Archive for September, 2011

PS debate 2

I missed Wednesday evening’s debate—as I did the first one two weeks ago—but caught parts of it later. It was good, at least on form. And as one knows, form is as important as substance in these things. French politicians are invariably articulate and can give good speeches without teleprompters or even a text (cf. their American counterparts). The substance is a different matter. The PS candidates are all smart but, like politicians everywhere, can occasionally talk nonsense (and often more than occasionally). E.g. Ségolène Royal pledging to outlaw “stock market driven layoffs” (yeah, Ségolène, if you’re somehow elected Présidente de la République, you just go ahead and try to make good on that one…). And then there’s Arnaud Montebourg’s connerie on démondialisation (deglobalization), which he has spelled out in detail in an 87 page pamphlet and as the centerpiece of his presidential campaign (and which is prefaced by the professional illuminé Emmanuel Todd). I am reluctant to criticize Montebourg too severely—as he kindly complimented me on my talk at a conference in Tunisia last April (his keynote speech was also very good; he’s an excellent speaker)—but in reading his pamphlet I was filled with dismay that some French Socialists have yet to shed their reflex of promising monts et merveilles when in opposition and then naturally being unable to deliver once elected. If Montebourg is elected President—which he won’t be—does he really intend to go to Brussels and Berlin with his démondialisation project? If so, what kind of reception does he honestly think he’ll get? (Answer: this).

But Montebourg knows that he has no chance of being the PS nominee—that this is just a dry run for 2017 or ’22—and is positioning himself as the standard-bearer of the left wing of the party (and pushing Benoît Hamon to the side). Manuel Valls is doing the same thing on the PS’ right (filling the slot left by Jean-Marie Bockel). I used to think that Valls was a breath of fresh air in the party but he’s lurching a little too far to the right, particularly on immigration and insécurité (the two most demagogued issues in French politics). He’s also too hot tempered, or comes across that way. Not good for a politician. Another thing about Montebourg and Valls: they’re the youngest candidates—not yet 50—but in the first debate took the most hardline position against legalizing/decriminalizing cannabis (for this reason alone I pronounced Jean-Michel Baylet—who’s for legalization—the winner of that debate). It’s too bad they weren’t asked by one of the journalist-moderators if they had ever smoked cannabis themselves (the lack of debate on this issue in France is striking; maybe I’ll do a future post on the subject).

I didn’t watch enough of the debate to get a sense of how François Hollande and Martine Aubry—the nominee will be one of the two—came off overall. Hollande looked like he was taking the high road—and that’s what the pundits said—and trying not to be controversial, though his contrat de génération plan to deal with youth and senior unemployment is being critiqued by the other candidates, as well as by the unions. Martine Aubry’s pledge to add 10,000 policemen is ridiculous. France has more than enough cops. They just need to be deployed differently (and which would involve radically decentralizing the police, a taboo subject, to say the least). What the Socialists have to say on reforming the tax code is interesting but a number of their economic proposals—e.g. on financial regulation—can only be achieved at the supra-national EU level.  If Hollande or Aubry is elected next May, his/her margin of manoeuvre will be limited. Whatever they say today will not have much bearing on what they’ll eventually do in office. Both are smart and have the experience and stature to be President. Ten years ago I told my American students here that Martine Aubry would likely be France’s first woman President. Jacques Chirac told her likewise. She was really very impressive in the 1990s. But as minister of social affairs in the gauche plurielle government the RTT law (réduction du temps de travail, on the 35-hour work week) was hung around her neck—the law was actually DSK’s idea; Aubry thought it was a grosse connerie—and which caused her poll numbers to permanently drop. She’s also lost her edge personally over the past decade. She’s become dull in my mind, giving the impression that her heart’s not really in it. Doesn’t have that fire in the belly. She is also known for being brusque with those in her inner circle. In my book a politician who denigrates and/or lords it over his/her subordinates is displaying a failure of character that almost disqualifies him/her from being President. Sarkozy and Ségolène Royal are both like this (this is known). Chirac and Mitterrand were not. François Hollande is not either. For that reason, among several others, I’ll likely vote for him over Aubry on October 9th/16th.

For analyses of the primary, this one from Mediapart (subscribers only, sorry) is good. Also Thomas Legrand’s commentary on France Inter this morning

Hier s’est déroulé le deuxième débat entre les socialistes, sans véritables affrontements, du moins entre les deux favoris !

