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Archive for May, 2014

Two Days, One Night

Deux jours une nuit - Affiche

The Cannes film festival ended on Saturday night. Congratulations to Nuri Bilge Ceylan for winning the Palme d’or for his 3¼-hour ‘Kış Uykusu’ (Winter Sleep). He’s a fine director—I’ve seen five of his previous six feature-length films (the last I had a post on)—and will look forward to this one when it opens in the summer.

One film that was in competition at Cannes, but which came away with nothing, was Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne’s ‘Deux jours, une nuit’ (Two Days, One Night). This is too bad, as it’s an excellent film. It opened in France on Wednesday and I, of course, had to see it illico. I will see anything and everything by the Dardenne brothers. The subject of this one is a 40ish woman named Sandra—played by the always excellent and sublime Marion Cotillard—, a mother of two with devoted husband (Fabrizio Rongione), who’s coming off a bout of depression that got her onto sick leave for a few months, and is suddenly being laid off from her job at a small company (in the greater Liège area, where all the Dardenne brothers’ films are set) that makes solar panels. The procedure for her layoff—the Belgian Code du travail is clearly different from the French—was a voice vote by the personnel, the choice being for her to be laid off in return for each of them receiving a bonus of €1,000, or her not being laid off but then no bonus—and, apparently, with not-so-subtle pressure from the plant’s foreman (Olivier Gourmet) for the personnel to opt for the former. So she was canned, though with the boss, after entreaties from her and a colleague friend in the parking lot after work on Friday, agreeing to do the vote over on Monday morning and by secret ballot. So Sandra, desperate to keep her job—the unemployment rate in Belgium’s Wallonia being around 13% these days—, had the weekend to find each of her sixteen co-workers and try to persuade them to vote to retain her, but thereby foregoing their bonuses. And that’s the movie, of her, in a defeatist mood, but prodded by her supportive husband, tracking down her colleagues one-by-one, at their homes, in cafés, at their places of work in their second jobs, and putting them on the spot… It’s the best film I’ve seen in some time on the world of work for those in the lower half of the 99%, who live from paycheck to paycheck, need every last euro they make—not just to survive but also to realize their middling class consumption dreams—, and for whom the prospect of unemployment, always looming, is something that cannot be contemplated. If one wishes to be convinced of the necessity of strong trade unions and/or robust labor law—neither of which is mentioned in the pic, BTW—, see this movie. The acting is first-rate—which may be seen in range of the reactions of Sandra’s co-workers, and, of course, Marion Cotillard, who’s in almost every frame. Hollywood press reviews (tops) are here and here, French reviews (tops) are here, trailer is here. Don’t miss it!

I’ve seen two other films in the past week that premiered at Cannes. One was David Cronenberg’s ‘Maps to the Stars’—for which Julianne Moore won the best actress award—, which delivers a biting critique, to put it mildly, of the us et coutumes of the amoral—when not immoral—, superficial, cynical world of Hollywood and its obsession with money and fame. Not an original theme but one that can always be approached from unique angles. The pic is definitely more watchable than Cronenberg’s last one, ‘Cosmopolis’—which was the worst film I saw in 2012—, but left me somewhat cold, as every last character is so loathsome and odious. And while I am quite sure that many in Hollywood are like those in the movie, I have a hard time believing that most are. It is not an essential film IMO but may be seen. Reviews so far are good (e.g. here, here, and here). Trailer is here.

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The other Cannes film seen was ‘The Homesman’, directed by and starring Tommy Lee Jones. I like Tommy Lee Jones and will a priori see anything he directs. This one is a sort of road movie on the high plains, set in mid 1850s Nebraska—though mostly shot in New Mexico—, with the Jones character, named George Briggs, accompanying a headstrong, independent, no-nonsense unmarried woman—but who is actively seeking a man—, named Mary Bee Cuddy, played by a fine Hillary Swank, who has volunteered to transport three mentally disturbed plains women to Iowa. Todd McCarthy’s review in The Hollywood Reporter called it “[a]n absorbing, melancholy look at the hard lot of women in the Old West.” I was absorbed enough, I suppose, but won’t say it’s an essential film. I mean, it was okay. It may certainly be seen. One criticism: I was not convinced by the act Mary Bee committed fifteen minutes from the end—of why she did it; I didn’t like the scene too much—or by the film’s ending. Variety’s review is here and French reviews (good) are here. Trailer is here.

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Another film seen lately, that premiered at the Berlinale in Febrary, and which, like the above, was shot in New Mexico, was Franco-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s ‘Two Men in Town’ (French title: La Voie de l’ennemi). It’s a remake of Franco-Swiss director José Giovanni’s 1973 film of the same title—which I have not seen—, entirely set in a New Mexico border county (it’s not the first film Bouchareb has shot in the US and in English) and with the kind of Western vistas that French/European audiences like. The cast—Forest Whitaker, Harvey Keitel, Brenda Blethyn—is great. The pic is well-acted and absorbing. But it has a few implausibilities and an unsatisfying ending. So I really can’t give it the thumbs up (though it is far superior to Bouchareb’s calamitous 2010 ‘Hors-la-loi’, which is the worst movie ever made on the Algerian war of independence). Jay Weissberg’s review in Variety got it right. See also Deborah Young’s review in THR. French reviews were good overall. Trailer is here.

la voie de lennemi

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Yet one more massacre

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.  (Credit: abc7.com)

The six Isla Vista massacre victims, from top left: Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Cheng-Yuan Hong, George Chen, Weihan Wang.
(Credit: abc7.com)

[updates below]

Joe Nocera of the NYT has a must read column today on the Second Amendment, “What did the Framers really mean?” For those who are maxed out on their free NYT access or are too lazy to click on the link, here’s the whole thing

Three days after the publication of Michael Waldman’s new book, “The Second Amendment: A Biography,” Elliot Rodger, 22, went on a killing spree, stabbing three people and then shooting another eight, killing four of them, including himself. This was only the latest mass shooting in recent memory, going back to Columbine.

In his rigorous, scholarly, but accessible book, Waldman notes such horrific events but doesn’t dwell on them. He is after something else. He wants to understand how it came to be that the Second Amendment, long assumed to mean one thing, has come to mean something else entirely. To put it another way: Why are we, as a society, willing to put up with mass shootings as the price we must pay for the right to carry a gun?

The Second Amendment begins, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,” and that’s where Waldman, the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, begins, too. He has gone back into the framers’ original arguments and made two essential discoveries, one surprising and the other not surprising at all.

The surprising discovery is that of all the amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights, the Second was probably the least debated. What we know is that the founders were deeply opposed to a standing army, which they viewed as the first step toward tyranny. Instead, their assumption was that the male citizenry would all belong to local militias. As Waldman writes, “They were not allowed to have a musket; they were required to. More than a right, being armed was a duty.”

Thus the unsurprising discovery: Virtually every reference to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” — the second part of the Second Amendment — was in reference to military defense. Waldman notes the House debate over the Second Amendment in the summer of 1789: “Twelve congressmen joined the debate. None mentioned a private right to bear arms for self-defense, hunting or for any purpose other than joining the militia.”

In time, of course, the militia idea died out, replaced by a professionalized armed service. Most gun regulation took place at the state and city level. The judiciary mostly stayed out of the way. In 1939, the Supreme Court upheld the nation’s first national gun law, the National Firearms Act, which put onerous limits on sawed-off shotguns and machine guns — precisely because the guns had no “reasonable relation” to “a well-regulated militia.”

But then, in 1977, there was a coup at the National Rifle Association, which was taken over by Second Amendment fundamentalists. Over the course of the next 30 years, they set out to do nothing less than change the meaning of the Second Amendment, so that it’s final phrase — “shall not be infringed” — referred to an individual right to keep and bear arms, rather than a collective right for the common defense.

Waldman is scornful of much of this effort. Time and again, he finds the proponents of this new view taking the founders’ words completely out of context, sometimes laughably so. They embrace Thomas Jefferson because he once wrote to George Washington, “One loves to possess arms.” In fact, says Waldman, Jefferson was referring to some old letter he needed “so he could issue a rebuttal in case he got attacked for a decision he made as secretary of state.

Still, as Waldman notes, the effort was wildly successful. In 1972, the Republican platform favored gun control. By 1980, the Republican platform opposed gun registration. That year, the N.R.A. gave its first-ever presidential endorsement to Ronald Reagan.

