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Archive for March, 2017

Democracy: the movie

Yesterday was the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, a.k.a. the Treaty Establishing the European Economic Community, which was the precursor to the Treaty of Maastricht, a.k.a. the Treaty on European Union, signed thirty-five years later. It is no exaggeration to say that the Treaty of Rome was an event of world-historical importance; one of the most momentous of the past seventy years. To mark the occasion, I want to strongly, enthusiastically recommend a terrific 1½ hour German documentary, Democracy, that I saw for the first time last October at the Festival du Cinéma Allemand in Paris, and with director David Bernet present (the film’s title in German carries the subtitle “Im Rausch der Daten”: inside the noise of data). The subject is the legislative process within the institutions of the European Union—and the European Parliament in particular—over the General Data Protection Regulation, a process that began in 2012 and lasted three years. ‘Democracy’ is, quite simply, the best behind-the-scenes documentary one will see on how the European Union actually works—of how EU legislation is crafted and adopted—and over an issue of great importance to the 500-odd million citizens of the Union’s member states—and who, thanks to the GDPR, will enjoy greater protection in regard to their personal information on the Internet than do Americans or others. Among other things, the documentary will also lay to rest any lingering notions of a “democratic deficit” in the institutions of the European Union (of a deficit greater than that in the institutions of any given member state, in any case). Here’s a synopsis from this website (and where a trailer with English subtitles may be seen)

Few things are more unwieldy and lacking in transparency than European politics. Who’s really running the show in Brussels? What’s the true role of the European Parliament or the Council of Ministers? And how do the new laws and regulations that apply to all 28 member states get made? For two years, Democracy followed several key figures behind the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, a controversial issue among European policymakers. The film starts in 2014 with the European Parliament approving the new regulation, and then leaps two years back to the start of the negotiations. Rapporteur Jan Philipp Albrecht is the German Green Party [member of the European Parliament] tasked with steering and overseeing the entire process. We see him talking with lobbyists and civil rights activists, joining fringe gatherings and debates, participating in think tanks, talking with colleagues in the corridors of power, and reporting to EU Commissioner Viviane Reding [who held the Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship file]. Often patient but sometimes visibly frustrated, he counters opponents’ arguments about a new regulation that met particularly intense resistance from big businesses working with large amounts of personal data.

The documentary has protagonists and heroes, notably Jan Philipp Albrecht and the Luxembourgeoise Viviane Reding mentioned above, but also, among others, the citizens’ lobbyists Paolo Balboni of the European Privacy Association and Katarzyna Szymielewicz of the Warsaw-based Panoptykon Foundation. And, indirectly, Edward Snowden, who naturally makes an appearance. The stakes in the legislation were huge for big data-mining corporate interests—Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon et al—but the only lobbyist interviewed on that side was from the Cary, North Carolina-based IT company SAS; I initially thought this was a shortcoming of the documentary, but, as one learns, the big data operators (Google et al), though omnipresent throughout, declined to be interviewed by director Bernet.

After seeing the film last October, I declared to all and sundry that every citizen of an EU member state should be obliged to see it—so as to see how the EU actually works—and that the film should also be screened in university courses on contemporary Europe. When I asked Bernet how one could obtain the DVD (and with English and French subtitles), he said to look on Amazon.de, so I had a copy ordered for a course I teach on European politics to American undergraduates on a semester abroad. As it happens, we watched it in class last week, with the students finding it most interesting—and one saying that she wanted to see it again—and a good discussion ensuing. The pedagogical value of the film was confirmed.

University of Cambridge technology law and policy specialist Julia Powles had a review essay on the film in The Guardian, “Democracy: the film that gets behind the scenes of the European privacy debate,” on its debut in Germany in November 2015. The lede: “As nationalism sweeps Europe, a subtle cinematic triumph about an unlikely subject animates the hopes of transnational democracy.”

Also see the review from June 2016 in ZDNet, by journalist Wendy M. Grossman, who specializes in IT and privacy issues, in which she writes that

Democracy is almost as extraordinary an achievement as the passage of the GDPR: Bernet manages to make data protection law and legislative compromise engrossing. Who knew that was even possible?

