Archive for October, 2015

America’s immigrants

Algerian man, Ellis Island, circa 1907 (photo: Augustus Sherman)

Algerian man, Ellis Island, circa 1907 (photo: Augustus Sherman)

WaPo’s Wonkblog has a great post, dated October 24th, on “What America’s immigrants looked like when they arrived on Ellis Island,” with amazing photos taken between 1892 and 1907 by amateur photographer Augustus Sherman, who worked as the chief registry clerk on Ellis Island. Check it out. I’d be curious to know what happened to the immigrants one sees in Sherman’s photos and their successive generations (and particularly the Algerian, who was possibly the first immigrant from that land to set foot in America). A great country America is, to have absorbed, and then integrated/assimilated, so many people from so many cultures—and which, pace Donald Trump and others in his party, continues apace today.

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In yesterday’s post I dumped all over Woody Allen’s latest film, which I saw last night. In the interest of cinematic fairness and balance, I want to give a shout out to this first-rate thriller by French-Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, which I saw three nights ago. If one doesn’t know by now—as the pic opened in the US last month to wide release—it’s about Mexican drug cartels and US law enforcement, set in Arizona, Texas, and across the border in Mexico (sicario means ‘hitman’ in Mexican drug cartel slang). It’s high-octane, edge-of-your-seat, with one great set piece after another, and excellent acting: Emily Blunt is terrific as straight arrow FBI agent Kate Macer—she should receive at least an Oscar nomination for her performance—Benicio del Toro as the shadowy killer Alejandro, who works with the Americans (and for himself); and Josh Rogin as the equally shadowy secret agent Matt Graver (CIA? who knows?). And the pic has no significant flaws, except for maybe the traffic jam scene at the border (isn’t there a VIP lane on that bridge?). There have been a number of Mexican drug cartel movies over the years—some quite good (e.g. Miss Bala)—and that graphically depict the violence and cruelty of the Mexican gangs—whom ISIS has nothing over when it comes to this—but this one is much the best, as it also has an implicit political theme: of the lawless behavior of the US government and its agents as they pursue the (endless, impossible) war against the drug cartels. It’s not par hasard that several of the badass US agents served in Iraq, the link between the war over there and the one here being made more than once. As the cynical Matt Graver informs the naïve Kate Macer, it’s a new world out there and with new rules, i.e. none really.

US reviews of the film are tops (81 on Metacritic; see, in particular, the ones by Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter and Scott Foundas in Variety), as well as in France (4.0/4.0 on Allociné). Trailer is here.

I saw and liked Villeneuve’s 2010 ‘Incendies’ but missed his last film, ‘Prisoners’. I think I should now see it.

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Irrational Man


I just saw this. This very evening, at my local cinéma municipal (there was a line). Woody Allen has a film a year and that I see without fail—I’ve seen all 47 or whatever films he’s directed—usually in the week or two after it comes out (this one arrived in France ten days ago). I see them all because I am a lifelong Woody Allen fan (since age 16, to be precise) and have not joined the legions of cinesnobs who decreed in the ’90s that Woody Allen had gone downhill, that his films were ergo sans intérêt, and that they (the cinesnobs) would ergo no longer deign to see. Now of Woody A.’s 47 or whatever films since the mid ’60s, there are seven or eight that I disliked, and with a larger number—particularly among those from the early ’90s onward—that were watchable or not bad but of which I remembered little to nothing not long after seeing them. And he has not had an incontestable chef d’œuvre since the mid ’80s (‘Hannah and Her Sisters’). But I give the thumbs up to most of his films, including those of the past ten years, with three or four exceptions (okay, that’s 30-40% thumbs down or bof, but still).

As for this latest one, I will say categorically: I hated it. It may well be—in my book at least—Woody A.’s worst film ever. I started to dislike the pic from the opening scene, with the dislike increasing as the film progressed, and culminating in outright hate at the end. Storming out of the cinoche, I declared to the ticket-seller: “C’est le plus mauvais film de Woody Allen que j’ai jamais vu, et je les ai tous vu! C’était nul!” On the opening scene: Joaquin Phoenix’s character, a tortured but reputedly brilliant philosophy professor named Abe Lucas, who has a new job at a fictional liberal arts college in Newport RI, arrives in his Volvo (what else?), dressed like a slob, drinking whiskey (single malt Scotch) from a flask (which he does all day), and acts like a jerk (though which does not seem to rub any of his campus colleagues the wrong way). At least four clichés from the get go. Lucas may be an insufferable asshole and with a dad bod already in his early 40s—though he’s unmarried and not a dad—but nonetheless has a reputation as a Casanova and with women on campus inevitably swooning over him, notably Rita (Parker Posey), the wife of one of his colleagues—who hits on him and demands sex almost immediately—and earnest, ingénue student Jill (Emma Stone), who has a nice, devoted b.f., Roy (Jamie Blackley), but finds her philo prof just so brilliant and interesting and irresistible and is just dying to have an affair with him—even though he is, objectively speaking, a poseur and a creep. And, of course, she does, as does Rita. They both know about the other but, hey, pas de problème. And while b.f. Roy is au courant, he doesn’t raise a stink for the longest time. Right.