The critical modern event, however, was the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which tossed aside two centuries of settled law, and ruled that a gun-control law in Washington, D.C., was unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The author of the majority opinion was Antonin Scalia, who fancies himself the leading “originalist” on the court — meaning he believes, as Waldman puts it, “that the only legitimate way to interpret the Constitution is to ask what the framers and their generation intended in 1789.”

Waldman is persuasive that a truly originalist decision would have tied the right to keep and bear arms to a well-regulated militia. But the right to own guns had by then become conservative dogma, and it was inevitable that the five conservative members of the Supreme Court would vote that way.

“When the militias evaporated,” concludes Waldman, “so did the original meaning of the Second Amendment.” But, he adds, “What we did not have was a regime of judicially enforced individual rights, able to trump the public good.”

Sadly, that is what we have now, as we saw over the weekend. Elliot Rodger’s individual right to bear arms trumped the public good. Eight people were shot as a result.

Also worth reading is Michael Moore’s reaction to the Isla Vista massacre, posted on his Facebook page (h/t Lisa H.)

With due respect to those who are asking me to comment on last night’s tragic mass shooting at UCSB in Isla Vista, CA — I no longer have anything to say about what is now part of normal American life. Everything I have to say about this, I said it 12 years ago: We are a people easily manipulated by fear which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter BILLION guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps. We are a nation founded in violence, grew our borders through violence, and allow men in power to use violence around the world to further our so-called American (corporate) “interests.” The gun, not the eagle, is our true national symbol. While other countries have more violent pasts (Germany, Japan), more guns per capita in their homes (Canada [mostly hunting guns]), and the kids in most other countries watch the same violent movies and play the same violent video games that our kids play, no one even comes close to killing as many of its own citizens on a daily basis as we do — and yet we don’t seem to want to ask ourselves this simple question: “Why us? What is it about US?” Nearly all of our mass shootings are by angry or disturbed white males. None of them are committed by the majority gender, women. Hmmm, why is that? Even when 90% of the American public calls for stronger gun laws, Congress refuses — and then we the people refuse to remove them from office. So the onus is on us, all of us. We won’t pass the necessary laws, but more importantly we won’t consider why this happens here all the time. When the NRA says, “Guns don’t kill people — people kill people,” they’ve got it half-right. Except I would amend it to this: “Guns don’t kill people — Americans kill people.” Enjoy the rest of your day, and rest assured this will all happen again very soon.

Yes, as this is America, it will indeed happen again. Very soon.

UPDATE: Americans get killed by guns every day, by people who are not criminals or “bad guys.” Every last day of the week. If one does not believe me, read the “Holiday Weekend Gun Report: May 23-26, 2014” on Joe Nocera’s NYT blog.

2nd UPDATE: Michael Waldman had an article, adapted from his book, in Politico Magazine dated May 19th, “How the NRA rewrote the Second Amendment.” The lede: “The Founders never intended to create an unregulated individual right to a gun. Today, millions believe they did. Here’s how it happened.”

3rd UPDATE: Mother Jones has an interview (June 19th) with Michael Waldman, in which he talks about his book, informing us that “The Second Amendment doesn’t say what you think it does.”

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Photo: AFP/Pierre Andrieu

Photo: AFP/Pierre Andrieu

It was a disaster. A catastrophe. Worse than anyone expected—and certainly than I expected. I knew the FN would do very well, even come in first place ahead of the UMP and PS—as the polls predicted—, but not with 25% of the vote and a participation rate (43%) higher than in 2009. I am going to follow my blogging confrère Art Goldhammer and not do an instant analysis, though, like Art, I will offer a couple of instant comments (and, BTW, I entirely agree with his).

First, the FN’s score is nothing to sneeze at. For the frontistes to come in first place nationally and with a quarter of the vote—and even in a low participation election—is a very big deal. But this does not make the FN the nº1 party in the country. GMAB! On this, Olivier Duhamel and LCP’s Jean-Baptiste Daoulas are entirely right in relativizing the FN’s victory. The fact is, it was a high abstention election, with the FN’s national vote total (4.8 million) equaling that of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s in 2002 but falling well short of Marine LP’s in 2012 (6.4 million). When it comes to membership, number of elected officials—and their quality and competence—, financial resources, ability to turn out crowds at rallies, and you name it, the FN remains a dwarf; it does not rise to the ankle of the UMP and PS. The FN has exactly two deputies out of 577 in the National Assembly—and wouldn’t win too many more if élections anticipées were suddenly held, as MLP is demanding—and controls a grand total of eleven mairies out of 36,000+. And the FN remains totally isolated, as no institutional party of the right will ally with it. The result of the European election, which was a big setback for the UMP, will only cause to UMP to take a harder line against any dealings with the frontistes. There is not a snowball’s chance in hell that the UMP and FN will enter into some kind of common program as did the PS and PCF in the 1970s. And no party in France can win an election or exercise power without a coalition with other parties possessing distinct bases of support. The FN’s predicament here will not change in the coming years, this I promise.

Art Goldhammer is correct in saying that the FN is a fixture on the political landscape and will not likely be removed. But it is still very much a protest party. One hears and reads continually that the FN now has a structured base of support, which is true in some parts of the country—in the southeast and certain dying industrial towns in the north—but a lot of its support, I am convinced, is soft. E.g. in the bureau de vote in which I was an assesseur in Sunday’s election—which is the most relatively leftist in my very right-wing banlieue (meaning that the PS, Front de Gauche, and écolos together are normally in the 40-45% range)—the FN came in a close third with 17%, which is double its usual score (and in my own adjacent precinct, the FN won 14%). The FN is hardly present in my town. It hasn’t even run a list in municipal elections since 1995. In the 15 years I’ve been living here, I have never seen FN activists hand out leaflets in the marchés during election campaigns. Many of those who voted FN in my neighborhood yesterday were first-timers, expressing ras-le-bol. It’s been this way with the FN for three decades now, though just a little more nowadays.

Another point. European elections are particular; for many voters, it is a low stakes election and ideal for protest voting. And European elections do not prefigure the outcomes of the subsequent (higher stakes) presidential and/or legislative elections. E.g the 1994 European outcome—a calamitous score for the PS (14%) and excellent one for right-wing souverainistes and populists (Bernard Tapie)—was followed the next year by an unexpectedly respectable score for the PS presidential candidate and with the souverainistes sidelined. The 1999 election—in which right souverainistes humiliated Nicolas Sarkozy’s joint RPR-DL ticket (the core of the future UMP)—was followed by a decade of the UMP in power. And the PS biting the dust in 2009—with 16.5%, just a hair ahead of Europe Ecologie—in no way prefigured the 2012 presidential race. So yesterday’s outcome offers no hints for 2017.

Which is not to say that the PS can relativize what has just happened to it. François Hollande and the Socialists are in a deep hole and one has no idea how they can possibly dig themselves out of it. The election outcome was as decisive a rejection of Hollande’s austerity policies as one can get. So what are Hollande and Manuel Valls going to do? Stay the course, implement the pacte de responsiblité, and cut €50 billion in spending? If that happens, Valls will plummet in the polls, and with Hollande descending into maybe even the single digits. I personally know of no one at the present moment who will defend the Socialists—and I travel mainly in left-wing circles. Hell, I was an assesseur for the PS and didn’t vote for them (casting my ballot for Europe Ecologie). But if Hollande were to change course, where would he go and how? With France now diminished in Brussels and Strasbourg, will he really take on Angela Merkel and Mario Draghi? His situation really does seem hopeless.

Another thing. The Front de Gauche, at 6%, did not do well at all. And the extreme left (NPA, Lutte Ouvrière et al) has all but vanished. The French left is K.O., more so than at any time in memory. At least Europe Ecologie rose to the occasion, winning almost 9% and in the absence of Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

As for the configuration of the European parliament, we’ll know about that in a few days. À suivre.

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Conservative Eurosceptic commentator Ambrose Evans-Pritchard of the conservative, très Eurosceptic Daily Telegraph had a hard-hitting column the other day on “Europe’s centre crumbl[ing] as Socialists immolate themselves on altar of EMU.” The lede

Francois Hollande must be willing to rock the European Project to its foundations, and even to risk a rupture of the euro. This he cannot bring himself to do.

Money quotes:

By a horrible twist of fate, Europe’s political Left has become the enforcer of reactionary economic policies. The great socialist parties of the post-war era have been trapped by the corrosive dynamics of monetary union, apologists for mass unemployment and a 1930s deflationary regime that subtly favour the interests of elites.

