As always, interesting stuff from Chris Dillow:
Revolutions are made not by the most wretched people, but by those who have the power and motive to effect change. If Marx is right, it is success that will kill capitalism, not failure.
As always, interesting stuff from Chris Dillow:
Revolutions are made not by the most wretched people, but by those who have the power and motive to effect change. If Marx is right, it is success that will kill capitalism, not failure.
I almost agree wholeheartedly with Patrick Cockburn on this:
The four wars fought in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria over the past 12 years have all involved overt or covert foreign intervention in deeply divided countries. In each case the involvement of the West exacerbated existing differences and pushed hostile parties towards civil war. In each country, all or part of the opposition have been hard-core jihadi fighters. Whatever the real issues at stake, the interventions have been presented as primarily humanitarian, in support of popular forces against dictators and police states. Despite apparent military successes, in none of these cases have the local opposition and their backers succeeded in consolidating power and establishing stable states.
From Slavoj Žižek:
The art of politics lies in making particular demands which, while thoroughly realistic, strike at the core of hegemonic ideology and imply much more radical change. Such demands, while feasible and legitimate, are de facto impossible. Obama’s proposal for universal healthcare was such a case, which is why reactions to it were so violent.
(...) Only a politics that fully takes into account the complexity of overdetermination deserves to be called a strategy. When we join a specific struggle, the key question is: how will our engagement in it or disengagement from it affect other struggles? The general rule is that when a revolt against an oppressive half-democratic regime begins, as with the Middle East in 2011, it is easy to mobilise large crowds with slogans – for democracy, against corruption etc. But we are soon faced with more difficult choices. When the revolt succeeds in its initial goal, we come to realise that what is really bothering us (our lack of freedom, our humiliation, corruption, poor prospects) persists in a new guise, so that we are forced to recognise that there was a flaw in the goal itself. This may mean coming to see that democracy can itself be a form of un-freedom, or that we must demand more than merely political democracy: social and economic life must be democratised too. In short, what we first took as a failure fully to apply a noble principle (democratic freedom) is in fact a failure inherent in the principle itself. This realisation – that failure may be inherent in the principle we’re fighting for – is a big step in a political education.
(...) In a more directly political sense, the US has consistently pursued a strategy of damage control in its foreign policy by re-channelling popular uprisings into acceptable parliamentary-capitalist forms: in South Africa after apartheid, in the Philippines after the fall of Marcos, in Indonesia after Suharto etc. This is where politics proper begins: the question is how to push further once the first, exciting wave of change is over, how to take the next step without succumbing to the ‘totalitarian’ temptation, how to move beyond Mandela without becoming Mugabe.
It's sad to say (ok not really) but Žižek is becoming what he has always despised the most: a less fashionable version of Bernard-Henri Lévy.
From Chris Bertram:
We line up obediently behind Miliband (or Obama, or Hollande) and, having persuaded enough of our fellow citizens to vote for a programme of progressive reform, our social-democrats then enact that very programme. That’s democracy. Except that it very rarely happens like that. What actually happens is that hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of ordinary men and women demonstrate, by their acts of lawbreaking, disobedience, even violence, that there are injustices up with which they will no longer put (I’m channelling James C. Scott here). Neither the US civil rights movement of the 1960s nor the Gezi Park protestors of today are willing just to wait for the next election and hope it all turns out right: rather they want to move the window of political possibility, to make some injustices impossible and to make some concessions inevitable. (And in our “post-democratic” age, the myriad lobbyists and corporate interests aren’t waiting either. Typically they are trying to box in all elected governments to programmes of neoliberal “structural reform”.)
So here’s the worry. Just as the FBI tried to discredit Martin Luther King, so government agencies, equipped with all the latest surveillance techniques, will attempt to damage lawbreakers in pursuit of social justice. There’s nothing new about this, just the tools to do so are far more powerful.
An eloquent community organizer? Which websites did he visit? Or, failing that, which websites did his close associates and family members visit?
An environmental activist? How come she was searching for guidance on mental health issues? Did she have an abortion? Do something that can be portrayed as less than green?
So it goes.
And so we know the end of this awful movie!
The pic of the day via Spiked:
Sugary excerpt of the day from Slavoj Žižek:
What is new today is that, with the financial crisis that began in 2008, this same distrust of democracy – once constrained to the third world or post-communist developing countries – is gaining ground in the developed west itself: what was a decade or two ago patronising advice to others now concerns ourselves.The least one can say is that this crisis offers proof that it is not the people but experts themselves who do not know what they are doing. In western Europe we are effectively witnessing a growing inability of the ruling elite – they know less and less how to rule.
The sentence of the day from Charlemagne:
However much successive French presidents say that they want to put an end to post-colonial intervention in Africa, with few other takers for the job it usually proves irresistible at some point.
Two quotes that show that the American normal when it comes to guns is peculiar:
The first from Ann Althouse:
I'm seeing a lot of post-Newtown proposals for more gun control — and resistance to these proposals. It's not surprising that each new massacre becomes an occasion to restate positions on gun control, with redoubled enthusiasm.
But why isn't there more talk about institutionalizing the mentally ill? Adam Lanza's mother needed to be home with him? What 20-year-old needs pervasive supervision from his mother? I suspect the mother, who is now dead, had very serious problems of her own. I can't understand her keeping those 3 weapons — pictured at the link — in the home along with a 20-year-old man who — in her view — required her stay-at-home motherhood.
We're so sympathetic to children, and now we're distracted by our sympathy for the dead children, but what about all the deeply troubled young people? Why are we so sympathetic to them up until the point where they act? Or... I mean... why does our sympathy toward the mentally ill take the form of regarding them as socially awkward and weird and leaving them alone?
The second one from Eugene Volokh:
So it appears that civilians armed with guns are sometimes willing to intervene to stop someone who had just committed a mass shooting in public. In what fraction of mass shootings would such interventions happen, if gun possession were allowed in the places where the shootings happen? We don’t know. In what fraction would interventions prevent more killings and injuries, as opposed to capturing or killing the murderer after he’s already done? We don’t know. In what fraction would interventions lead to more injuries to bystanders? Again, we don’t know. Finally, always keep in mind that mass shootings in public places should not be the main focus in the gun debate, whether for gun control or gun decontrol: They on average account for much less than 1% of all homicides in the U.S., and are unusually hard to stop through gun control laws (since the killer is bent on committing a publicly visible murder and is thus unlikely to be much deterred by gun control law, or by the prospect of encountering an armed bystander).
