Archive for June, 2015

Greece and the Grexit


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I’ve been riveted to the Greece-Eurozone/IMF psychodrama, which is to say I’ve been reading more about it than any other single news story these past few days (and the past week has been pretty intense news-wise). My head is spinning at this point; I almost don’t know what to think; or, to put it another way, my attitude shifts based on the last good analysis I read (and I will readily admit to this). As I’m not a specialist of Greece and follow events and politics in that country episodically, not daily or weekly, I am therefore dependent on the analyses and commentaries of persons who are specialists, follow Greece as part of their jobs, and/or whose perspectives I trust. And I read/know highly smart, well-informed persons on both sides of the cleavage on the question, i.e. those who have been pointing the finger at Alexis Tsipras and his Syriza government as the main culprits in the current mess—and which looks to be headed toward a debacle of potentially catastrophic consequences, i.e. a Grexit—and then those for whom the guilty party is the European Commission-ECB-IMF Troika, the Eurogroup, and the entire German-imposed austerity of the past six years.

In the first, anti-Syriza group are three excellent Greek political scientists whose commentaries I see almost daily on social media: Stathis N. Kalyvas, the Arnold Wolfers Professor of Political Science at Yale University, my go-to man on anything having to do with Greece, who’s a public intellectual there, and is presently in Athens (check out his latest book, just out last month: Modern Greece: What Everyone Needs to Know); Michalis Moutselos, who’s finishing a doctoral thesis at Princeton (his latest social media comment is here); and Takis Pappas of the University of Macedonia in Thessaloniki, and presently visiting professor at the University of Freiburg (see his latest post here, on “10 harsh realities for Greece”). To this trio may be added historian Nicolas Bloudanis (e.g. see his piece from March on how, under Syriza, Greece is once again oscillating “between democracy and an authoritarian regime.”).

Michalis linked today to this “essential guide into the #Greferendum and the current state of affairs regarding #Grexit,” by Thessaloniki-based lawyer Zen K. and with this comment

A nice overview, in English, of some of the legal and economic issues behind the Referendum for those who have not followed the details as closely. Again, this has eventually become a referendum on the position of the country in the Eurozone if not the European Union, so a lot of these matters do not weigh as much on what people are voting for/against (once more, we vote YES unequivocally!). But it does demonstrate some of the legal derailments the government was willing to allow and, again, are not good omens, if Greece finds itself isolated.

Tsipras’s hastily called referendum—a fuite en avant if there ever was one—has, for the record, likewise been critiqued by University of Poitiers law professor Pascal Mbongo in a post, “Le référendum grec: un objet juridique non-identifié,” on his website Libertés & Droits Fondamentaux. Another Greek commentator, whose existence I just learned of the other day, is C. J. Polychroniou, a research associate and policy fellow at the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, who had a worthy tribune in Al Jazeera English two days ago on how the “Greek referendum is a Machiavellian plot.” The lede: “Alexis Tsipras gambles on Greece’s future with a sham referendum.” See as well Polychroniou’s contribution in today’s NYT’s Room for Debate, in which he asserts that “Greece can’t afford to leave the euro, though it should.”

A high-profile critic (in the French media) of Tsipras and his Syriza comrades is Jean Quatremer, Libération’s Brussels correspondent, who’s written extensively on Greece over the past several years and has been going to town on it this past week (e.g. his piece of last Friday, “Aux racines de la crise grecque.” Every time I read JQ’s analyses, I say “yep, he’s right” (ouais, il a raison). Here’s Quatremer’s latest commentary/lament, posted on his Facebook page late last night

Petit coup de fatigue devant l’incompréhension d’une fraction de l’opinion de gauche devant ce qui se passe en Grèce. Le problème actuel de ce pays, ce n’est pas la dette vis-à-vis des Européens (moratoire jusqu’en 2023), mais celle vis-à-vis du FMI où siègent des pays infiniment plus pauvres que la Grèce. Et les exigences des créanciers, ce n’est pas pour punir la Grèce, mais simplement pour équilibrer ses comptes, réformer son Etat afin qu’il collecte l’impôt, remettre sur pieds son économie. Personne ne dit quelle serait la solution: l’annulation de la dette des Européens (celle vis-à-vis du FMI n’est pas négociable) ne réglerait aucun des problèmes grecs (et j’y suis favorable, il faut payer pour notre erreur de l’avoir admise dans la zone euro). Quelqu’un est-il favorable à ce que les citoyens européens payent les dépenses grecques pour l’éternité? Si oui, il faut le dire au lieu de s’indigner vainement.

Voilà. But then there are the denunciations of the Troika, Eurogroup, Angela Merkel/Wolfgang Schäuble et al, which are more numerous on my various news feeds and whose arguments are equally convincing. First, the usual Nobel Prize-winning economist suspects, i.e. Paul Krugman (latest salvo here) and Joseph Stiglitz (here). Guillaume Duval, editor-in-chief of the excellent monthly Alternatives Économiques—of which there is no equivalent in English: a slick, glossy magazine on economics from a progressive/Keynesian perspective aimed at an educated but non-specialist readership; economics journalism at its best—has been shredding Greece’s European creditors almost daily on the AlterEco website (e.g. here) and his Facebook page (where he has kindly taken the time to respond extensively to my questions or critiques of his positions). My dear friend Alice Sindzingre—research scholar at the CNRS in Paris, visiting lecturer and research associate in the economics department at SOAS, specialist of African political economy, who’s worked at the World Bank, and knows the international financial institutions (IMF et al) well—has been riveted to the Greek psychodrama drama more than I—and is much smarter about it than I will ever be—and emphatically delivered to me a week ago, and in convincing manner, her virulent indictment of the Troika/Eurogroup/et al and defense of the Greek position. I could hardly disagree.

One source of analysis on Greece that Alice has highly recommended is Romaric Godin, the assistant editor-in-chief of the La Tribune, one of the Paris dailies (mainstream) on the economy and business. Godin is indeed quite good on the issue, as I have noted, e.g. see his piece from three days ago, “Grèce: la victoire à la Pyrrhus de Wolfgang Schäuble.” My blogging confrère Arthur Goldhammer, always measured in his analyses and critiques—and not too sympathetic toward Jean-Claude Juncker & Co—weighed in on the Greek crisis on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog on Sunday. Two commentaries, in particular, merit mention. One is by Jeffrey Sachs, writing in Project Syndicate exactly two weeks ago, on “The endgame in Greece.” This one is particularly unsparing toward the Troika et al and absolutely worth the read. The other is by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, international business editor of the Telegraph and well-known critic of the single currency, who had a severe commentary eleven days ago, in which he asserted that the “Greek debt crisis is the Iraq War of finance.” No less. Money quote

Personally, I am a Burkean conservative with free market views. Ideologically, Syriza is not my cup of tea. Yet we Burkeans do like democracy – and we don’t care for monetary juntas – even if it leads to the election of a radical-Left government. As it happens, Edmund Burke would have found the plans presented to the Eurogroup last night by finance minister Yanis Varoufakis to be rational, reasonable, fair, and proportionate.

Comme quoi, the Greece vs. Troika et al issue does not cleave along left-right lines.

A non polemical commentary has been offered by the well-known French economist Elie Cohen—one of my longtime references—on the excellent website Telos, “Leçons grecques pour l’Europe.” And probably the best proposal for a satisfactory way out of the Greek crisis has come from Dominique Strauss-Kahn, unveiled, as it were, on his Twitter account on Saturday, “Greece: On learning from one’s mistakes #Greece #EU.” Smart and reasonable man he is, DSK, at least when it comes to economics. Too bad he’s made so many mistakes in his own life.

UPDATE: Martin Wolf’s column in the June 30th FT, “The difficult choices facing the Greeks,” gets it exactly right IMO. The lede: “If I were a [Greek] voter, I would bemoan my government’s leftism and the eurozone’s self-righteousness.”

2nd UPDATE: Jürgen Habermas, in a tribune in Süddeutsche Zeitung dated June 22nd—and translated by Social Europe—explains “Why Angela Merkel is wrong on Greece.”

3rd UPDATE: Gerassimos Moschonas, who teaches political science at Panteion University in Athens, has a most interesting and informative piece in Telos, dated May 22nd, “Syriza et l’UE après la première longue bataille: bilan des négociations.” Also in Telos (June 30th) is a response by Charles Wyplosz to Elie Cohen’s piece linked to above, “Quelle politique économique pour la Grèce?

