News and Opinion

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It Takes A Village – VNV Tuesday: Book Release Day

Today’s the day that some have been waiting for and others have been dreading; with all the differences of opinion, one thing that is certain is that very, very few have actually read The Book. Yes, a bookstore in Florida sold some copies early (that’s how some CNN reporters got their copies), and a few more pundits were given advance copies with embargo conditions. And yes, some excerpts were released early; approximately four pages out of 512. We know those excerpts have stirred up controversy in the media and on Twitter, but what’s different this time around is that there has been significant, astute, and articulate pushback. Today I’m posting some of the best.

British Breakfast and Euro-selections

The events in Charlottesville and POUTS’s piss-poor reaction to them have already been extensively covered, and it won’t surprise you to learn that European reactions to what POUTS said range between horrified and disgusted. I don’t propose to regale you with much of that since it’s already getting pretty monotonous and you’ve read it all before.

We will in fact begin in Norway, as I promised last week. Their general election is on Sept 10-11: “election day” is the 11th, but there’s early voting on the Sunday in a lot of places.

British Breakfast and Euro-comment

European covfefe of POUTS this week has been dominated by the North Korea situation. Articles generally fall into one of two categories: first, assessments which say that events demonstrate that orange shitgibbons aren’t well-suited to the job of being President and second, those which wonder what is going to happen given that an orange shitgibbon actually is President. As regime change in DC is unlikely to occur overnight simply because a political journalist from Denmark thinks that the wrong bloke is in the White House/at a golf club, it has to be said that the second type is rather more enlightening.

British Breakfast and punditry


There has been an awful lot of comment about POUTS this week, mostly to the effect that he is bonkers. I realize that this may not come as much of a surprise, and it’s a theme which has always been part of the scenery in articles about him, but we seem to have reached something of a tipping point in the tone of coverage of him. There is less and less discussion of what he says, his various utterances being used more as jumping-off points for analysis of his character, for want of a  better word.

British Breakfast and Euro-opinion

Trumpcare may have gone away for the moment, but whatever happens next is going to involve the Republican Party in some shape or form. That they can’t be trusted with Americans’ healthcare is unlikely to change just because of a close Senate vote, so I think these first two pieces published in mid-week are still relevant. Both give lengthy histories of how we got where we at least were on Thursday, some of which I bet you didn’t know.

British Breakfast and Euro-punditry

POUTS has been off on his travels again, yet again having to put conversations with foreign politicians ahead of golf. No wonder he’s upset.

First stop was Poland, where he made a belligerent speech in front of a bused-in audience of RWNJs. This prompted Máriam M-Bascuñán to reflect on POUTS’s advisers’ choice of reading matter:

What is relevant in Trump’s speech is his substantialist vision of the values ​​of the West, which he says he wants to defend with relish against potential external and internal enemies as Le Pen already did with his “choix de civilization”: the war of interpretations within The West is served. And it is symbolic that Trump wielded it in Poland, where the government favors an intolerant and fundamentalist populism. Pericles prayed to the fallen in the midst of the war, and Trump turned to the martyrs and heroes of Poland as an example and model of what the struggle for freedom, family, country and God means. His warning is clear, a warning to sailors. Too bad his advisers read so much Thucydides instead of the Kant of Perpetual Peace!

On to Moscow, and a meeting with a Russian bloke POUTS barely knows and has never colluded with, not nohow, nosirree Bob. Maria Georgieva comments in Svenska Dagbladet:

The meeting lasted for more than two hours, much longer than expected, which makes Russia look good.

The Kremlin hoped to inject some clarity in what direction the relationships will take. It is important for Russia that the presidents find a common ground to stand on.

On the whole , it became a good day for Putin, who looked like a real statesman. But despite the expectations of excitement, the challenges remain. Russia still wants Trump to lift the economic sanctions, halt support for Ukraine – something that has not happened so far.

It also seems that the outside world wants to work out which of the presidents is the savannah’s wild lion on the one hand, while on the other hand, conclude that there is a wide-ranging “bromance” between them. Next to each other they looked like two elephants pushing and trying to drink from the same waterhole….

Regardless of what’s going on in the future, the Kremlin wants Putin to appear as the winner of the meeting, to ensure momentum against other world leaders. Therefore, President Putin’s facial expressions will continue to carry on passive expectations.

Then it was the G20. Let’s start with Andrés Rojo:

The G19 distanced themselves yesterday from the White House tenant by including in the final declaration of the Hamburg Summit a point declaring the climate change agreement in Paris “irreversible” and calling for “proceeding swiftly” to its implementation despite opposition from the United States. The delegation headed by Donald Trump included a note stating that the US “would work with third countries to use fossil fuels more effectively and cleanly”, a phrase that was supplemented, on the initiative of the France of Macron, with the addendum ‘and other renewable and clean energy sources’. Finally, the United States was not able to add to its proposal the support of Saudi Arabia or Indonesia (large oil producers) and the Americans were left alone, certifying a paradigm shift in the G20 summits, traditionally led and directed by the tenant of the White House on duty.

The other of the great points where a priori disparity of approaches existed between the US delegation and the rest of the G20 members was the chapter on free trade, which Trump had set afire with its serious charges against German business practices in the steel market against which it intends to raise tariff barriers. Finally, as in Hamburg, a compromise was reached: the final declaration enshrined the principles of global free trade but, at the same time, it recognized the right of states to play Trade defense. This last expression was universally understood to be a concession torn away by the delegation headed by the millionaire New Yorker. In any case, the text approved and signed by the US, China and the European Union proclaims the need for free and fair international trade with open markets and condemns discriminatory protectionism through tariffs or regulations.

Much comment is of a similar nature. The world is adjusting to the USA being out of step. Make America Irrelevant Again was probably not the original idea, but it seems to be working.

There were some pretty violent protests, which led to a lot of Germans asking whether it was worth holding G20s, especially in Germany. Christian Stöcker doesn’t think so:

1. A city like Hamburg is unsuitable as a venue.

Even before the first stone flew and the first car was burning, the summit had begun to paralyze Hamburg. There were hours of traffic jams, the city center was locked up, police cars on every corner and helicopters across the city produced a sense of siege. From the dissolution of the “Welcome to Hell” demonstration on Thursday evening, black-dressed hooligans began to hit the streets in various places in the city, lighting barricades and cars and generally spreading chaos.

If threr must be a G20 summit, then in the future please in the desert, on an island or an aircraft carrier.

2. The “black block” has nothing to do with politics.

The people who came from Europe to riot in Hamburg describe themselves as politically radical, as anti-fascists, anti-capitalists or anarchists. In truth, the past three days have once again shown, they are simply hooligans as soon as they put on the black gear. To light small cars and smash the windows of mom and pop stores with a hammer is not a political statement. And just because you have yelled a few times “Anti-Anti-Anticapitalista!” does not make a political symbol of the plundering of an electronic store. Writing  “Death to the police”  on walls and throwing stones at policemen is not an act of resistance in a democratic state.

4. These peaks bring nothing

The Chancellor’s summit conference was, to put it cautiously, no revelation. The US is still not involved in climate protection, one wants to take care of Africa somehow, all find free trade jolly good. Saying this as clearly as that could have been accomplished much more quickly if the ladies and gentlemen had held a teleconference.

Petra Pinzler disagrees:

Heads of government must be able to talk to each other, for example about climate protection . Moreover, in the months leading up to their meeting, they need to know which topics of international politics interest citizens. Talk about it, argue, write about it. All this would not happen if there were not such conferences. Without the G20 in Hamburg, not many thousands of citizens would have discussed world politics, if scientists had not made any reform proposals for global co-operation, and foundations had not invented new joint projects.

At the G20 in Hamburg, all of this led to the climate being on the agenda. In the end, nothing revolutionary was decided, but the G20 has passed the Trump test and put it at 19: 1 to take the resolutions of Paris seriously and to work on further joint strategies. It does not save the climate any better. Would we could get much more. For example, the Prime Minister of Turkey, Erdoğan, did not want to go on afterwards and wanted more money.

But the world does not consist mainly of friendly, environmentally friendly, democratic governments, with whom one likes to pass polite time by the Alster. That is why small steps in the right direction are already a success. It has been given on the G20 summit, with a few other topics as well. That’s why it was right to go to Hamburg.