Just one comment, well no two: only in America, is it possible to ignore the obvious when it comes to gun violence to focus on fluff and peripheral issues (God, prayer in school, evil, the mentally ill, etc...)! That said, gun control advocates aren't very good, they are terrible and condescending!
I agree with Chris Dillow on this even though I am wrestling with his definition of the postmodern:
In a postmodern world in which all all discourses are equally valid regardless of their truth-value, the claims of the ruling class are not exposed for the lies and imbecilities they are.
Pankaj Mishra on everlasting imperial fantasies in the 'West':
Even before 9/11, Tony Blair was ready to tend, with military means if necessary, to, as he put it, "the starving, the wretched, the dispossessed, the ignorant" around the world. His apparently more intellectual rival Gordon Brown urged his compatriots to be "proud" of their imperial past. Sensing a sharper rightward shift after 9/11, many pith-helmet-and-jodhpurs fetishists boisterously outed themselves, exhorting politicians to recreate a new western imperium through old-style military conquest and occupation of native lands.Embracing such fantasies of "full-spectrum dominance", American and European policymakers failed to ask themselves a simple question: whether, as Jonathan Schell put it, "the people of the world, having overthrown the territorial empires, are ready to bend the knee to an American overlord in the 21st"? After two unwinnable wars and horribly botched nation-building efforts, and many unconscionable human losses (between 600,000 and one million in Iraq alone), the "neo-imperialists" offering seductive fantasies of the west's potency look as reliable as the peddlers of fake Viagra. Yet, armour-plated against actuality by think tanks, academic sinecures and TV gigs, they continue to find eager customers.
I agree with Mishra with some reservations for I wonder whether Empire is just a 'western' fantasy; in short I feel increasingly uneasy as I get older about the separation of the world between the West and the rest and I hate with a passion the term 'postcolony.' Oh well, I am a marginal eccentric.
Former National Intelligence director Dennis Blair on the use of drones by the Obama administration:
It is the politically advantageous thing to do--low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness. It plays well domestically and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.
Boy did Obama punk the Norwegian Committee which gave him the Novel Peace Prize believing that he would be a worldly American president because he asserted that he was a citizen of the world!
Sentence of the day from Paul Krugman:
(...) by blaming democracy, the people who have gotten everything wrong are letting themselves off the hook. The elites on both sides of the Atlantic have messed up catastrophically, and need to face that fact.
This quote from Slavoj Žižek mopping the floor with Julian Assange made my weekend:
At first I treated you as not an idiot, out of politeness, but more and more I have to admit that you are not an idiot.
I agree with Žižek's characterization of Assange who is a self-righteous and useful idiot, who did something necessary by chance, but yet found the way to contaminate it with his fanaticism.
The sentence of the day is from a must-read oped by Henrik Müller :
If the euro fails, the Germans will be seen in the end as having been the primary culprits. And rightfully so.
For some reason, I can get myself to be riled up about the state of the euro, but that's because I think that it will continue to work in spite of the failings of the EU because there are, in the short term, only catastrophic alternatives and because the weakness of the dollar, makes the euro too important to the world economy.
Thus, the euro isn't going to fail because its survival is about much more than Germany and the EU. It is, too use a cliché, too big/important to fail.
Gideon Rachman gets this right as he does more often than not:
It does look as if the Europeans, backed by the Americans, will manage to push Christine Lagarde into the job. But the groundswell of protest against the idea of a Western fix – and the accompanying commentary highlighting the shift in economic and political power from West to East and from North to South – will probably ensure that this will be the last time that a European appointment can simply be bulldozed through.
So President Obama is right when he insists “the time for leadership is now.” But Madame Lagarde might add – “Apres moi, le deluge.”
As a true non-believer in the division of the world between the West and the rest, I have to say that it would be more than a disappointment if the new head of the IMF came from Europe, it would be scandalous. Such an outcome would be indicated of the existence of more than a Western fix, but of a problematic bias within that organization that must be influencing its policies. Furthermore, I baffled by the fact that Christine Lagarde is a credible choice to be head of the IMF not because she isn't competent, but because she just isn't a good choice for so many reasons, the least important of which is that France isn't entitled to get a second chance at the position after it supported Strauss-Kahn knowing full of the risks that something could happen.
Oh no, not again:
Humanitarian intervention in Syria, under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine so often mentioned in the halls of the United Nations, would send a powerful message to Syrians and the Middle East. The people would feel validated, their plight recognized. Simply put: it would instill hope in a part of the world in dire need of it.
What we are learning from Libya and from the past is that humanitarian interventions remain wars that have to be fought and won. Good intentions, legitimating righteous uprisings and even fighting bad regimes are never enough to make humanitarian interventions work in a world where images are everything and where wars are fought on the cheap to put it bluntly!
I agree with John Holbo on this:
One thing we’re getting a lot in the Strauss-Kahn case, which we always get in the early days of any high-profile case, is a lot of conditional expression of emotion. ‘Our sentiments are firmly with the alleged victim, if indeed she proves to be one.’ ‘I am profoundly outraged by DSK’s behavior, should he prove to have behaved in this manner.’ This is appropriate, even obligatory, but also somewhat absurd. There is no such thing as conditional anger. There’s just anger. Either you are angry or not. It’s not as though you will find out how you are actually feeling now only at some distant point in the future when the facts are in.
I haven't written much but that's because I'm trying to figure the words to express what I feel about the arrest of Dominque Strauss-Kahn (DSK). I'm stunned! I can't believe that DSK put himself in that position for no matter whether he is guilty or not, he knows enough about the world not to put himself in a situation where he can be accused of something as vile as this. I have no opinion on the case, but I have to say that I'm hoping against hope and reality that there will be a Perry Mason moment when the truth becomes evident.
