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Archive for October, 2012

Voici une analyse de Bernard Guetta sur France Inter hier, que je trouve assez juste

Ça n’a pas été « non » mais ca n’a pas été, non plus, un «oui concret». Malgré les « discussions approfondies » qu’elle a menées, hier, avec le président algérien, la secrétaire d’Etat américaine, n’a pas encore su le convaincre d’approuver et appuyer l’intervention contre les groupes islamistes qui font régner la terreur au Nord Mali depuis le printemps.

Les contacts vont se poursuivre, a déclaré Hilary Clinton en assurant avoir « beaucoup apprécié » l’analyse de la complexité de la situation malienne que lui a présentée Abdelaziz Bouteflika mais, courtoisies diplomatiques ou pas, quatre raisons retiennent l’Algérie de s’engager dans cette crise aux côtés de la France, des Etats-Unis et de pays de la Cédéao, la Communauté économique des Etats d’Afrique de l’Ouest.

La première est que l’Algérie reste allergique à tout renforcement de la présence ou même de l’influence française à ses frontières. Un demi-siècle après avoir recouvré son indépendance, l’Algérie continue de se méfier de son ancienne puissance coloniale et cela d’autant plus qu’elle a désapprouvé son rôle dans le renversement du colonel Kadhafi et, plus généralement, le soutien des Occidentaux aux révolutions arabes qui sont perçues comme une menace par le pouvoir algérien.

La deuxième est que l’Aqmi, al Qaëda au Maghreb islamique, l’un des groupes qui a pris le contrôle du Nord Mali, est essentiellement constitué d’islamistes algériens qui avaient trouvé refuge au Sahel après avoir été militairement défaits à la fin des années 90. L’Algérie ne veut pas se retrouver aux prises avec eux et la troisième raison pour laquelle elle est si réticente à appuyer cette intervention est que 50 000 de ses citoyens sont des Touaregs, vivant aux frontières du Sahel et très proches des Touaregs du Mali, ceux-là mêmes dont l’aspiration indépendantiste a permis aux islamistes de prendre pied au Nord de ce pays.

L’Algérie craint de susciter une question touareg sur son territoire et la quatrième raison de sa réticence est qu’elle veut encore croire en la possibilité de faire éclater par la négociation le fragile front qui s’est formé entre les islamistes touaregs et Aqmi. L’Algérie est tout, sauf allante et sa prudence gêne considérablement la France et les Etats-Unis qui ne voient pas comment leur appui logistique pourrait garantir le succès de l’intervention africaine qu’ils préparent si le plus puissant Etat de la région ne leur prête pas la main. Français et Américains vont donc continuer à tenter de convaincre l’Algérie de sortir de son attentisme mais, s’ils n’y parvenaient pas, un point d’interrogation supplémentaire pèserait alors sur cette opération dont les points faibles sont nombreux.

Mal entraînées, les troupes du Mali et de la Cédéao peuvent sans doute reprendre les villes du Nord Mali mais plus difficilement les sécuriserà long terme et moins encore rétablir l’ordre dans le vaste Sahel si la frontière algéro-malienne n’est pas hermétiquement fermée et si les renseignements algériens ne leur apportent pas un complet soutien. Cette intervention reste aussi nécessaire qu’aléatoire.

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It has been alleged that he doesn’t have one but Matthew Yglesias says that he does indeed. It is centered on transforming taxes and health care. Read about it here.

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John McWhorter has a spot on critique in TNR of President Obama’s black critics (Cornel West, Frederick Harris et al), who have expressed disappointment that he has not specifically addressed black concerns as they define them and in a way they had hoped he would. Money quote

Black people know racism exists, but also know that today black America’s problems are as much cultural as structural. It’s a cliché on black talk radio and barbecue conversations that “It isn’t anybody white shooting all these people in our streets,” and that there isn’t much that a President could do, black or not, to turn such things around. The black barbershop reality—and I’m basing this on actual time getting my hair cut in them—is that for every guy complaining “Obama ain’t done nothin’ for us,” there are three who object “Come on man, he’s the President of America, not black America!” In other words, once you get beyond a segment of the ivory tower and scattered fellow travelers, most black people know that black America’s problems are not all about racism—institutional or not—the way they were fifty years ago. Obama indicates that he understands this in his speeches to black audiences urging responsibility—which black audiences eat up…

Read the whole thing here. I’ve been having exchanges lately with a few friends and family members on the role race is playing in this election, and particularly over the (misinterpreted) AP poll of last week. I’ll try to write more about the matter here before next Tuesday.

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That’s the title of an on target editorial in today’s NYT

Most Americans have never heard of the National Response Coordination Center, but they’re lucky it exists on days of lethal winds and flood tides. The center is the war room of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, where officials gather to decide where rescuers should go, where drinking water should be shipped, and how to assist hospitals that have to evacuate.

Disaster coordination is one of the most vital functions of “big government,” which is why Mitt Romney wants to eliminate it. At a Republican primary debate last year, Mr. Romney was asked whether emergency management was a function that should be returned to the states. He not only agreed, he went further.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” Mr. Romney not only believes that states acting independently can handle the response to a vast East Coast storm better than Washington, but that profit-making companies can do an even better job. He said it was “immoral” for the federal government to do all these things if it means increasing the debt.

It’s an absurd notion, but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning. FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.

The agency was put back in working order by President Obama, but ideology still blinds Republicans to its value. Many don’t like the idea of free aid for poor people, or they think people should pay for their bad decisions, which this week includes living on the East Coast.

Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them. The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as “an excellent piece of work,” would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.

Does Mr. Romney really believe that financially strapped states would do a better job than a properly functioning federal agency? Who would make decisions about where to send federal aid? Or perhaps there would be no federal aid, and every state would bear the burden of billions of dollars in damages. After Mr. Romney’s 2011 remarks recirculated on Monday, his nervous campaign announced that he does not want to abolish FEMA, though he still believes states should be in charge of emergency management. Those in Hurricane Sandy’s path are fortunate that, for now, that ideology has not replaced sound policy.

A question for conservatives and libertarians: if a Sandy-like storm were heading your way—to your town and your home (and which may indeed be the case today for some reading this)—who would you wish to handle the response: a fully funded FEMA or cash-strapped state governments? Or, failing that—as state government is still government, after all—, private, for profit enterprises, perhaps working with faith-based charities? If the answer is not a fully funded FEMA, please explain how these other organs would handle the job more efficiently and at less cost (and I’m not going to hold my breath awaiting the response).

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Matt Latimer, a Republican speechwriter and operative, has a piece in The Daily Beast on “What Newt Gingrich can teach Obama, and America, about Romney.” The lede:

How Romney beat Gingrich in the primary foreshadowed the general election against Obama—and shows how a President Romney will govern. From his shamelessness to the right’s hatred for Obama, Matt Latimer offers six lessons.

One of these lessons is that a politician—here, Romney—may, in effect, lie through his teeth and get away with it. Latimer, who was with Gingrich during the primaries—no comment—reminds us of Mitt’s GOP opponents denouncing his serial untruthiness (here, here, and here).  And then there was (fellow Mormon) Jon Huntsman’s marvelous line about Romney being a “perfectly lubricated weather vane” (here).