Oui, ni même d’écarts programmatiques assez saillants entre Martine Aubry et François Hollande susceptibles de renseigner les hésitants. Leur passe d’armes au pistolet à bouchons sur le contrat de génération avait plus à voir avec un débat d’experts en mécanique sociale qu’avec un affrontement entre deux conceptions présidentielles opposées. Dans une paisible ambiance de tutoiement qui ressemblait à ce que serait une réunion de la section PS des Sœurs de la Charité, les socialistes ont donc réussi à occuper à leur avantage le terrain pendant que l’actualité de droite tournait toujours autour des affaires. Encore une fois, Arnaud Montebourg et Manuel Valls auront pu tirer avantage du débat. Eux, se sont affrontés un peu rudement, (au pistolet à eau, disons !) sachant que cette audace n’insultait pas l’avenir puisqu’ aucun des deux ne devrait être, à la fin, le candidat désigné. Jean-Michel Baylet, lui s’est livré à un exercice plutôt sympathique d’enfonçage de portes ouvertes humanistes, de truismes républicains qui ne font pas de mal à rappeler de temps en temps mais qui ne peuvent tenir lieu de programme. Revenons aux deux benjamins (qui approchent quand même de la cinquantaine) : Arnaud Montebourg est le seul à développer des thèses alternatives à la rigueur ambiante. Protectionnisme européen, démondialisation, ce sont des solutions qui paraissent peu compatibles avec le programme originel du parti socialiste. Etant le seul à tenir un discours que l’on pourrait qualifier de néo-mélanchonien, il pourrait en bénéficier dans les urnes des primaires le 9 octobre.

 On a vu aussi Manuel Valls cultiver sa dissidence par rapport au programme socialiste

Oui mais, mise à part la question de la TVA sociale, Manuel Valls se distingue maintenant surtout sur le thème de l’immigration. L’immigration choisie, un discours de fermeté sur les sans papiers, des propos volontairement dépourvus de la compassion minimum qui sied au discours habituel des socialistes. Il se distingue encore une fois en passant par la droite de son parti. Ce qui ne devrait pas manquer d’inquiéter l’aile gauche puisque ce que pensent et ce que disent aujourd’hui les principaux responsables socialistes sur la sécurité ou même sur la dette avait été d’abord exprimé par Manuel Valls ces dernières années. Plus généralement, ces débats de la primaire constituent une formidable tribune pour les socialistes qui sont en train de prouver (même si l’épreuve de vérité aura lieu au lendemain de la désignation de l’un d’entre eux et de leur capacité à se réunir) que la primaire n’est pas la machine à perdre, la boite à baffes que leurs détracteurs dénonçaient. Pour les socialistes, ces débats ont du bon, pour le débat d’idées, en revanche, on reste sur sa faim. C’est un exercice finalement assez facile, quatre heures d’antenne à la télé et à la radio, bientôt six heures, de rabâchage sans contradicteurs journalistiques ou politiques. Personne pour contester des chiffres ou des faits en direct, ou pour mettre le doigt sur des contradictions. Un bel exemple de hold-up médiatique, légal et très rentable, qui va sûrement faire réfléchir toutes les autres formations politiques pour 2017, quoiqu’elles en disent aujourd’hui.

The third and final debate will be on October 5th.

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Iranian Beauty

This story is getting a lot of play today—I heard it on France Inter this morning and now see it in the NYT—about the jaw dropping interview on the BBC with the London stock trader, who talked about how recessions are great for making money, not caring about fixing the economy, Goldman Sachs ruling the world, etc. One of course wishes to take him and his finance capitalist ilk, send them here, and then parade them around like this. In the NYT piece—which was on the paper’s Lede blog—one learns that the trader is of Iranian origin and has made videos about Iran, one of which extols the country and its beauty. Scroll down to the bottom and watch it. Beautiful songs. The country too. One can only imagine what it would be if it were rid of that wretched regime and women could dress any way they wished.

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Il ne faut pas l’attendre, car cela ne se produira pas. Voilà ce qu’il dit Pierre Evenos, haut fonctionnaire français, dans un très bon article, daté Jérusalem, dans l’excellent webzine Rue89. J’ai dit la même chose depuis un moment et pour grosso modo les mêmes raisons que M. Evenos. Il faut lire tout son article mais voici un morceau clé

Cet éloignement du grand jeu diplomatique en cours, on le retrouve paradoxalement à l’autre bout du spectre social palestinien, chez les élites de Ramallah. Il suffit d’observer les innombrables panneaux publicitaires qui ornent les rues de Ramallah pour comprendre que la classe moyenne palestinienne vit aujourd’hui à l’ère du consumérisme.

Instrument et symbole de celui-ci, le crédit à la consommation s’est répandu à toute vitesse, inondant la ville de 4×4 que leurs propriétaires mettront plusieurs années à terminer de payer. Ziyad, quoique diplomate passionné et nationaliste convaincu, vient lui aussi d’acheter un appartement à crédit : comment n’en serait-il pas quelque peu détourné de la lutte pour l’indépendance de la Palestine ?

Voilà toute l’ambiguïté politique du projet mis en œuvre par Salam Fayyad dans les zones autonomes de Cisjordanie : enrichir les Palestiniens, c’est tout à la fois en faire des interlocuteurs crédibles aux yeux des Israéliens et diminuer leur propension à résister à l’occupation – tout le contraire du legs d’Arafat, en un mot.

