Why Everything You’ve Read About Syria and Iraq Could Be Wrong

WORLD
Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned skepticism.

Emergency responders following a reported barrel bomb attack by government forces in the Al-Muasalat area in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo on November 6, 2014

The Iraqi army, backed by US-led airstrikes, is trying to capture east Mosul at the same time as the Syrian army and its Shia paramilitary allies are fighting their way into east Aleppo. An estimated 300 civilians have been killed in Aleppo by government artillery and bombing in the last fortnight, and in Mosul there are reportedly some 600 civilian dead over a month.

Despite these similarities, the reporting by the international media of these two sieges is radically different.

In Mosul, civilian loss of life is blamed on Isis, with its indiscriminate use of mortars and suicide bombers, while the Iraqi army and their air support are largely given a free pass. Isis is accused of preventing civilians from leaving the city so they can be used as human shields.

Contrast this with Western media descriptions of the inhuman savagery of President Assad’s forces indiscriminately slaughtering civilians regardless of whether they stay or try to flee. The UN chief of humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, suggested this week that the rebels in east Aleppo were stopping civilians departing – but unlike Mosul, the issue gets little coverage.

One factor making the sieges of east Aleppo and east Mosul so similar, and different, from past sieges in the Middle East, such as the Israeli siege of Beirut in 1982 or of Gaza in 2014, is that there are no independent foreign journalists present. They are not there for the very good reason that Isis imprisons and beheads foreigners while Jabhat al-Nusra, until recently the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, is only a shade less bloodthirsty and generally holds them for ransom.

These are the two groups that dominate the armed opposition in Syria as a whole. In Aleppo, though only about 20 per cent of the 10,000 fighters are Nusra, it is they – along with their allies in Ahrar al-Sham – who are leading the resistance.

Unsurprisingly, foreign journalists covering developments in east Aleppo and rebel-held areas of Syria overwhelmingly do so from Lebanon or Turkey. A number of intrepid correspondents who tried to do eyewitness reporting from rebel-held areas swiftly found themselves tipped into the boots of cars or otherwise incarcerated.

Experience shows that foreign reporters are quite right not to trust their lives even to the most moderate of the armed opposition inside Syria. But, strangely enough, the same media organisations continue to put their trust in the veracity of information coming out of areas under the control of these same potential kidnappers and hostage takers. They would probably defend themselves by saying they rely on non-partisan activists, but all the evidence is that these can only operate in east Aleppo under license from the al-Qaeda-type groups.

It is inevitable that an opposition movement fighting for its life in wartime will only produce, or allow to be produced by others, information that is essentially propaganda for its own side. The fault lies not with them but a media that allows itself to be spoon-fed with dubious or one-sided stories.

For instance, the film coming out of east Aleppo in recent weeks focuses almost exclusively on heartrending scenes of human tragedy such as the death or maiming of civilians. One seldom sees shots of the 10,000 fighters, whether they are wounded or alive and well.

None of this is new. The present wars in the Middle East started with the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 which was justified by the supposed threat from Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Western journalists largely went along with this thesis, happily citing evidence from the Iraqi opposition who predictably confirmed the existence of WMD.

Some of those who produced these stories later had the gall to criticise the Iraqi opposition for misleading them, as if they had any right to expect unbiased information from people who had dedicated their lives to overthrowing Saddam Hussein or, in this particular case, getting the Americans to do so for them.

Much the same self-serving media credulity was evident in Libya during the 2011 Nato-backed uprising against Muammar Gaddafi.

Atrocity stories emanating from the Libyan opposition, many of which were subsequently proved to be baseless by human rights organisations, were rapidly promoted to lead the news, however partial the source.

The Syrian war is especially difficult to report because Isis and various al-Qaeda clones made it too dangerous to report from within opposition-held areas. There is a tremendous hunger for news from just such places, so the temptation is for the media give credence to information they get second hand from people who could in practice only operate if they belong to or are in sympathy with the dominant jihadi opposition groups.

It is always a weakness of journalists that they pretend to excavate the truth when in fact they are the conduit rather than the originator of information produced by others in their own interests. Reporters learn early that people tell them things because they are promoting some cause which might be their own career or related to bureaucratic infighting or, just possibly, hatred of lies and injustice.

A word here in defense of the humble reporter in the field: usually, it is not he or she, but the home office or media herd instinct, that decides the story of the day. Those closest to the action may be dubious about some juicy tale which is heading the news, but there is not much they can do about it.

Thus, in 2002 and 2003, several New York Times journalists wrote stories casting doubt on WMD only to find them buried deep inside the newspaper which was led by articles proving that Saddam had WMD and was a threat to the world.

Journalists and public alike should regard all information about Syria and Iraq with reasoned skepticism. They should keep in mind the words of Lakhdar Brahimi, the former UN and Arab League Special Envoy to Syria. Speaking after he had resigned in frustration in 2014, he said that “everybody had their agenda and the interests of the Syrian people came second, third or not at all”.

The quote comes from The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East by Christopher Phillips, which is one of the best informed and non-partisan accounts of the Syrian tragedy yet published. He judiciously weighs the evidence for rival explanations for what happened and why. He understands the degree to which the agenda and pace events in Syria were determined externally by the intervention of foreign powers pursuing their own interests.

Overall, government experts did better than journalists, who bought into simple-minded explanations of developments, convinced that Assad was always on the verge of being overthrown.

Phillips records that at a high point of the popular uprising in July 2011, when the media was assuming that Assad was finished, that the long-serving British ambassador in Damascus, Simon Collis, wrote that “Assad can still probably count on the support of 30-40 per cent of the population.”

The French ambassador Eric Chevallier was similarly cautious, only to receive a classic rebuke from his masters in Paris who said: “Your information does not interest us. Bashar al-Assad must fall and will fall.”

