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The McKinney pool party

mkcinney texas pool party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HDP seçim kutlamaları bugün 8 Haziran 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

À suivre.

1838712-nicolas-sarkozy-congr-egrave-s-950x0-2

[update below]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posters pushing for a no vote for the French referendum on the EU constitution in Marseille

I am reminded that today is the 10th anniversary of the French referendum on the European Constitutional Treaty, which resulted in the treaty’s decisive defeat—thereby scuttling it (and with Dutch voters delivering the coup de grâce four days later in the referendum there)—and formally inaugurating the era in which the French electorate became Eurosceptic in its majority. N.B. Euroscepticism here does not signify a rejection of the construction of Europe tout court; just not “this” Europe. Whatever that’s supposed to mean. Personally speaking, I was a 100% partisan of a oui vote in the 2005 referendum. The Constitutional Treaty was a good, solid, well-conceived text, put together via a democratic, transparent process, and was quite simply the best treaty the European Union could have possibly come up with in view of the absolute necessity to adapt the institutional architecture to an EU going from 15 to 25 members—with the enlargement of 2004, and an additional two in 2007—and to institutionally tackle the EU’s famous “democratic deficit.” IMO, there were no good arguments against the treaty. None whatever. Those who opposed the treaty either didn’t know what they were talking about—which was the case for leftists who voted non—or were fighting the last war—and one already lost—which was the case for right-wing non voters.

During the referendum campaign in the spring of 2005—to which I was riveted—I attended public events of all four camps:

  • Oui de gauche: A town hall meeting at the Sèvres mairie, with Jack Lang (very good) and Daniel Cohn-Bendit (totally excellent), which was intermittently disrupted by two loud-mouthed noniste de gauche hecklers, who, after the longest time, were escorted out.
  • Oui de droite: A packed town hall meeting at a large auditorium in my right-wing banlieue, with the then local UMP deputy (and member of the Raffarin II government) Henri Plagnol (excellent) pedagogically explaining the treaty to the audience of mostly UMP voters.
  • Non de droite: A packed rally of several thousand at the Palais des Sports (Porte de Versailles), with souverainistes Philippe de Villiers and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan the têtes d’affiche, and with speakers from several, mostly northern European Eurosceptic parties, including UKIP’s Nigel Farage (speaking in fluent, albeit heavily accented, French).
  •  Non de gauche: A rally in a meeting hall in Créteil of a couple of hundred people, presided by the commune’s longtime fabusien mayor, Laurent Cathala, and with a panoply of speakers from hard leftist (PCF), extreme leftist (LCR etc), and gauchiste civil society associations.

The arguments of the oui de gauche and oui de droite were similar, which each camp emphasizing different things to address concerns of its voters, e.g. the oui de gauche assuring that the Constitutional Treaty would absolutely not undermine the welfare state, the oui de droite that the treaty in no way paved the way for the entry of Turkey in the EU.

Noteworthy were the arguments of the non camp. In the case of the right-wing souverainistes, they argued for a Gaullist vision of a Europe of Nations, of a return to the Europe of the Treaty of Rome. And on this, they presented their case well (on the level of oratory, de Villiers and Dupont-Aignan, plus the youthful Guillaume Peltier, were excellent, BTW). Their world-view was coherent, with one either buying it or not, but voting oui or non wouldn’t have changed a thing, as, with the Single Act and the Maastricht Treaty, the horse had already bolted from the stable, as it were. There was (and is) simply no turning the clock back to the 1960s (and returning to the franc). The hard right-wing, as is its wont, was engaging in the politics of nostalgia.

A note: The oui de droite rally revealed, for me at least, an undercurrent of Germanophobia on the French right (and which is present on the left as well, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon has reminded us with his latest pamphlet). All the flags of EU member states were hung from the rafters except for the German. And in the literature tables there were anti-Germany books (by small right-wing publishers) that I had never heard of. And this Germanophobia has become more pronounced in the ensuing decade.

What most struck me was the rally of the non de gauche. It was a horror show. A tissue of lies from beginning to end. In attendance at the Créteil rally was the petit peuple de gauche in all its splendor: working-class public employees, CGT and FO activists, Communist and Trotskyist militants, and other sundry hard leftists, and with each speaker seemingly trying to outdo the other in demagoguery and mendacity. E.g. the insistence that the Constitutional Treaty would threaten abortion rights (bullshit) or laïcité (bullshit times ten), or undermine the sacrosanct French social model (unfounded nonsense). Etc, etc. The hysteria and lies went on and on. But none of the gauchistes’ objections were valid in the least. Not a single one.

