Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Bret Stephens wrote a remarkable op-ed in the Wall Street Journal (03/29/16).  He describes President Obama and Donald Trump as "epic narcissists".  They are, too obviously so, divided by style and temperament. But they share, so he argues, a similar disdain for historical precedent, for legitimization and for opposite or different viewpoints.  The President's hauteur is by now a recognized fact. He is as impervious to contradiction as he is averse to chumminess. There is no need to further elaborate, while his latest ISIL comparison to some "Bath, bed and Beyond" reference is out of place at the least.

Mr. Trump gave a phone interview to the New York Times. In few sentences he was able to do a Godzilla trick, trampling every "given" of diplomacy under his non-subtle footprints. Allies are disregarded (a point he shares with the President), nuclear non-proliferation reopened, Ukraine sent back to sender, trade revisited, Mexicans and Muslims...that is another story.  The "great businessman" appeared like an ordinary accountant, obsessed with balance sheets, and impervious to abstraction. His whole thinking looks like "Colbertism light" (not that he is familiar with Colbert) in that his worldview is indeed one of short-term deals rather than long- term ambition. 

His campaign follows a similar path. He ignores continuity, insults anyone who dares to oppose him, and acts like a spoiled persona who never grew up, mistaking bullying for argument. The establishment is ruffled but his constituency remains solid. The inequality crowd (r>g ... return of capital "trumps" the growth rate ) might not be familiar with Piketty but stands with him. Contrary to the Bernie Sanders camp, Trump strives on the anger and frustration, shared by mostly while, middle aged or aging, low income white males. Sanders appeals mostly to a younger more educated (often mistaken ) constituency.  That Trump receives this type of support is almost paradoxical.  "The rise of the super manager is often considered to be the primal cause of the over performance of the top centile's and of the increase of their share of US national income ". The Trump image is one of nouveau riche taste, cynical management, and, last but not least, "branding" more than "creating".  He belongs more to the golf club than to the construction site. All this is overlooked by his base. 
His political credentials amount to zero but he continues to strive. His latest motto is "to be impervious to being forecasted" in all things.  If he really means it, he had better start learning because until now he has fulfilled the worst expectations of enlightened observers, like Bret Stephens and many others.

(*) Thomas Piketty : Capital in the tenty-first century (page 315).

Monday, March 28, 2016


It is strange to observe how a one-liner can get a life of its own, multiply and become the gold standard. Once it sticks it becomes an uphill battle to roll back a perception, legitimized by repetition.  The Brussels terrorist attacks are a perfect example of this paradigm.

The US media were the first to advance the notion that in light of the objective circumstances for all to see, Belgium is a "failed state".  From this first assumed proposition, the premise led to the accepted conclusion that the Belgian "model" is structurally bankrupt.  Whatever the achievements might be otherwise, world opinion retains only the view of urban decay, adverserial socio-economic situations, and, last but not least, of a weak federal authority.  The land of beer, surrealism and chocolates has become in a fortnight the face of some Dickensian inferno.  With few exceptions (the prime minister), the communication matrix and the chain of command were totally inadequate.

The consequences of this deconstructed image will be major in terms of economic downfall (services), international credibility and political stability.  With many others, I have argued that the Belgian system is no stronger than a house of cards.  It is anti-modern and hostage to jealous resentments.  I fear that its lifespan is already too long to reverse course. The EU has its sick man.

All this is, to some extent however, unfair and exaggerated to a point. There are still enough "positives", but they belong to a pre-globalization mindset and fail to fill up the gaps, which observers have chosen to ignore for too long.  So, for the time-being Brussels will remain the unavoidable stopover for the repetitive EU and NATO meetings. Otherwise, the images of last week have removed for the foreseeable future the Pollyanna fiction in tourist brochures.  It is too bad that so many volunteers, medics, police, who did so much while being understaffed or taken for granted, are virtually absent from the TV screens worldwide. We are left with the hapless mayor of Molenbeek and some contrite ministers who couldn't make it anywhere else.
Last Sunday's black-shirt manifestation in the center of Brussels was one drop too many in this chalice of colliding frustrations and embarrassment.