Patrick Cockburn is a Middle East Correspondent for the Independent. He has written four books on Iraq’s recent history—The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the Sunni Revolution, Muqtada al-Sadr and the Fall of Iraq, The Occupation, and Saddam Hussein: An American Obsession (with Andrew Cockburn)—as well as a memoir, The Broken Boy and, with his son, a book on schizophrenia, Henry’s Demons, which was shortlisted for a Costa Award. 

http://www.alternet.org/world/why-everything-youve-read-about-syria-and-iraq-could-be-wrong?akid=14961.265072.IftxtM&rd=1&src=newsletter1068352&t=16

Historians on comparing fascism to Trumpism

Should we even go there? 

Recent events around the world have prompted debate about the historical parallels between our times and the period preceding the second world war

Trumpism: ‘The parallel universe of lies which are habitual, massive, cumulative’.
Trumpism: ‘The parallel universe of lies which are habitual, massive, cumulative.’ Illustration: Rob Dobi

Last Thursday, an 89-year-old Auschwitz survivor recorded a video which promptly went viral. She compared “the humiliation, the demonization of others” and “the attempt to bring out the worst traits in people” in contemporary Austrian politics to her own experience of fascism. Gertrude – her last name has been withheld – lost her entire family in the Holocaust. Her testimony has now been watched more than three million times.

On Sunday, Gertrude’s compatriots will vote for their next president. Norbert Hofer, the far-right candidate whose anti-immigration party was set up by a former SS officer, looks set to win.

Across Europe, a wave of hyper-nationalist politicians is threatening to splinter the European Union, with Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France waiting in the wings. In the US, many Americans are still figuring out how they’re going to face the next four years of a president elected after a campaign built on racism, anti-intellectualism, misogyny and truth distortion; his suggestion of a register for Muslims horrified many. It also prompted comparisons – some of them lazy, some of them astute – between the 1930s and now.

Against this backdrop, Volker Ullrich’s timely recent account of Hitler’s rise to power, Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, has received critical acclaimand prompted considerable debate about the historical parallels between our times and that of the pre-war period. It also raises questions about whether history can teach us how to rewrite our own script.

Ullrich, a German historian and journalist for the Hamburg broadsheet Die Zeit, based his book on decades of research. He tells me it was written between 2009 and 2013 to a background noise of extreme right movements on the rise. As a result, he says, one question became fixed in his brain: “What are the necessary social and psychological conditions that allow populists of Hitler’s ilk to gain a mass following and attain power?”

Making Germany great again

“There are certain traits you can recognize that Hitler and Trump have in common,” Ullrich says. “I would say the egomania, the total egocentricity of both men, and the inclination to mix lies and truth – that was very characteristic of Hitler.”

Like Trump, “Hitler exploited peoples’ feelings of resentment towards the ruling elite.” He also said he would make Germany great again. Ullrich also notes both men’s talent at playing the media, making use of new technology and their propensity for stage effects.

Ullrich, however, is keen to highlight how they differ. “I think the differences are still greater than the similarities,” he says. “Hitler was not only more intelligent, but craftier. He was not just a powerful orator, but a talented actor who succeeded in winning over various social milieus. So not just the economically threatened lower middle classes which Trump targeted, but also the upper middle classes. Hitler had many supporters in the German aristocracy.”

Trump was also democratically elected, while Hitler never had a majority vote. “He was appointed by the president of the German Reich.” Then there’s the fact that Trump does not lead a party “which is unconditionally committed to him”.

“A further obvious difference is that Trump doesn’t have a private militia, as Hitler did with the SA, which he used in his first months after coming to power to settle scores with his opponents, like the Communists and Social Democrats. You can’t possibly imagine something similar with Trump – that he’ll be locking Democrats up into concentration camps. Even Hillary Clinton, who he threatened to send to prison – that was just an empty threat, he’s not going to do that.”

“Finally, the American constitution is based on a system of checks and balances. It remains to be seen how far Congress will really limit Trump or if, as is feared, he can override it. It was different with Hitler, who, as we know, managed to eliminate all resistance in the shortest space of time and effectively establish himself as an all-powerful dictator. Within a few months, there was effectively no longer any opposition.”

According to Ullrich, Hitler’s rise was neither an accident nor inevitable, and could have been prevented very early on.

“Hitler profited from the fact that his opponents always underestimated him,” Ullrich explains. “His conservative allies in government assumed they could tame or ‘civilise’ him – that once he became chancellor he’d become vernünftig(meaning sensible, reasonable). Very quickly it became clear that was an illusion.”

“There were many situations where he could have been stopped. For example in 1923 after the failed Munich putsch – if he’d served his full prison sentence of several years, he wouldn’t have made a political comeback. Instead, he only spent a few months behind bars, [having been released after political pressure] and could rebuild his movement.”

The western powers made the same mistake with their appeasement politics, indecision and indulgence. “In the 1930s Hitler strengthened, rather than weakened, his aggressive intentions,” Ullrich says. “So you could learn from this that you have to react faster and much more vigorously than was the case at the time.”

Ullrich also contends that if Hindenburg, the president of the Reich, had allowed Chancellor Brüning, of the Centre party, to remain chancellor to the end of 1934, rather than responding to pressure from conservatives to dismiss him in 1932, “then the peak of the economic crisis would have passed and it would have been very questionable whether Hitler could still have come to power”.

At the same time, Hitler’s ascent was no mere fluke. “There were powerful forces in the big industries, but also in the landowning class and the armed forces, which approved of a fascist solution to the crisis.”

The ‘boo’ word

Ullrich is not the only historian leery of comparing like for like.

“The problem with fascism is that it’s a sort of ‘boo’ word,” says Richard Bosworth, a professor of history at Oxford and award-winning biographer of Mussolini. “If you tag somebody with it, then on the one hand you’re saying that person is going to murder six million Jews and invade Russia, and on the other hand you feel rather good about using the term and so you don’t engage in proper analysis.”

The result, Bosworth argues, is that you become distracted from “trying to work out more clearly what Trump stands for, and what the contemporary United States stands for”.

