Archive for June, 2012

The New Textualism

I just read an important article by Jeffrey Rosen in TNR on a liberal theory of the constitution that can “crush conservative jurisprudence.” The theory is called the New Textualism, which posits that progressive legislation—all of it—finds solid constitutional grounding based on the original meaning of the constitution as seen by the Founding Fathers plus the succeeding amendments. It’s a liberal mirror image of the conservative theory of original intent. The New Textualists have been a minority current among liberal constitutional scholars up to now—Akhil Reed Amar of the Yale Law School is a leading proponent—but the theory is gaining in interest in view of the conservative originalist onslaught. If the New Textualism becomes predominant in liberal jurisprudence it could  eventually change the terms of the political debate in the US and in a progressive direction. Liberals would of course have to win a few national elections down the road and name some federal and Supreme Court justices while they’re at it but that’s a question of time. If one has any interest in the Supreme Court and the future of liberalism in America, read Rosen’s article. Now.

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A couple of weeks ago I had a post on the fine Egyptian film ‘Cairo 678’, which focused on sexual harassment in Egypt and the desperation of the women subjected to it, who want nothing more than to navigate freely in public space and live their lives normally. On the subject of living normally, I saw not too long ago Algerian director Merzak Allouache’s latest film, ‘Normal!’, which has precisely this as its subject. It’s a quirky film, definitely not for le grand public—or even for most cinephiles—but is worth seeing if one is interested in the younger generation in the Arab world today, and particularly in Algeria. The pic is set in 2011 and with the Arab uprisings underway, and focuses on a young film maker who brings together the cast of a film he had shot two years earlier—on the problems of youthful artistic creation in the face of state censorship—but hadn’t completed, so they could view the rushes and talk about how to finish it. The film is basically the cast—late 20s-early 30s—talking: about the film, the frustrations of the younger generation, and the thirst to simply live normally, which is almost impossible in Algeria and for all sorts of reasons, but primarily due to the twisted, tortured gender relations of Algerian culture (though it was not precisely put in these terms in the film). But though the youthful film crew craves to live normally, they also get caught up in their own contradictions in regard to gender issues, thereby reinforcing the ambient abnormality. Again, I won’t recommend the film to everyone but I found it interesting. The film web site with trailer is here. As it surely won’t be coming to your neighborhood theater or videothèque, it will have to be seen via streaming.

Another film seen in recent months on Maghrebi youth—from an altogether different social class—who seek to live normally—or simply to live—was the Moroccan ‘Sur la planche’ (rendered in English as ‘On the Plank’, or ‘On the Edge’), by director Leila Kilani. The film, set in Tangier, is of four women in their 20s—two of whom are migrants from elsewhere in Morocco—who work in factories in town, two peeling shrimp—dirty jobs at the bottom of the status ladder—and the two locals in the much higher status Free Zone, where working conditions adhere to European norms. The migrant women engage in petty theft and occasional prostitution after hours to make ends meet and try to pull the higher status women into one of their illegal moneymaking schemes, while using them as ins to gain access to the Free Zone and its coveted jobs. It’s a good film about ambitious young, lower class urban women in Morocco trying to move up. The actresses, all non-professionals, are first-rate. Reviews are here, here, and here (scroll down), a trailer here, and a podcast interview (en français) with the director here.

To the seeking-to-live-normally-in-the-Middle-East genre may be added Iranian-American director Maryam Keshavarz’s ‘Circumstance’ (in France: ‘En secret’), which I saw not too long ago. Set in Tehran the pic is about a teenage girl from the haute bourgeoisie who frequents wild North Tehran parties—with loud music, alcohol, drugs, and sex—, has a lesbian relationship with her best friend, all while trying to deal with her older brother—a recovering drug addict to whom she is very close—who finds religion and becomes an Islamist. She wants to live a normal life, as do most young people in Iran, but her brother doesn’t want her to. It’s not too bad of a film. It opened last year in the US to mostly good reviews. French reviews were likewise. Watching the party scenes I could not believe that the film was actually made in Iran, even clandestinely or using ruses (as was Bahman Ghobadi’s ‘No One Knows About Persian Cats’). In the scene where the characters are looking out over Tehran from a hill, I was quite sure that it was in fact Beirut where it was shot, and it was indeed.

Finally, I will mention the documentary ‘Tahrir: Liberation Square’ by Italian film maker Stefano Savona, which opened in France in January to stellar reviews. The director spent those heady days in January-February 2011 in Tahrir Square with a group of liberal activists, whom he filmed throughout. They were in the vanguard of a movement to make Egypt a normal country. They’re not in much of a vanguard today, hélas

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Political scientists Theda Skocpol and Lawrence R. Jacobs analyze yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling here.

