “small arms and ammunition.”

In fact, at the end of August, Asya Abdullah, the co-President of PYD, announced that there would be no Kurdish-led operation against Raqqa as long as Turkey’s incursion into Syria continued.

Likewise, just last month, Polat Can, the official representative for the YPG (the dominant group within the SDF) in President Obama’s “Global Coalition to Counter ISIL,” explicitly ruled out the group’s participation in such an operation as long as the U.S. and its Western allies continued to deny recognition to the Kurd’s political project in Rojava. “We are not some paramilitary group,” he told Washington-based journalist Mutlu Civiroglu. “We cannot say to our people let us go and fight, sacrifice so many of [our] young men and women [and] then not have the right to speak. Our people will not accept this and no one would accept this.”

Regardless of its real intentions, America’s double-game in Syria isn’t fooling anyone. It cannot continue to back two warring parties through a myopic focus on its war on ISIS. If it cannot find a political solution to the Turkish-Kurdish conflict—a conflict it has ignored for decades—further military successes against ISIS will become virtually impossible.

Absent a serious diplomatic effort to bring Turkey and the PKK back to the negotiating table and real steps toward some form of recognition for the Kurds’ political project in Rojava, the crisis in northern Syria will only deepen further, opening the door to an even wider regional conflagration. The United State[s] must not pour more gasoline on the fire.

Interlude – “Unissons Nous”

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

HSUS endorses Hillary Clinton

WaPo reports:
…Now, even America’s animals are breaking their silence to voice opposition to Trump.

Okay, not really the animals themselves. But last week, the lobbying arm of the nation’s most prominent animal welfare group, the Humane Society, broke with its own tradition of not making endorsements by coming out in support of Democrat Hillary Clinton and releasing an attack ad against Trump, calling him “a threat to animals everywhere.”

Trump “has assembled a team [of] advisors and financial supporters tied in with trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, horse slaughter, and other abusive industries,” Markarian wrote in a blog post announcing the Clinton endorsement.

The president, Markarian noted, has influence over several agencies that create policies that affect animals, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Bureau of Land Management. Donald Trump Jr., who is seen holding up a severed elephant tail in the Humane Society ad, has expressed interest in joining the Department of the Interior.

But animal lovers shouldn’t just vote for Clinton out of fear of Trump, the HSLF argues. As the organization has written before, Clinton has a robust record on animal issues. As a senator, she sponsored legislation against animal fighting, puppy mills and slaughtering of horses for human food. As secretary of state, she led international efforts to police wildlife trafficking. The Clinton Foundation has fought elephant poaching, and Clinton’s official campaign website has a section on her positions on animal welfare.

If that’s not convincing, Markarian wrote, consider how the Clintons have shared their homes with Socks the cat and other animals, while Trump “would be the first president since Harry Truman without a pet in the White House.”

It should be noted that not all animal advocates are pro-Clinton. In response to the HSLF endorsement, Ecorazzi, a news site that says it has “an unapologetically vegan voice,” argued that there’s no point in looking for animal advocacy from politicians or officials who play roles in regulating the meat industry. The only hope, it says, is a “grassroots vegan movement.”
Look, Ecorazzi, there are two plausible options here: Clinton or Trump. A continuing grassroots vegan movement is necessary regardless. How do you think that would fare in a Trump presidency?

Interlude – “Million Dollar Loan”

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Friday, September 23, 2016

Quote of the day – “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump.”

“Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, whoever disagreed, whoever challenged him — it is the ultimate revenge to become the most powerful man in the universe.”
– Omarosa Manigault, speaking in “The Choice 2016,” a Frontline episode about the presidential candidates airing this coming Tuesday, September 27, at 9 PM Eastern

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Monday, September 19, 2016

“Our NATO ally is bent on destroying the Kurds of Rojava, the Syrian force with the most democratic, pluralistic, and feminist vision.”

This is an outstanding article by Meredith Tax in The Nation: “Turkey Is Supporting the Syrian Jihadis Washington Says It Wants to Fight.” I’ve excerpted enough to convey the general argument, but I recommend reading the entire article to see the evidence Tax presents. As I suggested a year ago, what happens in the area around Jarabulus will play a large role in determining the fate of the world.
What political choices can the United States make in the Middle East? Turkey’s recent invasion of Syria and subsequent attacks on Rojava—the three autonomous cantons set up by Syrian Kurds—raise this question, but so far the answer has been framed only in terms of military alliances and realpolitik. But as many have said, the appeal of ISIS and Al Qaeda has to be countered ideologically, not just militarily. This cannot happen without a compelling alternative model. Rojava, with its vision of egalitarian democratic inclusivity, is trying to establish a new paradigm for the Middle East—but so far Washington has seen the Syrian Kurds only in military terms and is short-changing future possibilities because of a misplaced deference to zero-sum ethnic rivalries and the so-called “moderate Islamism” of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On August 24, Turkey invaded Jarabulus, a Syrian border town held by ISIS, with great fanfare: several hundred Turkish soldiers, twenty tanks, and 1,500 Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters from Islamist militias. In reality, the whole battle was a fake. ISIS had quietly left town several days before, and the difference between this and their usual behavior convinced some observers, particularly the Kurds, that their exit was coordinated with Ankara.

While the mainstream media saw that Erdogan’s real purpose was to go after the Kurds, and noted that it is problematic for the United States to be allied with two parties that are fighting each other, US coverage of Syria has overwhelmingly focused on either the war or state politics. It has thus failed to look hard at the Erdogan government’s support of jihadis, or to ask what they have in common—whether or not Turkey is a NATO member.

A lot of the mainstream media covered “Operation Euphrates Shield” as if Turkey were actually fighting ISIS. Echoing Turkish press releases, CNN said, “Turkey sends tanks into Syria against ISIS; rebels reportedly capture town.” The made-for-TV battle had been scripted down to camera angles (pool reporters were confined to one hill): bombs dropping, puffs of smoke in the distance, even footage of scouts peering into living rooms, searching for the enemy. Few seemed to notice that not a shot was fired. Operation Euphrates Shield was thus a startling contrast to earlier battles fought by the Kurdish and Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Kobane and Manbij, where combat went house to house, deadly and prolonged, and hundreds of lives were lost to ISIS snipers, booby traps, mines, incendiary bombs, and suicide attacks.