Ouch!

One can understand why the Left in small countries may feel too weak to buck the EMU system. The mystery is why a French Socialist president with a parliamentary majority should so passively submit to policies that are sapping the lifeblood of the French economy and destroying his presidency.

Quite a few on the French left have been asking the same question…

The French nation does not have to accept economic asphyxiation. France is the beating heart of the Europe, the one country with the civilizational stature to lead a revolt and take charge of the EMU policy machinery. But to call Germany’s bluff with any credibility Mr Hollande must be willing to rock the Project to its foundations, and even to risk a rupture of the euro.

This he cannot bring himself to do. His whole political life from Mitterrand to Maastricht has been woven into European affairs. He is a prisoner of Project ideology, drilled to think that Franco-German condominium remains the lever of French power, and that the euro is what binds the two. French statesman Jean-Pierre Chevenement compares Mr Hollande’s acquiesce in this ruinous course with Pierre Laval’s deflation decrees in 1935 under the Gold Standard, the last time a French leader thought he had to bleed his country dry in defence of a fixed-exchange peg. It is the brutal truth.

Paul Krugman couldn’t have said it better. Evans-Pritchard’s column makes for tough reading—for a supporter of the European moderate left, at least—but needs to be read.

I’ll be an assesseur in a polling station tomorrow for the PS—as I’ve been in every election round here since becoming a citizen and getting on the voting rolls—and titulaire, meaning that I’ll be supervising the vote count (with the other assesseurs titulaires). Though I’ll be the PS rep in the bureau de vote—I am not a party member, pour l’info, and have no intention of ever being—, I can obviously vote for whomever I please (and have broken ranks a couple of times). If the PS list in the Île-de-France were headed by Harlem Désir, as it was in 2009, I announced to those around me that I would definitely vote for the UDI-Modem. But as the tête de liste in the ÎdF is Pervenche Berès—an MEP since 1994 and solid européenne—I decided to go with the PS after all (and forgiving the fabusienne Berès for her support of the non in the 2005 European Constitutional Treaty referendum). But now I’m hesitating again, and even more so after reading Evans-Pritchard’s column. I want Martin Schulz to be the next President of the Commission but just don’t know if the PS deserves my vote. As I liked Ska Keller in the two debates I saw—and particularly the second—, I just may cast my ballot tomorrow for the Europe Ecologie list (headed in the ÎdF by Pascal Durand and Eva Joly), as I did in the 2009 European elections, when Daniel Cohn-Bendit led the French écolos’s campaign. And the EELV is not a “wasted vote,” as their MEPs are a pillar of the Green political group in Strasbourg and will support Schultz for Commission president if the choice comes down to him or Jean-Claude Juncker. Donc on verra.

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PS rally, Lyon, May 23 2014

PS rally, Lyon, May 23 2014

I turned on LCP last night, to see what was on, and caught live coverage of the Socialists’s final election rally, in Lyon, with party bigwigs in the front row and Martin Schulz the guest of honor. Manuel Valls had just started his speech, which I watched to the end. He was good! both on form and substance. The focus was on Europe. To watch it, go here and scroll down. After Valls’s speech LCP went live to Jean-François Copé’s UMP rally in Evreux. What a contrast. Whereas Valls was uplifting and Europe-focused—and with frequent references to Martin Schulz and the importance of him being elected the next president of the Commission—, Copé spoke almost exclusively about national politics, mainly beating up on François Hollande, the PS, and Marine Le Pen. It was a repeat performance of the Thursday night event on France 2 (see previous post). Lamentable partisan hackery. He mentioned Europe only in passing and, unless I missed it, made not a single reference to Jean-Claude Juncker, the presidential candidate of the European Peoples Party—the Europarty of which the UMP is a member. The UMP has not put the speech on its website, though this one from two days earlier looks to have been much the same. The sooner the UMP dumps him as party president—which may well happen sooner rather than later—, the better.

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invites

This is an extended Tweet, i.e. no deep analysis. “Des paroles et des actes,” France 2’s periodic Thursday evening public affairs show, was devoted last night to the European elections. One+ hour of back-to-back interrogations of reps of the six major formations followed by a one-hour debate with all: Stéphane Le Foll (PS), Jean-François Copé (UMP), François Bayrou (UDI-Modem), Yannick Jadot (EELV), Jean-Luc Mélenchon (FdG), and Marine Le Pen (FN). I was initially not going to watch it—other and better things to do on a Thursday evening, who needs to listen to French political hacks and their demagoguery or langue de bois for the umpteenth time, etc, etc—but couldn’t help myself. If one wants an idea as to the state of the European debate in the French political class, this is where to go. Not brilliant. Loin s’en faut. Stéphane Le Foll—who was, until two years, not a first-tier Socialist—was the best; he impressed, both on form and substance, and strove to stay focused on European issues. The écolo Yannick Janot—unknown to the grand public (and myself)—was honest and solid. François Bayrou was François Bayrou; his well-known and well-worn federalist position on Europe is compelling but will likely fall on deaf ears these days. Mélenchon was also Mélenchon (and with his trademark red necktie), but I thought he was somewhat off form, stumbling over the stupid first question lobbed at him—on why the Front de Gauche isn’t doing better in the polls—, which he should have dismissed as irrelevant and not answered; and he only mentioned in passing his formation’s European presidential candidate, Alexis Tsipras. J-F Copé’s partisan hackery was pathetic and lamentable, as was his using the occasion to beat up on President Hollande and the PS rather that speak to European issues; the UMP—which is all tied up in knots over Europe (Nicolas Sarkozy’s tribune in Le Point being the latest demonstration)—would have been well advised to send someone else—e.g. Alain Juppé or Bruno Le Maire—to represent it in such a debate. But the worst was Marine Le Pen. I don’t know how anyone can bear to listen to that grosse conne and her abject demagoguery. If, par malheur, her party ends up sending 15 or 20 MEPs to Strasbourg, France will get what it will get: ridicule and diminished influence in the halls of European institutions. As José Bové incessantly repeats, a vote for the FN in the European elections is a vote wasted, as FN MEPs, when they even bother to show up in Strasbourg or Brussels, have no interest in European issues, have no idea what they’re talking about when they do try to speak on those issues, and have zero influence.

Here is Thomas Legrand’s commentary on last night’s debate. And here’s his commentary yesterday on Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s discourse on Europe.

The reviews of Sarkozy’s Le Point tribune haven’t been too positive. E.g. Sylvie Goulard, Modem MEP and Européenne du premier plan, takes it apart here and here (at 03:20).

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STop-Tafta

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a.k.a. the Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). This has become an issue in the European parliament elections, which are being held today (in the Netherlands and UK) through Sunday. The issue is big—and has been deliberately kept below the radar screen for the past year. The redoubtable Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch—whom I discussed in my post of last October on the Trans-Pacific Partnership—, has an article in the November 2013 Le Monde Diplomatique, “The Corporation Invasion,” explaining what the TTIP/TAFTA is all about. The lede:

A new treaty being negotiated in secret between the US and the EU has been specifically engineered to give companies what they want — the dismantling of all social, consumer and environmental protection, and compensation for any infringement of their assumed rights.

Ms. Wallach thus begins

Imagine what would happen if foreign companies could sue governments directly for cash compensation over earnings lost because of strict labour or environmental legislation. This may sound far-fetched, but it was a provision of the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), a projected treaty negotiated in secret between 1995 and 1997 by the then 29 member states of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development). News about it got out just in time, causing an unprecedented wave of protests and derailing negotiations.

Now the agenda is back. Since July the European Union and the United States have been negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) or Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), a modified version of the MAI under which existing legislation on both sides of the Atlantic will have to conform to the free trade norms established by and for large US and EU corporations, with failure to do so punishable by trade sanctions or the payment of millions of dollars in compensation to corporations.

Negotiations are expected to last another two years. The TTIP/TAFTA incorporates the most damaging elements of past agreements and expands on them. If it came into force, privileges enjoyed by foreign companies would become law and governments would have their hands tied for good. The agreement would be binding and permanent: even if public opinion or governments were to change, it could only be altered by consensus of all signatory nations. In Europe it would mirror the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) due to be adopted by 12 Pacific Rim countries, which has been fiercely promoted by US business interests. Together, the TTIP/TAFTA and the TPP would form an economic empire capable of dictating conditions outside its own frontiers: any country seeking trade relations with the US or EU would be required to adopt the rules prevailing within the agreements as they stood.

