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More on the Brexit vote

London, June 24th (Photo: Mary Turner/Getty Images)

London, June 24th (Photo: Mary Turner/Getty Images)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below]

Continuing from my previous post

I came across just yesterday (h/t Jamie Mayerfeld) a comment by Nick Clegg—ex-Lib Dem leader and ex-Deputy PM—published in iNews on the eve of the referendum, “what you will wake up to if we vote to Leave…” This merits a copy-and-paste in its entirety

Are you still undecided? Are you someone who – pummelled by weeks of claim and counter-claim – has been left exhausted and annoyed? Have you been looking for answers, yet all you’ve encountered are insults and exaggeration?

Maybe you’re so fed up you think to hell with it, let’s throw caution to the wind and vote Brexit. Imagine, however, what happens next. Imagine how you will feel on 24 June?

Having woken on Friday to the news we’re quitting the EU, you will assume that those who persuaded you to take that leap of faith have a plan about what to do next.

So imagine how dismayed you will feel when you discover, instead, that Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson can’t agree among themselves what life outside the EU looks like? They may be united by a ferocious loathing of the EU, but they have no shared plan for the future.

So you will look towards our leaders in Westminster to sort out the mess. Instead, they argue among themselves: the Conservatives descend into a bloody leadership election; Parliament enters years of constitutional gridlock trying to extricate itself from the intricate legal stitching which binds us to the EU and gives us access to world markets.

Then you discover just how unprepared the Government is – that there simply aren’t enough trade negotiators in Whitehall, for instance, with the expertise to renegotiate 50 or so international trade accords.

As politicians bicker, you become increasingly unnerved by what’s happening in the economy, too: overseas investors take fright; money flows out of the country; our credit rating is slashed; the interest on our borrowing goes up; unemployment rises; sterling tanks; prices in the shops go up.

Nicola Sturgeon soon announces that preparations have started for a second independence referendum, claiming it is the only way to keep Scotland in the EU. And this time most commentators think that she will win.

Still, at least they will finally sort out our borders, right? After all, ending mass immigration was the Brexiteers biggest claim of all.

So imagine how you’ll feel when you discover that they don’t have a plan for that either? Some argue for a new land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to stop EU immigrants coming in through the “back door”. Others that a new border would harm the peace in Northern Ireland. The Australian points system which they advocate is no solution either – it has led to immigration levels twice as high as in the UK.

Panic starts to spread among the 1.3 million Brits who live, study and retire elsewhere in the EU. Spanish politicians start to complain about paying for public services used by British pensioners. If we start excluding Spanish doctors and nurses, why should they keep paying for our pensioners?

And then there’s that faintly queasy feeling you get when you see Donald Trump on the TV, visiting the UK on Friday, declaring his joy at the Brexit vote.

Meanwhile Angela Merkel invites President Obama to an emergency summit to discuss the fallout – the UK is, of course, excluded from what soon emerges as the new “special relationship” between the US and Germany.

The Brexiteers say you will “regain control”. But it won’t feel like that. Instead, the economy lurches to recession; there’s upheaval in Westminster; no plan to allay concerns about immigration; another referendum in Scotland; a steep slide in Britain’s standing in the world.

Our wonderful country adrift – not in control. And for what? Nigel, Michael and Boris still won’t be able to tell you why.

Talk about prescience.

On the wonderful United Kingdom adrift and no one being in control, The Economist’s Bagehot columnist posted a breathtaking commentary yesterday evening, “Britain is sailing into a storm with no one at the wheel.” No copy-and-paste here. Just click on the link and read the whole thing.

The tagline of Bagehot’s column is “Anarchy in the UK.” That this could be said about the United Kingdom is scary, indeed terrifying. If the UK—one of the most serious polities in the history of the modern world—can descend into political anarchy, then, well…

The “anarchy” in the UK is going to continue for months, no doubt about that, until David Cameron’s successor moves into 10 Downing and invokes Article 50 (thereby causing the £ to fall even further, roiling financial markets, and triggering or aggravating all sorts of other calamities). Or does not invoke it. And as I’ve been saying since last Friday, I am convinced that Article 50 will not be invoked. Brexit will finally not happen.

On the legal/constitutional side of the matter, see this nine-minute video explanation by University of Cambridge public law professor Mark Elliot, on the Public Law for Everyone website (his several posts on Brexit have been usefully collected on one page). See also the analyses by David Allen Green, who blogs on law and policy at the FT and his Jack of Kent blog: “This is what sovereignty looks like – where we are with Article 50,” and “Article 50 and the start of a political stalemate.” In the former post, he reminds us that

The referendum on EU membership was advisory not mandatory. It was deliberately drafted by Parliament not to have any legal consequences. (The last UK-wide referendum, on the AV voting system, did have such a binding provision, but this time Parliament chose not to include one).

As such, the result of the poll has no more legal standing than the result of a consultation exercise. It was a glorified opinion survey, and that is what Parliament intended it to be.

In the latter post, he says this

It would appear that no UK politician, including those who headed the Leave campaign, is in any rush to press the “red button” of the Article 50 notification. The now departing Prime Minister David Cameron says it is up to a successor. One likely successor, Boris Johnson, says there is no haste. The red button will be positioned behind a locked door in Downing Street with a protective case placed on top. It is not going to get pressed by accident, if it is ever going to get used.

And what will happen without the button being pressed may be a political phoney war. It may well be that nothing happens at all: that the referendum result just hangs there, and things carry on an institutional and supranational basis much as before.

And there are events which could make it plausible that the notification button is never pressed. (…)

One such event would be the PM deciding that Article 50 will be invoked only if approved by a vote of the House of Commons, 75% of whose current deputies are Remainers. In such a vote, MPs would necessarily be free to vote their conscience. As parliament in the UK is sovereign and reflects the will of the people—having been elected by the people—it is difficult to see how one could credibly argue that, in the event of a vote rejecting Article 50, it is countering the will of the people as expressed in an advisory referendum. And seriously, will the next PM and his/her majority in the Commons willingly provoke a crisis with Scotland and the Ulster Catholics—leading to the possible breakup of the UK—simply to respect the “will of the people” as expressed in an advisory referendum that should have never been held in the first place, and for a cause—Brexit—that the majority of MPs oppose?

On the matter of the referendum—and the institution of referenda more generally—Kenneth Rogoff had a totally excellent, must-read day after commentary in Project Syndicate, “Britain’s democratic failure.” Rogoff begins

The real lunacy of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union was not that British leaders dared to ask their populace to weigh the benefits of membership against the immigration pressures it presents. Rather, it was the absurdly low bar for exit, requiring only a simple majority. Given voter turnout of 70%, this meant that the leave campaign won with only 36% of eligible voters backing it.

This isn’t democracy; it is Russian roulette for republics. A decision of enormous consequence – far greater even than amending a country’s constitution (of course, the United Kingdom lacks a written one) – has been made without any appropriate checks and balances.

Does the vote have to be repeated after a year to be sure? No. Does a majority in Parliament have to support Brexit? Apparently not. Did the UK’s population really know what they were voting on? Absolutely not. Indeed, no one has any idea of the consequences, both for the UK in the global trading system, or the effect on domestic political stability. I am afraid it is not going to be a pretty picture.

Further down

Is it really enough to get 52% to vote for breakup on a rainy day?

In terms of durability and conviction of preferences, most societies place greater hurdles in the way of a couple seeking a divorce than Prime Minister David Cameron’s government did on the decision to leave the EU. Brexiteers did not invent this game; there is ample precedent, including Scotland in 2014 and Quebec in 1995. But, until now, the gun’s cylinder never stopped on the bullet. Now that it has, it is time to rethink the rules of the game.

The idea that somehow any decision reached anytime by majority rule is necessarily “democratic” is a perversion of the term. Modern democracies have evolved systems of checks and balances to protect the interests of minorities and to avoid making uninformed decisions with catastrophic consequences. The greater and more lasting the decision, the higher the hurdles.

That’s why enacting, say, a constitutional amendment generally requires clearing far higher hurdles than passing a spending bill. Yet the current international standard for breaking up a country is arguably less demanding than a vote for lowering the drinking age.