Problem 1 with the film: The campus affairs/sex part is bullshit. As I’ve written before (go here and to the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs) this is a fantasy of middle-aged male screenwriters—and, en l’occurrence, an octogenarian film director toujours porté sur la chose—who have never been university professors. Problem 2: Professor Lucas is supposed to be brilliant but his class lectures, as depicted in the film, are a café de commerce. Early on he tells his students that most philosophy is bullshit; to listen to him throughout is confirmation. When it comes to philo talk, Woody Allen cannot rival Eric Rohmer (cf. the discussion of Pascal’s Wager in ‘Ma nuit chez Maud’). Moreover, Lucas says at one point that he’s writing a book on Heidegger and “fascism” (no, it would be “Nazism”) and, at another, he mispronounces Husserl’s name. Problem 3: The whole depiction of small, Northeastern liberal arts college life is way off. The dialogues are insipid and contrived, the campus situations implausible, and the students too preppy. It rings false. Or, to put it another way, it is false. And Emma Stone, who is 26 and looks it, is too old to be playing an undergraduate. She’s a fine actress but wasn’t right for this role. And then there’s Lucas deciding to suddenly quit his (presumably tenured) position and move to Europe to teach (city, country, or university not specified) and which raises no eyebrows at the college (yeah, sure, as if a philosophy professor at a liberal arts college can, job-wise, write his own ticket; also, if Lucas were up there with, say, Slavoj Žižek or Alain Badiou, he wouldn’t be at some little college to begin with). Problem 4: The pic’s central plot, if one wants to call it that, of Lucas committing what he thinks is the perfect crime and that suddenly enables his tortured soul to find meaning in life—and for him to finally get it up and fuck with abandon—and that he explains via his bullshit philosophy, is grotesque and perverse. Whatever Woody A. was trying to say here—about life, moral choices, or whatever—just rubbed me the wrong way. At the end of the film, I was disgusted. Point barre.

French reviews of the film are good overall (3.7/3.6 on Allociné), which is not surprising, though US ones are mixed (53 on Metacritic). I don’t read reviews of Woody Allen films—and haven’t of this one—though am quite sure the negative US ones are more on the mark. C’est tout c’que j’ai à dire.

UPDATE: I decided to read a few reviews of the pic on Metacritic. The one by the NY Post’s Lou Lumenick, who calls it “the worst movie of [Woody Allen’s] career,” nails it (though I differ with Lumenick on Woody A.’s ‘Magic in the Moonlight’, which I liked).

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[update below]

In case one missed it, John Judis has an article on the National Journal website, dated October 2nd, “The Return of the Middle American Radical: An intellectual history of Trump supporters,” that is one of the best I’ve read on the Trump phenomenon. Judis’s analysis is inspired by a little-known 1976 book by the relatively little-known, now deceased sociologist Donald Warren, who coined the category “Middle American Radicals” (MARS) to designate the voters who supported George Wallace’s presidential candidacy in 1968 and ’72—the type of voters who, Judis says, supported Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan in the 1990s, and are Donald Trump’s base today. Warren, in Judis’s words, described the 1970s MARS as

a group who de­fied the usu­al par­tis­an and ideo­lo­gic­al di­vi­sions. These voters were not col­lege edu­cated; their in­come fell some­where in the middle or lower-middle range; and they primar­ily held skilled and semi-skilled blue-col­lar jobs or sales and cler­ic­al white-col­lar jobs. At the time, they made up about a quarter of the elect­or­ate. What dis­tin­guished them was their ideo­logy: It was neither con­ven­tion­ally lib­er­al nor con­ven­tion­ally con­ser­vat­ive, but in­stead re­volved around an in­tense con­vic­tion that the middle class was un­der siege from above and be­low.

“MARS [were] dis­tinct in the depth of their feel­ing that the middle class has been ser­i­ously neg­lected, [seeing] gov­ern­ment as fa­vor­ing both the rich and the poor sim­ul­tan­eously.” Like many on the left, MARS were deeply sus­pi­cious of big busi­ness: Com­pared with the oth­er groups [Warren] sur­veyed—lower-in­come whites, middle-in­come whites who went to col­lege, and what War­ren called “af­flu­ents”—MARS were the most likely to be­lieve that cor­por­a­tions had “too much power,” “don’t pay at­ten­tion,” and were “too big.” MARS also backed many lib­er­al pro­grams: By a large per­cent­age, they favored gov­ern­ment guar­an­tee­ing jobs to every­one; and they sup­por­ted price con­trols, Medi­care, some kind of na­tion­al health in­sur­ance, fed­er­al aid to edu­ca­tion, and So­cial Se­cur­ity.

But if these positions were liberal-sounding, the MARS were very conservative on issues relating to poverty, race (i.e. they didn’t like black people; and today, Latino immigrants), and law-and-order. And they were strongly nationalistic (thus the present-day allergy to free trade and globalization). They were also the voting group the most distrustful of the federal government, though wanted a strongman in the White House. On this, Judis writes

[I]n subtle and not so subtle ways, [Wallace, Buchanan, Perot, and Trump] have also en­dorsed a more power­ful ex­ec­ut­ive at the top. Wal­lace, who had thor­oughly dom­in­ated Alabama’s polit­ics, was seen by crit­ics as a po­ten­tial “dic­tat­or.” Buchanan, who had served Richard Nix­on through Wa­ter­gate, touted the leg­acy of his former boss. Perot called for plebis­cites to de­term­ine key eco­nom­ic policies—which would have had the ef­fect of es­tab­lish­ing a dir­ect re­la­tion­ship between the people and the pres­id­ent, thereby by­passing Con­gress. For his part, Trump en­vis­ages the pres­id­ent act­ing as the “deal-maker in chief.” In a 1982 es­say, “Mes­sage from MARS,” Sam Fran­cis, who would later ad­vise Buchanan dur­ing his cam­paigns, called this out­look “Caesar­ism”; it is also re­min­is­cent of Lat­in Amer­ic­an pop­u­lists like Juan Per­on.