Film critic Jordan Mintzer has a review in The Hollywood Reporter, which begins

Watching a government at work can be akin to watching flies fornicate, so director David Bernet deserves credit for making the most out of a particularly tedious bureaucratic nightmare in Democracy, a rare and insightful glimpse into the inner workings of the European Parliament…

Two thoughts. First, Democracy is an excellent antidote to the half-baked, ill-informed Euroscepticism that presently pervades public opinion in the EU’s member states. Second, it makes Brexit that much more incomprehensible. Honestly, why would the Brits want to be left out of the legislative process one sees in the film, which will necessarily affect them whether they remain in the EU or leave? It makes no sense.

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

Saturday was Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s big Paris rally, yesterday was Benoît Hamon’s. The venue was the Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy in the 12th arrondissement along the Seine, formally called the AccorHotels Arena since last year, as the corporate branding of sports stadiums and arenas—and Anglicizing their names—has now come to France (how I hate that; yet another American import to be lamented). It was said last week that this was a make-or-break event for the Hamon campaign, that he absolutely had to fill the arena and have the event be seen as a success, or else. The big turnout at Mélenchon’s rally at the République only raised the stakes, as the two men are in a neck-and-neck contest to finish ahead of the other—and, for Hamon, to obtain a respectable 1st round score (in the mid to high teens). As the Bercy arena has a maximum capacity—of some 20,000, plus a few thousand outside watching on the big screen—at least there wouldn’t be a numbers game or dispute over that.

The rally, in short, was a spectacular success. First, the arena was packed and with several thousand outside. Second, the ambiance was survolté (enthusiastic, excited), in good part thanks to the large contingent of young people—mainly from the MJS—in the arena’s pit (where I was). Third, Hamon gave a great speech. He spoke for almost an hour-and-a-half and was very good throughout (to watch it, go here). Unlike Mélenchon the day before, he targeted his opponents on numerous occasions—Marine Le Pen, François Fillon, and (particularly) Emmanuel Macron, rarely Mélenchon—though without mentioning any by name (except Marine LP once). I suppose that’s normal for a candidate in his position—and particularly aiming at Macron, as a sizable number of center-left voters are undecided between the two. There was nothing mean or below-the-belt. On a host of issues—notably immigration—he hit the right buttons and had a number of great lines. E.g.

Je sais que l’histoire de France est un bloc, comme la Révolution. Mais je ne confonds pas la Révolution et la Restauration, les communards et les Versaillais, Barrès et Zola, les dreyfusards et les anti-dreyfusards, je ne confonds pas l’histoire de Fernand Braudel et celle de Charles Maurras…

Yes!

And this

Comment aurions-nous construit la France sans les Polonais, les Italiens, les Portugais, les Marocains, les Sénégalais, etc?… Angela Merkel a parlé d’une voix d’or quand elle a dit ce qu’il fallait dire au nom même du projet européen pour les réfugiés…Vous pouvez être le prochain Thomas Pesquet, le prochain Omar Sy, la prochaine Najat Vallaud-Belkacem…

Najat V-B was indeed present in the V.I.P. area and took the mike during the warm-up, as did Christiane Taubira and others. But one noted the PS heavyweights who were not present, and whose names were not uttered once: Manuel Valls, Ségolène Royal, Stéphane Le Foll, Julien Dray… Hamon did take care at one point to positively mention François Hollande, Bernard Cazeneuve, and Jean-Yves Le Drian, which provoked applause.

There is so much that was good in Hamon’s speech. E.g. March 19th is the anniversary of two tragic events. One is the 2012 murder of the Jewish schoolchildren in Toulouse by Mohammed Merah. Hamon marked the occasion by evoking their names and asking for a minute of silence in their memory, plus all the other victims of terrorism (soldiers in Montauban, Charlie Hebdo-Hyper Cacher, November 13th). C’était fort. The other event is the formal end, in 1962, of the seven-and-a-half year Algerian war of independence, in which so many lives were lost, shattered, or upended. Hamon’s used that one to call for a new era of fraternity between the French and Algerian peoples. C’est bien.

