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Archive for December, 2012

Our flawed constitution

Louis Michael Seidman, professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, writes in today’s NYT about some of the major flaws in the US constitution. He begins

As the nation teeters at the edge of fiscal chaos, observers are reaching the conclusion that the American system of government is broken. But almost no one blames the culprit: our insistence on obedience to the Constitution, with all its archaic, idiosyncratic and downright evil provisions.

Evil? Perhaps. Archaic and idiosyncratic? Definitely.

On the same topic, retired Justice Jean Paul Stevens had a review essay in the October 11th NYRB of UT Law professor Sanford Levinson’s latest book, Framed: America’s Fifty-One Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance. Levinson is a well-known critic of the constitution. For the anecdote, I briefly met him some seven years ago at a conference in Paris and asked him, along with Marcie Hamilton of the Cardozo law school, if they thought that the president swearing the oath of office on the Bible violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Both replied that, in their considered opinion, it did indeed, probably the letter of the clause, definitely of its spirit. When it comes to church-state issues at least, the US constitution—correctly interpreted—isn’t bad.

constitution - book cover

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washington-monument

TNR has been re-posting some of its “most thought-provoking pieces of the year,” one of which was Robert Kagan’s “The Myth of American Decline,” published in January. As it happens, President Obama was quite taken with Kagan’s argument, as TNR informed the reader in the preface to the article

At the State of the Union on January 26, President Barack Obama argued, “Anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, doesn’t know what they’re talking about.” According to a Foreign Policy report, the president had read and been influenced by [Robert Kagan's article], discussing it at length in an off-the-record meeting on the afternoon of the speech.

I also thought it was a good article, and even assigned it to a class of Master degree students (mostly French, no Americans) this fall, and which led to a most interesting discussion (and with no one taking issue with Kagan’s argument). Kagan is my favorite “neocon” policy intellectual; he’s almost always interesting and thought-provoking, even if I don’t always agree with him (e.g. his article “Power and Weakness,” which I have assigned in the aforementioned class for the past ten years, is seriously flawed; and I vehemently disagreed with his position on Iraq, needless to say). But he was convincing here. So I recommend the article. If one wants to disagree with me (and Kagan), that’s fine, but, please, read the article first. And to the end.

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Best (and worst) movies of 2012

Voilà my annual list of the best and worst movies of the year (for last year’s list, see here). The films here came out in the cinema this year in France or in the US. All the films have separate posts on the blog (or will soon). N.B. I see a lot of movies but haven’t seen everything, including some that figure on the “best of” lists of various film critics.

TOP 10:
Barbara
Cairo 678 (٦٧٨)
Compliance
Django Unchained
I Wish (奇跡)
La Désintégration
Labyrinth (Labirent)
Life of Pi
Louise Wimmer
Sister (L’Enfant d’en haut)

HONORABLE MENTION:
After the Battle (بعد الموقعة)
Amour
Argo
In the House (Dans la maison)
Take Shelter

BEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA:
Elena

BEST MOVIE FROM DENMARK:
The Hunt (Jagten)

BEST MOVIE FROM MOROCCO:
Sur la planche

BEST MOVIE FROM SENEGAL:
La Pirogue

BEST MOVIE FROM THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO:
Viva Riva!

BEST MOVIE FROM CANADA ABOUT CHILD SOLDIERS IN AN UNNAMED AFRICAN COUNTRY THAT IS OBVIOUSLY THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF THE CONGO:
War Witch (Rebelle)

BEST MOVIE FROM PORTUGAL ABOUT LONG BURIED MEMORIES OF THE LATE COLONIAL ERA IN AN UNNAMED AFRICAN COUNTRY THAT IS OBVIOUSLY MOZAMBIQUE:
Tabu

BEST MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA ABOUT A YOUNG MOTHER AND HER BABY WHO SOFTEN THE HEART OF A TACITURN WORLD-WEARY MIDDLE-AGED TRUCK DRIVER:
Las Acacias

BEST MOVIE FROM CHINA ABOUT HOW THE FLAME OF TRUE LOVE CAN NEVER BE EXTINGUISHED:
Apart Together (團圓)

BEST MOVIE FROM CHINA ABOUT THE HORRORS OF THE MAOIST ERA:
The Ditch (夹边沟)

BEST MOVIE FROM GERMANY ABOUT TURKISH IMMIGRANTS IN GERMANY:
Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland

BEST MOVIE FROM AUSTRIA ABOUT TURKISH IMMIGRANTS IN AUSTRIA:
Kuma

BEST EPIC TWO PART MOVIE FROM INDIA ABOUT THE INTERSTICES OF ORGANIZED CRIME POLITICS CORRUPTION COMMUNALISM AND WEAK STATE INSTITUTIONS IN THE STATE OF JHARKHAND:
Gangs of Wasseypur (Gangs of वासेपुर)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT EXTREME LEFT-WING JEWISH TERRORISTS OUTRAGED BY INEQUALITY AND INJUSTICE:
Policeman (השוטר)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT NEGEV BEDOUINS WHO ARE VICTIMS OF INEQUALITY AND INJUSTICE:
Sharqiya

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ABOUT TRADITION VS MODERNITY IN A PALESTINIAN FAMILY:
Inheritance

BEST FRANCO-ISRAELI MOVIE ABOUT A PALESTINIAN BOY AND ISRAELI GIRL WHO REACH OUT TO ONE ANOTHER:
A Bottle in the Gaza Sea (Une bouteille à la mer)

BEST SCHLOCKY MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE LATE COLONIAL PERIOD IN ALGERIA:
What the Day Owes the Night (Ce que le jour doit à la nuit)

BEST BIOPIC FROM FRANCE ABOUT A SCHLOCKY POP MUSIC STAR:
Cloclo

BEST MOVIE FROM SCOTLAND WHERE ONE HAD TO READ THE FRENCH SUBTITLES IN ORDER TO UNDERSTAND WHAT WAS BEING SAID IN ENGLISH:
The Angels’ Share

BEST MOVIE SHOWING HOW THE U.S. HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES WAS A MORE ESTIMABLE BODY 150 YEARS AGO THAN IT IS TODAY:
Lincoln

BEST MOVIE THAT MAKES ONE WISH AMERICA HAD MORE POLITICIANS LIKE ABRAHAM LINCOLN:
Lincoln

BEST MOVIE THAT MAKES ONE WISH AMERICA HAD MORE POLITICIANS LIKE THADDEUS STEVENS:
Lincoln

BEST MOVIE ABOUT A LOW I.Q. WHITE TRASH FAMILY IN DALLAS TEXAS:
Killer Joe

BEST MOVIE ABOUT A BUNCH OF GUYS STRUTTING THEIR STUFF IN TAMPA FLORIDA:
Magic Mike

BEST WOODY ALLEN MOVIE ENTIRELY SET IN ROME ITALY:
To Rome with Love

BEST MOVIE OF 2012 THAT ACTUALLY CAME OUT IN 2011:
Hugo

BEST MOVIE ABOUT THE WORKINGS OF FINANCE CAPITALISM:
Margin Call

BEST COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
What’s in a Name (Le Prénom)

BEST COMEDY MAKING SPORT OF AMERICAN POLITICIANS:
The Campaign

RAUNCHIEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT DOMINIQUE STRAUSS-KAHN WANNABES ACTING OUT THEIR FANTASIES:
The Players (Les Infidèles)

BEST DOCUMENTARY FROM SERBIA:
Cinema Komunisto

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE DEPRAVITY OF THE SOCIO-POLITICAL-ECONOMIC ORDER IN RUSSIA:
Khodorkovsky

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT COMPETING ZIONIST-PALESTINIAN NARRATIVES OF THE WORLD’S MOST INTRACTABLE INSOLUBLE CONFLICT:
My Land

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHOWING ISRAELI JEWS AND PALESTINIANS TALKING ABOUT HAVING SEX WITH ONE ANOTHER:
Would You Have Sex With an Arab?