Some people were surprised that POUTS didn’t attend some meetings, sending along his daughter instead, which is at least unusual. Matthew Norman discusses it:

In Hamburg, birthplace of his favourite food item, Donald Trump had warm words for his favourite female politician. Oddly, it wasn’t Angela Merkel, his hostess, or our own Lame Duck Boudica, Theresa May.

“I’m very proud of my daughter Ivanka,” declared 45th US President at the G20 summit, “always have been from day one… If she weren’t my daughter, it’d be so much easier for her. It might be the only bad thing she has going, if you want to know the truth.”

Of course we want to know the truth. We always do, though whether Trump is the go-to guy for that is a matter of opinion. George Washington had a stronger reputation in the field (Trump would have framed the cherry tree for suicide), and he was phobic about nepotism.

With America joining Britain in the death-spiral to isolationism, the free world begins to look for leadership to the unfree world, in the unlovely shape of China. However gruesome the paradox, geopolitics abhors a power vacuum, and unless and until the EU becomes a federal superstate, China will be the only candidate to replace the US not just as the world’s largest economy but leading power.

In the meantime, look forward to more nepotistic merriment, with Ivanka winning the $600m contract to supply US Army uniforms, Donald Jnr replacing Ulysses S Grant on the $50 bill, Eric made US Masters champion by executive order after shooting 197 and 212 in the first two rounds at Augusta, and 11-year-old Barron and his two favourite teddies given permanent situation room chairs in place of the National Security Adviser and a couple of four-star generals.

Only that nebbish Tiffany will continue to be overlooked, according to top DC sources. Far from being very proud of her from day one, the President wouldn’t date her even if she wasn’t his daughter.

Although golf was off the agenda, there was plenty of opportunity for POUTS’s other favorite sport, competitive handshaking. Marco Venturini analyses his matches at the G20 (This takes you to the original, where the actual videos being given the expert treatment will play.)

During the G20 there is always some attention on the handshakes , which are often used as a diplomatic message . Sometimes they are avoided, sometimes they are asked, they usually give themselves, formally.

The handshake communicates a lot, in a non-verbal way . In the case of the leaders reveals the relationship they have with each other and what they want to make outside . In many cases, a quick gesture of handshake tells us whether a leader feels submissive or wants to dominate the other.

This time, Trump preferred to avoid embarrassment and immediately stated, not verbally (with a gesture instead of words), his intention to shake hands at the German Chancellor.

We can see from it that Trump gives and opens his hand long before he gets to the point of contact with Merkel. Trump makes several steps with his hand pulled to the German leader .

This formality of handshake with an enemy, however, embarrasses Trump. His gesture was due but not heard . So to relieve tension and prove it has not changed, it breaks the pattern by giving them taps on the right arm as it goes.

The fear of distortion in the eyes of the world with that handshake makes him perform another unpopular gesture in typical Trump style: just before leaving the center of the scene, the provocative president shakes the fist closed in a gesture of exultation towards the photographers. As if he wanted to induce the cheer for him. An obvious discharge of tension at a time of embarrassment.

He went on from the G20 for another bout of handshaking with the current world champion, Emmanuel Macron. Most observers reckon that Macron won the epic 25-second tussle. POUTS was there as the guest of honor at France’s national day celebrations, in which the French naturally pay more attention to what their own President does. This was Macron’s first 14 July, just as ten days earlier had been POUTS’s first Fourth.

So it’s worth having a look at reviews of The Macron Show (with special guest). First, Vadim Kamenka:

Since the beginning of his mandate, the Head of State intends to embody a new foreign and European policy: his own. It is a break with his predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande. Is it to reconnect with a gaullo-mitterrandian line? For Christian Lequesne, researcher at the International Research Center (Ceri), there is little doubt: “Emmanuel Macron takes the standards. There is a form of rupture with the previous two quinquenniums, which largely based their diplomacy on the question of respect for the great principles and democratic values. There seems to be a tendency in the French president to diplomatically pursue interests. It can be characterized as a kind of pragmatism “according to which” France must be able to discuss with everybody “.

The new head of state would be ready on Syria for military reprisals against the regime in the event of chemical attacks.
France would not hesitate to act alone in order to “respect its red line”, he affirmed, like Donald Trump who ordered a military strike against the Syrian army on April 4th. Macron did not break with Atlanticism at all. And the president goes so far as to invite Donald Trump for the celebrations of July 14, in Paris. A highly symbolic gesture, which the Élysée explains by a determination not to break the dialogue after an “opposition” on COP21.
It remains that Emmanuel Macron break with neoconservatism and interventionism seems overplayed.
The official goal is to celebrate “the 100 years of the United States’ entry into the war with French troops during the First World War”. Unofficially, the Elysee wants to bring the United States back into the process of fighting global warming and work together on conflicts in the Middle East, notably on the Syrian issue and the fight against terrorism.
Emmanuel Macron seems to want to draw inspiration from all the diplomatic lines. A method that could work for a while, but that “could become complicated if the aura surrounding it were to become fragile. For now, his success in the presidential election still serves him, but if his reforms in France become problematic, then he could lose credibility with other leaders, warns Christian Lequesne.

In Le Monde, Marc Semo again underlines that Macron is very much aware of being the new kid on the block and keen to make a strong impression on the world stage:

Mr. Macron loves history and its symbols. He had already shown it by inviting Vladimir Putin to Versailles for the inauguration of an exhibition celebrating the 300th anniversary of the visit of Tsar Peter the Great. The centenary of the United States’ entry into the war in 1917, the start of their involvement in European politics in the name of a certain idea of ​​democracy, is even more important.

“He treats de facto Donald Trump even better than Vladimir Putin, stressing the importance of the alliance with Washington,” analyzes Bruno Tertrais of the Foundation for Strategic Research. Mr. Tertrais noted that the French president “invites above all the President of the United States, even beyond Donald Trump.”

It’s a bet for Mr. Macron. “He is buying Trump down, relying on the fact that the United States remains in any case unavoidable whatever the errors of their president,” notes a fine observer of the diplomatic scene. The unpredictability of the US president, his refusal to engage in the fight against global warming as his protectionist tendency in the name of “America first” complicate his relations with many international leaders, beginning with Angela Merkel. The German Chancellor has often had very harsh words against him.

Macron, for his part, took the lead in a diplomatic counter-offensive to recall the irreversibility of the Paris agreement. But both at the G7, where he still evoked his hope to convince Mr. Trump, that at the G20, the Head of State has multiplied the gestures of kindness towards him. “Personal alchemy works well between the two men,” said a White House official.

“I never despair of convincing, it is a trait of character,” explained Mr. Macron in Hamburg. With his diplomacy of “at the same time”, the French president has willingly posed, since his entry on the international scene, as a mediator taking advantage of the tensions of the last months between Moscow, Washington and Berlin. He is the political leader capable of snapping the wind at Angela Merkel, of talking in firmness with the strong man of the Kremlin and of keeping the ear of the real estate tycoon who runs the United States. The latter, ever more discredited, has everything to gain by displaying a French president with excellent image, including in the United States, whom he salutes as a “trailblazer” (pioneer).

I’ll finish this week’s miscellany with a piece by Slavoj Zizek entitled “Christian conservatives don’t support Donald Trump despite his vulgarity – they support him because of it”. Which is at least an intriguing title:

How to account for the strange fact that Donald Trump, a lewd and morally destitute person, the very opposite of Christian decency, can function as the chosen hero of the Christian conservatives? The explanation one usually hears is that, while Christian conservatives are well aware of the problematic character of Trump’s personality, they have chosen to ignore this side of things since what really matters to them is Trump’s agenda, especially his anti-abortion stance.

If he succeeds in naming conservative new members of the Supreme Court, which will then overturn Roe v Wade, then this act will obliterate all his sins, it seems. But are things as simple as that? What if the very duality of Trump’s personality – his high moral stance accompanied by personal lewdness and vulgarities – is what makes him attractive to Christian conservatives? What if they secretly identify with this very duality?

Exactly the same goes for Poland’s current de facto ruler Jaroslaw Kaczynski who, in a 1997 interview for Gazeta Wyborcza, inelegantly exclaimed: “It’s our f***ing turn” (“Teraz kurwa my”). This phrase (which then became a classic locus in Polish politics) can be vaguely translated as: “It’s our f***ing time, now we are in power, it’s our term”, but its literal meaning is more vulgar, something like: “Now it’s our time to f**k the whore” (after waiting in line in a brothel).