But one of Latimer’s lessons is that it ultimately doesn’t matter, as Republicans hate Obama so much that they’ll vote for one of their own whom they may not like too much no problem, as he is, by definition, better. If the shoe were on the other foot, Dems would do likewise, bien entendu.

ADDENDUM: This Pew Research Center poll just out on the race is worth looking at. I take Pew seriously and heard one of its directors, Bruce Stokes, speak on the election at a conference last week. His numbers were sobering (for a Democrat). The race is tied. Down to the wire.

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Thomas B. Edsall has an excellent and important piece in the NYT on one of the perverse downsides of Citizens United v. FEC and other court rulings that have voided legislation on campaign finance, which has been to enable a handful of billionaires to, in effect, hijack the political system and undermine political parties—particularly the Republicans—, and to their own, iniquitous ends. Edsall’s conclusion:

If the parties are eviscerated, the political system could adjust itself and regain vitality. But I doubt it. For all their flaws, strong political parties are important to a healthy political system. The displacement of the parties by super rich men determined to flex their financial muscles is another giant step away from democracy.

Yet one more reason why this election is so critically important.

(Above image, from the NY Daily News: The biggest Republican presidential campaign donors, from left: Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands casino empire; Harold Simmons, owner of Contran Corp.; Bob J. Perry, head of a Houston real estate empire; Robert T. Rowling, head of Dallas-based TRT Holdings; and William Koch, an industrialist.)

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Ruy Teixeira positively reviews Joan Walsh’s new book in TNR. Important subject for the Democrats, needless to say.

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Welcome to America, take a number

A commentary in today’s NYT by Malte Lehming, the opinion page editor of the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel, Emphasis added at the end

This fall my newspaper sent me to the United States to cover the elections. I brought my wife and two daughters, ages 8 and 9, with me.

Since the children were born here, while I was working as my paper’s Washington correspondent, they have American citizenship, and the trip seemed a good opportunity for them to get to know their homeland a little better.

This is the same homeland where conservatives have been howling about how the Obama administration is pushing America ever closer to European socialism. Europeans, they say, have the longest vacations (Germany), the highest debt (Greece), the highest taxes (Scandinavia) and the most bureaucracy (Brussels). Europe and socialism: the two appear in American conservative rhetoric almost as synonyms.

But as a German citizen who has now fought fierce battles with American telephone companies, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the public schools, I find it strange that Americans fear a socialist state. Because Europe’s bureaucratic nightmares have nothing on America’s.

For example, it took an entire day for my wife and me to get our visas processed. We had to answer dozens of detailed questions online: the exact dates of our previous stays in America, the dates of trips to other countries where we had needed visas, the complete birth names of our grandparents. And if we took too long to answer and didn’t save our work in the meantime, the Web site automatically shut down and we had to start all over again.

Then there was the little matter of getting our daughters into public school. The pile of forms weighed nearly two pounds. Our pediatrician back home had to certify all vaccinations, which again had to be authenticated by a second doctor, certified in the United States. And the entire family had to be present at each of these appointments.

And don’t ask about getting a phone line installed before our arrival. Our landlord tried to help, but it took him weeks of bouncing between Comcast and Verizon.

Nothing, however, reminded me more of the worst parts of the German system than the Virginia D.M.V. Its Web site helpfully said that if I had a German driver’s license, as well as authorized proof of residence, I could trade it in for a state license without further tests.

What it didn’t say, though, was how long the process would last. In the meantime, my entire file was lost.

None of this would be out of place in many European countries. But citizens of those countries, which embrace the notion of a larger government, also benefit greatly. We pay high taxes, but we get great infrastructure in return.

I spent half a day hunting for a store with flashlights in stock, because a storm had knocked out our power. In five decades in Germany I have never experienced a single power failure, because the power lines are usually underground and well maintained.

Yes, we have long holidays. But we probably still work more than our American colleagues, because our buildings are intact, the infrastructure works and we don’t sit around in traffic jams every day because of road work.

So why do Americans look only at the bad side of Europe? Done right, with enough money, it is punctual, efficient and organized. One may call it socialist, but it makes life easier.

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The Campaign

I have to confess that I am getting tired of this election campaign. I am so bored with it. And I am suffering from RCP poll fatigue, obsessively checking the latest numbers every two hours, if not more, and when it’s invariably the same story: Romney up in this poll, Obama steady in that, Romney upticking 1% in this state, Obama pleasantly plus 2% in that—and when we intellectually know that it’s all just statistical noise, within the margin of error, based on the alchemy of the polling institute’s likely voter screen, etc, etc.  And then there’s Nate Silver’s 538, without which I don’t know what we’d do. Also, I can no longer bear the stress—and, yes, I am stressed out about it. Even if Obama were up 3% nationally and with a projected 332 EVs, I’d still be stressed. But there is no point in telling me to close the RCP window on my browser and think about something else, as I won’t. Vivement le 7 novembre !

On the subject of political campaigns, if anyone hasn’t seen ‘The Campaign’—the movie—and wouldn’t mind an entertaining political distraction from Obama-Romney, I recommend it. I thought it was funny and not bad. The pic is madcap, sophomoric, and raunchy, and generally off-the-wall—albeit not totally—, but I had a good laugh. And it’s set in North Carolina, enabling Will Ferrell to make sport of Southerners, one of his stocks-in-trade. Reviews were mixed, though Metacritic gave a lower-than-deserved coefficient to some. And for this kind of movie, reviews are exceptionally subjective. On Metacritic’s scale, I’ll give it a 75.

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I normally don’t pay much attention to political science math models that predict elections but sometimes do find them interesting particularly if they confirm my preferences and tell me what I want to hear. The modeling on this academic blog is worth looking at. As it happens, its ‘random drift model’ and ‘Bayesian prediction’ puts the probability of President Obama’s reelection at 88 and 96% respectively. I like that. Check it out here.

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Obama-Romney in Boca Raton

I just finished watching the debate on YouTube. Obama hit it out of the park. He was excellent from the get go: poised, articulate, focused, smart, demonstrating mastery of the issues, and, as in the last debate, at no point allowed Romney to trip him up. Obama played excellent offense and solid defense, e.g. responding to Romney’s nonsense about the “apology tour” and the falsehood that Obama had been silent during the Green Revolution in Iran. And his shredding of Romney on a navy/military buildup—and asking “where’s the money?”—was great, as was his nailing Mitt on the auto bailout. Romney’s serial untruthiness—so on display in the previous debates—was something to behold. As for Romney’s performance, it was rather less good than Obama’s during the first hour. I found his responses to the first question—on Libya and the Middle East—inarticulate, rambling, and replete with langue de bois. I was pleasantly surprised that he agreed with Obama on so many issues (and didn’t bring up Benghazi; conservatives, who have been railing on about this since the second debate, were no doubt disappointed). Mitt and his foreign policy advisers must have calculated that there were too many dangers in going on the offensive against Obama in this domain—that allegations of the latter being feckless and looking weak in the eyes of the world are not credible to the median voter, or to any minimally informed citizen not blinded by partisan parti pris—, and that Obama would lay waste to Romney if he tried this tack. Romney and advisers probably also figured that attacking Obama for “weakness” could make Romney sound like a warmonger and bring back memories of Bush 43’s first term. So better to play it safe, talk like a moderate, show respect for Obama-as-Commander-in-Chief, but argue that he, Romney, would just do it better.