If fascism “now just means aggressive nationalism, racism, patriarchy and authoritarianism, then maybe it is back on the agenda,” Bosworth continues. But today’s context is fundamentally different. Today’s “alt-right” agitators “live in a neoliberal global order where the slogan, ‘all for the market, nothing outside the market, no one against the market’ is far more unquestionably accepted than the old fascist slogan of ‘all for the state, nothing outside the state, no one against the state’”.

“Whatever history’s instruction is, it’s not literal,” agrees Simon Schama, a professor of history at Columbia University who has written histories of the French, American and Dutch revolutions. “You don’t match present predicaments to some sort of template of what fascism is or isn’t.”

Schama is clear: Trump is obviously not Hitler. “But, you know, if you like, he’s an entertainment fascist, which may be less sinister but is actually in the end more dangerous. If you’re not looking for jackboots and swastikas – although swastikas are indeed appearing – there’s a kind of laundry list of things which are truly sinister and authoritarian and not business as usual.”

Schama points a finger to Breitbart, the website of Steve Bannon, Trump’s senior adviser. “There’s no question that, for all Bannon wants to say, Breitbart has run a kind of dog-whistle antisemitic show because the crucial headlines were: Bill Kristol: Renegade Jew, or [Washington Post columnist] Anne Applebaum singled out as ‘Polish, Jewish, American Elitist’. You don’t use a word like that unless you’re operating from a set of dog-whistle assumptions about an antisemitic constituency.”

Schama also points to deeply worrying messaging, such as “the parallel universe of lies which are habitual, massive, cumulative”; the criminalization of political opponents; the threat to change the libel laws against the press and the demonization of different racial and ethnic groups, going as far as proposing a Muslim registry.

“What is that if it’s not racially authoritarian?” asks Schama. “If you want to call it fascist, fine. I don’t really care if it’s called that or not. It’s authoritarian, you know, ferociously authoritarian.”

Six history lessons to keep in mind

On 2 May 1935, Winston Churchill addressed the House of Commons after the Stresa Conference, in which Britain, France and Italy agreed – futilely – to maintain the independence of Austria:

When the situation was manageable it was neglected, and now that it is thoroughly out of hand we apply too late the remedies which then might have effected a cure. There is nothing new in the story. It is as old as the sibylline books. It falls into that long, dismal catalogue of the fruitlessness of experience and the confirmed unteachability of mankind.

Now that the world has lived through the brutal years that followed Churchill’s grimly prescient oratory, what can we do to prove him wrong? If historians are best placed to distinguish between illuminating and misleading historical analogies, how do they think history can help us and what is distinctive about the present?

Don’t ignore what people vote for

If you’re of German heritage, it’s hard to understand how so many people could have bought Mein Kampf and gone on to vote for Hitler. Maybe no one really read it, or got beyond the first few pages of bluster, or took antisemitism seriously, you tell yourself.

“Or they liked what he said,” Mark Mazower says bluntly. Mazower is professor of history at Columbia and author of Dark Continent, the acclaimed study of the forces that shaped 20th-century Europe.

“I think one of the mistakes this time around would be not to think that the people who voted for Trump were serious. They may have been serious for different reasons, but it would be a big mistake not to try and figure out what their reasons were.”

Politicians need to rethink their modus operandi

Hitler presented himself as a “messiah” offering the public “salvation”, Ullrich points out. With austerity and hostility to the EU and to immigrants riding high, there is fertile ground for European populists next year to seduce with equally simplistic, sweeping “solutions”.

The problem, in Mazower’s view, is that establishment politicians currently have no response. “The political class has very impoverished historical memory and as a result it has a very limited imagination,” Mazower contends. “It is by and large made up of people who do not see themselves in politics in order to effect sweeping change and so they tend to operate very incrementally and very technocratically. They’re very suspicious of vision and as a result what fills their brains is party calculation – which of course always occupies politicians but in the past coexisted with bigger things. The current crop of leading political figures in Europe in particular is just not up to the task.”

Mazower goes on to argue that the development of an alternative narrative able to inspire is, “going to be a long-term project”, which will be, “in the hands of people under 30, 35, not the current political class”.

Beware the rise of the surveillance state

“The Gestapo was piddling compared with the size and reach of surveillance equipment and operations today,” says Mazower.

“Very belatedly, everyone is waking up to the fact that there was a general assumption that no government in the west would fall into the wrong hands, that it was safe to acquiesce in this huge expansion of surveillance capabilities, and the debate wasn’t as vigorous as it could have been.”

“Now, there is a lot of discussion about allowing this kind of surveillance apparatus in the wrong hands,” he adds. “And we’ve woken up to this a bit late in the day.”

Deal with the inequalities caused by neoliberalism

Ullrich calls crises, “the elixir of rightwing populists”, and urges that politicians “do everything they can to correct the inequalities and social injustice which have arisen in the course of extreme financial capitalism in western countries”.

Jane Caplan, a history professor at Oxford University who has written about Trump and fascism, highlights the want of “dissenting voices against marketisation and neoliberalism. The failure to resist the incursion of the market as the only criterion for political utility, or economic utility, has been pretty comprehensive. That’s pretty problematic I think.”

Build alliances

Narrow sectarianism plays into the hands of populists. Bosworth points out that the Italian fascists “only had 35 seats out of 500-odd in the Italian parliament after the 1921 elections” when Mussolini became prime minister. The establishment was so desperate to sideline socialists and trade unions that it preferred to “give him a chance”.

The fasces – or bound bundle of wooden rods, from which the word fascism derives – symbolises strength through unity, and if opposition to fascism is to be successful it is essential to combat like with like.

“I think all of us will say that you must have alliances,” Caplan says. “You can’t do this on your own. In a crisis situation like America it’s got to be a broad-based alliance. There’s not room to say, ‘Well, we’ll wait for things to get worse and then we’ll have a communist revolution’ or something. That’s not going to happen. The objective is so much more important and so much more urgent.”

But as Caplan points out, there is cause for hope too: local institutions like the churches and the NAACP, “are very, very rooted organizations and it would take a huge effort to crush them”.