4th UPDATE: Takis Pappas has a commentary in OpenDemocracy (July 2nd) on “What is at stake in the Greek referendum?,” in which, entre autres, he critiques Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. The lede: “[If the ‘no’ wins, h]ow will Greece be able to fix its economy in a desert landscape, with no appetite for reforms, without helpful partners and with a crippled democracy?”

5th UPDATE: Michalis Moutselos has posted this pertinent comment (July 2nd) on his Facebook page

Several friends, mostly from abroad, have written to me in good faith about my steadfast support of the YES in the referendum, wondering whether I do not see the elephant in the room: “But don’t you agree that austerity is pointless, self-defeating and harmful to Europe as a whole? Don’t you agree that European policy has been captured by powerful pro-austerity interests and that the struggles of the Greek government deserve our understanding, if not solidarity”?

Here is a first way to answer to this question. For anyone following this wall somewhat closely, it should be clear that my distaste for SYRIZA (and their right-wing partners ANEL) was never purely economic. These two are parties that would never budge before calling European partners and institutional lenders gangsters, usurers, blackmailers and perpetrators of a social genocide. These are parties that would undig the most self-victimizing, national-populist themes of Greek political history (the cult of NO, war reparations, civil war themes) and tie them to metaphors regarding the negotiations. These are also parties that would say no to everything in terms of reforms of the Greek state, reforms that did not have anything to do with fiscal consolidation, regardless of whether they were included in the Memorandums. Their supposed, newfound “reformism” during negotiations that was meant to make up for their demands for debt reduction was laughable for anyone who followed their domestic campaigns. In sum, these are, basically, parties targeting the lowest, reactionary instincts of frightened and angry mobs, not the grievances of citizens being unjustly underrepresented or over-punished. No Nobel-prize winning economist made the effort to dig into these aspects of the SYRIZA-ANEL phenomenon, nor did many intelligent leftists (many still don’t care to see). So now that these two parties seem to have completed their strategy of isolationism; now that even those friendly to them are wondering why they abandoned the negotiatons two days before the closeing of banks without really realizing there was no spirit of cooperation with Europe to begin with; the debate becomes not just about whether austerity measures were good or bad, but also whether we want these people running the country outside the European fora, uncheckered by the rules and norms of Europe. This has now, evidently, become more existential than whether 3-4% primary surplus per year was a self-defeating strategy or not.

And this from Takis Pappas, posted on his FB page

My reason for voting “Yes”:

Here is a Greek story. It begins in Anatolia with my grandparents, who came to Greece as refugees after the forced exchange of populations – for them it was “The Disaster” – in the early 1920s. They became merchants and relatively prosperous Greek citizens. It continues with my parents, who worked their way in the private sector both in times of political tumult and in peace; politically moderate and wise folks as they were, they taught me to be a good citizen and productive member in society. The story is now at a chapter where I have long ago moved residence from Greece to somewhere near the heart of Europe, happily seeing my own children to develop as true European citizens and proud heirs of a mixture of cultures. This has been a century-long, tortuous but also dignified journey from the Ottoman east to the enlightened West. And I don’t want to see it reversed by a “leftist riffraff” in partnership with ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis. To have a happy ending, this story demands that I vote “yes”.

More opinions, mostly supporting the “No”, in the link below.

The link is “Greferendum: an anthology,” by Alex Sakalis, associate editor of OpenDemocracy. The lede: “Some of our best contributors on the Greek crisis give their thoughts on how they would vote in Sunday’s referendum.”

6th UPDATE: Ana Swanson of WaPo’s Wonkblog has a meritorious report (July 1st) on “The forgotten origins of Greece’s crisis [that] will make you think twice about who’s to blame.” Also on Wonkblog is a piece (July 3rd) by WaPo policy editor Zachary A. Goldfarb, “18 key facts about Greece that will leave you totally up to date about a huge crisis,” in which he links to “an excellent primer” by University of Chicago business school professor Anil Kashyap.

7th UPDATE: Check out the commentary (July 3rd) by The New Yorker’s John Cassidy, “Greece’s debt burden: The truth finally emerges.”

8th UPDATE: Le Monde’s economy supplement (June 30th issue) has a “retour sur les trente-cinq années qui ont conduit l’Europe et la Grèce au bord de la rupture.” The full text of the article is in the comments thread below.

9th UPDATE: Spiegel Online International has a most interesting analysis (July 3rd), “Angela’s ashes: How Merkel failed Greece and Europe.” The lede: “Angela Merkel relishes her reputation as queen of Europe. But she hasn’t learned how to use her power, instead allowing a bad situation to heat up to the boiling point. Her inability to take unpopular stances badly exacerbated the Greek crisis.”

10th UPDATE: Oxford University econ prof Simon Wren-Lewis skewers “The ideologues of the Eurozone,” i.e. the Troika and other austerians, in a post on his Mainly Macro blog (July 3rd; reblogged by Social Europe). In the post he links to an analysis (July 2nd) by economist Angel Ubide, “A political and intellectual proxy war over Greece,” on the blog of the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

11th UPDATE: Thomas Piketty gives his view of the Greek crisis (“ceux qui cherchent le Grexit ‘sont de dangereux apprentis-sorciers'”) in a must-watch 25-minute video interview (July 2nd) with Le Monde’s Arnaud Leparmentier.

12th UPDATE: Economics blogger Steve Randy Waldman, who’s billed as a libertarian, has a detailed, well-worth-the-read analysis (July 3rd) of the Greek predicament on his Interfluidity blog.

13th UPDATE: Here’s Jeffrey Sachs in Project Syndicate again (July 3rd), offering “A way out for Greece,” involving four steps and after the Greek people vote ‘No’ in the Greferendum (as Sachs says they should).

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Obama’s great week


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The world—or least Europe and MENA—looks like it’s going to hell in a hand basket these past few days, with the terrorist massacres in Sousse, Kuwait, Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, Kobanî, and other places we’ve heard less about. And then there’s the Greek-Eurozone crisis, which looks to be headed toward a debacle of proportions I can’t begin to imagine—and for which both parties bear their share of responsibility (though today at least, I think the Greek government and its not-ready-for-prime-time prime minister are more at fault). But the news from the US has been good, if not excellent, with the SCOTUS rulings on King v. Burwell—which has all but confirmed the permanence of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare haters out there: it’s game over)—and Obergefell v. Hodges, on gay marriage, and the post-Charleston change in GOP attitudes toward the Confederate flag. And then there was President Obama’s eulogy in Charleston yesterday in honor of Clementa Pinckney. Obama has delivered some great speeches over the years but this one may well be his greatest (if one has not seen it—and it should be seen and heard in full—watch here). WaPo’s Chris Cillizza is saying that “this was the best week of Obama’s presidency.” And Slate’s John Dickerson calls it “the remarkable week that roused the president from dejection and inspired a stirring call to action.” I’m feeling better about Obama than I have in a long time, and, judging from what I’ve been seeing by friends and others on social media, many other lefties feel likewise.

As for the reactions from the right, bof. Certains font la gueule, d’autres pètent les plombs. C’est normal. I like this commentary by TYT Network host Cenk Uygur, on GOP candidates and their hypocritical rants against the Supreme Court. Drôle.

UPDATE: Robert Reich has this commentary on his Facebook page

Overall, it’s been a good week for America — and for President Obama. Confederate flags were taken down; the Supreme Court saved the Affordable Care Act and equal marriage rights; Obama’s eulogy for the Rev. Clementa Pinckney was one of the most moving and powerful addresses he’s given (including his singing of “Amazing Grace” at the end, which I’ve posted below).

I haven’t agreed with Barack Obama on everything he’s done. I don’t like his record on civil liberties. He’s been far too close to Wall Street, and demanded too little from the banks in return for bailing them out and did too little for homeowners. I profoundly disagree with the Trans Pacific Partnership.

But Barack Obama has had some extraordinary successes – not just the Affordable Care Act (which is working even better than I expected it would) but also in using every available means to achieve racial justice, immigration reform, to protect voting rights, fight climate change, and beat back Republican threats. Rather than stooping to the nasty belligerence of the right, he has elevated our national deliberations. When I think back on the avid determination of Republicans to wreck his presidency from the very beginning – as well as the economic free-fall he inherited from George W. Bush and the chaos Bush’s foreign policy had generated in the Middle East – I’m even more impressed by his steadiness and steadfastness.