I did think that Romney improved somewhat as the debate progressed and, in the last half hour, was not too bad, particularly his responses on Pakistan and China. And on China, I may even give him a slight edge over Obama, who misspoke in labeling it an “adversary” of America—WADR, a country that is America’s second most important trading partner and that holds over a trillion dollars of US Treasury securities cannot be called an adversary—, though he was able to clarify his words in the follow-up. The closing statements of both men were very good. So, on the whole, a solid win for Obama, definitely not a win for Romney, but not necessarily a defeat for him either.

As for questions not posed, I was amazed that there was nothing whatever on Europe or the crisis of the euro. Rien. Nada. And no mention of climate change, Africa (apart from a passing reference to Mali), or Latin America (though Romney, to his credit, did bring it up in one of his responses, though only on the issue of trade). The nightmarish carnage in Mexico, just over the border—and the US instigated “war on drugs” more generally—, really did merit at least a few minutes of discussion.

The debate format, of the men sitting across a table and almost facing one another, was superior to that of the first debate—with the two standing stiffly at a podium—, as was the back-and-forth and not limited by a clock and buzzer. Bob Schieffer is not my favorite TV news personality but he did well in letting the men respond more than once to the other and not being a clock fascist. I also thought the spectacle of the Obama and Romney families mingling on the stage together after the debate was nice. A salutary moment of civility.

So Obama shined in the second and third debates, making his lamentable Denver performance look like a fluke—and which it was—, albeit a costly one. But it’s not likely to have much of an impact on the polls. The polls since the second debate have shown no bounce in his favor. To use the American football metaphor from my analysis of that one, he did not score a field goal, let alone a touchdown; he merely prevented Romney from continuing his momentum and taking the lead. The national polls, as just about everyone knows, are essentially tied and with Obama enjoying an ever so slight edge in the electoral college. I can’t make sense of the polls at this point. Even conservatives think Gallup’s—which stubbornly has Romney at +6—is an outlier, but then so is IBD/TIPP’s, that currently has Obama at +4. And the swing state polls are all over the place. One thing that seems increasingly apparent is that Romney’s post-first debate surge was mainly on account of his own performance, and less so due to Obama’s counter-performance. Even if Obama had been better in that one, the fact that millions of voters who were focusing on Romney for the first time saw a candidate who was well-spoken, confident, looked “presidential,” and hammered away on the economy made a Romney bounce a near certainty, regardless of anything Obama could have done. As for Romney’s lies and running away from his erstwhile hard-right discourse, this will not have been perceptible to the low information voters who flipped to him. In fact, Romney’s approval rating had already started to move upward in the days preceding the first debate and, in the week that followed, shot up three points (to 49%), whereas Obama’s only dropped one point (also to the 49% range). So the narrative that Obama is single-handedly responsible for his changing of fortunes may need to be revised.

Something else that has been starkly apparent since the first debate: Romney and his advisers know that if he were to run on the Tea Party platform—which is now the mainstream GOP—, he would be buried on November 6th. Romney and Ryan have to dissemble, obfuscate, and lie, as the Republican party, in its present incarnation, is unelectable nationally. They can only win by misrepresenting themselves and hoping that enough low information and/or amnesic fence-sitting voters will take the bait (and after which that bait will, of course, be switched). This is a fact. Obama doesn’t have to lie about a thing, being the centrist that he is.

The election is in two weeks, the thing is tied, and I am making no predictions, though I think that Obama still has to be regarded as a slight favorite. The final result will most certainly be close, within two-and-a-half percentage points, and with Obama most probably pulling it out. Romney could, of course, take the lead and win in the end but I just can’t see the bottom falling out from under Obama as happened with Carter in 1980 (following Reagan’s debate victory a mere week before the election). Not after Obama’s solid debate performances yesterday and last week. And the electoral college still looks good for him. Florida may be iffy and North Carolina’s a goner but Virginia and Colorado are still very much in play. Unless there is a big national shift toward Romney, Obama will win Wisconsin—which hasn’t voted Republican since 1984—and no doubt Iowa and New Hampshire, the latter of which has been trending Democrat for the past decade. Obama has been solid in Nevada, where his ground operation is far stronger than Romney’s, and in Ohio—where it will all be decided—, he has at no point lost his lead. Again, the only way Romney can win enough of these states to put him over 270 EVs is if there is a late, almost tectonic nationwide shift in his favor. He can throw all the money he wants into the air war but there will be diminishing returns and with fewer voters sitting on the fence. And he will come up against Obama’s ground game, which is the far superior one. It will be all about turning out one’s voters. If black turnout equals that of 2008—and this is certainly the top priority of the Obama GOTV operation in Ohio and elsewhere—, then Obama will win.

One other factor militating in Obama’s favor is his job approval rating, which is holding steady at 49-50%. This is winning range. In 1980 Jimmy Carter was under 40%. On election day in 2004 Bush was at 49.4%. Another number that hasn’t been much discussed is the ‘direction of the country’ question. Six weeks ago 32% said ‘right direction’, 63% ‘wrong track’. Today it’s 41/53. The trend is markedly upwards. This can only work in the incumbent’s favor. So while I’m nervous about November 6th—along with everyone else—I’m not worried. Not today, at least.

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Today’s Journal du Dimanche has an interesting interview on the events of October 17, 1961, with Constantin Melnik, who was the coordinator of secret services at the Matignon at the time

Melnik : “Une responsabilité collective”

Le coordinateur des services secrets à Matignon de 1959 à 1962, Constantin Melnik, revient sur la répression sanglante du 17 octobre 1961.

Quand avez-vous été alerté cette nuit-là?
J’ai reçu un coup de fil du directeur de la sûreté la nuit même, me disant : “Il se passe quelque chose de sinistre à la préfecture de police”. Mais c’était du ressort du préfet, Maurice Papon. Moi, je m’occupais alors des négociations avec le FLN algérien. J’ai longtemps été accusé d’avoir participé à cette effroyable répression. Mais je suis complètement vierge. J’ai même été le premier à révéler le massacre.

Comment l’avez-vous su?
Chaque matin, je recevais la liste des musulmans retrouvés morts à Paris. En général, on en avait 5 ou 6. Mais après le 17 octobre, c’est devenu 20 à 30 par jour. J’ai convoqué le directeur de cabinet de Maurice Papon pour avoir des explications. Il m’a répondu qu’il s’agissait de “noyés par balles”… J’ai compris qu’il s’était passé quelque chose d’inadmissible. J’ai tout de suite demandé un rendez-vous avec le Premier ministre Michel Debré pour l’avertir. Il m’a lancé qu’on ne faisait pas d’omelette sans casser des oeufs.

Combien de victimes?
Le FLN a annoncé 69 morts au cours de cette soirée. Mais comme il n’y a pas eu d’enquêtes, on ne connaît pas le nombre exact de victimes, ni le détail. Des gens ont vraiment été massacrés : certains tués par balle et jetés dans l’eau. D’autres battus à mort. Ou noyés, comme la plus jeune victime, âgée de 17 ans. Comme le FLN ne connaissait pas forcément tous les manifestants, j’estime qu’il a dû y avoir une centaine de morts.