It’s important that this phrase was publicly uttered by a devout Catholic conservative, a protector of Christian morality: it’s the hidden obverse which effectively sustains Catholic “moral” politics.

The important lesson here is that this coming open of the obscene background of our ideological space (to put it somewhat simply: the fact that we can now more and more openly make racist, sexist and generally xenophobic statements which, until recently, belonged to private spaces) in no way means that the time of mystification is over, now that ideology openly displays its cards.

On the contrary, when obscenity penetrates the public scene, ideological mystification is at its strongest: the true political, economic and ideological stakes are more invisible than ever. Public obscenity is always sustained by a concealed moralism, its practitioners secretly believe they are fighting for a cause, and it is at this level that they should be attacked. To paraphrase the old Marx brothers joke, apropos Trump or Kaczynski: you look and act like a vulgar clown, but this should not deceive us – you really are a vulgar clown.

It goes on to theorize that Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal is because he’s so ordinary — he seems like a man of the people because he doesn’t really stand out from the crowd. I think Zizek is on to something, but my view is slightly different: Corbyn is a very nice man. He’s not given to firebrand rhetoric and while as a lefty he can’t entirely avoiding speaking in slogans, he doesn’t talk down to people. Some people can work themselves into quite a lather hating what he stands for, but it would be very difficult to hate him personally. You wouldn’t want to go and have a beer with him, but you’d probably be able to have a pleasant conversation while you sipped your coffee and he his tea in a local cafe.

The thing is, you’ve got to be who you are. Mother Theresa, stung by the criticisms that she’d been robotic about the Grenfell Tower fire, has been telling stories about shedding a tear when she saw the exit polls on polling night, presumably as part of an attempt to prove that she was born rather than assembled. I have to say that it’s not working. Like POUTS, she’s way out of her depth.

Survive Sunday.

Albanian Breakfast and Euro-comment


Today is election day in Albania. I spent some time digging around to try and come up with some useful coverage, but I didn’t do very well. They’re obviously aware that almost nobody speaks Albanian, and there are at least four English-language Albanian news sites, but unfortunately all of them are paywalled. Struggling with GoogleTranslate on some other sites, I couldn’t really find much which said what the issues are; the most recent stories are about measures to protect the integrity of the poll, with at least four parties being accused of widespread vote-buying and the Interior Minister threatening severe punishment for anyone doing anything illegal with regard to the election.

However, I did manage to establish that 140 people will be elected to their unicameral parliament on a party-list proportional system in 12 regions. There are three main parties, the Socialists (PS), the Socialist Movement for Integration (SMI), and the Democrats (DP). The SMI was formed by someone who broke away from the PS, but I can’t work out what the differences are between them. There is also a new center party, LIBRA, which just about figures in the polls. (GoogleTranslate manages to render their name variously as Libra, Libya and BOOKS) This piece reports on the opinion polls from 1st June and has some information about what the voters think the issues are; subsequent articles tracking the polls have consisted effectively of updates only and are unenlightening beyond there having not been much movement over the course of the campaign.

Compared to the 2013 elections, the SP and PD have increased their votes. PS 43%, PD 36%. So PS has increased by 1%, while PD has increased by almost 6 points. But what has marked a surge and can be considered a surprise is the SMI. So the SMI has received 12%, which means it has marked a big increase compared to the 2013 elections. Another surprise is Libya, which competes for the first time in an election process. Other parties are below the threshold. Commenting on the polls, survey expert Antonio Noto said that interestingly, he is comparisons with the 2013 elections, where PS has increased by 1.7%, while DP with 6 points. The SMI, according to him, is growing at the national level by 1.5 points. For Libra, he says we can not make comparisons that he was not in the election. While all other parties are below the threshold.

Questions addressed to the respondents: today in Albania live well PS voters answered 66.7%, DP 23: 0% while SMI 32.4%. While questioning that in Albania is “bad”, potential PS voters have responded to 26.3, DP 72.4% and SMI 50.6%. While Antonio Notto explains that determining whether to live well or badly is related to the parties. SP voters say they live well, while DP voters say they live poorly. So it is not an answer that relates to social conditions but to political representation. Analyst Artur Zheji commenting on this said that these results are similar to those that knocked Berisha’s government four years ago. “In 2013, the results of the response to unemployment and corruption are more or less the same as now. Precisely, the response to dissatisfaction and corruption, dropped Berisha’s government and caused the wheel we saw. Meanwhile, with the same index as compared to 2013-2017, then the Rama government should fall. Meanwhile, the answer is; We are better off. We are not worse, “he said. Also the survey expert Afrim Krasniqi emphasized that the trend is not positive for the Socialist Party. “The number of left-wingers who think they are going worse is bigger than the number of DP citizens that things go better.

This is interesting. Second, with the SMI, one thinks that things are going wrong with 50% and when compared to the past 4 years, they almost say the same. It is practically a comfortable position for the third political party, “Krasniqi said. Meanwhile, on the question of what are the three emergent problems that require solutions in Albania, respondents think that unemployment is the main problem with 67%, corruption by 36.3%, and salaries and pensions by 34.7%. Other problems that affect Albanians are the economic crisis, health service, poverty. But in spite of that, Albanians think they live better than four years ago. While Antoini Noto said the electoral campaign has just started, the data we give will not be the data of June 25, but the start of the electoral campaign. “It’s a picture today, dated May 31. There are two surveys, one at the national level. There are 2002 people asked to belong to different ages and gender, but also to different social strata. 52% of respondents are women. The second survey is just for Tirana. 1000 people were asked. The surveys were conducted on May 29 and 30, 2017, “he stressed.

I have also found a piece in the English-language version of the Luxemburger Wort, which appears to be AFP’s:

Albania votes in parliamentary elections on Sunday with hopes that a long tradition of polling fraud, violence, and disputed results will come to an end and propel the country towards EU membership.

The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Edi Rama, 52, appears to have just a slight advantage over the centre-right Democratic Party of Lulzim Basha, 43, according to opinion polls

….Although Basha, an admirer of US President Donald Trump, has officially led the Democrats for four years, his predecessor Sali Berisha, a former Albanian president and premier, remains a powerful and unifying figure on the right.

His party had threatened to boycott the election until a month ago, raising concerns about the vote being unfree and unfair. Although the two sides struck a deal, with the Democrats given key ministerial posts in the run-up to the vote, the rhetoric remains lively.

“Edi Rama has supported a handful of people who… got their hands on the economy, and a handful of criminals who seized power and made Albania a drugstore,” Basha said, referring to Albania’s illicit but lucrative cannabis trade.

Rama retorted that Basha “is an opposition leader who is not ready for the challenge of governing the country”.

On the campaign trail, he lampooned his rival for lacking experience, calling him “a watermelon that one must open to see if it is ripe or not”.

“Everyone is good for something, but Luli (Basha’s nickname) is only good for putting people to sleep,” the premier joked.

Polls will be open from 7am until 7pm CET under the eye of 3,000 election observers, including 300 foreigners.

So that fulfils the request made in last week’s comments at Daily Kos.

With no other elections going on right now, it’s time to get back to European coverage of POUTS and related matters. Beginning with a piece by Moisés Naím:

It is still too early to evaluate the presidency of Donald Trump. However, thanks to his behavior, the results of his management and his constant self-promotion, some things are already clear. For example, there are certain ideas that were commonly accepted before Trump’s arrival in power. No longer.

Truth: Trump, his spokespeople and his allies in the media and social networks (including Vladimir Putin) have shown that for them there are no incontrovertible facts and data. There is no such thing as “the truth”. Any statement, scientific data and even visual evidence such as, for example, photos showing the size of the crowd on the day of the inauguration of the new president can be questioned.

Directing a big company teaches how to run a government: This is a zombie idea: we believed it dead but every so often it revives. It is the belief that to be a good ruler helps to have been a successful entrepreneur.

The US president is the most powerful man in the world. Trump will prove that this is not so. Of course this president has at his disposal enormous resources and thousands of officials — including the best-armed military mankind has ever known. But the forces that limit their performances are equally enormous – if not even more powerful. These limitations to presidential power are domestic and foreign, legal and bureaucratic, political and economic. Despite being one of the presidents with the most pronounced imperial temperament, few of his orders are becoming realities.