Caesarism, a.k.a. Bonapartism, as I titled my post on Trump early last month. And continuing with French analogies, the French equivalent of MARS is exactly, precisely the kind of voters who support the Front National (père and fille alike).

Judis puts the MARS at some 20% of the American electorate and 30-35% of the GOP’s. It has been my conviction—and I’m hardly alone on this—that Trump’s poll numbers will decline as the campaign progresses and that he won’t go the distance. But who knows? I don’t dare hazard predictions on the GOP race. If Trump does fade or drop out at some point—which is no sure thing—I have been assuming that many of his supporters will shift to Ted Cruz. But in view of the Warren/Judis profile of the MARS, this assumption needs revising. In point of fact, if one looks at what the exit polls said about Perot’s vote in ’92 and ’96—and, in France, of the behavior of Le Pen voters in the second rounds of presidential elections since 1988—a certain number of MARS voters—a fifth to a third—would (or did) end up voting for the candidate of the liberal-left (US Democrat, French Socialist) if their champion was not on the ballot, and with a sizable portion—up to a third—staying home. So if Trump were to leave the race, his supporters would likely disperse in several directions, including abstention.

Also in the National Journal is a commentary, dated October 19th, by its editorial director, Richard Brownstein, that continues in Judis’s vein, “Donald Trump’s Lead Explained in Two Sentences.” Brownstein begins

The blue-col­lar wing of the Re­pub­lic­an primary elect­or­ate has con­sol­id­ated around one can­did­ate.

The party’s white-col­lar wing re­mains frag­men­ted.

That may be the most con­cise ex­plan­a­tion of the dy­nam­ic that has pro­pelled Don­ald Trump to a con­sist­ent and some­times com­mand­ing lead in the early stages of the GOP pres­id­en­tial nom­in­a­tion con­test.

Both na­tion­al and state polls show Trump open­ing a sub­stan­tial lead among Re­pub­lic­an voters without a col­lege edu­ca­tion al­most every­where. And in al­most all cases, Trump is win­ning more sup­port from non­col­lege Re­pub­lic­ans than any can­did­ate is at­tract­ing from Re­pub­lic­an voters with at least a four-year edu­ca­tion. “It’s a chal­lenge to Re­pub­lic­ans that nobody has con­sol­id­ated the col­lege-gradu­ate vote against Trump,” says Glen Bol­ger, a long­time GOP poll­ster skep­tic­al of the front-run­ner.

In oth­er words, Trump is ce­ment­ing a strong blue-col­lar base, while the white-col­lar voters re­l­at­ively more res­ist­ant to him have yet to uni­fy around any single al­tern­at­ive. That dis­par­ity is crit­ic­al be­cause in both the 2008 and 2012 GOP nom­in­a­tion fights, voters with and without a four-year col­lege de­gree each cast al­most ex­actly half of the total primary votes, ac­cord­ing to cu­mu­lat­ive ana­lyses of exit poll res­ults by ABC poll­ster Gary Langer. With the two wings evenly matched in size, Trump’s great­er suc­cess at con­sol­id­at­ing his “brack­et” ex­plains much of his ad­vant­age in the polls.

The incarnation of the GOP white-collar candidate, Jeb Bush, is the subject of a comment Elizabeth Drew posted on the NYRB’s blog, “The Big Bush Question” (October 21st). When it became clear last spring that Jeb would be entering the race, I peremptorily proclaimed him the near-certain GOP nominee for ’16. How silly of me.

UPDATE: Jack Shafer, Politico’s senior media writer, has an essay (December 2nd) on “How George Wallace predicted Donald Trump.” The lede: “Trump’s more of a narcissist, but cuts an oddly similar swath through the country’s politics.”

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The Canadian election

Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, Montreal, October 19th (photo: Kevin Van Paassen/Bloomberg)

Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire-Trudeau, Montreal, October 19th
(photo: Kevin Van Paassen/Bloomberg)

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

I have been aware, like any geopolitically informed person, that Canada was going to have a national election this fall, though didn’t realize it was happening this Monday until it was already underway. And like any person with left-of-center views, I was pleased by the smashing victory of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals (though would have been equally pleased if the New Democrats had won it). Normally those of us south of the border or outre-Altantique ou Pacifique don’t care much which party wins a Canadian election, regardless of our political parti pris. But this one was different, in view of Canada’s PM, Stephen Harper, who pulled the Conservative party there to the right during his nine years in office. When US Republicans start praising Canada and its prime minister, then you know something’s not right. And nine years is long enough for a head of government anyway.

Not being familiar with Canadian websites or knowing which political commentators and pundits there are good, I asked my friend Andrew Griffith in Ottawa, who is a retired Canadian civil servant and diplomat—and has an excellent blog in his area of expertise, and on which he posts daily, Multicultural Meanderings: Working site on citizenship and multiculturalism issues—if he could send me links on the election result. And he did. Here are the ones not behind a paywall:

Ping pongs and unforced errors: How Trudeau won,” by L. Ian MacDonald, who is editor of Policy, a bi-monthly magazine of Canadian politics and public policy.