Thursday, March 24, 2016


President Obama commented yet again on ISIL in Buenos Aires.  His words echoed a remarkable mindset.  He denigrated ISIL for being a rat pack, devoid of any material or other achievements. Indeed, there are no ISIL patents, inventions or intellectual property.
But, the force of the outlaw lies in appropriation and annihilation.  The weakness of the President's argument lies in reduction.

One does not need to be a political science specialist to know that bicycles can match tanks and that technology in the wrong hands is more lethal than in the right ones. The President's usual contempt for opposites, internally and externally, is becoming a liability. His emotions feel dried up and what remains is too often an abstract soliloquy which leaves most indifferent and frustrated.

Instead of embracing emotion and fear, he often chooses to ignore feelings, leaving them for others to exploit, often for unpleasant ulterior motives, as is the case now in the US presidentials.  For the Democrats, the biggest danger might be one of their own!


De Bourgeois gentilhomme (?) gaf verstek tijdens de herdenking van de slachtoffers van de aanslagen in Brussel. Deze waardige, korte ceremonie bijgewoond door alle prominenten in Belgie.
Le "sage d'Izegem ' liet zich opnieuw opmerken door zijn strukturele onbeleefdheid, die wij stilaan van hem gewoon worden, helaas. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016


No country faced with terrorist mayhem has been as mercilessly criticized as Belgium nowadays. The New York Times refers to Belgium as being "the world's wealthiest failed state". The Los Angeles Times calls Molenbeek the "Jihadi capital of Europe" and castigates Belgium's national security apparatus ("A patchwork"), and the fingerpointing goes on...

The Belgian Minister of Interior has been highly critical of "police gerrymandering" and the obsolete governance structure in Brussels. No doubt the larger discussion can no longer be avoided.  On the positive side, the so-called divided country reacted with a solidarity, shared dignity, compassion and resilience.  In Europe there was more sympathy than cheap shots.

ISIL is an existential menace. The danger becomes larger by the minute as long as the territories it controls grow. President Obama's ghost coalition (over 80 countries) lacks credibility, just as his air-raids miss the target. His heart and mind are not in it. He is more at ease in academic subtleties and sophisms than in recognizing the terrifying proximity of asymmetric doom. Nowadays one can no longer cherry pick one's enemies, since the former have the initiative. This is disturbing to the sensibilities of a mindset more tuned to ordering than to confronting. Unfortunately, there is no room for order in a nihilistic mindset.

We are faced with a force which is basically tribal. The family ties, the network of friends, the religious web, work in favor of radical Islamists, while the opposite camp is one of individuals who are even losing the technological battle and are unwilling for now to call the enemy by name or to intervene where it hurts more.

As long as this drole de guerre lasts, I would sugg that US media handle criticism of Belgium and others with more caution.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


The terrorists hit Brussels hard.  Some argue this was to be expected, that the authorities were unprepared yet again, after the Abdelslam arrest.  Post facto dot connecting is too easy, and premature.

There are too many soft targets available so that trying to build protective firewalls around them is almost impossible. Besides, terrorist actions of this magnitude require long-term planning.  It is probable that ISIL has a number of possible targets, with major cascading effects, "on line".  Blaming inadequate counter-terrorism or faulty intelligence is for later.

It is time to assess the immediate threads instead.  By way of Brussels, Belgium, the European Union and NATO were directly attacked. This aggression by ISIL is a clear indication of how far this radical Jihadism has progressed.  This action requires to be checked in the future by cohesion inside and cooperation with allies outside. National sensitivities have to make room for an intensive collegial mindset. This is the "new long war". The nation-state and the failed state belong to the past almost. The pack of teleguided lone wolves is filling the void and is on a rampage.  What is at stake in  Europe since the terrorist attacks in Madrid, London, Paris, Turkey, is the endurance of civilization to defend itself against barbarism.