Pourquoi ce déchaînement de violence? 
C’était une ambiance de guerre. Depuis des mois, les policiers étaient la cible d’attentats commis par le FLN. Ils étaient mal formés. Certains venaient de faire leur service militaire en Algérie. Ils se sont laissés emporter par la haine et le racisme. La personnalité du préfet de police, Maurice Papon, a également joué. Cet homme, qui avait été super-préfet de Constantine, était rompu aux méthodes brutales pratiquées en Algérie. Régulièrement, il encourageait ses agents, avec des discours du type : “Pour un coup reçu, nous en rendrons dix” ou : “Je vous couvrirai”.

Qui est vraiment responsable? 
En premier lieu, Maurice Papon. Le 17 au soir, il était dans la salle de commandement de la préfecture. Il était au courant des événements, mais ne pouvait rien faire : la police était incontrôlable. C’est aussi une responsabilité collective. Car il a fallu réquisitionner les bus de la RATP pour embarquer les manifestants, réquisitionner le Palais des Sports pour les parquer. Le ministre des Transports, le ministre de l’Intérieur, le Premier ministre et le président de la République étaient forcément au courant. Mais je ne crois pas que le général de Gaulle ait été informé du massacre. La preuve : dans les archives de la police, j’ai vu une lettre du secrétaire général de l’Élysée demandant des explications à Maurice Papon. Enfin, la fédération de France du FLN, qui avait appelé à manifester, a aussi une part de responsabilité. Ses dirigeants ont ensuite admis, en privé, qu’il fallait que le sang coule pour renforcer leur situation au sein des indépendantistes. Pour eux, c’était un acte de guerre.

Pourquoi l’affaire a-t-elle été étouffée? 
Tout le monde a fermé les yeux. D’abord, parce qu’à l’époque, la population était hostile à l’idée de laisser les Algériens défiler dans Paris. Si Maurice Papon avait laissé cette manifestation se dérouler, il aurait été immédiatement révoqué ! Là, il a poursuivi une belle carrière. Ensuite, le gouvernement avait besoin de sa police. Il devait lutter contre l’OAS, qui était un véritable danger pour la stabilité du pays. Moi-même, je n’ai pas demandé d’enquête. Mais j’avais un poids sur la conscience : le gouvernement que je servais avait commis puis couvert une infamie. Le président François Hollande a raison de rendre hommage aux victimes

Marie Quenet – Le Journal du Dimanche
dimanche 21 octobre 2012

There’s also this in the JDD

17 octobre 1961, de 30 à 170 morts

Ce jour-là, 20.000 à 30.000 Algériens manifestent contre le couvre-feu. Plusieurs dizaines d’entre eux sont tués par la police. Mais le mystère demeure…

Ce devait être une manifestation pacifique. Ce 17 octobre 1961, les Algériens de la région parisienne défilent contre le couvre-feu imposé par le préfet de police, Maurice Papon, aux Français musulmans d’Algérie. Tous ont reçu la même consigne : n’apporter aucune arme. Ils ont même été fouillés à leur arrivée. Vers 19 heures, 20.000 à 30.000 hommes, femmes et enfants convergent dans le calme, sous la pluie, à différents endroits de Paris. Mais bientôt, la répression s’abat…

L’objectif du FLN, organisateur de la manifestation? “Un des cadres de la Fédération de France du FLN m’a dit qu’il s’agissait d’un acte tactique”, affirme Georges Fleury, auteur de nombreux livres sur la guerre d’Algérie. “Le couvre-feu paralysait leur action. Ils ont donc forcé les gens à manifester. Selon ce cadre, ‘il fallait que le sang coule’ pour être entendu de l’ONU.” L’historien Benjamin Stora, commissaire de l’exposition “Vies d’exil” à la Cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration (jusqu’au 19 mai 2013), n’est pas de cet avis : “Croyez-vous que le FLN aurait fait exprès d’envoyer à la mort des femmes et des enfants? Personne ne s’attendait à cette violence. Et la majorité des immigrés algériens étaient favorables à l’indépendance.”

Quoi qu’il en soit, la situation dérape. “Plusieurs milliers d’Algériens se dirigent vers le pont de Neuilly. La police fait barrage, elle ouvre le feu. Des hommes sont jetés dans la Seine”, décrit Jean-Luc Einaudi, spécialiste du 17 octobre 1961. Des scènes de violences se déroulent également près de la Madeleine, de l’Opéra ou sur le boulevard Saint-Michel. Les arrestations sont massives, plus de 11.500. Les hommes sont embarqués dans des bus de la RATP, puis parqués dans différents lieux, notamment au Palais des Sports.

Papon en première ligne

Impossible de connaître le nombre exact de morts. “Trois”, selon le bilan officiel de l’époque ; “40 à 50″ selon la commission Mandelkern en 1997. Pour sa part, Jean-Luc Einaudi compte environ 400 Algériens tués entre septembre et novembre, dont 170 à partir du 17 octobre. L’historien Jean-Paul Brunet, lui, estime qu’il y en aurait eu “entre 30 et 50, en y incluant également les morts des affrontements du 18 octobre, les blessés décédés par la suite et des morts dus à l’action de la police en dehors des lieux de manifestation”. “Il y a surtout eu beaucoup de blessés graves, notamment des traumatismes crâniens.” La répression a été d’une brutalité extrême. Les policiers se déchaînent à coup de “bidule”, des matraques d’un mètre de long. Un manifestant meurt écrasé, étouffé, dans un car de police, un autre est abattu deux jours plus tard tandis qu’il tente de s’enfuir…

Pourquoi ce déchaînement? À l’époque, la tension est à son comble. Depuis des mois, la police subit les attentats du FLN. Les commissariats sont protégés par des sacs de sable. Le ressentiment s’accumule. Et l’historien Jean-Pierre Rioux pointe également le nombre insuffisant d’agents sur le terrain le soir du 17 octobre.

Mais qui est responsable? Maurice Papon, le préfet de police, est évidemment en première ligne. En même temps, rappelle Jean-Pierre Rioux, “il n’était pas question pour le gouvernement et le général de Gaulle qu’il y ait une manifestation publique en faveur de l’indépendance de l’Algérie alors qu’ils négociaient justement avec le gouvernement provisoire de la République algérienne”. Ont-ils été informés de ce déferlement de violence et du nombre exact de morts? Seules les archives, en France et en Algérie, pourraient permettre aux historiens de s’approcher de la vérité.

Marie Quenet – Le Journal du Dimanche
samedi 20 octobre 2012

On the varying estimates of the number of people killed on during the events, see this run down by Pascal Riché in Rue89.

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George McGovern R.I.P.