However, since I know a tiny bit more about the law than the ordinary person, I made the bet on my french blog, that he would lose his political career, but that he wouldn't do any jail time. Why? Because the alleged victim is going to be to trial as is always the case in sex crimes cases involving famous people. In short, it is a tragedy of epici proportion for some doubt will always remain no matter what the evidence shows and what the outcome is.
The sugary excerpt of the day comes from the great Stephen Smith from his must-read article on Laurent Gbagbo:
‘Gbagbo was born before shame,’ ordinary people in Abidjan used to say. It didn’t necessarily mean they disapproved of him. It was more a case of stating the obvious. The way he looked at it, history was the victors’ account of a merciless fight. ‘It’s difficult for us to make history,’ he once explained to me. ‘We have to carry out our own French Revolution with Amnesty International peering over our shoulder.’ Murder, intrigue, corruption, bare-faced lies, betrayal, ethnic cleansing: all means would be justifiable provided the end was attained. In Gbagbo’s home region, where Ivory Coast’s main cash crops are grown, the sons of the soil, the Bété, turned against migrant workers from poor Sahel states and against fellow Ivorians from other parts of the country.
It is alarming, to say the least, that so many political leaders are worried about making history rather than governing and improving the lives of their 'people.' Obsession with history is one of the reasons why there have been so many Mugabe, Gbagbo, Amin, Doe, Taylor, Gaddafi on the African continent for after all if one's only concern is history, the people become means to achieve greatness not much else, politics is religionized and political violence becomes acceptal and even normal.
Christopher Hitchens on Noam Chomsky's reaction to the death of Osama Bin Laden:
It's no criticism of Chomsky to say that his analysis is inconsistent with that of other individuals and factions who essentially think that 9/11 was a hoax. However, it is remarkable that he should write as if the mass of evidence against Bin Laden has never been presented or could not have been brought before a court. This form of 9/11 denial doesn't trouble to conceal an unstated but self-evident premise, which is that the United States richly deserved the assault on its citizens and its civil society. After all, as Chomsky phrases it so tellingly, our habit of "naming our murder weapons after victims of our crimes: Apache, Tomahawk … [is] as if the Luftwaffe were to call its fighter planes 'Jew' and 'Gypsy.' " Perhaps this is not so true in the case of Tomahawk, which actually is the name of a weapon, but the point is at least as good as any other he makes.
In short, we do not know who organized the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or any other related assaults, though it would be a credulous fool who swallowed the (unsupported) word of Osama Bin Laden that his group was the one responsible. An attempt to kidnap or murder an ex-president of the United States (and presumably, by extension, the sitting one) would be as legally justified as the hit on Abbottabad. And America is an incarnation of the Third Reich that doesn't even conceal its genocidal methods and aspirations. This is the sum total of what has been learned, by the guru of the left, in the last decade.
It's indicative of the despairing state of the social and political dialogue in America that Hitch and Chomsky live in two different planets and can neither communicate nor exchange ideas.
I almost agree completely with this:
Bin Laden’s killing is very likely justified under the laws (such as they are) of war. But, as best as I understand them, these laws are not intended to conduct towards justice; instead they are intended to conduct towards a minimization of those regrettable little side-effects (massacres of prisoners; the deaths of multitudes of civilians &c) that tend to go together with military disputes. It may also possibly be justified in purely pragmatic terms – very possibly, many more people would have died over the longer run had he been captured rather than killed. But it cannot be justified in terms of the procedural requirements of justice as practiced by democracies, which usually do require trials, evidence, judgments that can be appealed and so on.
I agree with Mick Hume on this:
Today, over Libya, NATO stands exposed as an empty shell, an alliance in name alone. The US no longer exercises global leadership through NATO. Instead it has effectively withdrawn from the Libyan conflict and pushed NATO forwards in its stead. Yet no other NATO member has the wherewithal or the will to take the lead. For all their pretensions to playing an independent role, even the French government is now reduced to complaining that the Americans should do more.
When the US, French and British leaders published their joint call to arms on Libya earlier this month, it looked less like a collective show of strength than an exercise in buck-passing, each trying to hide behind one another and the paper shield of NATO. It was striking that no NATO members responded to the request to send more warplanes to bomb the Gaddafi regime – not even US president Barack Obama. Lacking leadership and direction, the NATO states are now like longstanding members of a club who still begrudgingly pay their dues, but take little active part in its activities, while grumbling about one another’s habits and especially about the self-aggrandising committee members.
Just one question, no two : why does NATO still exist? And why did Sarkozy thought it was a brilliant idea for France to reintegrate NATO''s military command? The answer to one of these questions is pretty obvious.
A good question from Gideon Rachman:
If the UN and western military forces are prepared to intervene so forcefully in Libya, why has the response to Ivory Coast been so relatively feeble?
The answer is an easy, but alarming one: Ivory Coast Côte d'Ivoire is Côte d'Ivoire and Libya is Libya. That statement of fact means simply that it is easier to deal with the dead of Côte d'Ivoire than with the ones of Libya because there is a widely accepted presumption that some parts of the African continent are at the heart of darkness, and thus too barbaric, and too 'out there' to be helped/saved. That explains why Congo (DRC) has never captured the world 's attention. In shot, it all comes that to that silly Obamanian world hope. It is easier to accept hopelessness in Côte d'Ivoire than in Libya.
Bernard-Henri Lévy on Germany's stand on the Libyan intervention (it abstained on the UN security council's vote of resolution 1973 establishing a No fly zone):
We lost a great deal of time because of the Germans, which is a disaster, mainly for the Libyans, but also for the Germans, who will pay bitterly for abstaining. What happened here will leave a lasting impression in Europe. And Germany will run into problems in its legitimate effort to secure a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council. (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel jettisoned all principles of German foreign policy since the end of World War II: There was the principle that something like National Socialism should never happen again. Never again crimes against humanity. Merkel and (German Foreign Minister Guido) Westerwelle violated this pact. This is a serious incident, not a minor detail. (...) Angela Merkel has the worst foreign minister Germany has had in a long time. Guido Westerwelle is a disaster. Immediately after the German abstention, he told your magazine: "Gadhafi has to go." It's really Westerwelle who ought to go, but he doesn't even seem to be ashamed of his decision, of this valley of shame.