Fayyad a contribué plus qu’aucun autre à bâtir cet Etat palestinien que l’ONU est sur le point de reconnaître ; mais la société palestinienne issue de cette ère nouvelle sera de plus en plus individualiste, de moins en moins politisée.

La vie est certes difficile pour une bonne partie de la population palestinienne de la Cisjordanie, à cause de l’occupation, ses checkpoints, et toutes les insupportables vexations et l’arbitraire de l’occupant que les Palestiniens doivent subir (et comme l’a rappellé l’autre jour un journaliste américain—et un camarade à moi de l’école primaire—qui est très au fait de la situation sur le terrain en Palestine, dans un commentaire sur le site web de Michael Moore). Mais il faut dire que la Cisjordanie n’est pas le quart-monde et ses habitants ne sont pas les damnés de la terre. M. Evenos parle des dures conditions dans les ‘camps de réfugiés’—qui sont en fait des quartiers populaires péri-urbains peuplé des déscendants des réfugiés, pas par des réfugiés actuels (dont il n’y a presque plus; la plupart des réfugiés de 1948 toujours en vie n’ont que des vagues souvenirs d’enfance de l’époque). Ces quartiers populaires ne sont pas des bidonvilles, il faut le dire, et ses habitants ne crèvent pas de faim (voici des photos—avec commentaire—que j’ai pris de deux ‘camps de réfugiés’ il y a deux ans). Quant aux élites, dont il parle M. Evenos, et les classes moyennes—qui ne sont certes pas majoritaires mais qui ne constitue pas une petite minorité non plus—la vie n’est pas mauvaise. Par ex., ce concessionaire à El Bireh fait de bonnes affaires, semble-t-il (toutes les photos sont les miennes).

Pareil pour celui-ci à Ramallah (juste au nord du checkpoint Qalandia).

Il y a beaucoup de nouvelle construction, par ex. à El Bireh.

Immeubles huppés à El Bireh (en face de l’implantation juive de Psagot).

La vie peut être veritablement gaie, par ex. pour ces éclaireuses à Ramallah.

La vie n’est pas trop mauvaise non plus pour ces étudiants à l’Université de Bir Zeit (haut lieu de militantisme nationaliste éstudiantin palestinien).

L”Université de Bir Zeit s’est beaucoup agrandi ces 25 dernières années, par ailleurs. Quand je l’ai visité pour la première fois en 1985 elle était petite, et le nouveau campus (celui-ci) n’avait qu’un immeuble. Ce n’est pas le cas aujourd’hui.

Bon, on peut objecter que tout cela n’est que Ramallah-El Bireh et environs—qui est une sorte de bulle—et que la situation est moins réluisante ailleurs dans les territoires, ce qui est en partie vrai. Mais pas entièrement. Par ex., la vie à Naplouse—entièrement entouré par des checkpoints assez draconiens quand j’y étais en 2009—n’a pas l’air catastrophique.

Ils l’aimaient bien…

De retour à Ramallah, on voit beaucoup de ceci en Palestine…

C’est-à-dire, beaucoup d’infrastructure, etablissements (écoles, etc), même des banals terrains de foot, existent grâce aux dons de la communauté internationale, précisement l’UE, les Etats-Unis, le Japon et d’autres pays riches (mais pas grand-chose des pays pétroliers arabes). On ne peut pas sous-estimé à quel point la prosperité—certes relative—de la Cisjordanie dépend de l’aide de l’Occident. La Palestine est sous perfusion, et le sera pour longtemps. Un nouveau soulèvement et cette perfusion s’arrêtera illico. Les Palestiniens auront donc beaucoup plus à perdre qu’à gagner (et vu qu’on sait qu’une nouvelle intifada sera voué à l’échec). Pour ces raisons et pour d’autres, et comme M. Evenos l’explicite, il n’y aura pas de troisième intifada.

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This is the English title of a comedy-satire-fable on the Israel-Palestine conflict, which opened in Paris this week (and has opened only in France so far but will surely make it to the US, UK, and elsewhere). The film is in Arabic and Hebrew (with a smattering of English) but is a Franco-Belgian-German production and directed by a French writer and journalist, Sylvain Estibal. It is set in Gaza but shot in Malta. I won’t recount the hilarious, absurd story—one can find that here—except to say that it is really quite funny and well done. It is not a totally realistic depiction of the reality on the ground, to say the least, and overdoes it with the bons sentiments at the end but I liked it (and the audience clearly did too, as there was applause at the end). The casting and acting was first rate, particularly the lead role played by the Iraqi-Israeli comic actor Sasson Gabai (who played the older Egyptian policeman in the wonderful 2007 Israeli film ‘The Band’s Visit‘). Les critiques en France ont été bonnes et la bouche-à-oreille le sera sans doute aussi. À ne pas louper.

