Readers will have seen, I think, that 17 people were shot dead last week in Paris, by gunmen associating themselves with Daech and Al Qaeida Yemen, who were also killed.
These were brutal murders. Within a few hours, though, even before four people were killed at a supermarket, the actions were being seen less as murder, and more as terrorist attacks on freedom of expression. This was because some of the people killed were journalists at a satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The twitter hashtag #jesuischarlie, expressive of solidarity with the aims or ethos of the magazine, which takes some pride in its no-holds barred depiction of religion and religious figures, quickly became established, and remained at the top of twitter’s hashtag rankings until after enormous marches in France at the weekend. These marches also became gestures in support of freedom of expression. They were not primarily gestures against people being murdered.
This, I think, is a good example of the Garbage Can Model, as conceived by Cohen, March & Olsen, in action. According to the model, actors rummage around “in the garbage” for a solution which may or may not fit with the problem. In this case, the core problem – people murdered in cold blood and the possibility of more – is met with a ‘solution’ which not entirely coincidentally coincides with a media elite. As Fligstein and McAdam show, the courses of action that do get chosen are not chosen at random. They are chosen because those with material and institutional power are able to ensure that they are in the right place at the right time, unless others with less power coalesce and share resources with sufficient skill (or luck).
This reminds me a little of the debate on these pages several years ago about a thing called the Convention on Modern Liberty, in which I and my erstwhile colleague Dave took issue with purportedly radical resources being directed towards of a conference, featuring the great and the good, about the need to defend civil liberties:
For me and Dave, the liberal, metropolitan elite which soaks up human and financial resources in the name of civil liberties and ‘reform’ are, in part, responsible for the fact that since the second world war there have been no further major material advances for labour, and why over the last 30 years capital has got away with rolling back many of the concessions that labour had extracted.
Why, Dave and I would question, is it appropriate to join coalitionary force with them when they insist on seeking to undertake actions which history has proven provide for lesser material gain for labour than working class militancy?
But it also reminds me more directly of the Rotherham sex abuse scandal, in which those with sufficient influence imposed a narrative quite out of keeping with the findings of the Jay report, and insisted that the ways to stop children being sexually abused is to stop being ‘politically correct’ and start shouting at social workers. As I pointed out, in the real world what might help stop abuse is for a) social workers to be empowered to get on with their work with families, to ensure that young people feel safe at home; b) police to focus, in both their investigative and preventative roles, in a ‘race blind’ manner on what circumstances create opportunities for predators to prey on young people (takeaways, poorly regulated taxi firms, and young people who feel unsafe at home.
This, I suggested, would be a socialist response, in that it understands the dialectic of structure and agency, as well as the Overton window. It seeks to stop people being harmful agents, but it also seeks to change the structure so that being a harmful agent comes to be less and less a rational choice.
So too, a socialist response to the Paris attacks is little to do with marching for a solution to a non-problem* – does anyone really think that the two terrorists who killed journalists were motivated by insult to the prophet, rather than a desire for a dramatic display of new-found power? The real response is to look at the conditions that made these two men, angry failures, into brutal killers. The real response for socialists is to argue for the resources needed to improve the lives of all in the Parisian banlieue, so that the prospect of a good job and (male) self-respect starts to shove violent crime beyond what can be seen through the Overton window. This isn’t to deny their agency – they did what they did, while millions of French men in similar situations did not – but it is to address a problem with a solution that fits the problem.
* This is not to say the 3 million people were wrong to march, even in a march quickly co-opted by their states’ leaders for their own purpose. The march behind the leaders was one of genuine solidarity, but it is only a start, and it will be for naught if Europe’s leaders now return to type.
Greece is back centre stage, with a general election on January 25th and the now quite real propect of a SYRIZA government coming to power. Tim Worstall paints an interesting scenario of what may happen next, something along these lines:
a) Greece defaults;
b) Greece is forced out of the euro;
c) Greece, in going back to the Drachma and thereby devalues and become instantly more competitive;
d) After a “pretty hairy” twelve months, Greece’s economy grows at 50-10% per year for some years;
e) Other weaker Eurozone countries – Italy, France, Belgium see this is a shortcut to prosperity, and leave the eurozone voluntarily;
f) The Eurzone effectively breaks up.
It’s an interesting scenario, but one which almost certainly won’t be played out. It won’t be played out because, while for Tim euro exit may create a “pretty hairy ” twelve months of change but be a transition well worth going through – for ordinary Greeks it will be utterly savage
This, for example, is what the National Bank of Greece (according to Bloomberg) set out back in 2012 when exit was last considered a possibility.