I have stopped taking BHL seriously on those matters (it took me a long time because often I agree with his conclusions, but never with his argumentation) because even when he is right, he can't get out of his own way and resist the temptation of self-righteousness. The fact that he was so involved on Sarkozy's decision to take the lead in Libya worries me not because BHL is an unsavory and unserious character, but because he doesn't understand foreign policy when it becomes about more than postures, grand gestures, and cinematographic heroism.
I disagree strongly with the following assertion by Norman Geras:
Whatever you may think about it, similar to and/or different from the intervention in Iraq, the Libyan action is a vindication of sorts for Tony Blair and his doctrine of liberal intervention.
What!? Why by the same token isn't it a vindication of the crusades or simply of war in general? Geras's assertion is as true as saying as the financial collapse of 2008 is a vindication of Marxism.
It isn't all about the concept, the context does matter so do actions and their consequences. I'm sure that if people look hard enough they can find events to vindicate all the wrongs in history and those who made fanatically, in spite of evidence, the conscious decision to do the knowing full well that smart people like Geras will always find reasons in the future to clean their dirty hands. Juan Cole has a persuasive post, which explains why Libya 2010 isn't Iraq 2003.
Oh no, Gavin Hewitt fell for the glitz and I have to say that it is breaking my heart to see a great analyst fall:
If sometime in the future the Libyan opposition win and come to power in Tripoli, they might consider a statue to the French president. There could be a Sarkozy Square or even a boulevard named after him.
There is no doubt that the French leader, with his renowned energy, was the key player in driving through a UN resolution that now allows "all necessary measures" to be used to protect civilians in Libya. He was undeterred by a divided EU and a G8 palpably unenthusiastic about any military action.
Hewitt focuses on the trees because there is no forest. There is no there there. The context matters more than the bling. Given the fact that Sarkozy and others licked Gaddafi's feet when he had something to give them and that now that they clai to have had the epiphany that he is dangerous, they are much more cautious about acting to get rid of him, the Libyen crisis cannot be about Sarkozy. In short, Sarkozy started to do a part of what needed to be done, even if everything ends up wel and that he 'saves' the day, it cannot be said that he was the savior and that he had the solution. Sarkozy (and others) created the problem and took the minimum steps to clean his dirty hands.
The only real heroes here, the people who are having their moment are the ones who died and who are fighting on the ground hoping that the poseurs who are using their revolution to reinvent themselves politically ill have the courage to do more even when actions will be expensive.
Back in the days when the cause of humanitarian intervention was on the rise, during the argument over Bosnia policy, Madeleine Albright (in Colin Powell's telling) encapsulated the thinking in a pithy phrase: "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?" Mr Powell wrote in his memoirs that he "almost had an aneurysm"; the military was not a toy to be used because we had it sitting around. But basically, Ms Albright was right: the United States inherited the world's strongest military because of the Cold War, and if in the post-Cold War world there were no longer any plausible uses for that military, there really was no point in having it. Mr Powell, in fact, presided over dramatic cuts in the size of the defence establishment. It was the embrace of humanitarian intervention in the cause of promoting democracy, first in Kosovo, then (after the September 11 attacks) in Afghanistan and finally Iraq, that provided the new justification for a military buildup.
The fact that the debate on Libya in America and elsewhere has become about intervening and not doing alarming. It simplifies a complex issue. Few seem to have learned the lessons of the past, which isn't that humanitarian interventions are futile, but rather that they can't be done in a vacuum and motivated solely by noble, and self-indulgent sentiments. The point isn't that the US, France, and others are powerless, but that what is happening shouldn't become about them. The Obama administration's position irks me because it is timid and the fear of failure has crippled its imagination in the time when decisiveness is needed. Military might means nothing without vision and the audacity not of hope, but of originality and action.
Interesting point from Nathalie Rothschild,which I admit makes all warm and fuzzy:
In fact, the EU’s fear of unregulated migration has been a trump card for Gaddafi. Assuaging this EU fear has been a way for the Libyan leader to rehabilitate himself in the eyes of the West after years of ostracisation. At the same time, threats to close and open borders have become a way for Gaddafi to hold the West to ransom, as he threatens to block trade deals or relax border controls unless Europe meets his demands. So it is not surprising that Gaddafi gave European nations the ultimatum of distancing themselves from the pro-democracy protesters or facing the supposed opening of the immigration floodgates from Africa. This is a real worry for the EU, which preaches about the virtues of democracy and human rights yet which has no interest in defending freedom of movement.
As we have seen with recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, when people get a taste for freedom there’s no telling what they’ll do to achieve it.
When I was young, I thought at least that Gaddafi (Gadhafi, Khadafi) had presence, now he is just a caricature of the man he once was, even though it was always a bastard, but bastards with presence can be inspiring leaders to the blind.
Quote of the day from Glenn Greenwald:
Any foreign story that interests the American media for more than a day requires clear villains and heroes. What made the Egypt story so rare is that the designated foreign villains are usually first separated from the U.S. before being turned into demons; it's fine to vilify those whom we have steadfastly supported provided the support is a matter of the past and can thus be safely ignored. Thus were Saddam Hussein, the former Mujahideen (now known as The Terrorists) and any number of Latin American and Asian tyrants seamlessly turned into Horrible, Evil Monsters despite our once-great alliances with them; the fact that it happened in the past (albeit the very recent past) permitted those facts to be excluded. But so intertwined are the U.S. and Mubarak -- still -- that such narrative separation was impossible.
Complexity doesn't sell in American media because it requires time and depth, which are the enemies usually of entertainment. What has struck me watching the Egyptian revolt on American TV especially is that it is like a hollywood movie and requires constant movement, action, and climaxes to keep the audience and I suspect the journalists interested. I'm willing to bet that the longer the story lasts or rather the longer Mubarak is able to hang on, the less likely it is that the story will remain interesting to US media.