On the subject of recent Middle East themed films shot in Malta, while in the US this summer I saw ‘The Devil’s Double’, on Saddam Hussein’s sinister son Uday, or, more specifically, on Uday and his body double (fidai). The pic was based on the book by Uday’s real life fidai, Latif Yahia, which, while watching the film, I remembered I had read some ten years ago, as I knew a lot of the stories that were being enacted. It’s mainly a Hollywood action-crime film and that merited the mixed reviews it received. But while the screenplay clearly takes liberties with some of Yahia’s account—and much of which is itself unverifiable, with some of it no doubt exaggerated—there is no reason to doubt its overall veracity, as Uday was indeed a sadistic, satyric psychopath, making his father look almost normal by comparison (the film in fact portrays Saddam this way). Despite its general trashiness the pic is entertaining and worth seeing if one has a particular interest in the subject. And Dominic Cooper—who plays both Uday and Yahia—deserves at least an Oscar nomination for his performance.

Now one awaits Hollywood’s rendition of Muammar Qadhafi and his sons. Except here the father won’t be the normal one. Nor the sons. Talk about an Addams Family à la moyen-orientale

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says Sandy Tolan, an American journalist who has written extensively on Israel-Palestine over the years—and whom I posted on in June—, in a commentary on Michael Moore’s web site. Sandy refers to me in his commentary, not by name but as an “old schoolmate,” which we indeed were several decades ago on the east side of Milwaukee. On that period of our lives Sandy wrote a wonderful book in 2000, Me and Hank, which brought back a lot of memories (many shared). Highly recommended, as is his more recent book below (translated into several languages).

Photo taken by me, in Ortaköy, Istanbul (July 2010).

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par Philippe Meyer sur France Culture hier

“Un pays qui prend Bernard Tapie pour un entrepreneur, Bernard-Henri Lévy pour un philosophe, Jacques Attali pour un penseur, Claire Chazal pour une journaliste, Alain Minc pour un économiste, etc. ne peut s’étonner d’avoir Nicolas Sarkozy comme président de la République”.

(h/t Art Goldhammer)

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This looks like one interesting film festival. Too bad I’m not in Istanbul right now. The New York Times has an article on the festival, informing us that

The program includes presentations by Chilean, Polish and Greek scholars on the legal aspects of coming to terms with the legacy of military dictatorships and repressive regimes, as carried out in their respective countries.

Other panels, with leading German scholars, focus on Germany’s transition from the Nazi period to democracy and on the constitutional problems posed by that country’s reunification after the collapse of Communism.

“The problem of military coups is extremely difficult in terms of jurisprudence, almost impossible to solve — perhaps art and cinema can come up with answers that we as legal scholars cannot provide,” Walter Gropp, a German law professor and member of the festival’s advisory board, said in Istanbul last week.

“The transition to a new system, a new constitution, poses the question of who should be held accountable” for the deeds of preceding system, Mr. Gropp added. “It is an endless question to which jurisprudence can provide no answers, to which we must seek the answers outside of the law: What is right and what is wrong?”

This is where the festival comes in.

“We legal scholars see the general principles, but cinematic art focuses on the human beings,” Mr. Gropp said. “This is a different approach that I believe could inspire new ideas.”

While the festival’s theme is clearly geared toward Turkish concerns, it resonates with other countries around the region, particularly those that are looking for new constitutions of their own.

“There is great interest from those countries, from Egypt, from Algeria, from Tunisia,” Mr. Sozuer said.

One festival session will focus on the transition process in Egypt and Tunisia, with presentations by legal scholars from those countries.

The festival program is here.

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[update below]

The reaction of the French press—and of  public opinion, so it appears anecdotally (no actual polls out yet)—to DSK’s TF1 interview has been harshly negative. Now today’s Canard Enchaîné has a devastating front page commentary on the Socialist party’s one-time favorite. No one in the French press skewers politicians as ferociously as Le Canard’s editorialists. And with such consistently brilliant headlines. Le Canard has a minimalist web site and with almost no content, but does reproduce the front page. One may read the commentary (in tiny print, though readable) here. On p.2 we learn that even (ex-)strauss-kahniens in the PS were privately dismayed by their (ex-) champion’s performance on Sunday. Dur, dur. Haven’t heard from BHL yet.

UPDATE: TNS Sofres has a poll out (September 22) on public reaction to the TF1 interview: for 31% it lowered their image of DSK, for 56% it was unchanged, and 4% said the interview improved it. It’s hard to fully interpret this, as one would need to know how these people felt about DSK before the interview, i.e. how many of that 31% already had a negative image of him. It is clear in any case that the interview did not improve DSK’s image, so as an opération de com’ it was a failure.

The poll also has the percentage of Frenchmen who think there may have been a plot. Affligeant.

