Archive for June, 2018

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The litany of almost daily horrors outre-Atlantique has moved to a whole new level these past two weeks—and worse is yet to come, that is a certainty—with the family separations at the Mexican border and the latest SCOTUS rulings—on purging votersgerrymandering, the Muslim travel ban, unions… And now there’s Anthony Kennedy’s announced resignation. Now Kennedy is no great shakes—he’s hardly been the moderate centrist he’s often made out to be—but the nightmarish prospect of Trump naming another Gorsuch-like reactionary to the Court will now happen, and the Democrats can’t do a thing to stop it. Pundits and other analysts are reasonably predicting that conservatives will now have a lock on the Court—and, increasingly, the entire federal judiciary—for at least a generation, and with the inevitable, unthinkable—but very real—consequences, e.g. gutting the Voting Rights Act, repealing Roe v. Wade, returning to Lochner v. New York, and you name it.

But this is not a fatality. The Democrats can fight back once they retake Congress—this November, inshallah—and then the White House in ’20—which will happen if Trump’s poll numbers do not significantly rise from where they’ve been for the past eighteen months—by adding SCOTUS justices, i.e. packing the Court. The constitution says nothing about the number of SCOTUS justices being limited to nine. Constitutionally speaking, there is nothing to prevent the president from nominating new justices and Congress approving them. The proposal—which, in view of the national emergency unfolding before our eyes, is eminently sensible—is spelled out in a new book by political scientist David Faris, who teaches at Roosevelt University in Chicago, It’s time to fight dirty: How Democrats can build a lasting majority in American politics. The arresting title was no doubt cooked up by the publisher to sell copies, as Faris doesn’t talk about ‘fighting dirty’ so much as playing the game the Republicans have for years now, which is constitutional hardball, or procedural warfare: to maximize their advantage when they have the majority to advance their agenda. Do what the constitution permits and to hell with norms, comity, bipartisanship, reaching across the aisle, and all that hooey. Democrats need to act like Republicans, so Faris argues. They have to fight fire with fire. And try to reverse the damage inflicted on the body politic and the nation.

In regard to the Court, I would argue that the Dems should add two or three justices and then propose to the Republicans that, in return for adding no more, there should be a constitutional amendment imposing renewable 12-year terms for SCOTUS and all federal judges, and with a mandatory retirement age (between 75 and 80), and applying to all those currently serving (for current SCOTUS justices who’ve been around longer than the twelve years, they would come up every two years, beginning with the longest serving; I had a couple of posts on this some six-seven years ago). Seriously, why not? Should the Democrats—and the tens of millions of Americans who vote for them—simply accept the consequences of a rigged process and which could last for decades?

In addition to packing the Court, Faris proposes breaking up California into seven states—which can happen by a simple vote of the California state legislature—and with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico declaring statehood, all to increase the number of Democratic senators, as the US Senate, with its two senators per state rule and regardless of population, skews representation like no other parliamentary body in any advanced democracy. Faris also proposes nuking the filibuster, which will obviously be necessary for any of this to happen. I’m dubious about breaking up California—I just don’t see that happening under any circumstance—but the imperative of statehood for D.C. and especially Puerto Rico—neither of which I have favored in the past—are now clear. For an elaboration of Faris’s arguments, see Sean Illing’s interview with him in Vox and Zachary Roth’s review of his book in the NYT.

As the congressional Democrats are well known p*ssies, one may doubt that they will consider anything Faris proposes. But the Dem winds are shifting, as we saw with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory in the NY 14th CD on Tuesday, so the party’s composition—and disposition—may well evolve in the coming election cycles..

À propos of all this, Will Wilkinson of the Niskanen Center has a terrific op-ed in the NYT dated June 27th, “Why do we value country folk more than city people?,” in which he focuses on the heavy skew in representation in favor of GOP-voting rural areas and to the detriment of Dem-voting cities, and the deleterious consequences of this across the board. If one needs an argument in support of David Faris’s position, this is a big one.

I was talking yesterday with an American friend who’s in Paris for the summer, who was in a state of deep despair over what’s happening back home. I reminded him that there are more of “us” than there are of “them.” We are the majority. And at some point—sooner rather than later, inshallah—the majority will rule.