The TTIP/TAFTA negotiations are taking place behind closed doors. The US delegations have more than 600 corporate trade advisers, who have unlimited access to the preparatory documents and to representatives of the US administration. Draft texts will not be released, and instructions have been given to keep the public and press in the dark until a final deal is signed. By then, it will be too late to change.

Further down there’s this

Companies would be able to demand compensation from countries whose health, financial, environmental and other public interest policies they thought to be undermining their interests, and take governments before extrajudicial tribunals. These tribunals, organised under World Bank and UN rules would have the power to order taxpayers to pay extensive compensation over legislation seen as undermining a company’s “expected future profits”.

Read the entire article here (et en français ici).

The TTIP/TAFTA sounds like a bad deal indeed, for citizens of both the US and EU. And particularly the latter. Now there are those who are less alarmist over the process underway, e.g. the Le Monde editorial board—Le Monde being center-left in political orientation and not (yet) owned by a press lord or group with a financial interest in TTIP/TAFTA—, which had an editorial in last Friday’s issue, “Halte aux fantasmes sur le traité transatlantique

On l’appelle le «GMT», pour «grand marché transatlantique». Mais il pourrait tout aussi bien s’appeler le «GMMT», pour «grand méchant marché transatlantique», tant le traité de libre-échange, que l’Union européenne négocie avec les Etats-Unis, alimente les fantasmes et les peurs, tant à l’extrême droite qu’à la gauche du Parti socialiste. La campagne pour les élections européennes favorise ce climat : déjà peu populaire, l’Europe rajoute à son «passif» un symbole jugé libéral.

Certes, le sujet suscite des inquiétudes légitimes: cet accord protégera-t-il suffisamment les intérêts, les valeurs et les choix collectifs français et européens? Une partie de l’opinion redoute que cet accord, dont la négociation prendra des années, ne force les Européens à accepter des OGM ou du boeuf aux hormones. D’autres craignent qu’il ouvre la porte à l’exploitation des gaz de schiste sans veto possible des gouvernements nationaux.

Mais, pour l’heure, rien n’est fait. Barack Obama n’a pas l’appui du Congrès américain pour mener une négociation rapide. Quant à la Commission européenne, qui mène les discussions avec Washington, elle juge ces craintes infondées, rappelle que rien n’est conclu et que des sujets sensibles comme l’exception culturelle ont été exclus de la négociation.

Ce plaidoyer serait plus convaincant si la Commission et les Etats rendaient public le mandat de négociation. Or, celui-ci reste «top secret», les Européens ne voulant pas abattre toutes leurs cartes devant les Américains avant même d’entrer dans le vif du sujet. Cette tactique alimente tous les fantasmes.

Selon les équipes du commissaire au commerce, le Belge Karel De Gucht, un accord de principe aurait été trouvé avec les chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement des Vingt-Huit pour une plus grande transparence. Les citoyens européens sauront, alors, s’ils ont de bonnes raisons de s’inquiéter.

Il n’est pas trop tôt, cependant, pour expliquer froidement les risques, mais aussi les bénéfices de cet accord potentiel. En brandissant des chiffres radieux (un gain de 545 euros par ménage et par an ou de 0,5 point de croissance par an), la Commission ne convainc pas. Et pas davantage le discours sur les vertus revendiquées du libre-échange.

L’essentiel est ailleurs. L’Europe a des intérêts offensifs à faire valoir. Déjà très ouverte, elle est la première puissance économique et commerciale mondiale – et profite, elle aussi, de la mondialisation. La zone euro a doublé, en 2013, son excédent commercial, qui atteint désormais 150 milliards d’euros. Elle est donc en situation de force pour négocier – et doit le rester.

L’enjeu, au-delà de la suppression de quelques droits de douane, est de savoir qui fixera les normes des produits et services échangés dans le monde. Celui qui les façonne jouit d’un avantage stratégique décisif. L’Europe a été cet acteur au XXe siècle. L’Organisation mondiale du commerce aurait dû prendre le relais, mais elle est en panne. Le choix est simple : soit le XXIe siècle sera à la main des Chinois et des Américains, qui négocient autour du Pacifique. Soit l’Europe s’impose comme un acteur central pour faire admettre ses normes, et protéger son mode de vie.

This is a pretty lukewarm defense of the negotiations, and just a little Pollyannaish (for more, see Libé Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer’s piece yesterday, “Traité de libre échange transatlantique: l’ombre d’un traité hors normes“). It was, of course, nice that the French government succeeded in having the exception culturelle (cultural exemption) taken off the table—under no circumstances should the EU/France cede on this—, but it’s small change compared to all the rest that remains on that table. What Le Monde and other European defenders of the negotiations neglect to consider is that while the US and EU are economic equals, politically speaking there is no comparison between the two. The United States is a political (and military) superpower. It is a juggernaut. The European Union is a political dwarf. The political playing field is not a level one. Moreover, no trade agreement stands a chance of ratification by the (corporate-friendly) US Senate if it concedes anything significant in regard to US corporate interests. If those corporate interests—who will be the principal beneficiaries of the TTIP/TAFTA (European multinational corporations being the remaining beneficiaries)—don’t get what they want, there will be no treaty. But the converse is not the case: the governing bodies of the European Union—Commission, European Council, and Parliament—may be expected to cede on all sorts of issues—unless their collective feet are held to the fire by organized continental public opinion. Thus the importance of the elections underway and of Europeans taking a greater interest in the EU. As the concrete prejudice to European (and American) citizens—not to mention the undermining of democracy—of the TTIP/TAFTA will certainly far outweigh any hypothetical benefits (to those citizens), it must be opposed. Resolutely.

TTIP-map

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The Immigrant

The Immigrant

I note that this film has just opened in the US and to decent reviews. I saw it late last year here in Paris, where the reviews were also decent. And I’ll see just about any film with an immigration theme if the reviews are even half-way decent. Here’s a description by Variety’s Peter Debruge, who saw the pic last year at Cannes

Cementing himself as the great classicist of his generation, James Gray turns back the clock to 1921 in “The Immigrant,” a romantic tale that cuts to the very soul of the American experience. This rich, beautifully rendered film boasts an arrestingly soulful performance from Marion Cotillard as a Polish nurse-turned-prostitute for whom the symbolic promise of Ellis Island presents only hardship. (…)

From the American canon, novels like Theodore Dreiser’s “Sister Carrie” offer charitable accounts of the lures and snares big-city life posed on single working women of the early 20th century. Such influences suggest a radical shift from the male-driven concerns of Gray’s strong but underappreciated oeuvre (which includes “The Yards” and “We Own the Night”). No doubt, the director’s newfound female focus owes an equal or greater debt to Tolstoy and Flaubert, as he follows their lead in crafting the picture’s strong, well-rounded tragic heroine. (Never fear: No one swallows arsenic or throws herself in front of a train here.)

Meeting with a naturalization officer upon her arrival in New York, one year after the U.S. ratified women’s suffrage, Ewa (Cotillard) discovers that American immigration policy bars unescorted females from entering the country — a judgment compounded, in her case, by reports from the ship manifest that she may be a woman of low morals. What Ewa doesn’t realize is that she’s being auditioned by “immigration aid” worker and part-time pimp Bruno (an uneasy Joaquin Phoenix), who manages a burlesque theater not far from the seedy Five Points neighborhood where “Gangs of New York” was set a few decades earlier.

But Ewa and her sister Magda (Angela Sarafyan) didn’t escape war and cross the Atlantic to be turned away at the front stoop of their destination. Though the film ultimately concerns the heartbreaking compromises Ewa makes to adapt to this better life, Gray depicts these transgressions as magnanimously as possible: A scene vital to the film’s tragic tone takes place in the confessional of a Catholic church, where, even as Ewa sounds convinced of her own damnation, the film makes clear that however low her behavior may have sunk, her moral center remains pure. (…)

The film is melodramatic in parts and rather depressing overall, but I thought it was pretty good. And Marion Cotillard—who learned Polish for the role—was sensational. She’s one great actress. So: recommended.