Exactly. Now one may object to Rogoff that the 50%+1 rule of the referendum was accepted by all—that this was the rule of the game—and one cannot change that rule after the fact simply because one does not like the outcome. But that still begs the question as to the legitimacy of such a plebiscite—with consequences so devastating and unanticipated by the electorate—and why it should be accorded primacy over the sovereignty of parliament and on such a critical, complex issue no less—and in a polity with no plebiscitary tradition. Even in France, where the instrument of the national referendum is in the constitution and been employed ten times over the past six decades, parliament has the final word. In France—where Bonapartist reflexes persist—an issue of constitutional import cannot be decided by referendum only; it must be approved by parliament meeting in joint session and with a three-fifths majority. In the United States, national referendums are, of course, non-existent, and with qualified majorities in effect necessary for all major pieces of legislation, not to mention obligatory for constitutional amendments and treaties. And in Germany, there is no such thing as a referendum.

The general view at the moment is that, regardless of the arguments spelled out above, it is politically inconceivable that the PM or House of Commons would go against the “will of the people” and reject Brexit, and that those who say otherwise are engaging in wishful thinking. The above-cited Michael Elliot has said so himself. But politically inconceivable is not legally inconceivable, and what appears politically inconceivable today may appear less so in four months, if/when the public mood has changed and the calamitous consequences of Brexit have become crystal clear to everyone, including UKIP voters.

On credible scenarios for Brexit not happening, there’s the one by a Guardian reader, which has been viewed by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of readers over the past three days in social and regular media. And political scientists Richard Ned Lebow and Simon Reich—of King’s College London and Rutgers University-Newark, respectively—have a good piece in Washington Monthly on “How Britain can break from Brexit: A roadmap for how Britain can walk itself back from its disastrous referendum.”

The bottom line: If the polls in October show a portion of Leavers regretting their vote and a clear majority for Remain, Brexit will not happen. The Article 50 button will not be pushed.

More to follow.

UPDATE: In case one missed it, Guardian columnist Nick Cohen had a great commentary, dated June 25th, on the leaders of the Leave campaign, “There are liars and then there’s Boris Johnson and Michael Gove: The Brexit figureheads had no plan besides exploiting populist fears and dismissing experts who rubbished their thinking.”

Also see, ICYMI, the enquête in Politico by Tom McTague, Alex Spence, and Edward-Isaac Dovere, “How David Cameron blew it: The behind-the-scenes story of a failed campaign to keep Britain in the European Union,” which is as damning in its assessment of Jeremy Corbyn as it is of the soon-to-be former PM.

2nd UPDATE: Ben Judah, who reported for Politico on the British public mood during the campaign, has offered extensive observations on his Facebook page. Having talked with hundreds of voters in Angleterre profonde, he came away convinced that immigration and identity were central in the motivations of Leave voters

Why is this anger at ethnic change flaring of such intensity?

This is the Leave campaign I saw on the ground.

I met dozens of activists and MP from both sides.

This was how Brexiteers framed the referendum.

This was a referendum on whether or not Britain remains part of a German-controlled banker-run bureaucratic pseudo-Union that will inevitably end British democracy, roll up Britain as a state and flood the country with unlimited numbers of Turkish and Eastern European migrants, ending the England we know.

These were the consequences of such rhetoric.

As a result I met simply hundreds of devastated people horrified to have learnt thanks to the messaging of the Leave campaign that Britain was really under camouflaged German diktat.

But such sentiments don’t exist in a state of nature. They have to be stoked up

The psychological mechanism at play reminded me of a conspiracy theory. It was as if something evil and secretive had been revealed.

I have come this conclusion because I was simply incessantly told by hundreds of frightened and vulnerable people that they had only just learnt on national TV and in the tabloids that the problems of their daily lives were the result of immigration.

There was desperation among many voters, as a result of this messaging, to save the England they loved and the public services they depended on. The majority of those I met had come to believe that a tidal immigration from the European Union was imminent due to what they believed was impending Turkish membership.

This process, of tele-populists frightening a vast chunk of the population reminded me of what I have seen reporting in two other countries I know well – Russia and Ukraine. Over and over, I was told my people with poor access to quality information that their way of life was facing extinction.

To a certain extent, given the historical scale of demographic changes, this did not surprise me.

What did, however surprise me, was the less dominant but nevertheless widespread belief that Britain was somehow liberating itself from Germany. Why was this so?

Politicians in this country like to speak of the “Air War” – or political messaging from above – and the “Ground War” or political campaigning from below. The Air War, through repeated comparisons of the EU to Hitler’s Germany, made by the Air War’s commanders (Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage) implanted this idea in a poorly educated population’s head. The Ground War, which I witnessed, was direct. Activists and campaigners ceaselessly repeated that – “this was not what our fathers and grandfathers fought for” – or that – “A vote to Remain is a betrayal of our forefathers.”

Again, this Ground War worked somewhat like a conspiracy theory in the heads of those convinced by it: it had been revealed to them that Britain was under Germany rule. This is was successfully rammed home by the Air War with the slogan – “This is our independence day.”

Tele-populists. Demagogues. Playing on peoples’ fears. What a travesty it would be if those who engaged in this were rewarded with victory.

All the more reason for parliament to reject Brexit.

3rd UPDATE: Sean O’Grady—the deputy managing editor of The Independent—has a rather interesting commentary—in which one finds some of the arguments spelled out above—”Even though we voted for it, a Brexit won’t happen in the end. Here’s why.” The lede: “I voted Leave – but, looking at the reasons, it’s undeniable that we’ll stay in the European Union after all.” Money quote

Before long this uncertainty will feed through even more concretely from the slightly abstract world of financial markets and exchange rates through to jobs, savings, and, above all, the value of people’s homes, which is where most people’s wealth is stored (especially some of the less well-off voters who opted for “Leave”). This is really why I suspect Brexit won’t, in the end, come to pass – because most voters can’t afford it in the short run, whatever the longer term advantages.

FT columnist Gideon Rachman also “[does] not believe that Brexit will happen.” The lede: “There will be howls of rage, but why should extremists on both sides dictate how the story ends?” Rachman and other Brexit doubters think there will be a second referendum—that this could settle the matter—but I’m doubtful. A second vote would backhandedly legitimize the first and unless it requires a qualified majority (e.g. 60%), be too risky. Better to just go with the British tradition and assert the sovereignty of parliament.

4th UPDATE: So who will succeed David Cameron at 10 Downing Street? This guide on the BBC News website is useful. Not that I know a thing about this but somehow I don’t think it will be Boris Johnson, that a majority of Tory MPs—who are Remainers—would select him as one of the two or more candidates to be submitted to a vote of party members. And can one really see BoJo pressing the Article 50 button and then going to toe-to-toe with J-C Juncker, Angela Merkel & Co? As for the other possible candidates, Stephen Crabb could be interesting.

5th UPDATE: Andrew Moravcsik had a Facebook exchange the other day with a conservative reader, who opined that “[t]he number one reason to leave the EU is valid! British citizens should wish to grab power back from bureaucrats.” Personally speaking, I am so sick and tired of the pablum about the supposed “bloated EU bureaucracy,” which comes mainly from conservative Eurosceptics who lazily, reflexively mouth this because it’s just this notion out there that they all repeat because, well, everyone repeats it. Andy’s response set the record straight

I am sorry, but this is a laughable position, factually speaking. The bureaucrats? About 25,000 people work for the EU bureaucracy, less than a medium-sized city. The EU disposes of less than 2% of European public spending, almost all of which is non-discretionary, because the (directly elected) member states specify specific purposes in advance, and most of which is just recycled back into the same country. The EU Commission, the only body not run by directly-elected officials, has been declining in power for 30 years–thanks in part to British pressure. Only in a few areas (like banning state subsidies, which Margaret Thatcher and every UK government since, has strongly supported) does it have any autonomous powers. The all-powerful organization is the Council of Ministers and European Council, comprised of (directly elected) heads of government, and ministers from the member states. A bit of power comes from the (directly elected) Parliament. All laws are implemented nationally, not by EU officials. Finally, there is a small amount of independence for the court, as in most countries, but even here everything is interpreted and implemented by national courts. And let’s not forget that all decision-making is essentially by quasi-consensus now–not really by majority, as the formal rules state–so individual countries have considerable power to block legislation–far more than minorities in the UK. The only exception to all this is the Euro, but–because the EU respects each country’s sovereign and democratic right not to participate in the Euro and to control its own borders by not being part of Schengen–that is not an issue for the UK. Hardly a bureaucratic system! But the fact you believe it to be such is good evidence of how successful Messrs. Johnson and Gove have been at convincing people to believe the big lies.