We find ourselves on a moral warpath and we must dare to examine our laxity and shortcomings regarding what is indeed no longer a clash of civilizations but one of secular democracy versus an anachronistic, hellbent, theocratic aberration hiding in our midst. 
It has to be fought, both where it strives and where it hides.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Abdeslam, Europe's most wanted fugitive after the Paris terrorist attacks, was finally located and arrested. The raid was fast and ,more  important, Abdeslam is in custody. He now has a sterling lawyer. After months of frustration and often unpleasant comments from abroad, the Belgian authorities finally got their act together.
Nevertheless, the time it took the Belgian police to get him is more remarkable than the arrest itself.  The episode shows the weakness of Belgian intelligence and counter-terrorism. Law enforcement is as divided as the country.  At a time when forces need to come together, there should not be room for competing smallish petty territorial jealousies. 

Brussels which hosts (often poorly) so many international organizations also scores badly in the control by CCTV surveillance.  There are more garden dwarfs than cameras!  The Belgians were helped by the French and other EU partners. They should learn from this bitter experience. The Brussels governance is a remnant of the past and should finally be sent to the shredder machine. I realize that too many parochial interests stand against a modern efficient apparatus and that international pressure might even backfire, but in an emergency only surgery works. One Bloomberg is better than 18 or so mayors. True, New York is an other world.

Abdeslam hid in Molenbeek, a Brussels borough which is considered by some as the continent's Gaza. This is unfair but the local authority has always been devoid of any sense of public relations or social engineering. It was interesting to see the photos of the many onlookers at the scene of the arrest. Only the police dog looked like a "native" Belgian.  The poor assimilation of first-generation immigrants is rendered all the more difficult since the ghetto syndrome only aggrandizes their common frustration, as could have been expected.  In this incoherent socio-urban situation in free-fall, only terrorism, support channels and infiltration strive.

Paradoxically, the Belgian Minister of the Interior belongs to the separatist Flemish ideology. Now he can measure the consequences of transferring too much power to constitutional partners who are too small. The EU can help but will never come up with a credible answer (see immigration).  There is a need for more Belgium than for less!  I defended this ten years ago in my little essay TRACES.  Devolution is a useful, very contemporary tool where and when it can be applied without further weakening the patient. The principle of subsidiarity can act as reference. Limbs are a bad policy tool.

The Belgian Prime Minister, Charles Michel, is obviously a personality with the right political instinct. His coalition formula might be the better one in economic and financial matters but the constitutional pause that was achieved for the duration of his government might not survive his four-year mandate. The Flemish nationalists might take up their confederate mantle again and further reduce the powers of the federal state. In the present and, unfortunately, in foreseeable circumstances this would be a most unwelcome development.

Now a lot is said about Abdeslam. I hope the individual under arrest will not distract from the many hundreds who plot. He had better be extradited soon to France. Furthermore, the Molenbeek and French banlieux syndrom both need to be addressed rather than continue to be ignored. Jihadism and Salafism go hand-and-hand with petty crime in "no go" zones. The secular, more wealthy environment only aggravates the negative, since the positive looks unattainable. There is a need for "crative Society architects" who can try to reverse, adapt, diversify, and encourage free-enterprise and investment. They need unrestricted space. The question in Belgium is whether the little bourgeois politicians can give up their small backyards for a larger, longer view!

Thursday, March 17, 2016


The Super Tuesday primaries were "full of sound and fury" (Macbeth, V, 5.23).
Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won the numbers, if not the hearts and minds.
A lot is being said about both contenders.  Trump is hard to swallow even for his "fellow" Republicans.  Clinton's "Mary Stuart" act comes over as totally phony in the eyes of millennial Democrats.

Both are the victims of their own script.  Trump is responsible for a tone and a tenure not heard or seen since the Goldwater days. The difference being that, contrary to the former, the latter probably hardly believes in his promises.  Once elected, the wall might become an allegory, the trade wars a skirmish, the ostracism not more than a bureaucratic measure.  Unfortunately, he is giving  free-reign to the many who feel left out, ignored or snubbed in an economy which seems stalled in the dry-dock. This "Weimar tide" will not lead to a Big Brother, authoritarian-type of presidency but it will be an uphill battle to respond to the falsely created expectations if Trump were elected.