UPDATE: On the possible consequences of the Kennedy retirement, Josh Marshall of TPM received an email from “a former federal public corruption prosecutor.” Read it and worry.

2nd UPDATE: Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern has a post, “A new Lochner era,” that underscores the pertinence, indeed urgency, of David Faris’s proposals. The lede: “In the early 20th century, the Supreme Court systematically gutted regulations to favor business and attack organized labor. Those dark days have returned.”

3rd UPDATE: Also pertinent is Dana Milbank’s column (June 29th) in The Washington Post, “An explosion is coming,” on the inevitable, furious backlash from the Democratic Party electorate if the Republicans steamroll ahead in implementing their agenda, as they certainly will. On this, one must not forget that there are more Democrats than Republicans. We are more numerous than them.

4th UPDATE: Todd Gitlin has a worthwhile tribune (June 29th) in The Washington Post, “This was the most gutting month for liberals in half a century: Does the arc of the moral universe still bend toward justice?”

5th UPDATE: The NYT’s Michelle Goldberg has a must-read column (June 30th), “The millennial socialists are coming.” She could have added Generation Z as well. A friend in Washington DC has posted this comment on her Facebook page in regard to her high school-age son, whom she says

has been engaging us in heated discussions about the pros and cons of socialism for months. We couldn’t understand why this was so important and present for him – to us socialism seems a thing of the past and primarily a theoretical proposition. According to him, it’s at school and everywhere – a new wave of young people who see socialism as a remedy to inequality and, especially, the inaccessibility of education and health care.

Ça chauffe le cœur.

6th UPDATE: Another must-read column, this (June 26th) by The Irish Times’s very smart Fintan O’Toole: “Trial runs for fascism are in full flow.” The lede: “Babies in cages were no ‘mistake’ by Trump but test-marketing for barbarism.” Okay, the F-word may be a stretch but the point is well taken.

7th UPDATE: For those who think that the Dem party is about to lurch way to the left, read this piece in Politico Magazine (June 27th) by Bill Scher, “No, Ocasio-Cortez is not launching a socialist revolution.” The lede: “The Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party is here to stay. But so are all the other wings.”

8th UPDATE: Adam Shatz has a typically excellent commentary—based in part on discussions he and I have had in the past week, so he tells me—in the LRB blog (July 2nd), “American carnage.”

9th UPDATE: Journalists Zaid Jilani and Ryan Grim have an interesting article (July 2nd) in The Intercept, “Data suggest that gentrifying neighborhoods powered Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory.” Longtime black and Latino residents in the district stayed with the incumbent Joe Crowley. That makes sense.

10th UPDATE: It turns out that enlarging the Supreme Court is being widely debated on the left these days. E.g. see the primer (July 2nd) by Dylan Matthews in Vox, “Court-packing, Democrats’ nuclear option for the Supreme Court, explained: Why an FDR plan from the 1930s is suddenly popular again,” in which he discusses the pros and cons, and links to other pieces, such as one in TNR, dated May 10th, by the invariably first-rate Scott Lemieux.

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Istanbul, June 7th (photo by AWAV)

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The elections, for both president and parliament, are happening tomorrow, as one may be aware. And if one is aware of that, one will have likely heard or read that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, though the natural favorite, is not guaranteed of victory in the presidential—at least not on the first ballot—nor is the AKP for the TBBM. As I have no specialized knowledge of Turkish politics myself—just an ongoing interest—I will refer readers interested in what’s happening there to this very good piece (h/t Claire & Esin), dated June 21st, in the excellent War on the Rocks website, “The good, the bad, and the ugly: three scenarios to expect from Turkey’s upcoming elections.” The author, Burak Kadercan, is Associate Professor of Strategy and Policy at the United States Naval War College and Inaugural Resident Fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies of The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He’s smart.

One may also profitably read the post, dated June 16th, on ‘The Black Sea: Diving Deep into Stories’ blog, previously unknown to me, by Zeynep Sentek and Craig Shaw (in collaboration with Der Spiegel), “Erdoğan: faith and fury.” The lede: “Inside the world of Turkey’s hardline president and his final grab for power.” Among other things, one notes the numerous similarities between RTE and the dotard in the White House, in governing style, of course, but also personality. If the latter had half of the former’s intelligence and organizational skills, America would be in far deeper trouble than it already is.