UPDATE: Jonathan Cohn in TNR here on “the President, the Chief Justice, and the woman with cancer.”

2nd UPDATE: Darshak Sanghavi, Slate health care columnist and a pediatrician, says“don’t celebrate yet: the Supreme Court’s decision will make it much harder to extend health insurance to America’s poor.” And Jeff Shesol, a former speechwriter for Bill Clinton, asserts that “John Roberts is no hero: the liberal crush on the Chief Justice is silly and undeserved.”

3rd UPDATE: Richard Posner, who was “not surprised” by the SCOTUS ruling, informs us that “the Commerce Clause was clearly enough to uphold the Affordable Care Act.”

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(h/t Dwayne Woods)

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I was all ready to post a very good academic article on the Roberts Court v. America but guess that wouldn’t be appropriate today. I sure am happy about the SCOTUS ruling, though wouldn’t have been devastated if the ACA had been struck down, as that would have made single payer/Medicare-for-all the only alternative. As the ACA is an unsatisfying compromise with the insurance companies and logic of the market in what should be a public service, Republicans should be happy the supremos upheld it, ’cause otherwise they’d be faced with real “socialism” down the road. In the meantime, I will fête the SCOTUS ruling by posting these tweets by distraught conservatives, who say that because of Obamacare they’re going to move to Canada. They’ll sure like the health care system up there, no doubt about it!

(h/t Arthur Goldhammer & Laurie Lewis)

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Interesting commentary—with a somewhat misleading title—by Sergey Markedonov on the veritable reasons behind Russia’s support of the Ba’athist regime in the civil war in Syria. It’s linked, among other factors, to Russia’s history—past and present—in the North Caucasus. It tends to be overlooked that the greatest European colonial empire in the lands of Islam was Russia, and that this historical legacy would have at least some impact on Russian foreign policy today.

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The other day I had a post on “the private sector delusion,” in which I linked to an article in The New Yorker on the cancerous privatization of regalian functions of the state and public services in the US. Among other things, I asserted that one of the perversities of this trend is that the private sector does not only not do these things more efficiently than the public but does them worse. In the comments thread I specified that my assertion did not include the competitive secteur marchand of the economy, where the private sector is clearly more efficient. But this doesn’t mean that the state shouldn’t regulate the market to promote culture and consumer choice. À propos, Eliane Sciolino had a good piece in the NYT last week on the Lang law (Loi Lang) in France—a.k.a. le prix unique du livre—, that prohibits discounting below 5% of the list price of the book, so as to prevent big chains and hypermarkets from undercutting independent bookshops (and now Amazon from driving everyone out of business, monopolizing the market, and imposing prices on publishers).

The law was one of the first passed by the new Socialist government in 1981, carrying the name of the culture minister Jack Lang (though the idea came from François Mitterrand himself, who was persuaded on the issue prior to his election by authors and small publishers, and in the face of opposition from the grandes surfaces at the time). Jack Lang has had his downsides—politically and otherwise—but he did a few good things during his long tenure on the Rue de Valois and the prix unique du livre was one of them. Thanks to the Loi Lang, independent bookstores have been thriving in France—as one may read in the NYT article—, particularly those that have specialized or carved out an identity for themselves—such as my profitable local bookstore (above image), which is known for its in-house reviews and recommendations. So books in France are a little more expensive when they first come out en broché. Big deal. If it helps small but dynamic independent bookshops stay in business, so much the better. But books are inexpensive when they come out en poche (paperback)—and if the long lines at the cashiers at last weekend’s Salon international du livre au format de poche (below) in my banlieue were any indication, the book business in France isn’t doing too badly. So I say vive la réglementation and vive la diversité !

As it happens, Israel—where neoliberalism is on the rampage—is seriously considering enacting its version of the Loi Lang to regulate the book trade and curb discounting, so Le Monde reported last week. Even Bibi Netanyahu has spoken out in favor.

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This is a shocking, appalling, sickening account by a British journalist, Natasha Smith, who was sexually assaulted the other day by hundreds of men on the Kasr al-Nil bridge in Cairo, near Tahrir Square. Such attacks on women have become a banal occurrence in Egypt. Movies have been made about it. Read Smith’s account and be angry. It’s barbarism, pure and simple. There is no other word for it.

(h/t Mark LeVine)

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James Fallows has an on target commentary in The Atlantic on the long-term coup d’état the Republicans have set in motion, to rig the political system to their benefit for generations to come and regardless of electoral majorities. Given their ideological self-confidence and relentless determination—qualities utterly lacking on the other side of the political spectrum—I fear they will succeed. With the far right lurch in the US and Europe’s descente aux enfers—not to mention global warming, environmental catastrophe, and the rest—, it’s kind of hard to be optimistic for the future.