I just learned, this very instant, that George McGovern passed away. I hadn’t thought about him much over the years—no particular reason to, as he’d been out of politics for a long time—but he was one of the more significant public figures of my youth. I first heard of him in the spring of 1972, during the Democratic party primary campaign. I was in the 10th grade at the American school in Ankara, Turkey, and very interested in politics, keeping up with US and world affairs via the International Herald-Tribune, Newsweek, and the BBC World Service. I decided then that he was my man for the nomination and, on the last day of school, told my English teacher so (in a private conversation; she revealed to me that she was a Democrat and for McGovern too; and in a school run by the US Defense Dept and where most of the students were US Air Force dependents). During the DNC in July I found myself in Budapest, where I had no way of following it, as the IHT and other Western newspapers were unavailable. To find out who McGovern’s running mate was I picked up a copy of a local paper on a park bench—no doubt the Communist party daily Népszabadság—, found a short dispatch on the US (I didn’t understand a word, of course) and saw the name Thomas Eagleton. I worked on the campaign in the late summer and fall, now in Evanston, Illinois, going to McGovern HQ in downtown Evanston every day after school, plus on Saturdays, to stuff envelopes and take leaflets, buttons, and bumper stickers to hand out at the el stations or outside supermarkets. Evanston had been a conservative town but was trending liberal—and McGovern ended up carrying it—but I felt a lot of negativity, when not downright hostility (e.g. in front of an el station a 60ish man in a suit knocked the leaflets out of my hand and looked like he wanted to punch me). I thought McGovern was great—as did my diehard Democrat family and friends—but had no illusions that he had any chance of winning. And I was surprised to learn that my fellow campaign volunteers actually believed he could. But I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of Nixon’s landslide. It was not a festive atmosphere at campaign HQ on election night, where I watched the returns (on NBC). At least he won Massachusetts. And that night was doubly disappointing for liberals in Evanston and adjoining north shore Chicago suburbs, as Abner Mikva, the liberal Dem candidate in the IL 9th CD—many kids at the high school worked on his campaign—, lost in a cliffhanger to the incumbent Republican congressman.

Great bumper sticker during the Watergate scandal: Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts.

Losing his Senate seat in the 1980 Republican landslide was another downer. I knew Reagan was going to win that one—though was stunned by his margin of victory—but did not anticipate 12 Dem incumbent senators losing reelection and the Senate going GOP. That was a stunner times ten. And for a man of McGovern’s stature to lose to a GOP non-entity named James Abdnor. That was tough. I didn’t take McGovern’s short-lived candidacy for the 1984 nomination too seriously, though a few friends did work on it (I was in Chicago at the time) and it did rehabilitate him with the national Democratic party, which had avoided bringing up his name after the ’72 debacle. In 1984 McGovern showed himself to be what he had always been: the conscience of American liberalism and simply a decent man. There was, of course, no way anyone as far to the left as he could ever be elected to national office. Which is too bad.

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Compliance

This first-rate American indy film, which I saw a few days ago, has been labeled “possibly the most disturbing movie ever made,” and I reckon that it is indeed. I was extremely uncomfortable during stretches of it, finding it almost unbearable to watch at points, though there is no violence. No one gets physically hurt. More than one French critic has called it a “psychological horror film” and that it is. Leaving the theater I felt like I’d had the wind knocked out of me, and all the more so as the movie is based on actual events and is utterly believable. It’s an absolute must see: and particularly for those who wish to understand the psychological process that leads people in authoritarian regimes to passively acquiesce—or seem to—in authority that is, on the face of it, not legitimate. And more relevantly for most of those reading this: how it is that citizens in otherwise advanced, democratic polities obey authority that appears, on the face of it, to be legitimate but may, in fact, be arbitrary and/or not legitimate. I will let David Denby of The New Yorker describe the film

When “Compliance” was shown at the Sundance Festival, last January, some people in the audience got so upset that they started shouting during the screening; others simply walked out. Watching “Compliance” recently, I also began to squirm and talk back, but not because I disliked the movie, which I think is brilliant. American movies are saturated in physical violence; this one is devoted to spiritual violence. “Compliance,” an independent film written and directed by Craig Zobel, is about something serious—our all too human habit of obedience when we are faced with authority. The movie is driven by an urgent moral inquiry, yet it has the mesmerizing detail and humor of a very idiosyncratic fiction. Zobel’s setting is a fast-service chicken franchise in Ohio. The sixtyish Sandra (Ann Dowd), the manager, has a lot on her hands—a heavy Friday-night crowd, not enough bacon in the larder, and a few young employees who slack off when they can. The phone rings: a man identifying himself as a police officer (Pat Healy) says that one of the girls working the front counter, Becky (Dreama Walker), a pretty teen-age blonde, has stolen some money from a customer’s purse. He has the victim sitting next to him, he says, and also surveillance footage of the crime. Sandra, a good-natured sort but eager to stay in control, then does what he instructs her to do—confronts the baffled Becky in a back room, searches her things, and, finally, strip-searches her. (The cop says it’s easier than hauling Becky down to the station and booking her.) The customers come and go, the fries sizzle in fat, the bacon runs out. Sandra, as she deals with the police, keeps the restaurant working, while the other employees, fond of Becky but hapless, take part in her detention and humiliation, doing what the man on the phone orders. Zobel works close to his characters, catching them at moments of doubt before they press ahead. The actors, inspired by the attempt to do something daring, display a perfect balance of casualness and intensity. For this fable to work at all, you have to believe everything in it, and experience the girl’s plight as a genuine violation. I didn’t detect a false note: the rhythm of the movie is workaday and unforced, the restaurant details so oddly right that you feel sure you understand everyone who works there.

In the old days of Soviet police terror, the man on the phone would have been a smashing success: he’s polite, reasonable, seemingly candid, but dominating and manipulative. Our suspicions, as an audience, are aroused from the beginning. Is he really a cop? A prankster? Perhaps the call is part of some dubious psychological experiment, like the notorious Milgram and Zimbardo affairs, in which university psychologists successfully ordered willing subjects to commit cruelties against other subjects. The people at the franchise are all decent enough, and it’s enraging to see them so easily bullied—that’s why you feel like shouting at the screen. Of course, none of them are too swift. Who ever heard of a cop remaining on the phone for an hour in order to persuade people at a crime scene to do police work? Why doesn’t anyone call a lawyer—or simply call the police to find out what in the world is going on? The answer is that the employees are all caught in a web of coercion in which they want to please their master, and each cruel act they commit seems to set up and justify the next. They want to get the affair over with. “Compliance” is a small movie, but it provides insight into large and frightening events, like the voluntary participation of civilians in the terrible crimes of the last century. For the record, the movie is based on “police” telephone calls made during the past two decades to McDonald’s and other such franchises, after which managers performed strip searches on female employees. I hasten to add that “Compliance” is not an exposé of fast-food working conditions. Zobel and his actors and crew have discovered something cold and lewd in the human heart and have found an effortlessly expressive way of dramatizing it.

Denby is dead on target here. There were moments when I wanted to shout at the screen. And there wasn’t a false note in the film, though one particularly excruciating scene toward the denouement was a stretch—though maybe it wasn’t. What is so disturbing about the film is all in the title: of unquestioning compliance with authority, or, rather, with a man—and it’s invariably a man—who presents himself as representing authority, who has the voice of authority, is unquestioningly deferred to as a consequence, and who warns of serious consequences if his authority is not deferred to. And the syndrome is universal, be it at a fast-food restaurant in the American heartland—or in Spain, or India, or most anywhere—, in France during the occupation, the Soviet Union, Iraq under Saddam, Tunisia under Ben Ali, and you name it. And no one can confidently assert in advance how he or she would react if s/he were in the shoes of the restaurant employees in the film (for the actual incident from which it is inspired, go here, though—spoiler alert—one may want to read it only after seeing the film).