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La Tunisie Electionnaire

Voilà IKHTIAR, un bon site web pour aider les citoyens tunisiens (dont je ne suis pas) dans leur choix pour les élections de l’assemblée constituante du 23 octobre. Repondez aux questions de l’électionnaire pour connaître les partis politiques qui ont les convictions les plus proches des vôtres (que vous soyez Tunisien ou non).

Voici les trois formations politiques dont je suis apparement la plus proche (et le pourcentage de proximité) :

Pôle Démocrate Moderniste – 80%

Union Populaire Républicaine – 73%

Afek Tounes – 70%

Je suis de gauche modérée, c’est clair. Et pas islamiste ou arabo-nationaliste, c’est encore plus clair…

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UN Pal state bid

[update below]

I haven’t had much to say on the Palestinian Authority’s application for UN membership, as I haven’t been sure what to think of it. Like just about everyone outside the US and Israeli right, I’m all for a Palestinian state—though preferably in a confederation with Jordan—but don’t know if the bid is a good idea at this particular moment. But given where things are, the Pals have no choice now but to go for it, let the US veto on the SC and the Israelis and US Congress hyperventilate, and wait to see what happens when the dust settles. It will change the dynamics if nothing else, and the dynamics there need changing. And the fact that Hamas is opposed to the statehood application is a compelling argument for it.

Robert Blecher of the International Crisis Group has this very good piece on the question in Foreign Affairs. Blecher is one of the sharpest, most sophisticated analysts of the Israel-Palestine conflict around—I had a long conversation with him two years ago in Ramallah, so can attest to this—, so anything he writes on the subject is worth reading. I also like this open letter to President Obama by Gershom Gorenberg, asking him to be smart and not veto the Pal state bid.

(The above photo, which I took in ’09, is of Yasser Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah. The Muqata’a—the sad symbol of Palestinian quasi-statehood—is in the background. It was the only pic I could get of it, as the soldiers told me that taking photos of the place was forbidden, even though the Israelis know its every square inch. Go figure.)

UPDATE: Aaron David Miller, who is always interesting, says Obama should do nothing about Israel-Palestine, that he should basically forget about it until after the election (if he is reelected). (September 23)

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DSK on TF1

[update below]

He was better than I thought he would be and said what he had to say, from his standpoint at least. Claire Chazal was also better than anticipated, as she asked him straight off the bat what happened in suite 2806, though this being France, did not press him with follow-up questions, try to nail him, or play gotcha. DSK, clearly understanding his problems with public opinion, was contrite and admitted his “faute morale” (moral failing) more than once. But evoking the possibility of a “piège” (trap) or “complot” (plot) was both gratuitous and ridiculous. It was also a bit rich for him to express shock at the role money plays in the American judicial system, given that he was precisely a beneficiary of this aspect of the system. If it hadn’t been for his wife’s money, he’d likely still be in Riker’s Island. I doubt he was being untruthful in anything he said about what happened with Nafissatou Diallo, including his assertion that it was not a “rapport tarifé” (i.e. a sexual act performed for a fixed or explicit monetary price). In the literal, juridical sense I am sure he was telling the truth.

We will certainly never know what happened between the two but this is the only scenario that makes any sense to me: Nafissatou D. turned occasional tricks with moneyed clients of the hotel and sought the assignment to DSK’s suite for this purpose (and it may not have been their first meeting, given that he had stayed at the hotel before). Nothing is negotiated or even said in these encounters. The act is performed, the chamber maid leaves the room, the client leaves a generous “tip” ($200, or whatever the going rate is for these things in midtown Manhattan), and she comes back to collect it. But this time DSK stiffed her, or didn’t leave enough (maybe he discovered he didn’t have enough cash in his wallet; he had neglected to go to an ATM the day before, or something like that). ND was furious and spontaneously concocted the story, without thinking through the consequences that this would have for her. Once her superiors at the hotel took charge she got caught in the engrenage. After seeing her overly theatrical interview on ABC, I knew she was b.s.-ing.

I have no idea if DSK’s TF1 performance will change perceptions. I hope not, as he doesn’t deserve it. The interview may be viewed here. During the interview DSK waved the Recommendation for Dismissal of the New York County DA’s Office. Here it is.

UPDATE: Art Goldhammer points out—correctly—that DSK’s spin on the DA’s report distorted its meaning. This was clear to me when I relistened to that part of the interview after finding the report and reading it. The reaction in the French media on DSK’s performance has thankfully been mostly negative, with many seeing it as a PR operation and lacking sincerity. The former is definitely the case. As for the latter, perhaps. I don’t know. It’s a matter of perception. E.g. the NYT’s article made reference to DSK’s “gritted teeth,” which is a purely subjective interpretation on the NYT reporter’s part. I didn’t notice DSK’s teeth. I don’t know what else he could have said in the interview, particularly in view of the judicial inquiries that are still underway.