The re-engineering of Canada is finally over,” by Lawrence Martin, a public affairs columnist at The Globe and Mail.

Justin Trudeau’s first day as future prime minister,” by Aaron Wherry, who covers the House of Commons in Ottawa for McLean’s.

And here’s the YouTube of Trudeau’s victory speech on Monday night. First time I’ve seen him. Always nice to watch Canadian prime ministers go back and forth between English and French.

Also see Andrew’s blog for posts on visible minorities, Muslims, and the election.

Muslim veiling (hijab, niqab) was a significant issue during the election campaign and that Vox’s Matthew Yglesias says contributed to Harper’s defeat, as his “Islamophobic gambit backfired,” causing many voters in Quebec to defect from the NDP to the Liberals, thereby giving the latter its majority (one has to read Yglesias’s explanation on this, which makes sense).

One analysis I came across is by the Canadian-American conservative pundit David Frum, “Canada lurches to the left,” in which he informs the reader that

scripted and unscripted, Justin Trudeau has conveyed a consistent message: The government he leads will repudiate the legacy not only of the incumbent Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, but the neoliberal Liberals of the 1990s.

Très bien. Frum concludes

Even before 2014-15, however, the populist anger expressed by [Bernie] Sanders and [Jeremy] Corbyn could be heard in Canada, too. Canada has done a better job than the United States of sharing the proceeds of economic growth. Yet even in comparatively egalitarian Canada, rewards have tended to concentrate at the top of the income distribution. Earlier in the decade, resentment among middle-income Canadians toward the more affluent was offset by relief when Canadians compared themselves to Americans. As time has passed, however, the relief has waned and the resentment has intensified. It was those feelings that Trudeau harnessed, by condemning many small-business owners as tax cheats and telling Canadian business leaders that if they didn’t accept higher taxation now, they’d face even more radical claims in the future.

Trudeau’s strategy succeeded brilliantly, at least in electoral terms. His Liberals have won at least 40 percent of the popular vote, in their best performance since 1997. Leaders of other center-left parties around the world will note the success. Imitation and emulation will follow—across the Atlantic and across the 49th parallel.

Check out the election numbers. The combined vote of the center-left (Liberals-NDP-Greens) is almost 63%, with the Tories a paltry 32%. If only we could have such results south of that 49th parallel…

UPDATE: Andrew forwarded me two commentaries today (October 22nd): one by longtime NDP operative Robin V. Sears, “Ottawa returns to normal after Stephen Harper’s dark decade,” that Andrew says is “a bit over the top [but] captures the atmosphere well;” the other by Chantal Hébert, whom Andrew informs me is one of Canada’s best political journalists, “Liberal comeback headed for history books.”

Heather Mallick, a columnist for The Toronto Star, has a good op-ed in the NYT, “Justin Trudeau: Low expectations, high relief.”

And watch this video of Justin Trudeau dressed in a shudh desi kurta-pyjama and dancing to Punjabi bhangra beats at an India-Canada Association of Montreal event during the campaign. Cool dude he is, no doubt about it.

2nd UPDATE: Roger Cohen has good column in today’s NYT (October 23rd), “Camelot comes to Canada.” Money quote

In short, a positive campaign won. Killer politics lost. Trudeau likes to talk about finding “common ground,” where Harper was all about winner take all. At a time when American politics are dismally polarized, this other North American political story is interesting, perhaps even instructive. [AWAV: Obama did try to find common ground with the opposition during his first term but they weren’t interested].

Republicans still seem to believe the unlikely proposition that elections are won on the angry margins. The two leading Republican candidates, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, try to outgun each other in attacking, respectively, Mexican immigration and the idea of a Muslim president in the White House (don’t hold your breath). The Trudeau story suggests limits to the bullying politics of anger and fear.

Further down, Cohen opines that Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire, have “razzmatazz.” On this, he’s not the only one who has taken note. Justin & Sophie are definitely the best-looking couple at the summit of the state, in any country anywhere.

Paul Krugman, for his part, says in his column today that “Keynes comes to Canada.” If only he could come to Berlin and Brussels too…

3rd UPDATE: The Nation’s John Nichols had a good day-after analysis, in which he argues that “Justin Trudeau just showed American Democrats how to win the next election.” See Trudeau’s great campaign TV ad that Nichols links to and discusses.

La Tribune’s Romaric Godin—whose columns on the Greek crisis I linked to in my posts in July—also had a very good day-after commentary on the election, “Les leçons du Canada à l’Europe,” in which he says much the same thing as Paul Krugman (though before Krugman did).

TNR’s Jeet Heer weighed in on the election with a fine piece (October 22nd), “Why is Canada’s Liberal Party so dominant?” The lede: “Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper made it his goal to kill the party. The opposite happened.”

The National Post’s Andrew Coyne has a worthwhile column (October 23rd), “Liberals aren’t the only winners in this election.” The other winner: Democracy itself. Coyne demonstrates, entre autres, that—unlike in the US—a first-past-the-post electoral system can still generate competitive races in most constituencies and involve more than two national parties.