As for blogger Etienne Chouard’s arguments, which were a huge hit on the noniste left, I refuted all of them at the time, as did others.

At the end of the day, the failure of the referendum was the fault of Jacques Chirac, who organized it in the first place. He wasn’t obliged to. He could have simply had parliament ratify it with a three-fifths votes and that would have been that. But with the referendum called, Chirac then failed to defend the treaty, unlike François Mitterrand during the Maastricht referendum campaign 13 years prior. And UMP president Nicolas Sarkozy, obsessed with 2007, didn’t lift a finger to do so.

One positive effect of the referendum was that it got the French electorate engaged with Europe in a way it had never been before, save the 1992 campaign. Malheureusement les Français ont mal votés…

655536_7_3039_la-carte-du-vote-en-france-du-referendum-du

The Law of the Market

movies-233913-2

That’s the literal translation of director Stéphane Brizé’s La Loi du Marché, the market here being the neoliberal market economy (the film’s actual English title is ‘The Measure of a Man’). It was in competition at the Cannes film festival, which ended yesterday and with Vincent Lindon—the only professional actor in the film—winning the best actor award. The film opened in France last week and, as it happens, I saw it yesterday evening, learning about Lindon’s prize in a newsflash some ten minutes after leaving the theater. I can’t say if it was well-deserved, as this is the only one of the nineteen films in competition at the festival I’ve seen—which is logical, as none of the others have opened yet—though he did put in a very good performance, as he always does. Lindon is a fine actor, though his persona, for me at least, tends to overwhelm whatever role he’s playing. He does have range, though is always Vincent Lindon, if that makes sense.

In this, he plays a 51-year-old member of the skilled working class named Thierry, who has been laid off from an enterprise that, as the viewer is informed, was making a profit but with the company home office, for reasons not having to do with its bottom line, deciding to close the plant and send the personnel to Pôle Emploi. Collecting unemployment compensation for close to two years, Thierry is taking a mandatory retraining course but which is a waste of time—and he and everyone he has to deal with know it—as, at his age and given the way the system works—and with the unemployment rate in France being what it is—there is almost no chance it will yield anything for him. With a wife in a low salary job, a handicapped teenage son, and unemployment checks down to €500/month—and refusing to consider selling their modest condo, which would compromise their (barely) middle-class status and all that they had worked for—he takes a job as a security guard in a hypermarket in a shopping center (which looks to be in the Paris banlieue, though it could be anywhere), though which mainly involves monitoring the video surveillance cameras, to spot not only shoplifters but also employees—principally cashiers—who may be cutting corners or doing things they shouldn’t. And it is made clear to him that the company is looking to shed staff, so his fellow employees are particular targets of the surveillance and nabbed for transgressions that are, objectively speaking, not a big deal but nonetheless a pretext for getting fired. And in France these days, one knows what it means to suddenly lose one’s job, particularly under such circumstances and if one does not have in-demand skills to begin with. So Thierry, who lost his previous job in a company that was looking to increase its profits—and no doubt executive compensation too—at the expense of its personnel, now finds himself as a peon on the side of le patron, not only getting colleagues fired but nailing shoplifters who, in fact, don’t have the means to pay for the food they’re concealing in their coats or purses, i.e. who are in much the same financial situation he was facing before, out of desperation, he took his minimum wage job.

The pic is an obvious sociopolitical commentary from the opening scene, on the nature of capitalism in our era and the precarious state in which an ever larger portion of the workforce finds itself. Lindon and Brizé—the two collaborating closely in the film’s making—have made this clear in interviews, with Lindon—who does not conceal his gauchiste views—telling the JDD, in regard to film’s story, that “delation makes me want to vomit” and “I am a man angry [at finance capitalism] and, above all, furious at injustice,” and Brizé denouncing to Le Monde the fact that, these days, “people are eliminated for the most minor of infractions.” I thought the film handled its subject with sufficient subtlety—more so than Ken Loach or Robert Guédiguian would—notably the way Lindon’s character dealt with each situation he was confronted with. The film depicts the reality of the working lives for the lower half of French (and American, British, etc.) society more accurately than any other I’ve seen in a while. On this, it’s almost documentary-like. But some—e.g. those whose views on economic questions are akin to the line of The Economist magazine and Wall Street Journal editorial page—may find the pic’s engagé side to be heavy-handed, if not downright agitprop. On this score, there are indeed a couple of sequences, including the ending—no spoilers—, that are borderline. Mais peu importe. It’s a good film. If you are, however, the kind who sees hedge fund managers as wealth creators and “makers”—and who considers the Thierrys of this world to be “moochers” and “takers”—then the movie is definitely not for you. But if your world-view is the opposite of this, then you’ll likely appreciate it. Hollywood critics who saw the pic at Cannes gave it the unreserved thumbs up—here, here, and here—as did those in France, whose reviews are particularly gushing. And people in the media here were positively thrilled at Vincent Lindon winning his prize. He is clearly well-liked by those who’ve met him (I’ve seen him a couple of times in public in the 6th arrondissement; he seems like a cool guy). Trailer is here.