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHOWING HOW COPTS AND MUSLIMS DON’T GET ALONG SO WELL IN A VILLAGE IN UPPER EGYPT:
The Virgin, the Copts and Me

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHOWING HOW JEWS AND MUSLIMS USED TO GET ALONG IN ALGERIA AND EVEN PLAYED MUSIC TOGETHER:
El Gusto

MOST HORRIFIC MOVIE FROM MEXICO ABOUT THE VIOLENCE OF MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS:
Miss Bala

MOST HORRIFIC HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ABOUT THE VIOLENCE OF MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS:
Savages

MOST HORRIFIC INDY COP BUDDY MOVIE ABOUT THE VIOLENCE OF MEXICAN DRUG CARTELS:
End of Watch

MOST UNSATISFYING MOVIE FROM THE PHILIPPINES REENACTING A TERRORIST HOSTAGE CRISIS:
Captive

MOST PAINFUL MOVIE FROM BELGIUM TO SIT THROUGH:
Bullhead (Rundskop)

MOST FORGETTABLE MOVIE DEFINITIVELY PROVING THAT IT WAS ALL DOWNHILL FOR JAMES BOND MOVIES AFTER SEAN CONNERY STOPPED PLAYING JAMES BOND IN JAMES BOND MOVIES:
Skyfall

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM FRANCE:
Rust and Bone (De rouille et d’os)

MOST OVERRATED MOVIE FROM NORWAY:
Oslo, August 31st

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE ABOUT HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS IN THE BRONX RIDING A BUS FOR HOURS AND HOURS AND HOURS:
The We and the I

MOST TEDIOUS MOVIE FROM ISRAEL ON THE ENNUI OF NYMPHOMANIA:
The Slut (הנותנת)

MOST STULTIFYINGLY BORING COSTUME DRAMA FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE COURT OF VERSAILLES ON THE MORROW OF THE FRENCH REVOLUTION:
Farewell, My Queen (Les Adieux à la reine)

WORST SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION OF AN 18TH CENTURY GERMAN PLAY:
Faust

WORST SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION OF A 19TH CENTURY ENGLISH NOVEL:
Trishna

WORST SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION OF A 20TH CENTURY AMERICAN NOVEL:
On the Road

WORST SCREENPLAY ADAPTATION OF A 21ST CENTURY AMERICAN NOVEL:
Cosmopolis

WORST GERMAN MOVIE BY A RUSSIAN DIRECTOR:
Faust

WORST INDIAN MOVIE BY AN ENGLISH DIRECTOR:
Trishna

WORST AMERICAN MOVIE BY A BRAZILIAN DIRECTOR:
On the Road

WORST AMERICAN MOVIE BY A CANADIAN DIRECTOR:
Cosmopolis

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Something I’ve been wanting to ask conservatives since seeing Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’ the other day. If you had been around for the January 1865 debate in the House of Representatives over the 13th amendment to the constitution—and had adhered to the prevailing conservative positions of the time—would you have identified with the views of Thaddeus Stevens or George Pendleton?  Just asking.

lincoln

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Life of Pi

Life_of_Pi

Saw this yesterday. It’s an amazing film and of a wonderful, beautifully written novel (and as I am not a big novel reader, if I say it’s beautiful please do take my word for it). No screenplay could do justice to the richness of Yann Martel’s writing but this one did succeed, at least as much as could be expected. Do see the film. And if you haven’t read the novel, do that too.

cover lifeofpi

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La Pirogue

La Pirogue

This is one of the better films I’ve seen over the past couple of months. It’s from Senegal, about a major, real life subject, which is migration—irregular, clandestine—from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe: in this case, of the treacherous 1,500 km passage in pirogue fishing boats from Senegal to the Canary Islands in Spain (see the map here), which African migrants determined to reach Europe began to take toward the middle of the last decade, and that peaked in 2006, when some 30,000 came ashore in the Canary Islands. As the islands couldn’t cope with the influx, most of the migrants were transported to reception centers on the Spanish mainland, at which point they were home free—to move on to their destinations on the continent (mainly France)—, which the well-informed migrants knew would happen. The pirogues were piloted by Senegalese fisherman driven out of their waters—and into unemployment—by big fishing trawlers, mainly from South Korea. And the voyages—which have for the most part ended due to concerted international action—were organized by unscrupulous traffickers.

The film—which is an homage to the thousands of migrants who perished at sea (some 6,000 in 2006 alone)—reenacts, in documentary-like fashion, the journey: of the recruitment of the pilot by the sleazy trafficker in a coastal village outside Dakar, the assembly of the 30 migrants—native Senegalese and Peuls from Guinea—on the beach, the crossing to the Canaries on the high seas, the dynamics among the passengers—who are divided by ethnicity and language—, their contrasting reactions when they come across a pirogue whose engine has failed and is packed with desperate migrants (Guinean Peuls), and then what happens when things start to go wrong with their own boat. The portrayal of all this is no doubt totally accurate. It’s quite a powerful film for this reason, but above all because it shows the migrants as real, flesh-and-blood individuals seeking to better their lives—and at huge risk to their lives—and not as statistics, some faceless mass, or objects of phantasms and fear stereotyped by European public opinions and demagogic politicians. Seeing the film increases one’s revulsion—well, mine at least—toward the anti-immigrant demagoguery in immigrant-receiving countries. Not that Europe (or the US) should throw open the doors to unfettered immigration—which no one is proposing—, but that policy responses to the issue must involve respect and consideration for the migrants, that we’re talking about real people and who, again, seek nothing more than to better their lives. The film should be required viewing for anyone expressing a decided viewpoint on the issue, not to mention politicians and policy-makers engaged with it. Variety gave the film a good review, as did French critics. Pierre Haski of Rue89 had a nice essay how “the African boat people finally have their film.” Trailers are here and here.

On the subject of irregular immigration to the European continent, I saw a small Italian film a few months ago, ‘Io sono Li’ (English title: ‘Li and the Poet’; en France: ‘La Petite Venise’), on a young Chinese undocumented immigrant who works in a bar-restaurant in Chioggia, on the Venitian Lagoon, where she was sent by the Chinese trafficker who brought her into the country, initially to work in a clandestine textile factory near Rome. The story is of her effort to accumulate enough money to bring her young son from China to join her—while still owing money to the trafficker—, of her isolation in Chioggia, and the friendship she develops with a retired Slovenian fisherman, who has lived in the town for many years—he’s nicknamed “the poet” and is a regular at the bar—but, as an immigrant, is also an outsider. The review in Variety, which called it “a gentle pic,” is here. French reviews, which were positive, are here.

io sono li

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Inheritance

affiche-heritage

This is the latest film from Israel-Palestine to hit the Parisian salles obscures. It’s the directorial debut of the well-known Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass (whom I’ve seen in some fifteen films over the past decade; love her, she’s great). It’s good! I liked it. It’s set in an Arab village in the upper Galilee, near the Lebanese border—and with some scenes in Haifa—, during the 2006 Israel-Hizbullah war. The war serves only as a backdrop, though, and the film is not about politics, not directly at least (except for one of the characters, who wants to run for mayor of his village, and is being sponsored by an outside Jewish political patron). The focus is on inter-generational and gender relations in a Palestinian family—here, Palestinians in Israel—, specifically of the youngest daughter/sister, Hajar—played by the fine French beurette actress Hafsia Herzi—, a university student in Haifa, who wants to marry her English (non-Muslim) professor/boyfriend, and over the objections of her father, brothers, and one of her sisters-in-law (played by Abbass, perhaps substituting for her mother, who is dead)—and more from her brothers (who are considerably older than Hajar) than her father. The movie is about tradition vs. modernity, family honor, patriarchy, inter-confessional relations (Muslim/Christian), group conformity vs. individual freedom…  And not only as all this negatively impacts on women but on men as well. The themes are not totally original but are treated well, perhaps because the film is partly autobiographical, based on Hiam Abbass’s own past (as she recounts in this interview, as well as this one). The other characters in the film—played by Israeli-Palestinian actors one has seen in other Israeli films—are well-portrayed (except perhaps the Englishman), and all of whom have their own marital or other issues. The wedding scene (of one of Hajar’s cousins) is particularly good, as is the depiction of Palestinian society in Israel more generally. The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a good review, as did all the critics of the Paris press. Trailer is here.

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Serge Gainsbourg

La Poste timbre de 2001

This post has nothing to do with anything that’s happening these days, or even with anything that’s on my mind, but I was recently telling my American students about Serge Gainsbourg, none of whom had heard of him. Before their time and he was never well-known in the US anyway. But he was huge in France, one of its major musical artists from the late ’50s to his premature death in ’91, and who wrote and composed all his music. And he was an outrageous personality. I told the class that I’d do a blog post with my favorite Gainsbourg songs—just about everyone’s favorites, in fact—, so voilà, here they are via YouTube (in chronological order).

Le poinçonneur des Lilas (1958). On a day in the life of the ticket-puncher (poinçonneur) at the Porte des Lilas metro station.

La Javanaise (1963). In honor of chanteuse Juliette Gréco.

New York U.S.A. (1964). Gainsbourg, the little Frenchy, goes to New York City and marvels at how tall the buildings are. Amusing. And tongue-in-cheek.

Bonnie and Clyde (1968). With Brigitte Bardot. They had a brief romantic involvement. Gainsbourg had numerous (brief) romantic involvements.