The BBC did say that the Turkish invaders met “little resistance,” but it was left to the Voice of America News to express surprise that ISIS had “essentially conceded one of its last strategic border towns,” quoting former intelligence officer Michael Pregent to the effect that the Turkish takeover had been too easy and would end up benefiting ISIS: “What Turkey has done is give ISIS the space to regroup. They basically halted the Kurdish forces from destroying ISIS.”

Meanwhile, from positions nearby, furious members of the Jarabulus Military Council of the SDF, who had wanted to capture Jarabulus themselves but had been put off by the United States, watched the charade….

While it is not possible to prove that Turkey let ISIS fighters slip back into Jarabulus in FSA uniforms, Turkey supports so many salafi-jihadi militias that ISIS members would not have stood out….

In fact, Erdogan’s support of salafi-jihadi groups is an open secret despite extreme government censorship….

Turkey’s relationship with ISIS has also been scrutinized, though little of the research has been picked up by the US media….

On June 29, Eren Erdem of the CHP made a speech in the Turkish Parliament detailing evidence contained in 400 pages of documents about the government’s dealings with ISIS. He said ISIS had sleeper cells in fourteen Turkish towns and that the man behind the 2015 Ankara bombing was known to MIT, which had tapped his phones and watched as he facilitated the entrance of nearly 2,000 jihadis into Syria without arresting him even once.

Two months after Erdem’s speech, Turkey marched into Jarabulus to replace ISIS with FSA jihadis, who immediately began to attack the Syrian Kurds. The Turkish government has already been at war with the Kurds in its own southeast since last year, killing civilians and leveling towns on such a scale that a war crimes lawsuit has been filed in Germany. Why would they want to open a second front in Syria?

Because the Syrian Kurds were making too much progress.

On August 13, two weeks before the Turkish invasion, the SDF finally drove ISIS out of Manbij after a ferocious battle that lasted months. Residents of Manbij, mostly women and children, were ecstatic at being freed from ISIS, and soon pictures spread over the Internet of women burning their burqas and men cutting off their beards. The Rojava women’s liberation movement’s umbrella organization, Kongreya Star, collected stories of ISIS mistreatment and rushed to publish a report* calling for support from world feminists.

This was not the kind of liberation that Turkey and the FSA had in mind.

So on August 24, Turkey invaded Syria with its favorite FSA factions. The same day, at a joint press conference, Joe Biden ordered the Kurds to retreat from Manbij and stay out of Jarabulus or lose American military aid. No wonder they feel betrayed.

Under American pressure, the YPG-YPJ moved east of the Euphrates River just as Biden had told them to. General Votel said on August 30, “They have lived up to their commitment to us,” though that doesn’t mean the Kurds were happy about it. The YPG issued a statement saying that, having completed their mission of liberating Manbij, they had withdrawn their troops, leaving the city in the hands of the Manbij Military Council, which is largely Arab. This fact was confirmed by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Nevertheless, Erdogan continued to claim that the Kurds still held Manbij. With this excuse, Turkish-supported FSA forces attacked villages south of Jarabulus and, on August 31, Turkey began bombing YPG-YPJ headquarters in Afrin.

While many Western commentators see the conflict in ethnic or religious terms—Arab versus Kurd, Sunni versus secularist—clearly Erdogan sees no significant difference between the Rojava Kurds and any Arabs who support their paradigm of autonomy, pluralism, and feminism. Both are a threat to his dreams of regional Islamist hegemony. For this reason if no other, the Rojava revolution deserves the attention of anyone in the region looking for a way to move past wars, ethnic cleansing campaigns, theocracies, and dictatorships.

The Rojava revolution began in 2011, during the Syrian uprising, when 5,000 members of the People’s Democratic Union (PYD), a Syrian Kurdish party allied with Turkey’s banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), came home. They quickly consolidated a liberated area on the Syria-Turkey border consisting of three cantons: Cizire, Kobane, and Afrin. There they set up local councils and began to put into practice the feminist, democratic, and pluralist ideas advanced by jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan.

Founded in the 1970s as a classic Marxist national liberation movement with a strategy of people’s war, since the 1990s the PKK has transformed itself into a leading component of a Kurdish liberation movement able to combine self-defense with civil resistance, parliamentary work, and community organizing. It has also renounced its earlier goal of a separate Kurdish state, saying that it prefers regional autonomy in a democratic system. Its vision of social revolution is a powerfully democratic and pluralistic one in which women play a leading role, as they do in the Kurdish militias—every organization in Rojava must be at least 40 percent women, and all administration is led by co-chairs, one male and one female.

By [2015], the Pentagon had decided the Kurds were their only hope of a reliable ally in Syria, and decided to enlist them in building a new army to fight ISIS: the Syrian Democratic Forces, which united the YPG-YPJ with Arab militias, principally the “Euphrates Volcano,” made up of fighters who had escaped Raqqa after it was seized by ISIS. When the SDF liberated Tal Abyad in June 2015, it became possible to connect the two eastern Kurdish cantons of Kobane and Cizire, but the smallest canton, Afrin, far to the west, is still cut off by a strip of land controlled by ISIS—a strip containing both Manbij and Jarabulus. And Afrin is now under attack not only by ISIS but also by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra) and Turkey.

In addition, since the battle of Kobane, all three cantons have been starved of food, medical supplies, and building materials by a Turkish embargo on one border and an Iraqi Kurdish embargo by Massoud Barzani’s forces—which are Turkey’s allies and economic dependents—on the other. They have also been under constant attack by ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, and other Islamist militias. And Turkey is now trying to build a wall to isolate them further.

Very little about any of this has appeared in US mainstream media. One reason is the complexity and unfamiliarity of the story and the difficulty of access in a war zone—particularly since the Iraqi Kurds won’t let freelance reporters through their border checkpoint into Syria. A larger problem is that most commentators see the story through the lens of great-power politics and do not focus on changes happening on the ground in Rojava—particularly changes in ethnic relations and the position of women—and what these could mean for the region.