Touché! Couldn’t have said it better myself.

6th UPDATE: See the very good analysis, “Looking behind the Brexit anger,” on Flip Chart Fairy Tales, a sharp business blog of a blogger named Rick.

7th UPDATE: Alex White, director of country analysis at the Economist Intelligence Unit, has a sobering assessment, in 24 Twitter tweets, of what Brexit will mean.

8th UPDATE: A prominent personality in the Conservative Party gave an off-the-record talk yesterday (June 29th) to the managerial personnel of a London firm for which he is a “special adviser.” He said the following, according to an interlocutor of mine who was privy to the talk:

– The new Conservative party leader will be under immense pressure to issue the article 50 notification shortly after appointment on 9 September.
– This pressure will come both from the electorate (NB leave voters here already getting very agitated) and from other EU leaders.
– His view is that the notification will be issued within a week or so of appointment.
– Parliament will be asked to approve the notification. He cannot see Parliament not doing so given the clear mandate from the people to withdraw from the EU
– No prospect of a second referendum on the same issue.
– No prospect of a general election. No one wants a general election and the Conservative party still has four years to run so no incentive to call one. Opposition party in disarray so no incentive either.

My questions to my interlocutor:

Three questions I would put to [the speaker]: 1. Will Article 50 be invoked before or after a vote of parliament? 2. What happens if public opinion polls show a clear shift toward Remain and with Leave voters expressing regret? 3. Is it conceivable that Article 50 notification will be issued without prior concertation with Scotland?

I agree that there will be no second referendum and no early election.

His response:

His view was that the new PM will get Parliament to approve the article 50 notification. His view was also that the large majority of MPs have no appetite for doing anything other than implementing the will of the people.

I don’t think they will care about what the polls say!

On the Scotland point I’m sure there will be consultation and of course MPs from Scotland will have their say in Parliament. No doubt some will also vote against article 50 notification.

I am becoming a little less confident in my categorical assertion that there will be no Brexit.

Wait and see. On verra.

9th UPDATE: A few good pieces I’ve read today (June 30th): “The EU is democratic. It just doesn’t feel that way,” By Amanda Taub, in the NYT; “Brexit, seen from the top of Europe,” by Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker; “Brexit’s false democracy: What the vote really revealed,” by Georgetown University professor Kathleen R. McNamara, in Foreign Affairs; “Post-Brexit, the U.K. is in its worst political crisis since 1940,” by Johns Hopkins-SAIS professor By Matthias Matthijs, in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog.

The Brexit vote

Blue = Remain, Red = Leave (credit: The New York Times)

Blue = Remain, Red = Leave (credit: The New York Times)

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below] [10th update below] [11th update below] [12th update below]

I’m stunned. And it is likewise with just about everyone I know who’s reacted so far on social media, not to mention countless others. It’s the near unanimous reaction by everyone who supported Remain, as it was so utterly unexpected. The collective shock and dismay on my English Twitter feed—which I checked every half hour until 5am, when the outcome was clear—was total. And the final result wasn’t even close. 52-48 is not a cliffhanger. So much for the betting markets, which had reinforced my confidence on the eve of the vote that Remain would win, even handily. And then there are the polling institutes, whose credibility will take another hit. This is disquieting. Political scientist Yascha Mounk, in a commentary on social media last night, noted that the polls had significantly underestimated the anti-establishment vote, which “should give us a healthy degree of skepticism about current U.S. polls that see Trump trailing badly.” As the parallels between the Brexit and Trump phenomenons are manifest—in the composition of their electorates, populist rejection of “elites,” economic precariousness and déclassement, hostility to immigration, nationalism—the point is well-taken.

On the Brexit (and Trump) electorate, political scientist Takis Pappas recommended last night an article in The Telegraph dated June 7th—which he called the “best pre-referendum analysis”—by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, “‘Irritation and anger’ may lead to Brexit, says influential psychologist,” the psychologist being Israeli-American Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. This one is worth quoting extensively:

British voters are succumbing to impulsive gut feelings and irrational reflexes in the Brexit campaign with little regard for the enormous consequences down the road, the world’s most influential psychologist has warned.

Daniel Kahneman, the Israeli Nobel laureate and father of behavioural economics, said the referendum debate is being driven by a destructive psychological process, one that could lead to a grave misjudgment and a downward spiral for British society.

“The major impression one gets observing the debate is that the reasons for exit are clearly emotional,” he said.

“The arguments look odd: they look short-term and based on irritation and anger. These seem to be powerful enough that they may lead to Brexit”…

Further down

Professor Kahneman, who survived the Nazi occupation of France as a Jewish child in the Second World War, said the risk is that the British people will be swept along by emotion and lash out later at scapegoats if EU withdrawal proves to be a disastrous strategic error.

“They won’t regret it because regret is rare. They’ll find a way to explain what happened and blame somebody. That is the general pattern when things go wrong and people are afraid,” he said.

The refusal to face up to the implications of what is really at stake in the referendum comes as no surprise to a man imbued with deep sense of anthropological pessimism.

“Confidence has very little to do with the information on which it is based…”

His life’s work is anchored in studies showing that people are irrational. They are prone to cognitive biases and “systematic errors in thinking”, made worse by  chronic over-confidence in their own judgment – and the less intelligent they are, the more militantly certain they tend to be.

On the Trump phenomenon—which is not off the topic here—Kahneman has this

“Donald Trump is psychologically fascinating. He represents a sort of ideal in that he is very rich, and people want to be rich,” he said.
“He’s a masculine fantasy: lots of money and lots of women. He is not afraid of anything. In the context of politicians who seem to be doing nothing, it feels compelling. He looks strong. He is a bully, and people like bullies,” he said.

Prof Kahneman compares the Trump syndrome to the strange response of Americans to rape cases that he studied in the 1980s. Society has a proclivity to blame the victim – in the Trump saga: Mexicans, Muslims, and others – because people subtly conform to the idea that the rapist cannot act otherwise.

“It is a very interesting phenomenon and it has reached the point where Trump can get away with almost anything. ‘The bully is immutable, it is in his nature, that is what he does’, and once you convince people that it is normal for you to do that kind of thing, you can get away with things that nobody else could get away with,” he said.

Corrosive economic stress seems to be the backdrop for why such a large slice of American society is willing to suspend its normal judgment. He says globalisation was badly managed in favour of winners, and has left a tens of millions of losers.

“It destroyed American manufacturing and the American middle class. There are places where real incomes have dropped 30pc over the last thirty years. There used to be a concept that if you do your job, and live your life properly, things will be fine. People don’t think that any more,” he said.

The piece has other gems, so read it all here.

À propos, I liked this passage by Mother Jones’s Kevin Drum, in an instant commentary last night

I don’t have any personal axe to grind on Brexit. Except for one: I am sick and tired of watching folks like Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen, Donald Trump, and others appeal to the worst racial instincts of our species, only to be shushed by folks telling me that it’s not really racism driving their popularity. It’s economic angst. It’s regular folks tired of being spurned by out-of-touch elites. It’s a natural anxiety over rapid cultural change.

Maybe it’s all those things. But at its core, it’s the last stand of old people who have been frightened to death by cynical right-wing media empires and the demagogues who enable them—all of whom have based their appeals on racism as overt as anything we’ve seen in decades. It’s loathsome beyond belief, and not something I thought I’d ever see in my lifetime. But that’s where we are.

On right-wing media, it is clear that this has been a principal factor in the stoking of Europhobic sentiment in the UK. One of my cousins in England—who’s lived in the US—told me last year that a Fox News-type network would not fly in the UK. Well, with high-circulation rags like The Sun, Daily Mail, and Daily Express, who needs a Fox?…

David Cameron, the biggest idiot in the modern history of 10 Downing Street, has naturally announced his resignation, but one other person also needs to quit—or be ejected from his leadership position—and that’s Jeremy Corbyn, who bears at least some responsibility for the outcome in view of his quasi absence from the campaign, barely concealed Euroscepticism, and his passivity as a large portion of his party’s electorate defected to the sirens of UKIP. Corbyn needs to be dumped illico and replaced with Hilary Benn, with a newly pro-Europe Labour absorbing the moribund Lib Dems and perhaps attracting some moderate pro-Europe Tory voters. This will be all the more important if early elections are called, on which I have seen no speculation but seems logical in view of the Brexit victory.