Initials B.B. (1968). Gainsbourg’s ode to Brigitte Bardot. Great song.

Je t’aime…moi non plus (1969). With Jane Birkin (his longest romantic involvement, and from which came his one child, Charlotte Gainsbourg, a well-known actress since her teen years). Probably his most famous and beloved song. It caused a scandal at the time.

Élisa (1969). Gainsbourg singing his love for a woman (typically) younger than he.

Je suis venu te dire que je m’en vais (1973). Inspired by his near death experience following his first heart attack (he had five), after which he increased his (already heavy) consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

Sea, Sex and Sun (1977). With Jane Birkin. There’s also an English version.

Dieu fumeur de havanes (1980). With Catherine Deneuve. God smokes Havana cigars. Or Gitanes (Gainsbourg’s brand, brun and unfiltered). The disappearance from public places (cafés, restaurants, offices, everywhere) of the unique, pungent aroma of dark tobacco Gitanes and Gauloises smoke is one of the many changes in France of the past three decades (no smoking laws, changing tastes in tobacco).

Here is the (in)famous meeting of Gainsbourg—who had descended into near permanent drunkenness and goujaterie—and Whitney Houston on Michel Drucker‘s show (one of the most watched in France) in 1986.

A biopic, Gainsbourg (vie héroïque), came out three years ago. I was somewhat disappointed with it. It’s not as good as the recent biopic of Claude François, though may be seen.

On the occasion of the biopic’s release in the US last year, Salon.com asked several US musicians to share their favorite Gainsbourg songs. The choices are somewhat different from mine.

gainsbourg vie heroique

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The faces of evil

Larry Pratt

This man, Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA)—a group that considers the NRA to be too moderate on the issue of guns, too willing to compromise and “sell out” the apparent rights of gun owners—, believes strongly that the response to the Newtown massacre should be more guns in America and in more hands, including those of primary school teachers and in the classroom.

This man below, John Lott, thinks likewise.

John Lott

Imagine that, arming primary school teachers in the classroom. Or any kind of teacher, including me. Me, packing heat in front of my students (or in front of anyone). I’m trying to imagine my 4th grade teacher, Miss Blakely (below, top row left), with a loaded gun in the classroom (and that she would presumably keep in a drawer in her desk, easily accessible to any of us 9 and 10-year olds; and that she would, with her hair trigger reflexes and presence of mind, immediately whip out of the desk the second a mass murderer burst into the classroom, neutralizing him before he could do harm; or, better yet, perhaps she would have the gun on her person at all times, along with all the other teachers: Mrs. Burgdorf, Miss Harney, our art teacher Miss Chris, music teacher Mrs. Heinemann, even gym teacher Mr. Grenke…; what a sight, all of them carrying loaded guns!).

Campus Elementary School Milwaukee 4th grade 1965-66

Anyone who thinks it not only appropriate for teachers like Miss Blakely to be armed in the classroom but that they should be, is not only a despicable SOB and with a sick, deranged mind but is also evil. If Larry Pratt’s and John Lott’s wishes were to become reality—of a society where just about everyone is armed, at pretty much all times, and with the arm of his or her choice, including semi-automatic rifles—there would simply be that many more people killed. This certain outcome of Larry Pratt’s and John Lott’s vision makes these men evil. Period.

Lott does have academic credentials and has authored a few books on the issue, and based on data, so it seems, though his arguments—and his use of data—have been rubbished, notably in this article by Ian Ayres and John J. Donohue III in the Stanford Law Review (which was linked to in Nicholas Kristof’s NYT column yesterday, “Looking for Lessons in Newtown“).

Pratt and Lott have been making the rounds of the TV studios the past few days, including Piers Morgan’s show on CNN. Morgan, who is no gauchiste—having spent the early part of his career with Rupert Murdoch’s London tabloids—, nonetheless found these wankers beyond the pale (watch here and here). One notes with pleasure that Morgan told Pratt that “you’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you?” In addition to being stupid, Pratt is also a raving idiot and a brazen liar—and that Morgan took pains to point out—, in asserting that the parts of America “where guns are allowed freely” have lower murder rates than in Europe or the UK.

Where do they find these people? Under what rocks do they slither out from? Seriously, these men are the dregs of American society. Fifteen of the twenty US states with the highest gun homicide rates are in the South and mountain West, where, until proof to the contrary, guns have long been allowed rather freely. As for the gun homicide rate by country, the table in Charles Blow’s NYT column yesterday of OECD member states—i.e. the world’s rich countries—speaks for itself.

One thing Pratt said on Morgan’s show was that “Americans with firearms at home typically have them locked in a safe, as I do and as most gun owners certainly do.” Really? I wouldn’t know myself, except that I thought one reason people keep a gun at home is for protection against burglars or robbers who break into the house. But if the gun is in a safe, it will take a minute or so to get it out, and assuming the homeowner is in the same room as the safe. Normally time and presence of mind are of the essence in such situations, no? So if the gun is not literally on the person at the time of the break-in or within reach, what use is it protection-wise? Just asking.

But in the view of Larry Pratt, the Second Amendment is, in fact, not primarily about giving Americans the ability to protect themselves in their homes but, rather, as he explained to Chris Matthews here, “to control the government,” to potentially use against the US government if it goes “overboard”… All one can to say to this is to invite the members of GOA to do just that, and right now, against the government of that socialist Muslim Kenyan who sits in the White House: to collectively use their guns against the authority of the US government. And so the US government can then arrest all of them. And if they resist arrest, kill them. With guns and legitimately.

Teabonic

A couple of good articles read over the past couple of days:

Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker, always excellent on this issue, on “The Simple Truth About Gun Control.” Note, in particular, the report he links to from the Harvard School of Public Health, on more guns = more homicides.

On the NYT Opinion page, Notre Dame philosophy professor Gary Cutting on “The N.R.A.’s Blockade on Science,” on the successful efforts of the NRA to block federal funding of research on the link between guns and violent death. One is left incredulous at this. These people—the NRA, GOA, the whole wretched lot of the pro-gun lobby—really are evil people.

Christopher Weyant 121912

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Michael de Adder 12-18-2012

Jeffrey Toobin has a great comment in The New Yorker on the Second Amendment and how it was interpreted until the 1980s, when the NRA—which was taken over by activist right-wingers in the late ’70s—successfully pushed for a novel reinterpretation—and that was at variance with two centuries of constitutional understanding. Toobin—who links to important articles by Jill Lepore and Reva Siegal—concludes his short piece with this

In other words, the law of the Second Amendment is not settled; no law, not even the Constitution, ever is.

Read Toobin’s piece here. Right now.

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One more massacre (cont.) – IV

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

Voilà more good articles and commentary on the fallout of the Newtown massacre.

Joshua Hollande, writing in Alternet and Salon, had a very good piece the other day, asserting that “Yes, we can have sane gun control.”

Sane gun control: banning assault weapons and 100-round ammunition clips, closing the gun show loophole, background checks, no mail order gun sales, registration, etc, etc. No one here is talking about banning all guns outright or Federal agents invading homes and confiscating pistols and hunting rifles (though in some cases at least, that might not be a bad idea).

Sane gun control, it needs to be insisted upon, in no way conflicts with recent Supreme Court rulings, as one may read in today’s NYT. There is no “settled law”—as some gun nuts put it—on the matter.

À propos, Jack Schwartz, writing in TDB, convincingly argues that “Gun-Control Foes Misunderstand the Intent of the Second Amendment.” The lede: “The NRA and paramilitary militia groups have got the Second Amendment all wrong—it’s more about suppressing rebellion than individual gun ownership.”

It looks like President Obama may be getting out front on this issue after all. Quoting David Rothkopf in Foreign Policy

[Barack] Obama is also a father of young girls. The degree to which the horror and the heartbreak of Newtown touched him was palpable, whether it was in his first remarks on Friday or during his extraordinary Sunday night address to the people most affected by the school murders. It was not just the flicking away of tears that illustrated how deeply he was moved. It was the degree to which he set aside — finally — that characteristic Obama caution.

American leaders rarely do what Obama did Sunday night. I don’t recall the last time I heard an American president so bluntly state that we were failing our children and our obligations to one another as a nation. “Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?” he asked. “If we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.”

He did not mention guns. He didn’t have to. It was clear that he was saying 300 million guns in circulation is too many. It was clear he was saying that 30,000 gun deaths a year is an abomination. The United States has spent some $3 trillion combating terror since 9/11, and guns at home have killed twice as many Americans as terrorists have killed people worldwide since then. It is not just a national scandal. It is a disease, a fundamental and profound flaw in our national character.

The President has the public behind him on this, so he just needs to go for it.