The United States is now being pressed by Turkey to disavow its alliance with the Kurds, but as General Votel said in an August 30 press conference, Kurdish fighters are too valuable. They are the only ground troops who have been able to defeat ISIS. But even if the Pentagon is committed to a military alliance with the Syrian Kurds, military support is not enough. Rojava is caring for hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees despite an embargo that prevents food and supplies from coming in. Its people deserve political, economic, and humanitarian support.

Military supporters of the Syrian Kurds should ask themselves, How much of their success is due to the fact that they do not lock women up or push them to the back? Rojava and PKK women not only have their own militias, some even lead units that include men. Since ISIS enslaves women, these units are highly motivated.

In the long term, wouldn’t it make sense for the United States, for once, to help a project that is actually progressive and democratic? Turkey is supporting the jihadis Washington says it wants to fight. So why should Washington keep bowing to Turkey’s hatred and fear of the Kurds? A strong and united Rojava could not only help defeat ISIS but could become an experimental model of pluralistic, democratic, and feminist policies for the entire Middle East.

That’s just what Turkey is afraid of.
* I haven’t included the numerous links in Tax’s article here, but this is the link to the report she describes.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Quotes of the day – Trump on “losers,” self-esteem, and revenge

“I have to tell you about losers. I love losers because they make me feel so good about myself.”

“Get even. If somebody screws you, you screw ‘em back ten times over. At least you can feel good about it. Boy, do I feel good.”
- Donald Trump, delivering a “motivational speech” to an audience in Colorado in 2005 (quoted in David Cay Johnston, The Making of Donald Trump, Chapter 3: “Personal Values”)

Mother Jones has a running feature called The Trump Files. Entries related to the quotes above include “Why Donald Called His 4-Year-Old Son a ‘Loser’,” “Donald Dumped Wine on an ‘Unattractive Reporter’,” and “When Donald Took Revenge by Cutting Off Health Coverage for a Sick Infant” (this episode is described in detail in Chapter 4 of Johnston’s book).

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Quote of the day - “Trumpism is inconsistent with emotionally healthy living”

From the Citizen Therapists’ Manifesto against Trumpism:
As psychotherapists practicing in the United States, we are alarmed by the rise of the ideology of Trumpism, which we see as a threat to the well-being of the people we care for and to American democracy itself. We cannot remain silent as we witness the rise of an American form of fascism. We can leverage this time of crisis to deepen our commitment to American democracy.

We must speak out for the well-being of people we treat and care for in our work. Trumpism will undermine the emotional health of those seen as the “other” in America—both historically denigrated groups and those whose turn will come. And it will compromise the integrity of those who are seduced by the illusion that real Americans can only become winners if others become losers. The public rhetoric of Trumpism normalizes what therapists work against in our work: the tendency to blame others in our lives for our personal fears and insecurities and then battle these others instead of taking the healthier but more difficult path of self-awareness and self-responsibility. It also normalizes a kind of hyper-masculinity that is antithetical to the examined life and healthy relationships that psychotherapy helps people achieve. Simply stated, Trumpism is inconsistent with emotionally healthy living—and we have to say so publicly.

We must speak out for the well-being of our democracy, which is both a way of living and acting together and a set of political institutions. Therapists have taken for granted how our work relies on a democratic tradition that gives people a sense of personal agency to create new narratives and take personal and collective responsibility for themselves, their families, and their communities. Reliance on a Strong Man who will solve our problems and deal with internal and external enemies is a direct threat to the democratic basis of psychotherapy. Therapy only flourishes on democratic soil.

…[A]s citizen therapists we stand united against the dangerous ideology of Trumpism, and we encourage others to join us in a deepened commitment to a democratic way of life that engages the talents, yearnings, and capacities of all the people.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saturday, July 16, 2016

PKK statement on Turkey coup attempt

From Kurdish Daily News:
BEHDINAN (ANF) – KCK Executive Council Co-Presidency released a statement about the coup attempt in Turkey.

The statement said; “There has been a coup attempt by persons whose identity and purpose is yet not clear. It grabs attention that this attempt comes at a time when Tayyip Erdoğan will reportedly assign generals close to himself during the military council meeting set to take place soon. The fact that this coup attempt has been made in a process that witnesses discussions on the fascist AKP government’s foreign policy, is another dimension of this coup.”


The statement by KCK reads; “No matter within which internal and external political factors and focuses, and for what reasons a power struggle is waged, this case is not a matter of defending or not defending democracy. On the contrary, this situation is the proof of lack of democracy in Turkey. Such power struggles and attempts to seize the power once possible, are witnessed in undemocratic countries where an authoritarian power makes coup attempts to overthrow another authoritarian power when conditions are appropriate. This is what has happened in Turkey.


One year ago, Tayyip Erdoğan and the Palace Gladio staged a coup on the June 7 election results by taking along the MHP, all the fascists, the nationalist military powers figured as Ergenekon and a part of the army. This was a palace coup against the democratic will revealed by the people. The AKP fascism made an alliance with all fascist powers and a part of the army including the Chief of Defence in order to suppress the Kurdish Freedom Movement and democracy powers. The AKP fascism drove the army into Kurdish cities and towns, made them burn the cities to the ground and massacre hundreds of civilians. Furthermore, it enacted laws to disallow the trial of the military for the crimes they have committed.


There already existed a military tutelage before the coup attempt made yesterday; which makes the current case an attempt of coup by a military faction against the existing military faction. This is the reason why those wanting the army to stage a coup so far have accepted the existing military tutelage and taken sides with Tayyip Erdoğan.

The fact that MHP and chauvinistic nationalist circles took sides with the Palace Gladio and its fascist allies reveals quite clearly that this is not an incident of struggle between those siding with democracy and those standing against it.


Portraying Tayyip Erdoğan and the fascist AKP dictator as if they were democratic after this coup attempt is an approach even more dangerous than the coup attempt itself. Portraying the fight for power among authoritarian, despotic and anti-democratic forces as a fight between the supporters and enemies of democracy would only serve to legitimize the existing fascist and despotic government.


Turkey does not have a civilian group in power, or a struggle of democracy forces against coup plotters. The current fight is on who should lead the current political system, which is the enemy of democracy and Kurdish people. Therefore, democracy forces do not side with either camp during these clashes.