If one has the time, do see the lengthy (12,290 words) article by Ella George in the May 24th London Review of Books, “Purges and paranoia: Erdoğan’s ‘new’ Turkey,” which provides a good overview of Turkish politics since the rise of RTE.

Here’s a commentary in Foreign Policy, dated June 22nd, by my friend Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations, “Don’t trust anybody about Turkey’s elections: The one thing that’s clear about Erdogan’s re-election bid is that everything is unclear.”

And for those who need to get up to speed on “Turkey’s ‘Iron Lady'” Meral Akşener, who has an outside chance of surprising RTE, see this profile of her in Time magazine last July.

Updates will follow.

UPDATE: A commenter on social media has pointed out (on Sunday morning) that Meral Akşener has been overtaken as the great anti-Erdoğan hope by the CHP candidate Muharrem İnce, who has been surging in the past month. If any candidate creates a surprise today, it will likely be him. On İnce, see the NYT op-ed (June 19th) by Şafak Pavey, “The man who could topple Erdoğan.”

And en français, see Ariane Bonzon’s interview with Turkey specialist Élise Massicard in Slate.fr (June 23rd), “Loi électorale et manipulation, Erdoğan aura tout fait pour gagner.”

2nd UPDATE: For a good day after analysis, see old Turkey hand David Barchard in Middle East Eye, “Turkey election: Erdogan wins, the opposition crashes – but don’t write off the HDP.”

See also Ariane Bonzon in Slate.fr, “Présidentielle turque: Erdogan parachève sa conquête absolue du pouvoir.”

And don’t miss Steven Cook on his CFR ‘From the Potomac to the Euphrates’ blog, “Turkey’s elections: partially free, fair, and fake.”

3rd UPDATE: Hamit Bozarslan of the EHESS in Paris, who is quite brilliant, analyzes the election outcome in Le Monde (June 26th), saying that “La Turquie d’Erdoğan est un exemple radical des antidémocraties du XXIe siècle.”

4th UPDATE: Le Monde (June 29th) has a full-page interview with political scientist Soli Özel, who teaches at Kadir Has University in Istanbul and is a regular contributor to numerous publications, in which he says that “‘Les Turcs aiment en Erdoğan ce que les étrangers détestent en lui’.”


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Credit: Getty Images

Like everyone I read all about last Tuesday’s grotesque farce in Singapore, though as it was so manifestly a publicity stunt, indeed a con job, by the White House dotard—the DPRK regime is to be eternally commended for informing us native speaking Anglophones of the existence of this word in the English language—I avoided watching the TV coverage. It goes without saying that the summit was a clear win for the DPRK and with the US coming away with nothing in particular; this is the consensus among objective observers and commentators (so much so that no references are necessary). How could it be otherwise with an ignorant idiot like Trump, whose sole sources of information are what he sees on television and whatever may be whispered in his ear by one of the lackeys, lickspittles, or whackadoodles in his entourage? He reads nothing, as we know, not even short memos or abbreviated intelligence briefings. The fact that Trump was winging it in Singapore—that the preparatory work of his staff was minimal and that he had no idea what he was doing or talking about—was confirmed—if confirmation were necessary—by his own words at the press conference after the event.

While the reviews of Trump’s performance have been heavily negative, I did note a couple of gauchiste friends on social media who put a positive spin on it, taking liberals and lefties to task while they were at it for not giving Trump credit where credit was due. One of their arguments was that South Koreans in their majority were delighted by what happened in Singapore. Well, of course they would be: when a mentally deranged US dotard president threatens to rain “fire and fury” on the Korean peninsula and then, for reasons known only to himself—and even then—suddenly does a 180° and starts talking peace, then obviously people south of the 38th parallel will be relieved. So no, Trump gets zero credit. None whatever.