Art Goldhammer also critiqued Claire Chazal’s lame questioning. Yes, of course, but I was pleasantly surprised that she even asked DSK what happened in suite 2806. This being France, I wasn’t expecting that. One question Chazal could have asked is how DSK plans to deal with N.Diallo’s civil suit. Will he go back to New York and testify if summoned? Il n’est pas sorti de l’auberge, ça c’est sûr…

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Great op-ed by Carlo Strenger in the NYT, on how “many members of Israel’s governing coalition are openly hostile to liberal democratic values.” It’s short so no quotes. Read it.

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Habemus Papam

Loved this film (except for the ending, which I didn’t expect and didn’t like, though which does not detract from the rest). Is entirely shot in the Vatican and Rome. Michel Piccoli’s performance is exceptional. Reviews here and here.

J’ai beaucoup aimé ce film (sauf pour la fin, que je n’ai ni anticipé ni aimé, mais cela n’enlève rien à sa qualité). La performance de Michel Piccoli est exceptionelle. Il mérite un Oscar, César, et j’en passe. Les critiques en France sont dithyrambiques. Par ailleurs, le film ne risque pas d’offusquer les catholiques.

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PS debate 1

I wasn’t able to watch the first Socialist primary debate last night. Will try to catch it this weekend on the Internet. Some the reactions I read were unfavorable but this commentary by Thomas Legrand—whose analyses are usually pretty good—on France Inter this morning gave it the thumbs up

Retour sur le premier débat des primaires socialistes hier soir, sur France 2.

 Alors c’était bien ! Hier, entre les images du Président Français visitant Tripoli libérée avec David Cameron et un débat politique de fond et de haute tenue entre les socialistes, nous avons vécu une belle journée pour la politique qui en connaît tant de sinistres et de désolantes. Nicolas Sarkozy a été recueillir les fruits de son engagement en Libye. Il y a certainement du calcul politicien dans le timing, mais la réussite politique est avérée, le fruit politique est réel et bénéficie autant au Président qu’à la France. Soulignons l’effort qu’a manifesté Nicolas Sarkozy pour partager avec son homologue britannique les lauriers des la victoire allant à l’encontre de ce qui lui est reproché habituellement. Dans le camp d’en face et sur un tout autre registre, là encore, les socialistes ont contredit tous les commentaires automatiques sur la primaire, machine à perdre, broyeuse de débat. Je ne suis pas certain que les taux d’audience de l’émission d’hier soient faramineux, on les aura dans la matinée mais ce n’est malheureusement pas toujours les meilleures émissions qui font les plus gros scores. Tout ce que l’on pouvait craindre ne s’est pas produit. Les six candidats ont réussi à se distinguer sans trop trahir le projet qu’ils ont en commun et sans se dénigrer. Le tirage au sort qui définissait l’ordre de passage a mal fait les choses en propulsant Jean-Michel Baylet en seconde position, de quoi plomber l’audimat tant il apparaissait comme étant candidat à une sénatoriale pour radical franc-maçon égaré dans la présidentielle ! Soyons juste avec le maillon faible de la soirée, il aura au moins apporté, vers la fin une voix discordante et un peu audacieuse sur la question de la dépénalisation des drogues douces.

Le poids de la crise des finances publiques s’est fait aussi sentir dans le débat…

 Oui, et si Nicolas Sarkozy a vraiment prévu d’axer sa campagne sur la dénonciation de l’irresponsabilité quasi génétique des socialistes, il va falloir sans doute qu’il trouve rapidement un autre angle d’attaque. Les six candidats ont, hier, fait assaut de prudence budgétaire. Même Arnaud Montebourg, qui était le seul sur le plateau, à refuser la contrainte du 3% de déficit en 2013 a veillé à ne pas faire de promesses d’augmentation généralisée de prestations et salaires. En réalité la posture, centre gauche, économe et rigoureuse, ce positionnement politique qui faisait le succès de Dominique Strauss-Kahn dans les sondages et qui fait maintenant celui de François Hollande a été validé, hier, par le ton général du débat. De ce point de vue, et alors que personne n’a fait de grosse gaffe ni de coup d’éclat, le rapport de force actuel (pour peu qu’il soit bien mesuré) ne devrait pas être bouleversé par l’émission d’hier soir. Les différences, sur le nucléaire, la nécessité ou non de promettre un retour à l’équilibre budgétaire, au delà des 3% de déficit ou l’efficacité du contrat de génération, ont été soulignées par François Hollande et Martine Aubry, les deux favoris. Ça n’a jamais mal tourné et surtout, à aucun moment l’un des candidats ne s’est attaqué à la capacité d’un autre à pouvoir être le président ou la présidente de la République. Ségolène Royal avait subi cette critique fondamentale il y a quatre ans. L’ensemble des candidats donnait vraiment l’impression de pouvoir se retrouver sur une tribune, unis derrière le vainqueur de leur compétition dans trois semaines. C’était sans doute leur plus belle réussite collective hier soir. Nicolas Sarkozy en Libye et le débat de qualité hier soir, il ne faut pas oublier de souligner ce qui est positif en politique… Alors ne mégotons pas !