The thing is, the referendum hasn’t decided anything, as it’s not binding. Only the parliament can vote to leave the EU and then ratify a new relationship with it. But what happens if the majority of deputies in the House of Commons are pro-Remain, as is the case today? And Cameron’s successor is likewise? À propos, Business Insider UK had a piece, dated June 21st, arguing “Why a Brexit is unlikely to happen even if the public votes for it.” Money quote

On Monday, Peter Catterall of the University of Westminster spoke with Business Insider to shed more light on why Brexiteers would inevitably be very disappointed by what would follow a Leave victory in the referendum.

“I think that most Leave voters expect to wake up on the 24th no longer in the EU if there is a Brexit vote,” Catterall told Business Insider. “Well, they’re going to be in for a shock.”

For Britain to begin withdrawing from the 28-nation bloc, the government would need to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The majority of Leave voters probably assume that this process would be triggered immediately, but that would probably not be the case.

(…) Pro-Brexit members of Parliament including Michael Gove have said they wouldn’t want to invoke Article 50 for at least two years because it would take that long to find out what sort of deal they could reach before they enter negotiations, Catterall said.

Catterall said: “It’s not just pro-EU Tories who have talked about delaying Article 50. People like Michael Gove have said that they wouldn’t want to implement the Article 50 procedure until at least 2018 because they think it would take a very long time to get things sorted.”

Cameron, who will leave office in October, has already said that it will be up to his successor to invoke Article 50. And unless that successor is the buffoon Boris Johnson—which I don’t see—Article 50 may end up waiting until the Greek Calends.

In this respect—and speaking of Greece—political scientist Michalis Moutselos, in some “scattered thoughts after the Brexit referendum,” made this parallel with the recent experience of his native country

If the Greek post-referendum experience shows anything, there is a way to reverse an anti-EU referendum vote and that is to give those banking on anti-EU populism “full” power to implement whatever their ideas of independence are. It is an enormously expensive crash course though and it leaves everyone poorer in the short term.

Reversing an anti-EU referendum. It’s not out of the question, via a vote in the House of Commons and/or a second referendum called after buyer’s remorse has settled in, particularly when the Scots demand another referendum of their own, plus the Ulster Catholics one to join the Irish Republic. And what if the “elites” decide that there is simply too much at stake on the EU question, that Brexit is too prejudicial to their interests, that the 48% does not want to cede to a 52% driven by fear and ignorance and whipped up by demagogic politicians and a gutter tabloid press, and all because of a merely consultative referendum that should have never been called in the first place? And what if the younger generation—which voted overwhelmingly Remain—decides that it does not want its future on the vital question of Europe decided by old farts who voted majority Leave and will be dead or in their dotage in twenty years? Legitimate questions. So Brexit is not a done deal. It ain’t over till it’s over.

For more on the international legal side of the issue, see yesterday’s post, by Harvard Law School student Zoe Bedell, on the Lawfare blog, “‘Brexit’ Hangover: The Morning After a ‘Leave’ Vote Explained.”

Historian Antony Beevor had a tribune in The Guardian, dated June 20th, “Brexit would make Britain the world’s most hated nation,” which is well worth the read (h/t Claire Berlinski).

A technical question on the referendum: Why does it take so long in the UK to count ballots? In France, where paper ballots are the rule, the count happens quickly. In a high turnout election, it takes 2 hours—and a max of 2½—to tabulate the ballots in a given polling station and certify the result. The procedures are efficient and 100% clean (having supervised some twenty vote counts here, I know of what I speak). 90% of the results are reported within three hours of the closing of the polls. Why is the UK less efficient than France on this score? Just asking.

I have not yet read any of the French reactions. Will do so and follow up.

UPDATE: Alan Renwick—the Deputy Director of The Constitution Unit, of University College London’s political science department—has a highly informative piece, dated June 20th, on the Unit’s website (h/t Jamie Mayerfeld), “The road to Brexit: 16 things you need to know about what will happen if we vote to leave the EU.” The bottom line: the Brexit, if it does come to pass, is going to be, to put it mildly, one huge casse-tête. Objectively speaking, the whole thing is just crazy.

2nd UPDATE: Charles Grant—director of the Centre for European Reform—has an analysis on “The impact of Brexit on the EU.” His conclusion

Given the political toxicity of free movement in the UK, the new prime minister will probably prefer the ‘Canada option’, meaning a free trade agreement (FTA). That would give very limited access to the single market and be particularly painful to the City of London: an FTA would not allow the ‘passporting’ system whereby a bank regulated in London is free to do business across the EU, without the need to be regulated by anyone else. Some foreign banks in the City are already planning to move significant numbers of staff to Frankfurt, Paris, Luxembourg or Dublin.

European leaders will have an interest in ensuring that the EU maintains a close economic relationship with the UK, for everyone’s benefit. But they will not compromise on fundamental principles, such as free movement of labour, as the price for single market access. And they will not want the exit talks to be pain-free, easy or pleasant for the British, since they wish to deter others from following the UK’s example.

See also the article by the CER’s John Springford and Simon Tilford in the January 2016 issue of Prospect, “Twelve things you need to know about Brexit:What would really happen if Britain left the European Union?”

3rd UPDATE: Andrew Moravcsik of Princeton University’s Politics Dept has posted an analysis of the vote on his Facebook page:

I am doubling down on my predictions a month ago about Brexit, linked [here]. Yes, referendums are uncertain, as I noted. But now we come to the interesting part of the prediction. This was, in my interpretation, all about local politics: who will govern Britain? If it is to be Boris Johnson, then he needs a united Conservative Party, with business interests behind him, and a policy that actually makes economic sense. Anyone who heard Boris Johnson’s speech this morning heard an entirely different individual than the Trumpesque populist who spoke just 24 hours ago: all about unity, pro-Europe, praising Cameron–because now it’s all about being PM. And now, despite saying yesterday that Britain would “thrive” outside the EU, he’s all for slowing it down: 6 months to a leadership change, maybe no Article 50, take it all at a leisurely pace. This is because, policy-wise, he has only two choices: negotiate something similar to current EU membership inside or outside the EU. Remember this is a guy who, just eight weeks ago, entered the referendum campaign with the public position that Britain could use a “Leave” vote to renegotiate Britain’s status within the EU and hold a second referendum. So I assume that’s his “real” preference. But even if that can’t be achieved, the stated Leave and Boris position has been to assure voters they can have all of the single market and, Johnson added today, defense, intelligence sharing, and foreign policy cooperation as well, from outside the EU as well. (Of course the notion that a British government would agree to accept the status of Switzerland or Norway–i.e. the substantive equivalent of EU membership, except perhaps free movement (of people), in exchange for surrendering democratic input into the making of those EU rules–is perverse for those who claimed Leave was not about nationalism but about democracy, but expecting consistency in ambitious politicians is unrealistic.) I stick by my argument: no matter what Britain pretends to do, there is no alternative to de facto EU membership–and Boris, a former mayor of London, is smart enough to see it and position himself appropriately.

4th UPDATE: Peter A. Hall, who teaches politics and European studies at Harvard and LSE, has a post on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog, “The Brexit referendum: Britain between the past and the future.” This passage is noteworthy

Thus, the Leave side represents something of an unholy coalition. The referendum was sparked by demands from segments of the Conservative political elite for relief from the regulations of the E.U. in the name of national sovereignty. But focus groups organized for the vote revealed that most ordinary people had no idea what sovereignty actually means.

Instead, the issue dominating the vote was immigration, and the margin of victory for Leave came from traditional Labour voters worried that an influx of workers from Europe was depressing their wages or taking their jobs. That influx is real. While Britain had 66,000 immigrants from the E.U. in 2003, 270,000 came last year. However, it is notable that support for Brexit was strongest in areas with little immigration and weakest in London, a cosmopolitan city where nearly half the residents are foreign-born. To borrow an older terminology, this referendum pitted Britain’s most vibrant “boroughs” against its “shires.”

On the views of “ordinary people” who voted Leave, see this report on Channel 4 News. À chacun de faire sa propre appréciation.

On citizens voting en connaissance de cause—or maybe not—and some having immediate buyer’s remorse, WaPo has a report on how “The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it.” It seems that a sizable number of voters cast ballots on the EU without having a clear idea of what the EU is or how it works. Having lived through the 2005 referendum campaign on the European Constitutional Treaty, I can attest that voters in France are hardly better informed on the EU than their UK counterparts.