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Meet Mohamed Morsi

Eric Trager had an interesting and informative portrait of Egypt’s new Muslim Brother president in TNR two months ago. He’s not a moderate within the MB, that’s for sure, but one can see why the SCAF doesn’t have a problem with him. Trager’s conclusion

…Morsi’s emergence as the Brotherhood’s standard-bearer should be taken as an indicator of the organization’s modus operandi. It is internally dictatorial, ideologically intolerant, and—perhaps most importantly—only willing to embrace political gradualism when pressured by stronger authorities.

Egyptian politics will certainly be interesting in the coming period. I’m sure glad I’m not an Egyptian liberal.

UPDATE: Dan Brumberg has his post-election victor announcement take here.

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Profiling, American style

Earlier this month I had a post on the contrôle au faciès by the police in France, i.e. of its systematic practice of demanding IDs from persons based on how they look, i.e. on their ethnic/racial appearance. The post provoked a number of comments, a few of which brought up similar situations in the US, notably in New York City and the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices. The NYT recently had an op-doc on ‘the scars of stop-and-frisk’ and with a six minute documentary on the personal experience of Tyquan Brehon, a young man in Bushwick, Brooklyn

By his count, before his 18th birthday, he had been unjustifiably stopped by the police more than 60 times. On several occasions, merely because he asked why he had been stopped, he was handcuffed, placed in a cell and detained for hours before being released without charges. These experiences were scarring; Mr. Brehon did whatever he could to avoid the police, often feeling as if he were a prisoner in his home.

Watch the video. America sounds like France. Or maybe France is like America. Whatever the case, I don’t see how any reasonable person can justify the NYPD’s practice (and which exists in many other places in the US). If anyone does wish to justify it, I invite him or her to do so to Mr. Brehon’s face.

A few days after the stop-and-frisk op-doc Brent Staples of the NYT had an editorial comment on the “warped world” of New York City’s summons court, of which I knew nothing. Here’s the whole thing

Step into the dingy hallways of New York City summons court in Lower Manhattan and you are instantly struck by the racialized nature of this system. New York is a multiracial city, but judging from the faces in cramped courtrooms, one would think that whites scarcely ever commit the petty offenses that lead to the more than 500,000 summonses issued in the city every year.

Judge Noach Dear of Brooklyn Criminal Court made this point in a bluntly worded decision last week, noting that every defendant who has ever come before him charged with drinking alcohol in public had been black or Latino. “As hard as I try,” he wrote, “I cannot recall ever arraigning a white defendant for such a violation.”

On one recent morning at court, a 19-year-old black man seemed almost in shock that he had been ticketed and required to attend court for “dropping a piece of paper on the ground.” Another black man, with a heavy French accent, said that he had received a summons for reckless driving when he was trapped by traffic and forced to drive through an intersection when the light turned red. He took the ticket, he said, because “you don’t argue with a cop on Friday night.” And if they are out to get you, he asked, what can you do?

More than a fifth of the summonses issued last year were thrown out either for defects on the ticket or for lack of legal sufficiency. But that left about 400,000 New Yorkers facing a date in summons court, and failure to appear can lead to a legal nightmare.

In other words, summons court — which handles offenses like public drinking, riding bicycles on the sidewalk or talking back to the cops, otherwise known as disorderly conduct — is anything but petty. It is a place where low-level offenses can lead to permanent criminal histories and lifelong encumbrances. The system is now the subject of a class-action civil rights lawsuit unfolding in federal court in New York.

The people who show up in summons court are the fortunate ones; the majority will have their cases dismissed because the charge is not substantiated or because the judge thinks it is nonsense. Some defendants plead guilty and pay fines.

But woe to those who forget the date, even if the violation seems minor, like littering. The summons court will then issue a warrant, which means that the defendant stands a good chance of being handcuffed, fingerprinted and taken to jail, where he could spend days before going in front of a Criminal Court judge.

In 2011, more than 170,000 warrants were ordered. Once a warrant is issued and recorded in a database, the defendant is at greater risk of having a citizenship application denied or being turned away by potential employers.

The New York City Police Department has long described the summons operation as crucial to the “quality of life” initiative that it says discourages serious crime by coming down hard on nuisance offenses. City officials make the same claim for the controversial stop-and-frisk program, though crime has also fallen in recent years in cities that have not adopted such approaches.

The huge number of summons dismissals is at the heart of the civil rights suit, Stinson v. City of New York, that was granted class-action status in April by Judge Robert Sweet of Federal District Court in Manhattan. The plaintiffs charge that the high dismissal rate is evidence that bogus summonses are issued without probable cause by officers pressured to meet department quotas. These practices, they say, violated their constitutional rights and subjected them to lost time from work and school, and in many cases, to arrest and detention for crimes that had not been committed.