French cinema was a big winner at Cannes, with the Palme d’Or going to Jacques Audiard’s ‘Deephan’ (which opens in August) and Emmanuelle Bercot winning the best actress award ex-æquo for her role in Maïwenn’s ‘Mon roi’ (opens in October). Bercot, it so happens, was also the director of the film ‘La Tête haute’ (Standing Tall), that opened the festival (out of competition) two weeks ago, and which immediately hit the salles here. I’ve seen it. It’s good. Will have a post on it soon. Many good films coming out in France these days. Whoever said French cinema was in decline?

One French film that came out recently, and with a very similar theme to the above discussed one, is director Pierre Jolivet’s Jamais de la vie (English title: The Night Watchman). This one is also about a man in his early 50s, here named Franck and played by the Belgian actor—and Dardenne brothers’ favorite—Olivier Gourmet—the similarities with Vincent Lindon are striking—, who, one understands, had a decent working class job—and was a union delegate—but lost it ten years ago, now works the graveyard shift as a security guard at a hypermarket in a shopping center in a soulless Paris banlieue (sound familiar?), and spends his off hours drinking en suisse in his flat in his cité high rise—he lives in la zone—where he knows and gets along with everyone, including les jeunes. He was clearly a leader during his factory/union days but has had a tough time since, and is looking at a bleak future financially, with the necessity of working till he’s 70—all but impossible in France—to collect a livable pension. The social commentary is pretty obvious, though Franck’s attention is directed not at his employer or finance capitalists but rather criminal elements among his watchmen colleagues. It’s not a bad film—it certainly held my attention—and is carried by Gourmet, who’s in almost every frame. It’s quite a performance on his part. He’s a real screen presence. THR’s review is here. Trailer is here.

jamais de la vie

palmyra isis

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below] [5th update below] [6th update below] [7th update below] [8th update below] [9th update below] [10th update below]

My social media news feeds have been covered the past two days with comments and links from people in extreme distress—and that includes me—over the Islamic State’s capture of Palmyra and the likely consequences for the archaeological treasures there. The fall of Palmyra to IS—or, rather, its abandonment by Bashar al-Assad’s army—has been grist for the mill for those in France—numerous on the right—who have been advocating a rapprochement with the Syrian Ba’athist regime. A high-profile tribune in Le Figaro yesterday, by Hadrien Desuin, an analyst previously unknown to me—he has a military background and is clearly on the souverainiste right—thus asked rhetorically “why such inaction from the [US-led anti-IS] coalition?” in the face of the IS offensive on Palmyra. Answering his own question, he asserted that the coalition preferred to watch Palmyra fall rather than support the Ba’athist army’s effort to fend off IS and save humanity’s historical patrimony. How abject of the coalition—and, ergo, France (i.e. François Hollande) and the US.

Jean-Pierre Filiu, the well-known Middle East specialist and islamologue—and who has been engagé on the Syrian issue—will have none of this. In an interview in Politis (May 20th), he asserted that Bashar al-Assad allowed the jihadists to approach Palmyra, so as to show the world that his regime was on the front line against IS—when, in fact, it has never been before and still wasn’t—, and then quit the city without putting up much of a fight, thereby getting the belles âmes in the West worked up into an even greater tizzy over the IS fanatics, deflecting attention away from Bashar’s crimes, and thereby hoping to neutralize Western opposition to the Ba’athist regime. In other words, the fall of Palmyra was cynically engendered by Bashar al-Assad himself, as it’s only Palmyra after all—and whose loss does not, in fact, increase the threat to Damascus or Homs—and what does Bashar care about archaeological treasures anyway, as his regime, as Filiu reminds us, has also been pillaging and degrading those treasures for years? On all this, Filiu is rather more convincing than is Monsieur Desuin.