If there is a coup against democracy, it is the one carried out by the fascist AKP government. Political power’s control over the judiciary, the implementation of fascist laws and policies through a parliamentarian majority, the removal of parliamentarians’ immunities, the arrest of co-mayors, the removal of co-mayors from their positions, and the imprisonment of thousands of politicians from the HDP and DBP constitute more of an actual coup. Kurdish people are under unprecedented genocidal, fascist, and colonialist attacks in Kurdistan.


What has brought Turkey to this stage is the AKP government, which has transformed into a government of war against Kurdish people and the forces of democracy. With its monistic, hegemonic and anti-democratic character, it has kept Turkey in chaos and conflict. With its war against Kurdish people and the forces of democracy, it has kept Turkey in a state of civil war. The latest coup attempt shows that Turkey needs to get rid of the fascist AKP government and have a democratic government. The recent developments make it urgent for Turkey to democratize and get rid of its monist, hegemonic and fascist government.

Within this framework, forces of democracy should stand up against the legitimization of the fascist AKP government’s policies under the disguise of democracy, and create a democratic alliance that would democratize Turkey. This coup attempt makes it necessary for us to not slow down the struggle against AKP fascism but to enhance it so that chaos and clashes in Turkey come to an end and a new and democratic Turkey emerges.
This article is also worth reading.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Interlude – Morning Dew

Something I like about this – gives the song a different inflection.

Quote of the day – “Resist, My People, Resist Them”

Resist, My People, Resist Them

Resist, my people, resist them.

In Jerusalem, I dressed my wounds and breathed my sorrows

And carried the soul in my palm

For an Arab Palestine.

I will not succumb to the “peaceful solution,”

Never lower my flags

Until I evict them from my land.

I cast them aside for a coming time.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the settler’s robbery

And follow the caravan of martyrs.

Shred the disgraceful constitution

Which imposed degradation and humiliation

And deterred us from restoring justice.

They burned blameless children;

As for Hadil, they sniped her in public,

Killed her in broad daylight.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist the colonialist’s onslaught.

Pay no mind to his agents among us

Who chain us with the peaceful illusion.

Do not fear doubtful tongues;

The truth in your heart is stronger,

As long as you resist in a land

That has lived through raids and victory.

So Ali called from his grave:

Resist, my rebellious people.

Write me as prose on the agarwood;

My remains have you as a response.

Resist, my people, resist them.

Resist, my people, resist them.
This is an English translation of the work by Palestinian poet Dareen Tatour for which she was arrested by the Israeli government for alleged “incitement to violence,” jailed, and then placed under house arrest with no internet access. Her next hearing is on Monday. She faces a five-year prison sentence.

A petition to free Tatour organized by Jewish Voice for Peace and Adalah-NY has been signed by numerous Pulitzer and Guggenheim recipients.

In the US, the rightists in the Democratic Party are doing their best to support and conceal the crimes of the Israeli government.

True to form, though, the Republicans have managed to be worse.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Historical quotes of the day – Ours!

“Persian oil is yours. We share the oil of Iraq and Kuwait. As for Saudi Arabian oil, it’s ours.”
– FDR to Lord Halifax, 1944, quoted in Perry Anderson, American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers, Chapter 5, note 9
“Abadan and Suez are important to the local peoples only in terms of their amour propre… To us, some of these things are important in a much more serious sense, and for reasons that today are sounder and better and more defensible than they ever were in history. To retain these facilities and positions we can use today only one thing: military strength, backed by the resolution and courage to use it.”
– George Kennan to Secretary of State Dean Acheson, 1952, quoted in Perry Anderson, American Foreign Policy and Its Thinkers, Chapter 5, note 10

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Terrible dissent – for the record, “ethics” and “morality” aren’t synonyms for “religion”

The dissent by Justice Alito, joined by Thomas and Roberts, in Stormans v. Wiesman is disturbing for a number of reasons. It’s poorly argued, and simply wrong. The line drawn between this case and Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. Hialeah is based on truly weak reasoning. As Mark Joseph Stern suggests, the implications of the dissent are concerning: “If this unholy trinity ever managed to rewrite the First Amendment this way, they could effectively bar states from protecting women, gays, and other minorities from religious-based discrimination.”

Here’s the background:
Ralph’s Thriftway is a grocery store and pharmacy in Washington run by a religious family. It is not a church, or a church-affiliated nonprofit; it is a for-profit business, created and designed to make money for the Stormans. But the Stormans family are devout Christians who believe that Plan B is “tantamount to abortion” and thus refuse to stock it. For years, when customers came to the pharmacy seeking emergency contraception, the Stormans turned them away.