The plaintiffs also allege that summonses are disproportionately issued in minority neighborhoods. Civil rights lawyers say summonses for public drinking — the most common offense — are often handed out in these neighborhoods, where police officers routinely demand to smell people’s juice containers or coffee cups.

Disorderly conduct is the catchall category, one that can easily mask a summons issued for no reason. The lead plaintiff in the suit, Sharif Stinson, says he was walking out of his aunt’s apartment building in Upper Manhattan on Dec. 31, 2009, when several officers stopped and searched him without cause, then held him in a precinct cell for four hours. He was then given a disorderly conduct summons that was dismissed three months later.

The city has disputed the plaintiffs’ charges and asked Judge Sweet to reconsider his ruling. But the litigation has thrown a spotlight on the summons system, raising grave questions about its fairness and legality.

And this is all in New York City, in the heart of deepest Blue State America. I can’t imagine the situation is better in cities in the heartland.

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The private sector delusion

The New Yorker has a short, must read piece that I’ve been intending to post since reading it a week ago, on the privatization of public services and regalian functions of the state in the US. It thus opens

Republicans have been touting the inherent superiority of the private sector over the public at least since the Reagan era, but in the past few years it seems to have congealed into an unassailable mantra: the free market as the ultimate guarantor of good services, low costs, and a free and happy citizenry.

But as author Margaret Talbot argues—and in linking to important investigative reports on the prison industry in Louisiana and a for-profit college—, the notion that the private sector does everything better than the public is a delusion. I’ll go one step further: it is a complete lie. I’ve already posted on the legitimacy issues related to privatizing regalian domains of the state. But privatization cannot even be defended on efficiency grounds, as the private sector does not do it better.  It invariably underperforms and not only does not save the taxpayer a penny but imposes costs through hidden externalities. As it happens, Paul Krugman touched on precisely this issue in his last column, on the privatization and degradation of essential functions of government, discussing in particular the horrors of privatized halfway houses in New Jersey, which was the subject of a series of investigative reports in the NYT. It is high time for liberals to stop being wimps on this issue, to oppose privatization, and defend the public sector.

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Political scientist Ellis Goldberg has a good analysis of the second round of the Egyptian presidential election of last weekend, whose final results we are still awaiting. Though the the MB’s Mohammed Morsi may indeed win it in the end, it’s not over for the supporters of the ancien régime and apart from attempts by the SCAF maintain its control. The concluding paragraph

Much of the meaning of the vote remains hidden from our view given the paucity of information. But it is, I think, apparent that the Egyptian electorate continues to change as it is presented with different challenges rather than being a monolithic bloc as may have appeared during the March 2011 referendum. It also suggests that the use of the term “felool” (“remnants” of the old regime) will remain a powerful political tool. But it may not be a good idea to base analysis of Egypt’s ongoing politics on the idea that the electoral base of politicians such as Shafiq, obviously himself a remnant of the old regime, is itself a stable, uniform, and minor feature of Egyptian political life.

For his part, political scientist Eric Trager has this analysis, where he argues that another revolution by the Tahrir Square liberals is not in the offing. Whatever the outcome, the outlook does not look too bright for Egypt.

UPDATE: Political scientist and égyptologue hors pair Dan Brumberg weighs in here.

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Députés de la diversité, i.e. deputies of non-European immigrant origin. I wrote on Sunday night that the first Maghrebi/Muslim deputy since 1962 (Algeria’s independence) had just been elected to the National Assembly. In classroom lectures over the years on immigration and Islam in France, I have rhetorically asked my students how many of the 577 deputies in the National Assembly are Muslims—who account for some 7% of the population (and of which Maghrebis are some four-fifths)—, to which I then give the answer: zero. As it happens, there is now not just one but as many as six, and all from the PS. I cited Malek Boutih, the former head of SOS Racisme, born in France to Algerian parents, who was elected from the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois constituency in the Essonne (in the southern banlieues of Paris, previously represented by his erstwhile SOS Racisme mentor, Julian Dray). Boutih has had an increasingly high “diversity” profile in the PS over the past decade and this wasn’t his first attempt at elective office. The other newly elected diversity deputies are Razzy Hammadi, a former head of the PS youth wing (MJS), of Algerian and Tunisian origin, and who defeated the longtime Communist deputy Jean-Pierre Brard in Montreuil (in the neuf-trois); Kheira Bouziane, born in Algeria before independence, who was elected in one of the Dijon constituencies; Chaynesse Khirouni, born in post-independence Algeria and who arrived in France at age 20, elected in Nancy; Kader Arif, born in Algeria, a fils de harki, elected in the Haute-Garonne (though as he is in the government—as minister délégué of war veterans—, he will be ceding his seat to his suppléant); and Seybah Dagoma, born to immigrant parents from Chad and elected in Paris (3e-10e arr.).