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#TellEUROPE

EuroDebate

Two weeks ago I posted on the first-ever European presidential debate—for the presidency of the European Commission—, that was held on April 28th in Maastricht. Two nights ago another debate was held, before an audience at the European Parliament in Brussels, this time with all five candidates: Jean-Claude Juncker, Martin Schulz, Guy Verhofstadt, Ska Keller, and Alexis Tsipras. The organization was stricter than the previous one, with the candidates limited to one-minute responses to each question. The moderators asked them to speak in English, so as to facilitate the simultaneous translation into the 24 official languages of the European Union, three of whom did (Juncker spoke in French and Tsipras in Greek). It was a pretty good debate. Schulz—who’s my candidate—was okay, Verhofstadt—by the far the best last time—was good, but the one I really liked was Ska Keller. She’s articulate, passionate, politically congenial, and gives an all-around positive impression. But, of course, she has no chance whatever of being chosen by the European Council. À propos, the candidates all made it clear that the successor to José Manuel Barroso will be one of them, that the European Parliament will approve no one other, and that the European Council needs to respect the will of the European electorate on this. Indeed. If David Cameron or some other wanker on the European Council refuses to endorse one of the five and tries to pull someone else out of a hat, it will spawn a crisis in the EU and further undermine the EU in the eyes of tens of millions of Europeans. And it will likely not fly in the end.

Then again, it might. Charles Grant of the top-flight think tank the Centre for European Reform, writing two days ago on “Presidential candidates, European federalism and Tony Giddens,” asserted that the President of the Commission is nominated by the European Council, that this is in the EU treaties, and the said Council may propose any candidate it pleases so long as the results of European elections are “[taken] into account.” On verra bien.

The debate (90 minutes) may watched in its entirely here in English et ici en français.

Voici un commentaire sur le débat par Bernard Guetta, sur les ondes de France Inter hier matin, qui l’a appellé “Le premier pas de la démocratie européenne

Dommage, vraiment dommage, que les grandes chaînes publiques n’aient pas retransmis ce débat d’hier soir. Dommage car c’était un vrai débat sur l’Europe entre les chefs de file des cinq grands courants politiques paneuropéens – gauche, droite, Verts, centristes et gauche de la gauche. Dommage car ces quatre hommes et cette jeune femme, Ska Keller, la chef de file des Verts qui a crevé l’écran par sa fraîcheur et sa cohérence, ont su donner à voir leurs différences sans jamais s’invectiver, pas une seconde, et montrer par là qu’il n’y a pas une mais des politiques européennes.

Dommage car on a vu là qu’aucun de ces grands courants ne prônait la fin de l’Union ou la sortie de l’euro et que ceux qui en sont partisans sont tellement divisés qu’ils n’ont pas pu – raison de leur absence de ce débat – se donner un chef de file transcendant les appartenances nationales. Et dommage, enfin, car on a entendu hier soir, beaucoup de choses importantes et notamment deux.

La première est qu’aucun des chefs de file de ces cinq courants n’imagine plus que le futur président de la Commission puisse ne pas être celui d’entre eux auquel le suffrage universel aura donné une majorité ou qui aura pu constituer une coalition majoritaire dans le futur Parlement. Tous ont dit qu’il y aurait déni de démocratie si les dirigeants des vingt-huit Etats membres tentaient de s’y opposer. Il y a unanimité sur ce point des cinq courants et l’on ne voit en effet plus maintenant comment le futur président de la Commission pourrait continuer à procéder d’un obscur compromis entre dirigeants nationaux et non pas du suffrage universel.

Tout semble bien dire qu’on est à la veille d’un vrai progrès de la démocratie européenne et, par conséquence, d’un rééquilibrage des pouvoirs entre la représentation des Etats et celle de l’Union, entre le Conseil européen, d’une part, où siègent les dirigeants nationaux et qui décide aujourd’hui de tout et, de l’autre, le Parlement et la Commission.

La deuxième chose importante est que l’on sentait bien hier soir, qu’au-delà de leurs différences, les cinq étaient d’accord pour promouvoir une politique sociale européenne, plus ou moins affirmée bien sûr. Le candidat des conservateurs, Jean-Claude Juncker, n’a logiquement pas cessé d’insister sur la nécessité de maintenir les politiques de redressement des comptes publics mais lui-même s’est déclaré partisan de l’instauration d’un salaire minimum européen et de la définition d’un socle social auquel tous les Etats devraient se tenir. Pour le reste, ce n’était pas la même chose. La candidate verte voulait la relance par l’investissement dans l’économie verte et les énergies renouvelables.

Martin Schulz, le candidat de la gauche, insistait, lui, sur la chasse à la fraude et l’évasion fiscales qui permettrait, disait-il, de faire l’économie de bien des économies budgétaires. Alexis Tsipras, celui de la gauche radicale, appelait à l’effacement de tout ou partie des dettes publiques. On retrouvait là tous les éléments d’identité politique de ces courants mais on comprenait aussi qu’aucun ne voulait poursuivre avec la seule rigueur et ce débat aura marqué, en un mot, les tout premiers pas d’une démocratie européenne.

Et voici un commentaire de Jean Quatremer, correspondant à Bruxelles de Libération

Les mastodontes télévisuels français (TF1, F2 et F3) sont passés à côté de l’événement de ce début de siècle : la naissance de la démocratie européenne, l’émergence d’un espace public européen, la fin de l’Europe opaque des Etats. Le débat entre les cinq candidats à la présidence de la Commission, une première dans l’histoire de la construction communautaire, a montré où se situaient les vrais enjeux, non plus au niveau national, mais au niveau fédéral. En dépit du format contraignant imposé (trop de questions, des réponses limitées à une minute, l’interprétation), une véritable émotion est passée, celle de l’Europe en train de se faire. Deux Allemands, un Luxembourgeois, un Belge et un Grec ont débattu entre eux en anglais, en français et en grec de questions dont on a pu s’apercevoir qu’elles n’étaient plus nationales, mais transnationales : l’euro, l’immigration, les budgets, la croissance, le chômage, la solidarité, les valeurs, la laïcité, etc.

On a pu voir l’histoire en train de se faire lorsque les cinq, en cœur, ont affirmé que les chefs d’Etat et de gouvernement n’avaient plus d’autre choix que de choisir l’un d’entre eux au lendemain du 25 mai : la dynamique démocratique lancée par les partis politiques européens, lorsqu’ils ont décidé de désigner des candidats à la présidence de la Commission, est telle que rien ne pourra l’arrêter. Angela Merkel peut bien être réticente, David Cameron agiter un droit de veto qu’il n’a plus depuis longtemps, on ne voit pas comment le Conseil européen pourra ignorer le choix des électeurs et sortir de son chapeau un sixième homme ou femme qui n’a pas concouru. Le Parlement européen a pris le pouvoir et les citoyens doivent en prendre conscience.

Ce qui m’a aussi frappé, c’est l’absence de débat artificiel entre les candidats, style«faut-il sortir de l’euro»«faut-il quitter l’Union» ? Car, en réalité, ce sont des slogans, des artifices, aucun politique ne l’envisageant sérieusement en dehors de l’extrême droite, chacun connaissant le prix à payer. L’enjeu, et Alexis Tsipras de la gauche radicale l’a bien dit, ce sont les politiques menées. Personne n’est locataire de l’Europe, tout le monde en est copropriétaire et le consensus européen et de ne pas mettre le feu à la maison. L’absence ce soir de l’extrême droite et des souverainistes, incapables de s’entendre sur le nom d’un étranger pour les représenter, était de ce point de vue remarquable. Ils sont tonitruants en France ou en Grande-Bretagne, ils sont marginaux en Europe.

Et puisqu’il faut désigner un vainqueur : sans conteste l’écologiste Ska Keller qui a montré que la jeunesse avait faim d’Europe et qui a donné faim d’Europe. Alexis Tsipras a été aussi excellent, montrant que la gauche radicale pouvait ne pas être vociférante.

Le commentaire de Quatremer est suivi par d’autres—journalistes et universitaires—dans Libé.

Interesting that Quatremer found Alexis Tsipras “excellent.” I wasn’t overly impressed with him. And one commentator on the blog of the Centre for European Politics declared outright that “For Tsipras, it’s nulle points“…

RDV le dimanche 25.

eurodebate-thumb-large

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Paris Bourse, January 1999: celebrating the introduction of the euro (photo: AFP)

Paris Bourse, January 1999: celebrating the introduction of the euro (photo: AFP)

France 2 broadcast a 1 hour 40 minute documentary two nights ago on “Le Roman de l’euro,” produced in cooperation with Le Nouvel Observateur and presented by David Pujadas and the (very smart and excellent) economist Daniel Cohen. Here’s France 2’s summary

La monnaie unique a vu le jour il y a douze ans, redessinant à long terme les contours de l’économie européenne. Michel Rocard, François Fillon, Wolfgang Schauble ou encore José Luis Zapatero, racontent les coulisses «du Roman de l’Euro». Par ailleurs, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, ex-directeur du FMI, s’exprime au cours d’une interview exclusive.