One friend who has weighed in publicly on Singapore is Stephen Zunes, a smart engagé political scientist well-known among lefties and peace activists, who posted his take on social media, and on which he invited me to comment. So here’s his commentary followed by my response:

Some thoughts on the Singapore Summit between Trump and Kim:

1) The joint statement is vague and doesn’t amount to much, so I’m dubious it will amount to any treaty or denuclearization or lasting peace, at least while Trump is president

2) Nevertheless, they are talking with each other instead of threatening each other and are at least pretending to move in the right direction, and that is very positive

3) US-South Korean military exercises, while largely defensive in nature, are not really necessary and are seen as provocative by the North Koreans, so their unilateral suspension by Trump as a confidence-building measure is a good thing

4) If Obama had done the same thing Trump has done in recent days regarding North Korea, Democrats would be defending him and Republicans would be mercilessly attacking him. Since it’s Trump, however, it’s largely been the other way around. The summit and the joint statement should be judged on its own merits, not by partisan politics

5) Trump is being totally hypocritical to walk away from a detailed verifiable nuclear agreement with Iran while praising a vague unverifiable set of principles with North Korea.

6) North Korea would be naïve to sign any binding agreement with Trump, since he clearly does not feel obliged to keep the United States’ international commitments

7) The joint statement was NOT one-sided in North Korea’s favor. It was one-sided in the United States’
favor, since it said nothing about the U.S. eventually getting rid of or even reducing its vast nuclear arsenal

8) North Korea is a horrific dictatorship, but that doesn’t mean that the United States shouldn’t engage in respectful diplomatic negotiations in areas of mutual concern. Indeed, the Trump administration provides arms and security assistance to Saudi Arabia and other repressive regimes with bipartisan support in Congress, so it’s ridiculous to claim that meeting with Kim means the United States is suddenly coddling dictators

9) Trump probably took his far more moderate and conciliatory position than many expected because the South Koreans had so strongly objected to his earlier belligerent approach and he realized it would be difficult for a country on the far side of the world to take a more hardline position than the country most affected by North Korea

10) Despite these positive developments, the world should still be concerned about having an unstable impulsive militaristic narcissist with nuclear weapons; we should also be concerned about Kim Jong-un.

I agree with all of these points except 3, 7 and 9, and with a comment on 2. On the latter, jaw-jaw is always better than war-war but in this case, the only serious threat of war—and nuclear at that—has come from Trump. The DPRK may act crazy from time to time but, as I think we understand, it is not actually crazy, and certainly not enough to launch a bolt-out-of-the-blue attack on South Korea or Japan, let alone the US. Sure, it’s a totalitarian regime and behaves horribly toward its own people, plus to unfortunate foreigners who get into trouble there, but it does not behave irrationally in its foreign dealings. And while we have no idea about Kim Jong-un’s mental health state, we do about that of the malignant narcissistic megalomaniac in the White House, who is entirely capable of doing another 180°, tearing up what was signed at Singapore, and once again threatening to rain fire and fury if it dawns on him that he’s being played by Kim. As Emmanuel Macron and countless others have learned, Trump keeps no commitments, respects no rules, and has no friends. So one can only look at what happened in Singapore with a jaundiced eye.

On point 3: the US-South Korea military exercises are entirely legitimate and normal in view of the defense treaty between the two countries, the heavy militarization of the DPRK, and the formal state of war that still exists. Trump’s unilateral suspension was not only gratuitous—he did not need to offer Kim any more confidence-building measures than he did by simply meeting with and flattering him—but also a slap in the face to South Korea and president Moon Jae-in, who was not informed about it beforehand. This is the sort of concession to be made as part of a negotiating process, in which the US and South Korea receive something concrete and comparable in return. But such was not the case with the famous deal-maker Trump.

Point 7: The size, let alone existence, of the US nuclear arsenal is not on the table in negotiations with the DPRK. Only the latter’s is. The objection here is irrelevant.

Point 9: This assumes a logic and rationality to Trump’s thinking on foreign policy—indeed his thinking on anything—but also that he cares a whit about what other countries—here, South Korea—think or desire. Trump acts on impulse and follows his gut instinct. He cares about no one and nothing but himself. As for why he took his more moderate and conciliatory position toward the DPRK, again, we have no idea. For all we know, someone in his entourage told him that if he sought a meeting with Kim and talked peace, that he would win the Nobel Peace Prize. And Trump thought: “Great idea! And if Obama can have a Nobel Prize, why not me?” Such would also up his poll numbers and thrill the base to no end. If doesn’t get the Nobel—and he won’t—he may well walk away from his peace process, if he hasn’t already by then.