5th UPDATE: Libération’s Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer has a comment on one possible implication of a Brexit, which is the status of the English language in the bodies of the European Union. English, as one knows, has become predominant in the work of the European Commission but, as Quatremer notes, if the UK leaves the EU, there will be no EU member for whom English is the declared official language (member states being allowed to declare only one language for the purposes of the EU; Ireland having thus chosen Gaelic, Cyprus Greek, and Malta Maltese). If English is the official language of no member state, then it logically follows that English can no longer be one of the three official languages for the work of the Commission, meaning that documents may no longer be written in it. The member states could, of course, vote to maintain English nonetheless but this would open a whole new can of worms, as Quatremer points out. Another sacré Brexit casse-tête.

6th UPDATE: Timothy Garton Ash has a powerful, must-read essay in The Guardian, “As an English European, this is the biggest defeat of my political life.”

7th UPDATE: A British friend here, now retired, who spent most of his career working with organisms of the European Union, has written the following to me in an email:

I’m floored. It is a physical body blow… and yes, I think it is a global disaster.

In the bigger picture (beyond EU countries to Trumpistan), I see at least 4 ideas

a) Globalisation (of which EU is a part) and technological change have left large sections of society behind – they do not have the skills to compete (and if we face the politically incorrect truth, they do not have the mental capacities – skills can be learned); we have created an underclass in a 1984 world, which is now in revolt. We will need to find a new social contract.

b) Our socially driven communication and education systems have dumbed down political discourse and we have delegitimised rational thought (including science); the general level of public education is low except for elites. The media has failed to challenge the untruths and simplifications. In other words it has failed as a constitutional bulwark which puts our democratic systems in peril. “Post-truth” politics can only lead to failure of our democracies and our human rights protections.

c) Democracy has been captured by the elites, but we have not found a way to make societal decisions which reflect the legitimacy of listening to the people and the requirement that, in a complex world, we need professional technocratic decision making (i.e. elites know best but don’t have legitimacy to decide).

d) The baby boomers have despoiled the environment and the economy in their favour and have screwed the younger generation

I am so disgusted, I can’t think anymore.

Friends and relatives of mine in England – plus Facebook friends there I don’t know personally and others I see on social media – are devastated by the referendum outcome. A sample:

A cousin (retired): “I am devastated… On the streets in St Albans over the past week I’ve heard some really idiotic and intolerant views expressed. What does it say about the culture of this country?”

Another cousin (lawyer in the City), early Friday morning: “Christ, watching Nigel Farage gloating over ‘his victory’. Am so depressed there are only two places for me today – in bed or at the pub.”

A friend (academic): “I’m going to cry… Feels like the apocalypse… It feels like 9/11 to be honest. I mean no comparison of course in terms of devastation and destruction, but same Holy Shit feeling.”

8th UPDATE: An FT reader (name unknown) has this excellent, must-read comment—which has been Tweeted and shared on Facebook by tens of thousands—on the “three tragedies” of the Brexit vote. [Update: The author of the comment is a Florence-based political journalist named Nicholas Barrett].

9th UPDATE: Here’s the best data I’ve seen on “How the United Kingdom voted on Thursday… and why.” From Lord Ashcroft Polls (h/t Bob Bonwitt).

10th UPDATE: Two fine analyses by social scientists: “Thoughts on the sociology of Brexit,” by Will Davies of Goldsmiths, University of London, on the Political Economy Research Centre Blog; and “Britain riding the tectonic plates,” by David Held of Durham University, in Social Europe.

In his essay, Will Davies links to a four-minute video reflection, two days before the referendum, by Adam Ramsay and Anthony Barnett of OpenDemocracy UK, who spent a day interviewing voters in heavily pro-Leave Doncaster, in South Yorkshire. As they learned, those intending to vote Leave expected nothing to change for them in the event of a Brexit, there was practically no campaign in the city or any public debate or discussion over the issues or what was at stake, the Labour Party—the nº1 party there—was all but absent, and the pro-Leavers were devoid of any positive vision of the future. in other words, the act of voting Leave was a coup de gueule, or cri de cœur (choose your metaphor). Takeaway: People were going vote because the referendum had been organized and with the question of Brexit put to them, but they hadn’t demanded this. The referendum was, as is known to all, a base political maneuver by David Cameron to deal with an internal problem in his political party. It should have never been organized. And its outcome should be disregarded.

11th UPDATE: One consequence of Brexit: “UK scientists could lose $1.4 billion annually after leaving the EU,” in Big Think; and “Britain’s shaky status as a scientific superpower: Researchers say the country’s decision to leave the EU will reverse decades of academic gains,” in The Atlantic.

And this from The Guardian’s ‘EU Referendum Reality Check’ page: “Would Europeans be free to stay in the UK after Brexit? The leave campaign insists EU nationals already in Britain would be able to stay – but immigration lawyers say it’s not so simple.”

Seriously, who needs this?

12th UPDATE: Andrew Moravcsik has posted another thought on his Facebook page

When I predict that within 2-3 years there will either be a renegotiation with the EU (with or without the second referendum for which 1.5 million Brits have already petitioned), as Boris Johnson was advocating three months ago, or negotiation of a status equivalent to membership outside, it’s things like this statement that will push voters there. This is the type of cynical bait-and-switch of which politics is made—but now it will work for Europe.

Voter’s remorse will increase, one may be sure of that, toward which pro-Leave politicians—particularly Tories—will not be insensitive. And these politicians will, one hopes, be attentive to the expressions of despair and fear by young people—voters themselves and the children of theirs—who do not want to quit the EU.

Jo Cox, R.I.P.

Jo Cox_The Spectator

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I hadn’t heard of her before yesterday. What a terrible tragedy. And crime. She sounded like a good person, a vocal humanitarian in the British parliament and strong advocate for Syrian refugees, and particularly for Syrian children. Syrians—and particularly those in Britain—are devastated by her shocking murder. A day in infamy, as Alex Massie, Scotland editor of The Spectator, put it in a powerful commentary.

The contrast between Jo Cox and that wretched specimen of a human being, Nigel Farage, could not be greater.

The wretched Brexit referendum is just so, well, wretched that I have barely been able to read about the campaign, except to take note of the latest polls. The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee penned a column after the Cox murder, “The mood is ugly, and an MP is dead,” in which she said that “It’s wrong to view the killing of Jo Cox in isolation. Hate has been whipped up against the political class.” Her conclusion

Something close to a chilling culture war is breaking out in Britain, a divide deeper than I have ever known, as I listen to the anger aroused by this referendum campaign. The air is corrosive, it has been rendered so. One can register shock at what has happened, but not complete surprise.

I did read one very good piece the day before yesterday, “A short handbook of Brexit fallacies,” by Albert Weale, University College London Emeritus Professor of Political Theory and Public Policy.

In case one missed it, Neal Ascherson has a good op-ed in the NYT, “From Great Britain to Little England.”

And the FT’s Philip Stephens has an equally good commentary, “The dubious lure of taking on an elite,” in which he reminds the reader that “The dirty little secret of EU membership is that it has been an economic success story.” Money quote

There is nothing complicated or abstract about the case for European engagement: it rests on three pillars: national prosperity, security and attachment to values that many Brits would claim as their own — liberty, democracy and the rule of law. This in an age when the west’s interests and values are under rising challenge from autocrats across the globe.

The dirty little secret of EU membership is that it has been an economic success story. Britain joined in 1973 as the sick man of Europe. In the subsequent 43 years it has flourished. National output has risen faster than that of Germany, France and Italy. Per capita gross domestic product has increased by an average of 1.8 per cent annually, against 1.7 per cent in Germany, 1.4 per cent in France and 1.3 per cent in Italy.

One hopes that soft “Out” and undecided voters will honor Jo Cox’s memory by voting “In” next Thursday.

UPDATE: Simon Schama has a must-read column in the FT, “Let us spurn Brexit and remain a beacon of tolerance.” It concludes

If, finally, I invoke the memory of Jo Cox, it is not to exploit her death but to honour her morally magnificent and cruelly ended life. She was as homegrown Yorkshire as you could get. But she understood with instinctive decency that to be British was also to be a citizen of the wider world including Europe; that the two identities were mutually sustaining not mutually exclusive; that no man is an island.

