Saturday, April 29, 2017


Today, one feels morally, intellectually carpet-bombed...

Why not look again at what we have the illusion to know... and find out we do not, and feel better

--The Fayum mummy portraits 
--Giorgione's The Tempest
--Van Eyck's Ghent Altarpiece
--Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel
--Holbein's The Ambassadors
--Delacroix's Death of Sardanapalus
--Matisse's The Dance
--All  Rothko

There is hope, after all.


Thursday, April 27, 2017


This early Trump presidency has felt like a non-stop, loud, vulgar Jeopardy show. The president choses noise over talk, primal argument over reason, preferring to invade rather than to be invited in. He literally has "occupied" the media non-stop, in North Korean fashion, and left the country gasping for breath. Nevertheless, his base remains solid behind this "Kevorkian" style and he is able to make his flock of Neanderthals drink up the potion which will hasten their own demise.

The lower tax rates for the rich mostly will only end up furthering the budget deficit. Former experiments show that lower taxes never cause economic growth. The healthcare bis in the making is a convoy heading for social meltdown (pre-existing conditions not covered). All environmental regulations and protected "monuments" are under revision. Women's health issues are returned to the "executioner" states (one knows what that means in the South). Protectionism rules. Allies are scorned. The dismantling of the state continues through a sort of induced coma, Steve Bannon's signature style. The Trump presidency becomes every day more a conspirational family trust, aided by a board of mostly white men. The taste of this regime is already turning the US into some "Americastan" covered in faux marbre and gold lame.

Nevertheless it has to be recognized that the president's permanent coup against truth is working out. He piles up denials, lies and reversals which throw all off balance. He is able to present contradiction as the new gospel and gets away with it, after having spooked the chorus of his out-of-touch critics. His base loves to see the pundits and elites receiving a black eye. The decibels leave his "fans" numb, to the extent that they forget that they are applauding their own funeral march.

Obviously there is a larger issue. Since the beginning, America has stood for a set of ideas which remained the envy of most, even if their implementation was often far from perfect. The American experiment became a touchstone and a rallying point for immigrants who ended up being the foremost contributors to a creative, open, generous narrative. The current situation is too recent to come close to an overhaul yet, but in 100 days this evidence-denying administration was able to let loose a political twister.  A rebuilding is possible but it will come at a cost.

The controlled derailment internally is made more complex through a foreign policy (?) that has gone rogue.  It follows a potential accident/miscalculation-prone path without consistency. This is already activating unforeseeable consequences internally in areas like trade, the independence of justice, race, gender, environment, services, technologies. Without foreign input the start-ups will die off and new technologies might become unattended. In the absence of any convincing strategy, the trust of allies will suffer and the distrust of foes will grow. The State Department's upper level is understaffed and cuts in the budget will make it impossible for the pax Americana to face the new strategic challenges (AIDS, famine, refugees, Ebola, terrorism, security).

The president will appear at a rally at the end of the week. He loves the adoring crowds in "his" private domain but does not dare to venture in the opposition's (mostly) coastal strongholds. He runs the risk of becoming a prisoner of "fake news" and "alternative realities" of his own making. He enjoys so much walking in delusion and hates to feel resistance, amused skepticism or plain disbelief in others. Now that he "must" start to confront the outside world, starting in Brussels and Taormina next month, he had better realize that outside of the bubble there is little love to be found. This unhinged alter ego of the baby-fat North Korean leader loves to play with his toy soldiers.  He might get burned by the booby-trapped one in their midst or, paraphrasing Proust, go the Putin and Erdogan' s way.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


After Trump's victory and Le Pen's impressive score in France, references to the "Rust Belt vote" have become an almost legitimated macro-economic term in the electoral lexicons. The anti-globalist camp asserts that globalization created "plaques" in the economic systems which clogged a normal progression of incomes and social mobility. 

It is undeniable that in the Western economies re-conversion and reform have hit major
obstacles and "breaks" which slow down overall mobility. It is too easy to blame the addiction to welfare or a form of social complacency for this structural "impasse". Existing atavistic frustrations are an easy prey for political manipulation and demagogy, as is being proven in Trump's America now. The anger of the individuals who feel left out is real. Their recourse is faulted.

The trade unions put a lid on a more outward looking alternative.  Instead of encouraging persons to move, to look into alternatives, they too often lock up the unemployed in de facto stagnation, wherein the nostalgia for old, nefarious lost jobs obscures the lure of innovation, being it elsewhere. Change comes at a price, but the opposite comes with a death sentence. Governments together with private investment need to impose a real face-lift on the old industrial monstrosities which keep workers and their families hostage to yesterday's hell. Automation and new technologies are creating a model where more will be achieved by fewer. The old jobs will not come back and to pretend otherwise is dishonest. One does not have to return to the Keynesian formula which would backfire in the current new wave economy, neither should one follow Piketty--who is nevertheless right in his r>g equation (return of capital outpaces the growth rate of the economy)--to the end, since one throws out the baby with the bathwater.