Per-capita income would drop by at least 55 percent in euro terms as a new currency would depreciate by about 65 percent, according to the report, emailed from the bank today. The recession would deepen by about 22 percent at stable prices, adding to the 14 percent recorded in the 2009 to 2011 period, National said, while unemployment would jump to 34 percent and inflation rise to above 30 percent, pushed up by the higher cost of imported goods.
Nor would the effects of exit simply be short-term pain for long-term gain. Exit would also massively increase inequalities. As I said in 2012:
While it’s impossible to say exactly how leaving the Eurozone might pan out, these will be among the consequences*:
- Within a day of the creation and flotation of the New Drachma….. its value will crash against ‘hard’ currencies, and the purchasing power of Greeks for anything imported will be slashed. It’s impossible to know by how much, but a cut of 75% purchasing power is certainly not out of the question [I wrote this two weeks before the National Bank predicted 55%];
- In an internationalized economy like Greece, there is no such thing as ‘out of the euro’. Most rich Greeks able to do so will already have stored their wealth elsewhere and the capital flight will continue to happen. The idea of proper capital controls is frankly fanciful. As holders of still-valid euros, or other ‘hard’ currencies, they will then be in position to purchase both the assets and labour of the mass majority of increasingly desperate Greeks at rock-bottom rates.
- A dual economy will swiftly emerge, as in pretty well all countries without their own hard currencies. This will further deepen inequalities in daily life, potentially even with usual services and products only available to those with access to hard currency, as will the emergence of black market currency trading, where the New Drachma is even less valuable than at the official exchange rate.
Greeks know this, and so does SYRIZA. That is why, while 74.2% of Greeks surveyed believe that Greece should remain in the euro “at all costs”, they also give a 3.1% poll lead to SYRIZA. They knowthat, even if Germany were in a position to push Greece out if it defaulted (and that is doubtful), SYRZIA would be committing political suicide by allowing an exit – whether on purpose or through over-bullish endgame negotiation forcing the Troika into a political face save at the expense of economic sense.
Euro exit is simply not an option for SYRIZA (it has never said that it is), and there is no conundrum (whatever Olaf thinks) for Greek voters over whether to vote against austerity and for exit or for austerity and against it; SYRIZA offers a much better chance of getting the best of both worlds than it did in 2012, and that’s why they stand a better chance of winning this time.
Yes, SYRIZA will bargain hard from a position of strong democratic mandate, but they will bargain, as will the Troika, and a compromise will be reached (possibly including direct fiscal transfer via Structural Funds in return for higher debt payments as facesaver for the Troika).
And even if the worst did come to pass, and disastrous negotiation tactics/styles from both sides did lead to an exit, the economic and social carnage on the streets of Greece would soon put Italy off from following the same path.
So while according to Tim’s classical theory the comparative advantages of real devaluation over internal devaluation may make some sense on paper (if you ignore equality issues), don’t expect to see the theory tested any time soon. Macro often doesn’t meet real life.
The most striking things about the commentary on the ongoing bloodshed in Gaza is the broad failure to ask why the Israeli government/military, backed by a large percentage of the Israeli population, is behaving like this.
Maybe the conflict has gone on so long that few people feel the need to ask this fairly basic question: what are the roots of Israel’s need to kill hundred of defenseless civilians in an act of “self-defence”, when any reasonably rational assessment of the actions suggests these actions a) constitute cold-blooded murder of children and other non-combatants, and b) feed an increasing hostility on the part of the Palestinian (and wider Middle-East) population, this decreasing the long-term chances of peace?
Perhaps the failure to ask that basic question, especially at times like this especially, is because the answer is at so obvious. Or perhaps – much worse for any possible resolution to the conflict in the long-term – it’s been forgotten by outside observers, and internalised by Israelis to such an extent that it is no longer utterable.
But I think the answer bears repeating: the root of the murder of Palestinian children today is simple: the holocaust.
The State of Israel came about because of the holocaust, and the national identity not just of Israeli Jews, but also – until relatively recently – the vast bulk of American Jews, is inextricably linked to it. After an initial period in which those creating the new, deeply militarized Israel built their identity around the Sabra, the very real threat to the new state’s existence in 1967, and the implied/inferred threat of a further genocide, led to very rapid formation a of national identity based on what Daniel Navon calls the “embracing of victimhood” and in consequence a “paradoxical perception of military superiority and existential anxiety” (p.10). Moreover, this national identity became shared not just in Israel but in the United States, to the extent that in many ways to be an American Jew was to be an Israeli living in America.