UPDATE: Here’s Chris Rock on “bullet control.” Watch and enjoy. (h/t Dwayne W.)

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http://ganglandscribe2.blogspot.com/2011/09/corner-where-gun-shop-stood.html

American gun shop

Looks like the national debate over guns—if one can call it a debate—is beginning to shift a little in the wake of the Newtown massacre. Normally pro-gun Dem Senators are calling for new limits on guns while the gun lobby has gone radio silent

Leaders of the [NRA] have declined interview requests since the shootings, the group’s Twitter account has gone silent, and it has deactivated its Facebook page.

And pro-gun GOP Senators have been avoiding the media, notably last Sunday’s talk shows. But a few normally NRA-supporting right-wingers are revising their positions on guns, e.g. Rupert Murdoch—though he’s from Australia, which voted tough gun control laws after the ’96 Port Arthur massacre, so what do you expect?—and Joe Scarborough, former NRA A+ GOP congressman, who says that Newtown had rendered his previous positions on guns “irrelevant” (watch here). Money quote

The Bill of Rights does not guarantee gun manufacturers the absolute right to sell military style high calibre semi-automatic combat assault rifles with high capacity magazines to whoever the hell they want.

Not bad, Joe. GOPers will likely attribute his change of heart to contamination from having worked so long at MSNBC. The pro-gun people are trotting out their usual bullshit arguments but the only ones they’re likely to convince are themselves. The easy availability of guns is of course a cause but so is the gun culture. À propos, WaPo has a useful piece that shows “What makes America’s gun culture totally unique in the world, in four charts.” International comparisons are essential in arguments and they must not be selective. E.g. Jeffrey Goldberg, in his lengthy, somewhat misleadingly entitled article in The Atlantic (published before Newtown), “The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control),” writes that

Many gun-rights advocates see a link between an increasingly armed public and a decreasing crime rate. “I think effective law enforcement has had the biggest impact on crime rates, but I think concealed carry has something to do with it. We’ve seen an explosion in the number of people licensed to carry,” [John] Lott, [an economist and a gun-rights advocate who maintains that gun ownership by law-abiding citizens helps curtail crime,] told me. “You can deter criminality through longer sentencing, and you deter criminality by making it riskier for people to commit crimes. And one way to make it riskier is to create the impression among the criminal population that the law-abiding citizen they want to target may have a gun.”

Crime statistics in Britain, where guns are much scarcer, bear this out. Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University, wrote in his 1991 book, Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America, that only 13 percent of burglaries in America occur when the occupant is home. In Britain, so-called hot burglaries account for about 45 percent of all break-ins. Kleck and others attribute America’s low rate of occupied-home burglaries to fear among criminals that homeowners might be armed. (A survey of almost 2,000 convicted U.S. felons, conducted by the criminologists Peter Rossi and James D. Wright in the late ’80s, concluded that burglars are more afraid of armed homeowners than they are of arrest by the police.)

Well, that’s Britain, and there may be other reasons for the high percentage of “hot burglaries” (e.g. maybe someone happens to be home there more often). I’d like to see the statistics for France on this but, based strictly on anecdotes and what one reads here and there, it would seem that the great majority of burglaries happen when no one is home. And then there’s South Africa, a crime-ridden and heavily armed society. In the NYT, columnist Joe Nocera thus writes

For many years, South Africa was a country every bit as gun-soaked as America. I have a friend, Greg Frank, a hedge fund manager in Charlottesville, Va., who lived in Johannesburg during a time when it had become so crime-ridden that people felt the need to own guns to protect themselves. He, too, owned a gun as a young man: “I made the excuse that I needed it for self-protection.”

The guns didn’t make anybody safer. People who were held up while waiting at a red light rarely had time to pull out their guns. And the fact that so many homes had guns became an incentive for criminals, who would break in, hold the family hostage, and then order that the safe with the guns be opened. “Everyone knew someone who had family or friends who had experienced gun violence,” he said.

Finally, he says, people got fed up. In 2004, the laws changed, requiring annual relicensing, character witnesses and other measure to keep guns out of the wrong hands. There was also an appeal to voluntarily surrender guns.

“I took my gun to the police station,” recalls Frank. “The cop receiving it wrote down the serial number, took my ID, and I was gone. It felt transformational, like a huge weight off my shoulders.”

It will for us, too, when we finally get serious about stopping gun violence.

Anyone who has lived or spent time in South Africa will tell hair-raising stories about the crime there—armed robberies, carjackings, you name it—and despite the mass ownership of firearms by the law-abiding citizenry. When criminals know that the chances are high that their victims may be armed, they will just be that much quicker on the trigger. Duh.

Correlation is not causation. Except when it is.

Back to Jeffrey Goldberg’s article, he thinks that gun control—such as articulated by those who hate the gun lobby—is mostly a pipe dream  at this stage, as, apart from the constitutional issues, America is so awash in guns that it will hardly matter. Any restrictionist law that gets through Congress—and which is not likely in this decade—will necessarily contain a grandfather clause that won’t affect the hundreds of millions of arms already in private possession. Perhaps. Though according to the statistics, the percentage of Americans who actually own guns has been declining over the past four decades. Nate Silver has some good charts and graphs on the subject—and that show, among other things, that the partisan divide on this is widening. It stands to reason that if the number of guns has been increasing but the percentage of people who own guns is declining, then America is witnessing a concentration of gun ownership in fewer hands, i.e. that there are individuals out there who own many guns, and particularly the assault rifles. The government could, of course, buy back the guns (assault rifles)—which admittedly not likely to happen—or just tax the hell out of them—or of the bullets—, or render them useless by banning or severely restricting the sale of ammunition magazines. Such legislation is not in the cards for the moment, but given America’s political-demographic trajectory, it may be envisaged in the not-too-distant future.

Goldberg had an exchange on his piece—in which he defends concealed carry, among other things—with Alex Seitz-Wald of Salon, which may be read here. James Fallows also weighed in on Goldberg’s piece here.

Chris Hayes of MSNBC had an interesting and informative debate the other night, with, among others, the brilliant constitutional scholar Akhil Reed Amar of the Yale Law School (in three parts, beginning here; I had a post on Amar a few months ago here). More articles:

Jon Lee Anderson in The New Yorker writes on “Guns and the Limits of Shame.”

Todd Gitlin in The Nation weighs in on “The Unbearable Elasticity of Gun Logic.”

Josh Horwitz, executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, has a piece in TAP on “A National Gun Policy: Here Is Where We Start.”

And I should add this piece in HuffPo, “‘I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother’: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America.”

Also this from the NYT Opinion page, on “What Drives Suicidal Mass Killers,” by Adam Lankford, professor of criminal justice at the University of Alabama, who equates the psychological makeup of mass killers in America with suicide bombers in Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

To be continued…

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One more massacre (cont.) – II

newtown-guns

Some excellent commentary in The New Yorker on the Newtown massacre, in particular, Adam Gopnik’s indictment of the gun lobby and its supporters, “Newtown and the Madness of Guns,” which expresses exactly what I’ve been thinking the past two days. Money quote

After the Aurora killings, I did a few debates with advocates for the child-killing lobby—sorry, the gun lobby—and, without exception and with a mad vehemence, they told the same old lies: it doesn’t happen here more often than elsewhere (yes, it does); more people are protected by guns than killed by them (no, they aren’t—that’s a flat-out fabrication); guns don’t kill people, people do; and all the other perverted lies that people who can only be called knowing accessories to murder continue to repeat, people who are in their own way every bit as twisted and crazy as the killers whom they defend. (That they are often the same people who pretend outrage at the loss of a single embryo only makes the craziness still crazier.) …

The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the possession of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of innocent children, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction gun owners take from their guns—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than children’s lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.

Yes, it is not just the gun lobby that, morally speaking, has the blood the murdered Newtown children on its hands but also those who support that lobby, who own the kinds of guns used in the massacre (above), and who believe that it is their right to do so. These people are moral perverts and with twisted minds. Period. End of argument.

I’ve had numerous exchanges with gun perverts over the years and decades, including on this blog. All of them are on the GOP hard right, which is hardly a surprise, and, as in exchanges on just about every topic, they trot out the same zombie arguments and formulations, and expressed in precisely the same words, mindlessly mouthing something they likely heard on Fox News or right-wing talk radio, or read in the WSJ editorial page or some nutbag right-wing website. E.g. one line mouthed by a few right-wingers with whom I exchanged views after the Aurora massacre, who argued that the solution was not gun control but more guns and in more hands, was that “an armed society is a polite society.” To which I asked: among the most armed societies in the world are Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia; so does that mean they’re polite? I naturally did not get a response to that one.

