Wednesday, June 29, 2016

THE CANARY IN THE COAL MINE

One is all too familiar with the canary and the coal mine metaphor. Now the Brexit fools in the UK find themselves lost in a coal mine of their own doing, with no fresh air to breathe. The likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage were the lying blind leading the blind. The "Remain" camp is in shock and acts as if it were unable to come out either with execution or an alternative.

The EU members and the EU machine do not live up to the expectations one might have after a political implosion of such an enormous magnitude. The Commission, the counsel, the ECB, seem hard pressed to identify confidence-building measures which could temper the new financial no-man's-land and lift some political uncertainties. The EU leadership is splintered among various interests which share one identical characteristic: being unloved.  Actually, the yes and the no camps share the same alienation. Both might have voted for their own reasons but one thing is certain: they are ignoring their figureheads now rather than supporting them. Populism results less from poor management skills than from the absence thereof.  A slot is created, waiting to be filled in, who knows by what?

All the arguments about economy, immigration, security, wealth inequality, economic elite, patrimonial capitalism reek of superficial Piketty-reading by amateurs. On the other side, the macro-global benefits of staying in the EU sounded unconvincing, given the slow growth (in the continent), the immigration mess and the Franco-German permanent coup d'├ętat.

The argument in favor of strong leadership is dangerous under the current circumstances. It would be better to convene a restricted group of wise diverse personalities (a Philadelphia redux), with a clear mandate to come up with ideas which can slim, deregulate, free and inspire the workings in Brussels. The bad cholesterol which is clogging the arteries of the EU is devastating: a Commission too large, an absurd repetitive flight to Varennes (Brussels/ Luxembourg/Strasbourg), a costly Babel of languages, a rotating presidency which makes no sense under the current mood (a unsatisfactory revision being considered), an inept defense component and a common foreign policy killed in the crib by the stepmothers in Berlin and Paris. The euro continues to be a stateless currency, tolerated by some, ignored by others.  Instead, the EU leaders voice sterile discontent, while the British of all opinions are united in sulking. Article 50 will become a very unpleasant pill to give and to swallow.

Meanwhile, the American midwife tries to minimize the damage, while the Russians and Chinese look on.  In 2007, three wise men--Ben Bernanke of the US Federal Reserve, Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank and Mervyn King of the Bank of England--were able to stem the financial Behemoth.  In 2016, the repeat of such a relief operation, wherein so few helped so many looks improbable.
The politcians are out of their depth. The chorus of the 27 will demand representation over vision and will refuse to relinquish a seat on this bus, lost in a shared tunnel vision.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

BREXIT: PARTING IS ( NOT) A SWEET SORROW (ROMEO and JULIET, II.2.185)

Remember Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History and the Last Man", (1992)?
The accumulative force of events then led to the prominence of the American model idea, which swept away any other alternative. It felt as if history had run its course. Globalization ruled under the stewardship of international watchdogs controlled by the US. The EU and the Asian "tigers" were then the indispensable partners pulling the "uniformity" forward.

The Utopia worked for awhile. Russia was promised a lot but ended up having to swallow broken promises. The greed overcame politeness. The " US hubris" ruled until the second Iraq war, which became the burial ground for the pax Americana.

The Iraq debacle metastasized and the so-called new world order crumbled under the weight of the rubble. America came to be seen as another dysfunctional power.  Europe always needed an American steward. Since the model is being questioned now, the US leverage is diminished. Hence Obama, liked in the UK, could nevertheless no longer weigh in on the Brexit debate. The short-lived uni-polar world has become definitively multi-polar again.

The Leave vote will have serious consequences, both in the United Kingdom and at large. The survival of the UK in its present form is shaky, at least. Populism is staining Europe's fundamentals, rebuilt after World War II. The Bretton Woods machinery is under pressure. The Helsinki Agreement might as well be forgotten since Putin is the master undertaker!  Nationalism and provincialism might  expand. A "free for all ", in the UK and on the continent, is coming home to roost.
 
In the United States, a hybrid is now considered a possible presidential candidate! It remains to be seen if he can benefit from the overall anti-establishment tailwinds which prevail today.

The Brexit saga will be considered a historic watershed. When a former major country chooses to be a small island again, folklore and nativist tendencies might  well prevail over enlightenment. We all know from history where this may lead.
Nevertheless, self-confidence should not be that fundamentally shaken. Where are the statesmen and diplomats with creativity and vision? The bad situation should not be allowed to become worse because of some other lazy bureaucratic comatose mindset.