Hamon is also the only candidate—probably excepting Macron—who will trash Trump and Putin in the same sentence—and with the audience (me included) booing at the mention of both names.

To see my photos with commentary, go to the album here (for the comments, click on the photo, then the info icon on the top right, and scroll with the arrow).

Two more things. During Hamon’s speech, my wife—who was watching it live on BFM—sent me a text message saying how impressed she was with what Hamon was saying, plus marveling that he was doing so without notes. I replied that he had a teleprompter. It was indeed the first time I’ve personally seen a teleprompter at a French political rally. Another American import. I doubt anyone noticed it or even knew what it was. No harm in that. It’s hard for even skilled orators to flawlessly pull off the 90-minute speech of their lives without something written in front of them. Most French politicos in such situations read written texts, which makes for boring, plodding speeches (e.g. Sarkozy, at his big April 2007 rally at Bercy—which I watched on the big screen outside—looked down at his text the entire time, almost never making eye contact with the audience; what a dud). Marine Le Pen, who delivers a good speech, was constantly looking at down at the lectern at her 2012 rally at the Zénith. On Saturday, Mélenchon, who’s a natural orator, had sheets of paper, which he glanced at occasionally while walking the stage and looking directly at the audience. The only French politicos I’ve seen who can speak for literally hours with no notes—who pace the stage with mike in hand—are Jean-Marie Le Pen and Philippe de Villiers. But they’re showmen, so thus a minority.

The second thing. I’ve announced to all and sundry over the past couple of months that I’ve decided to vote strategically for Emmanuel Macron in the 1st round, as there are two overriding imperatives in this election: (a) to avoid, if at all possible, a 2nd round face-off between Le Pen and Fillon, and (b) to avoid at all costs a Le Pen victory. As it is, objectively speaking, most unlikely that any Socialist candidate could make it to the 2nd round—and whose chances of victory, in that event, would be worryingly uncertain against Marine LP—that leaves Macron as the only candidate who can save France from both a discredited, increasingly reactionary Fillon and the nightmarish catastrophe of Marine LP in the Élysée. And I’m fine with Macron, who’s an interesting, worthy candidate. But after yesterday’s rally I’m rethinking my position. I don’t care about the Parti Socialiste or—with the exception of Najat V-B and maybe a couple of others—those in its V.I.P. section yesterday (see my photos), but, to repeat, I was very impressed with Benoît Hamon, and on form and substance equally. But of equal importance was the crowd, and particularly the younger generation—and which included my 23-year-old daughter and several of her friends. In France, these are my people. There are the usual disagreements on this or that issue but I relate to and identify with them. In America, they’re liberal/progressive Democratic Party voters. And Hamon is the best possible candidate the moderate French left could have fielded in this election. So if, on April 23rd, it looks fairly certain that Macron will proceed to the 2nd round to face Marine LP, I will cast my ballot for Hamon.

UPDATE: Arthur Goldhammer, in an article in The American Prospect dated March 20th, assesses the visions of the five leading presidential candidates, beginning with a critique of Hamon’s economic program.

2nd UPDATE: Art Goldhammer, writing on his blog, has an assessment of Monday night’s debate, with which I very largely agree.

3rd UPDATE: France Inter political editorialist Thomas Legrand offered an insightful analysis of Monday’s debate, “Premier débat, avec des alliances et des oppositions à géométrie variable!”