Also in The New Yorker, Patrick Radden Keefe, writing on “Making Gun Control Happen,” quotes Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners for America, who

suggested that these massacres might be avoided in the future, if only more teachers were armed.

As Pratt’s sentiment should make clear, the United States has slipped its moorings and drifted into a realm of profound national lunacy.

I am utterly certain that many gun perverts out there are echoing Pratt’s words, that if only the teachers had been armed the massacre would likely not have happened. Those who think this way, needless to say, not only have twisted minds but are profoundly sick. Keefe continues

Ponder, for a second, the fact that I cannot walk into a C.V.S. today and purchase half-a-dozen packages of Sudafed, but I can walk into a gun dealership and purchase a .50 caliber rifle of the sort that U.S. snipers use in Afghanistan. In fact, I can buy six or ten—there is no limit imposed by law. Should the gun dealer think it fishy that I might want to acquire a weapon capable of downing a small aircraft (much less six of those weapons) he may report the purchase to the A.T.F. But in most states, he’s not required to.

To some readers, that may seem eminently reasonable. But what about this? The state of Indiana recently enacted a law that enshrines an enhanced version of the “Castle Doctrine,” that quintessentially American notion that you are within your rights to shoot and kill someone as long as they are trespassing on your property. The Indiana statute, which was backed by the N.R.A. over strenuous objections from law enforcement, explicitly extends this precept to intruders who are “public servants,” but who you believe have no appropriate basis for entering the premises. In other words: under certain circumstances, it is now hypothetically legal under Indiana state law for you to shoot a cop.

Yes, an American society that “has slipped its moorings and drifted into a realm of profound national lunacy.”

Another New Yorker piece is by Evan Osnos, “China Watches Newtown: Guns and American Credibility.” His conclusion

It takes a lot to make China’s government—beset, as it is, by corruption and opacity and the paralyzing effects of special interests—look good, by comparison, in the eyes of its people these days. But we’ve done it. When Chinese viewers looked at the two attacks side by side, more than a few of them concluded, as this one did that, “from the look of it, there’s no difference between a ‘developed’ country and a ‘developing’ country. And there’s no such thing as human rights. People are the most violent creatures on earth, and China, with its ban on guns, is doing pretty well!”

It is a strange fact that in refusing to allow rational gun policies in America, the N.R.A. and its acolytes have damaged precisely the treasure they purport to hold so dear: the moral charisma of American liberty.

Right-wingers, as one knows, couldn’t care less how the rest of the world views America. As nationalists—and nationalism being a form of narcissism—they believe America to be the greatest country in the world and are no doubt reveling in the criticism and incomprehension of America at the latest massacre committed by assault weapons legally purchased, and which will no doubt comfort them in their disdain of the rest of the world. How nice it would be if they were obliged to explain and justify America’s gun laws and culture to a group of uncomprehending non-Americans (something I am quite certain almost none have ever had to do). I would love to be a fly on the wall at that one. For the anecdote, last night we had several friends over for dinner, all French (a few of Maghrebi origin), well-educated, on both the political left and right. At the end of the end of the evening the Newtown massacre came up and led to a discussion of American gun laws, and specifically the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which I dutifully called up on my laptop—”Une milice bien organisée étant nécessaire à la sécurité d’un État libre, le droit qu’a le peuple de détenir et de porter des armes ne sera pas transgressé”—, and that gave rise to an animated debate as to its meaning, i.e. does it or does it not guarantee an individual right to bear arms, or can this only be understood in the context of a militia. I argued the latter, though the others weren’t sure. The final consensus was that (a) the amendment contains two contradictory clauses and (b) that however it is interpreted, American gun laws and culture are insane. And that if firearms were as easily accessible in France as in the US—and if this country were awash in them—that the murder and massacre rate would naturally shoot way up. Obviously.

On the NYRB blog, Garry Wills has an essay on “Our Moloch.” He begins

Few crimes are more harshly forbidden in the Old Testament than sacrifice to the god Moloch (for which see Leviticus 18.21, 20.1-5). The sacrifice referred to was of living children consumed in the fires of offering to Moloch. Ever since then, worship of Moloch has been the sign of a deeply degraded culture. Ancient Romans justified the destruction of Carthage by noting that children were sacrificed to Moloch there. Milton represented Moloch as the first pagan god who joined Satan’s war on humankind:

First Moloch, horrid king, besmear’d with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears,
Though for the noise of Drums and Timbrels loud
Their children’s cries unheard, that pass’d through fire
To his grim idol. (Paradise Lost 1.392-96)

Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains—“besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometime this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).

Read the rest of Wills’s essay and be angry. At the worshipers of “our Moloch.”

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One more massacre (cont.)

.223 calibre Bushmaster assault rifle

.223 calibre Bushmaster assault rifle

I have nothing original or profound to say about yesterday’s massacre in Newtown CT, nothing that I did not say in my posts on the Aurora massacre in July (here and here) or the one in Norway last year (here) in any case. Except to shout—and for the umpteenth time—that it is psychotic and insane that a society should allow individuals to easily and legally acquire—over the counter or by mail—weapons such as the one above, which is what was apparently used by the 20-year old perpetrator of the massacre. There is something collectively unhinged in a polity that willingly allows this. This is, alas, one of the perverse effects—one among several—of the American electoral system, the serious distortions of representation in Congress, and other flaws in the American polity’s institutional architecture, and that thereby accords such outsized power to lobbies like the NRA (that Robert Shrum has aptly renamed the National Rampage Association; see also the commentary by David Frum linked to in his, and the links in that one).

One learns, in this article in TNR, that just three miles from the school where the massacre was committed is the HQ of The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is the second most important pro-gun lobby after the NRA.

Hours after the elementary school shooting Friday morning, the NSSF posted a statement on its website: “Our hearts go out to the families of the victims of this horrible tragedy in our community. Out of respect for the families, the community and the ongoing police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment or participate in media requests at this time.”

To this, one wishes to tell the NSSF to go fuck themselves. Likewise for anyone who shares its and the NRA’s world-view. Just go to hell. Now that President Obama has shed tears it’s time for concrete action. After the fiscal cliff stuff is out of the way, he and the Congressional Democrats need to take up the gun issue and push for sensible, but significant, legislation, to ban the sale of assault weapons, buying guns over the Internet, and so on. Change won’t happen right away but, with time and political effort, it can happen, as the politics of gun control may be changing, as this piece, also in TNR, explains. The parts of country where the NRA holds sway—rural America, the South, and mountain West—are pretty much lost to the Democrats at this point, so on the national level at least, the Dems have little to fear by taking on the NRA. Urban, blue state America will support gun control legislation. So Obama, now that he’s been comfortably reelected, should just go for it.

UPDATE: Ezra Klein has an informative Wonkblog post in WaPo on “Twelve facts about guns and mass shootings in the United States.”

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Obélix (Gérard Depardieu) and Idéfix, in 'Astérix et Obélix contre César' (1999, dir: Claude Zidi)

Obélix (Gérard Depardieu) and Idéfix,
in ‘Astérix et Obélix contre César’

[update below] [2nd update below]

How to argue against tax exiles? This is a big debate in France this week, with Gérard Depardieu’s announcement that he has bought a house in an upscale village in Belgium just over the French border, that happens to be inhabited by numerous well-heeled French tax exiles—taxes in Belgium for high earners being considerably lower than in France. Depardieu has not (yet) said that he’ll be moving there, let alone that he wants to avoid paying French taxes, but one can hardly imagine any other reason for him to buy the house (though to avoid paying French taxes he’d have to prove that he’s a resident of Belgium, lives there six months plus one day a year, and earns his income mainly outside France). The usual suspects—The Economist, Wall Street Journal editorial page et al—are no doubt brandishing this as yet more proof of the perversity of high tax rates in France. But Thomas Legrand, in a spot on editorial on France Inter this morning, refutes the neoliberals, arguing that actors like Depardieu owe a good part of their professional success—and thus wealth—to the action of the French state: of the subsidies and other forms of public support to the French movie industry, and that has been essential to its commercial success. So, to paraphrase Barack Obama, “Monsieur Depardieu, you did not build that! And you owe one to the French taxpayers.” It is likewise for the other moneybags that have relocated to low tax havens over the border.

Jean-Marc Ayrault a fustigé hier les exilés fiscaux qui cherchent, dit-il, à “s’exonérer de la solidarité avec les autres Français”. Est-ce la bonne méthode pour les retenir ?