The TV audience for the debate was high, some 4.9 million téléspectateurs. The second debate is on September 28th.

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Antioch College

The upcoming New York Times Magazine has an article on Antioch College, my alma mater (’79), which closed in 2008 but plans to reopen next year. The article asks “can Antioch College return from the dead again?” One of those quoted is emeritus professor of anthropology Victor Ayoub, now 88, with whom I took an intro to anthro course as a freshman (we’ve stayed in touch over the years). If the new faculty is made up of people like him and some of the other fine professors who taught at Antioch in my day, and becomes once again the serious liberal arts college that it was until the 1960s, then it will stand a fighting chance. And I will give it lots of money, in spirit at least. But if the college picks up from where it left off, remaining the flaky, off-beat, counter culture time warped, identity politics obsessed place that it was degenerating into by my time there—and with declining academic standards—, then forget it. It has no chance. And I will not wish it luck.

À propos, the right-wing Weekly Standard had a cover article in November 2007 on the demise of Antioch, entitled “Death by political correctness: Who killed Antioch College?” Now I am not a fan of TWS, whose political world-view is the antithesis of mine, but, to my regret, the article was dead on target. Devastatingly so. The author Charlotte Allen’s inquiry was impressive in its thoroughness and accuracy. It is the best account of Antioch’s demise one will read. Alas.

UPDATE: Watch here Saturday Night Live’s hilarious October 1993 parody of the preposterous dating code Antioch drew up that year, which made the college a laughing stock on both sides of the Atlantic.

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How to save the euro

Two articles on the euro crisis and what should be done: this one from The Economist and this by George Soros in the NYRB. The former predicts catastrophe in the event of a Greek withdrawal from the euro, the latter not necessarily. My view? It depends on the last good analysis I read or heard (e.g. from these two guys, who are frequently solicited by the French media). In other words, solving this issue is above my pay grade. Or just over my head.

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Obama a shoo-in? II

FWIW, Timothy Noah at TNR says Obama is still a shoo-in in ’12, despite high unemployment, slow growth, and the world going to hell. Inshallah.

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Eric Trager, to whom I linked in my previous post, has a piece in TNR on the mob attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo last Friday, where he reminds us that Egyptian rage against Israel is not driven by “pro-Palestinian concerns” but rather by the sad fact that

Egyptians overwhelmingly hate Israel for wholly Egyptian reasons: Despite 32 years of peace under the Camp David Accords, Egyptian national pride remains tied to the country’s previous wars with the Jewish state. It’s therefore all too predictable that the groundswell in Egyptian nationalism that ousted Hosni Mubarak this spring has been accompanied by an equally powerful surge in anti-Israeli sentiment.

THE VALORIZATION OF WAR with Israel is something that millions of Egyptians experience everyday as they drive over the 6th of October Bridge, one of Cairo’s busiest thoroughfares that was named for the date on which Egypt attacked Israel to launch the 1973 war. Meanwhile, approximately 500,000 Egyptians have left the congestion of Cairo for October 6th City to the southwest, which is home to October 6th University, and an additional 140,000 Egyptians now live in 10th of Ramadan City, which is named for the equivalent date on the Islamic calendar and houses the 10th of Ramadan University. Cairene schoolchildren, for their part, visit the October War Panorama, where they are taught that Egyptian forces defeated the “enemy” in the 1973 war

The 1973 war—which is viewed in Egypt as a victory—is central in the national narrative but does not entirely explain the deeply ingrained hostility toward Israel by Egyptians. Of all the wars that Egypt has fought with Israel, the one that no doubt confirmed the iniquity—as ordinary Egyptians see it—of the Israelis was the 1967 to 1970 War of Attrition. During these three years, Israeli artillery and bombers strafed and napalmed the Suez canal zone, sending several hundred thousand residents of Suez city fleeing and killing hundreds of Egyptian soldiers on a single day, among others. Failing to put an end to the Egyptian artillery barrages against IDF positions across the canal and in the Sinai, the Israelis launched deep-penetration bombing raids in the Nile delta and around Cairo, striking targets of military value but, in view of Egypt’s population density, with the inevitable “collateral damage,” which was high. The worst was the April 8, 1970, IAF bombing of an elementary school—mistaken for a military target—in Bahr al-Baqar (50 km NW of Ismailia), which killed 47 schoolchildren (and was, not surprisingly, well-reported in the local media; e.g. see above). Such events do get seared into the collective memory. According to Benny Morris, around 10,000 Egyptians—civilian and military—were killed during the War of Attrition. That’s a lot. Israel, in fact, suffered more casualties during this period than in the Six-Day War in 1967, but they were all soldiers and who were occupying Egyptian territory (territory that Israel made clear, at the time, it would never return to Egypt in its entirety, even with a peace agreement). A large number of the Egyptian casualties, on the other hand, were civilians.