He still has a year and a half to go, but my sense is he’ll go down in history books as one of America’s greatest presidents. What do you think?

I think Monsieur Reich is entirely correct, needless to say.

2nd UPDATE: On the Republicans and their reaction to events of the past week, Politico has a piece by reporters Glenn Thrush and Kyle Cheney on “The Grand Old Party’s future shock.” The lede: “Friday’s Supreme Court ruling shows Republicans fumbling for answers in an America changing faster than they are.”

3rd UPDATE: James Fallows has a commentary in The Atlantic on “Obama’s grace,” in which he says that “The president deliver[ed] his single most accomplished rhetorical performance, and it’s one you should watch rather than read.” And Politico senior White House reporter Edward-Isaac Dovere has a piece on how “After [a] momentous week, Obama’s presidency is reborn.” The lede: “He sang. He wept. He cheered. And many say they finally saw the man who inspired them in ‘08.”

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Dylann Roof (Photo via lastrhodesian.com)

Dylann Roof (Photo via lastrhodesian.com)

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Did you, dear reader, see Jon Stewart’s monologue—sans jokes—last Thursday on the Charleston massacre? If you didn’t, watch and/or read it here now. It’s brilliant, possibly Stewart’s best ever.

Along with many others, Stewart emphasizes that it was a terrorist attack. Obviously. Now I happen to sympathize with the sensible proposal of this conservative pundit—a well-known commentator, and with specialized knowledge on matters having to do with Islam and Muslims—who argues that the “terrorism” label has become so imprecise that it best be dropped altogether. In other words, let’s eliminate the term from our vocabulary. Right, but still. If Dylann Roof had been named Mohammed Sath and shot up a synagogue—or a Burger King, or anything—the entire media and every last politician of both the major parties would be calling him a terrorist. There would be no disagreement on this whatever. So all those who are loudly insisting that the Charleston massacre was an act of terrorism are correct to do so.

On the subject, the NYT’s Charles Blow had a column yesterday on Dylann Roof as “a millennial race terrorist.” And in the current NYT Magazine is a reflection by writer Brit Bennett, who, looking back in history, observes that “White terrorism is as old as America.” Her conclusion

In America’s contemporary imagination, terrorism is foreign and brown. Those terrorists do not have complex motivations. We do not urge one another to reserve judgment until we search through their Facebook histories or interview their friends. We do not trot out psychologists to analyze their mental states. We know immediately why they kill. But a white terrorist is an enigma. A white terrorist has no history, no context, no origin. He is forever unknowable. His very existence is unspeakable. We see him, but we pretend we cannot. He is a ghost floating in the night.

Very good commentary, though Bennett is not totally correct on the “not trot[ting] out [of] psychologists to analyze [the] mental states [of foreign or brown terrorists],” at least not in France. In reading about Dylann Roof I am reminded of Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old Franco-Algerian terrorist who murdered seven people—Jewish children and off-duty soldiers—in Toulouse and Montauban in March 2012. In committing his acts Merah was driven by a jihadist ideology but was clearly a psychopath in addition. As the Paris-based Tunisian psychoanalyst Fethi Benslama thus wrote at the time

La courte trajectoire de sa vie montre qu’il s‘agit de ce qu’on appelait auparavant «un psychopathe», c’est-à-dire une personne qui a de puissantes pulsions anti-sociales, dont il va recycler le penchant criminel dans des idéologies salvatrices folles, idéologies qui servent de niche à ce genre de personnes, afin de les capter et de les utiliser.

For my posts on Mohamed Merah, go here, here, and here.

Dylann Roof is, as was Mohamed Merah, clearly a psychopath but is also, rather clearly, driven by an ideology and to the same degree as was Merah. On Roof’s ideology of white supremacy, the “Reflections on the murders in Charleston, South Carolina” by U Mass-Amherst emeritus professor Julius Lester, posted on his Facebook page, are worth the read.

Among other things, Lester asks Republican politicians and others seeking to change the subject to stop talking about this being a “time for healing.” No, this is no time for “healing” but rather for a national reckoning—and particularly on the American right—of America’s history and present reality of racism, and of the consequences of this. And one of the consequences of America’s persistent racial question is the strength of the increasingly far right-wing Republican party, which, as Paul Krugman reminded us in his column yesterday, is largely due to the defection of white Southerners from the Democrats, with the civil rights movement and enfranchisement of the South’s black population.

À propos, we have learned over the past few days (e.g. here and here) that Dylann Roof drew particular inspiration from the Council of Conservative Citizens (CofCC; founded in the 1950s as the White Citizens’ Council). Now the CofCC may be considered a fringe hate group in Washington and by the national media but it is not seen as such by the Republican party in the South, as I learned in my brief encounter with the CofCC delegation at the French Front National’s annual festival some seventeen years ago (see here; scroll down after the photo of Jean-Marie Le Pen shaking hands with Ronald Reagan). It is a secret de Polichinelle that the GOP in the deep South maintains an informal relationship with the white supremacist, Jim Crow-nostalgic group with which Dylann Roof identified.

The CofCC’s presence at the FN’s festival was noteworthy, reminding one that far right groups—ultra-nationalist by definition—do have relationships with kindred groups in other countries. On this, Morris Dees and J. Richard Cohen, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, have an op-ed in the NYT on “White supremacists without borders.”

On white supremacists, a film opened here in France two weeks ago, Un Français (English title: French Blood), whose subject is neo-Nazi skinheads. It’s the first-ever cinematic treatment of this species of humanity in France, indeed of the extreme right (see Raphaëlle Bacqué’s full-page article on the film in the June 10th Le Monde). I hesitated on seeing it—the trailer put me off—but, with the Charleston massacre, decided that it was sufficiently topical, so checked it out this past weekend at a local theater. The opening scene was akin to that of the 2011 German film ‘Combat Girls’, which was about neo-Nazi skinheads in that country (go here and scroll down): graphically depicting gratuitous violence inflicted by these dregs of society on dark-skinned or leftist-looking people minding their own business. The violence of the opening scenes in the two films was such that I couldn’t even watch, wondering why I had even come to see the film in the first place—like, who needs this?—but then both settled into a more serious story. I’ll let Screen Daily’s fine critic Lisa Nesselson, whose review was just posted (and is the only one I’ve seen in English), describe the pic

It’s hard staying true to your youthful convictions when they would have fit well in Nazi Germany but it’s the mid-1980s-and-after in France where Marco Lopez (the excellent Alban Lenoir) is a ferocious young skinhead from the lower class Paris suburbs who carries a meat cleaver and is happy to wield it if anybody objects to him and his buddies stomping on the ‘faggots’, ‘Arab scum’ and ‘filthy Negroes’ they see as polluting the pure and proud meant-to-be-white landscape of their beloved France.

As a rare attempt to address an enduring strain of xenophobic thought in French society (and that, as hate-crime headlines sadly show, is by no means limited to France) this compact, unsettling tale deserves to be seen beyond local borders. Drawing respectable admissions on 11 screens in Paris proper and 50 additional screens throughout France since its June 10th release, French Blood managed to land the second spot in terms of ticket buyers per print for new releases on opening day — with Jurassic World in first place.

In his second feature, writer-director Diastème (who, as a film critic, director, screenwriter and playwright uses only one name) follows Marco — a fictional character drawn from the director’s own birthplace and youthful environment — from 1985-2013. It’s a convincing portrait of blind ignorance and lethal anger as Marco gradually evolves toward a more reasonable approach to living among others in a multi-cultural society. The melancholy truth that gives the film its power is that initially reprehensible Marco manages to become an infinitely better person but, in real life, the Extreme Right thinking he embraced in his twenties hasn’t dimmed and may have grown stronger for many of its French followers.

The trio of male friends at the heart of Mathieu Kassovitz’s Hate (La Haine) circa 1995 were an Arab, a Jew and a black guy. They wouldn’t have wanted to cross paths with Marco and his three brawling buddies as portrayed in the opening reels here. Fights are convincing and miles removed from Fast and Furious-style silliness in that punches hurt, knives slice and bullets cripple. Diastème captures a restless, angry, violent vibe.