The longevity of a democracy protects it from corruption and nepotism. In failing democracies, Congress, judges, or other State institutions fail to prevent a venal president from using the prerogatives of office for the benefit of his private business. Or name their relatives in important public positions for which they are not qualified. To a greater or lesser extent this happens everywhere. In African and Latin American countries these abuses become frequent and extreme, while in the United States or the United Kingdom they are comparatively less serious. Until now.

Political apathy The Trump Government will make it painfully clear to millions of Americans that elections have very concrete consequences on their lives.

Europeans find American healthcare debates very weird, especially when they’re about making a poor and inadequate system even worse. Thorsten Schröder’s piece is entitled “Wholly beyond reality”:

Repeal Obamacare , Obamacare, became the core task of the party.

Now the opportunity is there: The Conservatives represent the majority in the House of Representatives, in the Senate and one of theirs is President. But the draft law, which Senate spokesman Mitch McConnell presented after weeks of secrecy , shows above all one thing: with their old promise, the Republicans themselves have pushed themselves into a corner and thereby are ever further removed from the political will of the citizens. The anger for Obama blinded the party. Because it still regards the fight against the hated Affordable Care Act as a top priority and has to win at all costs, while the rest of the US has long since turned away.

Despite all the reality checks , the conservatives in the congress have gotten into the old plan. The fact that they are now planning to replace Obamacare is only due to public pressure, which was not to be ignored in Washington. If it were up to most Republicans, they would remove Obamacare without compensation, leaving the decision about life and death to market forces. Now they are desperately trying a law that creates the balancing act between their own ideal and the annoying reality. Their ultimate goal seems to be that what comes out in the end does not bear the signature of former President Obama.

… The conservatives do not care about the well-being of their electorate, but are looking at the chance to destroy Obama’s success.

…A defeat for the Republicans would be desirable. Not because of political satisfaction, but because the party would then be forced to wake up at last – and to work with the Democrats to improve the status quo. Even liberals have now seen that the system of Obama is full of holes: the premiums are too high, the costs for insurers in many places hardly bearable, choice in some states hardly exists because the providers withdraw from the market. A return to a world before 2009 is not a solution. Instead of Trumpcare, America needs an improved Obamacare. If the Republicans do not learn that now, then hopefully by the next election.

Exposing splits in the Republican Party is always mildly amusing. Alexandra Endres looks at a Republican group’s scheme for tackling climate change:

Republican politicians in the US are not generally known as friends of an ambitious climate policy. But that just seems to change. For months now, a group that is close to the Republicans, called the Climate Leadership Council, is working on its own, a conservative climate protection plan.

Among the most important members of the initiative, the two Republican granders George Shultz , holders of various ministries under Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and James Baker , who was under Reagan Finance and George Bush Senior Foreign Minister, and Henry Paulson , Finance Minister under George W. Bush.

[T]he plan of the Climate Leadership Council is intended to protect the climate, while allowing the market to expand freely within clear limits. This fits better into the conservative worldview. Its authors do not call their proposal a climate protection plan – framing is important – but a carbon dividend plan.

First, the state levies a tax on emissions, initially at $ 40 per ton of CO2. Fossil energy would be more expensive, climate-damaging behavior punished….

the second step in the plan – the state would have to return the entire revenue from the tax back to its citizens. “With a tax of $ 40 on each ton, a family of four will get about $ 2,000 in the first year,” the two economists Martin Feldstein and Gregory Mankiw, formerly advising Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush,

In order to protect domestic companies in the competition, the economists suggest climate imbalances on carbon-intensive imports and discounts for US exporters. This is the third step. As soon as the model runs, older climate change rules from the Obama era would be handled: step four and final.

In the New York Times, Feldstein and Mankiw praised the advantages of their proposal in the highest tones: not only climate protection, but also investment security for companies and thus economic growth. Those 70 percent of US citizens who earn less than the richer rest would profit, they write. That would be about 223 million people.

The power in the White House, however, still has other. Trump’s Energy Minister Rick Perry said a few days ago that carbon dioxide is not the most important cause of climate change ; Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, would like to put the scientific knowledge on climate change to a complete discussion – and the president himself seems to follow their line. That is why it will probably be years before the idea of ​​a carbon dividend has realistic prospects for winning majorities in the congress.

Killing Obama’s rules is one of POUTS’s objectives, but that hasn’t stopped him coming up with his own great ideas — such as making the Great Wall of Trump out of solar panels. Matthias Auer considers this brilliant concept:

We’re talking about the southern frontier,” Donald Trump said at an event before supporters in Iowa. “A lot of sun, a lot of heat – we think about constructing the wall as a solar energy that produces energy and pays for itself.” The higher the wall, which is supposed to keep illegal immigrants and drug traffickers from Mexico, “Trump said visibly enthusiastically,” A great show, right? It was my idea. “

Element Energy, a solar company based in Portland, estimates that a 1,000-mile-long wall would produce around 2,657 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, which could currently be sold at around 106 million dollars. At a construction cost of ten billion, the Wall therefore will take a hundred years to recoup its costs.

But even these values ​​are still optimistic. They ignorea number of expensive secondary conditions: the concept of a solar panel with vertical panels is rather unconventional. It is estimated that the efficiency of the panels would drop by half as a result of the vertical installation. In addition, the solar panels would have to be oriented towards the south, ie Mexico. An answer to the question of how the Americans are to clean, maintain and repair their panels cost-effectively on this side of the border wall is still pending.

It is also open to anyone who is supposed to buy the electricity (we speak of electricity for up to 220,000 US households). Just two percent of US citizens live within a 40-mile radius to the Mexican border. They have little need for extra power. In order to find enough customers in the USA, Trump would have to lay long, expensive power lines. According to a study by the British “Institution of Engineering Technology” every mile of transmission line would come to about 8.8 million dollars.

Really thought out, however, the impact does not work. For Trump, he also opens another ideological flank: China produces almost all solar panels worldwide. One can be curious how the “America First” president will sell his voters this windfall to the economic rival.

We now move on to considering Cuba, in the company of Massimo Cavallini:

“In six months, or six years, or whenever it is, Cuba will be free . And when it is, the people of the island will say that the transition began here, in this theater, with a president who has done what must be done to restore freedom in the island of Cuba … “.

It was Marco Rubio , Senator of Florida – yes, that Rubio Rubio, who in the course of Republican primaries, Donald Trump had systematically humiliated by defining little Marco , – to pronounce these wise words, charged with a “historical” consciousness And of hope so pompous in form, as well as pathetically molded in substance.

Donald Trump … has found himself at ease in this atmosphere of unconditional adulation, even enlightened in a climate of generalized ecstasy, from the “happy birthday, Mr. president” (Trump has Reached its 71 years just a few days ago) sung by the whole theater. And it has been in this vaguely North Korean climate that the newly elected president has replied, doing what he knows best. That is, lying . More precisely: giving the most sclerotic part of the Cuban exile the lie which, from him, the latter waited. “The memorandum I came up with – said Trump to applause – is the total cancellation of the bad agreement with the Cuban government.


In essence, Trump’s “new” policy towards Cuba starts from a premise that testifies to an extraordinary ignorance of the Cuban reality…

All that Trump offered last Friday in the jubilant atmosphere of “Manuel Artime” theater is just, when one looks at the facts, a change of rhetorical tones , a verbal return to the past . And this has made everyone happy. Himself, with the illusion of having destroyed another piece of the ” Obama’s legacy “. And the relics of the Cuban exile, ready as all the old descendants to rejoice in this sort of return to the childhood of their anti-Christianism (someone calls it a rebellion).

The problem is that, in politics, words count . And, though piously ridiculous, this return to the past inevitably announces difficult times (and perhaps the end of a hopeless hope) especially for those new sectors of Cuban society that were very marginally and slowly loosening the noose of Castrarian totalitarianism.

Last Friday, history – the story Barack Obama had been trying to set off – made Cuba take a step back . And it was a bad day (another “nasty” bad day) for everyone. For Cuba, the United States and the world.

As we’ve mentioned the ex-POTUS, let’s see what he’s been up to. Frauke Steffens has the goods:

A bodyguard is at the door, hundreds of people block the street, they cheer and take photos. This is how the former American President Barack Obama gets a coffee to take home, for example in February in New York.

