Subscribe via RSS Feed

Solidarity and “Je suis Paris”

[ 86 ] November 18, 2015 |

This is a guest post by Melissa K. Byrnes, who is Associate Professor of History at Southwestern University. Her research focuses on issues of migration, French Muslims, empire, activism, and human rights. She is finishing a book on post-1945 community activism for North African rights and welfare in the suburbs of Paris and Lyon. This post was written before the Saint-Denis happenings of this morning and she will have a follow up post covering them tomorrow, hopefully.

The moment the news broke about the horrendous attacks in Paris last Friday, a wave of mourning washed over the globe. From world leaders’ pronouncements to the tricolor-ization of Facebook profiles, nearly everyone, it seemed, was moved to demonstrate their connections with Paris and their allegiance to its values and symbolism. “Je suis Paris” echoed from all corners. The city of Paris seems uniquely powerful in its ability to marshal solidarity.

Of course, the Paris attacks fell only a day after the Islamic State perpetrated a horrific attack on Beirut–the deadliest suicide bombing in that city in more than twenty-five years. Beirut, though, is not receiving the same attention as Paris, and there are precious few Lebanese flags lighting up social media or global monuments. This leads to questions about the value we place on the lives of those who are not “Western,” who are not white.

In this context, “Je suis Paris” can be deeply problematic, an emblem of racial difference, an invocation of the idea that certain lives, and certain cultures, are more precious than others. “Je suis Paris” might mean that I am not—nor do I wish to see—anything that does not derive directly from a narrowly-defined canon of Western civilization. “Je suis Paris” can say that “they” are not. Intended as a heartfelt statement of togetherness, “Je suis Paris” has the power to deny solidarity.

It is easy for “Paris” to mean whiteness and wealth, empire and privilege and power. But that is not—and has never been—the only face of the city. Real Paris is far more rich and colorful, but it has its dark neighborhoods—places of poverty, of exclusion, of frustration and loss. Paris has forgotten corners, rooms of solitude and misery, communities from whom the majority has turned away, individuals who daily face discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and all the ills that follow from these. If “Je suis Paris,” than I am also all of these.

Yet Paris’s history is also one of expanding solidarity. Its glory derives from its ability to welcome new peoples, new ideas, new dreams. Paris converts us. Parisians have long been trouble-makers, thorns in the side of authority, the lifeblood of revolutions and progress. The newly ubiquitous French flag derived from Paris itself. Red and blue were the colors of the rebellious city with whom the king sought to make peace in 1789 (while the royal Bourbon white remained in the flag, the monarchy itself did not survive). For centuries, Parisians have demanded rights for and solidarity with the down-trodden. Paris has been the destination of refugees, revolutionaries, and political exiles. Above all, it has called countless generations of migrants—from all across the world—who have each made their contributions and sacrifices to the city.

Paris also reaches into the suburbs on the margins of French society—suburbs like Bobigny, Nanterre, and Sarcelles that are home to large minority communities; suburbs like Saint-Denis that have, it turns out, much to teach us. My first research trip on the 13-Metro line out to Saint-Denis was in October 2005. I was immediately impressed by the close attention city officials had paid to predominantly Muslim North African migrants and the relationships they built. In the 1950s, for example, Saint-Denis’s mayor was outspoken in his support for Algerian nationalists fighting for independence and scathing in his critiques of the French imperial system that sought to subjugate and marginalize Algerians in North Africa and on the French mainland. He and his colleagues invoked a sense of solidarity, a workers’ brotherhood that did not recognize national divisions, a common struggle against oppression. The city offered a host of social programs for local North African migrants and attempted to bring migrants into the active political community to affect policies at the local, regional, and national levels.

In less than a month, I witnessed just how powerful these local traditions were. In November 2005, the suburbs of Paris and other major French cities were engulfed in riots, sparked by the deaths of two boys of African descent who had been chased by police. The worst of the violence—mostly the destruction of property and the very French tradition of burning cars—was in the surrounding region of Seine-Saint-Denis. And yet the city of Saint-Denis itself did not have a single incident The city’s habits of inclusion—developed to address the needs of nineteenth-century European migrants (Bretons, Italians, Spaniards) and readily adapted in the mid-twentieth century for North and Sub-Saharan Africans—had ensured its safety. While state officials—and many individuals—redoubled discriminatory rhetoric and policies, Saint-Denis’s city hall hosted open meetings and decried prejudice.

paris 13 Nov 15

Photo of Place de Republique, Sunday, November 15 used with permission of photographer

The Stade de France, one of the targets in Friday evening’s murderous attacks, is in Saint-Denis. Yet, even in the face of bloody, senseless brutality, the city’s commitment to solidarity and openness has held. The current mayor’s first statement on Friday evening called on the community not to “give way to fear.” On Sunday, he elaborated*

By attacking the northeast of Paris and the neighborhood around the Stade de France, the terrorists targeted sites of diversity, of social inclusion, youth, tolerance, and openness to others.