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Jean-Luc Mélenchon had his Paris rally today, exactly five years to the day after his big one of the 2012 campaign, which I attended and took pics of. Both serendipitously happened not only on a weekend but also on the anniversary of the birth of the 1871 Paris Commune, the French left’s most hallowed moment of history. The 2012 march set off from the Place de la Nation and ended at the Place de la Bastille, where JLM gave his speech. Today’s began at the Bastille and proceeded to the Place de la République, which is considerably larger than the Bastille, so can thus pack in more people. The turnout was impressive: larger than the 2012 march and considerably more so than François Fillon’s Trocadéro rally two weeks ago. The organizers announced 130,000; perhaps it was two-thirds of that, maybe more. It was certainly the biggest gathering of the ‘left of the left’ in a while: of JLM’s new movement La France Insoumise and the constituent parties of the Front de Gauche—the Communists and Ensemble the most important, along with JLM’s Parti de Gauche (now indistinguishable from FI)—which still seems to exist (JLM has pronounced the FDG defunct but the PCF says no, that it’s still alive and well). In American terms, these are Bernie Sanders supporters—on his left flank—though JLM is not the French Bernie; that distinction goes to Benoît Hamon; JLM is to Bernie’s left.

A few remarks on JLM’s speech, which went a full hour (if one wants to watch it, go here). First—and something we already know—he’s quite an orator, one of the best in the French political class, his speech replete with historical and literary references that one would never hear from a politician outre-Atlantique (and certainly not one who writes his/her own speeches, which, it goes without saying, JLM does). Second, a salutary detail of organization: JLM was not preceded by a series of politicos no one came to see and who could drone on and waste everyone’s time. There were short prerecorded videos projected on the big screens of FDG and other personalities speaking in favor of JLM—Pierre Laurent, Clémentine Autain, Danielle Simonnet, Eric Coquerel, Liêm Hoang-Ngoc—each thankfully lasting two or three minutes. The warm-up speakers were musicians and writers—none known to me—who sang leftist folk songs and read poetry. Nice. Third, JLM made not a single reference to any of his political opponents. There was an indirect one to Marine Le Pen and a couple of mentions of the Loi Macron (loud boos) but otherwise no personal attacks on anyone, which was admirable, though JLM clearly disdains everyone not in his political corner and does not envisage collaboration with the PS or anyone else outside the FI/FDG. The principal focus was on his populist vision for a direct democratic “6th Republic,” which is so half-baked and utterly unlikely to ever happen that, IMO, it’s not even worth debating. The constitution of the 5th Republic has some serious flaws but which could be fixed by amending a half dozen articles, not replacing the whole thing. I’ll elaborate on that matter at the opportune moment.

As usual  I took photos of the event and with commentary—click on the pics (there are 92) and scroll with the arrow—which I put into an album here.

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I was reading the other day a lengthy enquête on Turkey in Le Monde dated Feb. 27th, on the resistance by Turkish civil society to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s implacable determination to consolidate his dictatorship and crush all opposition to his rule. The piece, by journalist Marc Semo, begins with an account of the ethnologist Ahmet Kerim Gültekin, who was abruptly dismissed from his professorship at Manzur University in Tunceli after last July’s attempted coup d’état—which he had nothing whatever to do with—and thereby from the civil service, and with his passport revoked, thus preventing him from seeking employment abroad. But it’s not as if there are other options available to him in Turkey, even as a waiter in a restaurant, as any employer will see, upon registering his social security number, that he had been fired from his job in the post-coup purge, and will thus not want to touch him with a ten foot pole. So he is unemployable, a “dead man walking.” But he resists, vaille que vaille. There are tens of thousands like him in Turkey.

As it happens, I saw a film on this precise theme last week—the day before reading the above article—the final one by Poland’s great director Andrzej Wajda, who died last October: Afterimage (in France: Les Fleurs bleues), which recounts the story of the persecution by Poland’s Communist regime of the country’s renowned avant-garde painter Władysław Strzemiński, from 1948—when he was fired from his position at the State Higher School of the Visual Arts in Łódź, of which he was one of the founders—to his death in destitution in 1952 (at age 59). Strzemiński—who had an arm and a leg blown off during WWI—was fired from his institute for his uncompromising rejection of the official doctrine of socialist realism as imposed by the Soviet Union. Not only was the blacklisted painter—who was Poland’s greatest of his era—unable to obtain steady employment but was deprived of ration cards to buy food or even oil paints and brushes, the sale of which was controlled by the state. But Strzemiński refused to capitulate to the commissars. And he died broken and destitute.