Many Americans love Obama , and they don’t begrudge him the fun he is having in his “afterlife”. Whether he is photographed in a tuxedo or khaki shorts, his fans call him and his wife Michelle fashion icons on social networks. They also rejoice when Obama plays golf or with billionaire Richard Branson on the yachting holiday – because he deserved it. Obama can hardly do anything wrong. His popularity is 63 percent approval. The formerly most powerful man in the world does not have to make any unpopular decisions – and he and his wife Michelle look extremely good in photos.

“Nobody in history has managed being a pensioner better,” cheered the otherwise not particularly human-friendly celebrity blog “TMZ”. In the south of Los Angeles, we are discussing whether to name a road to Obama during his lifetime. And the American Association for the Advancement of Science lists nine newly discovered creatures named after Obama – including colorful fish and a bird, but also spiders and worms. Anyway, Theodore Roosevelt only got to seven.

In his role as a former president Obama did not want to interfere with the day-to-day political debates. Instead, he wanted to participate in long-term change processes, he said. To this end, he founded a foundation. In Chicago, where he used to live, an entire Obama center is to be built, with a library, sports and youth facilities. The center is to be located on the South Side. There are many African Americans where the successes of the black American middle class have not grown in recent decades – they suffer from poverty and violence. Obama’s center will mainly help young people. It is to cost up to 380 million dollars, financed partly by public money, which promises a renewal of the area. It is to be inaugurated in 2021.

After becoming aware of the latest bill, Obama decided to attack on his Facebook page. The Republican Bill provides tax relief for high earners, but at the same time higher contributions and self-participation for people who can not pay much. These plans, according to Obama, meant a “massive redistribution to the top”. The Senate now has to step back and understand what is really at stake, he wrote in a long statement. He has never attacked the present government so concretely and clearly.

It is about Obama’s political heritage, but probably not about the most important part of it. For he does not need to make much effort to protect his most lasting legacy: that there has been a black president at all.

Some tragedies, such as terrorist incidents and mass shootings, tend to produce op-eds which are roughly the same as they were after the last one. The Grenfell Tower fire in London, though, prompts some more general thoughts from Fintan O’Toole:

To understand why government in both the United States and the United Kingdom is in such an abysmal state consider the connection between two political utterances. One is very famous, because it brilliantly encapsulates an entire political philosophy in a single, easily grasped sentence. The other is an obscure but quite typical exercise in ministerial verbiage. But one is the offspring of the other, and between them they trace the path towards anarchy in the Anglo-American world.

The first utterance is one of the best-known lines delivered by that consummate performer Ronald Reagan as US president, in August 1986: “I think you all know that I’ve always felt the nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

The second is the Conservative minister of state for housing and planning in the UK, Brandon Lewis, explaining in 2014 why he would not make sprinkler systems compulsory in high-rise housing developments: “It is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively.”

Reagan’s line was funny, folksy and supremely effective – all the qualities for which neoliberals continue to adore him. But it leads, among other places, to the blackened cage of Grenfell Tower that Ed Vulliamy memorably called, in the Observer, “the outrageous crematorium on the skyline” of west London.

It was a clever, insidious sneer at the very idea of public service: to be “here to help” is to be at best a well-meaning bungler. Government does not enable: it interferes. Regulation is redefined as molestation. Public service is a public nuisance. The freedom to live in squalor or to make money from those who do so is the ultimate value.

Never mind either that the neoliberal sneering at the idea of government being “here to help” was as hypocritical as a pious lecher. Right-wingers who venerate Reagan’s mockery don’t care to notice that in the very same speech he goes on to say that “America’s farmers should know that our commitment to helping them is unshakable”.

Tanks and bombs are always “here to help” when neoliberals decide that a foreign regime needs to be changed. Government is “here to help” when banks want to be bailed out with public money or when oligarchs need subsidies. Being here to help is only wrong when “here” is wherever ordinary citizens are struggling to make decent lives for themselves and their kids.

The sneering is no less effective for being so two-faced. Its acid has been corroding democracy in the anglophone world for decades. When government being “here to help” is a contemptible thing you end up with the grotesque reality that, even after a disaster, nobody from government really is there to help.

The right has played with the fire of anarchy, and now both the UK and the US are anarchic states, one in the grip of idiocy, the other of self-destructive fantasy.

Here’s another piece prompted by the fire — very indirectly, because it’s Brian Beacom’s reflection on journalism prompted by a BBC interview of Britain’s worst-ever prime minister.

 You could almost see Emily Maitlis’s fingerprints on Theresa May’s face after the stinging Friday night slap was administered. Across the country viewers cheered, some were stunned. At the very least, a very curious eyebrow was raised.

We’re speaking figuratively of course of Maitlis’s Newsnight interview in the wake of the Kensington fire tragedy, but the moment made its mark.

The usual deference given to PMs went out the window faster than a disturbed burglar. Rarely has the nation seen a journalist attack a senior politician armed not just with a list of demanding questions but a searing contempt.

 Maitlis pushed relentlessly for answers; “Where were you for two days? Why didn’t you speak to the locals? Where was the army? When will people be re-housed?” All valid questions, which were deaf-eared, TM returning time and time again to her press release line.

Then came the stinger. “They shouted coward at you when you left St Clements, Prime Minister.”

This wasn’t a question; it was a public shaming. And while it was not the expected comment it was apposite; Maitlis’s question refracted popular feeling.

Theresa May may well have felt major grief at the news of the Grenfell fire but she didn’t show it.

Maitlis clearly picked up on this. You could see anger, frustration in her face. But it didn’t mean she wasn’t doing her job. Her voice was representational. If anything, she could have gone further and demanded; “Prime Minister, why do you refuse to answer the questions I’m putting to you and in effect worsening your position?”

Maitlis’s questioning was laced with emotion, but it was measured. Her questions distilled a nation’s anger, gave it an outlet. She was uncompromising and ultimately the result was revealing.

And you could argue it was necessary. This is an era of fake news. The media is constantly be harangued by politicians, in an attempt to shape and control, to set the agenda, to set parameters for discussion. To get the answers, the journalist has to pull out all the stops, even if the result is an unleashing of raw emotion.

French writer Marguerite Duras once declared; “Journalism without a moral position is impossible. Every journalist is a moralist.” Maitlis is a moralist. And as such, the face slap was well deserved.

Here is yet another piece prompted by the fire which goes even further afield. Robert Fisk compares May’s remarks with those of Middle Eastern despots:

Could there be anything more ridiculous than hearing Maajid Nawaz, one of the founders of Quilliam – which boasts that it is the world’s first “counter-extremist” organisation – suggesting that extremists in the UK are trying to provoke “civil war”? He says that Isis has declared this as its aim – which is true – but why is Nawaz repeating it all again? It’s good publicity for Isis, unfortunately. It’s also good publicity for the Quilliam Foundation whose “think tank” – how I hate those words – is churning out this stuff.

Inevitably, the Grenfell fire – many of whose victims were Muslims – has become part of the “terror” story, which is just what a MailOnline report did last week. Had most of the fire victims been non-Muslims, I don’t believe this bit of dodgy “conflation” would have been made. On the other hand, it could well be argued that Lady May might have met the victims if they had not been “angry” Muslims. And after the van attack in Finsbury Park, we had to endure Corbyn’s psychobabble about how we must “reach out” to the “pain and stress” of victims.

I’m not sure how you “reach out” to “stress” – though Jeremy seems to think it’s about hugging people. In fact, responding to “terror” – of the Islamist, fascist or fiery variety – is a difficult one for political leaders, especially when one of them – the unsympathetic lady – may soon be out of a job and the other one is busy trying to create “unity” even if he hasn’t been terribly successful in doing it in his own party.

In the Middle East, we’re always suspicious when a local dictator talks about “unity” – wahda in Arabic – because it usually means he’s in trouble. Calls for national unity in Tunisia and Egypt preceded the fall of Ben Ali and Mubarak. Autocrats often try to cement this “unity” with stifling praise for their security forces who protect their “nation” from “foreign plots”. This has faint parallels with the UK today.

All politicians praise the police – whose failure to protect the public often becomes buried in applause for their courage – and Isis certainly fits the “plots” bit, although Cardiff hardly counts as “foreign”. Other parallels are troublingly closer to the mark. The countries which talk most about “unity” – President-Field Marshal al-Sissi in Egypt today, for example – are often those facing Islamist violence. Or nations which have substantial minorities of different faiths. Think Lebanon. Or Syria. Or Iraq. All three endured or are enduring civil wars of the kind which Mr Nawaz is waffling on about.