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In Las Vegas, October 13th (photo: Matt Baron/Rex Shutterstock)

In Las Vegas, October 13th (photo: Matt Baron/Rex Shutterstock)

[update below]

This is not a post on last Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate, which is old news by now. I’ve tweeted numerous analyses/commentaries of it over the past five days that I thought were on target and/or interesting, so one knows—if one read them, of course—that I agree with the MSM pundits that Hillary Clinton was very good and Bernie Sanders too. It was a fine debate. I’ve been nervous about Hillary—in view of her high negatives in the polls and the visceral dislike of her by many Democratic voters (and notably on the left; I see gauchiste Hillary hate every day on social media)—but am now less so. I’m confident she’ll be a good candidate in the general election—and barring stunning new scandal or major, game-changing revelation in the email business, she will be the Dems’ nominee—and if voters turn out on Nov. 8th ’16 in the same proportions as they did in ’12 and ’08, she will most certainly win (yep, I just said it). As for Bernie, I like him and am glad he’s running—to pull the debate to the left and energize young people—but he ain’t gonna be the Dem nominee. Not a chance. O’Malley and Webb: I hope they raise their profiles and do respectably in the early primaries and caucuses, so as to position themselves as plausible running mates for Hillary (and particularly O’Malley; I can’t see a Hillary-Bernie ticket and for a variety of reasons). Before the debate I was hoping that Biden would enter the race—mainly out of Hillary nervousness—but now think it would probably be better if he didn’t.

One moment in the debate that attracted attention was Bernie saying that America “should look to countries like Denmark, like Sweden and Norway, and learn from what they have accomplished for their working people.” Of course. America should naturally look to the experiences of the Scandinavian countries—and to France, Germany, and other advanced democracies—to see what can be learned from them (and what should not be learned). And vice-versa. Politicians and policy-makers should always study other countries.

Bernie’s Denmark comment provoked the inevitable snarky reactions on the right, e.g. this one by the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, which misses Bernie’s point; it is, as we say here, à côté de la plaque. There has, however, been one reaction from that side of the spectrum—and which inspired this post—that I find most interesting, “Double-edged Denmark,” by Will Wilkinson, who is vice-president for policy at the Niskanen Center, a  libertarian think tank in Washington founded last year. Wilkinson seconds the observation by Williamson and other rightists that Denmark, despite its robust welfare state, has embarked on major free market reforms to the point where it is now more “capitalistic” than the US (a development Williamson suggests that Bernie ignores, which is nonsense). This is well-understood by anyone with a cursory knowledge of that country’s politics, including in France, where the Danish “flexicurity” model has been studied by policy intellectuals and politicians, with its applicability to the French context provoking debate, notably on the left (e.g. in the pages of Le Monde, Alternatives Économiques, and other such publications). But Wilkinson sees a symbiotic relationship between Denmark’s free market reforms and its strong social safety net that other conservatives miss. Money quotes

Right-leaning arguments about the free-market marvel that is Denmark cut both ways. Denmark shows us that a much larger public sector and a much more robust social-insurance system need not come at the expense of a dynamic market economy. In other words, Denmark shows us that capitalism and a large welfare state are perfectly compatible and possibly complementary. (…)

The lesson free-marketeers need to learn is that Denmark may be beating the U.S. in terms of economic freedom because it’s easier to get people to buy in to capitalism when they’re well-insured against its downside risks. That’s the flipside irony of free-market “socialism.” (…)

The possibility that generous social insurance can bolster support for capitalism is worth taking seriously, not only because the truth (whatever it is) is important in its own right, but because the truth of the matter could have profound implications for other libertarian policy priorities. (…)

So if one wants a bona fide neoliberal free market economy, Wilkinson suggests, the trade-off—in an advanced democracy at least—is a strong social safety net. It’s not every day one gets such insights from a libertarian—though Friedrich Hayek, who did not object to state-organized social insurance schemes, would possibly say much the same thing if he were around today.

Vox’s Matthew Yglesias—who is no libertarian—has also weighed in on the Danish model (October 16th), in answering “9 questions about Denmark, Bernie Sanders’s favorite socialist utopia.”

UPDATE: Paul Krugman’s NYT column today (October 19th) is on Denmark.


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Ansongo, Mali, 29 January 2013 (photo: Kambou Siakmbou Sia/AFP/Getty Images)

Ansongo, Mali, 29 January 2013 (photo: Kambou Siakmbou Sia/AFP/Getty Images)

That’s the title (in English) of an op-ed in Le Monde (issue dated 11-12 October), by Sciences Po international relations professor Jean-Baptiste Jeangène Vilmer, and with which I entirely agree. For those too lazy to click on the link, here’s the full text, with notable passages on the Libya intervention in bold (a subject on which I have periodic contradictory exchanges) [UPDATE: Jeangène Vilmer has a piece with Olivier Schmitt—who teaches political science at the University of Southern Denmark—dated 14 October on the War on the Rocks blog, “Frogs of War: Explaining the new French military interventionism.”]

Avec le chaos en Libye, l’emprise de Daech en Irak et en Syrie, et la progression des talibans en Afghanistan, il est de bon ton de s’en prendre à l’interventionnisme occidental des quinze dernières années, dont les crises actuelles ne seraient que les contrecoups. Il est certainement nécessaire de tirer les leçons de nos échecs, mais il faut le faire sans céder à la simplification.