Sugary excerpt of the day from Andrew Brown's 'satire' on the existence of human rights :
We are told that the two qualities of human rights is that they are "self-evident" and "unassailable". This is like saying that the chief quality of porridge is its excellence as a material for building skyscrapers. The chief evidence for the existence of these unassailable and self-evident human rights is that we are told, by people who believe in them, that they are everywhere attacked and trampled. What difference does a right make if it doesn't change.(...)Everywhere that human rights have gone, terror and bloodshed have followed, from the French Revolution, which convulsed Europe in war for nearly thirty years, through to Stalin's Russia, where the constitution protected more rights than almost any other one has ever done, and now in the invasion of Iraq, where nearly people have died from our determination to impose rights and democracy. Of course the apologists will claim that these are perversions of the original idea. But why should we listen to the apologists, when they believe in something that doesn't even exist?
I have always found the term 'human rights' to be problematic because it was based on an assumption and because the word 'rights' cuts short an essential conservation about not its existence, its definition, and the problematic fact that it isn't accompanied by obligations. That said the fact that when reading Andrew Brown's piece, one questions its nature as a satire shows that 'human rights' have come to mean all things and nothing; they are solely a notion used to stop an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous dialogue on morality.
I agree with Josef Joffe on this:
Merkel the Mean is anything but. She has not turned against Europe, but against those whose extravagance threatens the euro. She is not breaking with the Kohl tradition, but reasserting the original deal. To save the euro, which has lost 10 per cent against the dollar on account of the Athenians, she rightly insists that the profligate must get their house in order instead of angling for multibillion-dollar handouts.
That is not anti-, but pro-European if you view the euro as one of Europe’s greatest feats on the way to a more perfect union. To draw the line against the worst offender, while Spain, Portugal et al nervously take note, should have an entirely salutary effect. The French have a phrase for it, taken from Voltaire: harsh punishment serves “to encourage the others” to remain virtuous.
We shall see, for little that Europe ever decides is cast in concrete — especially if Greece does default. But there is still the larger issue that vexes minds: have the Germans, almost in a fit of absent-mindedness, stumbled into a new role on the European stage? If they have grabbed leadership, the foot-stomping is defensive rather than aggressive, as in the ways of Wilhelm or, God forbid, Adolf.
It was about time that somebody played the role of the enforcer within the European Union instead of solely grandstanding.Chancellor Merkel is playing that role well, but is it enough it seems to me that for her leadership to matter, she is going to have to go beyond toughness on Greece and actually propose a way for Europe to move forward while keeping Germany at the center of everything.
Noam Chomsky, bête noire of the right, has long argued that the notion of anti-Americanism itself seeks to excuse the crimes of US elites and "identify state policy with the society, the people, the culture". It is an important point. I condemn the actions of the US government in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, without attacking my American friends in Houston, LA or New York.
“I am willing to love all mankind," Samuel Johnson said, "except an American." I cannot agree. I may be considered anti-American, in that I abhor many US foreign policies, but the person I love most happens to be an American. America is not the American government. Nor is it the US border patrol.
I'm wondering whether America is the only country in the world, which isn't allowed to defend its national interests and which is always viewed no matter what it does as a bully because it is first and therefore people assume that it shouldn't be always victorious. I'm reminded of the tennis matches between Serena Williams and Justine Henin. During those matches, commentators , even when they are American, root for Henin because she is smaller, more skilled and tacitly argues that she is smarter and the better player while deploring that Williams is solely physically stronger and implying that she is lazy and bully.
Judt claims too much from limited evidence. That would matter less if his account of the breakdown of social democracy and the rise of free-market economics were reliable. But it’s flawed. Throughout the book you struggle to gain an insight into why expansive welfare states and interventionist industrial policies fell out of favour in the 1980s. The nearest you get to an answer is the power of ideas — malign and acquisitive ones, in Judt’s depiction — and the rise of individualism. This is not wrong, and Judt is astute in noting parallels between the counterculture of the 1960s and the appeal of economic libertarianism. But it is question-begging. Why, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, did some ideas gain political traction and some fall out of favour? The reason is that social democracy appeared to have reached natural limits. Economic planning had turned into an unaccountable system of corporatism. Legal immunities had turned the trade unions into “insiders” against the interests of the public. The quadrupling of the oil price in 1973 by the Opec cartel and wage claims by powerful unions caused accelerating inflation. It is extraordinary that the word “inflation” appears only twice in Judt’s book, and each time in a specific technical context (the effect of inflation in pushing workers into higher tax brackets). The notion that the great inflation of the 1970s damaged working-class living standards and was a source of social discontent is absent from the book.
My only observation is that the biggest trouble with social democracy is that it has lost its meaning and that social democrats in order to circumvent this limitation have try to become all things to all people and more importantly by solely defining themselves against a Right that knows what it is and what it will never agree to be.
Thanks to the unrewarded exertions of conservative Democrats, this healthcare plan has moderate, centrist ambitions. It is not socialism in disguise. Shame on liberal Republicans (if there are any) for failing to support it. Even so, the Democrats’ claims for the reform have been dishonest in one crucial respect, and most voters understood this. It is right to provide guaranteed health insurance, but wrong to claim this great prize could be had, in effect, for nothing. Broadly based tax increases and fundamental reform to healthcare delivery will be needed to balance the books. Denying this was a mistake. What was worse–an insult to one’s intelligence, really–was to argue as Obama has in the past few days that this reform was, first and foremost, a cost-reducing initiative, and a way to drive down premiums.
The guarantees are so valuable that honesty about the cost was worth trying. Eventually, perhaps, the Democrats will come clean about this, though doing so before November would be a little abrupt. Between now and then, the country may come around to liking the plan anyway, as Democrats hope. As I say, the guarantees are so valuable. But obviously this could go either way.
As I said, to the contrary of most, I'm not jumping up and down about healthcare reform for I know that the victory is essentially a political one for Obama and I'm wondering if it is a victory for Americans who needed a better health system. To put it another, I'm wondering whether what we got was Obamacare or Obamanuts. I'm reminded of my childhood when my mother used to want me to eat bananas even though I hated because she said that it would me taller, I hated bananas, I still do and I'm shorter than Sarkozy so when I think of all of those bananas that I hate during my childhood hoping to be as tall as Steffi Graf, I want to puke. Let's hope that America doesn't feel the same about healthcare a few years from now.