And “justice”, of course, is exactly what many Arab demonstrators were demanding in the Arab revolutions. Justice, needless to say, was not what the dictators intended them to have – nor did the West, which insisted on claiming that protestors wanted “democracy”. And in London, after the fire, one thing which, I suspect, irked those who demonstrated on the streets was that their original demands for fire-risk-free homes had been largely ignored in an environment in which the poor, the unemployed or Muslim refugees had long been vilified on social media – thus making their warnings unworthy of serious attention. This was the “injustice” they suffered from.

And “injustice” in the Middle East – by us and our satrap dictators and our sale of billions of dollars of weapons to them and our invasion of Iraq and our bombings – has helped to create Isis. It is justice – home and abroad – that Maajid Nawaz and his chums should be discussing. But I guess a UK civil war gets more hits right now.

One doesn’t have to perform many mental contortions to translate the specifics of the Grenfell fire in that piece to, say, Katrina, Ferguson or Flint — as O’Toole pointed out, callous, self-serving responses by government are equally likely in the UK and the USA.

That’s your lot for this week. Have as pleasant a day as you can manage.

French Breakfast

France’s legislature gets elected today. It seems entirely likely that a large majority of the seats will be won by parties which didn’t even exist a couple of years ago. After last Sunday’s first round, we’re into the runoffs, which are first-past-the-post for the 577 seats. Well, not quite 577, because a very small number of first-round contests were won by candidates who got over 50% of the vote and enough people voted for there to be a quorum. (You can’t win a seat which has tens of thousands of eligible voters should you get 66% if only three votes get cast.)

Unhelpfully, this summary may get obscured by adverts depending on your device, but it’s the only intelligible thing I’ve found where the graphics make it through GoogleTranslate. Macron’s La Republique En Marche (LREM)  has allied with Francois Bayrou’s Mouvement Democratique (MoDem), and they are expected to win about 430 seats, with LREM getting 370 and MoDem getting 60. The Republicans are likely to emerge as the largest opposition party with about 100, and the rest are expected to have slim pickings. Marine Le Pen may get in, but even if she does, she’s unlikely to have more than four colleagues, more likely just one. Neither Left group — Melenchon’s hard-left France Insoumise and Hamon’s Partie Socialiste — will do well. They are both on course for numbers in the teens, and you need at least 15 to be recognised as a proper party with automatic rights of representation on parliamentary committees and suchlike. What follows are some pieces about where the parties are likely to go from here. It’s not all that coherent, but I’ve found these bits interesting, anyway.

“Catastrophic” is not too strong a word to describe the PS’s loss of support. At the last general election, they won a big majority, and this time they are struggling even for recognition. Here’s a piece from Le Monde about how they’re taking it:

Throughout the country, socialist leaders and activists say they are waiting for the results of the second round, which could cause their party to lose up to 264 deputies, to think of the “after”. Many are still struggling to assess the consequences of this “major reality shock , as one of them describes.

“When you’re an activist, it’s very hard. I’ve been fighting for fifteen years, and yes, I clearly have a feeling of failure. There we are at the bottom of the hole and we have become inaudible. Someone would have announced this result a year ago, we would not have believed. An explosion of the PS with a siphonage in good standing by LRM, it was not seen coming, “ says Sylvain Mathieu, head of the PS in the Nièvre. …The explanations vary according to local contexts. When some of them rebelled against the local barons who had fallen into disgrace, others pointed to the lack of enthusiasm generated by novice candidates. Everywhere, the bitterness towards the elected officials who took the LRM train as soon as possible is strong.

For many, the PS label doomed the candidates. “We had three weeks of good campaign ,” reminds Mickaël Fernandes, campaign manager in the eighth riding of the North, in Roubaix and Wattrelos . I can not tell you how many times we have heard: “You guys are nice, but the PS, we do not want anymore!” If our candidate had run on the label La France insoumise or La République en marche he would have done better , says the activist, who joined at the end of 2011. Who says logo PS, says Hollande, says Valls, declared decline of nationality

A little consolation, a small sentence comes from those who are looking for renewal: “at least, the situation has clarified” with the verdict of the ballot boxes. The “real socialists” and those who have joined the presidential majority will find it hard to make common cause in the future. Considered a “professional politician” , the first secretary of the Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, incarnates, for the militants of the left wing of the Party, what they “no longer want to see” .

After the second round, there will be time for refounding. All agree on the need to discuss , within the sections, “the orientations that this political party has the vocation to carry” . For some, the PS can not be reborn from its ashes. “The party is dead, it has been too long a party of elected,” says Mickaël Fernandes, judging it useless to “persist” . A long-time socialist activist from Marseilles, more nuanced, considers that “the PS has seen this before” . “It is the party of Blum, Jaurès, Mendes France, Rocard, JospinThe PS is the party of social transformation, that of the defense of employees and public services. We will disappear when the problems of our fellow citizens have disappeared, he believes . There is going to be a crossing of the desert, it is obvious, remains to know how long it will last .

Whatever the degree of bitterness, fatalism or anger, all are convinced. There is a political space available between “the liberalism of Emmanuel Macron and the extreme left of Jean-Luc Mélenchon , for socialism, social democracy. It remains to know how to seize it .

Keeping with PS self-analysis, Lilian Alemagna and Rachid Laïreche examine where the Left might go from here:

A reversal of more than half a century. The wave of the Republic in motion (LREM) in the first round of the legislative elections crushed the French left on Sunday. The Socialist Party, at 7%, falls to its lowest historical; Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s unbridled France lost, with 11%, 8 points compared to its presidential score; Environmentalists are at 4%; The communists to less than 3% … None of these formations should be able, by themselves, to form a parliamentary group. We must go back to the beginnings of the Fifth Republic and the Gaullist scroll to find a weak left in the Assembly.

At the moment, the main PS officials agree on one thing: “We will have to rebuild everything from floor to ceiling,” believes MEP Emmanuel Maurel. But despite this historic defeat, few voices are raised to demand a congress before the end of the year, as the party’s statutes do. “The work that is waiting for us is to rebuild a left of government that no longer exists today,” argues Romain Colas, released Sunday in Essonne. It’s much deeper than repairing April 21. “ ” Considering the state of the party, I do not know if the urgency is to have a congress of clarification in September, “continues Maurel, representative of the left wing . You have to ask yourself, see if you want to stay together … I’m not sure that’s the case. “

No one is asking – for now – the head of the boss, Jean-Christophe Cambadélis. “Why destabilize the boat that has already lost a lot of mossaillons by organizing a putsch against the captain?” Asked former minister Laurence Rossignol. “Cambadélis can no longer remain, it must be clear: to announce the date of the congress and that he will not run for another term, however , decides a member of the management. The crisis is deep and it crystallizes too much. The new generation will attempt an offensive but as none of them won the legislative elections they will calm down. “

After a national office seminar on Monday, a national council is scheduled for 24 June. The strategic question of a formation caught between Macron and Mélenchon should again arise. This is an essential issue, as his parliamentary group, many of whom will be elected to Macron’s mercy, could, at the special session, offer his confidence to the government. “I do not know if the PS can survive, ” said the boss of a large federation. He is caught up in internal contradictions that have been insoluble for too long, and in a stranglehold powerful enough to condemn us permanently to marginality. We lack an incarnation, a political line and a legitimacy. “ Which Mélenchon has built.

According to Mélenchon, this is a kind of witness passage. The former Socialist already imagines himself a leader of the Left. But it lays down its conditions. His spokesman, Alexis Corbière, is waiting for the end of the legislative elections to take stock, but loosens a few tracks: “We were always in favor of the rally, we were ready to welcome the Socialists and we are always ready to do so. But for that, we should not be in the vagueness . “ Understand: the interested parties must leave the PS to join France rebellious.

Faced “to the field of ruins to the PS”, France insoumise has a blow to play according to the political analyst Gaël Brustier. Who warns: “Mélenchon must not confuse the political conflict with excess. And I do not know what he wants, I feel that he is satisfied with what he got. But if he wants to make progress, it’s time for him to speak to a maximum of French people. “

For some socialists, “space exists” between an all-powerful Macron and a “too cleaving” Mélenchon. Drawing lessons from the presidential and wishing to detach themselves from the apparatus PS, many of them want to launch their own company this summer. For Benoît Hamon, it will be July 1 in Paris. Anne Hidalgo is also preparing the sequel under the name “From tomorrow”. Matthias Fekl plans to revive his movement, called “Movida”. All want to involve “intellectuals” and refer to what the Socialists had known before the congress of unity in Epinay in 1971: a multiplication of initiatives. They promise to “converge in due course”.