Premièrement, cet examen de conscience ne doit pas être une excuse pour amalgamer des interventions plus ou moins légales et légitimes : l’invasion de l’Irak (2003) reste un cas à part, une guerre de choix non autorisée par le Conseil de sécurité, contrairement aux autres.

Comparer, pour la décrédibiliser, l’intervention en Libye (2011) à cette agression illégale est faire fi de la résolution 1973 qui, contrairement à un préjugé répandu, n’a pas été dévoyée. Elle n’autorisait certes pas le changement de (more…)

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Riad Sattouf, 2014 (image credit: Laurence Houot/Culturebox)

Riad Sattouf, 2014 (image credit: Laurence Houot/Culturebox)

Adam Shatz—London Review of Books contributing editor and dear personal friend—has a “letter from Paris” in the October 19th issue of The New Yorker on the Franco-Syrian graphic novelist—and Charlie Hebdo contributor from 2004 to 2014—Riad Sattouf, whose two-volume graphic memoir, The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, has been a best seller in France (Vol. 1, which came out in 2014, sold over 200,000 copies, which was exceptional for a book of this type; it will be out in English translation next week). I have yet to read it myself—I plan to this weekend—but have heard from several persons who have that it’s absolutely worth it. Adam’s article definitely is.

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For anyone with any interest in Turkey, please take ten minutes of your time to watch Selahattin Demirtaş respond to Ahmet Davutoğlu in the aftermath of yesterday’s massacre (here, with English subtitles). As one journalist uttered after Demirtaş finished: “wow!”

If I were a Turkish citizen there is not the slightest doubt as to which party would get my vote in the upcoming election.


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Undercover Israeli officers detain wounded Palestinian protester near Ramallah, October 7th (photo: Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press)

Undercover Israeli officers detain wounded Palestinian protester near Ramallah,
October 7th (photo: Majdi Mohammed/Associated Press)

[update below]

It’s been almost a year since my last post on the endless, insoluble Israel-Palestine conflict. I’m just so fatigued with it. Not that I have nothing more to say on the subject. I always have lots. I just haven’t felt like writing about it these past several months. With the latest explosion it does look like the conflict is entering a new and dangerous phase. In lieu of speculating about it this weekend—I will at some point, when I have the time and inclination—I will link here to one analysis I find particularly good, by journalist Noam Sheizaf in +972—Sheizaf is, IMO, the sharpest and most interesting contributor to that webzine—”Israel still holds all the cards.” The lede: “The relative quiet on the ground in recent years, enforced by the Palestinian Authority on Israel’s behalf, led Israelis to believe they can enjoy peace and prosperity without ending the occupation.” Money quote:

We have to remind ourselves over and over and over again: the occupation is the ultimate terrorist infrastructure. One must be especially blind to think that extreme inequality and more than half a century of oppression could bring about any other result. We also needn’t delude ourselves about the reverse: ending the occupation may not bring peace, certainly not in the short term, but continuing it will definitely lead to a civil war, of which we’ve gotten a small taste this week. True, it’s not Syria or Yugoslavia. Not even close. But even Syria and Yugoslavia weren’t Syria and Yugoslavia until they were, either. The situation in Israel — two mixed populations that have zero-sum outlooks, and in which one side has all the power and the rights and the other has only crumbs — is the fundamental problem.

À suivre.

UPDATE: Haaretz correspondent Chemi Shalev has a noteworthy column (October 14th) on “Why ‘occupation-denial’ impedes Israel’s war on terror.” The lede: “By ignoring the disenfranchisement of the Palestinians, Netanyahu escapes the need to explain why he’s done nothing to dilute its poison.” Shalev nails it in the conclusion:

Recognizing the occupation does not justify terror, but ignoring it completely is to ensure that it will persist for a long time to come. As Pascal Diethelm and Martin McKee wrote in a 2009 article on denialism “The consequences of policies based on views such as these can be fatal.”

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Tunisia’s Nobel Peace Prize

Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet: Wided Bouchamaoui (UTICA), Houcine Abassi (UGTT), Abdessattar Ben Moussa (LTDH), Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh (ONAT), 21 September 2013 (photo: Fethi Belaid/AFP)

Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet: Wided Bouchamaoui (UTICA), Houcine Abassi (UGTT), Abdessattar Ben Moussa (LTDH), Mohamed Fadhel Mahfoudh (ONAT),
21 September 2013 (photo: Fethi Belaid/AFP)

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Congratulations to Tunisia! Everyone who knows that country is very happy over the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to the National Dialogue Quartet, which is comprised of four organizations: Tunisia’s venerable trade union federation (UGTT), the private sector employers association (UTICA), the human rights league (LTDH), and the national lawyers guild (ONAT). These are the pillars of the non-religious portion of Tunisian civil society—the most robust in the Arab world—which banded together in 2013, at a moment when Tunisia’s transition to democracy was in grave crisis, to form the National Dialogue, the aim of which was to save that transition. Other actors were involved in the effort but, thanks to the mediation of the National Dialogue, the transition was indeed saved, confirming Tunisia as the only real democracy in the Arab world (Lebanon is also one, of course, but it’s having some problems). For a discussion of the National Dialogue, see the 16 December 2013 article by Monica Marks, “Tunisia’s transition continues,” on the Foreign Policy website. Monica, who is presently a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, has lived in Tunisia for the past several years, where she is conducting research for her doctoral thesis at Oxford University (pour l’info, she hails from Kentucky) on Tunisian politics, so knows her subject well.