Don’t normalize fear, intimidation and self-censorship

Paranoia, bullying and intimidation are a hallmark of authoritarian regimes. They are also alive and well in our culture today, where online trolls, violent thugs at rallies, threats of expensive libel action and of course terrorist acts are equally effective in getting individuals and the press to self-censor.

“You just have to call this out,” says Schama. “It requires government. Trump should have repudiated the Ku Klux Klan. Not just left it out there. It requires responsible, moral, aggressive repudiation. The Daily Mail ‘Enemies of the People’ front page was disgraceful and the government should have made that clear. It’s the kind of thing Stalin would have said, or Robespierre.”

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/dec/01/comparing-fascism-donald-trump-historians-trumpism

Aldous Huxley, Dying of Cancer, Left This World Tripping on LSD (1963)

Aldous Huxley put himself forever on the intellectual map when he wrote the dystopian sci-fi novel Brave New World in 1931. (Listen to Huxley narrating a dramatized version here.) The British-born writer was living in Italy at the time, a continental intellectual par excellence.

Then, six years later, Huxley turned all of this upside down. He headed West, to Hollywood, the newest of the New World, where he took a stab at writing screenplays (with not much luck) and started experimenting with mysticism and psychedelics — first mescaline in 1953, then LSD in 1955. This put Huxley at the forefront of the counterculture’s experimentation with psychedelic drugs, something he documented in his 1954 book, The Doors of Perception.

Huxley’s experimentation continued right through his death in November 1963. When cancer brought him to his death bed, he asked his wife to inject him with “LSD, 100 µg, intramuscular.” He died later that day, just hours after Kennedy’s assassination. Three years later, LSD was officially banned in California.

By way of footnote, it’s worth mentioning that the American medical establishment is now giving hallucinogens a second look, conducting controlled studies of how psilocybin and other psychedelics can help treat patients dealing with cancer, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, drug/alcohol addiction and end-of-life anxiety. The New York Times has more on this story.

For a look at the history of LSD, we recommend the 2002 film Hofmann’s Potion(2002) by Canadian filmmaker Connie Littlefield. You can watch it here, or find it listed in our collection of Free Movies Online.

Related Content:

Aldous Huxley Warns Against Dictatorship in America

Ken Kesey’s First LSD Trip Animated

20 Popular High School Books Available as Free eBooks & Audio Books

Insightful Nuggets from Leonard Cohen’s Songs

Wisdom for Troubled Times

Empathy, clear eyes, vision and more for troubled times.

Photo Credit: http://www.leonardcohen.com

Just before Donald Trump became our reality TV star president-elect, songwriter-bard Leonard Cohen died, leaving an incomparable legacy.

Releasing his last album weeks before his death at 82, Cohen charted courses for survival and redemption. And he pulled no punches. To the end, he deftly interwove themes of darkness and light that were political and personal, erotic and sacred. More than entertaining his listeners, Cohen intimately engaged them. He called on fellow travelers to take heart, make change, laugh, pray, dance, and act with courage, dignity and love.

Insights from a dozen Cohen songs are relevant to today’s unsettling realities.

1. Achieving democratic ideals is an ongoing challenge. Cohen’s prescient “Democracy” (1992) recounts the governmental system’s challenges and shortcomings. “It’s coming to America first, the cradle of the best and the worst…from the brave, the bold, the battered heart of Chevrolet…It’s coming from the sorrow in the streets, from the holy places where the races meet…Democracy is coming to the USA.”

Cohen told Paul Zollo in Songwriters on Songwriting in 1992: “It’s not an ironic song. It’s a song of deep intimacy and affirmation of the experiment of democracy in this country…This is really where the races confront one another, where the classes, where the genders, where even the sexual orientations confront one another.”

How to navigate all this complexity? The song admonishes: “The heart has got to open in a fundamental way.” Cohen sends godspeed for America’s precarious journey: “Sail on, sail on, O mighty ship of state! To the shores of need, past the reefs of greed, through the squalls of hate…”

2. Stare down desolation with grit and grace. In “Steer Your Way” (2016), released on his final album, Cohen’s sings: “Steer your way past the ruins of the altar and the mall…/Steer your way past the pain that is far more real than you/That’s smashed the Cosmic Model/That blinded every view.”

He calls for unflinching self-review and humility: “Steer your way past the Truth that you believed in yesterday/…And say the mea culpa which you gradually forgot/Year by year, month by month, day by day/Thought by thought.”

As Cohen prepared to bid farewell, he surveyed the natural world and a coarsened culture with trademark irony: “They whisper still, the struggling stones/The blunted mountains weep/As he died to make men holy/Let us die to make things cheap.”

3. Yes, the system is rigged—now what? Decades before Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren railed against oligarchs and plutocrats controlling America, Cohen pronounced, “Everybody knows the deal is rotten/Old Black Joe’s still pickin’ cotton/For your ribbons and bows.”

“Everybody Knows” (1988, with Sharon Robinson) is a caustic litany: “Everybody knows that the dice are loaded/Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed/Everybody knows the war is over/Everybody knows the good guys lost/Everybody knows the fight was fixed/The poor stay poor, the rich get rich/That’s how it goes/Everybody knows.”

Both bleak and droll, it can be heard as a fatalistic accounting of corruption or an urgent plea to clean things up.

4. Hold onto an inner guiding compass. “In My Secret Life” (2001, with Sharon Robinson) celebrates quiet subversiveness. “I do what I have to do/to get by/But I know what is wrong/And I know what is right/And I’d die for the truth/in my secret life.”

The song recounts the strain of facing ever-present horrors: “Looked through the paper/Makes you want to cry/nobody cares if the people/live or die/And the dealer wants you thinking/That it’s either black or white/thank God it’s not that simple/ in my secret life.”

5. Take care of body and spirit. “Come Healing” (2012, with Patrick Leonard) is reverent, transcendent: “O see the darkness yielding/That tore the light apart/Come healing of the reason/Come healing of the heart.”