There is a need for a new Contrat Social.  Trade unions have to review their priorities and become more preoccupied with innovation than with closures. The unemployed have to be encouraged to correct their addiction to being rewarded for doing too little and switch to mobile alternatives. The service sector has de-localized both the "where" and the "who" to foreign countries and foreign labor because the jobs (for instance: hospital care, distribution, R and D) have been given to third parties, who excel at what they are doing. This is how one can hear that coal miners still prefer to work in coal, rather than consider modern, healthy alternatives, which they came to consider as out of reach anyway. This perverted mindset is encouraged by politicians and trade unions alike who, by the way, seldom come personally close to anything that might look like coal. 

It is easier said than done but the nature of the discourse needs to change. Change is not necessarily unachievable. Mobility is an accelerator for both what lies ahead (innovation) and user/worker friendly jobs (rather than band-aid placebos). The Rust Belt is a social human negative but the exploitation of understandable discontent is morally unsound. Suffice to see who are the ones who encourage raw ideas, raw materials , raw standards to understand the enormity of the big lie which won in the US and which might lose in France.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


Emmanuel Macron est sorti vainqueur du premier tour des elections presidentielles en France. Marine Le Pen a realise un bon score. La difference etant que l'elasticite du score du premier est redoutable contrairement au potentiel de croissance attendue pour la candidate du Front national. Les votes recueillis par les candidats de la droite traditionnelle profiteront sans doute a Macron. Les votes en faveur des candidats de la gauche favoriseront soit le candidat majoritaire au premier tour, soit risquent de se transformer en abstentions.

Ce vote en France est plus qu'une peripetie politique, il est un vote de civilisation. Si l'expression d'aujourd'hui est confirmee par une majorite demain, les enjeux europeen - et dans les circonstances negatives americaines presentes - occidental redeviennent realisables. Il eut ete historiquement incomprehensible et politiquement suicidaire que la France, qui est depositaire de la DNA europeenne, remette en question sa responsabilite philosophique. 

Apres le deuxieme tour, et sous reserve de la victoire d'Emmanuel Macron, l'Europe sera redevable a la France de sa credibilite et d'une valeur ajoutee retrouvee. L'UE reformee et un modele eclaire de globalisation redeviennent des objectifs concrets. Le tandem Franco - Allemand peut , dans ces nouvelles conditions, assumer pleinement un role mobilisateur.

La presidence de Francois Hollande touche a sa triste fin. Ce president a joue la malchance dans ses choix. Il n'a pas reussi a sortir la France d'une impasse socio-economique aggravee par le fleau du terrorisme. Au demeurant, d'autres en Europe doivent aussi plaider coupable.

Friday, April 21, 2017


This White House looks as if it would fit better in Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan...same taste, same style.

This accidental president encounters difficulties in reaching out beyond his "red meat" habitat. Snubbed or ridiculed, he is basically a lonely bluffer.  Left to his own devices he stumbles over competing lies which alienate allies abroad and the more sophisticated press and commentators at home.  His "entourage" is a coterie of close family and equally clumsy Doppelgangers who hand him aggrandizing mirrors. 

Envious of his predecessor's worldly connections, he tried to have his own "private Idaho" by inviting Sarah Palin & Co.  Let loose in the White House, this trio of "deplorables" found nothing better to do than to strike a pose with the painting of the former First Lady Hillary Clinton in the background. This vulgar performance, in line with Mrs. Palin's persona, was obviously encouraged by Trump's minions who were too happy to guide the "performers" to the proper crime scene.  Speaking of a "class act"... 

It is ironic that contrary to its clueless, ridiculous handling of the "Upstairs" this White house can only find its way in the "downstairs", where it belongs, or in His Master's tweets, which keep the permanent arson ablaze.

Trump's latest muscle flexing bombast regarding his "terrific" "Armada heading for the Korean Peninsula might have been inspired by Theodore Roosevelt's Great White Fleet...with a difference. This current president forgot his naval binoculars.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


The upcoming elections in France are crucial for the EU's future. The vote will be a watershed and cannot become a repeat of the misguided (and already regretted by most) UK referendum. Comparison with the US elections is unwarranted, since the Trump victory (not in numbers) does not represent a clear choice between philosophical alternatives but was a blurred battle between hybrid and greater clarity. Hybrid won, with the broken pieces and mostly bad matinee actors for all to see.