The film’s most shocking episode — a black street sweeper being forced to drink drain cleaner — was inspired by an authentic crime against a man from the formerly French island of Mauritius. Although the film is a work of fiction, it follows a timeline inspired by real events particularly within Jean-Marie Le Pen’s extreme right wing party the Front National. Diastème knows his subject — he hails from the same suburb where the first skinheads in France were born and he sang in a choir whose benefactors included fundamentalist Catholics. He first reported on the Front National as a young journalist in 1990.

Although he has certainly been hit on the head more than once, as Marco ages, he starts to question his own actions. In a series of ellipses marked by changing facial hair and authentic TV news snippets, Marco grows into leading an increasingly honest life of meagre satisfactions. Marco doesn’t have one shining moment of realisation that his behaviour is horrific but, rather, gradually comes to feel that it is neither right nor good to beat up — let alone kill — people because they’re “different.” When a panic attack leads him to a pharmacy where the pharmacist (Patrick Pineau) goes beyond the call of duty, Marco starts to think for himself in tiny but lasting increments.

Come 1998, Marco is living in Guadeloupe. He used to beat up dark-skinned people for sport but now has no problem serving them alcohol in the beachfront bar where he works. But his wife, who can pass for sleekly refined when she’s sober, scoffs at the about-to-triumph soccer World Cup team whose talented players are mostly of African and North African heritage and therefore unworthy to represent France whatever their athletic excellence.

Following another ellipse it seems unlikely Marco will be able to pass on what he has learned about acceptance and tolerance to his daughter since he isn’t permitted to see her. Ironically, that’s because he no longer shares his ex-wife’s hard core racist views. Adding to his loneliness, Marco’s former skinhead buddies don’t fare very well with passing time.

The film garnered attention before its release with media reports that certain exhibitors, spooked that hooligans might trash their theatres, cancelled sneak previews. If there’s any truth to this, now that the film is out it’s hard to fathom what today’s neo-Nazis might object to. If they’re misguided enough to think the Le Pen family has the right idea, those ideas are presented in an accurate context.

Nesselson’s review is comprehensive and gets it right, though she appears to rate the film higher than I do. Not that I didn’t like it—it’s pretty good overall—but I had a couple of issues, e.g. protag Marco’s transition from violent, hate-filled thug to nice, better person—and who abandons extreme right-wingism altogether as he grows older and wiser—which is depicted via body language but is not convincingly explained (cf. the neo-Nazi skinhead protag in ‘Combat Girls’, whose transition is more fully developed); also the scène de ménage on the beach in Guadeloupe with Marco and his bleached-blond bourgeois chick, named Corinne (actress Lucie Debay), the latter’s words and general rhetoric ringing false IMO.

Mais peu importe. The film’s treatment of politics is on the mark, of the relationship of the skinheads to the Front National (not specifically named in the film—except in the televised footage—but more than obvious). The FN engaged the skins—notably in recruiting them into its security service (DPS), Marco in the film being part of it in the early phase of his better person transition—but sought to keep them at a distance at its public events (e.g. they were not in evidence at the FN festivals and rallies I attended in the late ’90s, likely having been asked to stay away). The FN’s relationship to the neo-Nazi skins is indeed akin to the southern GOP’s with the CofCC: the latter being a little extreme and not publicly fréquentable but still part of the family, to be engaged with discreetly.

Also notable in the film are the scenes toward the end, where Marco watches from a distance as Corinne—now his ex, whose personal convictions were as extremist and racist as his in his youth, but, in her case, did not change—, leaves Sunday mass in a bourgeois banlieue, with bourgeois husband and Marco’s now teen daughter—whom he has not been allowed visitation rights in view of his police record—and then sees them on television marching in one of the big 2013 hard-right demos against the government’s bill legalizing gay marriage. Subtext: there are plenty of upstanding, respectable members of society not from the lower classes who share the world-view of the neo-Nazi skinheads—or, in America, of white supremacists—but, as they are upstanding and bourgeois, are not considered infréquentable on that side of the political spectrum.

As for Dylann Roof, he looks too physically wimpish to be a marauding skinhead. He wouldn’t have been allowed. Skinheads need to be physically strong. But who needs physical strength when you can go out and legally purchase a .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol? Thank God—and the Republic—one cannot do that in France.

In case one missed it, Charles Kurzman and David Schanzer, of UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, respectively, had an op-ed in the NYT the day before the Charleston massacre on “The growing right-wing terror threat” in America, which, they say, is of greater preoccupation to law enforcement than that from Muslim extremists.

And TNR’s Brian Beutler has a commentary on South Carolina GOP governor Nikki Haley’s announcement yesterday that she will seek to have the Confederate flag at the SC State Capitol removed, which, Beutler says, does not make her a hero; she’s just doing damage control for Republican presidential candidates too terrified to take a position on the issue themselves.

UPDATE: Watch here Jon Stewart go after Fox News for its coverage of Charleston. Excellent.

2nd UPDATE: Writer-essayist Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah has a lengthy investigative report in the September 2017 issue of GQ, “A most American terrorist: the making of Dylann Roof.”

un français

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The Charleston massacre

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,  Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders  (Image credit: BBC News)

Victims, clockwise from top left: Rev Clementa Pinckney, Susie Jackson,
Rev Sharonda Singleton, Depayne Middleton, Rev Daniel Simmons Sr, Tywanza Sanders
(Image credit: BBC News)

[update below] [2nd update below]

As usual in the aftermath of such horrific events, I have nothing in particular to add to what has already been said by others, except to observe that while there are psychos and homicidally-inclined racists everywhere, such a massacre is, in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings. The issue in this one is not the persistence of racism in America—racism and hatred of the Other are present everywhere—but that the 21-year-old Dylann Storm Roof, who’s the same age as my daughter and a sizable number of my students over the years, was in legal possession of a .45 caliber handgun, and which was apparently given to him as a birthday present by his father no less. Needless to say, such a gift from father to son in France, Great Britain, Germany, Japan etc—and who are not in a mafia family—would be totally inconceivable. And illegal. In France—or in Britain, Germany, etc—there is no way a young man his age not associated with a criminal gang could come into possession of such a weapon. If Dylann Storm Roof had not had that gun—if America’s gun laws were akin to those where I live—the nine parishioners of Charleston SC’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church would be alive today.

Can Dylann Storm Roof’s father be made liable for the massacre, as an accessory to the crime? He should be, morally if not legally.

On the centrality of the gun question here, Vox staff writer German Lopez has a piece on that fine website—with statistics and videos—saying that “Obama is right: gun violence is much worse in the US than other advanced countries.”

Also on Vox is a post by Max Fisher in which he has a quote by The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik—a passage I’ve no doubt quoted myself—saying that “This is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings.”

The most intelligent reflection I’ve read on the massacre so far is David Remnick’s in The New Yorker, “Charleston and the age of Obama.”

For the moment at least, that’s as much as I have to say.

UPDATE: I wrote above that the Charleston massacre is “in the Western world at least, one of those only-in-America happenings.” I should modify the bit about “the Western world” to read “in any society not in the throes of a civil war or riven by communal conflict.”

2nd UPDATE: Vox has a short video (3:45) on how “The Charleston shooting is part of a long history of anti-black terrorism.” Watch it.

The second most popular article on The New Yorker website at the present moment (June 20th) is a commentary by Adam Gopnik dated December 19th 2012—which I linked to back then—on “The simple truth about gun control.”

Making the rounds on social media this weekend is the video of a 16-minute stand-up act by Australian comedian Jim Jefferies, who “perfectly sums up why other countries think US gun laws are crazy,” and which I linked to three months ago.

TNR senior editor Jeet Heer, weighing in on right-wing media coverage of the Charleston massacre, has a commentary on “National Review magazine’s racism denial, then and now.” I have also mentioned NR’s treatment of race, in a post four years ago.

And here’s a hard-hitting SFGate.com blog post (June 19th) by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford, on “The myth of America’s awesomeness.” Morford’s comment, which is driven by the Charleston massacre, veers somewhat off the topic but not entirely.

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

Continuing with links to post-election analyses and commentaries

Paris-based journalist Claire Berlinski, who lived in and reported from Turkey for some ten years, has a sharp, hardheaded, typically well-written analysis in Politico.eu (June 15th) of the election’s aftermath, in which she says “Don’t rejoice yet: Erdoğan could still win.” The lede: “Forming a coalition in Turkey will be a nightmare, and the strongman has the trump cards.”