I don't agree with Stephen Kinzer on this:
Rather than embrace Mitt Romney's aggressively ignorant view of the world, Americans should try to accommodate themselves to history. That means accepting the reality that every nation, like every human being, has sinned. Nations have the moral authority to point fingers at others only if they also reflect on how their own policies have contributed to the suffering, rage and violence that is shaking the world. "We abominate in others those faults which are most manifestly our own," Montaigne wrote five centuries ago. Then he quoted one of his favorite Latin proverbs: Stercus cuique suum bene olet. Everyone's shit smells good to himself.
My problem is with Kinzer's use of the word "sin" which is too religious and too absolute and negates the reality that Nations, countries aren't godly. I prefer to use the term "error" or "mistake" for one of the things that plagues our time is the religionization of history and politics, which leads too many to ask for apologies and to divide humans incessantly, cunningly, and spitefully between victims and sinners. America has never committed any sin. It has made mistakes, outrageous and reprehensible mistakes that apologies or atonement cannot erase, but which acknowledgment can enable it to uplift itself above the unnecessary guilt by enabling it to avoid to repeat them through responsibility and the acceptance of the obligation to do and to be better.
I agree with Sean Collins on this:
But this ‘Republicans strong, Democrats weak’ discussion obscures a more fundamental consensus between the two parties. Both establish anti-terror polices on the premise that the country is vulnerable and at risk. And both therefore overplay the threat posed by possible terror attacks.
The common assumption is that the American people are afraid, worried about the next explosion, and therefore in need of heavy state protection. And since, therefore, all it takes to traumatise the masses is an isolated bomb, it is taken as a given that any party in office at the time of an attack would be severely damaged in political terms. In this, both parties have agreed to allow the terrorists to define success, and have collaborated in reorganising US life around tiny groups.
When American politicians talk about getting ‘tough’ on terrorism, about pursuing a ‘war’ on it, they are actually using code-words for saying ‘we are scared shitless’. And in that respect, both parties are wimps; in fact, if anything, the noisier Republicans are the biggest wimps of all.
The frightening thing is that the question is never asked whether tough talk on terrorism followed by bad policies is effective because it is assumed that it is better to talk tough and to fail rather than to talk softly and to success. In short, tough talk sells because it is flashy and wimpish politics is prevalent because the worst fear of an American politician is our age is to perceived as girly and therefore unwilling and unable to protect Americans.
I find this bit by Geoffrey York about a Rwanda's official and his arguments against democracy alarming:
With an election looming in a few months, Rwanda’s authoritarian government has made an astounding claim: democracy leads directly to genocide.
The claim is made in an article this week by Jean Paul Kimonyo, an advisor in the office of Rwandan President Paul Kagame. He argues that Rwanda has only had “plural politics” for two brief periods in its history, and both times it “led to mass killings.”
He also makes the sweeping statement that “political parties and independent media” were a big reason for the killings. All parties and all media, in his view, are just as dangerous as the hate-spewing radio stations and politicians that fuelled the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
His conclusion, apparently, is that Rwanda needs to suppress its political parties, restrict its independent media and tightly control its elections, even though it’s been 16 years since the genocide. Democracy – or “confrontational politics,” as he prefers to call it – would “almost certainly lead to renewed violence.”
The questions that I ask myself is whether there isn't a false dichotomy created between democracy and genocide in order to justify the unjustifiable, and finally, the second, which the more complex question, is whether Kagame is doing as best as can best expected given the fact that things could be worse or whether adding that caveat is stopping too many for either giving him either the credit or the criticism that he deserves. I have neither have a Manichean view of Kagame nor an absolutist one because it is undeniable that he has a number of successes, which can not be dismissed, but it is also true that as with all politicians, he is a complex figure, who neither be divinized not vilified without understanding the importance of the context, but also by without indulgence when it comes to principles such as human rights and democratic ones.
Interesting: explanation of the different visions that Québec and Canada have on the Niqab, and more importantly on integration:
(...) English Canada embraces a multiculturalist ideal: Come to Canada, and bring your differences with you. In French Canada, you can have your differences, “but please do become a Quebecker.”
Quebec's francophone majority identifies itself as a fragile minority that must be ever vigilant against cultural erosion. In that context, collective rights often outweigh individual ones, especially when it comes to language or schooling. Quebec, like France, is also fiercely devoted to secularism. “We've had a long and painful struggle with the place of religion in this society, and a lot of people feel strongly about the separation of church and state,” says Mr. Lagacé.
The Quebec-English differences over immigration and integration echo those between France and Britain. France is contemplating a ban on the burka and niqab. In Britain, any politician who'd dare suggest such a thing would be denounced as a fascist.
In English Canada, provincial government officials are only too eager to distance themselves from intolerant Quebec. “We are an open Ontario,” said a spokeswoman for that province's immigration minister. “In Nova Scotia, people have a right to express themselves any way they wish around their faith,” its immigration minister said.
It makes sense that Québec would want its immigrants to assimilate in order to be Quebeckers first to increase its population and strengthen its special minority status within Canada and Canadian second. The issue is whether it is framing the issue the right way and fighting the right battles. The problem is that these differences that exist within Canada are going to be increasingly difficult to coexist within the same country because they are based on very different visions of society and hierarchy of fundamentals value. The whole niqab episode has shown that even the politicians of Québec don't fully know how immigrants can become 'good ' Québécois, but they know what their fears are, which explains why the focus has been placed on the usual and weakest subjects: visibly "different" women.
I'm always happy when somebody, in this case Clancy Sigal,joins me in the Republic of Dissent by divorcing Obama and his Democratic Party:
n a bad marriage, if we're lucky, a sad, angry, unwelcome realism takes over and an existential fear invades our soul. But we do not want to be alone in a loveless world. A divorce often means being cast out into psychological darkness, exile from the "mainstream", the loss of (and even abuse from) friends, a terrifying sense of isolation and inadequacy. So, stuffing our ears and blinding our eyes to our own victimisation, we recommit to the relationship. We continue to deny, deny, deny. Life goes on, diminished and undignified. Soul-suicide.