 Sans doute pas, mais il n’y en a pas beaucoup d’autres. Ces arguments que l’on pourrait juger moralisateurs venant de l’Etat touchent juste et ont une pertinence particulière dans un pays où la puissance publique est largement impliquée dans l’économie. Les raisons invoquées par les exilés fiscaux vont de l’appât du gain sans vergogne jusqu’au sentiment sincère de se faire persécuter ou d’être complice d’une politique fiscale destructrice… Elles vont donc du pitoyable au désolant ! Mais puisque c’est le cas de Gérard Depardieu qui fait la Une, prenons l’exemple de l’industrie du cinéma. La France est une exception mondiale en la matière. Son cinéma est florissant, riche et exportateur. Gérard Depardieu y a fait recette, grâce bien sûr à son talent, mais aussi grâce à cette industrie dans laquelle la puissance publique, l’argent public jouent un rôle moteur. Les mécanismes de financement du cinéma français permettent des créations originales, n’empêchent pas (et même favorisent) les succès commerciaux. Ils fonctionnent aussi sur le modèle de la redistribution. Si Depardieu est à la tête de nombreuses affaires en dehors de l’industrie du cinéma, c’est bien grâce à sa carrière d’acteur populaire et donc largement grâce à l’Etat et aux contribuables français. Il suffit, pour s’en convaincre, de prendre la peine de regarder un générique jusqu’à la fin pour se rendre compte qu’au-delà des subventions du Centre National du Cinéma, chaque film est financé par des chaînes de télé publiques et a reçu des aides des ministères, des régions, des départements et des villes.

Sans compter le régime très onéreux pour les finances publiques, des intermittents du spectacle…

 Oui, un régime qui permet aux comédiens et aux techniciens du cinéma et de la télévision de vivre toute l’année, mais qui permet aussi aux stars fortunées d’évoluer dans une industrie de grande qualité. Les maisons de production françaises vont bien (et donc peuvent payer les stars) aussi grâce à ce système. Même le théâtre privé bénéficie indirectement de l’argent public puisque quasiment toutes les salles de spectacles à travers la France sont subventionnées par les collectivités locales. Les exils fiscaux de grands acteurs sont donc assez détestables mais l’argument de la solidarité nationale et même, pourquoi pas patriotique, peut s’appliquer bien plus largement. Bernard Arnault qui devient Belge a fait sa fortune sur la griffe « made in France », sur le savoir faire développé en France, sur l’artisanat de pointe, sur l’image du luxe français… on pourrait multiplier les exemples de cette forme d’ingratitude qui consiste à avoir fait fortune grâce aux contribuables français ou grâce à l’image de la France et à se soustraire à la solidarité nationale. La grande majorité des Français comprend ce qu’a voulu exprimer le Premier ministre. Mais il faudrait, pour que son argumentation imparable ne perde pas tout crédit, que l’on soit vite convaincu que le ministre du budget, lui-même, n’a pas eu de compte bancaire en Suisse !

Such a debate could not happen in the US, as the US is the only country in the world that taxes its citizens regardless of residence and where they earn their income. So Americans resident abroad and who do not make a cent of their income in the US are nonetheless liable for US taxes (and in addition to the taxes they pay in their country of residence). An objective outrage. For more on this, one may consult my blogging consœur Victoria Ferauge’s blog, which is full of information on the subject.

UPDATE: Frédéric Martel of France Culture expresses a contrary position

Contrairement à ce que l’on pense – à Paris, dans la gauche bobo, dans les beaux quartiers etc. – l’affaire Depardieu est un désastre pour le gouvernement. Elle a donné un visage à ce qui est en fin de compte une injustice : sur le marché de mon village ici, dans le Sud, tout le monde lui donne raison depuis qu’on sait qu’il a certainement été imposé à plus de 70 % (peut-être 80 % comme l’a montré Le Monde à cause de l’ISF non plafonné). Les Français, en fait, pardonnent beaucoup à leurs stars et à leurs artistes. L’opinion publique est en train de basculer en sa faveur. Des politiciens, des Moscovici, des Cahuzac, des énarques inspecteurs des finances, on en a beaucoup ; mais des Depardieu on n’en a qu’un. Et dans le match Hollande-Depardieu, c’est Depardieu qui rafle la mise. L’affaire Depardieu va, contre toute attente, coûter cher à la gauche. Elle est un révélateur.

I don’t know. He could be right. (December 23)

2nd UPDATE: Vincent Maraval, a film distributor and producer, has a tribune in Le Monde arguing that “French actors are paid too much.” (December 29)

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Philippe Bernard a une bonne analyse dans Le Monde, daté du samedi 8 décembre, comparant la dérive droitière de l’UMP à celle du Parti Républicain aux Etats-Unis. Si la ligne Buisson/Copé se confirme à l’UMP, il risque le même sort que les Républicains outre-Atlantique. J’ai la même analyse que Philippe Bernard depuis l’élection américaine

Au-delà d’un combat de coqs franco-français, que se joue-t-il dans la guerre suicidaire entre les chefs de l’UMP ? Pour échapper à la lassitude que procure ce spectacle, il est tentant de prendre du recul, d’aller chercher hors de l’Hexagone des angles d’analyse nouveaux, des éclairages inédits.

Un continent est familier de ce type de situation où les deux concurrents d’une élection se proclament simultanément vainqueurs et refusent obstinément de céder, jusqu’à l’autodestruction : l’Afrique.

Logistique électorale monopolisée par le président sortant, incapacité de proclamer des résultats crédibles, électeurs pris en otage d’un combat d’ego : les tares de certains scrutins africains sont souvent commentées avec condescendance dans l’ancienne puissance impériale qu’est la France. Ces Africains, susurre-t-on, ne sont décidément pas mûrs pour la démocratie.

Mais c’est sur un autre continent, aux Etats-Unis, que les raisons de fond du grand déchirement de l’UMP se trouvent éclairées par la défaite de Mitt Romney. La droite française et les républicains américains paraissent souffrir de la même incapacité à renouveler leur discours sur le rôle de l’Etat, les grands sujets de société, la place des immigrés, afin de rassembler une majorité d’électeurs.

A l’origine de la rivalité Copé-Fillon se trouve l’échec de la stratégie de Nicolas Sarkozy. La crise financière l’ayant amené à abandonner la rhétorique ultralibérale sur laquelle il avait été élu en 2007, l’ancien président français avait enclenché les sirènes du populisme identitaire.

Objectif : profiter du repli et des tentations xénophobes suscités par la crise, pour capter les électeurs effrayés par l’Europe et la mondialisation, hostiles aux immigrés et à la libéralisation des mœurs. On sait ce qu’il advint de cette “ligne Buisson” censée siphonner l’électorat de Marine Le Pen.

M. Sarkozy, ayant dérivé si loin à droite avec la campagne sur l’identité nationale, la tentative de remettre en cause les naturalisations et les surenchères anti-islam, s’est révélé incapable de mobiliser, entre les deux tours, l’électorat modéré indispensable à sa réélection.

A l’échelle du pays-continent que sont les Etats-Unis, l’échec du candidat républicain, le 6 novembre, résulte d’un scénario aux analogies étonnantes. Le modéré Mitt Romney a donné tant de gages aux extrémistes du Tea Party pour obtenir l’investiture républicaine – promesse d’abroger la loi Obama sur l’assurance-santé qualifiée de “socialiste”, refus d’augmenter les impôts des riches et de régulariser les sans-papiers, ambiguïté sur le droit à l’avortement –, que son recentrage brutal pendant les deux mois précédant le scrutin n’a pas assez largement convaincu, face à Barack Obama pourtant handicapé par le haut niveau de chômage.

Des deux côtés de l’Atlantique, les deux candidats conservateurs ont tenté en vain de se poser en protecteurs non seulement des classes favorisées, mais aussi des petites gens bousculés par la désindustrialisation, la menace de la Chine, des électeurs prompts à rendre les immigrés responsables du chômage et hantés par un sentiment de déclin.

Dans les deux cas, la majorité des électeurs a préféré le candidat le moins réticent à défendre les filets de sécurité étatiques – sauvetage de General Motors, loi sur la santé pour M. Obama, volontarisme des pouvoirs publics pour François Hollande – face aux soubresauts de l’économie.

Aux Etats-Unis, une coalition de fait entre les électorats jeune, féminin, noir et latino a assuré la réélection du président démocrate. En France, la mobilisation des 18-24 ans et des électeurs musulmans – selon des sondages, respectivement 57 % et 86 % ont voté pour M.Hollande au second tour – a contribué à la victoire du candidat socialiste.

“Je pense qu’il y a beaucoup à apprendre de la réélection de Barack Obama mais aussi de la défaite de Mitt Romney, a constaté le filloniste François Baroin dans Le Figaro. Le Parti républicain a réduit sa base électorale en déplaçant son centre de gravité sur sa droite. Ce qui leur est arrivé nous est arrivé aussi et je ne souhaite pas que l’UMP, grand parti de gouvernement, perde de vue la logique de rassemblement qu’avait souhaitée Jacques Chirac à sa création.”