The coalition/minority AKP government hypotheses have been enumerated and speculated upon by most analysts, though Claire goes further than others in taking seriously the prospect—however unlikely it may seem—of an AKP-HDP deal. First off, she notes that the HDP may not be the liberal-progressive force that it’s been cracked up to be, particularly in the West

There is something about the language now being used to describe the HDP that is reminiscent of the early days of the AKP. It takes a special kind of stupid to fail to appreciate the eagerness of the West to befriend anyone or anything in Turkey that sounds even remotely like a Western liberal. This eagerness generally precludes asking too many questions. The HDP has become the instant darling of a foreign media eager to find in Turkey a genuine liberal party. And true, Selahattin Demirtaş, the HDP leader, may represent some Turkish liberals. But mostly he represents conservative and nationalist Kurds. Many have been voting for the AKP for years. In the southeast, there has long been cooperation between the AKP and the Kurdish tarikats (or religious orders) and clans.

The political economist Erik Meyersson carefully studies Turkish electoral statistics. After considering the recent results, he concluded: “The HDP cake may have a leftist-liberal-secular crust, but most of its filling is socially conservative Kurds.” The rise of the HDP, he plausibly argues, does not represent the revival of the Turkish left. It represents the unification of its Kurds under one political banner.

Further down, Claire has this

The scenario most likely to prevent [a possible implosion of the AKP] is an AKP-HDP alliance. Depending what he offers them, the HDP might allow Erdoğan, in exchange, to push through his one-man-leadership plan, and this despite everyone else’s objection to it.

Don’t rule it out. Demirtaş has sworn he won’t do it, but his party has objectives that only the AKP can deliver. Demirtaş in turn must deliver the goods to his supporters, and fast. His promises to work for all of Turkey, not just the Kurds, are promises; his interest is in working for his supporters. Only the AKP, for example, might entertain the notion of offering regional autonomy for the Kurds in exchange for Erdoğan’s elevation to an enhanced presidency. Erdoğan could even be so cynical as to dangle the prospect of freeing Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned founder of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK, in exchange for the HDP’s cooperation. An AKP-HDP alliance, in other words, could result in outcomes that would thrill many Kurds; horrify the majority of the electorate; set the country alight; and result, despite everything, in Erdoğan, President for Life.

I’m dubious mais on ne sait jamais…

BTW, the study Claire cites by Erik Meyersson, who teaches at the Stockholm School of Economics, is a post on his blog dated June 8th, “How Turkey’s social conservatives won the day for HDP.”

Selim Can Sazak, who studies at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, has a post (June 9th) on The Century Foundation blog entitled “The aftermath of Turkey’s elections: The curse of d’Hondt,” in which he has, entre autres, some interesting observations on the HDP

HDP’s success also owes much to two names—Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition party leader of CHP, and Selahattin Demirtaş, HDP’s own leader. Kılıçdaroğlu risked his own political fortune by desisting from attacking HDP despite the outflow of around 5 percent of the overall vote from his own party to the HDP. Demirtaş, a human rights lawyer, won a devout following among urban left-leaning voters consisting of mostly youth and women. With his charisma and generational appeal, Demirtaş has been compared to Europe’s rising left-populists, like Greece’s Alexis Tsipras and Spain’s Pablo Iglesias. He stands in stark contrast to the other older opposition leaders: MHP’s Devlet Bahçeli is a gaffe-prone septuagenarian who has been leading his party for almost two decades, while CHP’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is as exciting as any other retired actuary.

While Demirtas’s popstar charms may have won him an election, they won’t solve his many problems. The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), which is on the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Terrorist Organizations list for its bloody campaign against the Turkish government, maintains a strong influence on Kurdish politics. Like the Kurds themselves, the PKK’s politics are fairly conservative. In an interview last year, PKK leader Cemil Bayık bemoaned that HDP is pandering to “Cihangir marginalism,” using Istanbul’s upscale Cihangir neighborhood as a metonym in a thinly veiled jab against HDP’s cosmopolitan-left elements and its influence on issues like LGBT rights. PKK’s founder, Abdullah Öcalan, has been in solitary confinement at an island prison since his capture in 2003, but he remains influential over the Kurds.

For the broader public, however, his name is still toxic—when Demirtaş thanked Öcalan in his victory speech, it unleashed a torrent of angry comments on social media. The Öcalan factor—essentially, hesitancy about supporting a Kurdish party in general—is already giving momentum to MHP, which still considers HDP an extension of the PKK and has therefore been reluctant to negotiate with the Kurds. MHP increased its vote share by about 25 percent this time around. Unless Demirtaş can convince his non-Kurd voters that he will keep a healthy distance from Öcalan, HDP’s victory could be a one-time feat, and could even enable MHP’s rise or pull AKP and MHP closer together, in their opposition to the HDP. But it’s not so simple for Demirtaş, for whom distance from Öcalan risks alienating the Kurdish base and angering the party’s Kurdish activists, most of whom continue to regard Öcalan as their natural leader.

In a political science-y piece on WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog (June 12th), professors Emre Erdoğan (Bilgi University) and David L. Wiltse (South Dakota State U.) ask “Will Turkey’s recent election send the country back to the politically turbulent 1990s?” The scenario they appear to give the most credit to is an AKP minority government tacitly supported from the outside by the MHP. I’ll go along with them.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Mustafa Akyol has a commentary in Al-Monitor (June 15th), in which, like Claire, he says that “Erdoğan lost a battle, but perhaps not the war.” The scenario he deems most likely is Erdoğan calling for new elections after 45 days—during which time the AKP and CHP would have failed to form a government—which, Erdoğan calculates, would result in gains for the AKP—voters being frightened by instability—thereby giving it a majority in the Grand National Assembly. Akyol also speculates on a possible return of Abdullah Gül, who would replace Ahmet Davutoğlu as PM.

2nd UPDATE: Aaron Stein, a Ph.D. candidate at King’s College London and fellow at several institutions, has a Turkey election recap (June 16) on his Turkey Wonk blog, in which one will find a podcast discussion (worth listening to for Turkey aficionados) with him and Amberin Zaman, the Turkey correspondent for The Economist and a columnist for the liberal Istanbul daily Taraf, and a link to Stein’s latest analysis for the Atlantic Council, “Turkish coalition politics: Prospects for the Kurdish peace process.”

3rd UPDATE: Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank and a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe—who is very smart (I’ve seen him speak at a conference)—has an op-ed in the NYT (June 17th), “Turkey at a democratic crossroad,” in which he privileges the scenario of an AKP-CHP coalition—as do Aaron Stein and Amberin Zaman in their discussion linked to above—that would have a super-majority to amend the constitution and effect major institutional reforms.

Selahattin Demirtaş

Selahattin Demirtaş

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Photo credit: graphics8.nytimes.com

Photo credit: graphics8.nytimes.com

That’s the title of an opinion piece (June 11th) by the well-known libertarian-conservative legal scholar Richard A. Epstein—of the University of Chicago Law School, among other places—in Politico.eu (adapted from a version published three days earlier in the Hoover Institution’s journal Defining Ideas), in which he argues for a major overhaul in the rules governing world soccer. When I saw the click-bait title and then the identity of the author—whose world-view is generally the opposite of mine—I snorted and scoffed, assuming that he would propose rule changes to increase scoring, like scrapping the offside rule and widening the goal, or stopping the clock every ten minutes for commercial interruptions. In any case, I feared the worst.

But lo and behold, Epstein’s piece is excellent and I completely, totally agree with every proposal he makes, a few of which I’ve even been thinking myself, e.g. increasing the number of referees, adopting video review for fouls (particularly in the penalty area), and allowing for more substitutions of players during the game. He also argues for making regular goals count for two points and penalties one—which makes sense—and revamping what he calls soccer’s atrocious penalty structure for various infractions.

Epstein is not arguing that soccer should become more “American”—that’s just the title to hook the reader—but that its rules are archaic and are crying out for change, and that, on this score, the sport could draw inspiration from two played in America, basketball and ice hockey, which have evolved over the decades and kept up with the times. With Sepp Blatter gone and the prospect of the Qatar bid being reopened, which would make the US the favorite to host the 2022 tournament, maybe US Soccer will push for FIFA to adopt Epstein’s proposal. That would be good.