In France a Marine Le Pen win would immediately shake Europe's fundamentals and equilibrium. NATO and the EU could be sent to death row. The land of enlightenment would turn down the lights. Putin would receive a belated Easter egg. Germany would be stabbed in the back. Emmanuel Macron looks like the only desirable candidate who might be able to steer France away from the morose Francois Hollande-years and revise the Franco-German EU leadership for the better. The candidacy of the leftist Jean Luc Melenchon ("Unsubmissive France") is dangerous because he might "steal" votes which would normally befall on Macron. The candidate of the right, Francois Fillon, has too many skeletons (Penelope-gate) in his closet.

Already the Russians are in overdrive, trying to undermine the bona fide of Macron. They tilt in favor of Le Pen who is the dream suicide bomber who could enter in a de facto double entente between Paris and Moscow (a history reboot). The Trump administration would be clueless, as usual, when it cannot resort to bombs or missiles. Besides, this US president is so loathed in Europe that even the more Atlantic wing in European politics is embarrassed with the White House histrionics. In this fluid global situation the stakes are very high. It is not an exaggeration to state that Europe's future is in French hands. One likes to believe that France's reputed intelligence will be able to weigh-in and to block this modern Jacquerie. The Dutch have proven that their dikes can withstand the sea as much as native populism. The French now must follow suit if they do not want to be considered as Europe's undertaker and Russia's lackey.

Europeans, and the British in the first place, still suffer from a Brexit hangover. If the French were to vote Le Pen, Europe would enter--in one single day--into a financial, monetary, institutional, politico-military inferno.  Faites vos jeux...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


A coherent, comprehensive foreign policy is like a river with an upstream and a downstream. Various locks insure that the navigation remains assured at all times. The delta--as in the Nile-- is an outcome to avoid at any cost. When too many tributaries compete, chaos is unavoidable. 

It is important to observe the waterway as a whole if one wants to understand the various tribulations of the current. Under the tsars, Ukraine was known as "Little Russia."  Syria was a French Levantine protectorate after the Treaty of Sevres, and after the prior secret infamous Sykes Picot agreement of 1916.  Likewise, man-made events disguised as accidental unforeseen developments--the Reichtag fire in 1933, the Gulf of Tonkin incident in 1964--are manipulated accelerators intended to arrive at a certain outcome.  Some see in last week's American intervention in Syria the advent of a larger renewed American come-back in the Middle Eastern theater.  Since the Trump administration has shown very little interest in historical reference, such a Machiavellian approach looks "out of order". It is highly doubtful that any decision is considered on the basis of its historical antecedent.

Under President Nixon, during the German Ostpolitik or in France under General de Gaulle, there existed a "model" of foreign policy. This approach was not without transgressions and cynical manipulation but the endgame was not in doubt. The Indochina and Algeria blunders could not stop an outcome which was too often managed at the cost of too many lives and the violation of too many conventions. The dystopian world now is crying loud for help.
The "fresh" American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has a Herculean task, having to convince his various interlocutors of the merits of the goals of the Trump administration in foreign affairs. The Western Europeans remain skeptical, the Chinese inscrutable and the Russians patronizing.

President Trump is said to thrive in chaos but world affairs require some form of predictable parameters, which seem to be alien for a president who admits his weakness for being seen as unpredictable and believing every fortune cookie which happens to arrive on his plate.  Such a tone-deaf strategy might end up in serious miscalculation. The former casino mogul should know better than to play Russian roulette, now that he is the accidental president.

Liking the perks of the presidency is human, neglecting to take advice or to surround oneself with inexperienced counsel (other than the Secretary of Defense,  General James Mattis and his National Security Council adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster) is irresponsible. The policy apparatus is mostly an empty shell. The president is addicted to friendly cable news which appears to be his major source of (dis)information. The cacophony of the Russian medelings, the leaks, the clashes between factions in the White House continue while Trump sits comfortably in a house of cards.  Lies, leaks and fake news occupy the journalists but the charade is starting to alarm the establishment at home and the allies abroad. It is time for this president to feel humbled, more "uneasy"while wearing a crown!  His last reversals regarding NATO and Russia only further damage long-term trust and credibility . Putin must enjoy the show.