As for the IS capture of Ramadi, this has provided the usual suspects (neocons, etc.) another occasion with which to bash President Obama for the apparent failure of his Iraq policy (e.g. the Kagan couple and IDC Herzliya Rubin Center director Jonathan Spyer). Journalist Ann Marlowe, who’s done some good reporting from the Middle East—and has a smart piece in Tablet, dated May 18th, on Libya and why the post-Qadhafi order was not a preordained failure—went so far as to call Obama “the worst president ever” on account of Ramadi’s fall. Ouf, GMAB! Pour mémoire, defending Ramadi was the responsibility of the Iraqi government, not the United States, and the city’s fall reflected a failure in Iraq’s strategy against IS, not that of the Obama administration.

In a column in Slate (May 19th), Fred Kaplan, offering his own not very palatable options to Obama’s policy dilemma, rubbished the armchair warriors in Washington and its punditocracy. Money quote

Those who believe that Obama caused these troubles, or that they can be solved by a few thousand American ground troops, are so naive and shallow that we can only hope that none of them wins the White House or advises the candidate who does. For one thing, “a few thousand ground troops,” in fact, means many more: They would need air support (including transport planes and helicopters), bases, supply convoys, and a headquarters, plus additional troops to protect the troops, bases, convoys, and headquarters.

For another, what are these troops supposed to do? And which would have the larger effect—the additional firepower that they could bring to bear against ISIS or the additional recruits that ISIS could rally to kill Americans in the name of jihad?

In other words, neocons, other right-wingers, and their ilk who are beating up on Obama for losing Ramadi don’t know WTF they’re talking about. They just want to beat up on Obama, that’s all.

I just read journalist Graeme Wood’s article in the March issue of The Atlantic, “What ISIS really wants.” It’s a great piece, long—34 pages printed out—but absolutely worth the read. Two big points: (a) IS is a serious, millenarian Islamic force such as we’ve never seen before and whose ideology and world-view is in no way un-Islamic, and (b) there is, for the US and the West, no military response except for containment and aiding local Muslim actors who oppose IS.

À suivre, certainement.

UPDATE: Nicolas Pelham has a most interesting, must-read report, datelined Baghdad May 6th, in the June 4th issue of the NYRB, “ISIS & the Shia revival in Iraq.”

2nd UPDATE: Journalist Patrick Symmes, who “cover[s] insurgencies, global environmental problems, travel, and the geopolitical fault lines that underlie them all,” has a compelling op-ed in the NYT (May 23rd) on Palmyra’s “ancient ruins [that] terror can’t destroy.”

3rd UPDATE: Paleocon Patrick Buchanan has a commentary (May 22nd) in TAC on “What the fall of Ramadi means.” Personally speaking, I can find no flaw in what he says. If someone can, please let me know.

4th UPDATE: Journalist Erika Solomon, writing for the FT from Beirut (May 22nd), says that the taking of Palmyra puts “Isis in [a] position to advance on Damascus.” Perhaps. On verra.

5th UPDATE: In an analysis (May 22nd) that would tend to confirm the one above, The Guardian’s Martin Chulov says “First Ramadi, then Palmyra: Isis shows it can storm bastions of Syria and Iraq.” The lede: “Terror group faced little resistance from local forces, prompting re-evaluations across a region that had sensed it might be in retreat.”

6th UPDATE: Hassan Hassan, the sharp analyst at Abu Dhabi’s Delma Institute and co-author of a new book on the Islamic State, has a column in The Guardian (May 24th) on the “Religious teaching that drives Isis to threaten the ancient ruins of Palmyra.” The lede: “Most historical sites under Islamic State control in Iraq and Syria remain intact. Palmyra might be different precisely because of western warnings.”

7th UPDATE: CSIS geostrategic specialist Anthony Cordesman, who knows more about Middle Eastern military matters than anyone inside the Beltway (and most outside of it), has an analysis (May 21st), on the CSIS website, on “The defeat in Ramadi,” which he says, in regard to US policy, signals “a time for transparency, integrity, and change.”

8th UPDATE: Dov S. Zakheim, who was a Pentagon official in the Reagan and Bush 43 administrations, has a commentary in The National Interest (May 23rd), in which he argues that “The only ISIS strategy left for America [is] containment.”