Clinton still lives under the sword of Damocles of judiciary indictment.  Her wins are certain but they can hardly hide the generational or other divides. Her rival, while standing for a largely discounted socialist, interventionist regulatory agenda, has a better standing and respect with many (also Republicans). Clinton is smart, informed, but is also a master of deflecting the undesirable darker corners of her bio.  The two other Republican candidates look for the moment equally unelectable.  Cruz because, rightly or wrongly, he is disliked by most. Kasich because he sounds too good to be true.

Both conventions will have balloons and drama. None might be worthy of respect.
The voters may well overdose on "simplifications" and head for the delete button instead!

Saturday, March 12, 2016


Donald Trump's rally in Chicago yesterday had to be cancelled. The tensions between his supporters and the growing anti-Trump camp had to be contained to avoid nefarious consequences.  Similar occurrences will happen in the future, and the protest rallies will multiply.

This Republican candidate is an arsonist.  His campaign is an anti-intellectual ritual which reminds one of certain events in the '30s in Europe. In playing on the frustrations and alienation of too many, Trump has opened floodgates which  threaten the American party system as a whole and put into question Tocqueville's workings of democracy in America.  Two factors have contributed to this unsavory development. The Republican hatred for the President verges on the paranoid, but unfortunately Obama's own disdain only aggravates the negative factors which propel Trump as forerunner, for now.

It is hard to foresee the future. Trump might play the martyr--a surreal role, given his persona--or he might finally be seen in a less favorable light, given his boisterous, rude response to events.  He acts more and more like the frog in La Fontaine, who aggrandizes himself until he explodes.  The problem is that explosion or not, American politics will pay a price.  If he were to be the Republican nominee, the consequences might be unforeseeable. The Sanders camp might grow incrementally on the Democrats' side. The Dow Jones would catch a cold and the world, foes and allies, would be left gasping.

Far from me to venture into the hagiography which has marked Mrs. Reagan's demise, but one has to admit that the class of yesterday's funeral was infinitesimally superior to Trump's brass aberrations. It was almost embarrassing to try to compare the mourners in the Reagan Library with the brawl in Chicago.  Despite the customary low-calorie attempts for humor under stress (remember "The American Way of Death" by Jessica Mitford?) the memorial service was dignified and the audience representative of a Jamesian/California blend.

"Anyone but Trump" is less a rallying cry than an admission of a general political breakdown.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


In this totally surreal (an understatement) pre-electoral chaos, President Obama spoke candidly in the Atlantic Magazine interview to Jeffrey Goldberg about America's allies and international endeavors.  While it might be refreshing to hear for once the voice of (his) reason rather than the noise of fury, this impressionistic rendering of a more elaborate Obama doctrine in foreign affairs is remarkable.
He does not spare allies, the Saudis, France, the United Kingdom, while he remains strangely aloof regarding Ukraine, China, the Middle East and ISIL, which he compares to "the Joker" (!) in a Batman movie.  He also confesses to be aggravated by "Free Riders", who place constant demands on the United States.
He does not hide his contempt for an activist foreign policy    establishment, defending instead a measured approach, which also takes into account geo-political realities that are close to others' interests.  In proclaiming in unambiguous terms those views, he distances himself, by implication, from America's claim to "exceptionalism".  In so many words, he extricates the United States from a leadership role erga omnes.

He is correct in recognizing that the unipolar world has been overtaken, but he gives the impression of capitalizing on his sole clairvoyance, and to rule by distance and not by convincing. One might argue that in doing so he goes for arrogance instead of the more messianic mantra (with successes and mistakes) of yesterday, which created nevertheless an illusion of shared vision and responsibility.  He recognizes that he has failed sometimes in communicating views or sharing emotions. This should not prevent one from coming to the conclusion that facts speak louder than words:  this very gifted man is a cold medium.

The Atlantic magazine interview is coherent and cerebral, as could be expected.
The contrast with what is currently being said by both campaigns is illuminating.
Unfortunately, the projectors light up a mindset more willing to ignore others than to engage. When a doctrine of sorts becomes a monologue, it dies of lack of counterpart. The President is already regretted for his touch of intellectual class.
He will be equally blamed for his lack of warmth.

