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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