Now there were critics who did pan the film and found it not believable, e.g. Joe Morgenstern of the WSJ, who called it

a tin-eared clunker that depicts its working-class characters with almost palpable scorn—everyone is stupid or morally obtuse

And this from Mark Feeney of the Boston Globe

there is a level of stupidity displayed by the people in this movie that beggars belief. Their behavior is to stupidity as the Death Star is to a doughnut. Anyone in this country who has seen a minimum of two episodes of a TV crime series — which is to say, everyone in this country over the age of 7 — knows at least a little bit about police procedure: the accused’s right to make a phone call, being read the Miranda warning, how understandably proprietary cops are about what they do, stuff like that. About two minutes into Officer Lewis’s phone call any one of those people will figure out what’s going on. About five minutes into the phone call, that same person will begin to wonder why no one in the movie has. And about 15 minutes into the phone call, that person may recall a presumably apocryphal story about Pia Zadora.

I quote these two critics because they are so wrong and need to be responded to, as at least a few who see the film will no doubt agree with them. The film absolutely does not treat its characters with scorn, nor does it make them out to be stupid. Which is not to say that they may not be—the overall IQ level of the characters is probably not at the top of the chart, though it’s not on the lower end either—but that’s not the issue. It is no coincidence that, with one exception, the restaurant employees are all women and/or teenagers—and the one character who gets mixed up in the affair from outside the restaurant is an adult male who’s had too much to drink. And they are all in a state of economic precariousness, in that if they lose their jobs—and that sword hangs over all their heads, and the man on the telephone knows it and plays on it—they are really up the creek. In America one used to be able to take that job and shove it, but no longer.

The characters in the film are thus precisely the type who will readily defer to the instructions of a man the phone identifying himself as a police officer and who speaks like one, who tells them that if they do what he says everything will be fine, but if they don’t, there will be trouble. And the last thing they want is trouble. His voice is authoritative, soothing when it needs to be, and there is no a priori reason for them to distrust it. The teen employees, along with their late 50ish boss, may have seen plenty of cop shows on TV but it will not occur to them to invoke Miranda rights, call a lawyer, or tell the man who identified himself as a police officer that what he was asking of them was not legal. 19-year olds tend not to have that presence of mind when dealing with a cop, nor would the overwhelmed manager of a store or restaurant who has no time for distractions and wants the police inquiry to be over as quickly as possible. If the officer had lodged his outrageous requests at the outset, there would have been suspicion—and likely outright rebellion—, but as a skilled pervers narcissique, he knew how to slowly but surely manipulate those on the other end of the line into his engrenage. They were frogs in the pot of water slowly heated to boiling.

It may be parenthetically observed that Americans do have a particular respect for police officers, for the man with a badge upholding the law. Watching American movies and TV series in France, one is struck by the image of the single cop in his cop car in the baddest part of town, ordering the baddest gangbangers to put their hands up against a wall, and with the latter meekly complying. Such a scene is inconceivable in France, needless to say. Not that the French don’t comply with authority in so many other ways, but agents with badges just don’t enjoy that kind of deference here. I am continually amazed, when traveling to the US, of how Americans passively put up with the indignities of the TSA security gauntlet at airports, even allowing TSA agents to touch their “junk,” the refusal of which would cause them to miss their flights (no French airport security agent would ever try to touch your “junk,” that I promise). In the movie it took one man, the grizzled, gruff part-time custodian, who wasn’t going to be intimidated by anyone, to quickly figure out what was going on.

The acting in the film is excellent, and particularly of the man calling himself a police officer (Pat Healy). US and French reviews are  tops, though with the inevitable detractors (and one may want to avoid reading the reviews until after seeing the film). One critic strongly recommended seeing the film in a cinema rather than at home, so one will feel the claustrophobia of the characters. If you’re going to see it at home, please pledge not to stop it and/or walk away in the middle. Watch it to the end (and at 1 hour 30 minutes, it’s not long). One other thing: it’s the kind of film that lends itself to discussion, no question about that, so it’s good to see with other people.

ADDENDUM: Here’s the beginning of Justin Chang’s review of the film in Variety (Jan. 21, 2012)

In taut, gripping and deeply disturbing fashion, writer-director Craig Zobel measures the depths to which rational individuals will sink to obey a self-anointed authority figure in “Compliance.” … [T]his stealth psychological horror film is at once tough to turn away from and, by design, extremely difficult to watch as it grimly assesses the human capacity for sheeplike naivete under duress. Received at its Sundance premiere with a smattering of outraged boos, it’s a surefire conversation-starter that, with smart handling, could prove a boon to a daring distrib.

If nothing else, the accusations of sexual exploitation lobbed by a few hostile members of the film’s world-premiere audience serve as a testament to just how effectively “Compliance” gets under the viewer’s skin. Yet Zobel, who previously directed 2007’s “Great World of Sound,” is no irresponsible provocateur. From its expert performances and carefully researched material to its dead-on evocation of life behind the counter at an average Middle American burger joint, this is intelligent low-budget filmmaking that handles its risky subject matter with taste and discipline.

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Historian David A. Bell has an article in TNR on the contemporary politics of historical apology in France and what America could learn from it. On the 70th anniversary of the Rafle du Vél’ d’Hiv this past July 16th, President Hollande delivered a powerful address on the culpability of the French state and that went further than President Chirac’s words on that day in 1995 (the English translation of Hollande’s speech is here; my blog post on the anniversary is here). And this past Wednesday, on the 51st anniversary of the sinister events of the evening of October 17, 1961, in and around Paris (which I have posted on here and here), Hollande issued this brief but remarkable statement

Le 17 octobre 1961, des Algériens qui manifestaient pour le droit à l’indépendance ont été tués lors d’une sanglante répression.

La République reconnaît avec lucidité ces faits.

Cinquante et un ans après cette tragédie, je rends hommage à la mémoire des victimes.

Again, a remarkable, indeed historic, statement acknowledging the responsibility of the French state in the murder of scores of Algerian civilians—French citizens at the time—on French soil. The UMP, not to mention the FN, has reacted with expected indignation at Hollande’s words but they may be safely ignored. In discussing France’s admirable efforts to face up to and atone for the dark episodes of its not-too-distant past, Bell draws a contrast with America on this score, of how American attitudes have changed and not for the better

Not only has France apologized for some past actions, it has also stopped boasting of others. in 2005, the government of Jacques Chirac quietly but firmly refused to mark in any but the most restrained way the bicentennial of the Battle of Austerlitz—arguably, the greatest French military victory of all time, carried out by Napoleon Bonaparte against Austria and Russia. Modern France, it was explained, had no business celebrating a bloodbath carried out by a repressive, undemocratic ruler as part of a campaign of naked imperial expansionism.

In the United States, sentiments of this sort, apropos of the darker episodes in American history, are anything but uncommon in university classrooms. In politics, however, they have become virtually taboo. In the civil rights era, American politicians could speak frankly and eloquently about the ways that slavery and institutionalized racism stained the American past. In the 1980’s, Congress could pass legislation acknowledging the wrong of Japanese-American interment during World War II, and granting compensation to its victims. But in the past quarter-century, conservatives have successfully cast any attempt to discuss the country’s historical record impartially in the political realm as a species of heresy—“blaming America first,” as Jeanne Kirkpatrick put it as far back as 1984. A turning point of sorts came in 1994, when the Smithsonian Institution planned an exhibit of the aircraft that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, accompanied by material that highlighted the human toll of the bombing,  inviting debate on its morality.  The outcry from conservatives and veterans groups was deafening, and few politicians dared to defend the Smithsonian, which eventually canceled the exhibit.