To these one may add Pouria Amirshahi, born in Iran in the 1970s and whose parents fled the Shah’s regime, elected in the overseas constituency for North and West Africa; and Eduardo Rihan Cypel, born and raised in Brazil to age ten, elected in the Torcy constituency of the Seine-et-Marne. Some news articles have added George Pau-Lengevin (reelected in Paris 20e arr. and currently in the government), Hélène Geoffroy (elected in Vaulx-en-Velin), and Corinne Narassigiun (elected in the overseas USA-Canada constituency) as diversity deputies, but they all hail from overseas departments (Guadeloupe for the first two, Reunion the latter), so as native-born French citizens they don’t count.

A couple of remarks. These newly elected deputies were elected in single-member constituencies, not on a list in a proportional representation system (which is the norm in Europe, and that makes minority representation in legislative assemblies much easier to assure). Though they were slated by the PS and which financed their campaigns, they had to wage them on their own. Also, with the exception of Hammadi’s in Montreuil, none of these constituencies have large concentrations of immigrant communities from the Maghreb or sub-Saharan Africa. The kind of gerrymandering that happens in the US—to create majority Black or Latino constituencies—is not only legally impossible and politically inconceivable in France but would be difficult to pull off, as areas with concentrations of “diversity” populations contain large numbers of non-citizens, who would thus not be able to vote.

On the above Muslim deputies, I have no idea if any actually practice the religion (I would rather doubt it for most). As it is a near taboo in France for a politician to publicly discuss his or her religious faith (if s/he has one), one is not likely to find out. As for them being identity Muslims—of saying they are Muslim if the question is put to them—I am simply assuming this. So unless and until any of the Maghreb-origin deputies publicly declare themselves not to be Muslim, I will declare that they are.

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Greece’s German rage

[update below]

Amitai Etzioni writes in The National Interest about the rage in Greece against Germany. One understands the Greek anger, though only up to a point. Etzioni thus concludes his commentary

As a Jewish child who escaped Germany in 1935, and as someone who lost most of the members of his sizable extended family in the concentration camps, I have more reasons to resent Germans than most Greeks. However, I cannot find a moral ground on which to condemn those Germans now with us—most of whom were not even born by the time the Nazi regime ended or were children during its waning days—for the actions of their forefathers. Moreover, I respect Germans for having faced up to their past and for making very substantial efforts to ensure that they will be never again commit such atrocities through numerous educational drives and constitutional arrangements. Comparing the way Germany has learned from its past to postimperial Japan (and even Austria) helps to highlight my point.

Germany may or may not find it prudent to support and help underwrite an even larger bailout for Greece. But I fail to see the moral reasons today’s Germans owe Greece more, a nation that by grossly manipulating its data faked its way into the European Union. Surely demonizing the Germans is hardly a recommended way to win them over.

There is a lesson here for other nations that face severe austerity. They should be careful not to yield to the temptation to lay the blame on the other and seek bailouts (or “loans”) rather than engage in painful reforms. Otherwise, they truly may end up as miserable as Greece is.

The last paragraph may be debated but the general point is well taken. As for Nazis, swastikas, and the like, Aristides Hatzis, a professor of law at the University of Athens, has a tribune in the FT (h/t Stathis Kalyvas) on the rise of extremist parties in Greece, of both the left and the right. This is a big danger for Greece, of course, but also for the rest of Europe, including Germany (and which the Germans need to think about).

I can only imagine what the atmosphere will be in Athens on Friday night, when Greece plays Germany in the Euro 2012 quarter-final. Sorry, but I have to leave politics out of this one and focus strictly on the sporting side. Auf gehts Deutschland!

UPDATE: I just came across this op-ed in the NYT from a week ago by Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform—the best think tank devoted specifically to the EU—, where he explains the veritable views of German policy makers on the euro crisis. Policy makers in Paris should take note of what they have to say about France.