As for the film, it’s typical Andrzej Wajda: well-done, with a not so subtle political message (see my post on his previous one, Wałęsa: Man of Hope), and, in this case, tragic (as was his 2007 Katyń). It is as powerful an indictment of the Communist regime in Poland—indeed of every ‘really existing socialist’ regime of the sort—as one will find. For a discussion of Strzemiński’s life and œuvre—though which mentions his political persecution only in passing—go here. And to see some of his art, go here. The trailer of the film is here.

Back to Turkey, I read a sad essay this weekend—which makes one almost want to cry—dated last October 5th, on the Big Roundtable blog (h/t Claire B.) by writer Selin Thomas, “My shattered Istanbul: Turkey is slipping away from my family, collapsing into the arms of a tyrant. We thought she was ours. Maybe we were wrong.” 😥

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The Middlebury hecklers

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

In 2011 I had a post on hecklers—prompted by the disruption of Michael Oren’s talk at UC-Irvine—in which I expressed my hatred of this subspecies of humanity (though, for the record, I did issue an exception in a post in 2013). Everyone’s read about what happened at Middlebury College last Thursday, of author Charles Murray being shouted down at the talk he was about to give, run out of town on a rail, and with his host, Middlebury professor Allison Stanger, physically assaulted in the process. Now I am not a fan of Murray’s—and certainly not of his reprehensible work on blacks and IQ—but he is a prominent conservative intellectual and with the requisite credentials to give a public lecture at an establishment of higher education, so what happened to him was quite simply outrageous. The commentaries in The Atlantic by Peter Beinart and Conor Friedersdorf say what needs to be said. As for the hecklers, they should/must be sanctioned and with the perpetrators of the assault on Prof. Stanger expelled from the college outright.

BTW, my attitude was the same in regard to the disruption of Milo Yiannopoulos’s event at UC-Berkeley last month. Now Milo Y. is not a scholar, loin de là, and should have probably not been invited to speak at the UCB campus in the first place, but once he was, he should have been allowed to proceed without disruption. As for the violence from outside-agitating black bloc voyous, this was unacceptable and could only play into Milo Y.’s hands. On the matter, UCB graduate student Sean Freeder, writing on Facebook, had one of the more intelligent commentaries I saw at the time.

When confronted with beyond-the-pale speakers, people should take a leaf from my alma mater, Antioch College, in 1964, when George Lincoln Rockwell came to campus. Students packed Kelly Hall, listened to him in silence, and when he finished, rose as one and silently walked out. Rockwell said later that it was the worst reception he ever received. If Milo Y. had been copiously ignored at UCB, he would have no doubt felt likewise.

UPDATE: Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter has a tribune (March 6th) in Bloomberg View, “The ideology behind intolerant college students.” And that ideology, if one wants to call it that, is Herbert Marcuse’s 1965 essay on “repressive tolerance,” which, as it happens, was in vogue during my day at Antioch College. In fact, I clearly remember a Marxist philosophy professor approvingly invoke the notion at an event in the aforementioned Kelly Hall in 1974 or ’75. Autres temps, mêmes mœurs.

2nd UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan weighs in on the Middlebury affair in his weekly essay in New York magazine (March 10th), in which he asks “Is intersectionality a religion?”

3rd UPDATE: Professor Allison Stanger writes in The New York Times (March 13th) on “Understanding the angry mob at Middlebury that gave me a concussion.”