The fact of the matter is, there will be no deal with the DPRK, at least not one in which the latter denuclearizes and allows foreign inspectors unfettered access to verify that such is taking place. The DPRK would be crazy to sign such an agreement after what happened in Singapore. And they would be doubly crazy to sign any such deal with Trump.

À propos of all this, Slate staff writer Lili Loofbourow has a pertinent essay, dated June 14th, “We are in a linguistic emergency when it comes to Trump: He is getting exactly what he wants.” For those too lazy to click on the link, here’s the whole thing:

In the wake of the horrors currently being done to children in America’s name, here’s one thing we can do: Recognize we’re in a linguistic emergency. We have a president whose single-minded praise for macho might is wearing down even those who refuse to overlook his incompetence. Trump, the only presidential candidate to refer to his penis size during a national debate, wants nothing more than to be seen as powerful and manly, and to align himself with those who project the characteristics he desires. And he’s gotten help—from us. If you’ve ever called Trump “tough” on immigration, note that he just called a dictator “tough” for murdering his citizens. (And “very smart” for staying in power.) That should be a wake-up call to journalists responsible for telling the story of this moment: Stop using the words he routinely chooses to describe himself. And think hard about whether you’re accidentally reinforcing the model of power he’s trying to sell.

That change is task one: Sidestep every attempt he and his allies make to equate treating people badly with being strong, because their efforts to link those concepts are working. Neutral outlets are defaulting to his language for what he does—he’s “cracking down” on unions! He’s taking a “hard line” on the G-7! Driving “hard bargains”! These all position him as powerful, which he loves. The trouble is, it’s wrong. In practice, Trump’s positions slip and slide all over the place. He never got that “hard bargain” he allegedly drove (though he sure got credit for driving it). His deals fall through, his policy shifts depending on whomever he spoke to last. It would be the height of irony if the weakest president on record managed to rebrand himself as the strongman he so badly wants to be.

So: Infectious though his formulations can be, it’s time to break the habit. Don’t use his language outside quotation marks. Take particular care to avoid words that confuse cruelty with strength. Avoid warlike metaphors. No taking aim, no battles, no doubling down. No punching metaphors. No deals. Deny him the framing he wants. There are, after all, other words. Arbitrary. Confused. Crabby. Ignorant.

This is an extraordinarily weak president. Narrate him that way. It’s the truth.

Language reshapes relations; even the famous Stanford prison experiment—which ostensibly demonstrated that people with perceived power devolve to treating each other brutally—was recently exposed as having some of its more horrifying results engineered. The “brutal” guards were told to be brutal and how to be brutal. George Lakoff has argued that the metaphors underpinning language do at least as much messaging work as the words themselves do. He’s right. And Trump is good at using hoary old frames about mighty men, of calling losses wins. It doesn’t matter if he lies—the only goal is to convey strength. And it works.

His presidency has not, so far, been described faithfully and consistently for what it is. Take this December Bloomberg story, which describes a speech in which Trump makes it clear he has no idea how the immigration system he’s promised to change works. This is what he said: “They give us their worst people, they put them in a bin, but in his hand when he’s picking him are really the worst of the worst.” That is not, in any way, how America’s immigration functions.

In any other climate, the newsworthy element of the story would be obvious: a president claiming he can fix immigration doesn’t understand, at the most basic level, how the current system works. That’s a scandal. But rather than center that fact, the headline is “Trump Calls Immigrants With Lottery Visas ‘Worst of the Worst.’ ” That Trump got everything wrong doesn’t show up until the seventh paragraph. Not only does this marginalize what really matters—i.e., that the man in charge is so incompetent he can’t even describe the thing he plans to fix—it also concentrates the power of the story on Trump. It suggests that the important takeaway from this speech is what he calls a group of people that he just demonstrated he knows nothing about.

A president’s lack of basic competence is worth accurately reporting on. And it must be reported on when there is nothing else of value worth reporting.

So why doesn’t this happen more? Two reasons: For one, I sense in much of the reporting on Trump a secret fear that maybe we’re missing something. He won, after all. And he keeps insisting that he’s strong despite all the evidence, so maybe there’s something we’re not seeing. This, as many have pointed out, is gaslighting. It’s why he always says he has a plan he won’t describe.

The second reason is that many news organizations still confuse neutrality with accuracy. Better to just report what he says and let the people decide, the thinking goes.