A devout Jew, Cohen also often referenced other spiritual traditions: “Behold the gates of mercy/In arbitrary space/And none of us deserving/The cruelty or the grace/O solitude of longing/Where love has been confined/Come healing of the body/Come healing of the mind.”

6. Tough times call for clear-eyed vision and empathy. “The Future (1992) is prophetically stark: “Give me back the Berlin Wall/give me Stalin and St. Paul/Give me Christ/or give me Hiroshima…I’ve seen the future, baby: it is murder.”

Cohen explained to Rolling Stone in 2009 that “The Future” and “Democracy” were on his concert set list, “because their apocalyptic vision seems truer now than when they were recorded. People really thought I needed help back then,” Cohen told the reporter, laughing.

The song warns: “Things are going to slide, slide in all directions/…the blizzard of the world/has crossed the threshold/And it has overturned/the order of the soul.” Nevertheless, he offers a way out: “I’ve seen the nations rise and fall/I’ve heard their stories, heard them all/But love’s the only engine of survival.”

7. Embrace imperfection. “Anthem” (1992) starts as a solemn serenity prayer, “The birds, they sang/At the break of day/Start again/ I heard them say/Don’t dwell on what/Has passed away/Or what is yet to be.”

Then it urges action and acceptance, despite all: “Ring the bells that still can ring/Forget your perfect offering/There is a crack, a crack in everything/That’s how the light gets in.”

The narrator defiantly prepares for mythic battle: “I can’t run no more/With that lawless crowd/While the killers in high places/Say their prayers out loud/But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up/A thundercloud/And they’re going to hear from me.”

Rebecca De Mornay, who co-produced the song, told Uncut about the verse: “That ‘I’—that’s the soul of Leonard Cohen.”

8. Invoke a higher power. The incantatory tone of “If It Be Your Will” (1984) reflects Cohen’s fervent mysticism. “From this broken hill/All your praises they shall ring/If it be your will/To let me sing.”

It’s a plea for global as well as personal salvation: “If there is a choice/Let the rivers fill/Let the hills rejoice/Let your mercy spill/On all these burning hearts in Hell/If it be your will/To make us well.”

9. Comfort others and do what you can to sleep well. Cohen told Rolling Stone about a song he was working on in 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession: “I thought that ‘Lullaby’ was just what everyone needs to get to sleep in these troubled times,” he said.

Released in 2012, it’s beautifully simple: “Sleep baby sleep/The day’s on the run/The wind in the trees/Is talking in tongues…If your heart is torn/I don’t wonder why/If the night is long/Here’s my lullaby.” Cohen reassures the listener: “There’s a morning to come.”

10. Live passionately. A popular standard, “Dance Me to the End of Love” (1992) honors deep love and the protection it can provide. “Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin/Dance me through the panic ‘til I’m gathered safely in/Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove/And dance me to the end of love.” Even as passion gets spent, it shields: “Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn/Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn.”

Cohen told an interviewer the “burning violin” image “came from just hearing or reading or knowing that in the death camps, beside the crematoria, in certain of the death camps, a string quartet was pressed into performance while this horror was going on.” He added that “It’s not important that anybody knows the genesis of it, because if the language comes from that passionate resource, it will be able to embrace all passionate activity.”

11. Celebrate paradox (and cultivate patience). “Hallelujah” (1984), Cohen’s exultant and erotic anthem has been covered some 300 times. He drafted 80 verses over five years before its release, sometimes singing alternate lyrics in concert, such as: “There’s a blaze of light/In every word/It doesn’t matter which you heard/The holy or the broken Hallelujah.”

It took 15 years for “Hallelujah” to become a massive hit. Cohen told the CBC radio show Q in 2009 that after it was released on Various Positions in 1984 in Canada and Europe, Sony decided not to release the album in the U.S.: “The only person who seemed to recognize the song was Dylan. He was doing it in concert,” Cohen said.

More than a decade later, “Hallelujah” recordings by John Cale and Jeff Buckley began building an audience. Rufus Wainwright’s version in the 2001 film Shrekbrought it into the mainstream.

12. Take positive action, however you can. In “You Got Me Singing” (2014, with Patrick Leonard) Cohen’s deep-throated delivery conveys triumphant optimism (accompanied by a violin and country-tinged vocals). He makes a winking nod to his signature song: “You got me singing/Even tho’ the news is bad/You got me singing/The only song I ever had…You got me singing/Even tho’ it all looks grim/You got me singing/The Hallelujah hymn.”

His tone is matter-of-fact and resilient, even lighthearted: “Even though the world is gone/You got me thinking/I’d like to carry on.”

Virginia Small is a freelance journalist in Milwaukee who has followed the work of Leonard Cohen since his first album was released in 1967.

http://www.alternet.org/12-insightful-nuggets-leonard-cohens-songs-wisdom-troubled-times?akid=14925.265072.AMykVi&rd=1&src=newsletter1067922&t=26

Now Trump gets the Supreme Court — and the damage may be irreversible

Conservatives cared about the court this year, while many liberals didn’t. The damage will last for generations

Now Trump gets the Supreme Court — and the damage may be irreversible
(Credit: Getty/Dominick Reuter/Reuters/Larry Downing/Salon)

Seth Masket, a political science professor at the University of Denver, published a piece for Pacific Standard arguing that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was smart to organize an unprecedented blockade of any hearings for Merrick Garland, President Barack Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court, because the choice likely helped give Donald Trump the presidential election.

“McConnell’s move made the Supreme Court seat an issue for the presidential election,” Masket wrote. “It motivated conservatives to stay on board with the Republican presidential nominee no matter who it was.”

A lot of conservatives, especially evangelical Christians, had their doubts about a glib, insincere libertine like Trump, especially someone who had a history of donating to Democratic politicians and no record of Republican loyalty. But that empty seat on the Supreme Court, Masket argued, tipped the scales.

“The balance of the Court, particularly on such issues as abortion, was in play,” he wrote. “Abandon the nominee, and Hillary Clinton gets to pick the next one, two, or three justices. Stand by the nominee, no matter how repellent, and you get to.”