Friday, April 7, 2017


President Trump has intervened militarily in Syria in response to Assad's use of chemical weapons.  This volte face took many by surprise, since the administration said no later than last week that the removal of the Syrian president was no longer a priority for now.  Obviously this sudden decision was caused by a number of reasons and might have an equal number of consequences, foreseeable or not:

--Trump's choice comes at a moment when his initiatives abort and his poll numbers become abysmal. He might expect to benefit from his wearing the mantle of commander-in-chief. His awkward announcement sounded almost "pope-ish" when he "incorporated" the world in God's blessings. I bet the comedians will come up with great one liners after this new presidential overreach.

--It is hard to make sense of his total u-turn in thinking. This latest action stands against all Trump 's earlier statements made after President Obama reversed his red-line warning. It appears that he might have listened to impulse rather than to reason. The victims of the chemical onslaught should not hide the immensity of a drama wherein tens of thousands have been killed or are trying to escape. The empathy of the president stops at the US borders which are almost hermetically closed to Syrian refugees. 

--It remains to be seen if there is a Plan B and if this might lead to a larger strategy with Sunni states. Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and Assad will not stand by.  Iraq, which sits in between reason (USA) and reality (Iran), finds itself in an uncomfortable situation.

--Russia's reaction will be "measured" but it will fully exploit the propaganda angle through public diplomacy and its usual nefarious handling of fake news and media infiltration. "De- conflicting" might have to wait for better (?) days.  By entering Russia's turf in Syria, Trump may hope to have gotten rid of the Russian albatross at home, but count on the Democrats to keep the Russian connection alive!

--The timing of the concomitant summit with President Xi is unfortunate. If there was no prior warning the Chinese side might consider the "overshadowing" of this important bilateral meeting as most unfortunate. Besides, the setting in Mar-a-Lago does not take into account certain Chinese particularities in terms of protocol and a more oblique way of messaging. After the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Xi got his strategic wish fulfilled. Hence he can afford to be magnanimous.

--Two negatives have become clearer. The infighting in the White House is becoming a liability. The iconoclast Bannon faction looks like giving up terrain to the traditional Kushner line (if such a thing exists). The unpredictability of Trump makes for a very difficult future. In all areas, trade, Middle East, Syria, NATO, EU, NAFTA, etc., yesterday's truth becomes to day's refutation. Trump is a reactive personality who responds upon visual stimuli rather than to the reasoning/alternatives mantra.  It is difficult to elaborate a longer term policy when everything is in permanent deconstruction. The Trump of today erases yesterday's namesake. The vortex of chaos widens and it becomes doubtful that anyone or anything--not even his family or the teleprompter--will be able to rein him in. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017


America has entered a new Kulturkampf. This assault on the accepted (not without opposition) values is the more strange, that it is waged under a president who is culture indifferent and morally suspect. While Steve Bannon was invited to give op his seat in the National Security Council, his influence remains ingrained for now, while he is largely unpopular. One can see how a mass culture with a populist connotation is trying to dislodge what the White house considers to be an elitist high culture. In reality Trump's America becomes an ideological counter proposal to existing "market driven" choices.


In this "ideology", disguised in permanent chaos, former downgraded references and reactive patterns have their "come back". Religion, conservative norms, family values and hostility versus the trends which benefited from globalization (climate change, environment, reproductive rights, non discrimination) have their day under the sun . Bannon considers the existing world architecture as opposed to American values and interests which need to make a U turn towards the "self ". The "make America great again" is just a form of protectionism based on negative memory. The last crisis in the stock market, the rise of  fraudulent actors, the implosion of labels due to open trade, the hindrances created by regulations, have consolidated the accession of a non cosmopolitan America made fundamentalism. It has to be seen if such a choice can be maintained while the world is on fire.

This administration wanted to be unhindered from what it perceived as undue shackles which distract from priorities home. Since Trump was elected by mostly rural or economically depressed areas he plays on the frustrations of his electorate while at the same time pursuing policies which will hurt this same base which remains stuck in some dry dock of its own making. The wake up call will be hard. Unfortunately the legacies of Presidents Johnson and Obama are dismantled meanwhile without a grain of remorse or social empathy.

The agenda  of the president is presented as a tour de de force, it is more a coup d'etat coming out of a Banana republic playbook. If it was not that serious it could become an other Tim Rice low Bradway production, of the Cats, Evita genre. Unfortunately it is serious. Health care will be revisited, the wall will be build, multilateral free trade will be a thing of the past, foreign policy will become a  twelve-tone score for too many actors who might further muddle what is complex. America became a family business wherein too few talk to too many, as in the Russia saga. Trump's son in law, Jared Kushner(inger), is supposed to continue in Henry's footsteps. I doubt if he ever red Kissinger's WORLD ORDER . If he had done so, he might have been more humble. The same goes for his father in law. I forgot Rex Tillerson...nobody will notice !