Ultimately, it is the fear of a new holocaust, however remote it might seem to outside observers but very real and very near in the days leading up to the 1967 war, which created the path-dependent institutions which we see in Israel and America (think Wall Street Journal) today, in which there is no escaping the internalised logic of “self-defence” born of victimhood.
It seems to be that until outside observers start to remember/learn all of this for the first time – perhaps starting by taking American Jewish and Israeli scholarship more seriously than it is “allowed” – then the chances of a long term resolution remain slight, since even the welcome generational shift amongst American Jews away from their parents and grandparents emotional link to Israel and to victimhood (and back towards the kind of relationship being developed in the 1947-67 period) may not have enough weight to counteract 50 years of institutional path dependency.
Of course none of this stops children being killed today, or tomorrow, or next year. But maybe it’s better to promulgate some kind of informed hope for the future, based on some kind of understanding of the past, than it is to simply regard the Israel/Palestine conflict as an elemental hatred between peoples.
It is starting to look like Cameron will fail in his quest for someone other than Jean-Claude Juncker to be President of the European Commission. John Major being wheeled out to argue that the whole anti-Juncker thing is a gambit to ensure greater UK influence by another route certainly suggests the Tories know the game is up.
It’s good that Cameron will have egg all over his face, and it is to be hoped that, as Juncker takes up his position (assuming a yes vote in the European parliament) at least some of the press will start to ask questions like:
Why didn’t Cameron speak up about the Spitzenkandidat process back in 2012 when it was first worked up by the two main European parliament groupings? Why is it only now that he thinks the process is an insult to democracy? Did he simply not understand what was going on across Europe?
Even if these questions are asked though, and Cameron’s absurd EU-illiteracy is exposed for it is, the news cycle is such that it’ll be old news come the Autumn – unless, that is, Labour keep it there. Fortunately, Labour can do just that, and in a way which not only keeps the heat on Cameron through the winter, but which -more importantly – is good for the citizens of the EU as well. It goes like this:
1) Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union allow for a motion of censure of the Commission President, which if passed by a two thirds majority, forces the resignation of the President and his commissioners (whom he will have appointed).
2) Labour MEPs, operating in collaboration with their SPD colleagues should make a specific set of social-democratic demands on Juncker early in his presidency (e.g. that Juncker should organize the repealing of the anti-Keynesian six-pack pushed through by the right in 2011, in favour an agreement focused on social and economic stability, or that Juncker should bring forward Lisbon-consistent ways of balancing richer nation states’ desire for temporary restrict freedom of movement of people with the interests of poor countries in restricting some freedom of movement of goods and services).
3) If Juncker and his Commission complies, then it’s a win for the left. If not, they should go about campaigning for his censure, across the political groups. Tory MEPs, in their new political grouping, would be embarrassed at the very least if they had to vote for a continuation of a Juncker presidency, and UKIP’s votes, abstentions or strategic absence would also be spotlighted.
4) Overall, this would be cast as Labour taking socialist action through its validly elected representatives, set against the Cameron ego-trip.
At the moment, the Labour strategy is wrong. Glenys Kinnock and Miliband have been foolishly advised, and committed MEPs to a vote against Juncker on the first occasion, when he up for election following the European Council’s nomination (in accordance with 17(7) of the Treaty of the European Union. This may seem an attractive anti-Juncker position, but it is very short-term, destined to failure because the rest of the SPD and the EPP is committed to maintaining the legitimacy of the Spitzenkandidat process, and is therefore an insult to SPD colleagues across Europe, who are disappointed in the first place that UK Labour did not embrace Martin Schulz as the SPD candidate.
There is still time for Labour to change course, and both reintegrate itself with the SPD following its Schulz mistake and be seen as a leading mover for proper reform within the EU. But that time is short.
It’s beginning to look like Jean-Claude Juncker will not become President of the European Commission after all. Paul Mason from the left seems pleased, and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard from the sane wing of conservatism will not, I think, be shedding any tears.
But Jurgen Habermas has a different view, worth listening to. He thinks that leaders of member states coming together to block Juncker’s election as Commission President by the European Parliament is very bad news indeed.
On the whole, I agree.
This is not because I think Juncker will be a good President – on this I agree with Mason and Evans-Pritchard that he is a member of a self-serving elite devoted to a massively counterproductive continuation of austerity.