The West must regroup and choose leaders who are inspirational. The "impasse" both in the US and in Europe has to be reigned in. A sober assessment of the added value of free trade, global markets and managed immigration must be conveyed by leaders other than Mr. Juncker and his sad  lot. This is the time for firefighters if we do not want to give the arsonists a free pass.


Friday, June 24, 2016

BREXIT : THE BABY IS THROWN OUT WITH THE BATHWATER.

The British have voted in favor of the Brexit, using their feet rather than their brains.  This brutal good-bye is acted upon with some form of stoic resignation by the Remain camp, for now...but the markets are reacting emotionally, in disbelief.

The disenchantment with things EU is actually shared by most member states, who loath both the Commission and the EU Parliament. Former philosophical and idealistic motivations died in the trenches, during the negociation of the unloved Maastricht Treaty. That the British chose nevertheless to suffer this mariage de raison should not come as such a big surprise, given the tsunami which is unleashed as a consequence of yesterday's vote. The ugly Brexit divorce carries unforeseeable consequences with it.  Besides the financial and trade unknowns, and declassification of London as a world financial powerhouse, worse might follow:  an accelerated  implosion of the United Kingdom.  Scotland and Wales may well be tempted again to follow suit and take their destiny in their own hands. Copycat referenda are dangerous!

I guess that despite certain inuendos to the contrary, Buckingham Palace must feel very worried indeed. As much as the Queen cares for the Commonwealth, she surely remains committed to the integrity of her realm and to the balance of power so achieved in Europe. One should be aware of the fact that the only serious monarch left in the world is not spared the humiliation of what might be the first in a series of a historic setbacks.

The Brexit camp should not be ignored. Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson are not the lone representatives of the Neys. There are many bona fide exit voters who advanced serious arguments and who, rightly so, resented both the Brussels/ Luxembourg/Strasbourg "merry-go-round" and the EU bureaucracy. Actually, the majority of people on the Continent are equally critical or disdainful of the Orwellian Brussels machine. They just have given up being interested.  I hope that the shockwaves created by this UK referendum will also be a wake-up call for European leaders who are stuck in a virtual algorithm. An EU conclave is in the making, but another murky smoke plume might be expected.  Instead of improving, slimming, deregulating, or becoming transparent, proposals could well be made to arrive at yet another EU layer, which will be sold as "More Europe" instead of "Better Europe".

A formula of "clusters of the willing" would have been the better way out.  Benelux led to the Europe of Six. It worked because the ends and the means were shared.  Today's bloated union of apples and oranges is mostly hijacked by the Franco-German couple from hell, tolerated by some, despised by others, unloved by all.  One can understand that the Brexit camp won under the current, generally rainy weather forecast. This populist wave will be hard to contain and as a result the world as a whole will run for cover. Now the EU should get in high gear to suggest positive alternatives and to manage a changing relationship, rather than overdramatizing it.

In the end, the UK will be missed.  It brought with it some fresher air, some proven financial and trade expertise and international flair. The EU has need for all of the above if it wants to avoid becoming (in Winston Churchill's words on Clement Attlee) "a sheep in sheep's clothing".

The UK finds itself in dire straits (after all, P.M. Cameron was not obliged to let loose the referendum beast), and the EU has lost its enfant terrible and looks small suddenly (Putin will appreciate).  There are only losers in this comedy of errors.






 




Wednesday, June 22, 2016

BEFORE THE FALL : A PERFECT BOOK FOR THE 2016 US ELECTION MODE.

I red Noah Hawley's novel "Before the Fall", Number 2 on the hard-cover list.  The book received some good reviews and is getting a "Bonfire of the Vanities" vibe.

Personally, I found the book totally ugly and repetitive. This America-Anno 2016 selfie is probably accurate, in this "Year of Trump":   therein, the country is vulgar, the vernacular unsophisticated, the materialism a Sino-Arab mix, the media all about shout, cover and bite,  sex Bud Light...and, Trump oblige, misogynistic.

If the purpose is to peel the unappealing Zeitgeist, the novel adheres perfectly to a landscape inhabited by Kardashians, dirty money and sub-zero culture. The reader is left with a bad hangover indeed.  This America is one of global "deportation", not only of undesirables, but also of ideas, beauty, culture, history. In this year of many Goya-like nightmares,  Hawley has found a voice, but he borrowed it from the likes of Hannity and Co.