Brustier analyzed the first round results for Liberation:

The partisan system of the Fifth Republic is dead and buried. The bulk of the political staff of the last ten, fifteen, or thirty years is dismissed ruthlessly. The political parties of the Fifth Republic, that is to say those which have governed since 1958 and alternately since 1981, are suffering a historical setback and are returning to the doorway of our political history. Another organization of political life is being set up. A new parliamentary staff replaces the former, while the fundamentals of the two major parties of government are also those of the LREM majority. The faces change but not the political and ideological heart. This situation is a consequence of the crisis of regime of the Fifth Republic, born of the crisis of 2008. It is this crisis of regime that President Macron has the function of solving. He substituted one political staff for another. The parties of government no longer obtained consent. Tonight, they’re out.

The In Motion Party was designed with this in mind. It is a kind of electoral trust, a party-enterprise which reminds in some respects Berlusconi’s Forza Italia in 1994. The centralization of investitures, the frequent weakness of implantation of candidates, the bet made on the “wave” Macron rendered Winning by the collapse of participation, reveal above all that parliamentarism is not only rationalized, it is also relegated.

Conclusion: We are seeing a strengthening of the fundamentals of the regime. It is more a restoration or a rigidification than an update of the Fifth Republic.

The Macron era opens with an ambiguity: it promotes in fact liberal reforms by adhering to the fundamentals of a diffuse ideology in our society, that of the “national gathering” described by Philippe Burrin. In the name of the unity of the nation, this ideology refuses divisions and conflicts. It is consubstantial with the Macronian discourse. It made the fortune of many political currents before.

On the plateau of France 2 tonight, the outgoing deputy and secretary of state for relations with the Parliament Christophe Castaner delivered a condensed of this ideology. The risk, of course, is to interpret this evening’s result as reflecting the will of a unanimous country. An idealized representation of the unity of a country in multifractured facts, it could have made the fortune of the macronism before, one day, to cause its fall.

En Marche is too new to have traditions not to be faithful to. In fact, it’s too new to have any traditions at all or any kind of detailed policy manifesto. Nor does it have a thriving grass-roots structure: for now at least, it’s going to be directed from the center. It exists, apparently, simply to provide the President with parliamentary votes. What people are going to get is a new bunch of centrist politicians, and it remains to be seen what they will actually do.  Aurelie Delmas looks at the “contract with the nation” the new party’s deputies are signing up to:

The candidate had announced the color during the campaign: he would not accept the divergent voices in his camp. In a speech in January, Macron explained: “No invested candidate will be able to express any disagreement with the heart of our project.” A month later, he again warned France Inter: “Each candidate who will be invested will sign with me “Contract with the nation”. That is to say, he is committed to voting with me the big projects, that is to say to support our project. There are no slingers. “

This concern for discipline obviously did not leave him after his election. The government spokesman, Christophe Castaner, also came to recall after the first round to the future LREM deputies that “when a collective decision is taken, and it will be taken at the level of the group for the National Assembly, it must be the Rule for all “. While admitting that “out of 400 [deputies], there may be one, two, three persons” who act as slingers within the majority. A strict line, evidently dictated by the memory of the Socialist slingers whom Macron met with as Minister of the Economy.

But by looking at the contract, which the candidates had to sign in their application, there are in fact only broad positions of principle, no specific commitments. The text is organized around six “projects”: “education and culture”, “labor society”, “modernization of the economy”, “security of the nation”, “democratic renewal” and ” “.

If Macron defends “clear commitments” , there are no real promises in this text but rather rather vague phrases like “putting the transmission of fundamental knowledge, our culture and our values ​​back at the heart of our project School and our universities “, ” moralizing and empowering public life, renewing national representation “ or ” recreating economic and social mobility through digital, research and innovation, work and entrepreneurship “ .

The text is a little more precise about work, since it promises to “simplify the law, reform unemployment insurance to make it a universal right with new requirements for everyone”, in accordance with the candidate’s program. But nothing really binding, then.

Right-wingers are in a slightly better position than the left. For the moment, the Republicans have held together and retained more seats, and will have a bigger group in the Assembly. For the moment, though, because they are likely to split after the election. Alain Auffray looks at the upcoming schism:

In the coming debacle, the right will find this pattern of relief: Sunday evening, it will finally hit the bottom. In the six weeks between the election of Emmanuel Macron and the first round of the legislative elections, the LR-UDI alliance swept down the toboggan of its ambitions. After May 7, she had sincerely believed she could approach the 289-strong, and thus an absolute majority in the National Assembly.

Ten days later, she felt fortunate to be able to form a large minority of 150 to 200 elected, the level she had reached in 2012. On the eve of the second round, now she hopes to save at best A hundred seats, while recognizing not to be able to exclude to fall below the threshold of the 60 deputies …

Whether the defeat is complete or outright humiliating, the hour will be, from Sunday evening, settling the account and reconstruction. Given the seriousness of the accusations that have been exchanged over the last few months by the highest officials of the party, the question of the split will necessarily be asked. There are the “fierce” who supported Fillon to the end and “the deflated” who brutally let go of him, “the sectaries” who swore an oath of opposition to Emmanuel Macron and “traitors” who joined the President elected with weapons and baggage. Can all these political leaders still live together?

The fate of the LR group will depend on the balance of power between two camps: on the one hand “the constructive”, ready to participate in the presidential majority by voting trust in the government; On the other, the “legitimists,” who were resolved to join in opposition to a majority that remained, in their view, fundamentally left-wing. The former, encouraged by Jean-Pierre Raffarin, could push the likely deputy of Hauts-de-Seine Thierry Solere, a close to the Prime Minister. The latter, supported from outside by Wauquiez and from inside by Eric Ciotti, should be favorable to the recall of Christian Jacob, in favorable ballottage in his constituency of Seine-et-Marne.

Who, constructive or legitimate, will be in the LR group? Difficult to risk any prognosis. Both sides are hoping for at least a score of elected officials and the game will probably be arbitrated by the hesitators, who may decide at the last minute. To put everyone in agreement and preserve the unity of the “family”, some leaders of LR like Bernard Accoyer push the deputy of the Ain Damien Abad, one of the rare LR of his region to have resisted the first Turn to LREM thrust. He proposes himself to make the “link” between the two camps.

If they are a minority, the constructive might be tempted to secede to create a group willing to support the government Philippe. To exist in the future Assembly, they could regroup with the survivors of the rout which obviously will not spare the centrists of the IDU. “This is only a hypothesis,” tempers an elected LR. The unknowns are still so numerous that the equation of the recomposition on the right remains insoluble until Sunday.

Now we’ll move on to discussing other matters. Such as North Korea and POUTS. Here’s a disturbing piece by Sean O’Grady:

The treatment the North Koreans evidently meted out to Otto Warmbler, an American student who fell foul of the authorities, was appalling and utterly disproportionate to whatever minor offence he committed. It is, though, perfectly normal in a nation that routinely imprisons its enemies in the most barbaric and inhuman places….

Many thousands of Korean prisoners have been though what Warmbuer has been though, being abused so badly that it caused brain damage. Maybe the guards did so with added violence because they have been taught that the Americans are sub-humans. They may have murdered an American citizen, and done so with maximum cruelty. The reaction of the American people is rightly distressed; the difficulty is how their president can exact some sort of justice without igniting a regional conflagration.

It is getting more urgent as every missile launch becomes more sophisticated, accurate and longer-ranging. Meanwhile, the North Koreans are also becoming world-leaders at cyber warfare. We know that they have endangered the health of many people in this country too. For we now know it was from inside North Korea that the NHS was brought to its knees using WannaCry ransomware.

All that leaves us with one man who could do something about Kim: Donald Trump. The problem is that every previous policy, from the “sunshine” approach during the Clinton years pursed with the enthusiastic support of the South Koreans, through to the toughest of UN sanctions, has failed to have much effect.

Kim has seen the example of despots around the world, such as Saddam, Assad and Gaddafi, who have either given up their weapons of mass destruction or just been found to be bluffing, and faced lethal changes both to their rule and to the lives of themselves and their families. He knows that the only thing keeps him on his throne is his nukes. The West (that is, Trump) has to persuade him that he will be able to stay there and prosper at the expense of his people without those nuclear missiles, and, indeed, without threatening hospitals in Britain. Even the most dedicated appeaser or deal maker would find that a difficult challenge.