It’s because I don’t like the idea of state leaders thinking they can ignore the rule of law as a means of bolstering their political fortunes.
Let’s be clear what’s going on here.
If a Juncker Presidency is not recommended to the European Parliament by the heads of state at the forthcoming European Council, then these heads of state will have deliberately and knowingly breached article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union , which requires that the European Council takes into account the results of the European elections. They may be able to talk their way round it if Junker decides, as seems likely, to withdraw his candidature before the European Council as a way to save face, but this will only be a technicality.
The Spitzenkandidat process – whereby the main European parliamentary grouping have selected their preferred candidates (Juncker for the EPP, Schulz for the SPD) as their part of the implementation of the treay – has been very clear for many months now, and it is only at this very late stage that national governments have started to suggest that “taking account” of the election results, in which the EPP gained the upper hand, might involve simply discounting them in favour of ‘candidates’ who have been nowhere near the process to date.
Moreover, there is a legal mechanism within the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (article 234) for the European Parliament to make the President and his Commission resign should they lose the confidence of the Parliament, meaning that national governments could work with others in their political groupings to put an end to a Juncker presidency if he turned out to be the disaster they’ve suddenly worked out he might be. Indeed, They could even persuade enough MEPs to vote against Juncker after the European Council itself has proposed him – a bit odd-looking, but perfectly legal.
But that route has been ignored in favour of a bigger states vs. European Parliament powerplay, which prefers simply to ignore the rule of law in this case. (In Cameron’s detail-lite case, he possibly simply doesn’t know, just as he probably didn’t know that by taking the Tories out of the EPP, he removed himself from any influence on which Spitzenkandidat the EPP went for at its Dublin meeting in March).
What this likely breach of law is really all about is the panic of members states at the rise of the populist anti-EU right in the recent EU parliamentary elections. Cameron, and now it seems Merkel (I reserve judgment on Renzi) are desperate to show that they are on the side of ‘their’ peoples, and thereby bolster their own legitimacy as democratic representatives. But breaking the law is not a good way to do that.
Of course law shouldn’t be set in stone, and Habermas is very clear  that there needs to be a healthy tension between legality and legitimacy, with a space for forms of civil disobedience in cases where the law loses legitimacy, in a way which creates a process for the renewal and relegitimation of law . But this is the preserve of civil society, not the existing elite. If demonstrations erupt against a Juncker presidency, linked to a wider movement against austerity, then the European Council might have a legitimate part to play in meeting the expressed will of the people, and reforming the treaties as appropriate (though as noted, the scope for the Council to dismiss the Commission creates a legal route to meet that will anyway).* For national elites to seek their own legitimacy in the eyes of their people by ignoring international law is the thin end of a very big wedge.
If the anti-Juncker plan is carried through by Merkel, Cameron and others, I do hope the European Parliament will stand its ground and vote against their recommendation for President, wohever that may be, as an act of principle. Sadly, I can’t see it happening.
Shame the Labour party stopped me being an MEP. I’d have stood with Jurgen for a socialist AND democratic Europe.
 Article 17 (7) of the Treaty of European Union reads:
Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within one month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure.
 Article 234 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union reads:
If a motion of censure on the activities of the Commission is tabled before it, the European Parliament shall not vote thereon until at least three days after the motion has been tabled and only by open vote.
If the motion of censure is carried by a two-thirds majority of the votes cast, representing a majority of the component Members of the European Parliament, the members of the Commission shall resign as a body and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy shall resign from duties that he or she carries out in the Commission. They shall remain in office and continue to deal with current business until they are replaced in accordance with Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union. In this case, the term of office of the members of the Commission appointed to replace them shall expire on the date on which the term of office of the members of the Commission obliged to resign as a body would have expired.
 Its interesting to see Habermas, in his interview with the Allgemeine Zeitung, positively welcome the rise of the populist vote in the European elections as a shock to the governing elite:
Der Rechtspopulismus erzwingt die Umstellung vom bisherigen Elitemodus auf die Beteiligung der Bürger. Das kann dem europäischen Parlament und seinem Einfluss auf die europäische Gesetzgebung nur guttun
[Rightwing populism requires the adjustment of hitherto elite modes of governance toward citizen participation. That can only be a good thing for rhe Europen Parliament and its influence on European lawmaking]
For further reading, see Bruce Miller’s useful post, including some useful translation of Habermas and others, and more generally Matthew G Specter’s Habermas: An intellectual biography, kindly sent my way by Chris Brooke.