But now I want a divorce from the Democrats, the "party of the people" versus the Republicans who with a few honorable exceptions are the party of cruelty. Are there some good Democrats? You bet. Are they outnumbered by callow, fearful Democrats? You bet.
I don't care that at the moment there's nowhere to go and hardly anybody to cheer for.
America's regime of sanctions on Iran are ineffective but we're likely to see more of them.
What's the point of sanctions if it's known that they don't work? Well, it is to give the appearance of action, resilience, and of strength when as the sanctions against Iraq for example showed that they always lead to the inevitable: confrontation or acceptance of the feared outcome. The US is using sanctions to gain time in the hope that the situation will either change in Iran, i.e. another revolution, or on the world stage that would force, Russia to join the US and its allies to form a block to have Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. My opinion is that neither possibility is likely.
Juan Cole on the new delusion of Ahmadinejad:
Not only is Ahmadinejad the Iranian equivalent of a truther, he is also the mirror image of the Christian Zionists. That brand of evangelicals in the US believes that the establishment of Israel throughout geographical Palestine, i.e. the complete annexation of the West Bank and perhaps the expulsion of its Palestinian residents, will hasten the return of Christ.
Ahmadinejad holds the opposite. It is in his view the collapse of what he calls the Zionist regime and the emergence of a state for all Palestinians, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, that will provoke the Promised One to come. In Shiite Islam, the promised one is the return of the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, the lineal descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. In Muslim folk belief it is sometimes alleged that when the Mahdi comes, Jesus will also return, and they will join forces to prepare the world for the Judgment Day.
Why do I have the feeling that Iran is going to be a Nuclear state no matter was the US and its allies does? May be it is because there is nothing or rather few things that states can do, no matter how powerful they are collectively when another one who cannot be bribed has decided that it was the right afforded to them by God or whatever else to get a nuclear bomb and even welcomes confrontation for nationalistic or religious reasons,
Just another sign that the Apocalypse is coming for the Brits Conservative or just rather that David Cameron can't become Prime Minister of Britain unless Gordon Brown continues to help him, Robert Mugabe is supporting his candidacy:
We have always related better with the British through the Conservatives than Labour. Conservatives are bold, Blair and Brown run away when they see me, but not these fools, they know how to relate to others.
Toby Young, my favorite judge of Top Chef, defends Geert Wilders in the Daily Telegraph by arguing that he is a freedom of speech warrior:
are the Dutch people just fed up with being told they’re not allowed to criticise Muslim extremists because to do so is “Islamophobic”? As a defender of free speech, I don’t believe for one moment that the Koran ought to be banned. But if I was a member of the Dutch electorate I would vote for Geert Wilders’ party nonetheless because I don’t think he deserves to go to jail for 16 months just for arguing that it should.
Wilders doesn’t really want to ban the Koran, of course. It’s a theatrical gesture — a situationist move — designed to underline the absurdity of trying to limit freedom of speech on the grounds that certain words or phrases or images might move people to violence. What Wilders is saying is that if you believe the critics of Muslim extremism should be silenced because their words might incite religious hatred, then, logically, you ought to ban the Koran on the same grounds. It’s not a serious suggestion, so much as a reductio ad absurdum of a completely untenable, illiberal position.
It is for precisely this reason that I have always believed that European countries are wrong to attempt to censor what they consider to be hate speech or speech denying certain historical events such as the Shoah. Hate-speech laws or any other laws that try to limit free speech based on its content always make the extremist the victim. Moreover, they force people such as Toby Young who likes to provoke and who believe that freedom of speech is the most sacred of values to defend Geert Wilders without seeking to see behind the trees. Guided by his orthodoxy about free speech, Young is convinced that Wilders can only be right because that it is always absolutely unjust to try to shut somebody hate because society doesn't like what he is saying or finds it too distasteful. It isn't an erroneous positon to take, just a limited and an absurd one because the conclusion seems to be that victims of censorship are always and absolutely right or rather they cannot be right or even extremist.
All in all, the level of cynicism in Washington around this tragic historical event is pretty disheartening. Like President Bush before him, President Obama was for using the word "genocide" as a candidate before he was against it as president. Former House Majority leader Dick Gephart, who supported recognition as a congressman, is now lobbying against it on the Turkish payroll.
Outside the Armenian-American community, whose grievance on this issue is understandable and shouldn't be dismissed, most Americans would probably prefer that the congress focus its efforts on preventing and ending current conflicts.
France passed a law recognizing the Armenian genocide in 2006 and it just gave politicians an occasion to grandstand or to argue that Turkey didn't have its place within the European Union for it was made much news since or has no impact neither in France or in Europe on the important questions. The argument is that genocide should be something politicians play football will and that only historians ought to write history.
Pankaj Mishra argues convincingly, I have to say, that the United States and the "West" still have imperial reflexes, which are preventing them from acknowledging the realities of the post 9/11 world, an era where the East and the rest of the world are no longer scared of them and have their own ideas about how things are going to be. Sugary excerpt:
Decolonisation seems to have dented little the sense of superiority that since 1945 has made American leaders in particular consistently underestimate the intensity of nationalist feeling in Asia and Africa. In proposing cash bribes for the "moderate" Taliban, the Obama administration reminds one of FDR's bright idea about the original inhabitants of Palestine: "What about the Arabs?" he once asked the Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann. "Can't that be settled with a little baksheesh?"(...)The Chinese, Indians, Iranians and other emerging powers too have an idea of what they owe to themselves: the richness of the world that the west first claimed for itself. But while getting what they want, they won't claim the sanction of a superior morality and civilisation. Indeed, the long and appalling history of European hypocrisy in Asia and Africa may be why Beijing dispenses altogether with talk of Chinese values as its strikes deals with nasty regimes in Africa, and why even democratic India keeps mum about the advantages of regular elections as it tries to offset Chinese influence over Burma's military despots.
Reading Mishra's article forces me to ask myself whether America's most influential mark on the world was that it made it so cool and often so stylish to be a hegemon that now every country wants to be one and to exercise power in the same way. I'm coming to the realization that the post 9/11 world is one with a bunch of countries who have fallen in love, whether they want to be admit it or not with the American style of power, even as they resents it when it affects them. America is John Wayne and we know that there was a time when every man, no matter where he came from, wanted to be John Wayne even when he hated the fact that he was killing "Indians" and shooting from the hip without much finesse, sophistication or awareness of the sensibilities of others.