My inclination is to agree with Masket. One of the most interesting things that I found, talking to attendees at both the Republican and Democratic conventions over the summer, was that Republicans often spoke about the Supreme Court and Democrats almost never did. The tendency to cite control of the court was particularly pronounced among Trump-skeptical Republicans I spoke with. Very few of them talked about the economy but the court came up over and over again. The opposite was true when I spoke with Democratic voters.

Trump understood that as long as he promised an anti-choice, anti-labor, anti-environmentalist philosophy when appointing judges, the Republican voter base would squelch its concerns about putting such a thoroughly unqualified man in charge of the nuclear codes and fall in line. Over the summer Trump took the highly unusual step of releasing a short list of judges he would consider, heavily advertising that the list was basically handed to him by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, two far-right think tanks.

The move was brilliant precisely because Trump clearly doesn’t give two hoots about the Supreme Court or the judiciary in general, despite the fact that he’s been involved in a mind-boggling 3,500 lawsuits over the course of his career and had 75 ongoing when he was elected to office. Letting the Federalist Society pick judges for him clears up his schedule to focus on issues that really matter to him, such as the weight of Miss Universe pageant winners and demanding that black Broadway actors apologize for talking back to powerful white men like Vice President-elect Mike Pence.

For the past week and a half, I’ve been covering what it means for Trump to have the power to fill the Supreme Court seat that was left open after the death of former justice Antonin Scalia in March — and the even more dire possibility that he’ll be able to replace one of the aging liberals on the court in the next four years. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 83 years old and Stephen Breyer is 78; Anthony Kennedy, the most moderate of the court’s conservative justices, is 80.)

It’s difficult to deny the conclusion that, in the end, Republican voters are more organized and focused on the long game than Democratic voters, and that ability to focus will pay off. Trump will likely be out in four years — possibly less, if the quickly mounting scandals result in enough legal troubles — but the damage he’s likely to do with his court appointments will last years and in some cases generations.

Using the courts to dismantle the right of workers to unionize, for instance, will pay off dividends for Republicans long after Trump leaves the White House in the inevitable cloud of shame and disgrace. Unions can organize and educate voters and represent the only real hope that Democrats have of convincing some of those longed-for white working-class voters to stop voting racial resentments and begin voting their economic self-interest. Republicans get this, which is why they have focused heavily on creative litigation aimed at destroying unions, and now they are on the cusp of dealing some wounding blows.

It’s the same story with conservative lawyers’ chipping away at campaign-finance laws. Trump will do plenty of damage to both parties, but the free flow of money in politics means that the Republicans will be able to rebuild more easily than the Democrats, who have a much less wealthy donor base. Just as important, elevating the power and voice of the wealthy over everyone else will help Republicans continue to capture more state legislatures and congressional seats, reinforcing the horrific situation we have now, whereby a Republican minority is ruling over a Democratic majority.

This year’s election postmortems were tedious before they even began, of course, but please indulge me for a moment: The media’s unwillingness to cover the court issues, especially McConnell’s unprecedented and unconstitutional holdup of Obama’s court appointee, was a major act of malfeasance. Yes, it’s hard to keep a story in the news when there aren’t new developments to cover. But McConnell’s corrupt and anti-democratic behavior was a far more serious story than Hillary Clinton’s email management. It should have been extensively covered, and it was not.

This problem is made all the more serious when you consider the divergent media consumption of conservative Americans and everyone else. Most Americans, moderate or liberal, get their news through the mainstream media. Most conservatives turn to conservative media, like Fox News. Conservative media is better about covering the court issues and keeping them at the forefront of voter minds, and the result was that Republican voters had their votes moved on this issue. For more Democratic-leaning voters, it completely fell out of mind.

The result is that Republican voters treated this election as if it were an urgent one, and millions of voters who turned out for Obama in the previous two presidential cycles couldn’t be bothered to cast ballots this time around. Perhaps if they had really understood that this election would determine the direction of the federal courts for a generation, they would have reconsidered their decision to stay home rather than vote for Hillary Clinton.

 

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

History of the alt-right

The movement isn’t just Breitbart and white nationalists — it’s worse

The alt-right is likely to grow, gaining a firmer foothold in American politics

History of the alt-right: The movement isn't just Breitbart and white nationalists — it's worse

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

In recent months, far-right activists — which some have labeled the “alt-right” — have gone from being an obscure, largely online subculture to a player at the very center of American politics.

Long relegated to the cultural and political fringe, alt-right activists were among the most enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump. Earlier this year, Breitbart executive Steve Bannon declared the website “the platform for the alt-right.” By August, Bannon was appointed the CEO of the Trump campaign. In the wake of Trump’s victory, he’ll be joining Trump in the White House as a senior advisor.

I’ve spent years extensively researching the American far right, and the movement seems more energized than ever. To its critics, the alt-right is just a code term for white nationalism, a much-maligned ideology associated with neo-Nazis and Klansmen. The movement, however, is more nuanced, encompassing a much broader spectrum of right-wing activists and intellectuals.

How did the movement gain traction in recent years? And now that Trump has won, could the alt-right change the American political landscape?

Mainstreaming a movement

The alt-right includes white nationalists, but it also includes those who believe in libertarianism, men’s rights, cultural conservatism and populism.

Nonetheless, its origins can be traced to various American white nationalist movements that have endured for decades. These groups have historically been highly marginalized, with virtually no influence on the mainstream culture and certainly not over public policy. Some of the most radical elements have long advocated a revolutionary program.

Groups such as the Aryan Nations, White Aryan Resistance, the National Alliance and the World Church of the Creator have preached racial revolution against ZOG, or the “Zionist Occupation Government.” Many were inspired by the late William L. Pierce’s “Turner Diaries,” a novel about a race war that consumes America. (Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, had pages from the book in his possession when he was captured.)