The Trump dynasty/delusion (no chance) would like to be transformational. The United States might then emulate the model from some Emirates, who excel in nouveau riche excess and in filling or emptying the slots for cheap labor. These torched-earth policies, planned in Las Vegas-style penthouses, are merciless.

Books can be mirrors of the times they are written in. This novel could as well have been written in styrofoam.  It is not a Tom Wolfe.

Monday, June 13, 2016

THE ORLANDO AFTERSHOCKS.

Something predictable is happening again.  Most Republicans are trying to gloss over the narrative of the Orlando genocidal massacre. They choose to ignore the "gay" angle, while the usual NRA Rambos erase both the victims and the weapons which were bought to perpetrate this Yekateringburg redux.

Trump tries to benefit from this "foretold" tragedy; Clinton and Sanders utter the expected condolences;  the President remains "sober" for now.  It is as if the indignation would have been more shared if the massacre had happened anywhere but in a gay disco.  The shock is genuine but the gay component creates (still) unease for some.

The perpetrator--homophobic, wife-beater, murky Islamist paranoid--will only have succeeded in further alienating Muslims from the mainstream, and making the good pay for the bad. The bill for the more "paradoxical" aspects of a religion, frozen in non-interpretation, should not be sent to the genuine believers. Let's not ostracize, but come together. In doing so we will pay the proper homage to the victims. The crime had "one" target but the victims, gay or not, stood for civilization, which ultimately embraces all.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

ORLANDO'S KRISTALLNACHT.

The mass genocidal-like shooting in Orlando reminds us of other similar execution-style massacres in Tel Aviv, Paris, San Bernardino, Brussels, Fort Hood, and one can go on.

It is too early to make definitive judgments.  But...

---In the current political mindset of generalizations it becomes clear that this might lead to the proliferation of perverse stereotypes regarding any identifiable group.
--The Second Amendment is for some, including myself, a hard pill to swallow. The rifle junkies should recognize that assault weapons, like the one which was used in Orlando, should be controlled and monitored, once and for all.
--I  have lived in a Muslim country and indeed most of the persons I met were friendly and often generous.  Nevertheless, almost all lived under the cloud of religious taboo. Islam can (hardly) make room for debate, but seldom for dispute.
If the Orlando killings were perpetrated by an Islamic zealot, the cause and effect have to be made clear. The black sheep needs to be condemned. The flock has to speak out and "delete" the nefarious in its midst.   I remember how gay men and women in Egypt had to learn to lie, as much as a person who risks drowning needs to learn how to swim.  Our pluralistic societies cannot be accomplices to their own demise.
--The Erdogans & Co. should have NO reserved seat in the EU.  How can one deal with a candidate member state which treats women, gays, minorities and free speech as undesirable?
--It is too early to arrive at conclusions regarding the Orlando tragedy. It is not too soon to note that the current political climate in many Western societies is catching a fever, due to the accumulation of fear and dysfunction which are marginalizing yesterday's rational "normal".

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

BREXIT OR NOT ?

The reasons for disenchantment with the EU are plentiful, not only in the UK  where P.M. Cameron wages an uphill battle to convince the British voters that the arguments in favor of continuing UK's membership in the EU are valid. Elsewhere in Europe indifference is spreading.

If I were a British voter I would find the mostly "shopkeeper" reasoning for staying in, utterly unconvincing. The Commission is seen as lacking any form of legitimacy or intellectual, creative appeal. After the Greek crisis fiasco came the migrant crisis which is transforming the Mediterranean into a gigantic mortuary. The Brussels undertakers approach this human tragedy like pastry chefs handling some kind of nefarious cake, which will be allotted slice by slice to the member states. The socio-cultural dire consequences, meanwhile, are taboo for reasons of political correctness and dysfunction among and in member states.

On the opposite side, the anti-Brexit camp in the UK lauds the added value of trade, the big open market, and London's role as financial Metropolis. Both the P.M and his (brilliant) Chancellor of the Exchequer wage a difficult fight, overshadowed by Boris Johnson's merciless, often funny attack line.