UPDATE: Benoit Challand, who teaches history at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland, has a good analysis on the New School for Social Research’s Public Seminar website, “Just a peaceful quartet?”

2nd UPDATE: Monica Marks has a four-minute interview on PRI on the prize.

3rd UPDATE: Nicholas Noe, who is co-director of the Tunis Exchange Politics Conference, has an important article in Tablet on “[t]he problem with awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Tunisia’s National Dialogue Quartet.” The lede: “The group deserves to be lauded for steering a country’s transition towards democratic governance following revolution. But its recognition comes at a cost.”

4th UPDATE: Monica Marks has a comment on the European Council on Foreign Relations website (October 14th), “Maximising the impact of Tunisia’s Nobel Peace Prize,” which Nobel Prize.org saw fit to tweet.

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Since launching this blog 4½ years ago I’ve had posts on every major massacre in the US—Charleston, Isla Vista, Sandy Hook, Aurora—plus Utøya in Norway but didn’t have the reflex to comment on this latest one. Like, what’s the point? What more is there to be said about the insane American exception regarding the over-the-counter sale of semi-automatic weapons, which is the cause of the massacres? Moreover, there is clearly no chance whatever that the minds of the gun nuts will be changed by rational argumentation on the subject (à propos, I have been bombarded with the most hostile comments by far on my posts on guns; these people are completely unhinged). But there is always something new and/or interesting to be said. In lieu of saying it myself, I will link here to pertinent commentaries with original angles or analyses on the question that I’ve come across over the past couple of days.

Before I get to those, I would like to tell any anti-gun control/pro-NRA person—e.g. almost all Republican party politicians and right-wing commentators—who, after a gun massacre in the homeland, says that his or her “prayers and thoughts” are with the families of the victims to take those “prayers and thoughts” and stick them up his or her a—. And then to go f— him or herself.

Okay, that off my chest, The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, who is brilliant on this issue, has a commentary dated yesterday explaining that “The Second Amendment is a gun-control amendment,” that sane gun control legislation may be entirely based on a correct reading of that unfortunate constitutional amendment. Money quote

In point of historical and constitutional fact…the only amendment necessary for gun legislation, on the local or national level, is the Second Amendment itself, properly understood, as it was for two hundred years in its plain original sense. This sense can be summed up in a sentence: if the Founders hadn’t wanted guns to be regulated, and thoroughly, they would not have put the phrase “well regulated” in the amendment. (A quick thought experiment: What if those words were not in the preamble to the amendment and a gun-sanity group wanted to insert them? Would the National Rifle Association be for or against this change? It’s obvious, isn’t it?)

Indeed. A question to the gun whack jobs: What is that bit in the Second Amendment about “a well-regulated militia” supposed to mean anyway?

In his comment, Gopnik refers to the dissent of SCOTUS Justice Jean Paul Stevens in the D.C. v. Heller ruling. More than one person on my social media news feeds has posted former Justice Stevens’s WaPo op-ed dated April 11th 2014, “The five extra words that can fix the Second Amendment.” It won’t happen but is an excellent proposition nonetheless.

Vox has one its ‘Explainers’ columns explain “America’s gun problem,” in which several points are made and elaborated upon

1) America’s gun problem is completely unique. 2) More guns mean more gun deaths. Period. 3) Americans tend to support measures to restrict guns, but that doesn’t translate into laws. 4) The gun lobby as we know it is relatively recent but enormously powerful. 5) Other developed countries have had huge successes with gun control. 6) Although they get a lot of focus, mass shootings are a small portion of all gun violence.

Also on Vox is “One map that puts America’s gun violence epidemic in perspective,” which has a fact-filled 2½-minute video explaining that “America’s biggest gun problem is the one we never talk about.”

In the LAT last April 22nd, David Hemenway, who is professor at the Harvard School of Public Health and director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. had an op-ed informing the readers that “There’s scientific consensus on guns — and the NRA won’t like it.”

For a historical perspective, Fordham University historian Saul Cornell and lawyer and Second Amendment specialist Eric M. Ruben have an article in The Atlantic dated September 30th on “The slave-state origins of modern gun rights.”

Voilà, until the next massacre…

UPDATE: Vox’s German Lopez interviews Vanderbilt University psychiatry, sociology, and medicine, health, and society professor Jonathan Metzl, in a post that says “Everyone blames mental illness for mass shootings [b]ut what if that’s wrong?”

2nd UPDATE: NYT columnist Frank Bruni’s Sunday column (October 4th), “Guns, campuses, and madness,” takes up insane new state laws that allow for concealed carry on university campuses, including in classrooms and dormitories. The lede: “The University of Texas, with its memory of mass death, is a study in our national perversity about firearms.”

3rd UPDATE: Also worth reading in the Sunday NYT is Nicholas Kristof’s column “A new way to tackle gun deaths.”

4th UPDATE: The Sunday NYT reports that the father of gunman Christopher Harper-Mercer, who killed himself after committing his massacre, is “dismayed by [the] lack of gun legislation.” The report begins

The father of the gunman who killed nine people at a community college here called on the nation to change its gun laws on Saturday, saying the massacre “would not have happened” if his son had not been able to buy so many handguns and rifles.

“How was he able to compile that kind of arsenal?” the father, Ian Mercer, said in an interview with CNN at his home in Tarzana, Calif. He said he had no idea that his son owned more than a dozen firearms.