What has changed in the US? There’s no mystery: the Republican party has been taken over by elements that, in France, would find their natural home in the nationalist, no apologies Front National, or in one of the hard right caucuses of the UMP that has few  programmatic differences with the FN and advocates electoral alliances with it. Bell—who does not precisely put it this way—concludes

in practice, denunciations of “apology” play much less well in France than in the United States. The [UMP government's] 2005 schools measure [on teaching “the positive role” of French colonialism] was widely ridiculed and soon repealed. François Hollande promised to recognize the 1961 massacre during the presidential campaign last year, and still handily defeated Sarkozy, who did not use the issue against him. Defenders of Hollande’s Vel d’Hiv speech have pointed out that the new President was following the precedent laid down by a previous apologist-in-chief, the UMP’s Chirac. And anyone who strikes an overly contentious nationalist pose in French politics risks association with the far-right National Front, whose founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has predictably denounced Hollande, declaring that only God has the authority to recognize French guilt or innocence.

In France, in short, apologizing for your country can be good politics. It is in America where being a politician means never being able to say you’re sorry.

À propos, any bets on Romney accusing Obama of “apologizing for America” during next Monday’s debate?

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Romney tax plan

For those who haven’t seen it, go here for the details.

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Obama-Romney in Hempstead

[update below]

I watched the entire debate on YouTube this morning. What to say, Obama was very good: great on form, solid on substance, fast on his feet, didn’t miss a beat. Whoever said he wasn’t a good debater? (maybe I did, but should probably revise that). Even conservative hack pundits concede that he won on points. As for Romney, he was okay: on some questions he held his own, on others he seemed flustered. And, as we say here, he recounted n’importe quoi: he shaded the truth and/or talked nonsense (e.g. binders full of women). This was actually the first time I’ve watched Romney in a full debate. I have not had a visceral dislike of him—unlike, e.g., G.W.Bush, Gingrich—or thought he was a dangerous ideologue (e.g. Cheney, Ryan) or an idiot (Palin, the GOP primary field this year, etc). On the persona side I’ve seen him as a sort of George Bush Sr. After watching his performance last night, I’ll take the elder Bush any day. Romney, to paraphrase Charles de Gaulle, se prend pour l’élite, est sûr de lui et dominateur. I wouldn’t want to have him as an hierarchical superior on a job, that’s for sure.

A few good instant post-debate analyses: John Cassidy in The New Yorker, Jonathan Cohn in TNR, Howard Kurtz and Michael Tomasky in The Daily Beast, and this 15-minute audio exchange between David Frum and Robert Shrum.

It would make for a most interesting debate if the audience at these town hall meetings were comprised of partisan Democratic and Republican voters instead of wishy-washy independents, posing sharp questions to the man they oppose but also to their own (e.g. a skeptical Tea Partier asking Romney to explain his flip-flopping from the center to the right and then back, and a lefty Democrat, say, challenging Obama’s use of drones in AfPak and Yemen, and that have killed many civilians). Pourquoi pas ?

Just about everyone is analyzing the election horse race with American sports metaphors. A stateside friend and basketball fan offered this one before the debate

Obama needs to think along the lines of his favorite sport: basketball. It is a game all about knowing when to go on the offense and when to go on the defense. The parallel is that you want to put your opponent on the defense as much as possible. This is ideal in attacking Romney since he only knows how to play offense well and only plays “scripted” defense. With a weak script at that!

As for me, I go with US football. We’ve been in the fourth quarter since the party conventions. Before the first debate Obama was up by two touchdowns and controlled the ball. It looked like all he needed to do was run out the clock, as Romney’s offense was insipid and just nowhere. But then in the debate Obama fumbled away the ball, and then fumbled it away again, allowing a suddenly reinvigorated Romney offense to score two quick TDs, tie the game, get the ball back on another fumble recovery, and drive down the field for a score that could have put him in a commanding lead late in the game. Obama was looking at a fourth quarter collapse of historic magnitude (and with his fans, who had begun to high-five it, in a state of shock and panic). But last night he whipped his offense and defense into shape, stopped Romney’s momentum, wrested the ball back, and is now moving down field. The post-debate polls will show if he’s scored a field goal or even a TD, or punted the ball on fourth down, leaving the game a tie. There’s still six minutes on the clock, so enough time for another game changing play on either side. It’s going to be stress city for all down to the final gun.

UPDATE: George Will calls last night’s debate “immeasurably the best” ever in presidential history, and he’s seen all of them. He also says that Obama won it. Watch here.

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Death by Ideology

A few hours before the second presidential debate, I offer Paul Krugman’s column from yesterday’s NYT in case one didn’t see it. It would be so nice if Mr. Romney could respond to it, or, failing that, one of his supporters

Mitt Romney doesn’t see dead people. But that’s only because he doesn’t want to see them; if he did, he’d have to acknowledge the ugly reality of what will happen if he and Paul Ryan get their way on health care.

Last week, speaking to The Columbus Dispatch, Mr. Romney declared that nobody in America dies because he or she is uninsured: “We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.” This followed on an earlier remark by Mr. Romney — echoing an infamous statement by none other than George W. Bush — in which he insisted that emergency rooms provide essential health care to the uninsured.

These are remarkable statements. They clearly demonstrate that Mr. Romney has no idea what life (and death) are like for those less fortunate than himself.

Even the idea that everyone gets urgent care when needed from emergency rooms is false. Yes, hospitals are required by law to treat people in dire need, whether or not they can pay. But that care isn’t free — on the contrary, if you go to an emergency room you will be billed, and the size of that bill can be shockingly high. Some people can’t or won’t pay, but fear of huge bills can deter the uninsured from visiting the emergency room even when they should. And sometimes they die as a result.

More important, going to the emergency room when you’re very sick is no substitute for regular care, especially if you have chronic health problems. When such problems are left untreated — as they often are among uninsured Americans — a trip to the emergency room can all too easily come too late to save a life.

So the reality, to which Mr. Romney is somehow blind, is that many people in America really do die every year because they don’t have health insurance.

How many deaths are we talking about? That’s not an easy question to answer, and conservatives love to cite the handful of studies that fail to find clear evidence that insurance saves lives. The overwhelming evidence, however, is that insurance is indeed a lifesaver, and lack of insurance a killer. For example, states that expand their Medicaid coverage, and hence provide health insurance to more people, consistently show a significant drop in mortality compared with neighboring states that don’t expand coverage.

And surely the fact that the United States is the only major advanced nation without some form of universal health care is at least part of the reason life expectancy is much lower in America than in Canada or Western Europe.

So there’s no real question that lack of insurance is responsible for thousands, and probably tens of thousands, of excess deaths of Americans each year. But that’s not a fact Mr. Romney wants to admit, because he and his running mate want to repeal Obamacare and slash funding for Medicaid — actions that would take insurance away from some 45 million nonelderly Americans, causing thousands of people to suffer premature death. And their longer-term plans to convert Medicare into Vouchercare would deprive many seniors of adequate coverage, too, leading to still more unnecessary mortality.