Monday, March 7, 2016


Ik moet toegeven dat de "Vlaamse Minister President" niet bang is om totaal belachelijk over te komen.
De man van de Vlaamse eretekens wil nu een HEIMAT grondwet opleggen op een opinie die langzaam maar zeker begint te vrezen voor een Kroatish of Servisch Bantoestan in Bosnisch Belgie.
Wij moeten het hoofd bieden aan makro problemen in Europa en in de wereld maar Geert Bourgeois blijft een "remake"van de gouden boomstoet trouw. Met zangfeesten en gouden sporen wil hij de "Flandre profonde"uit de globalisatie halen en terug voeren naar de tijden van Timmermans en Streuvels. Flanders technology wordt vervangen door Flanders theology. Hij is misschien onze Vlaamse TRUMP ! FASTEN SEATBELTS!

Sunday, March 6, 2016


Mrs. Reagan stood for Californian flair.
She also stood with her husband as counsellor, protector, astrologer.
She got along with Mrs.Thatcher. She had a row with Mrs. Gorbachev.
She had flair in the White House. She felt home at the ranch.
She belongs to a generation of formidable women: Pamela Harriman, Nancy Kissinger, Mrs. Annenberg...an endangered species .
A certain depasse technicolor glamour is slowly being wiped out by noise and posture.  Some regret it, me too.

Saturday, March 5, 2016


Why Trump?
Like most Europeans I fail to understand the current Trump wave.  He dominates the Republican primaries for now while remaining almost totally unaccountable. He is the ultimate non-Zen personality who gets a free-pass without even coming close to some form of "idea". His utterances are like short- lived fireworks which are unable to leave any sort of duration in the sky.  Nevertheless, many Americans look up to this idol who breaks rules and conventions.

The other Republican candidates, those who have not been totally buried under Trump's insults, continue to fight but they look "small" by comparison, not because they are of an inferior caliber but because they are polite (to a point). All of them share a lack of convincing intellectual gravitas. It is hard to imagine the first world power in the hands of any of those amateurs. Obama is still compared to Hamlet. None of the Republican candidates will ever be seen walking into Shakespeare's prose or verse.  The Democratic contenders are not convincing either.  Sanders still swears by "isms" and Clinton only resets the truth with each time-zone she travels in.  At least she has been around, like a Jules Verne heroine. She is articulate but her coiling performance is more about disclaimer than about disclosure.

Back to Trump.
I think that his "temporary longevity" results from the "stagnation" which is felt in all directions:  political, social, creative, economical.  People are tired of the menu they have been served all these years.  The jobs are "half-time", wages are stagnant, the Americans feel as if they have lost their "shining city on the hill" and become disenchanted by Obama's baby-steps. The Republicans still crow about America as the "Numero Uno" in the world, which proves only that they don't travel enough. Trump says that he will make America "great" again. Certain people do believe in miracles and Americans are etherized by the references to god, bible, etc. which fill the electoral air.  Soon we may see the candidates wearing a pious hair-cloth, a la Gladstone, to rally evangelicals and believers. Even Trump was seen in church!

Stagnation leads to ennui and Trump fills the void...for now. I hope that reason will prevail even if the other candidates fail to entrance. From the outside (for now) the former Republican candidate Mitt Romney plays Brutus to Trump's Caesar, but his biting argument might serve Trump in the end. Americans are fed up and are not given to scepticism nowadays. They are in full "receiving" mode and Trump serves them what they want to hear.  Insular mindsets care little about the world outside of their limited cognizance.

Europeans (and others) tend to snub what is indeed a sorry spectacle, devoid of any politico/philosophical input but they cannot totally afford to ignore who they will have to deal with, be it Trump, Cruz or Clinton. They will prefer the former but had better be ready to deal with the latter. I hear some saying that America needs a shock to awaken, but the country should not go into some form of septic emergency. Besides, the chosen president is always different from his former candidate persona. Even Trump, if elected, might switch from bombast to reason. History teaches that, unfortunately, the opposite is often true.

America doesn't need a "remake".  A shot in the arm will do if the right nurse can still be found.