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Paris, March 5th 2017 (photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP via RTL)

Paris, March 5th 2017 (photo: Jacques Demarthon/AFP via RTL)

[update below]

François Fillon’s “Grand rassemblement populaire” at the Trocadéro this afternoon. It was make or break for his candidacy, or so they were saying in his LR party: if fewer than 50,000 showed up, he was dead in the water, with no choice but to drop out of the race. If there were more than 50K, then he stays. For now, at least. Fillon and his supporters say there were 200K; the police figure—invariably accurate—is 40 to 50K. I went, just to observe and take pics. It was hard to get a sense of the crowd size except that it seemed big, as it was impossible to enter the square. It was a le peuple de droite: mainly older conservative bourgeois Catholics. Fillon’s hardcore base. He was on the France 2 news this evening for 20 minutes, playing the victim and insisting that he’s maintaining his candidacy. Alain Juppé will be making a statement tomorrow morning and the LR Comité Politique—comprised of the party’s top heavyweights—meets at 6pm. If Fillon hasn’t withdrawn from the race by Tuesday, that means he’s in to the bitter end. And the French Republican party crashes and burns on April 23rd.

A couple dozen of my photos of the rally—with commentary—are in an album here.

À suivre.

UPDATE: The central role played in the organization of the Trocadéro rally by Sens Commun—the political emanation of the anti-gay marriage “Manif pour tous” movement of 2013—has been observed by many, not to mention the hard-right demographic of the rally itself, and of Fillon’s hardcore conservative base more generally. The May 8th Le Canard Enchaîné has a short item on this.

FillonTrocadero

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Photo credit: Amanjeev (via War on the Rocks)

Photo credit: Amanjeev (via War on the Rocks)

I can hardly keep up with the news these days, what with obsessively reading I don’t know many articles a day about the new regime in Washington plus following the French presidential campaign, which is the wildest and craziest ever. It’s too much. I’ll intend to post something on US politics but if I sit on it for more than a day, it’s already old news. Passé. E.g. Trump’s latest psychotic meltdown on Twitter, but which we’ll likely have already moved on from by tomorrow.

I’m not going to offer any personal thoughts here. Just links, in particular to two excellent articles I read just today. The first is entitled “‘Bring everything crashing down’: Bannon’s reactionary guard and U.S. national security,” posted Feb. 27th on the War on the Rocks blog (h/t Claire B.). The author, previously unknown to me, is Iskander Rehman, Senior Fellow at the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy at Salve Regina University in Newport RI, and who received all his degrees from Sciences Po Paris. He’s a sharp analyst and with numerous insights, e.g. on the Vichy regime and parallels to Washington today—and quoting historian Henry Rousso, who had some problems at Houston airport last week—and on Stephen Bannon’s Weltanschauung, which, for Rehman, has five clear components—class resentment, millenarianism, decadentism, ethnotribalism, and illiberalism—none of which, Rehman contends, have a place in traditional American conservatism. Peut-être.

Rehman links to several good articles, one from last November, in Politico, by Jedediah Purdy of the Duke Law School, “The anti-democratic worldview of Steve Bannon and Peter Thiel.”

The other first-rate piece read today is Emily Bazelon’s in the current NYT Magazine, “Department of Justification.” The lede: “Stephen Bannon and Jeff Sessions, the new attorney general, have long shared a vision for remaking America. Now the nation’s top law-enforcement agency can serve as a tool for enacting it.” I personally think—today at least—that Trump’s sinister henchmen will fail to enact their vision—the resistance of America’s robust civil society, plus the courts, will prevent that from happening—but it’s chilling stuff nonetheless.

On 45’s SOTU address last Tuesday—now ancient history—which certain media organs normally critical of the SOB shamefully praised, Vox’s Matthew Yglesias had a brilliant analysis in case one missed it, “Trump is performing the role of president, not doing the job: He doesn’t want to be president, he just wants to play one on TV.” Also see the commentaries in Slate by Michelle Goldberg—who is consistently tops—and William Saletan. The one by Never Trump Republican Max Boot in FP is also good, “Don’t believe the new Trump: He’s still the same old, uninformed, easily manipulated, egomaniac—surrounded by second-raters, lickspittles, and extremists.” Lickspittles: love that!

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce has the most gratifying piece of the week: “Why I’ll never sympathize with regretful Trump voters: They brought this disaster on themselves. They must own it.” That’s right. Qu’ils aillent se faire foutre. FN voters in France too.

C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

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