I’ve long been fascinated by the choice of poem – Verlaine’s 1876 Chanson d’Automne – as the code signal broadcast by the BBC to alert the Resistance to the fact that D-Day was on, and that the planned sabotage actions should commence.
Was it simply chosen because of its brevity? Because it had nothing at all to do with the matter at hand, being a melancholic yearning for ‘the old days’, and so less likely to raise suspicion that it was code?
Or was there some deeper meaning behind the choice? Was the choice of Verlaine, a drug-addicted poet who wouldn’t have lasted long in Nazi society, a deliberate gesture of French defiance? Was “quand/Sonne l’heure” seen as significant? Is its quiet and pained yearning, in contrast to the tumult that it was set to announce, deliberately paradoxical.
I don’t know, but the poem, because of the context in which its recitation is now for ever set, is strangely moving. Read it aloud to get the full sense of onomatopeia and the gulp-like stuntedness of the finale stanza. In memory of D-Day, I’ll be reading the last stanza (with my liberal translation) at my parkrun event tomorrow.
Les saglots longs
Blessent mon coeur
Et blême, quand
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure;
Et je m’en vais
Au vent mauvais
Pareil à la
Amongst those interested in the South Sudan turmoil, this picture of upfront tribal segregation in a UN refugee camp has caused some debate:
My first reaction was one of concern, similar to that of Sudan/South Sudan-focused journalist Bec Hamilton (@bechamilton) who tweeted:
Ethnicity is used readily enough by unscrupulous #SouthSudan elites right now. No need for the UN to add to it……..The UN has a choice. A choice not to reinforce harmful &, more to the point, inaccurate divisions.
But perhaps it’s not that simple, I thought then, and emailed the photo to my wife – who has worked in (pre-independence) South Sudan* and also managed a large refugee camp operation during and after the Rwanda genocide of 1995.
Her response when she got home was salutary, and went something along the lines of:
Yes, I can understand exactly why they’ve done that, and while I don’t know the details, I may well have done exactly the same. You have to understand, you liberal, wishy-washy buffoon, that this place is catering, at short notice and on a make-it-up-as-you-go-along basis, for women and children who are traumatized by the recent carnage and may have walked for several days to find this makeshift security and shelter. What they want and need is immediate shelter, water and food, free from fear of violence, and if the best way to do that is via temporary segregation, so be it. And here are you worrying about whether the UN is reinforcing tribal division stereotypes, you total numptie. Have you never bleeding read Maslowe’s hierarchy?
That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be efforts at inter-tribal communication and as needs be reconciliation, via a safe central area, given that until a month ago the Dinka and Nuer lived quite happily alongside each other**, and to this extent Bec Hamilton is probably right to point out that the current ethnic violence has been stirred up by self-interested elites within and around the new government structures, but the immediate priorities of shelter and security clearly come first. I mean, are you on fuckin’ acid, or what, you bleedin’ hippie?
Well, I paraphrase somewhat, but that was the general gist.
Somewhat chastened, I reflected on how, in very different circumstances, the debate about immigration is going in the UK, and about my take on it. My take on it goes roughly along the lines of: economically and philosophically, free movement of people is clearly a good thing, but we do have to take on board the fact that the British working class has for a long time now been subject to a virulent anti-immigrant EU discourse, and it is therefore entirely appropriate – in order not to come over counter-productively as an elite ‘expert’ to find a route through which takes expressions feelings of insecurity as legitimate, and to seek to negotiate a new settlement for the long term. Here’s one I made earlier.
Yet, on the other hand, I find myself unprepared – at least as a first instinct – to take on board the need for immediate security of South Sudanese women and children because. if I do so, they might fall into some long-term error of tribal distrust.
Really, I’m surprised at myself.
* Strangely, it’s not out of the question she may find herself back in South Sudan soon, as with he kids big enough to look after me now, she’s going on the International Emergency and Trauma Register, ready to fly off a a day’s notice to the next trouble spot, and given her experience in South Sudan, I guess she might get the call, in which case expect more blogging on this subject.
** Depressingly, the comments under the line of the New York Times article I link to above focus on the fact that the Dinka and Nuer have ‘traditionally’ had a war-based relationship, reflective of a pre-market pastoral society in which cattle-raiding is a key economic activity. EE Evans-Pritchard 1940’s seminal study The Nuer even gets a mention. It seems to me that arguing that tribal segregration is justified on the basis of a study of society three generations ago is a bit like arguing that we should restrict EU-migration because, you know, the second world war.