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The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that Samuel “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher—the American right-wing icon of 2008 McCain-Palin fame and current GOP candidate in the Ohio 9th CD—says that gun control in Nazi Germany was responsible for the Holocaust, as it prevented the Jews from arming themselves and fighting back. No joke. Assertions like this express to a tee the intellectual level of the present-day American right. Seriously, Marine Le Pen & Co are philosopher kings compared to these people. C’est affligeant

UPDATE: One reads that fanatical settlers in the West Bank burned and vandalized a mosque in the peaceful, law-abiding Palestinian village of Jabaa. I suppose Joe the Plumber and his fans on the American right would agree that if the Jabaa villagers had been armed, those brave settlers would not have dared enter the village to attack their house of worship…

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It was a grand slam for the Socialist party. A smashing victory for François Hollande and Jean-Marc Ayrault (and for PS première secrétaire Martine Aubry too). The PS won an absolute majority on its own, for the time since the vague rose of 1981. And it was a particularly severe defeat for the UMP. The écolos will have enough deputies to form a parliamentary group but the Front de Gauche will not. Nor will the Nouveau Centre. And the MoDem will have all of two deputies, meaning that the independent center is all but gone. Valérie Trierweiler’s tweet had no effect whatever. I heard no mention of it at all this evening. Every minister in the government won, some by margins wider than in their wildest pre-election dreams. Philippe Kemel squeaked by Marine Le Pen in Hénin-Beaumont 50.1-49.9%. Marine LP was thisclose to doing something only two FN candidates in history have ever done in a legislative election, which is to win a head-to-head race (and not in a triangulaire). Two FN candidates were elected: frontiste Johnny-come-lately Gilbert Collard in the Gard and university undergraduate Marion Maréchal-Le Pen in Carpentras, to which one may add Jacques Bompard—ex-frontiste but more facho than these two—in Orange. The Republic will survive this modest return of the extreme right in the Palais Bourbon. Claude Guéant was repudiated in Boulogne-Billancourt (yay!) and Nadine Morano lost in the Meurthe-et-Moselle. Both were high-profile symbols of Sarkozy’s droitisation strategy. Eric Raoult was also beaten in Le Raincy–Montfermeil and Michèle Alliot-Marie in Biarritz–Saint-Jean-de-Luz. But Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, one of Marine Le Pen’s candidats à abattre, narrowly won reelection in Longjumeau. I’m glad. I am also very glad that Jack Lang fell flat on his face in Saint-Dié-des-Vosges. Patrick Devedjian in Antony and Xavier Bertrand in Saint-Quentin both won by a hair. Malek Boutih of ex-SOS Racisme fame was elected in the Essonne (Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois). For the first time since 1962 the National Assembly will have a deputy of Maghrebi origin and Muslim identity (Kader Arif was also elected in the Haute-Garonne but, as a member of the government, he will be ceding his seat to his suppléant). This heavily symbolic—and way overdue—event has been mentioned nowhere and by no one so far as I have seen. I’ll come back to it later.

François Bayrou lost in Pau, which was expected. This is too bad. Socialists are not rejoicing. Hopefully Hollande will do something concrete to belatedly recognize Bayrou’s endorsement in the 2nd round of the presidential election. As for Ségolène Royal in La Rochelle, she of course lost to Olivier Falorni and badly: 63-37. This is worse than a loss. It is a terrible humiliation for her. But to suffer a repudiation on this scale confirms that her parachutage was one huge mistake. She totally blew it. She cannot blame the fiasco on the “treason” of Falorni or UMP voters. She needs to look in the mirror and do some soul searching. Her concession speech, delivered before 8 PM, was bitter and angry. She was not graceful in defeat. Whatever sympathy I may have had for her was lost. The Rue de Solférino—and with Martine Aubry leading the charge—is also reacting badly and with vindictive words for Falorni. They need to get over it. And they no doubt will.

Before I forget, there was this result: PS-EELV candidate Corinne Narassiguin beat the UMP’s former attack dog Frédéric Lefebvre in the USA-Canada circonscription. C’est très bien !

Oh yes, the abstention rate was high, around 44%.

So now election season is over (ouf!) and it’s time for Hollande to tell us what he really plans to do about the economy, euro, etc, etc. No excuses now, as the Socialists have it all. Hopefully they will make good use of their majority and also enjoy it while it lasts, ’cause they’re not likely to repeat the exploit in five years time.

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On the Road

Saw this three weekends ago, after its premiere at Cannes and simultaneous opening in Paris. I was looking forward to seeing the pic, even though I never read the novel (I started it way back when but didn’t finish; don’t remember why). But any halfway decent-looking film set in America in the 1940s-50s has an intrinsic interest for me. And I suppose one based on such an icon of modern American literature is worth checking out. All I can say is thank God I saw it at my neighborhood theater (so didn’t have to go out of my way or make an expedition of it), as I was rather disappointed, to put it mildly. I never walk out of movies—ever—but almost did with this one after about an hour, though not because it offended me or I was hating it. Not at all. I was just so thoroughly bored, almost to tears. Nothing interesting was happening, there was no plot to speak of—or if there was, I somehow missed it—, the characters were unsympathetic—when not downright antipathetic—, and almost nothing they did or said was of any interest. Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs et al were clearly not my kind of crowd. The Beat Generation has not worn well. Also, I really do not care for bebop jazz. But I stuck the pic out, even though it was an interminable 2 hours 20 minutes long. Sometimes movies start slowly but come together in the second half. Not this one. It has been said that Kerouac’s novel is unadaptable to the wide screen (e.g. here) and that Walter Salles’s effort only confirms this. Seeing the movie did not give me any desire to read the novel to find out for myself, that’s for sure.