She was the impassioned champion of the Syrian people, tormented and uprooted by their unrelenting war. Her maiden speech said it all: “Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration . . . what surprises me time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more things in common with each other than things which divides us.”

She was, she said, a celebrant of diversity. And that, too, is what makes our country a United Kingdom.

2nd UPDATE: Writer AA Gil has a terrific tribune in the June 12th Sunday Times arguing for “In” and rubbishing the Brexit arguments. The lede: “We all know what ‘getting our country back’ means. It’s snorting a line of that most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia.”

It was the woman on Question Time that really did it for me. She was so familiar. There is someone like her in every queue, every coffee shop, outside every school in every parish council in the country. Middle-aged, middle-class, middle-brow, over-made-up, with her National Health face and weatherproof English expression of hurt righteousness, she’s Britannia’s mother-in-law. The camera closed in on her and she shouted: “All I want is my country back. Give me my country back.

It was a heartfelt cry of real distress and the rest of the audience erupted in sympathetic applause, but I thought: “Back from what? Back from where?

Wanting the country back is the constant mantra of all the outies. Farage slurs it, Gove insinuates it. Of course I know what they mean. We all know what they mean. They mean back from Johnny Foreigner, back from the brink, back from the future, back-to-back, back to bosky hedges and dry stone walls and country lanes and church bells and warm beer and skittles and football rattles and cheery banter and clogs on cobbles. Back to vicars-and-tarts parties and Carry On fart jokes, back to Elgar and fudge and proper weather and herbaceous borders and cars called Morris. Back to victoria sponge and 22 yards to a wicket and 15 hands to a horse and 3ft to a yard and four fingers in a Kit Kat, back to gooseberries not avocados, back to deference and respect, to make do and mend and smiling bravely and biting your lip and suffering in silence and patronising foreigners with pity.

We all know what “getting our country back” means. It’s snorting a line of the most pernicious and debilitating Little English drug, nostalgia. The warm, crumbly, honey-coloured, collective “yesterday” with its fond belief that everything was better back then, that Britain (England, really) is a worse place now than it was at some foggy point in the past where we achieved peak Blighty. It’s the knowledge that the best of us have been and gone, that nothing we can build will be as lovely as a National Trust Georgian country house, no art will be as good as a Turner, no poem as wonderful as If, no writer a touch on Shakespeare or Dickens, nothing will grow as lovely as a cottage garden, no hero greater than Nelson, no politician better than Churchill, no view more throat-catching than the White Cliffs and that we will never manufacture anything as great as a Rolls-Royce or Flying Scotsman again.

The dream of Brexit isn’t that we might be able to make a brighter, new, energetic tomorrow, it’s a desire to shuffle back to a regret-curdled inward-looking yesterday. In the Brexit fantasy, the best we can hope for is to kick out all the work-all-hours foreigners and become caretakers to our own past in this self-congratulatory island of moaning and pomposity.

In this vein, Emile Simpson—a former British Army officer and current fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs—has an excellent, must-read piece in Foreign Policy, “Welcome to the fantasy island of Little England,” that utterly demolishes the arguments for Brexit. Reduces them to smithereens.

Prediction: If the “Out” wins—which I predict it will not—the UK government’s negotiations with the EU will be so protracted and arduous—with Brussels taking an uncompromising hard line with the Brits—that there will be a second referendum down the road, in which “In” will win.

3rd UPDATE: William Inboden—Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for National Security at the University of Texas-Austin and who held national security and foreign policy posts in the Bush 43 administration—has a tribute in Foreign Policy to Jo Cox, who hosted him and a group of his students at a dinner in London three weeks ago. She impressed them all.

4th UPDATE: Life peer Doreen Lawrence has a fine commentary, dated June 12th, in the New Statesman, “Europe is not an elite conspiracy against the public.” Money quote:

The Leave campaign has tried to pitch this debate as being about the people against the establishment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Europe is not an elite conspiracy against the public: at its best, it is the opposite. It is about the solidarity of the peoples of Europe with each other and our determination to create a better, freer and fairer world. It establishes a framework where citizens are protected from the state by common rules and standards.

Also see New Statesman contributing editor Laurie Penny’s commentary, “Britain’s breaking point: We owe it to Jo Cox not to write off her death as an act of affectless terrorism or meaningless madness.”

5th UPDATE: Simon Tilford—deputy director of the excellent think tank Centre for European Reform—had an excellent op-ed, dated June 10th, in The Telegraph, “If we leave the EU, other countries will think we’re a bunch of spoilt children. They’ll be right.”

6th UPDATE: In case one missed it, Andrew Moravcsik of Princeton University—who is the leading specialist of the EU in American political science—had a must-read op-ed, dated April 8th, in the FT, “The great Brexit kabuki — a masterclass in political theatre” (in PDF).

7th UPDATE: NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof has a nice tribute, “R.I.P., Jo Cox. May Britain remember your wisdom,” in which he discusses her activism on many fronts. In it, he links to a tribune, dated June 10th, that Cox published in The Yorkshire Post, “Brexit is no answer to real concerns on immigration.”

8th UPDATE: Glen Newey, who teaches practical philosophy at the University of Leiden, had a spot on piece, dated May 8th, in Foreign Policy on that insufferable clown Boris Johnson, “The Boaty McBoatface of British politics.” The lede: “The Brexit fight is proving too big a stage for Boris Johnson’s brand of political performance art.”

Newey also skewers the Tory ‘Remain’ camp, notably David Cameron, in an LRB blog post, dated June 22nd, “Bad Argument Olympiad.”

9th UPDATE: FWIW, my Brexit referendum prediction is here.

10th UPDATE: My cousin in London, Umesh, has a smart commentary—which is typical for him, as he’s exceptionally smart—on social media this morning (here), after casting his vote. Money quote:

Whatever the polls say, I cannot believe the British public would be so idiotic as to vote ‘leave’ and throw us into years of complete chaos: protracted negotiations, economic and political uncertainty and inevitable economic decline. Not really a decision which should have been given to the public in the first place.

He predicts the ‘In’ will win by an even greater than I did above. I hope he’s right.

The Orlando massacre

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The SIG MCX, a.k.a. the “Black Mamba.” That’s the assault weapon Omar Mateen used to commit his massacre. And which he, of course, purchased legally. Over the counter. As just about any person may in the state of Florida, as in much of the United States, even if he is a hate-spewing psychopath—as Mateen manifestly was—and/or has expressed an affinity with radical Islamist groups. To see what this rifle is about, watch the videos here. Anyone who can defend the freedom to acquire such weapons over the counter is not one with whom I can have any sort of dialogue. Repeating for the umpteenth time, what happened in Orlando is a uniquely American tragedy. Israeli journalist Anshei Pfeffer argued as much in the JDF, observing that though there are similarities between Islamic State-inspired or organized terrorist attacks in the US and those in Europe, these similarities end when it comes to the availability of weapons of war to civilians, which, he asserted

is inconceivable to outsiders. Not just the ease with which a “civilian version” of a military assault rifle can be bought over the counter, but the possibility of loading it with customized magazines holding 100 bullets, more than three times the number even armies use. The potential for bloodshed by one isolated and individual attacker is so much greater.

This availability of weapons enables isolated American Muslims with anger management problems—the Muslim population in America otherwise being well-to-do and thoroughly integrated—to express their rage in freelance bloodbaths such as the one yesterday in Orlando, whereas such is much more difficult in Europe, where Muslim populations contain larger numbers of extremists but who necessitate mobilization into cells of transnational terrorist organizations in order to commit mayhem, as in Paris and Brussels. If the US had stricter gun legislation, it would face no domestic jihadist terrorist threat.

On “lone wolf” terrorists, see Isaac Chotiner’s must-read interview in Slate with political scientist Jeffrey D. Simon, author of the 2013 book Lone Wolf Terrorism: Understanding the Growing Threat.

Academic blogger Juan Cole has an instant analysis, “Omar Mateen and rightwing homophobia: Hate crime or domestic terrorism?” See also sociologist Mark Juergensmeyer’s blog post, “Orlando massacre: ISIS inspired or homophobic attack?”

France 24 reporter-blogger and friend Leela Jacinto, who has reported extensively from Afghanistan over the years, has been looking into the curious case of the Orlando shooter’s father, Seddique Mateen, “Sins of the father do not apply to the Orlando nightclub attacker.” Money quote

By all accounts Mateen Senior is bombastic, delusional, prolix and probably dyslexic. In some crazy phase of his prolific, self-made media career, he proclaimed himself president of Afghanistan. That’s how batty he is.