DSK is good here. As for the documentary as a whole, IMO it could have been stronger in detailing the arguments for and against the single currency when the project was elaborated in the early ’90s—I do a more thorough job of it in my class on the EU—, but gets better as it moves into the post-2008 crisis years. For those interested in the topic, the documentary may be seen via YouTube here (en français, évidemment).

In the interests of fairness and balance, here’s a critique of the documentary by the gauchiste economist Jacques Sapir, who calls it “Le roman (noir) de l’euro.”

On the subject of the euro, the Financial Times had a four-part must read series this past week on “How the euro was saved,” authored by FT Brussels correspondent Peter Spiegel. In a short video introducing the series, Spiegel “recounts the moments in 2011 and 2012 when the euro came closest to collapse, and how politicians and bureaucrats battled over the solutions that eventually saved [it].”

In part 1 of the series—”‘It was the point where the eurozone could have exploded'”—”on the year [2011] that forever changed Europe, Peter Spiegel recreates the three bitter days in November when the eurozone crisis hit its lowest moment”

In part 2—”Inside Europe’s Plan Z”—Spiegel “reveals how a secret strategy was developed to contain the firestorm from a Greek exit.”

Part 3—”‘If the euro falls, Europe falls’”—”examines Angela Merkel’s deft political moves that led to the end of the crisis.” One may also add the role President Obama played at a critical moment—and not mentioned in the France 2 documentary—, that obliged Merkel to change her position.

In the conclusion of the series—”The eurozone won the war – now it must win the peace”—Speigel says that “[t]he acute phase of the crisis is over but underlying weaknesses remain.”

As I said, the series is well worth reading. FT non-subscribers will have to register to access it (the free registration option offering eight free articles a month).

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Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

This a smart, informative free access article I just read on the paywalled independent journalism website Beacon. The author, Lagos-based journalist Peter Tinti, says that

The goal of this article is to contextualize Boko Haram. It is an attempt to fill in the gap between journalistic accounts and existing academic literature in a way that is accessible to readers who wish to better understand Boko Haram, its historical basis, and the current socio-political environment in which it operates. A list of non-journalistic works, to which this article is heavily indebted, is included at the bottom of the page.

For those interested in learning more about Boko Haram—and I presume many people are these days—Peter Tinti’s article is well worth the read.

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The Indian election

Narendra Modi

Narendra Modi

[update below]

I don’t follow Indian politics too closely, though am, of course, aware that a general election is underway there, and which will most certainly result in the victory of the BJP and accession to power of its worrisome leader, Narendra Modi. If one wants to get up to speed on this—as I’m trying to do—I can recommend a couple of good articles that I’ve read over the past 24 hours (h/t Mira Kamdar and Roane Carey).

The first is by the well-known South Asia specialist William Dalrymple, “Narendra Modi: man of the masses,” in the New Statesman (May 12th). The lede: Modi, implicated in a massacre in 2002 while chief minister of Gujarat, is poised to become India’s next prime minister. Is he a dangerous neo-fascist, as some say, or the strongman reformer that this country of 1.2 billion people craves?

Modi may be a lifelong member of the fascistic RSS but that does not ipso facto make him personally a neo-fascist. To me, he sounds like an Indian Recep Tayyip Erdoğan—though with some blood on his hands—, which will be just fine for BJP supporters but not so fine for those who don’t support the BJP.

The other article is by Zahir Janmohamed, “Could a Hindu Extremist Become India’s Next Prime Minister?” in The Nation (May 13th). The lede: Narendra Modi’s role in the horrific 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat has never been properly investigated, but now a timely new study is raising the right questions.

Janmohamed, pour l’info, lives in Ahmedabad and is writing a book about the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots, and has previously worked as a foreign policy aide to Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) and as the advocacy director for Amnesty International. The “timely new study” Janmohamed reviews in his essay is The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra, by Times of India journalist Manoj Mitta. Money quote:

In Manoj Mitta’s new book The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra, published by Harper Collins India, Mitta argues that if there has been no real attempt to get to the truth of Modi’s actions during the riots, it’s because of the “cavalier” approach to justice. Through extensive documentation, Mitta shows that Modi might be on trial today, as opposed to campaigning for prime minister, if only he had been asked the right questions about his role in the riots.

If the US visa ban on Modi—which he was slapped with in 2005—is still in effect, one may assume that it will soon be lifted.

While I’m at it, for those who can get behind the NYRB’s paywall, Pankaj Mishra had a review, in the August 15 2002 issue, of Human Rights Watch’s report ‘We Have No Orders to Save You’: State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat (in which Narendra Modi is mentioned forty-eight times).

À suivre.

UPDATE: Vinod K. Jose, executive editor of The Caravan: A Journal of Politics & Culture, has a very good article, dated March 1 2012, entitled “The Emperor Uncrowned: The rise of Narendra Modi.”

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charb_charlie-hebdo-15012014

Charb, chroniqueur et dessinateur à Charlie Hebdo, et directeur de la publication, a eu une belle chronique dans le numéro du 15 janvier 2014, intitulé “Ras le bol du ping-pong sioniste, antisioniste!” Vu que Charlie Hebdo met très peu de son contenu sur son site web, j’allais transcrire la chronique entière, mais je vois qu’elle a bel et bien été publiée sur son site, le 19 février. Donc la voici. Ça vaut la peine d’être lu.

Par ailleurs, si on cherche une définition véridique du sionisme—ce qui est neutre et ne se prête pas à la polémique—, je recommende la tribune de l’écrivain israëlien A.B. Yehoshua, “Ce que «sioniste» veut dire,” publiée dans Libération le 31 mai 2013.

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diplomatie

Today is May 8th—the end of WWII in Europe (69th anniversary)—and a public holiday in France. France is the only country in the world that marks VE Day with a public holiday (on the 8th at least; Russia does it on the 9th). It’s ridiculous that France should have this holiday, as the country had already been entirely liberated by VE Day. Also, with May Day—la Fête du travail—this means that there are two public holidays on the same day two weeks running, which creates problems for people like me, who have to reschedule classes. President Giscard d’Estaing abolished the May 8th holiday but his successor, François Mitterrand, restored it illico when he took office. Hopefully some day it will be abolished again, replaced with some other, more significant date marking WWII, like De Gaulle’s Appeal of June 18th, or the liberation of Paris on August 25th.

À propos, this very good film by German director Volker Schlöndorff, which takes place entirely in Paris on August 24-25, 1944, came out a couple of months ago. It’s adapted from a 2011 play of the same title, set almost entirely in the Hotel Meurice on the Rue de Rivoli—the HQ of the German high command in the city—, of Raoul Nordling, the Swedish consul general in Paris, striving through the night to persuade the German military governor, General Dietrich von Choltitz, to disobey Hitler’s orders to destroy the city the next day (and everything was in place to do so, which would have indeed accomplished Hitler’s evil goal and killed at least 100,000 Parisians in the process). The performances of André Dussollier (Nordling) and Niels Arestrup (von Cholitz)—who were also the actors in the play—are tops. A tour de force. As it happens, the film distorts in some important respects the history of the what transpired between the two men in regard to the fate of Paris, mais peu importe. It’s fictionalized history, making for an engaging film. So thumbs up. Hollywood press reviews (tops) are here and here, French reviews (also tops) here, trailer is here.

One WWII-themed film seen of late that does not get the thumbs up is George Clooney’s ‘The Monuments Men’. I would normally run out to see a film on a subject such as this one’s but hesitated for weeks after it opened, as I had read that it played fast and loose with the historical record of a not insignificant episode in the final year of the war—the Allied effort to recover the vast trove of artwork stolen by the Nazis—, playing up the role of the Americans, but not compensating for distorting the historical record—no doubt for base commercial reasons, to appeal to American audiences—by making a riveting and/or engaging film. I have a friend—US based—who happens to be one of the world’s leading authorities on the film’s subject, so I invited him to write a guest review for AWAV. He replied to my offer saying that he hadn’t yet seen it, as he feared the worst. He wasn’t way off base in his premonitions. The cast may be all-star but the performances are uninspired and by-the-numbers. The film drags in stretches, indeed throughout. It’s a clunky, forgettable Hollywood grand spectacle, et avec toutes les ficelles. It doesn’t work at all. George Clooney’s heart is in the right place but he has yet to prove himself as a director. Reviews were not too good on either side of the Atlantic. So unless one really, truly wants to see this one, skip it.

