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