But that’s wrong. And that’s due to the power of language: Simply repeating his fantastical claims makes them seem less fantastical. What a president says usually matters a great deal. But because what Trump says usually bears no relation to the truth (or to what his own policies end up being) it therefore fails to inform the public, and is not worth repeating. He wants to propagate the story of a power he doesn’t have. We shouldn’t help him.

Instead, repeat the valuable news that emanates from this White House: Usually, that will involve showing all the ways this president is wrong, weak, and reactive.

And if you’re stumped on finding the words to do that with, look to misogyny. I’m serious. Just imagine how the past week would have been framed had Trump been a woman—weakness would be the constant subtext. “A shaken Trump tries to shift blame for broken families on nonexistent ‘Democrat bill.’” “At Singapore summit, Trump makes nervous joke over weight.” “Trump catty with Trudeau.”

And then there’s this “Memo to the press, after 18 months of Trump,” posted June 15th by Robert Reich on his Facebook page:

1. Stop treating Trump’s tweets as news.

2. Never believe a single word that comes out of his mouth.

3. Don’t fall for the reality-TV spectacles he creates. (For example, his meeting with Kim Jong-un.) They’re not news, either.

4. Don’t let his churlish thin-skinned vindictive narcissistic rants divert attention from what he’s really doing.

5. Focus on what he’s really doing, and put stories into this context. He’s: (1) undermining democratic institutions, (2) using his office for personal gain, (3) sowing division and hate, (4) cozying up to dictators while antagonizing our democratic allies around the world, (5) violating the rule of law, and (6) enriching America’s wealthy while harming the middle class and the poor. He may also be (7) colluding with Putin.

6. Keep track of what his Cabinet is doing — Sessions’s attacks on civil rights, civil liberties, voting rights, and immigrants; DeVos’s efforts to undermine public education, Pruitt’s and Zinke’s efforts to gut the environment; all their conflicts of interest, and the industry lobbyists they’ve put in high positions.

7. Don’t try to “balance” your coverage of the truth with quotes and arguments from Trump’s enablers and followers. This is not a contest between right and left, Republicans and Democrats. This is between democracy and demagogic authoritarianism.

8. Don’t let him rattle you. Maintain your dignity, confidence, and courage.

À suivre.

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Maryam Pougetoux

Okay, hysteria may be excessive. It’s more a brouhaha. Or maybe a tempest in a teapot. But whatever one calls it, it is surely another of those only-in-France incidents in regard to expressions of Muslim religiosity in public space. If one is not au courant of the affair, please read the dispatches by James McAuley in The Washington Post, “For some French officials, the headscarf is such a threat they are attacking a teenager,” and Aida Alami in The New York Times, “The college student who has France’s secularists fulminating.” Both McAuley and Alami, with their “Anglo-Saxon” sensibilities, take a dim view of the reaction by the usual suspects in the French political class and punditocracy to the specter of the 19-year-old, hijab-wearing Maryam Pougetoux being elected president of the University of Paris-IV chapter of UNEF, France’s most important student union. My knee-jerk sympathies are naturally with my “Anglo-Saxon” associates, as well as with more Gallic voices such as that of Rokhaya Diallo, who posted a tribune in The Guardian on “[a] student leader [being] the latest victim of France’s obsession with the hijab.” And my knee is doubly jerked when seeing the charge against Mademoiselle Pougetoux—would I have been as articulate, poised, and self-confident at that age as she—being inevitably led by the warrior for the cause of laïcité de combat, Laurent Bouvet, of whom I am, needless to say, not a fan. I am resolutely not in the camp of the Printemps Républicain. As Monsieur Bouvet has blocked me from Facebook, signifying that he does not want me to read him, I would normally not bother doing so—he is, in fact, one of those pundits I decline to read—but did make an exception here, particularly as he and McAuley have been exchanging barbs on Twitter today.