Of course.

5th UPDATE: Bruce Bartlett has a tongue-in-cheek Facebook post, as is his wont, asking “When will [Republicans] demand that the US break off diplomatic relations with any country that doesn’t allow visiting Americans to bring and carry their guns?” This actually poses an interesting question as to whether or not Republicans and others who share the NRA’s world-view consider the “right to keep and bear arms,” as their interpretation of the Second Amendment has it, to be an inalienable human right on a par with the rights in the First Amendment and, if so, if they think that US foreign policy, in its promotion of democracy and human rights, should also press countries to align their gun legislation along US norms. Just wondering.

6th UPDATE: Blogger/writer Amanda Marcotte has a spot on piece in Salon (October 5th) on “why the gun nuts win.” The lede: “The fantasy lives of gun lovers, such as Oregon sheriff John Hanlin, are why we can’t address gun violence.” This passage merits quoting

John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County who has been in charge of the police response and investigation of Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College, has fallen under media scrutiny because he’s left an eyebrow-raising trail of gun nuttery that shades into conspiracy theorist territory. His past behavior calls into question not just his own office’s ability to handle this case responsibly, but tells us a lot about why it’s so hard to even begin to have a reasonable conversation about guns in this country, much less move towards sensible policies to reduce gun violence.

Conservatives aren’t lying when they say they need guns to feel protected. But it’s increasingly clear that they aren’t seeking protection from crime or even from the mythical jackbooted government goons come to kick in your door. No, the real threat is existential. Guns are a totemic shield against the fear that they are losing dominance as the country becomes more liberal and diverse and, well, modern. For liberals, the discussion about guns is about public health and crime prevention. For conservatives, hanging onto guns is a way to symbolically hang onto the cultural dominance they feel slipping from their hands. (…)

It’s not just Hanlin. Guns are generally talked about in right-wing circles in…mythical terms. And because a gun isn’t just a gun to conservatives, but a symbol of all they hold dear, having a reasonable conversation about gun control has become impossible. To liberals, it’s about keeping guns out of the hands of people who misuse them. But to conservatives, it’s clearly about stripping away their very sense of identity, which is naturally going to be a touchier subject.

In this vein, MoJo has reposted a 2014 comment by Ben Dreyfuss on “what it’s like arguing with gun nuts on the Internet.”

Also in MoJO is a link to John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ commentary after the Oregon massacre, in which, using humor and irony, he makes a serious argument and “slams Republicans who only discuss mental health to actively avoid gun control.”

7th UPDATE: Following the Oregon massacre Politico reposted on social media an article dated July 18th, by historian Josh Zeitz, that poses the excellent question: “If guns make us safer, why not let them into the U.S. Capitol?”

Also in Politico is an article (October 5th) by UT-Austin prof Matt Valentine on “The myth of the good guy with a gun.”

8th UPDATE: WaPo’s The Fix page has a must-read piece, dated August 14th, by reporter Amber Phillips on “The NRA-ification of the Republican Party.”

9th UPDATE: TAP’s Paul Waldman has an excellent, totally spot-on commentary (October 11th) on “Ben Carson, American gun advocates, and the fantasy of individual heroism.” The lede: “The delusion that one person with a rifle can fend off doomsday explains how many on the right see their relationship with the government.” This delusion is so obvious that, BTW, I will refuse, out of principle, to address—let alone respond to—the apparently widespread conviction in the crackpot sectors of the American right—which are substantial these days—that European Jews, had they been armed, could have resisted the Nazis and maybe staved off the Holocaust. Anyone who can believe such a thing lives in an alternate reality and is quite simply beyond the pale. And is also entirely ignorant of history.

10th UPDATE: Political scientist Ellis Goldberg has a pertinent observation on the Second Amendment on his Facebook page

Having looked at some of the legal history literature on the second amendment I confess to being puzzled. First because in the 18th century (and particularly in England but also in the American colonies) “militia” referred generally to military organization and “the militia” was a locally paid force commanded nominally by the sovereign and directly selected and disciplined by the county’s Lord Lieutenant. Second, the right to bear arms generally marked a distinction between either free and slave or between loyal subjects and untrustworthy subalterns (Scots in the early 18th century or Irish peasants). If anyone can throw light on this I’d appreciate it. I’m not interested in discussion of what the second amendment ought to be mean, can mean, or used to be held to mean. I’m interested, at a minimum, in the mid to late 18th c. contextual (aka “originalist”) meaning. I don’t seem to be picking this up even in articles by major scholars about the original meaning.

Goldberg continues

Akhil Amar in his book on the Bill of Rights notes the distinction between the rights of “first-class” citizens including juries and arms and those of ordinary subjects or inhabitants whose property rights would be respected but who lacked political rights and he argues that the militia was viewed as “the people” but he seems to ignore that “bearing arms” was a way of distinguishing between full citizens and those without full political membership (ie those who had and those who lacked political rights) and he also seems unwilling to link up American practice with contemporary English practice as well as with those sections of the Federalist Papers which make it quite clear that militias are commanded by officers chosen by the state governments from among rights-bearing citizens.

Comments are welcome from those who adhere to a strict “originalist” interpretation of the constitution.

11th UPDATE: See the article by Malcolm Gladwell in the October 19th issue of The New Yorker, “Thresholds of violence: How school shootings catch on.”

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