But in 2007, the Washington State Board of Pharmacy issued new regulations declaring that a pharmacy may not “refuse to deliver a drug or device to a patient because its owner objects to delivery on religious, moral, or other personal grounds.” Quite reasonably, the board felt Washington pharmacies should not be permitted to deny patients safe, legal drugs—which was a growing problem within the state: In addition to Plan B, religious pharmacists had refused to give patients diabetic syringes, insulin, HIV-related medications, and Valium. That, the board decided, was unacceptable. Pharmacists have every right to believe whatever they wish, but when those beliefs are manifested in the form of brazen discrimination against customers, they cannot be sanctioned by the law. In 2015, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the constitutionality of Washington’s regulation.
The most shocking aspect of the dissent, in my view, was its complete conflation of ethics and morality with religion. (To be perfectly clear, when I’m discussing ethics and morality here I mean the spheres or categories.) The dissent’s argument is based on the assumption that these categories are essentially synonymous. Alito argues that the regulations and the ruling effectively discriminate against religion (and intentionally so) because they allow for “secular” exceptions in which a pharmacy doesn’t have to stock or dispense certain drugs or devices but expressly disallow religious ones. He repeats and highlights the words “moral” and “moral beliefs” throughout the dissent as though they supported his contention that “the regulations…are improperly designed to stamp out religious objectors” (p. 9):
As Steven Saxe, the Board’s executive director, explained at the time: “‘[T]he public, legislators and governor are telling us loud and clear that they expect the rule to protect the public from unwanted intervention based on the moral beliefs . . . of a pharmacist.’” Ibid. “‘[T]he moral issue IS the basis of the concern.’” Ibid. Saxe, a primary drafter of the regulations, recognized that the task was “‘to draft language to allow facilitating a referral for only these non-moral or non-religious reasons.’” Ibid. He suggested that making an express “‘statement that does not allow a pharmacist/pharmacy the right to refuse for moral or religious judgment’” might be a “‘clearer’” way to “‘leave intact the ability to decline to dispense . . . for most legitimate examples raised; clinical, fraud, business, skill, etc.’” Ibid. And in the end, that is what the Board did. While the regulations themselves do not expressly single out religiously motivated referrals, the Board’s guidance accompanying the regulations does: “The rule,” it warns, “does not allow a pharmacy to refer a patient to another pharmacy to avoid filling the prescription due to moral or ethical objections.” SER 1248 (emphasis added). (p. 4)
Note especially this last quote. The regulations, he acknowledges, don’t single out religious judgments, but disallow refusals based on “moral or ethical objections.” Here Alito is either trying to convince the reader that “moral or ethical” are equivalent to “religious” or expressing this as his own belief. Indeed, Alito states that “While requiring pharmacies to dispense all prescription medications for which there is demand, the regulations contain broad secular exceptions but none relating to religious or moral objections.” He quotes the District Court’s findings that “the rules exempt pharmacies and pharmacists from stocking and delivering lawfully prescribed drugs for an almost unlimited variety of secular reasons [sic], but fail to provide exemptions for reasons of conscience.” Secular here is set in opposition – both by Alito and by the District Court - not only to religious but to moral and to reasons of conscience.

This distinction between religious/moral/ethical and secular is of course absurd, and I assume thousands of Philosophy departments would have something say about it. Alito provides a few of the accepted “secular” reasons for exceptions to the regulations – related to financial or equipment-related issues, suspicions of fraud, nonpayment, and so forth. I don’t think anywhere in the dissent does he offer a single example of a non-religious objection that would be considered a matter of ethics, morality, or personal beliefs. I can provide one easily: I don’t believe psychiatric drugs (or at least the vast majority) should be dispensed to children. The evidence shows that the biopsychiatric diagnosis of children is quackery, the drugs themselves are often highly harmful and dangerous, and children aren’t able to give informed consent or to refuse. I see the psychiatric drugging of children as a form of abuse, if often an unintentional one.

So if I were a pharmacist, I think it would be unethical for me to dispense them for children. This judgment is based on evidence, and is in no way religious, but it certainly falls under the category of a moral or ethical objection or one based on my personal beliefs. And it would not be a justified exception to the Washington regulations. I could protest pharmacies that dispensed these drugs for children; I can fight for a general ban on their use on children; and, were I a pharmacist or owner of a pharmacy, I could resign or close up shop rather than dispense these drugs to children, as a form of civil disobedience that I would expect to have serious personal consequences. But what I would not expect is that my personal objections would be protected by law.

Moral or ethical refusals, those based on personal beliefs, are not constitutionally defensible justifications to refuse to stock or dispense legal and legally prescribed drugs or devices. This is true regardless of whether that moral objection is purely religious, not at all religious, or any combination thereof. In one sense, the invocation of religion by Alito (it probably needed to be mentioned explicitly in the regulations since the vast majority of, if not all, refusals – including that at issue in this case – were made explicitly on the basis of religious faith, and because religious judgments are often disingenuously claimed as medically or sociologically grounded) is a red herring. A business can’t refuse to provide a legal service on these grounds whether that refusal is religiously inspired or not.

But the staggering aspect of this dissent is its attempt to seamlessly join religion to ethics and morality as the basis for the argument that the regulations discriminate against religion and thus run afoul of the First Amendment. The irony is that the dissent itself raises First Amendment issues. That Supreme Court justices could present arguments so unsound is more than disappointing; the assumptions underlying their argument speak to a religious bias among these men that is itself arguably anti-constitutional. The inability or refusal of Supreme Court judges even to recognize the existence of secular ethics and their readiness to equate morality and religion are astonishing, and could amount to a state recognition of religion.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Quote of the day – “The enemy stands on the Right”

“There stands the enemy (to the right), who drips his poison in the wounds of the people – There stands the enemy – and about that there is no doubt: the enemy stands on the Right!”
These are the concluding words of an impassioned speech by Joseph Wirth in the German Reichstag in the aftermath of the murder of Walter Rathenau by an organization of nationalist thugs in 1922.* According to Wikipedia:
Rathenau’s assassination was but one in a series of terrorist attacks by Organisation Consul. Most notable among them had been the assassination of former finance minister Matthias Erzberger in August 1921. While Fischer and Kern prepared their plot, former chancellor Philipp Scheidemann barely survived an attempt on his life by Organisation Consul assassins on 4 June 1922. Historian Martin Sabrow points to Hermann Ehrhardt, the undisputed leader of the Organisation Consul, as the one who ordered the murders. Ehrhardt and his men believed that Rathenau’s death would bring down the government and prompt the Left to act against the Weimar Republic, thereby provoking civil war, in which the Organisation Consul would be called on for help by the Reichswehr. After an anticipated victory Ehrhardt hoped to establish an authoritarian regime or a military dictatorship. In order not to be completely delegitimized by the murder of Rathenau, Ehrhardt carefully saw to it that no connections between him and the assassins could be detected. Although Fischer and Kern connected with the Berlin chapter of the Organisation Consul to use its resources, they mainly acted on their own in planning and carrying out the assassination.

The terrorists’ aims were not achieved, however, and civil war did not come. Instead, millions of Germans gathered on the streets to express their grief and to demonstrate against counter-revolutionary terrorism….

…Initially, the reactions to Rathenau’s assassination strengthened the Weimar Republic. The most notable reaction was the enactment of the Republikschutzgesetz (Law for the Defense of the Republic), which took effect on 22 July 1922. As long as the Weimar Republic existed, the date 24 June remained a day of public commemorations. In public memory, Rathenau’s death increasingly appeared to be a martyr-like sacrifice for democracy.