Comment sortir de ce piège qui enserre les conservateurs, entre un anti-étatisme affaibli par les dérives de la finance, la défense des privilégiés qui aliène les éclopés de la crise, et une xénophobie rampante – anti-Latinos aux Etats-Unis, anti-musulmane en France – que rejettent notamment les électeurs issus de l’immigration ?

Tels sont les dilemmes qui alimentent tant la guéguerre Copé-Fillon – lancée par l’histoire inventée du “pain au chocolat” – que la crise du Parti républicain aux Etats-Unis, provoquée par l’échec des contorsions électorales de M. Romney.

Au-delà du bruit et de la fureur suscités par une bagarre parisienne d’ego, le malaise parallèle des droites américaine et française marque probablement la fin d’un cycle politique mondial ouvert par la “révolution conservatrice” de Ronald Reagan dans les années 1980, dont Nicolas Sarkozy a été le dernier avatar français.

De part et d’autre de l’Atlantique, la guerre à l’impôt, le moins d’Etat, la remise en cause des acquis sociaux, le nationalisme, le procès fait au libéralisme post-1968 en matière de mœurs, ne suffisent plus nécessairement à unir une majorité. Analogues par leurs origines, les crises d’identité que traversent les deux droites, française et américaine, supposent de profonds aggiornamentos.

Philippe Bernard (Service International)

romney-french

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Khaled’s chutzpah

Photo credit: Bassem Tellawi/AP

Photo credit: Bassem Tellawi/AP

The other day I had a post on Bibi’s chutzpah, on the Israeli PM’s poking the Obama administration in the eye with the announcement of his government’s E1 plan. Now we have chutzpah times ten by Hamas nº 1 Khaled Mashal, who, on Saturday, exercised his right of return in setting foot in Gaza for the very first time in his life, where he then gave a speech that poked all sorts of people in the eye. And perhaps beginning with the Palestinians themselves. Writing in TDB, Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine, calls it “one of the most cynical, damaging and dangerous speeches in the history of the Palestinian national movement.” Mashal’s speech is indeed disastrous for the Palestinian people, as the Israelis, who are already not inclined to make any significant moves toward ending the occupation, will now be even less so. And one can only shudder at the effect it may have on next month’s Israeli election, where the polls have already been showing an even further lurch to the right there.

If you are not aware of what Mashal said to the huge crowd in Gaza on Saturday—or even if you are—please take nine minutes of your time to watch the highlights here. If you have any interest whatever in the I-P conflict, you owe it to yourself to watch it. And then to reflect on its meaning and consequences.

One person who has done so is Gershon Baskin, the Co-Chairman of the Jerusalem-based IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, which describes itself as “the only joint Israeli-Palestinian public policy think-tank in the world [and that] is devoted to developing practical solutions for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Baskin, who was an intermediary with Hamas’s Ahmed al-Jabari in the Gilad Shalit release—and who wrote in the NYT that Israel “made a grave and irresponsible strategic error” in killing Jabari—was clearly stunned by the violence of Mashal’s words. In a column in JPost yesterday, Baskin thus wrote

Hamas says no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel, fine. Palestine is from the river to the sea, from the north to the south. That’s what you want, Khaled Mashaal? Palestine is now a recognized state. Gaza is a liberated part of Palestine – from the north (of Gaza) to the south, from the sea to the border of Israel. The UN declaration and the changes brought on by the Egyptian revolution have now liberated Gaza from Israel.

The Rafah border with Egypt is open. There is no occupation any more. The siege is off. Gaza is free.

Mashal, go negotiate with the Egyptians, not with Israel. Rafah should be an international border between the Palestinian state in Gaza and Egypt.

But Mashal and Hamas don’t want this because they know that Egypt has decided to end the smuggling of weapons through Sinai. Hamas wants a border where they can continue to smuggle weapons, not building materials and food. Egypt has begun to take responsibility for its own security and interests by ending the smuggling of weapons in Sinai. Now Egypt has promised the United States that, with US assistance, it will end the smuggling.

Israel should announce that Gaza has two years from today to take care of its own electricity, water, food and economic needs. In two years from today, the Israeli-Gaza border is closed and nothing will come to Gaza from Israel. It is time for the leaders of Gaza and the people of Gaza to provide for themselves. No recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel, that is fine with Israel. Go trade through Egypt, use El Arish, Port Said, whatever, not through Israel which your leaders seek to destroy.

In two years Israel will not sell you electricity – that is enough time to set up a power plant or several power plants, solar, wind, whatever. It is not Israel’s responsibility. Water – two years is enough to build 10 desalination plants around Gaza.

Money – get it from Iran or the Saudis or whoever, spend your money on water, not weapons. Food – import it from Egypt or Africa or wherever – not from Tnuva and Strauss.

Israel has absolutely no obligation to provide anything for Gaza or its people. Israel has no territorial claims on any part of Gaza. Israel left Gaza, now it’s yours. If you use it to attack Israel, you will not have a single day of quiet.

In other words—to paraphrase Baskin—, Gaza, as a declared enemy entity/state, will be entirely sealed off from Israel. And if they fuck with us, we’ll kick the shit out of them. And those who drone on with their legal briefs on IHL and Gaza still being occupied territory can go ahead and shout at the moon (and write incendiary tribunes in leftist webzines read only by people who read leftist webzines). If Gershon Baskin is saying this—and after Mashal’s speech, can one blame him?—one can only imagine what the sentiment is in the rest of Israeli society, not to mention its less-than-enlightened political class.

I have so far seen no particular reaction to Mashal’s speech from websites and personalities in the Palestinian Amen Corner (PAC). Those who howled with indignation at the fire-breathing declarations of seconds couteaux Gilad Sharon, Matan Vilnai, and Eli Yishai last month—declarations that, in the PACsers estimation, incontrovertibly proved the iniquity of the Israelis—, have been noticeably silent on top gun Mashal’s speech—and which was indeed a speech, not some off-the-cuff pronouncement tossed out in a moment of passion. This is admittedly a tough one to spin for PACsers. No doubt a few will issue mealy-mouthed statements of the speech not being helpful, or explain it away as Mashal pandering to the base. Or maybe apologize for it as the understandable anger of a man whose homeland has been occupied, bombed, etc, etc. Or observe that Mashal was moderating his discourse but then the Israelis, in attacking Gaza and killing Jabari, pushed him back to extremism (as if he lacks agency and is not responsible for his words or actions). Or that maybe this is a consequence of the refusal to talk with Hamas (but talk about what exactly?). Sorry but these apologies won’t fly. There’s no spinning Mashal’s speech away. It’s a game changer in a sense. And not in a good way for the Palestinians.

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Almanya & Kuma

almanya----willkommen-in-deutschland-poster

Reporting on more films I’ve seen in recent months, these two, on Turkish immigrants in Europe, are worth noting. The first, ‘Almanya – Willkommen in Deutschland’, by Turkish-German director Yasemin Şamdereli, is “a delightful, charming comedy,” as one review accurately put it, about a three-generation Turkish immigrant family in Germany and the trials and tribulations of integrating into German society. The film flashes back between the present day and the mid 1960s, when the father, played by Vedat Erincin—the acting is very good overall—, arrives in Germany with his wife, as a clueless Gasterbeiter. The reconstitution of the era is well done and with some funny, indeed hilarious, scenes. The light-hearted portrayal of present-day family dynamics, with the younger generation far more culturally German than Turkish, is also good, and particularly what happens when they take their big family vacation back home in Turkey (in the Izmir area, so far as I could tell). Variety and Hollywood Reporter liked the pic, as did French critics. Trailer is here. So thumbs up to this one.

The other film, ‘Kuma’ (titre en France: ‘Une seconde femme’), by Turkish-Kurdish-Austrian director Umut Dağ, is more serious—not to mention less joyous—, about a conservative Turkish immigrant family in Vienna that recruits, as it were, a “kuma” (a second wife), in the family’s village in eastern Turkey, for the aging father—played by Almanya’s Vedat Erincin—, whose wife is dying of cancer and instigates the affair. The unsuspecting 19-year old village girl thinks she’s marrying the son but discovers the truth when she arrives at the family’s home in Vienna. The movie is what happens to her and the family—which is rather less integrated and provokes fewer laughs than the one in ‘Almanya’. I thought it was quite a good film, absorbing, well-acted, and no doubt anthropologically accurate. Hollywood press reviews are here, here, and here. French reviews are here. And the trailer is here.

kuma

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would you have sex with an arab

Continuing from my previous post—on recently seen films on Israel-Palestine—, this is an original and not bad documentary I saw earlier this fall,

in which Israeli Jews and Arabs are brought face-to-face with their own prejudices, grudges, and unexpected desires.