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The McKinney pool party

mkcinney texas pool party

I’ve been closely following, along with tens of millions of other Americans, the story of the McKinney pool party last Friday, which seems to crystallize the whole insane racial issue in American society, not to mention the nature of American policing. Thank God no one was killed or injured, though had the incident happened before the mobile phone and YouTube era, and (now ex) police Corporal Eric Casebolt pulled the trigger on 15-year-old Dajerria Becton and killed her, you may be sure that he would have claimed self-defense, that he felt his life was being endangered by this teenage girl in a bikini, and gotten off scot free. And that he would have been hailed as a hero by the good citizens of the Craig Ranch subdivision in McKinney, Texas (and no doubt further afield).

Officer Casebolt was, of course, called a hero anyway by residents of Craig Ranch and with right-wing media (Fox News et al) and websites taking his side. I’m sorry but anyone who can defend or excuse a cop going ballistic and pulling out his gun in the midst of a group of black 14 and 15-year-olds in swimsuits—and ignoring the white teens present—, who does not instinctively find this deeply alarming and totally insane, is a racist. Period.

As for officer Casebolt’s behavior, this has been examined—and contrasted with another, more professional police officer who was present on the scene—by University of South Carolina law professor—and former police officer—Seth Stoughton, in a must-read piece in TPM, in which he weighs in on “what went wrong in McKinney.”

In a NYT op-ed, “Who gets to go the pool?,” writer Brit Bennett—who has had personal experience in the matter—examines the long history in America of water—swimming pools, beaches—as a site of white racial anxiety.

In a similar vein, TNR senior editor Jamil Smith writes about how “White fear can be hazardous to your health,” i.e. the health of black people, whose lives are put in danger whenever panicked white people call the police when seeing a young black male or group of black youths—who are merely walking down the street and minding their own business, or are legally milling about in a public space—and with the police rushing to the scene guns brandished.

Jenée Desmond-Harris, who reports on race, law, and politics for Vox, says that “The only good news about the McKinney pool party is the white kids’ response to racism.” As she says, the behavior of the white teens on the scene—filming it and then speaking to media afterward—is likely the only reason we’re hearing about incident in the first place.

Don’t forget to see TYT Network host Cenk Uygur—a onetime conservative-turned-progressive—tear apart Fox News and other right-wing media for their coverage of the McKinney incident. Uygur’s demolition is 21½-minutes long but well worth the watch.

Pocho Ñews y Satire_By Lalo Alcaraz_June 10 2015_ in Cartoons El Now

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HDP seçim kutlamaları bugün 8 Haziran 2015

I was absolutely thrilled out of my mind when the result of the Turkish election was announced on Sunday night, as was everyone else I know who has the slightest interest in that country. This is the most gratifying election result anywhere in 2½ years. After the série noire of the past several months—US midterms, Israel, French departmental, UK—ça fait du bien. I was confident that the HDP would cross the 10% threshold and the AKP denied the super-majority in the Grand National Assembly to amend the constitution according to RT Erdoğan’s megalomaniacal wishes, but didn’t imagine that the AKP would lose its majority altogether and with its popular vote dropping by almost 10%. I don’t know if anyone did.

As I am not in Turkey, do not know the Turkish language, and am thus not a bona fide specialist of the country—I’m merely very knowledgeable about it—I will link to a few commentaries seen over the past 48 hours. The first off the bat was an instant analysis by Nigar Göksel—Turkey senior analyst for the ICG—and longtime Turkey hand Hugh Pope, who, writing in Politico.eu, offered “Five takeaways from the Turkish election.” The lede: “Erdoğan gets a reality check from a nation sick of autocracy.” As for what their five takeaways are, read the piece.

Writing in Prospect magazine, historian David Barchard, who has been living and working in Turkey for decades, asks “Who are the winners and losers in Turkey’s election?” The lede: “Last night’s vote was the biggest success for the left in 35 years.”

The left here is not the CHP but, of course, the HDP of Selahattin Demirtaş, which Istanbul-based novelist and writer Kaya Genç, writing in Prospect two days before the election, opined “could stop Erdoğan [from] seizing even more power” and possibly change Turkey’s political landscape. That would be good.

Michael J. Koplow, of the excellent blog Ottomans and Zionists, has an analysis on the Foreign Affairs website of what he surprisingly calls “Erdoğan’s victory,” in which—raining on the liberal-left’s parade—he explains “Why the election wasn’t a loss for the president and the AKP.” In short, Erdoğan is by no means down and out; his party is still the largest by far and he will continue to concentrate more power in the presidency, whether he can have the constitution changed or not. However knowledgeable about Turkey Koplow may be, I hope he’s wrong.

On the Charlie Rose show, CFR’s Steven Cook, WINEP’s Soner Cagaptay, and New America Foundation visiting fellow Elmira Bayrasli also threw some cold water on those who think the election signals the end the Erdoğan era, affirming that the latter must not be counted out, that he has boundless ambition and will try by hook or by crook to get what he wants in the political system, no matter how hard it may be. Très certainement.

If anyone needs reminding of Erdoğan’s political style, go back and look at this AWAV post from a year ago (and watch the YouTube).

Soner Çağaptay also had an instant analysis on WINEP’s website on “What Turkey’s election results mean.” The lede: “The outcome has dealt a blow to the AKP’s longstanding dominance and Erdogan’s goal of implementing a presidential system, with potential implications for the economy, Syria policy, and the Kurdish movement.”

On Al Jazeera’s Inside Story, Turkish politics specialists Bilal Sambur , Fadi Hakura, and Galip Dalay weighed in on “What’s behind Turkey’s ruling AK party setback?” The 25-minute debate is worth the watch.

The trendy gauchiste webzine Jadaliyya—which has a smart Turkey page—has a worthwhile roundtable of “First thoughts on the elections in Turkey,” with seven mostly Turkish doctoral candidates in sociology and anthropology.

Ahmet Insel, who teaches economics and politics at Galatasaray University, has an op-ed in Le Monde, “Après le revers électoral d’Erdogan, «la Turquie respire!».”

Insel, who published a book last month entitled La Nouvelle Turquie d’Erdoğan: Du rêve démocratique à la dérive autoritaire, gave a lengthy pre-election interview to LePetitJournal.com.

Claire Sadar has a post in her Atatürk’s Republic blog, in which she argues that “Turkish democracy [is] still alive, but still flawed.” In the post, she links to an instant analysis by KIng’s College London Ph.D. candidate Aaron Stein, which she calls “masterful.”

UNC-Chapel Hill prof Zeynep Tufekci has a nice op-ed in today’s NYT on “How hope returned to Turkey,” in which, entre autres, she mentions the importance of the legions of activists who monitored the polling stations on Sunday and oversaw the vote count. À propos, at a conference last year I asked Ahmet Insel about stories of election irregularities in Turkey and the possibility of Erdoğan’s minions trying to rig or fiddle around with future votes. He assured me that such was nigh impossible and then held up his mobile phone; to wit, poll watchers—himself included—would be monitoring vote counts like hawks and then take photos of the procès-verbal in each polling station. Having supervised vote counts in some two dozen elections in France—and these likely unfold in the same manner in Turkey—I knew what he was talking about. It would be impossible to rig an election in France and, in view of Turkey’s history of clean votes—despite the occasional suspicious electrical outage—I am pretty sure it would be most difficult there. And voilà, we have the demonstration in Sunday’s result.

Not that it merits mentioning, but right-wing commentator Daniel Pipes—a main go-to person for Americans of his ideological persuasion seeking to know what to think on the Middle East—had an op-ed in last Friday’s Washington Times on “Turkey’s unimportant election,” which, he asserted, would be “among the least important of Turkey’s elections,” partly because the AKP had “used ballot-box shenanigans and other dirty tricks in the past [and] many indications point[ed] to its preparing to do so again, especially in Kurdish-majority districts.” Since his op-ed, radio silence from Monsieur Pipes (BTW, this is the same Daniel Pipes who went on for some eight years about jihadist “no-go zones” in French cities before understanding that such was a figment of his ideologically-addled imagination).