Things changed with the Nazi seizure of power in 1933. The Nazis systematically wiped out public commemoration of Rathenau by destroying monuments to him, closing the Walther-Rathenau-Museum in his former mansion, and renaming streets and schools dedicated to him. Instead, a memorial plate to Kern and Fischer was solemnly unveiled at Saaleck Castle in July 1933 and in October 1933, a monument was erected on the assassins’ grave.
* Quoted in Eric P. Weitz, Weimar Germany: Promise and Tragedy, 2007, p. 100.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Quote of the day – on arguing with bigots

“Do not think that antisemites are completely unaware of the absurdity of these answers. They know that their statements are empty and contestable; but it amuses them to make such statements: it is their adversary whose duty it is to choose his words seriously because he believes in words. They have a right to play. They even like to play with speech because while putting forth ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutor; they are enchanted with their unfairness because for them it is not a question of persuading by good argument but of intimidating or disorienting. If you insist too much, they close up, they point out with one superb word that the time to argue has passed. Not that they are afraid of being convinced: their only fear is that they will look ridiculous or that their embarrassment will make a bad impression on a third party whom they want to get on their side. Thus if the antisemite is impervious, as everyone has been able to observe, to reason and experience, it is not because his conviction is so strong, but rather his conviction is strong because he has chosen to be impervious.”
- Jean-Paul Sartre, “Portrait of the Anti-Semite”

Thursday, June 9, 2016

“Put Your Hands Up”

Quote of the day – interests and truth

“There are always groups whose interest is furthered by truth, and their representatives have been the pioneers of human thought; there are other groups whose interests are furthered by concealing truth. Only in the latter case does interest prove harmful to the cause of truth. The problem, therefore, is not that there is an interest at stake, but which kind of interest is at stake.”
– Erich Fromm, Escape from Freedom, p. 248

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Monday, May 30, 2016

Quote of the day – Trump reality vs. Trump illusion

“Although Donald’s business career is marked by early successes overshadowed by later, repeated failures, flirtations with personal bankruptcy, sequential corporate bankruptcies, the squandering of billions of dollars, and the safety cushion of a multimillion-dollar inheritance from his wealthy father, he is prime-time TV’s most sought-after and enchanting guru for aspiring entrepreneurs. Donald is the country’s premier embodiment of the self-made man.” – Timothy L. O’Brien, TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald (2005)
I highly recommend Chapter 8, “TrumpSpin,” to members of the media.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Quote of the day - The City without Jews

“A human wall encircled the beautiful, calm, and noble parliament building. The wall extended from the city’s university and went all the way up to the Bellaria. This one morning in June at 10 o’clock, it seemed that the whole of Vienna had gathered to witness a historical event of unprecedented magnitude…. And again and again, an excited one would step forward and address the audience around him; and again and again, the same call could be heard:

‘Out with the Jews!’

…Suddenly, the masses cried out with one voice:

‘Let’s cheer for Dr. Karl Schwertfeger: hip, hip, hooray! Long live the liberator of Austria!’

…‘You’ll immediately hear what will happen. Our chancellor Dr. Karl Schwertfeger will explain meticulously the “Deportation of all Non-Aryan People from Austria Act’…

…‘Ladies and Gentlemen! I am here to introduce an act and an amendment to the constitution which together will do nothing less than to enforce the deportation of the non-Aryan, Jewish population of Austria.

…Throughout my five years as party leader, the so called liberal press and the social democratic press alike, or, in other words, all the newspapers published by Jews have tried to make me look like some sort of boogeyman. They portrayed me as an angry anti-Semite and as a fanatic hater of Judaism and the Jews. Today, now that the power of the press has come to an irrevocable end, I feel the urge to declare that all of this talk is nonsense. Oh, yes, I’m brave enough today to stand here on this very platform and to declare that I’m a friend of the Jews rather than their enemy!

…Yes, Ladies and Gentlemen, I cherish the Jews. …I am prepared to admire the down-to-earth Jewish virtues, their extraordinary intelligence, their efforts to climb the social ladder, their exemplary sense of family, their internationality, and their ability to adapt to any milieu!

…Nonetheless, that’s exactly the reason why, with time, I came to believe that we, the non-Jews, can no longer live amongst and with the Jews. It’s either hook or crook. We have to either lose our Christian ways, our very essence, or renounce the Jews.

…They’ve taken control over our economy, our spiritual and our cultural life.

…And now that we hold the power in our hands, we’d be fools, no, our own enemies and the enemies of our children if we did not make use of this power and drive away the small minority that is destroying us. This has nothing to do with catchphrases and slogans such as “humanity,” “justice,” and “tolerance,” but with our mere existence, our very lives, and the lives of future generations!’

…And 10.000 throats answered from the street: ‘Out with the Jews!’

Dr. Schwertfeger let the excitement fade out, received handshakes from his fellow ministers, and then started talking about how the law would be implemented. One would proceed with utmost care and fairness and in accordance with the demands of humanity and the terms of the League of Nations….” - Hugo Bettauer, The City without Jews (1922)
The City without Jews is a satirical work describing the unforeseen consequences of the deportation of Jewish people from Austria. It’s not a great work of literature but it is a short, lively story with some darkly funny moments.* That it was written as political satire with no knowledge of what was to happen in Austria or to the author himself and the comedic treatment of the situation and the leading anti-Semites (allegedly based on real political figures) make it a difficult book to read. Its prescient details – the greeting “Heil!” gains popularity after the deportations, for example – leave a knot in your throat.

In an interesting coincidence, two of the characters who are government representatives are Secretary of the Treasury Trumm and Privy Councilor Tumpel, who argues shortly after the expulsion that “the Indogermanic naivety of our people ventures out again!”

In 1925, following open calls for his death in Austrian Nazi publications and the release of the Expressionist film based on the popular book, Bettauer was murdered by a young Nazi named Otto Rothstock. Pleading insanity, Rothstock was sent to a psychiatric institution, from which he was released within months.