UPDATE: Ian Buruma has a review of ‘Diplomacy’ in the NYR Blog (October 15th).

800x

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24 jours film affiche

J’ai vu ce film hier. Vu qu’un autre film sur Ilan Halimi et le “gang des barbares” est actuellement en production—’Tout, tout de suite’, réalisé par Richard Berry—, je vais attendre la sortie de celui-là avant de faire un billet de blog sur le film d’Alexandre Arcady (c-à-d, je vais écrire sur les deux ensemble). Entre-temps, voici une critique de spectateur (3-étoiles: pas mal) que j’ai publié aujourd’hui sur Allociné:

J’hésite normalement à voir les films d’Alexandre Arcady, réalisateur très “moyen de gamme” et qui, jusqu’à preuve du contraire, n’a jamais fait un chef d’œuvre, mais vu le sujet de celui-ci, je ne pouvais pas ne pas le voir. Le film est dur à regarder, voire insoutenable, mais nécessaire. Le crime antisémite le plus atroce en France depuis la 2ème guerre mondiale — qui a eu lieu au 21ème siècle et en bande organisée composée de membres de la jeune génération – justifie bien un traitement cinématographique et de ne pas tomber dans l’oubli du grand public. Hormis quelques scènes mélos, Arcady s’en sort assez bien. Ce qu’il montre sur l’enquête policière provient du livre de Ruth Halimi (la mère de la victime) – qui a collaboré avec lui dans le développement du film – donc le point de vue d’un acteur dans le drame. Mais quant à la manière dont Arcady dépeint les conditions de la séquestration d’Ilan Halimi et le comportement du psychopathe Youssouf Fofana et la bande de tarés sous son emprise, celle-ci est 100% juste. Les faits de l’affaire sont avérés. Il n’y a pas de quoi discuter là-dessus. Pour tout ce qui concerne le “gang des barbares” il n’y a pas une seule scène dans le film qui est exagérée.

À ce titre, je suis ulcéré par les commentaires de demi-étoile (‘nul’) des spectateurs Allociné (27% à ce jour), qui s’en prennent, dans leur grande majorité, au côtés prétendument “communautariste” et “clivant” du film, c-à-d, ils sont contrariés par un film dont les protagonistes sont juifs et qui traite d’un crime antisémite commis par une bande de racailles de toutes les couleurs mais menée par des blacks et des beurs. Mais vu que le film montre exactement ce qui s’est passé, où est le problème? Comment Arcady aurait-il pu le faire autrement? Peut-étre ces brillants spectateurs auraient préféré que le film ne soit pas fait du tout, qu’on n’en parle plus de cette histoire d’Ilan Halimi et le “gang de barbares”? Et pourquoi? Parce que l’histoire d’un feuj torturé à mort par des blacks et beurs – et parce que feuj – ça les emmerde. Parce que ces sympathiques spectateurs ont un problème avec les juifs. En effet, je suis sûr et certain qu’un certain nombre – sinon la majorité – de ces détracteurs du film ne l’ont pas vu, que leurs commentaires sont basés sur la bande-annonce, ou d’un commentaire sur le film par Dieudonné (dont ces détracteurs sont très certainement des affidés dans leur quasi-totalité). Voilà, la judéophobie est bel et bien vivante dans une frange de la société française.

MISE AU POINT: Il se peut que je sois allé un peu vite en besogne en laissant entendre que les détracteurs du film étaient dérangé par le côté feuj-beur-black. D’autant que je sache, un grand nombre de ces spectateurs d’Allociné – peut-être même l’écrasante majorité – sont des petits blancs: des Français BBR bien-de-chez-nous. On sait bien que Dieudonné a beaucoup de fans chez les “souchiens”, qui n’aiment pas trop les juifs – c’est une litote – mais qui fustigent tout “communautarisme”. Sauf le leur, évidemment, le communautarisme des Français…

Par ailleurs, j’ai des commentaires sur Dieudonné, qu’on peut lire ici et ici; aussi ici et ici.

Et voici une critique du film d’Alexandre Arcady par Philippe Bilger—le très connu et politiquement droitier magistrat à la retraite—dans son blog, Justice au Singulier.

Mise en page 1

ilan_halimi

Paris,_Jardin_Ilan-Halimi,_Plaque

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ida-pawel-pawlikowski

I note that this film, by Polish director Paweł Pawlikowski, has opened in the US and to stellar reviews. I saw it in February here in Paris—where the reviews were similarly rapturous. It’s a short, austere film—80-minutes in length—set in Poland in 1962, of an 18-year-old novitiate nun, Ida (first-time actress Agata Trzebuchowska), who is summoned to visit her aunt—the one surviving member of her family and whom she has never met—, Wanda (played by a well-known TV actress, Agata Kulesza), a hard, bitter woman in her 40s who is a magistrate and Communist party member, i.e the total opposite of Ida and in every respect. Wanda reveals to Ida the dark secret of her past, that she was a Jew whose parents had put her up for adoption during the war before seeking refuge with a Catholic family, and were murdered—and not by the Nazis. And Wanda then takes Ida on a journey to her family’s onetime home in the countryside, to find out how her parents were killed. And while she’s at it, she advises Ida to experience life in the outside world—with nightlife and men—before deciding if she really wants to live her life in a Catholic convent. It’s a haunting film, beautifully shot in black-and-white, and in which, in the words of one critic, there is not a frame “that isn’t composed with superb artistry and attention to detail.” The one mixed review of the film—in Variety, as it happens—opines that it will appeal only to “the most rarefied” of cinephiles. Well, it’s still playing at several Paris theaters three months after its opening and has been given the thumbs way up by Allociné spectateurs—over a thousand of whom have graded it—as much as it has by the critics. Trailer is here.

I’ve seen a few other Holocaust-themed films over the past several months. They are, very briefly:

Claude Lanzmann’s ‘Le Dernier des Injustes’ (The Last of the Unjust). I hesitated on going to see this one, on account of its 3½+ hour length—the arrogant Lanzmann clearly doesn’t have much consideration for the eventual time constraints and attention span of his audience—and because I have yet to see his 9-hour ‘Shoah’ in its entirety, which I figured I should do first (one of these days I’ll get the DVD, draw the curtains, turn off all lights, and watch it in one sitting). But after listening to the dithyrambic reaction to this one by a (very smart and insightful) friend and reading Mark Lilla’s review essay in the NYRB, I decided that I really should take a Sunday afternoon and catch it before it vanished from the Paris salles obscures. And despite briefly nodding off at a couple of points, I will say that it was well worth it. Those who have any interest in the subject and in seeing the film already know the story: Lanzmann took footage of the many hours of interviews he conducted in 1975 with Benjamin Murmelstein, the Chief Rabbi of Vienna after the Anschluss and who headed the Judenrat at the Theresienstadt concentration camp in the final years of the war, and made a documentary of the painful—and, as we learn, misunderstood—history of Jewish collaboration with the Nazis in the implementation of the Final Solution. Murmelstein was hated by Holocaust survivors—and would have likely been arrested, if not possibly killed beforehand, had he ever set foot in Israel—and lived out his life in Rome in relative obscurity. Lanzmann was ill-disposed, to put it mildly, toward Murmelstein when he began the interviews but, as Murmelstein told his side of the story, Lanzmann’s attitude evolved, and he finally embraced him in the end. Murmelstein, who was neither an angel nor a devil, presented himself—convincingly—as a man put in an impossible position who tried to do the best he could for his fellow Jews at Theresienstadt given the circumstances. The documentary—which refutes Hannah Arendt’s thesis (and particularly her view of Eichmann, with whom Murmelstein had extensive dealings)—is a tour de force. Trailer is here.

le dernier des injustes

‘The German Doctor’ (titre en France: Le Médecin de famille). This is an Argentinian film set in 1960, of a couple with three children who travel to Barlioche, on the edge of the Andes in northern Patagonia, to take over a lakeside hotel-lodge. Beautiful area. And far away from everything. There is a German community in town, with its own school and all—and where Nazism is still in vogue. On the way to Bariloche the family crosses paths with a man who presents himself as a doctor of German origin and also happens to be heading in precisely their direction. The family’s 12-year-old daughter, named Lilith, is fascinated by the mysterious doctor—who gives her a doll that she names Wakolda (thus the Argentinian title of the film, taken in turn from director Lucía Puenzo’s novel on which it is based)—and as Lilith is short for her age, the doctor, who takes up residence in the lodge, says he has a special treatment for her. And so he treats her. The doctor turns out to be Josef Mengele, who is continuing to perform his evil experiments on guinea pig humans. The father gets suspicious and, as it happens, the Mossad is hot on Mengele’s heels, so he hightails it out of the area in the nick of time—with the aid of the extensive Nazi network in the area (and in southern South America more generally)—, though not before wreaking some havoc. The film is engrossing, well-done, well-acted, and all but I had mixed feelings about it, mainly as Mengele gets away in the end and that was that. So what was the point in even making the movie? French critics mostly liked it (and with Allociné spectateurs liking it even more). Trailer is here.