I hate to say this—this is very hard—but despite my knee jerk reactions, I am not entirely, 100% in disagreement with Bouvet on this very specific matter. As it happens, I had a Twitter exchange with my friend Karim Emile Bitar some two weeks ago on the question of Mlle Pougetoux, in which I expressed conflicted feelings on her being an official spokesperson for UNEF. As a civil society association, UNEF can, of course, elect anyone it pleases to posts of responsibility and it is, in principle, not for non-members to be weighing in on this. And not even the laïcard Bouvet would have a problem with simple members of UNEF—which has historically been linked to the Socialist Party—wearing hijabs or other accoutrements of religious belonging. But… Mlle Pougetoux’s hijab is pretty strict, suggesting strict religious observance. Again, we’re not talking about a simple UNEF member here but a president of one of its chapters. Given UNEF’s history on the French left, I do think this raises some issues. And for UNEF old-timers, it is a problem.

E.g. one may presume that Mlle Pougetoux eats only halal. This is, of course, her right. But if one is strictly halal, this necessarily limits the extent to which one can fraternize with one’s comrades who are not. A personal anecdote: my wife has a couple of nieces in their 20s who are French of three-quarters Algerian origin—they grew up in the Lyon banlieue—and while not veiled, strictly respect halal (they’re under the influence of their Algerian mother, who’s from the bled). Inviting them over to our place for dinner, or to a restaurant in Paris—both of which we’ve done in the past couple of years—is a pain in the ass, as they won’t eat what we serve them (and I’ll be damned if I’m going to buy the beef for my chili con carne at a halal boucherie). And at most restaurants, they can’t order most of what’s on the menu. I told my wife to kindly tell them that if they’re going to maintain their strict halal regime, they will ultimately only be able to have sustained friendships with other Muslims. That is, of course, their right but they will have to make that choice. Just as orthodox Jews, or observant Mormons, find themselves only with their own kind in their private lives. I’m not sure that’s what they want, as they’re otherwise open-minded and on upward social trajectories, but they’ll have to decide.

In Mlle Pougetoux’s case, if she is like our nieces in question, then—if I were a UNEF member—I would have to oppose her being a chapter president and spokesperson. I’m sorry but this is France, and a high degree of religiosity is simply incompatible with exercising posts of responsibility in otherwise laïque civil society associations, and particularly on the left (personally speaking, I would oppose it in the United States too). And it’s not just about religious practice but also attitudes toward certain burning social issues. E.g. what is Mlle Pougetoux’s position on gay marriage or abortion, questions she has so far avoided answering? If she is opposed to these, then she has no business holding a post of responsibility in UNEF. Period. It is, ça va de soi, inconceivable that UNEF would elect a president who participated in the 2013 anti-gay marriage Manif pour tous movement, or is opposed to the Loi Veil. Just as it is inconceivable that UNEF would choose a president who wore a crucifix. Or a kippa, and who followed all the precepts of orthodox Judaism.

That said, politicians should still keep their noses out of this matter. Let the left deal with it. C’est tout ce que j’ai à dire.

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I’ve been travelling the past couple of weeks—mainly in Egypt (Cairo), a little in Turkey (Istanbul)—so have been off AWAV. So as to get something up—and in the same vein as the last post, on Trumpian America being a rogue state (and with the latest declaration of trade war on the country’s closest allies, can anyone seriously deny that it is?)—I offer this recent article by Andrew J. Bacevich in The American Conservative that carries the title of the post, in which it is rhetorically asked “How can you trust an establishment that so easily succumbs to fantasies of global hegemony and go-it-alone militarism?”

Bacevich aims his fire at the Washington neocon/liberal hawk think tank swamp and punditocracy, which is in permanent agitation for America to militarily intervene in some country or countries, but the main takeaway from his piece is that at this point—and given its imperialist history—America has no moral authority to be intervening just about anywhere. This was driven home to me in a review essay I just read by Max Hastings, “The Wrath of the Centurions,” in the London Review of Books, in which he reviews Howard Jones’ My Lai: Vietnam, 1968 and the Descent into Darkness. As Hastings recounts, My Lai was only the biggest massacre of non-combattants committed by American soldiers during the Vietnam War, who, in fact, murdered civilians regularly and with impunity. The number of Vietnamese villagers raped and/or killed in cold blood by American soldiers will likely never be known but it was significant. In point of fact, American soldiers have behaved thusly in every war they’ve ever participated in. Every army does likewise, of course, and a good number have been far worse, but we’re talking about America here.

On that note, here’s a thought by my friend Claire Berlinski, who has believed all her life in America as a force for good but is having second thoughts nowadays.

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