* I’ve read some reviews suggesting that Bettauer at times falls into anti-Semitic stereotypes, but I believe they’re missing the point. As a satirist Bettauer – a Jewish man who converted to Evangelicalism in his late teens, possibly to try for a career in the Austrian military – was likely using and exaggerating these stereotypes for comedic and critical effect. This would seem to be confirmed by the stereotypes of Austrian Christians, who often state themselves that they have to expel the smart and adaptable Jews for whom, in their honest simplicity, they’re no match. Some of the funniest moments are in the descriptions of Vienna in the months and years after the Jews have been deported – style, glamour, and sophistication gone; the city giving way to “ruralization”; women wearing dirndl skirts (“which, indeed, look very nice when worn in the open country. Here, they looked like a bad joke or caricature”); cultural establishments turned into beer halls; businesses going to pot; and so on. I think what Bettauer is trying to do is to show how the anti-Semitic stereotypes implied a contrasting, and amusingly stereotypical, picture of non-Jewish Austrians.

Recommended: Wild Tales (2014)

I loved this film despite hating its underlying premise.

As the title suggests, and the opening credits make explicit, Wild Tales is based on the notion that we’re a heartbeat away from “regressing” to our animal nature. As expected, this nature is characterized by: violence, vengeance, irrationality, lust, the reflexive defense of kin and tribe, greed, and gluttony.

This sort of speciesism – which itself underlies a great deal of racism, sexism, and political repression - we can and should avoid, particularly in works that aspire to political satire or social criticism. Director Damián Szifrón has discussed the film’s theme:
Despite the clear common theme of violence and vengeance, what connects the accounts, according to the director, is ‘the fuzzy boundary that separates civilization from barbarism, the vertigo of losing your temper, and the undeniable pleasure of losing control’. This is explored through the concept that human beings have animalistic features. Szifron considers the main difference between human and animals is the capacity one has to restrain oneself as opposed to animals who are guided by their instincts. Humans ‘have a fight or flee mechanism, but it comes with a very high cost. Most of us live with the frustration of having to repress oneself, but some people explode. This is a movie about those who explode’. It deals with ‘daily life’ aspects and ‘is a movie about the desire for freedom, and how this lack of freedom, and the rage and anguish it produces, can cause us to run off the rails’. The main issue, according to Szifron, ‘is the pleasure of reacting, the pleasure of reacting toward injustice’. (my emphasis)
The Freudian distinction between a repressed “civilization” and a “barbarous” freedom, in addition to isolating the human characters with their alleged instincts and drives, presents an obstacle to working out a real approach to political freedom and social justice. As I said, I loved the film, but it could have been a much stronger work of art, a stinging and biting social satire, had it questioned and challenged received wisdom about “civilization” and “barbarism,” “human” and “animal,” rather than reproducing it.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Friday, May 20, 2016

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Quote of the day – hammock literature

This one hits a little too close to home.
…Literature? Yes. Hammock literature. Literature made of sugar and vanilla. Tourist literature. The Blue Travel Guide and General Confederation of Labor. Poetry, not in the least.

…And this:
Oh father of my father, you were standing there before
my soul which had not been born and, under the wind
the dispatch boats glided into the colonial night
Come on now, real poetry lies elsewhere. Far from rhymes, laments, sea breezes, parrots. Stiff and stout bamboos changing direction, we decree the death of sappy, sentimental, folkloric literature. And to hell with hibiscus, frangipani, and bougainvillea.

Martinican poetry will be cannibal or it will not be.
- Suzanne Césaire, “Poetic Destitution,” Tropiques, no. 4, January 1942 (quoted in Suzanne Césaire, The Great Camouflage: Writings of Dissent (1941-1945))

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Noam Chomsky on Democracy Now!

“We should recognize—if we were honest, we would say something that sounds utterly shocking and no doubt will be taken out of context and lead to hysteria on the part of the usual suspects, but the fact of the matter is that today’s Republican Party qualify as candidates for the most dangerous organization in human history.”

If you prefer, you can read the transcripts here and here.

Recommended: Testament of Youth

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Interlude – “Personal Revolution”

I hear women. Where are they?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Monday, April 25, 2016

Just who does she think she’s fooling? – Dana Frank on Hillary Clinton’s role in the destruction of Honduran democracy and lives

“Look, you, maybe you've got everyone around here fooled with this saint act you have going, but do not ever speak to me again like we don't know what really happened, you got me?” – Tess McGill in Working Girl

By the way, I wrote at the time in 2009 (and linked to more) contesting the mendacity of Clinton pet and Honduran-oligarchy mouthpiece Lanny Davis.

Quote of the day – “Why is this disconnect not more obvious to… everyone?”

“People of progressive (and ‘feminist’) mindsets have always been quick to assure me (and others who’ve been sexually assaulted) that we can’t be blamed for what happened to us, regardless of how we were dressed, how much we drank, or the places we put ourselves in. No, they declare that showing our bodies, refusing to disguise our breasts, walking down dark streets, or trusting men in our lives to not take advantage of our intoxicated states… these are no justification for what happened to us. And, they stand on ready to rise up in outrage toward anyone who might disagree.

Yet, often those very same people have been equally quick to blame the distress I experienced as a result of that abuse on a ‘mental illness’ caused (they said) by a chemical imbalance or other biological problem in my head. And, I want to be very clear about something at this point. Blaming the distress that resulted from the physical, emotional and sexual trauma I experienced on a brain illness effectively gives those who directly hurt me a pass.

Blaming me for the results of the act of rape bears no real difference from blaming me for the act itself – except that people tend to understand one within the framework of ‘sexism’ (systemic oppression) and the other within the framework of ‘mental illness’ (biological disease).

Yes, by calling ‘mental illness,’ these folks blamed me – the ‘victim’ – for the impact of the violence that I suffered. This is the very thing they tried so vehemently to counter when in a ‘sexism’ frame of mind. Why is this disconnect not more obvious to… everyone?”
– Sera Davidow, “Dear Self-proclaimed Progressives, Liberals and Humanitarians: You’ve Really Messed This One Up”

“An important precedent for both solidarity with Palestine and for union democracy”

New York University’s Graduate Student Organizing Committee votes to join BDS.