The Daily Telegraph has a portrait of Geert Wilders, the Dutch far-right politician whose party is calling for the stop of the Islamization of the Netherlands and increasing its popularity with that message. Sugary excerpt:
Wilders describes his far-Right label as "nonsense".
"My supporters say: 'At last there is someone who dares to say what millions of people think'. That is what I do," Wilders said before the European elections last year, in which the PVV took four of the 25 Dutch seats.
"People are fed up with the government; the leftist elite that has failed them," said Wilders.
(,,,).Arguing that "Islam is the Netherlands' biggest problem," Wilders has urged parliament to ban the Koran, comparing it with Hitler's "Mein Kampf."
He also wants a total ban on the burqa as well as a halt to immigration from Muslim countries and the construction of mosques in the Netherlands.
He is awaiting a hate speech trial trial at home and was barred from entering Britain last year to stop him spreading "hatred and violent messages."
"I want to defend freedom, which I think will disappear into thin air the moment the Islamic ideology gains a stronger foothold on this country," Wilders, who is married to a Hungarian, told AFP.
I'm not alarmed by the ascension of Geert Wilders because his ascension and his views are not new in Europe, Extremism, both on the left and the right, tends to rise everywhere especially in times when there is so economic, social, and political distress, which none of the "legitimate" parties seem to be able to address to the satisfaction of an increasingly impatient and radicalized electorate. One only has to analyze the short, but tumultuous and tragic political career of Pim Portuyn in the Netherlands or even the long and flashy one of Jean-Marie Le Pen to realize that politicians such as Wilders are always very opportunistic, but that they are rarely able to leave any serious political marks or even to ascend to power without cleaning up their message or at least expanding because soon or later two things happen. The first is that their message is co-opted by other political parties who start to pay attention and to realize that they must find less "intolerant" ways to deal with the concerns of the voters who may be unsavory, but are very real. Sarkozy did it very effectively in 2007 and beat Le Pen at his own. The second thing that happens when politicians such as Geert Wilders are actually very good at politics or very ambitious is that soon or later, they come to the realization that they have to widen their message and that Islamization or any other message exploiting the fear of others and of unwelcome change is not enough to be more than a pestilent gadfly.
For these reasons, what I'm really wonder is whether Wilders is ever going to be willing to form a coalition with other Dutch parties of the right if his party becomes a political force or whether he will be content to remain on the margins believing that the system will collapse. I'm also wondering what is Ayaan Hirsi Ali's opinion of Geert Wilders.
I would love to say that I agree fully with this, but I cannot:
While sincerity is, in general, a good thing, politicians who profess to be giving voice to the common-sense resentments of regular folks often devolve into ranting sideshow barkers who are constantly coming up with new resentments to give voice to. Good politicians are supposed to do something different: channel popular desires and frustrations into effective legislation that solves problems. That's tedious work, and in times like these it requires almost superhuman patience and resolve to keep doggedly plugging away at the job.
I'm sorry to have to say it but in the current age of American politics, a good politician isn't a effective legislator, but somebody who gets elected and yes, who, just like Jim Bunning the good Senator from Kentucky, gets attention on his state and himself. The point is that modern politics is about winning, about getting attention, making headlines, creating a movement, being loud. It isn't about legislation, concrete ideas, and results. All one has to do is to look at the last 30 years and at the politicians who have had an impact on America to realize the veracity of my argument. One of them was the former North Carolina Senator, Jesse Helms who once did everything that he could to stop William Weld, my favorite Massachusetts's politician of all time (who would been a great governor for New York), to become an Ambassador because he didn't like him.
Another description of pre-earthquake Haïti, which makes it seem like a place where only Zealots Priests, religious extremists, and true believers can go to find salvation or to try to do "the work on the Lord "on Earth. This one comes from Matt Labash's article who describes the life of an American priest Father Rick Frechette. Sugary excerpt:
“Being from Connecticut,” says Frechette, “Mexico was quite a shock. But Haiti was beyond words. The dire poverty. The filth. The chaos. Everything—it was a disaster.” Without knowing a soul, or even the language (he’s now fluent in both Creole and French, along with six other languages), Frechette planted his flag, started the orphanage, and buckled his seatbelt to hurtle full-tilt through 22 years of miracles and madness, which in Haiti, are often indistinguishable.
No one should think Haiti was done in by the earthquake. It’s a disaster of great magnitude, to be sure, but just the latest one. “You see it during a disaster,” says Frechette. “But it’s always a disaster.”
After reading this, it is no wonder that Pat Robertson and others believe that Haitians made a pact with the devil.
Just one comment comes to me when I read this "Only in America":
A proposed Utah law that would open women who suffer a miscarriage to possible criminal prosecution and life imprisonment has enraged feminists and civil rights activists across the United States.
Adopted overwhelmingly by both sides of the state legislature in Salt Lake City earlier this month, the draft bill is now awaiting the signature of the state's Republican Governor, Gary Herbert. It is not clear if the growing national controversy surrounding the proposed law will slow or even stay his pen.
While the main thrust of the law is to enable prosecutors in the majority-Mormon state to pursue women who seek illegal, unsupervised forms of abortion, it includes a provision that could trigger murder charges against women found guilty of an "intentional, knowing or reckless act" that leads to a miscarriage. Some say this could include drinking one glass of wine too many, walking on an icy pavement or skiing.
After reading Sarkozy's semi-excuses to Rwanda, I believe that there are two explanations for the changes in Sarkozy who used to be against repentance. The cutest and less plausible one is that he discovered Jesus. The most credible one is that he got whipped by the realization that France will not remain a player in some parts of Africa and elsewhere where it has a long and sorted histoiry unless it softens its image and seems at least to be aware that it made mistakes before.
I believe hat the Sarkozy's apology tour is less about redemption or a real change in policy, but about realpolitik and competing with the Americans and the Chinese for the attention of countries who love apologies because they believe that their past is one of the few commodities that they have to bargain their future.