9th UPDATE: Amos Harel of Haaretz says (May 26th) that “Hezbollah leader’s speech makes [it] clear: Israel may soon be faced with post-Assad Syria.” The lede: “The bigger picture is gradually becoming clear: After almost a year of a relative stalemate, the Assad regime is retreating on multiple fronts.” So it looks like the fall of Palmyra has increased the threat to Damascus, Homs, etc. after all.

10th UPDATE: Beirut-based reporter Kareem Shaheen, writing in The Guardian (May 27th), informs us that “Isis [has] release[ed] footage of Palmyra ruins intact and ‘will not destroy them’.” The lede: “Ancient ruins are not statues and so will be spared, Isis commander reportedly tells radio station amid new humanitarian crisis in the area.” If true, that’s a relief. As for the humanitarian crisis, any calls from the belles âmes for a Western military intervention to deal with that?

مدينة-تدمر-سوريا

Titli

titli une chronique indienne

This is a first-rate film from India I saw the other day, about a lowlife crime family in greater Delhi and their lowlife antics. I’ll let Variety’s Jay Weissberg—who probably knows non-Western cinema better than any other US film critic—describe the pic

The rising profile of Indian indies on the international scene receives another boost with Kanu Behl’s grittily impressive noir debut, “Titli.” Set within the claustrophobic confines of a criminal family in a downtrodden section of Delhi, the film plunges into this pitiless milieu with headstrong assurance, presenting a paternalistic world where corruption seeps into people’s pores and women need backbones of steel to survive. Behl coaxes standout perfs from the largely non-pro cast and captures the volatility of a society where violence lies uneasily just below the surface…

If the recent horrific rapes reported from India have taken much of the globe by surprise, “Titli” seems to be saying, “Look, let me show you where this comes from.” Behl and co-scripter Sharat Katariya make no apologies; nor do they create one-dimensional monsters: They depict a dog-eat-dog culture where feelings of powerlessness engender acts of terrible cruelty. Part of this stewing anger comes from the increasingly independent power of women, creating a backlash and crushing wives unable to maintain their precarious control.

The name Titli translates as “butterfly,” an apt moniker for a character (Shashank Arora) who undergoes a troubling transformation. He’s the youngest of three brothers, living together with their father (Lalit Behl, the helmer’s dad) in a cramped, dingy home off one of Delhi’s countless unpaved streets. Titli dreams of escaping and buying the concession for a newly constructed parking garage, but he’s about $500 short. Once his family is introduced, it’s apparent why Titli is so anxious to get out: Vikram (Ranvir Shorey) is a belligerent tyrant who’s driven his wife to file for divorce, and middle brother Baawla (Amit Sial), through his calm demeanor, enables Vikram’s expansive ruthlessness and their father’s silent control. (…)

To read the rest of Weissberg’s review, go here.

The film paints a bleak portrait of contemporary India in this era of globalization—urban India’s globalized logo consumer culture is declaimed in the opening scene—, neoliberalism, and—how else to put it—modernization and the attendant anomie, with the violence that suffuses social relations, not to mention relations within the family, and the general breakdown of social mores. My grandfather (1903-80) would die a second time if he saw what India has become, where money is all that matters, people have extramarital affairs and get divorced, and you name it. Indian culture is famously family centered, which the film depicts well, except that the families are distinctly Mafia-like—no sentiments, just pecuniary interest—but with the women neither passive nor taking shit from their menfolk. At least some things have changed for the better. The Lunchbox—a most heartwarming film—this is not. And this one no doubt nails a certain reality in India these days more than did Gangs of Wasseypur, which was over-the-top and borderline cartoonish toward the end.

In addition to the backhanded social commentary, the pic is gripping—I didn’t check my watch once, which, for a 2+ hour film, is not bad—and very well acted all around, in particular the comely Neelu (Shivani Raghuvanshi), the protag Titli’s wife (or “wife”). As for Titli’s name, I thought it odd, as that’s normally a girl’s name (or nickname), but it’s mentioned halfway through that his mother (deceased) so wanted her third (and last) child to be a girl—as her first two sons were destined to be sleazebags from birth, who could blame her?—that she gave him a girl’s name anyway. The film—which has so far opened only in France (it has yet to in India)—contains a warning that some spectateurs may find certain scenes shocking (for the violence), so be ready to avert your eyes (as I did). Reviewers from THR and Screen Daily who saw the pic at Cannes last year give it the thumbs up, as have French critics. Trailer is here.

Titli

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