Several filmmakers have tackled the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But few have approached the thorny subject quite like French Jewish filmmaker Yolande Zauberman and her Lebanese writing partner Sélim Nassib: through the prism of sex.

In their new documentary “Would You Have Sex With an Arab?”, Zauberman and Nassib take to the streets of Tel Aviv at night, prowling bars and clubs, cafés and underground soirées, in search of Israeli Jews and Arabs willing to answer a startling question: Would you have sex with a member of the other community?

The responses, ranging from militant refusal to candid confessions of illicit one-night stands and longterm love affairs ending in heartbreak, are funny, surprising, confusing, and sometimes quite moving.

“Would You Have Sex With an Arab?” never aims to dissect the historical or political twists and turns of a bitter conflict. Rather, it is a wistful portrait of a damaged society in which human dynamics are often far more complex than we are led to believe – and in which deeply buried reserves of desire and regret are coaxed toward the surface, thanks to one single provocative query.

A well-put synopsis (from France 24‘s website, which has an interview with director Yolande Zauberman). In addition to young Jews and Palestinians Zauberman encountered and interviewed—I was particularly intrigued by the Palestinian women—are appearances by Haaretz columnist Gideon Levy and half Palestinian-half Jewish playwright Juliano Mer-Khamis, who was murdered by Palestinian extremists in Jenin last year (the killers are still at large). Variety give the pic the thumbs up, as did most French critics. Variety Arabia has a piece on Zauberman and the making of the film. Trailer is here.

On the theme of taboo love, I saw a French film last month called ‘Rengaine’ (English title: ‘Hold Back’), by Franco-Algerian-Sudanese director-actor-novelist Rachid Djaïdani, who has authored novels about immigrant life in the cités des banlieues and acted in films and TV series about them. He’s all cités and banlieues, Monsieur Djaïdani. The subject of the film—his feature-length directorial debut—is miscegenation between blacks and Maghrebis. Big taboo, and particularly between black guy and Maghrébine (it’s okay with regular white French, so long as there’s conversion—of the guy—to Islam). Here’s the synopsis from Indiewire

In present-day Paris, Sabrina (Sabrina Hamida), a young North African woman, falls in love with Dorcy (Stéphane Soo Mongo), a black Christian trying to make ends meet as an actor. They plan to get married, but when rumour gets out about their engagement, Slimane (Slimane Dazi), the eldest of Sabrina’s 40 brothers, is disgusted that his Arab Muslim sister would consider such a union. He is determined that Sabrina should stay faithful to familial and community traditions, and traipses the city in search of her. From this starting point, the first full-length feature from French novelist and actor Rachid Djaïdani develops into a provocative, freewheeling analysis of attitudes to race and religion in modern-day France that’s pertinent and relevant beyond the country. Presented in an appealingly raw style that nods to John Cassavetes, Hold Back is fearless, inventive filmmaking featuring frequent moments that surprise and disarm.

A compelling subject. I was looking forward to seeing the pic, particularly as the reviews in the Paris press were tops and it premiered at Cannes. Hollywood Reporter also gave it a fine review, though Variety‘s was rather more tepid. Well, I go with Variety and then some. The pic, which is set entirely in the city of Paris, was made on a near zero budget—which I can totally believe—, apparently took nine years to shoot and with 200 hours of rushes, and all for a 1 hour 15 minute final product that is so amateurish and on every level: the irritating, hand-held camera work, the underwhelming acting, underdeveloped characters, the screenplay (or lack of one), et j’en passe. That Sabrina has “40 brothers” indicates right away that the film is a fable, which enabled director Djaïdani to do whatever he wanted with it and take it wherever (which was perhaps inevitable, as by the time he finished the pic for this year’s Cannes festival he’d probably forgotten what he intended to do with it back in 2003). The love affair is not convincing—and Dorcy is no Romeo, that’s for sure—and contrivances abound. In short, the film does not work. Not for me, at least.

rengaine

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Sharqiya

SHARQIYA

I’ve been writing a fair amount about Israel-Palestine of late, so should mention a couple of Israeli/Palestinian films I’ve seen lately. This one, ‘Sharqiya’, directed by Ami Livne, isn’t bad. In fact, it’s pretty good. Its subject is the Bedouin of the Negev, who are Israeli citizens but, like all Palestinian citizens of Israel (PCIs), do not enjoy the same consideration from the Israeli state as do Jews (and despite the fact that many Bedouins serve in the IDF). Here’s a synopsis of the film

Kamel lives with his brother and sister-in law at the edge of the Negev desert on land that has been in their Bedouin family since the Ottoman Empire. But since they have no paperwork to prove their ownership, their claim is disputed by the Israeli government, which makes their living conditions as difficult as possible. Denying access to water and electricity, state officials eventually hand down an order for demolition of the family’s few small shacks. These stresses take the toll on the family, exacerbating existing tensions. Kamel, a veteran of the Israeli army, now serves as a security guard at [the Beersheba] central bus station. Ahmed resents his brother’s willingness to work for the very government that is causing their problems, despite his reliance on Kamel’s income. When they try to appeal the demolition order, even the [Israeli state's] Bedouin Authority office advises them to accept compensation and abandon their land. The situation seems hopeless, until Kamel comes up with a plan. Filmed on location with nonprofessional actors, this extremely well crafted debut from Ami Livne tells its story with rare and quiet power.

A rare and quiet power. The pic, which won the Best Israeli Feature award at the 2012 Jerusalem Film Festival, was well-reviewed in Variety and Screen International, the latter adding that the “film should work well with specialised audiences interested in ethnographic studies rather than in sheer entertainment.” Not a film for the masses, but not just for those interested in Israel-Palestine either. French reviews were also positive.

I’ve been through the area where the film was shot—including the Beersheba bus station—, so the terrain was familiar. And I wrote about the worsening situation of the Negev Bedouin last June (do read Clinton Bailey’s tribune, which I posted in the comments thread). If the Israeli state does not modify its policy, then international pressure—EU, NGO, civil society, etc—will need to be applied. And the dire situation of the Bedouin is not limited to the Negev; as Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz the other day, it is likewise in the E1 corridor east of Jerusalem, that I’ve been posting on of late, where the Bedouin who live there—who were expelled from the Negev in 1948 “—face displacement [and] regardless of Israel’s constructions plans.” Displacement against their will, of course.

Another Israeli film—or, rather, a film about Israel—I’ve seen recently is ‘Sderot, Last Exit’, a feature-length documentary that was screened last month at a film festival in Paris sponsored by the alter-globalization group ATTAC. The subject of the documentary, directed by Franco-Cameroonian filmmaker Osvalde Lewat, is the Film and Television School at Sapir College in Sderot, which has a mixed Israeli Jewish and Palestinian—PCIs and from the West Bank-Gaza—student body, as well as PCI and leftist Israeli professors. Sderot is, of course, mainly known as the town over the Gaza border that receives periodic rocket fire. I briefly visited it in April ’09. It’s one of those dreary, soulless Israeli development towns built in a hurry in the 1950s and in the middle of nowhere—and hard up against the borders of hostile Arab states—, where newly arrived non-Ashkenazi Jews were sent (or dumped; in Sderot’s case, from Morocco, Iran, Iraq, and, later on, Romania and ex-Soviet Central Asia). One arrives in the town, checks out a few rocket shelters, stops by the (empty) media visitor center, grabs a falafel sandwich in the tacky little mall in the town center—or what passes for a town center—, and then gets the hell out of there. How dreary it must be to live in such a dreary place.

But it so happens that the town does have culture, as I learned after my visit there, mainly in the form of a film festival at the local cinematheque and that is associated with the cinema school at Sapir College. So beneath the dreary surface, interesting and vibrant things go on (including a four-day conference at Sapir College in 2011 on “‘search[ing] for sustainable and healthy alternatives to the military option’ on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border,” and that so incensed the right that Sderot’s right-wing mayor heeded the call to boycott it). The documentary interviews professors—including the lefty department chair Avner Fainguelernt, to whom I linked in a recent post (he advocates talks with Hamas)—and students, a number of whom are lefty-progressive but by no means all, as one gleans in some of the interviews and discussions captured on camera. There are indeed film students who are not political and/or not on the left, who seek not to make films d’auteur but rather action movies or comedies (or TV commercials). An interesting documentary if one is interested in the subject (though I found a couple of director Lewat’s observations to be subjective). An interview with Lewat on the making of the documentary is here and a brief trailer is here.

Sderot

Sderot

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