WAKOLDA

‘Victor Young Perez’. This one’s a biopic, directed by Jacques Ouaniche, of the Tunisian Jewish boxer Victor “Young” Perez, born in 1911 in a quartier populaire of Tunis, who was brought to France in the 1920, went on to win the French flyweight championship in 1930 and then the world flyweight crown the following year. He boxed through the decade, becoming a celebrity in Paris high society circles—and taking up for a time with the movie star Mireille Balin—, but who went into a tailspin and, remaining in Paris during the Occupation, was deported in 1943 to the AuschwitzIII-Monowitz concentration camp—where Nazi guards amused themselves by staging boxing matches between him, now emaciated, and the strongest among them—, before he was killed during the death march in 1945. A tragic story but an interesting one, and an a priori good subject for a biopic. But the film doesn’t work. It’s by-the-biopic numbers and with big gaps in the chronological narrative. And there are casting errors, of the actress who plays Mireille Balin—the Italian Isabella Orsini, who was likely chosen for the role because she’s beautiful tout court—and, above all, Brahim Asloum, who plays Victor “Young” Perez. Asloum was a professional boxer himself, winning the light flyweight gold medal for France at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and, in 2007, the WBA light flyweight crown. He’s okay as an actor but is 100% Algerian in physical appearance. He looks nothing like a Jew (even a Sephardic one), so is not entirely credible in the role. Too bad. French reviews were mixed. Trailer is here.

victor_young_perez

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#EUdebate2014

EUdebate2014

The first ever European presidential debate—for the presidency of the European Commission—was held last Monday, at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and which I just watched via the debate’s website. There are five candidates—designated by their respective Europarties or European Parliament political groups—in the running to succeed José Manuel Barroso, whose term ends on October 31st: Jean-Claude Juncker (from Luxembourg) of the European People’s Party (moderate right), Martin Schulz (German)—the current president of the European Parliament—of the Party of European Socialists, Guy Verhofstadt (Belgian) of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (centrist), Ska Keller (German) of the European Green Party, and Alexis Tsipras (leader of the Greek Syriza) of the European United Left. The two right-wing Eurosceptic groups—one of which includes the British Tories—are not running candidates (for more on the candidates, go to the useful website Debating Europe). The new President of the Commission will be nominated by the European Council—by consensus or in a qualified majority vote according to the (overly complex) formula contained in the Treaty of Nice—and ratified (or rejected) by a majority vote in the European Parliament. One more reason underscoring the importance of the upcoming elections for the latter (more on which in a later post).

Four of the five candidates were present for the debate—Tsipras declined the invitation for some reason—, which went for 90 minutes, was held in English, broadcast on Euronews, and where the candidates answered questions from the moderators—relaying some posed via Twitter—or members of the audience. The debate was divided into three half-hour parts, on Europe’s economy—which included questions on youth unemployment, austerity, tax havens, eurobonds, the future of the euro, and the relationship of the Commission with the European Council—, Euroscepticism—with questions on immigration and migration, digital privacy, and trust in Europe’s institutions—, and foreign policy—with Ukraine and the USA (NSA surveillance and the TTIP free trade negotiations) the main subjects of interest. There was a fair dose of langue de bois at the beginning but with the candidates loosening up as the debate progressed. And parts were quite interesting, particularly the discussion of eurobonds and immigration. The candidates had one minute each to answer the questions, which was not nearly enough but was maybe inevitable given that there were four of them (and they started to go over their allotted time as they went along). I like Martin Schulz—he’s been my man for the job—, who was good enough (albeit a little cautious at points), but the one who really impressed was Guy Verhofstadt. And an audience poll afterward designated him the winner of the debate running away, with 53.4% of the vote; Schulz was a distant second at 19.4%, Ska Keller at 18%, and Jean-Claude Juncker a paltry 9.2%. Juncker was a clunker, no doubt playing it safe, as he is clearly the front-runner; also, his heart may not really be in it, as he would apparently prefer to be the next President of the European Council—a far more laid back job than President of the Commission—, succeeding the diminutive Herman Van Rompuy. I remember Juncker being much better in a televised round-table during the 2005 French referendum campaign on the (failed) European Constitutional Treaty.

The debate may be watched on YouTube here. A 23-minute instant analysis of the debate, with Libération’s Brussels correspondent Jean Quatremer and Europolitics editor-in-chief Christophe Garach, may be seen here (with English voice-over) or here (en français). A second debate will be held on May 15th in Brussels (and presumably in French).

Guy Verhofstadt, Martin Schulz, Ska Keller, Jean-Claude Juncker

Guy Verhofstadt, Martin Schulz, Ska Keller, Jean-Claude Juncker

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Algeria in flux

souvenir dalger annees 70

For those interested in Algeria, Francis Ghilès, who has been reporting from and writing on North Africa for several decades, has a great essay of this title (dated April 16th) in OpenDemocracy. The lede: “Algeria’s circles of power and their relationship to a complex society and history are hard to grasp. Francis Ghilès describes his own route to understanding the country in the post-independence era, when the heavy legacy of the past mixed with the confident idealism of the present.” Ghilès recounts personal stories from the 1970s and ’80s, and which resonated with me, as I know that period of Algerian history rather well, having lived in Algiers (late ’80s-early ’90s) and written a doctoral thesis on the country’s post-independence politics. Lots of good anecdotes and information in Ghilès’s piece. I particularly like this passage

The “third worldism” of the 1960s and 1970s seems lost in time today – hence the difficulty of recreating the atmosphere of the Algiers I got to know after 1975. European left-wing intellectuals projected their ideals onto the seemingly virgin lands of the newly independent, less developed nations – foremost among them (if not alone) China, Cuba and Algeria. A few decades earlier, the European left’s predecessors had celebrated colonial expeditions in the name of universalism and as a prerequisite to the third-world’s own development…

After 1962, Algeria enjoyed immense prestige – second only to Vietnam in the third-worldist historiography of sacrifice – owing to the ability of its poorly armed and ill-trained guerrillas to frustrate one of the world’s major military powers. It also played a leading role in calling for a new world economic order. Thousands of European revolutionaries flocked to the country, their own anti-colonial attitudes making them feel entitled to judge and even to formulate Algeria’s national policy. When I met some of these people in Algeria in 1975-78, they quickly struck me as half-tragic, half-absurd – and at times half-farcical. Their hosts nicknamed them pieds rouge – a cruel label indeed, since the pieds noirs designated former French settlers in Algeria who had been the most steadfast defenders of colonial rule.

One could say much the same—and then some—about a lot of the Western solidarity activists in the West Bank-Gaza (the subject of a future post). The story about the journalist Malika Abdelaziz’s relationship with Eldridge Cleaver was new to me (on the Black Panthers’s Algeria period, see my blog post from last June). I never had the opportunity to meet Mme Abdelaziz but read just about every article she published in Algérie-Actualité from the late ’70s to the early ’90s. She was one of Algeria’s best journalists of that time, hands down (and there were quite a few good ones back then).

BTW, I had intended to write an instant analysis of Algeria’s presidential election farce of two weeks ago but didn’t get around to it. Or, rather, I couldn’t bring myself to. I do have something to say about it, of what Abdelaziz Bouteflika continuing on as president—despite his physical and mental incapacity—tells us about the functioning of power in Algeria. I’ll write about it at some point.

Algiers, 1975 (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1975 (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1976 (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1976 (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1970s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1970s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1970s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1970s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1980s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

Algiers, 1980s (h/t Alger à une certaine époque)

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