But like many parents of kids who have jumped on the Daesh/Islamic State (IS) group killing train, he has never advocated killing people who disagree with him.

This is consistent with the generational break we are witnessing between immigrant parents who have left their native lands and their children who have a limited, at best, grasp of their parents’ countries of birth.

Leela quotes Barnett Rubin of Columbia University, the world’s leading political science authority on Afghanistan, who has also been on the Omar Mateen père story

As Barnett Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, tweeted, “Orlando shooter’s dad Seddique Mateen doesn’t support Taliban or anything but himself. No wonder his son was unstable. Look at his FB page.”

After examining what he deliciously called Mateen’s “logorrhean FB page,” Rubin not surprisingly concludes, “He is a nut”.

Not nearly as much as his son, alas.

As for the fallout on the US presidential campaign, there will be none, except perhaps to reinforce Hillary and make the specter of Trump in the White House that much more alarming. If terrorism becomes an issue in the fall campaign, Hillary can only benefit. More on this another time.

UPDATE: See the powerful “Reflections on Orlando” by New York LGBT blogger Michael Bouldin.

2nd UPDATE: On the matter of guns, Huff Post foreign affairs reporter Jessica Schulberg has a piece explaining “what happened when a terrorist attacked LGBT people in a country with strict gun laws.” The country in question is Israel. The lede: “There’s no right to bear arms in Israel, and the death count in recent terror attacks is much lower than in terror-inspired U.S. mass murders.” Right-wing Americans who adhere the NRA (and AIPAC) viewpoint are invited to read this and, if they care to do so, respond to it.

3rd UPDATE: Watch Vox’s extraordinary seven-minute video, “America’s gun problem, explained.”

4th UPDATE: WaPo reporters Kevin Sullivan and William Wan have a must-read portrait (June 17th) of Omar Mateen, “Troubled. Quiet. Macho. Angry. The volatile life of the Orlando shooter.” It wasn’t sympathy for the Islamic State which drove him to commit mass murder, that’s for sure.

Also see the report (June 18th) by TDB’s Shane Harris, Brandy Zadrozny, and Katie Zavadski, “The unhinged home that raised Orlando killer Omar Mateen.” Talk about a dysfunctional family, and for whom religion was clearly not central.

5th UPDATE: Slate’s Isaac Chotiner, in an Orlando-related piece (June 22nd), “The Islamization of radicalism,” interviews Olivier Roy “on the misunderstood connection between terror and religion.”

New York Daily News_June 13 2016

Muhammad Ali, R.I.P.

When We Were Kings

My social media timeline was covered with tributes when he died a week ago. I didn’t put up anything myself, as I was off the blog for two weeks and with limited Internet access—on a voyage that I will write about soon—but also as I didn’t have anything of interest to say about him. But as today is his funeral, and with a part of America honoring his memory, I will add my 1¢ here, namely to say that he was one of those public personalities whom I knew, as it were, for most of my life, notwithstanding my zero interest in boxing. Muhammad Ali was a character whom one found amusing and interesting, not least for his political views, such as expressed here and here in regard to the Vietnam war. And his Chicago mansion—on the 4900 block of S.Woodlawn—being in my neighborhood in the 1980s, I would make a point to show it to visiting out-of-town friends (though Muhammad Ali didn’t actually spend much time there; pour l’info, Barack & Michelle Obama’s Chicago home—where they no longer spend much time either—is nearby, on the 5000 block of S.Greenwood). And he was certainly one of the better known Americans abroad, at least in Muslim countries in the 1960s and ’70s; I have memories of his name coming up with people when I lived in Turkey back then. And then there was the Rumble in the Jungle, which was the subject of the excellent documentary, When We Were Kings (see here and here). I think I’ll watch it again.

Slate has passages of “The best stories ever written about Muhammad Ali.” The full text of Murray Kempton’s is here.

UPDATE: President Obama has an exceptional tribute to Muhammad Ali, posted on the White House website. Watch Valerie Jarrett read it at the funeral here.

la_jaula_de_oro

Mexico/Central America-USA edition. Continuing from the previous post, this Mexican film, ‘La juala de oro’ (English title: The Golden Dream; French: Rêves d’or), directed by Diego Quemada-Díez, is one of the more powerful I’ve seen on Mexican/Central American migration to the US—and I’ve seen several over the decades, beginning with the 1983 ‘El Norte’ (perhaps there was one or more before that one but which does not immediately come to mind). It begins in Guatemala, with three mid teenagers—Juan (Brandon López), Sara (Karen Noemí Martínez Pineda), and Samuel (Carlos Chajon)—who set out for the US (the reasons look to be economic, not flight from gang or political violence). Once across the Mexican border, they meet Chauk (Rodolfo Domínguez), a teen from Chiapas who doesn’t know Spanish—speaking only the Maya language Tzotzil—but attaches himself to them, and particularly to Sara, to whom he takes a liking. Samuel dropping out and returning home, the three head north on the dangerous trek, where they are prey to both police and criminal gangs, the latter who demand their addresses in the US—and they necessarily have them written down—to extort ransom from their families there (gangs these days being transnational). And for girls like Sara—who tries to disguise herself as a boy—the probability of being sexually violated is in the high 90% range. If the reasons for migrating may be economically motivated—at least for the characters in the film—the youthful migrants would have clearly had a strong case for receiving asylum in the US.

The film—which came out in France in late ’13 and the US last year—is certainly topical, in view of the tens of thousands of unaccompanied, mostly Central American minors who sought admission into the US in 2014. Most were fleeing violence—indeed terror—in their countries, and should have consequently been considered refugees. And it’s not just Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, but also Mexico, where the violence and cruelty of the drug gangs puts the Islamic State to shame, and with the Mexican state often being in league with the narcos. One bit in the film that I was initially dubious about was the Chauk character not speaking Spanish. I am aware that such is the case for a certain number of indigenous persons in Mexico but couldn’t imagine that they would be able to navigate the journey to the US. Shows how much I know, as it turns out that there are indeed quite a few Mexican migrants in the US who do not speak Spanish (see here and here). One can imagine the challenges of living in the US and speaking only Tzotzil or Nahuatl. Sort of like being an Algerian in France and only speaking Taqbaylit. Bonne chance.

The film received top reviews in France and good ones in the US. Mexican reviews must have been stellar, as it is apparently the most awarded Mexican film in that country’s cinematographic history. See the interviews with director Quemada-Díez in the gauchiste webzine Counterpunch, the progressive Democracy Now!, and in IndieWire. Trailer is here.

Another Mexican film on the migration theme that received a slew of awards is ‘Aquí y Allá’ (English title: Here and There; French: Ici et là-bas), directed by Antonio Méndez Esparza. This one is rather different from the above, focusing on migrant return after many years away. Here, the middle-aged Pedro (Pedro De los Santos) returns home to his family—wife and two now teenage daughters—in his mountain village in Guerrero, after years of living and working in New York. His family is happy that he’s home but things have changed, particularly as he now hardly knows his daughters. As Variety’s Jonathan Holland’s review begins

A migrant worker returns to his native Mexico from the U.S. in “Here and There,” a quietly devastating exploration of the cruel paradox that, in order to feed their loved ones, emigrants have to leave them behind. Combining moments of lyricism with a documentary-like feel for truth, Antonio Mendez Esparza’s debut feature is far from hard-hitting, aestheticizing its tale with artful ellipses and juxtapositions. But its delicate portrayal of the emotional effects of immigration nonetheless amounts to a punchy social critique. Pic’s canny blend of artistry and politics should win it fest admirers.

I certainly admired the film, which is touching and, dare I say, poignant. IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio called it

the best film yet to screen at [the 2012] Cannes’ Critics’ Week, confidently made without a single wasted scene. The quotidian reality of Guerrero village life is realized with lyricism and lack of sentimentality. (…) Peaceful, almost biblical and completely absorbing, this film is a masterpiece.

French reviews were good to very good. Trailer is here.