While I’m at it, here’s the list of other Hollywood/Anglophone movies I’ve seen over the past few months that I did not like.

‘The Descendants’. I think Alexander Payne is one of the most interesting American directors. I loved ‘Sideways’, which made my “best of” list of the last decade. ‘About Schmidt’ was also first-rate. ‘Election’ was one of the better films I’ve seen of the teen film genre. And ‘Citizen Ruth’ wasn’t bad at all. Also, Payne’s segment of ‘Paris, je t’aime’—the 14th arrondissement—was definitely the best of that otherwise uneven film. So I was looking forward to seeing this one, and despite some negative feedback from friends in the US. Verdict: thumbs down. I didn’t like the story, George Clooney was just so George Clooney, and I don’t find Hawaii particularly interesting. I’m sure it’s a lovely place to visit but I’d probably go batty if I had to live there.

‘Twixt’, by Francis Ford Coppola. I liked his last film, ‘Tetro’, very much (more so than did many US critics). I was dubious about this one, as I am not a fan of the horror or fantasy film genres, but decided to see it anyway. Seeing it confirmed why I am not a fan of the aforementioned genres.

‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’. This got great reviews almost across the board. Even my man Paul Krugman loved it. All goes to show that the Krug and I may agree on just about everything but not on absolutely everything. I found the film both tedious and confusing. I didn’t understand what was happening in parts, who was whom, or what their connections were with one another. I thought maybe I missed something along the way, that I wasn’t paying sufficient attention, or that my inability to follow the plot showed up my own limitations. But then I read that Roger Ebert had a similar reaction, that he “didn’t always follow all the allusions and connections [and that o]n that level, ‘Tinker Tailor’ didn’t work for [him].” Ouf, so I’m not limited after all.

‘The Iron Lady’, the biopic on Margaret Thatcher. It’s hard to make a really good biopic. Some succeed, more don’t. This one did not, and despite Meryl Streep’s stellar performance (her Oscar was well-deserved). Too much on Mrs. Thatcher’s descent into Alzheimer’s, not enough on her years in power. The latter was given short shrift in the pic, which I could not understand. Whatever one thinks of Thatcher—and few are neutral on her, politically or on her persona—she was one of the major political figures in the Western world of the past half century. She deserved a better cinematic treatment than this.

One Hollywood movie I saw recently that I did like was Wes Anderson’s ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, which premiered at Cannes. I had never seen anything by Anderson, or even knew much about him, but one of my bright American undergraduate students—and with exceptionally refined cinematic tastes for someone her age—highly recommended his œuvre. This one won’t make my top 10 list of the year but it was charming and well-done (one review here). A perfect family film if one has kids age 10 and up. Mine, now 18, no longer willingly goes to movies with me, alas…

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The FT called him that, not me, in a portrait (h/t Stathis Kalyvas) of the man who may become Greece’s prime minister after today’s election. If the stakes weren’t so high I would hope his party, the hard left Syriza, wins and that he accede to state power, so as to put his money where his loud mouth is. Then again, maybe one should hope for this anyway. Money quote

In fact, [Syriza’s radical policy stance] may misread Mr Tsipras’s poker-style tactics: he is raising the ante before he knows what is in his hand, and once he sees his cards after the election he may adopt a less intransigent approach. He has noticeably toned down his anti-creditor rhetoric since Greece’s May 6 election, when Syriza was catapulted from nowhere into second place by the collapse of support for Pasok, Greece’s once dominant socialist party. Syriza no longer denounces outright the EU-IMF loan terms, but calls for their “replacement”. Influential party strategists insist Syriza will not unilaterally suspend Greek debt repayments and will, in its own way, honour Greece’s commitments to fiscal discipline.
Lefties the world over are eagerly hoping for a Tsipras victory. But, as with Lula in Brazil (and Mitterrand in France, etc), they may end up disappointed. I’ll be worried for Greece even if New Democracy wins, which, in view of its track record, hardly reassures. Au contraire. And with Pasok, which was no great shakes, out of the picture, a Syriza victory may not be the worst outcome for Greece.