(For shame, UAW and New York state legislators.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Interlude – Orchestre Debout

Recommended: Sherpa

Tremendous documentary, now on the Discovery Channel. (One aspect I emphatically do not recommend are the subtitles. Why anyone would place small white subtitles with no box behind them over a snowy, icy landscape is beyond me.)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Interlude – “Flat-Foot Floogie”

Interlude – “Life by the Drop”

Quotes of the day – Kipling and Sartre – different paths

“The centrepiece of Kipling’s life was a refusal to look within, an aggressive ‘anti-intraception’ which forced him to avoid all deep conflicts, and prevented him from separating human problems from ethnic stereotypes. Remarkably extraversive, his work stressed all forms of collectivity, and saw the bonds of race and blood as more important than person-to-person relationships. As if their author, he hoped that the restlessness and occasional depression that had dogged him since the Southsea days could be driven off-scent by the extraversive search for cultural roots, through the service he was rendering to the imperial authority. He lived and died fighting his other self – a softer, more creative and happier self – and the uncertainty and self-hatred associated with it.” – Ashis Nandy, The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self under Colonialism, pp. 69-70
“That Sartre had a real influence on a generation of young people, largely but far from exclusively students, who grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, not only in France but throughout the world, seems impossible to deny. M.-A. Burnier, who was deeply influenced by Sartre before repudiating him, recalled the end of Sartre’s story ‘L’Enfance d’un chef’,* where Lucien, having found that anti-Semitism had given him a meaning in life, decided to grow a moustache. He asked: ‘Is it an exaggeration to claim that Sartre has prevented a good many Lucien Fleuriers from letting their moustaches grow?’ If even that were true, it would be no mean achievement.” – Ian H. Birchall, Sartre against Stalinism, p. 222
*I’ve discussed this work here.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Interlude – “La Maza”

Quotes of the day – Nuit debout

Various committees have sprung up to debate a new constitution, society, work, and how to occupy the square with more permanent wooden structures on a nightly basis. Whiteboards list the evening’s discussions and activities – from debates on economics to media training for the demonstrators. “No hatred, no arms, no violence,” was the credo described by the “action committee”.

“This must be a perfect mini-society,” a member of the gardening committee told the crowd. A poetry committee has been set up to document and create the movement’s slogans. “Every movement needs its artistic and literary element,” said the poet who proposed it.

Demonstrators regularly help other protest movements, such as a bank picket over revelations in the Panama Papers or a demonstration against migrant evictions in the north of Paris.
Eloïse est professeure de physique-chimie dans un collège. Elle arpente la place de la République avec un panneau annonçant « Sciences debout : posez-moi vos questions ». Pourquoi cette démarche ? « Parce que la science est à tout le monde », sourit-elle. Avec ce vaste espoir de réappropriation (de l’espace, de la parole et du pouvoir) qu’incarne la Nuit debout, Eloïse ne voit pas pourquoi sa discipline resterait « cantonnée dans un laboratoire », victime d’une image élitiste.

The Invitation

Truly tense and suspenseful. Fascinating premise. Psychologically and culturally rich.

(I had a choice between two bad trailers – one that gives too much away and one that leaves you with almost no sense of what the movie’s about. I went with the latter.)

Thursday, April 7, 2016

HIGHLY recommended: Empire of Capital (2003)

“‘[A]nti-capitalist’ movements [targeting corporations and transnational institutions like the IMF and World Bank] have been effective in bringing to light the devastating effects of ‘globalization’, especially in capturing the attention of the advanced [sic] capitalist world, which has long ignored the consequences of global capitalism. They have raised the consciousness of many people throughout the world, and they have offered the promise of new oppositional forces. But it may be that it some respects they are based on faulty premises. The conviction that global corporations are the ultimate source of globalization’s evils, and that the power of global capital is politically represented above all in supranational institutions like the WTO, may be based on the assumption that global capitalism behaves the way it does because it is global, rather than (or more than) because it is capitalist. The principle task for oppositional forces, it seems, is to target the instruments of capital’s global reach rather than to challenge the capitalist system itself.

In fact, many participants in movements of this kind are not so much anti-capitalist as anti-‘globalization’, or perhaps anti-neoliberal, or even just opposed to particularly malignant corporations. They assume that the detrimental effects of the capitalist system can be eliminated by taming global corporations or by making them more ‘ethical’, ‘responsible’, and socially conscious.

But even those who are more inclined to oppose the capitalist system itself may assume that the more global the capitalist economy becomes, the more global the political organization of capital will be. So, if globalization has made the national state increasingly irrelevant, anti-capitalist struggles must move immediately beyond the nation state, to the global institutions where the power of global capital truly lies.

We need to examine these assumptions critically, but not because anti-capitalist movements are wrong in their conviction that transnational corporations are doing great damage and need to be challenged, or that the WTO and the IMF are doing the work of global capital – which is certainly true. Nor are these movements wrong in their internationalism or their insistence on solidarity among oppositional forces throughout the world.* We need to scrutinize the relation between global capital and national states because even the effectiveness of international solidarity depends on an accurate assessment of the forces available to capital and those accessible to opposition.” – Ellen Meiksins Wood, Empire of Capital, pp. 137-139
There are so many insightful articles, books, and films about corporate misdeeds, the destructiveness of transnational agencies, the culture and psychology of colonialism, and the history of US overt and covert foreign intervention. But too often they lack a firm appreciation of the economic forces at work (some otherwise useful books don’t even list capitalism in the index).** Meanwhile, good, readable general books on capitalist imperialism are hard to find.

Understanding capitalism’s tendencies and imperatives and how they shape political culture, domestic and foreign policy, and global power relations is indispensable for addressing every issue today. As the quote above suggests, it’s also essential for anyone fighting for a better, radically different world.

Ellen Meiksins Wood’s Empire of Capital - written as the Bush administration prepared the US invasion of Iraq - is the rare work that can help people develop such an understanding. If I were teaching these days, I would assign it. Refreshingly minimalist (I don’t know if it contains a single extraneous sentence), beautifully organized, and free of jargon, it makes its case clearly and thoughtfully. A book like this doesn’t, of course, replace more targeted studies, but it crucially contextualizes them.

* The insistence on solidarity seems to have been decreasing in recent years, leaving some struggles against, for example, trade policy open to exploitation or cooptation by nationalist and imperialist forces.

** This isn’t to argue that the authors themselves lack this appreciation, although this is sometimes the case. What’s important is that the arguments aren’t adequately situated within the capitalist context.