This is not to justify what happened in Cairo last week, nor to apologize for the anti-Semitic rhetoric in Egyptian public life that fans the flames of the toxic hatred of Israel there. But, following from Trager, there is a recent historical basis for it.

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Eric Trager, a young political science specialist on Egypt, had a piece on the Foreign Policy website a week ago asking “Why is the Middle East still in thrall to 9/11 conspiracy theories?” He finds conspiracy theorizing in the region to be disturbing and opines that this should be countered by the US government. Yawn. I am so used to hearing conspiracy theories about 9/11 and what have you from my Middle Eastern-North African friends—almost all of whom hold university degrees, including doctorates, from Western universities—that I am surprised, almost shocked, when it becomes clear that one of them does not hold such views. I touched on this issue back in May, in a post on the DSK affair. Over the past twenty-five years I have listened to otherwise brilliant Maghrebi friends with higher academic degrees—all secular, wine-drinking, Islamist-haters—advance, in all seriousness, the craziest, crackpot theories about US foreign policy in the Middle East and further afield. Or just the usual 9/11 “truther” delirium (though thankfully none about the Mossad or the 4,000 Jews who apparently received instructions to stay home from the WTC on 9/11; anyone who comes to me with that one can no longer be my friend). And when certain Middle Eastern-North African friends don’t openly express such views—maybe out of fear of my reaction—, well, I can interpret body language, hems and haws, what goes unsaid, and the like. Some know how to behave themselves in polite company (sort of like the denizens of Bryant Park in the pre-Giuliani era, who would rant and rave in public but, upon entering the NYPL next door to use the bathroom, knew to behave themselves). I’m not going to name names here expect for one exemplary intellectual who departs from the general consensus: the great Mohammed Harbi, who would never give credence to crazy conspiracy theories. But among Algerians at least, he’s the exception that proves the rule.

À propos, below are photos I took in May 2010 of books in the display window of one of Damascus’ finest bookshops, right across from the main post office. No comment.

Henry Ford’s classic…

Below: Final Judgment: The Missing Link in the JFK Assassination Conspiracy, by Michael Collins Piper, on how David Ben Gurion, the Mossad, Meyer Lansky, and a pro-Zionist faction of the CIA colluded to assassinate JFK. A Liberty Lobby classic.

The CIA and the Arab Rulers’ Files: Documents Published for the First Time, by Anis al-Daghidi, an Egyptian author best known for his 363 page best-seller (and Cairo book fair hit) Saddam Was Not Executed and ‘Uday and Qusay Were not Killed – The United States’ Lies and the Double Game (unfortunately not translated). The US Army’s killing of  ‘Uday and Qusay in Mosul in August 2003 was in fact a set-up with their doubles, so it seems, as Saddam & sons in fact live tranquilly somewhere under US protection.

The book on the right: The Truth of the Secret Relationship Between the Zionists and the Nazis, by Abd al-Karim Aluji (respected local scholar).

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[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below]

On this anniversary of 9/11 there’s something I want to get off my chest—that has been bothering me for years—, which is the notion that America, since that fateful day ten years ago, has been “at war,” with Bush and now Obama being “wartime presidents.” Oh please, gimme a frigging break! The US military—and the demographic slice of American society that supplies its soldiers—has indeed been fighting a couple of nasty wars over the past decade, but America as a whole? How, pray, has the mass of the 300+ million Americans been experiencing this decade-long “war”? Zapping between CNN and Fox News with their remotes (until they get bored and tune the war out)? I do recall Bush exhorting Americans after 9/11 to get on with their lives and go shopping, or something like that. And at no point over the subsequent years were Americans asked to limit their shopping and do a little sacrificing for the war effort (like, e.g., pay higher taxes to support the troops). On the notion of America being at war, not only does this irritate me but I find it downright obscene, as, e.g., when I read about the history of Poland between 1939 and 1945 (a six-year period during which that martyred nation lost 20% of its population). What happened in New York City on 9/11 was certainly catastrophic—and I was personally traumatized by the event and in tears on more than one occasion over the following days—but it wasn’t Warsaw in 1944. Now that was war!

What prompted me to write this was this photo essay published on the Foreign Policy website last week, of those who have faced death in Iraq on account of the war there, that the US had no small responsibility in unleashing. If Iraqis could choose between their war and America’s “war,” I think we know what their choice would be.

UPDATE: Here’s Paul Krugman on how “The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.”

2nd UPDATE: Looks like Krugman is being savaged by the right for his blog post on 9/11. Right-wingers can go f*** themselves, that’s all I have to say.

3rd UPDATE: Krugman has more to say about the 9/11 anniversary.

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