UPDATE: Stathis Kalyvas, who knows Greece far better than anyone I’m ever likely to meet—and to whom I will reflexively defer on matters having to do with this country—, sends me the following comment on this post: “Believe me, he’s no Mitterrand or Lula. Take my word for it, as I really, really don’t wish to test my belief.”

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National elections are happening in three countries tomorrow: Greece, Egypt, and France. The last one is the least significant. The results in Greece and Egypt will be of momentous importance, not only for those countries but for their regions and the world. In France, the outcome of the second round of the legislative elections is not likely to even be noticed beyond the borders of the Hexagon, let alone have an impact. But it is still interesting for those of us who live in France or have an interest in the country. At this point the outcome is a near foregone conclusion, which is that the left will have a majority (see final poll above). The question is what majority, if the PS will have it on its own (most probable), with the écolos (possible), or will depend on the Front de Gauche (improbable). It should be noted that the four previous legislative elections that followed the presidential had unanticipated outcomes: in 2007, in the wake of Sarkozy’s victory, the left performed far better than expected, gaining seats and with the UMP sustaining unexpected losses; in 2002, the UMP won a landslide in seats and that had not been predicted in the pre-election polling; in 1988, following Mitterrand’s triumphal reelection, the PS fell short of an outright majority, leaving it dependent on the goodwill of the Communist party (a Socialist adversary at the time); in 1981, the Socialist landslide that followed Mitterrand’s victory was larger than anyone could have expected (the PS won 37% of the vote in the first round, up from 22% in the 1978 legislative election). So if history is a guide, perhaps there will be a surprise tomorrow.

The race that will be watched the most closely is, of course, Ségolène Royal vs. Olivier Falorni in the Charente-Maritime 1st constituency, which Ségo looked set to lose but where Trierweilergate may have shaken things up. The post tweet polls have given Valérie Trierweiler the thumbs way down for what she did and my own (statistically unrepresentative) personal poll is upholding this: I have personally heard nothing but severe criticism of VT, and particularly from women. So maybe this will translate into a sympathy vote for Mme Royal by the Rochelais (and particularly Rochelaise voters, left and UMP alike). On verra. As for an eventual impact of the affair nationally, I can’t see it. No movement away from the Socialists has turned up in the final polls and there is no a priori reason why voters in, say, the Meurthe-et-Moselle or Indre-et-Loire should flip their votes or stay home on account of VT’s tweet. It makes no sense. The comments threads on Arthur Goldhammer’s French Politics blog have been inundated on this issue over the past few days, with the general consensus among the commenters—some of whom are very well-informed on French party politics—that this is a “huge” affair, indeed a game changer for Hollande’s presidency. On va un peu vite en besogne, je crois. This affair will only have legs if VT continues to tweet, insists on maintaining her journalistic career, and otherwise behaves in a manner that most Frenchmen and women—and on both sides of the political spectrum—deem to be incompatible with her status as première dame (which she is, whether she likes it or not). If any of this happens, then it will definitely create problems for Hollande, mais on n’en est pas là.

Other races that will be watched: the eight candidates on Marine Le Pen’s enemies list, whom she wants to scuttle, notably Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet, Jack Lang, and Xavier Bertrand. In some of these races, Marine is, in effect, calling on FN voters to vote PS against the UMP. We’ll see how much influence MLP has with her electorate, if FN voters will follow the party’s consignes. It would be too bad if NKM were defeated and on account of MLP,  as she—and more than just about anyone in the UMP leadership (maybe Alain Juppé excepted)—has taken an uncompromising position against the FN. As for Lang, the eternal parachuté, I wouldn’t mind a whit if he were sent packing by the électeurs in the Vosges 2nd. His search for a safe constituency in which to parachute himself—after declining to submit his candidacy for reelection to a vote of the Socialist militants in the Pas-de-Calais 6th (Boulogne-sur-Mer), where he had been deputy for ten years (and where he parachuted himself after being repudiated by the voters in Blois)—was just a little unseemly. Time to retire, Monsieur Lang. The FN races themselves will also be closely watched, notably Marine LP in the Pas-de-Calais 11th, Gilbert Collard in the Gard 2nd—where he has a good chance of winning—, and the 21 year-old Marion Maréchal-Le Pen—petite fille of Jean-Marie and nièce of Marine—in the Vaucluse 3rd (who also has a good chance). François Bayrou looks to be toast in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques 2nd. That’s too bad. The fate of UMP ex-ministers Nadine Morano and Claude Guéant will be awaited—and oh how lovely it would be if the latter were to bite the dust—, as will that of current ministers who looked to be in tough races (Aurélie Filippetti, Stéphane Le Foll et al) but are en ballotage favorable—Marie-Arlette Carlotti, who’s in a tight race in the Bouches-du-Rhône 5th (Marseille), being the one exception here. RDV demain soir.

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