In her op-ed, Zeynep Tufekci also noted the very high 85% turnout rate in Sunday’s vote. Without that turnout, the HDP would have certainly not crossed the 10% threshold. Note to US Democrats, the UK Labour Party et al: If you want to win elections, you have to turn out your voters (which means, among other things, giving them a reason to vote for you). If voter participation is high, the result will very likely be good for progressives.

À suivre.

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[update below]

Jean-Yves Camus has a column in the latest Charlie Hebdo (June 3rd) on the trend among far right populist parties in Europe—particularly in the northern countries—to give themselves names that represent the precise opposite of what they stand for, e.g. Sweden Democrats, the Norwegian Progress Party, and Geert Wilders’s Party of Freedom in the Netherlands, to which one may add Christoph Blocher’s Union Démocratique du Centre in Switzerland. The main focus of Camus’s column, however, is the far right party in Finland that has named itself The True Finns (this is the precise translation of its name from Finnish), which is the second largest party in parliament there. So if this party is the “true Finns” tout court, Camus asks, does that make Finns who don’t vote for it not true Finns? And what of Finland’s Swedish minority, not to mention Lapps and naturalized immigrants?

Camus didn’t mention it but he no doubt had in mind Nicolas Sarkozy’s engineering the change in his party’s name from the UMP to “Les Républicains,” which was consecrated in the latter’s “founding congress” last Saturday (perhaps the subject of Camus’s next column). For the Gaullist movement and its successors, this is the tenth time—count ’em, ten—that they’ve changed their name—and with seven different acronyms—since the founding of the RPF in 1947 (since then: UNR, UNR-UDT, UD-Ve, UDR, RPR, UMP). Rebaptizing the RPR in 2002 as the UMP made sense, as the UMP involved the merger of the RPR with other conservative and center-right formations (DL, most of the Nouvelle UDF)—creating a big tent of the right and center—so it was indeed a new party. But there’s nothing new about “Les Républicains”—and the party’s juridical status, as Le Canard Enchaîné (June 3rd) points out, has, apart from the name, not been altered one iota. Legally speaking, it’s simply the UMP with a new name, Sarkozy wanting to cast off the UMP label, identified as it had become with scandals (Bygmallion, etc)—all dating from his presidency, during which nothing happened in his party that he didn’t authorize—and to deprive Marine Le Pen of her cherished sobriquet “UMPS.” A “sham reinvention,” as my blogging confrère Art Goldhammer put it. As for the brazen usurpation of the republican label—cherished on the left, where it’s a fetish word—and with no adjective or qualifier (rassemblement, union, parti, etc)—just “The Republicans,” as if, like The True Finns, we’re the only ones—, this has been denounced by numerous civil society actors and intellos (e.g. here, here, and here), and been the subject of a lawsuit (here and here; though Sarko has won the first round of this, it’s not over). Sarkozy’s response is that, yes, the PS may be republican but it’s socialist first (as for the FN—which, under Marine LP, has been wrapping itself in the republican mantle—they’re nationalists first, so Sarko says; on this at least, he’s not entirely wrong). In the case of the PS, not only has it never said that it was “socialist” before being “republican” but the very idea that it is socialist at all—that this is a label one can affix to François Hollande, Manuel Valls, and Emmanuel Macron, entre autres—would be viewed as a laughable joke by sizable numbers on the left. And as it happens, the cover story of the latest issue (June 4th) of the somewhat left-leaning L’Obs (ex-Le Nouvel Observateur) is entitled “Le PS est-il de droite?” (Objectively speaking, the French Socialist party is no longer socialist by any commonly accepted definition of that term, but that’s another discussion).

An even more laughable joke is that Sarkozy’s party—which is increasingly indistinguishable from the Front National on just about every issue except Europe—can call itself “republican” avant tout, of which more on below. In any case, I, along with everyone else on the left side of the political spectrum, will decline to refer to Sarko’s machine de guerre by the name it has usurped. As Sarkozy refuses an acronym for his renamed party, I will refer to it as LR (I could take a leaf from ex-US Republican Bruce Bartlett—the Reagan and Bush 41 administration policy adviser who, disaffected with the GOP and its extreme right-wing lurch, has labeled it the “wanker party”—and call Sarko’s formation “Les Branleurs,” but will resist the temptation).

Many who have commented on Sarko’s show last Saturday—and on his stump speeches over the past few months more generally—have remarked on his verbal violence, on the virulence of his attacks not only against the government and its policies but the person of François Hollande himself. Even seasoned political analyst Thomas Legrand was taken aback by the tone of Sarkozy’s speech on Saturday, observing that Sarkozy was now becoming a caricature of himself. Journalist and commentator Bruno Roger-Petit, in a column on Sarkozy’s “one-man shows” before the UMP/LR faithful, also noted Sarko’s penchant for showering President Hollande with insults. Calling such comportment “unworthy of Republicans,” Roger-Petit had this to say about Sarkozy’s stump style

La mine tendue. La mâchoire serrée. Le poing brandi comme un marteau. L’œil noir. Quel communicant osera dire à Nicolas Sarkozy qu’une telle posture en meeting, si elle est de nature à rassurer et galvaniser le noyau dur des militants fanatisés, n’est guère de nature à imposer l’image d’un ancien président de la République, empli de sagesse et de sérénité? Pour qui connait les us et coutumes de la cour, la réponse est évidente : aucun.

Some three years ago I called Sarkozy “le voyou de la République.” Needless to say, the man has not changed. Once a voyou, always a voyou.

In his commentary, Roger-Petit also remarked on Sarkozy’s Napoleon Bonaparte wannabe act

Pour l’ancien chef de l’Etat, tout est joué, tout est plié. 2017 sera une épopée à la Napoléon revenant de l’Ile d’Elbe. L’Aigle de la Sarkozie volera de clocher en clocher jusqu’aux tours de Notre-Dame et François Hollande contraint de s’enfuir, en pleine semaine sainte, pour Bruxelles, dans son carrosse Citroën hybride, lourd et pataud, emporté par une irrésistible vague populaire…

Sarkozy’s Bonapartism may be an old story but it nonetheless merits mention, as it so dominates his political persona. Alain Duhamel, who is no gauchiste, thus entitled his column in the June 4th Libération “La République bonapartiste de Nicolas Sarkozy.” Noting Sarkozy’s “personal attacks of extraordinary violence” on François Hollande, Duhamel wrote that the UMP/LR faithful at the congress loved every second of it. They lapped it up. And they’re desperate for an homme providentiel. If Sarkozy can play Bonaparte to the UMP/LR base—whose precise American equivalent is the kind of people who show up at a Ted Cruz or Sarah Palin rally—it’s because that base is Bonapartist. It wants a strongman in charge. Thus Sarkozy’s emphasis on the need to reestablish “authority,” which is one of the pillars of his discourse and what he will propose to the French electorate in the unthinkable event that he’s LR’s candidate in 2017.

As for the other pillars of Sarkozy’s discourse—of what he has to say to the French people these days—one would think that, with unemployment inexorably on the rise and GDP growth near zero, they would be focused on the economy. But, amazingly enough, they’re not. Sarkozy has almost nothing to say about it. For Sarkozy, the primordial issues facing France today are immigration, national identity and, above all, Islam. That Sarkozy is throwing red meat to his hard right base—which is not only not unemployed but does not relate to those who are—and trying to keep up with Marine Le Pen goes without saying. He is also doing something that he does extremely well—which comes naturally to him, and to hard right-wing politicians generally—which is to polarize the electorate, stigmatize a part of the population, and play the politics of resentment (e.g. see these pages from the new book on Sarkozy’s erstwhile Rasputin adviser, Patrick Buisson, whose influence looms large in Sarkozy’s head). Bruno Roger-Petit, in his column on the Challenges website yesterday, asked “why such an obsession with Islam?” on the part of Sarkozy (and the FN). He thus began

Que seraient les droites, LR et FN, Sarkozy et Philippot, Guaino et Le Pen, sans l’Islam? Qu’auraient-elles à dire, et à faire, sans les musulmans, réels ou supposés? Quel projet porteraient-elles si elles ne pouvaient plus brandir sans cesse l’épouvantail de l’époque ? Sans l’Islam, LR et FN seraient deux coquilles vides. Le vide et le silence. Le néant et le néant.