Oh, about the voucher thing: In his debate with Vice President Biden, Mr. Ryan was actually the first one to mention vouchers, attempting to rule the term out of bounds. Indeed, it’s apparently the party line on the right that anyone using the word “voucher” to describe a health policy in which you’re given a fixed sum to apply to health insurance is a liar, not to mention a big meanie.

Among the lying liars, then, is the guy who, in 2009, described the Ryan plan as a matter of “converting Medicare into a defined contribution sort of voucher system.” Oh, wait — that was Paul Ryan himself.

And what if the vouchers — for that’s what they are — turned out not to be large enough to pay for adequate insurance? Then those who couldn’t afford to top up the vouchers sufficiently — a group that would include many, and probably most, older Americans — would be left with inadequate insurance, insurance that exposed them to severe financial hardship if they got sick, sometimes left them unable to afford crucial care, and yes, sometimes led to their early death.

So let’s be brutally honest here. The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance, and millions more deprived of the security Medicare now provides, in order to save money. At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.

It’s not a pretty picture — and you can see why Mr. Romney chooses not to see it.

Nicholas Kristof’s last column, “Death by Mistake”—on the same general subject—, may also be read.

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The EU’s Nobel Prize

There’s been a lot of mocking and derision at the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. And I will admit that my immediate reaction was also to mock and deride. But this was unfair, as the prize is, in fact, well-deserved. It’s just badly timed. Twenty years ago—when the TEU was signed at Maastricht—would have made more sense. Art Goldhammer got it right

Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize before he had done anything. The prize to the EU seems like the opposite: a sort of lifetime achievement award (overlooking a few mishaps such as Srbrenica and Kosovo). Europe may be collapsing, but it’s not at war. In this light, the prize, while somewhat pointless, is not absurd.

Liam Hoare, writing in The Atlantic, agrees. Noting the “dismissive, odious, and repugnant” tone of those critiquing the award, he asserts that this

reflects a total failure to recognize and appreciate the historic accomplishments of the European Union — but also the work it continues to do to eliminate economic barriers and foster international and interethnic cooperation, on a continent that was for centuries stuck in a cycle of perpetual war.

David Frum is on the same page. In a tribune in the National Post, he asks, after obligatorily dumping on the EU

So boo to the Nobel committee?

Well … no. Not so fast.

The Norwegians are sending a reminder flare to their continental neighbours: In the throes of today’s crisis, please remember, the Euro may have been a mistake, but the European Union must be preserved. The EU must be preserved not only as the obviously beneficial trading area that it is, but also (yes) as an ideal.

It’s an inspiring thing to visit the German-Polish border and see — not barriers, not legacies of old hatreds — but goods-laden trucks whizzing past as casually as if they were crossing the North Carolina-South Carolina state line. It’s an inspiring thing to visit Alsace and see this territory that was contested in three terrible wars arrive at peace via the simple proposition: If you want a house in Alsace, buy one. Who cares which sovereign delivers the mail?

The European Union presents every member nation with a magnificently attractive vision: A Europe at peace with itself, a Europe of rising prosperity, a Europe in which Europeans can move freely to live and work. When extremist forces arise in European countries — as they are rising now in Greece and in Hungary — they are met with the answer, “But if we yield to these forces, we’ll put ourselves outside Europe. No more right to work in London. No more aid from Germany.” The desire to qualify for Europe has powerfully pulled countries such as Serbia and Romania along the democratic path — and in years to come will exert the same force upon Belarus and Ukraine.

That’s a powerful and precious achievement. At a moment when the achievement risks being lost or forgotten due to a financial fiasco, the parliamentarians of Oslo did well to use their most effective platform to remind Europe and the world of what is at risk.

Tout à fait. But this does beg the issue as to the legitimacy of the whole Nobel enterprise. À propos, Walter Russell Mead has a positive review in the latest Foreign Affairs of a negative history of the Nobel Peace Prize. The author of the reviewed book, Jay Nordlinger, is a well-known rightist, though that does not a priori invalidate his argument. The Nobel committee has awarded the peace prize to so many people who manifestly did not deserve it that one has a hard time taking it seriously at this point. Better to abolish the thing and dedicate the money for some other peace-related cause.

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Killer Joe & Magic Mike

I see a lot of movies at the cinema—at least one or two a week—and sometimes mainly for entertainment, which means Hollywood, though provided the subject matter of the pic is interesting and/or the US reviews are decent (and I trust US reviews more than French). I’ve seen a few over the past couple of months that weren’t bad and that I’ll recommend, albeit with qualifications for one or two. One was ‘Killer Joe’ by William Friedkin—who directed ‘The French Connection’ and ‘The Exorcist’—, which, as the poster indicates, is a totally twisted Texas redneck trailer park murder story. I guess it’s still okay to call people in that part of America rednecks. The term that first came to my mind was “white trash,” but that’s probably un-PC nowadays. This is the best movie I can remember seeing about low IQ people since Jim Jarmusch’s ‘Stranger than Paradise'; in this case, really stupid low IQ people in a Dallas trailer park who are caught up with criminals somewhat smarter than they, cook up a crackpot scheme to make a fast $100K—and that involves killing a family member—, but which of course goes wildly wrong. I was sufficiently entertained, though the pic is rather violent in parts, so if one is squeamish about that, one may want to avoid it (though one can always avert one’s eyes at the violent parts, which is what I do). Some of the acting is very good, notably Matthew McConaughey—an actor I had heard of but didn’t know—and Thomas Haden Church. More than one critic thought that Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple were miscast in their roles. Perhaps, though I didn’t have that sentiment. Best line in the pic, of the Hirsch character criticizing Texas: “The biggest problem with this state is that it has too many hicks and rednecks and with too much space to walk around in.” Takes one to know one.

Another entertaining pic was Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Magic Mike’, about the world of male strippers, here in Tampa FL. The guys in this are higher IQ than the protags in ‘Killer Joe’—some of them at least—, not violent, and are trying to get ahead in an economy that presently doesn’t offer many possibilities to men on that rung of the socio-economic ladder. Matthew McConaughey is in this one too (and he’s good). Channing Tatum—a well-known actor, in movies I haven’t seen—is in the lead role (and he’s also good). Recommended.

For the record, I also saw Steven Soderbergh’s ‘Haywire’ (en français: ‘Piégée’). It’s a high octane thriller that takes place on several continents. The pic is total fluff—not the kind that lends itself to discussion and analysis after leaving the theater—but is entertaining nonetheless. It was the first major role for the lead actress, Gina Carano, who is a mixed martial arts champion in real life. When she was engaged in hand-to-hand combat with the men, she really knew what she was doing. In this respect, the pic has a feminist angle. If one is into alpha females kicking the sh*t out of the bad guys—which my friend and I thought was a hoot—then by all means see it.

Finally, there is Oliver Stone’s ‘Savages’, about two buddies and their chick—whom they share—who live on the beach in southern California, grow and sell high quality marijuana, live the good life, and are inevitably contacted by a Mexican drug gang over the border in Baja that makes them an offer they can’t refuse. But they refuse it. And then the bad stuff happens. The film is extremely violent, though the violence certainly reflects the reality of the world of Mexican drug traffickers. Benicio Del Toro is particularly effective as the sadistic enforcer in the Mexican gang. If one can deal with the violence, the pic may be seen. If one does not like excessive violence, then it is best avoided.

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