Personally, selfishly, I would like the UK to remain in the EU because this unappealing union, without the UK, risks becoming even more morose under the stewardship of the Franco-German Vaudeville. The Commission looks like some class reunion of have-beens with no love lost in their midst or outside. The European Parliament is a gathering of unloved zombies. At least London was able to infuse some form of pragmatic input into this dogmatic purgatory. Many member states want more Union or more power to the Brussels machine for the simple reason that this allows them to delocalize their shrinking initiative and thinking potential. They want more EU to hide their own lack of imagination.  The UK is the only member sate which brings in some form of "otherness", a window which opens to the world, rather than to the Brussels Grand Place.

If I were British however I would vote pro Brexit, without turning my back on all things European. Bridges can be created between London, a world hub, and Brussels. Ad hoc arrangements can replace ideological bla bla. The European anthem (Beethoven deserved better) sounds surreal in this deflated Utopia and does not resonate over the non Euro / non Schengen shores.

Since I am not British however, I want the UK to stay in.  In this "minestrone" of nations--authoritarian, failed, failing, semi-normal, footnotes--the British distant marks of interest, and indifference, are a welcome change from the repeated Brussels banalities and sad wakes supervised by the most uncharismatic Hollande/Merkel pair.  

Britain's entry into the then Common Market was mared by the infamous Brussels incident, wherein the British P.M. Ted Heath ended up covered in ink, after having been snubbed by de Gaulle's "empty chair" policy.  I hope that, exit or not, another stain may be avoided.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

SECRETARY CLINTON'S CALIFORNIA GOLD .

Secretary Clinton has the numbers to become the Democratic nominee. Her win  over Sanders in California further confirms her place in American history.  Since her Philippic attack on Trump's character, she has found her groove back. Her temperament is more suited for a controlled undermining of the adversary than for carpet bombing. The hard-core ultra right fringe of the GOP is feeling the heat and is sending out its usual suspects, bearing the old tiresome "negatives".

Remaining in the Democratic camp is the Bernie Sanders-factor. He is the indubitable spokesman for a leftist agenda, with staying power. One might question if his message--at times over generous, at times out of sync--is realistic, but it is hard to doubt some of his more earnest intentions. This newborn Democrat's proposals cannot be ignored and the party's platform might have to take some extra luggage on board.

Trump, meanwhile, sounds totally out of self-control. Insults pile up. The reality showman has taken over the neo-politician. The banks of the riverbed of the 
"admissible" have been flooded by the "unseemly". The use of the teleprompter  will not stop him.  He has created something toxic which might well lead to very perverse, unforeseeable consequences. In his vocabulary there is no room for atonement. In fact, if elected, he might well wreck the moral and constitutional backbone of the American system. The Republican establishment is in panic mode.

Secretary Clinton is prepared but premeditated, intelligent but calculating. Her many incursions in the no-man's-land which separates the correct from the ambiguous can be distracting. Nevertheless, she towers over the political landscape, even when she has to juggle more than one sword of Damocles at the same time. She still has to come clear (?) with the FBI regarding her e-mail contortions.  The Republicans will no doubt make public the Benghazi findings at an "appropriate" time. 
In the end, her epic life story fits in the American saga, and there is no one to come close.

The coming months will be ugly. Trump will make sure that rules of courtesy and restraint need not apply. The gutter will replace the battle-field.  He will zoom in to avoid being forced into coherence.  Secretary Clinton will have to stay on the high ground to avoid being dragged through the mud.

The Republicans must meditate on Oscar Wilde's assertion that there are only two tragedies in life.  One being not getting what one wants and the other being actually getting it.

The Democrats have to avoid a civil, generational war between the more established Clinton camp and the left, which found in the persona of Bernie Sanders the answer to their frustrations. The President might have to intervene, but his cerebral, often sarcastic, tone might be too highbrow for the current times.

There is an abundance of parallels in history for this Republican Frankenstein. Some are over the top, some are legitimate. Trump belongs to the ideological family of current Hungarian, Polish and, mutatis mutandis, Turkish leaders.
A Brexit, which he seems to favor, would only aggravate existing fissures and create further financial, strategic and cultural disorder which could benefit him in the short-term. 

"Anybody but Trump" sounds derogatory but in the present circumstances it is becoming too risky to bet on a " Paul's conversion on the road to Damacus" scenario. Donald Trump is beyond recovery, indeed. The pathology has entered the political scene, for now.

If elected, Secretary Clinton can be the transformational "persona" again, this time with President Obama's support.