But these exhortations didn’t resonate with most people. What’s more, after 9/11, many of the revolutionary right’s leading representatives were prosecuted under new anti-terrorism statutes and sent to prison. By the mid-2000s, the far right appeared to have reached its nadir.

Into this void stepped Richard Spencer and a new group of far-right intellectuals.

In 2008, conservative political philosopher Paul Gottfried was the first to use the term “alternative right,” describing it as a dissident far-right ideology that rejected mainstream conservatism. (Gottfried had previously coined the term “paleoconservative” in an effort to distance himself and like-minded intellectuals from neoconservatives, who had become the dominant force in the Republican Party.)

William Regnery II, a wealthy and reclusive, founded the National Policy Institute as a white nationalist think tank. A young and rising star of the far right, Spencer assumed leadership in 2011. A year earlier, he launched the website “Alternative Right” and became recognized as one of the most important, expressive leaders of the alt-right movement.

Around this time, Spencer popularized the term “cuckservative,” which has gained currency in the alt-right vernacular. In essence, a cuckservative is a conservative sellout who is first and foremost concerned about abstract principles such as the U.S. Constitution, free market economics and individual liberty.

The alt-right, on the other hand, is more concerned about concepts such as nation, race, civilization and culture. Spencer has worked hard to rebrand white nationalism as a legitimate political movement. Explicitly rejecting the notion of racial supremacy, Spencer calls for the creation of separate, racially exclusive homelands for white people.

Different factions

The primary issue for American white nationalists is immigration. They claim that high fertility rates for third-world immigrants and low fertility rates for white women will — if left unchecked — threaten the very existence of whites as a distinct race.

But even on the issue of demographic displacement, there’s disagreement in the white nationalist movement. The more genteel representatives of the white nationalism argue that these trends developed over time because whites have lost the temerity necessary to defend their racial group interests.

By contrast, the more conspiratorial segment of the movement implicates a deliberate Jewish-led plot to reduce whites to minority status. By doing so, Jews would render their historically most formidable “enemy” weak and minuscule — just another minority among many.

Emblematic of the latter view is Kevin MacDonald, a former psychology professor at the California State University at Long Beach. In a trilogy of books released in the mid- to late 1990s, he advanced an evolutionary theory to explain both Jewish and antisemitic collective behavior.

According to MacDonald, anti-Semitism emerged not so much out of perceived fantasies of Jewish malfeasance but because of genuine conflicts of interests between Jews and Gentiles. He’s argued that Jewish intellectuals, activists and leaders have sought to fragment Gentile societies along the lines of race, ethnicity and gender. Over the past decade and a half, his research has been circulated and celebrated in white nationalist online forums.

A growing media and internet presence

Cyberspace became one area where white nationalists could exercise some limited influence on the broader culture. The subversive, underground edges of the internet — which include forums like 4chan and 8chan — have allowed young white nationalists to anonymously share and post comments and images. Even on mainstream news sites such as USA Today, The Washington Post and The New York Times, white nationalists can troll the comments sections.

More important, new media outlets emerged online that began to challenge their mainstream competitors: Drudge Report, Infowars and, most notably, Breitbart News.

Founded by Andrew Breitbart in 2007, Breitbart News has sought to be a conservative outlet that influences both politics and culture. For Breitbart, conservatives didn’t adequately prioritize winning the culture wars — conceding on issues like immigration, multiculturalism and political correctness — which ultimately enabled the political left to dominate the public discourse on these topics.

As he noted in 2011, “politics really is downstream from culture.”

The candidacy of Donald Trump enabled a disparate collection of groups — which included white nationalists — to coalesce around one candidate. But given the movement’s ideological diversity, it would be a serious mischaracterization to label the alt-right as exclusively white nationalist.

Yes, Breitbart News has become popular with white nationalists. But the site has also unapologetically backed Israel. Since its inception, Jews — including Andrew Breitbart, Larry Solov, Alexander Marlow, Joel Pollak, Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos — have held leading positions in the organization. In fact, in recent months, Yiannopoulos, a self-described “half Jew” and practicing Catholic — who’s also a flamboyant homosexual with a penchant for black boyfriends — has emerged as the movement’s leading spokesman on college campuses (though he denies the alt-right characterization).

Furthermore, the issues that animate the movement — consternation over immigration, national economic decline and political correctness — existed long before Trump announced his candidacy. As political scientist Francis Fukuyama opined, the real question is not why this brand of populism emerged in 2016, but why it took so long to manifest.

Mobilized for the future?

The success of the Trump campaign demonstrated the potential influence of the alt-right in the coming years. At first blush, Trump’s victory in the Electoral College seems substantial. But his margin of victory in several key states was quite slim. For that reason, support from every quarter he received — including the alt-right — was vitally important.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that they were among his most avid foot soldiers in getting out the vote in both the primaries and general election. Moreover, the Trump campaign provided the opportunity for members of this movement to meet face to face.

Shortly after the election, Richard Spencer said that Trump’s victory was “the first step, the first stage towards identity politics for white people.” To some observers, Bannon’s appointment as Trump’s chief strategist confirms fears that the far-right fringe has penetrated the White House.

But if Trump fails to deliver on his most emphatic campaign promises — such as building the wall — the alt-right might become disillusioned with him, just like the progressives who chastised Barack Obama for continuing to prosecute wars in the Middle East.

Unlike old-school white nationalist movements, the alt-right has endeavored to create a self-sustaining counterculture, which includes a distinct vernacular, memes, symbols and a number of blogs and alternative media outlets.

Now that it has been mobilized and demonstrated its relevance (just look at the number of articles written about the movement, which further publicizes it), the alt-right is likely to grow, gaining a firmer foothold in American politics.

The Conversation

George Michael is a professor of criminal justice at Westfield State University.

http://www.salon.com/2016/11/24/history-of-the-alt-right-the-movement-is-not-just-breitbart-and-white-nationalists-it-is-worse_partner/?source=newsletter

As Trump Builds His Authoritarian Presidency, Echoes of 1930s Germany and 1950s McCarthyism Abound

Domestic crackdowns. Militarism abroad?