Le néant. Tout à fait. In his conclusion, Roger-Petit delivered the coup de grâce

Par la faute de leur président, “Les Républicains” ont donc une obsession collatérale de l’Islam. Ce n’est pas tant cette religion qui les obsède que l’usage qu’en fait le Front national. Résultat : LR court après le FN de Marine Le Pen et Florian Philippot, mais sans savoir où cela mène, et pire encore, sans se demander si cela vaut la peine de courir. Dès qu’il s’agit d’Islam, de FN, de religion et de laïcité, “Les Républicains” explosent, se ventilent et se dispersent, façon puzzle. En route pour le terminus des prétentieux ?

Indeed. As for what Sarkozy is proposing on the question of “Islam,” who knows? He has no idea where his rhetoric on this is supposed to lead and likely doesn’t care. If it is politically expedient for him to demagogue the Islam non-issue—or any issue or non-issue—in the here and now and point the finger at France’s Muslim population, then he will do that. Period. So yesterday Sarkozy convened an LR “Journée de travail sur la question ‘islam en France ou islam de France’,” but which was closed to the media and at the end of which no communiqué was issued. And which, to their honor, LR’s honest, real republicans—Alain Juppé, Bruno Le Maire, François Fillon—declined to attend, as did just about every Muslim personality who was invited. Seriously, can one imagine, as writer-artist Joann Sfar rhetorically asked Sarkozy hitman Geoffroy Didier on BFM the other day, what the reaction would be if LR were to organize a closed-door study session on the Jewish Question in France? We would, at the very least, not consider LR to be “républicain.” Given its present obsession with Islam, it stands to reason that LR, today, cannot be considered republican. Point à la ligne.

Returning to Sarkozy’s penchant for verbal violence and trash talking everyone but his sycophants—and even then—François Hollande has hardly been the only target of his acid tongue these days. As the latest Canard Enchaîné reports, Sarkozy, in speaking about François Bayrou in a discussion with UDI centrists, said that “I’m going to whack that stutterer” (le bègue, je vais le crever; Bayrou apparently had a stuttering problem in his youth, long overcome). Classy guy, that Sarko (Bayrou’s properly ironic response on France Inter Wednesday morning: “C’est une remarque distinguée. Avec des déclarations comme ça, voici qui élève le niveau de la politique française…”). On the same page of Le Canard (p. 2) is an account of the informal “debriefing” Sarkozy gave to journalists at LR HQ on Monday, in which he knifed in the back his LR rivals—Juppé, Le Maire, Fillon—but also party nº2 Nathalie Kosciusko-Morizet—who was put there by Sarko, to give LR a moderate, big tent facade—for her backhanded criticism of his demagoguery on Islam and her generally non-reactionary tone, that was so driving Sarkozy up the tree that he was getting ready to eject her from the party leadership, but then desisted when his pollster Pierre Giacometti—who was the genius behind the “Les Républicains” label, as we have learned—told him that that would not be a good idea at all. So NKM is safe for the time being, though she has made it pretty clear that she’s not going to toe Sarko’s Buisson line.

What all this confirms, and for the umpteenth time, is that Nicolas Sarkozy is the worst person in the top tier of the French political class. Period. I have already asserted this on several occasions (e.g. here, here, and here; if anyone has somehow missed my 2012 election eve treatise on Sarkozy, go here), though qualified it by not including Marine Le Pen in that tier. But now I will categorically state that Sarkozy is worse than Marine. At least with Marine, you know what you’re getting. There is some consistency in her positions. MLP has core principles and values, however odious they may be. Sarkozy has no core principles or values; he believes in nothing but his own personal ambition and vanquishing anyone and everyone who gets in his way. That he could find himself back at the helm of France’s largest political party—after losing re-election—and preparing to take back the presidency speaks not only to the deliquescence of the French right but also to the political and moral depravity of the UMP/LR militant base that has made this happen.

But as I have been insisting since the day Sarkozy made his ambitions for 2017 known, he won’t make it. Alain Juppé will beat him in the 2016 primary. The French people in their great majority—72% in a poll last week (and 31% of UMP/LR sympathizers)—don’t want Sarkozy to even be a candidate in 2017, let alone the next President of the Republic. At this point I will even bet that Juppé beats Sarkozy (a bottle of halfway decent wine, of my choice; maximum three bets).

One final thing, on which I have seen no commentary. Sarkozy’s congress last Saturday was reported by most of the media as having taken place at “la Porte de la Villette,” which is a geographical location (and metro station). But the LR’s “founding congress” was, in point of fact, held at an exposition and meeting hall near the Porte de la Villette—built by a private company and that opened last year—called the Paris Event Center. Not Le Centre Événementiel de Paris but Paris Event Center. In English, and with “center” spelled à l’américaine, not the EU-standard, British way (centre). France Inter anchorperson Patrick Cohen thus pronounced it, on the Monday morning news, “Ze Pareese Ivente Centaire.” I find this amazing. How was this allowed to happen? How could the public authorities approve such a center in the city of Paris carrying a non-French name and for no legitimate reason? Whatever happened to the Loi Toubon, la défense de la langue française et de la francophonie, Article 2 of the Constitution de la République française, et j’en passe?! So, in opening LR’s congress, did they say “Soyez le bienvenu au Pareese Ivente Centaire!”?? Did the Buissoniste “Républicains” present not have a problem with their party holding a “founding congress” in an arena with an Anglo-Saxon name? Même moi je suis choqué. La France m’inquiète, honnêtement…

UPDATE: I linked above to two smart columns by Challenges columnist Bruno Roger-Petit. I now see, however, that he had a column yesterday (June 5th) in which he all but said that Sarkozy is a shoo-in in the LR primary, that it’s a foregone conclusion he’ll win it, it’s in the bag, and that Alain Juppé

seul aujourd’hui au sein de la droite à pouvoir faire barrage à la réélection de Nicolas Sarkozy en 2017, ne parvient toujours pas à convaincre de sa capacité à éveiller un imaginaire susceptible d’ébranler les hordes de militants et sympathisants de LR prêts à confier, encore et encore, le destin de leur camp à Nicolas Sarkozy. Quant aux autres, les Le Maire, NKM, Bertrand ou Fillon, ils sont d’ores et déjà les idiots utiles de la primaire LR, les rasoirs dont Nicolas Sarkozy usera pour faire manger la laine du pauvre mouton juppéiste.

Ah bon. In his column, Roger-Petit links to the latest CSA-Les Echos-Radio Classique baromètre (released June 5th) but whose numbers he manifestly did not analyse. What the CSA poll shows is that Alain Juppé remains the most popular politician in France—and by far—with a 57-39 positive-negative image. As for Nicolas Sarkozy, he is at 35-64. These numbers are about the same as in other polls taken over the months, i.e. they’re not outliers. What is interesting, however, is the breakdown of the numbers by partisan affiliation. It is being said, particularly by Sarkozyistes, that Juppé’s higher popularity is coming from voters on the left but that Sarko remains the champion of the right—and it is rightist voters who will decide the nominee in the LR primary. Now it is indeed the case that those on the left have a rather higher opinion of Juppé than they do of Sarkozy: 54-42 for Juppé (and with PS sympathizers at 67-30), according to the CSA poll, with Sarkozy at 16-83. But what is interesting is the numbers on the right: for the “droite” as a whole, Juppé is at 73-24 and Sarkozy 64-34, i.e. Juppé beats Sarko even in their broad camp. As for UMP/LR sympathizers, their numbers are identical: Juppé is at 73-24 and Sarkozy 73-25. Where Juppé massacres Sarkozy is among UDI and MoDem sympathizers—who will be voting in the primary: 85-15 and 76-24 for Juppé vs. 14-86 and 30-70 for Sarkozy. Juppé is more popular than Sarkozy even among FN sympathizers: 46-51 vs. 34-65. Conclusion: If these poll numbers hold steady between now and the LR primary—and, barring a game-changer in Sarkozy’s favor (or in Juppé’s disfavor), there is no reason to believe that they won’t—and some 3 to 4 million voters participate in the primary—which, in view of the 2.8 million who turned out for the 2011 PS primary’s 2nd ballot, is likely—then Alain Juppé will beat Nicolas Sarkozy. Hands down. It’s as simple as that.

Oh yes, for those who missed it, the Odoxa-Le Parisien poll two weeks ago had Juppé beating Sarkozy 55-45 in the 2nd round of the primary.

À mon avis, M. Roger-Petit devrait revoir sa copie…

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