Donald Trump may yet do it. I have written before about the value of an audacious, even reckless, visit to Pyongyang by President Trump to make some sort of breakthrough, whether by bribing, bullying, cajoling or even charming America’s most unpredictable of enemies. That may not be for now, given the rawness of the emotions after Kim’s latest crime against humanity. A world where President Trump is our only hope against the ruthless Kim is not a comfortable place.

It’s salutary to be reminded that the destabilisation of POUTS is not purely a matter of internal US politics. But unstable he certainly is. Frauke Steffens considers his brief excursion into normality following the shooting of Steve Scalise:

“By playing tonight, you show the world: our democracy is not intimidated by threats and violence,” said Trump on Thursday night in a videotape published on Twitter for the Congressional Baseball Game, for which the Republicans had been training in Alexandria before the attack. His reaction to the action in the immediate vicinity of the American capital had until then been praised by his critics. The New York Times wrote that the president had responded appropriately to the severity of the event. In fact, Trump initially dispensed with political blame.
Did he perhaps suspect that he was not well advised to denounce the harsh rhetoric of political debate as a cause of violence, as some Republicans did so quickly?… However, regardless of why the President was reticent, he did not keep the self-imposed restriction for a long time. While Washington was still discussing whether the escalating war of words between Trump adversaries and advocates had instigated the assassin James T. Hodgkinson or whether mental problems were the real core cause of his actions, Trump fell back into tried and tested behavioral patterns. Already on Thursday, the president had turned to Twitter again, on the attack and decried Mueller’s investigation on Twitter as a “witch hunt”, which emanates from bad people.

almost 200 deputies are suing the President on the grounds that he has accepted money from foreign governments through his companies.
But, like Mueller’s investigation, the handling of this lawsuit will take a long time. So Trump can play on time in both cases, even if the examinations accompany him every day of his presidency and encourage him to further outbursts on Twitter and the press. It will depend on whether at least one of the investigations leads to the 2018 elections – and how much weight the voters attach to the results when they choose the members in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Trump’s appeal shows that the President does not have a long-term strategy for disagreements with those who gave him a pass in the election campaign but now want to implement their political goals. The President reacts as usual to these conflicts: times he makes allegations and tries to negotiate like a businessman, sometimes he is angry, threatened and insulted. Neither the attack of Alexandria nor the pressure of the investigation will change anything in this policy.

Even the Senate has done something POUTS probably doesn’t like, having voted 97-2 to extend the sanctions on Russia, a remarkable degree of unanimity. Not shared, however, across the Atlantic, as Angela Merkel is hopping mad about it, as Die Welt reports:

After a bitter criticism by Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel (SPD) Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has also sharply criticized plans by the US Senate for an extension of the existing Russian sanctions. It is strange that in punishing Russian behavior the European economy should be the target of sanctions, said government spokesman Steffen Seibert on Friday in Berlin. “That must not be.” Merkel shares Gabriel’s worries. “There is a great consensus,” said Seibert.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Friday when the law came into force and the US president was using sanctions for German and European companies in connection with pipeline systems, “we consider this to be a violation of international law “. The plans were diametrically opposed to German interests.

The bill is actually about the sale of American liquefied gas and the displacement of Russian natural gas supplies from the European market. “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe and not for the United States of America!”

With regard to the sanctions of the West against Russia , the plans, according to the Federal Foreign Office, constitute a break. “For three and a half years we have really pulled together across the Atlantic,” said the spokesman. “With this bill we are in a different situation.” The motive of the decision was no longer just the Russian annexation of the Crimea and the behavior Russia in the east of Ukraine, but the allegations of the influence of Russia on the US presidential election. Therefore, this time there was no agreement with the US Senate.

On the bill in the US Senate, 97 of the 100 senators voted on the bill. The House of Representatives, the second chamber of the Congress, has yet to vote on the expansion. Trump then has to sign it. “There is still time to reverse it,” said the Berlin Foreign Minister. We know that the US government is “not very happy” about the decision. It was hoped that the decisions would be changed.

OK, that’s enough about how France is complicated and POUTS makes the world even more complicated than it already was. What’s abundantly clear is that there’s a lot of turnover going on in the political classes. For instance, the new right-wing PM of Ireland is a mixed-race gay, Leo Varadkar, who’s just 38. Which has got Donald Clarke worried:

What the hell just happened? I doze off in front of Antiques Roadshow for half an hour and wake to find decades have passed. Nothing ages a fellow so much as discovering he is now older than the head of state….

If the heart kept ticking it was inevitable that a Taoiseach would eventually arrive as my junior. I grimly imagined some near contemporary – remembered stuffing ballot boxes at the university, perhaps – taking the ermine and ushering in my generation’s slide towards oblivion.

“Wasn’t he younger brother to that guy who nearly died drinking developing fluid?” I imagined myself saying. “A bright little spark. I always expected he’d claw his way to the top.”

The Taoiseach is supposed to look like a grizzled ancient in the background of a Jack B Yeats painting. He’s not supposed to know who Talking Heads are. When operating a mobile phone (or any other piece of technology that doesn’t run on valves) he’s supposed to suggest a goose looking into a bottle.

Take a breath, old idiots. Get your head around this. Leo Varadkar would have been a little too young to appreciate Super Mario Bros when it arrived. His James Bond is Timothy Dalton. If he has a Dr Who then it’s probably Sylvester McCoy, but the series was in hiatus before he was old enough to care.

Then there’s this mess over in France. Obviously we’d rather have an infant than the latest sprig from a harvest of fascists, but the arrival of Emmanuel Macron heralds another jarring plunge through the generations.

Oh well. Mrs May is closing in on 60. [Actually, she already is, by a few months.] Her most likely successor will be a rival from her own party. David Davis will do nicely at 69. Amber Rudd is a few months older than me. Good stuff. But the favourite, Boris Johnson, is a few months younger.

We have another reason to wish him ill.

For Mrs May will be succeeded, and sooner rather than later. Amongst the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire were the last shreds of the prime minister’s credibility. The Independent’s editorial explains:

The destruction of Theresa May’s reputation has been so rapid and so complete that it is hard to imagine that she could ever recover the minimum respect required to do her job.

After an election in which she was humiliated, punished for failing to engage with the voters, she faced the disaster of the fire in a west London tower block that killed more than 30 people, mostly poor social tenants. This was a chance to show that the caricature of her as an unfeeling  robot was unfair, but instead she made it worse by avoiding contact with residents when she visited the site on Thursday and by a stilted interview on Newsnight last night.

This is not a matter of asking our politicians to emote for the TV cameras, although some acting skills are needed in any leadership position. It is about recognising that one of the tasks of a national leader is to speak for the country and, at times, to feel and to express its pain. Ms May’s inability to do so is not some trivial failing of public relations or media management, but something close to a disqualification for the highest office.

Ms May finds herself, therefore, in a more difficult position than Gordon Brown after he failed to call an election 10 years ago. Her party is still too stunned by the unexpected loss of its parliamentary majority to move against her, and in any case it is not clear how much of an improvement Boris Johnson, David Davis, Amber Rudd or Philip Hammond would be. Meanwhile, she has not yet completed the negotiations with the Democratic Unionist Party that would allow her to govern at all.

Yet the Brexit talks are due to open in Brussels at 11am on Monday. Mr Davis, the Brexit Secretary, and Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, have a lot of preliminaries to get through, but within weeks they will start to hit difficult questions that are going to require decisions to be made.

We are approaching the point at which Ms May will simply lack the authority to make them.

Fun times ahead. Enjoy Sunday.

British election breakfast


We had an election in Britain this week. The Conservatives won, though not quite convincingly enough to have a majority in Parliament on their own. Since the seven elected on the Sinn Fein ticket will not be taking their seats (they won’t take the oath of office which involves pledging allegiance to the Crown), the magic number is 322 — and the Conservatives are 4 short of that. For all the praise being lavished on Jeremy Corbyn, Labour are 60 short of that figure, having gained 30 seats. Theresa May continues for the moment as PM, since she’s going to make some accommodation with the Democratic Unionists, a bunch of anti-abortion, anti-gay climate deniers from the Northern Irish Protestant community.