Photo Credit: http://npievents.com/

When Richard Spencer, a leading alt-right white power ideologue finished his speech at Saturday’s day-long “Become Who We Are” summit at Washington’s Ronald Reagan Building, someone yelled, “Heil the people!” and the room shouted back, “Heil victory!”

It wasn’t the evening’s first Nazi reference, nor most brazen. Soon after Spencer started slamming the mainstream media, overlooking how they gave the president-elect endless free coverage, he jeered, “Perhaps we should refer to them in the original German?” The crowd shouted back, “Lügenpresse,” a Nazi-era word for “lying press.” Spencer said, to cheers, that white power was rising. “America was, until this last generation, a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity… It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.”

America under Donald Trump is entering an uncharted authoritarian era. Whether apt historical precedents are in the first months of Hitler’s rule in 1933 in Germany or closer to the 1950s anti-Communist witch hunts led by Sen. Joseph McCarthy, remains to be seen. But there are myriad events everyone is seeing and unfolding behind closed doors that are forming a prologue to Trump’s authoritarian rule.

Looking backward, people always ask if the course of history could have been changed. Many people would like to dismiss some of the recent events as bad dreams that will vanish if ignored, like last weekend’s neo-Nazi rally in a federal office complex in the capitol; like Trump taking to Twitter to denounce the cast of the musical, Hamilton, for openly imploring Vice-President-elect Mike Pence, who was in attendance, to honor America’s diversity.

But that becomes harder to do when the president-elect is appointing scarily intolerant propagandists and warmongers to top White House posts. It looks like Trump is posed to deport millions of migrants, roll back civil rights and go after his critics, by appointing race-baiting propagandist Steve Bannon as a top adviser; Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General; and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as top national security adviser, a man who supports racial profiling and repeats the lie that Islamic law is spreading across America. Trump seems to be relishing his unfolding role as an American strongman, as evidenced by his Sunday tweet: “General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, who is being considered for Secretary of Defense, was very impressive yesterday. A true General’s General!”

The question is how far Trump will go to achieve his objectives at home and abroad, including putting the country on a path toward war. Historic comparisons are both useful and imprecise. Yet there are enough echoes of Germany in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler became the country’s newly appointed chancellor. Then and now were periods seen by some as a brutal darkening and others as a great national revival. (My most recent book is set in Holland during the war.)

As with Hitler’s earliest days in power, we are seeing an increase in race-based hate crimes. Back then, the targets were communists, socialists and Jews. Today the targets are Muslims. Trump’s advisers are pointing to a much-criticized World War II-era Supreme Court ruling, Korematsu v. United States, which held that wartime detention was constitutional, to allow creation of a national Muslim registry.

Where today parts with the past, at least so far, is that we haven’t seen how Trump would expand the federal policing and deportation apparatus. People forget that President Obama oversaw the arrest and deportation of 2 million immigrants before signing executive orders suspending deportation of 40 percent of the 11 million undocumented migrants here. It’s an open question what Trump would do to accelerate the federal police state. In Germany, Nazi-supporting paramilitary groups created their own arrest, detention and torture stations during the first year of Hitler’s rule. The authorities didn’t stop them, and most of the American journalists stationed there at the time didn’t want to conclude that paramilitary violence was part of a larger societal trend.

What the people outside targeted circles in Germany didn’t want to see at the time were the steps being taken to start transforming a democratic republic to authoritarian rule. (The military buildup and dictatorship followed.) In short, the telltale signs were the increasing control the government exerted over all aspects of society, but especially the civil rights of the officially loathed minorities. It started with national registries, moved to what jobs they could and could not hold, and then declaring and forfeiting property and assets.

What is the contemporary parallel? On immigration, visa-less detainees have virtually no legal rights. Until Obama issued his executive orders suspending deportations in his second term, undocumented people arrested for traffic stops would be turned over by local police to ICE—federal immigration authorities—and disappear into a deportation treadmill. Trump and the GOP have threatened to ramp up that process, including the prospect of blocking all federal aid to any municipality or state that acts as a sanctuary state. There’s also been talk about seizing the international wire transfers of money migrants send to their families in Mexico and Central America. What’s clear is that this is uncharted territory, domestically speaking.

What happens with the Muslim registry, segments of police forces resurrecting racial profiling, crackdowns against protesters and dissent, are all open questions. But the president-elect and his top advisers, like most of the anti-communist crusaders of the 1950s McCarthy era, have shown little tolerance for dissent and a willingness to go after their critics. In California, people at anti-Trump protests talk about opening their homes to people fleeing federal police sweeps. The last time that was heard was in the 1980s when refugees fled Ronald Reagan’s Central American wars and hid from U.S. authorities here.

During the first months of Hitler’s rule, German authorities told foreign journalists and diplomats that attacks by fascist thugs were outliers and would soon end. There were even official denunciations by the government, but the attacks didn’t stop. A handful of Americans were even assaulted, after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But most of the foreign press corps, visiting tourists and even diplomats didn’t grasp the emerging character of the new regime. And those who did see it for what it was—after witnessing violence firsthand—and tried to talk about it, were frequently dismissed as too political, prejudiced and shrill.

Some people may shrug and say that upheaval and random victims always accompany every revolution—including what’s in store as Trump strives to “make America great again.” Others may respond that people must speak out against dark forces when the future hangs in a balance and those accumulating power are silently gathering their forces. What’s certain about Trump’s America is the country is heading into an authoritarian time. How wide, how deep and how destructive that wave will be is unknown.

As Richard Spencer, who led the neo-Nazi chants last weekend at the white power gathering in Washington told the New York Times, his movement and Trump share many values. “I do think we have a psychic connection, or you can say a deeper connection, with Donald Trump in a way that we simply do not have with most Republicans.”

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/trump-builds-his-authoritarian-presidency-echoes-1930s-germany-and-1950s-mccarthyism?akid=14902.265072.Ux84cn&rd=1&src=newsletter1067620&t=2