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affiche-mediterranea

Last week I had a couple of posts on immigration, migration, and refugees. Continuing in this vein, I want to mention a few films I’ve seen over the past couple of years on the general theme. One of the more noteworthy was ‘Mediterranea’, by American-Italian director Jonas Carpignano, which opened to good reviews in France last September and in the US two months later. Its timing was uncanny, in view of the refugee crisis of last summer and fall (and ongoing, of course). The film follows the journey of two young men from Burkina Faso, Ayiva (Koudous Seihon) and Abas (Alassane Sy), who head across the Sahara to the Libyan coast, to be smuggled across the Mediterranean to Italy. This part of the film—much of it, in fact—is documentary-like, particularly the scene, in Algeria or Libya (shot in Morocco), where the African migrants are robbed—and with a few killed—by criminals/terrorists (AQIM or one of those groups). The pic doesn’t linger on the maritime crossing—a whole film, La Pirogue, has been devoted to this aspect of African migration to Europe—the story mainly focusing on what happens to Ayiva and Abas once they make it to Italy, where they work as agricultural laborers, obviously exploited, with some of the locals being kind and welcoming but more not. Europe is not the promised land they imagined, that’s for sure. One naturally sympathizes with the two Burkinabé protags, though they’re not always angels (not that there’s any reason they should be). And, as tends to be the case with migrants, they are not les damnés de la terre in their home country, communicating regularly with their folks there via Skype—conversations in which they accentuate the positive and downplay the negative—home computers in a country like Burkina Faso signifying what may be considered middle class status there.

Director Carpignano’s inspiration for making the film was the events in Rosarno—a town of some 15,000 on the southern tip of Reggio Calabria province—in January 2010, which witnessed a riot by Africans after repeated harassment, beatings, and shootings of migrants by local residents (and with implication of the mafia), and which the pic reenacts. And, as it happens, actor Seihon was an actual Burkinabé/Ghanaian migrant in Rosarno, who had made the clandestine passage to Italy and participated in migrant protests there, which is where Carpignano met him (and with the two becoming close friends). In order to make the film, Carpignano did anthropological-like field research in African migrant communities in southern Italy, as he discussed in this interview. Carapignano also explained the reason for casting the film’s protags as Burkinabé, as he didn’t want to focus on refugees fleeing war but rather on people migrating to better their lives, as did the Sicilians and Calabrians who emigrated to the United States in the late 19th-early 20th century—and with southern Italy having been as “Third World” compared to the US—and as culturally alien to American society of the time—as sub-Saharan Africa is to Italy today. Trailer is here.

Another film on African migration seen last year was ‘Hope’, by French director Boris Lojkine. This one follows the journey of a Nigerian named Hope (Endurance Newton), as she crosses the Sahara to Morocco (where the entire film was shot), with Spain the destination. A single woman in a pitiless world of men, where it’s chacun pour soi. No need to say what happens to her along the way or what she has to do to survive financially. The social organization of African migrants is depicted in detail, particularly in the sequence in the migrant shantytown in Tamanrasset, Algeria, which is segregated by nationality, the migrants sticking with their own—Ivorians with Ivorians, Malians with Malians, etc—imposing strict rules of conduct and with hierarchies replicating those back home. Like Carpignano, Lojkine—who normally makes documentaries—did field research among African migrants, here in Morocco and particularly in Rabat’s African quartier, Takkadoum, where he recruited the cast, including the remarkable Newton, who was a migrant herself (she recounts her personal story here). In the words of one critic, some of the actors are basically playing versions of themselves on screen. After an act of sexual aggression committed against her, Hope hooks up with a Cameroonian named Leonard (Justin Wang)—she wants nothing to do with her fellow Nigerians—the sole man in the migrant column who showed concern for her. Their relationship is purely self-interested at first but they develop mutual affection in the course of their journey. The film does not, however, descend into sentimentality or pathos, nor is it misérabiliste in its portrayal of the migrants’ plight. It’s a good film and that I recommend, particularly to those who have a prioris on the subject. Reviews in France were good and with Allociné spectateurs giving it the thumbs way up. See, in particular, the reviews in Africultures and Variety. Trailer is here and here.

Though the two films portray “economic” migrants, many Africans who reach the shores of Europe are indeed bona fide refugees. For the anecdote, last August I went to a corner of the 18th arrondissement—near La Chapelle, on a quiet side street, seen only by riverains—where recently arrived migrants from the Horn of Africa congregate, just to try to talk with them. They were all from Sudan and Eritrea, with a few Ethiopians, so I was told. A couple of dozen men were lingering about, most riveted to their cell phones. None spoke French and only one English with any level of proficiency, the oldest man present—around 40 years of age—who said he was from western Sudan (i.e. Darfur). He was a truck driver by profession and said that he had decided to leave Sudan due to the security situation, i.e. civil war and absence of state protection. Sudan was a country one fled from if one could. He made his way to Europe via Libya, which he described as in a state of anarchy, with armed gangs running the show. I thought better than to ask nosy questions about the Mediterranean crossing or how they all made it to Paris. Or to delve too deeply into their actual circumstances back home and decision to migrate (which one cannot know or verify). One young Eritrean, who was listening to our conversation—which went on for half an hour—and spoke rudimentary English, said that he left his country because of its military service requirements, which last many years—ten years or even longer; it’s totally arbitrary—and that such was the case for all the Eritreans in the group. All had England as their final destination—naturally via Calais—though not necessarily because they knew anyone there (migrants invariably heading to a place where they have family or friends) or saw it as some kind of El Dorado. As asylum seekers—but in a legally precarious situation—they would, in principle, have been wiling to stay in France, except that the French state administration, such as they had dealt with it, was impenetrable. Not knowing French, they couldn’t communicate with it, and no translators were provided. And they were bereft of resources and with no local organism to help them (a middle-aged woman—in a hijab, no doubt Algerian—came to speak with some of them while I was there; my Sudanese interlocutor, who identified her as “French,” called her their guardian angel, a wonderful person who brought them cooked meals daily; no one else in Paris had shown them such kindness). As there was “nothing in France for us,” so I was told, the men wanted to move on to England, where they knew asylum seekers received temporary accommodations and assistance.

After a point I began to feel embarrassed with my inquiry, me the well-to-do, bleeding heart local who would go back to his comfortable home and life, and with nothing to propose or say to these desperate persons in a desperate situation. Apart from my questions, what could I say to these men or do for them? The one thing I did feel was revulsion at the demagoguery and general insensitivity of politicians and other public personalities who were piping off on the migration/refugee issue, presenting it uniquely as a threat to France and Europe. The men I met clearly cannot be sent back to their countries and it would be unconscionable, indeed downright immoral, to demand otherwise. Any ideas of what to do for them?

Hope

Briefly, two other films. One, ‘Macondo’, by Iranian-Austrian director Sudabeh Mortezai, came out in France a year ago—and to good reviews—under the title ‘Le Petit homme’. Borrowing from Variety’s positive review

This sensitive Austrian social drama from docu helmer Sudabeh Mortezai focuses on a [Chechen] refugee settlement outside Vienna.

Visit Vienna as a tourist and you aren’t likely to see kids like Ramasan, the 11-year-old [Chechen] subject of docu director Sudabeh Mortezai’s empathetically observed fiction debut, “Macondo.” To find such foreigners, one must venture to the outskirts, where the eponymous immigrant settlement offers housing to nearly 2,000 refugees taking shelter from their home countries. As an Iranian who split her childhood between Tehran and Vienna, Mortezai can clearly identify with the confused emotional state of her young protagonist, treating his unique situation as one example of Austria’s complex immigrant experience — a deeply humanist perspective…

It’s a coming-of-age story about a Chechen refugee boy caught between two cultures, whose combattant father was killed by the Russians, and who thus has to assume the role as head of the family, composed of his mother and two sisters. An impressive performance by the youthful actor Ramasan Minkailov. Hollywood Reporter and Indie Wire critics who saw the pic at the Berlinale also gave it the thumbs up. I thought it was pretty good too. Trailer is here.

The other film is a documentary seen in late 2013, ‘Stop-Over’ (in France: ‘L’Escale’), by Iranian-Swiss director Kaveh Bakhtiari, which offers an up-close portrait of the daily tribulations of seven undocumented migrants—six Iranians and an Armenian—in Athens, who had been smuggled into Greece from Turkey but found themselves blocked in the country, that they initially considered to be a mere stop-over in their projected journeys north (to Germany or Scandinavia). And given the situation in Greece, it clearly could not be their final destination. The film is worth seeing for those with a particular interest in the subject. Variety’s great critic Jay Weissberg reviewed it here, The Hollywood Reporter’s review is here. French critics were particularly enthusiastic. Trailer is here.

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