Now as ever, terrorism must be combatted in an implacable manner, relentlessly.

Now as ever, it is by coming together that we will be stronger than they are.

Let us reject the confusion and the hatred of others that encourage turning inwards, racism, the lure of radicalism, and violence. Let us stand in solidarity. Let us proclaim, loud and strong, our will to live together and our attachment to the democratic values of liberty, equality, fraternity.

Perhaps we should all be saying, “Je suis Saint-Denis.”

Solidarity is a powerful weapon and shield. France’s military response—to continue (even strengthen) its role in the Syrian airstrikes—is understandable and expected. This was, after all, the policy that the attackers in Paris purportedly sought to undo. Yet in the medium- to long-term, militarization is not the answer—especially not within France’s own borders. This weekend’s state of emergency must give way quickly to a resumption of openness, lest France tread too far down the path of an enhanced security state. France must also consider the connections between the underlying causes of the current refugee crisis and the agenda of those who launched the Paris attacks. Solidarity must cut across borders and social divisions.

The spirit of open doors swept across Paris on Friday evening; #porteouverte was used (in many languages) to invite people into private homes and other safe spaces, to wait out the chaos together. A logical extension—though a difficult one—would be to open doors to other victims of the Islamic State’s terror and brutality. As many have pointed out Syrian and other refugees have long been victims of such attacks. A significant number of the refugees streaming into Europe are fleeing the Islamic State and the Syrian Civil War. Though panic has led to demands that borders slam shut (even in parts of the US) welcoming refugees into Western Europe would be prudent as well as humane. Extremist groups like the Islamic State count on their violence to sow division. Far better to embrace Muslim residents (citizens and refugees alike), to stand with them in a show of strength and unity against extremism and violence.


Solidarity also requires denouncing senseless violence against civilians across the world and mourning publicly with those they’ve left behind. Because if we are Paris, we must also be Beirut—and Damascus, and Baghdad and Baga We must pay attention to atrocities and suffering even when they don’t occur on our doorstep—Friday evening showed us just how quickly these can show up.

In 1789, Paris’s revolutionaries knew that true liberty and equality require fraternity in order to flourish. It’s time we remember what real solidarity means—and begin to act in its name.

*my translation


The Party Decides and the 2016 Republican Primaries

[ 91 ] November 18, 2015 |



This post isn’t about what you think it’s about. I’m not talking about a looming coup; I’m talking about the problems facing political science, which — it recently occurred to me — are a bit like the problems facing macroeconomics after 2008.


Yet I don’t think I’m being unfair in saying that so far this cycle the political scientists aren’t doing too well. In particular, standard models of how the nomination process works seem to be having trouble with the durability of clowns. Things don’t seem to be working the way they used to.

And this makes me think of the way some economic analysis went astray after 2008. In particular, I’m reminded of the way many fairly reasonable analysts underestimated the adverse effects of austerity. They looked at historical episodes, and this led them to expect around a half point of GDP contraction for every point of fiscal tightening. What actually seems to have happened was around three times that much.

A couple of points are worth making at the outset. First of all, it’s premature to declare the theory of The Party Decides dead. If Carson and Trump crash and burn in the actual primaries, the fact that they led in the polls for a longer period than the typical outsider if anything strengthens the theory and certainly doesn’t disprove it. And second, I don’t think that The Party Decides reflects quite as much a “political science” consensus as Krugman suggests. It is a good and useful book, but the contemporary competitive presidential primary comprises a small “n,” and even so the model explains some outcomes more persuasively than others, and these limitations are recognized by numerous political scientists.

All this said, I think Krugman is onto something. This is the considered judgment of a political scientist, not “political science,” but I think the robust performance of Trump and Carson does probably tell us something about the limitations of the most influential theory of how presidential primaries are decided. And yet I still think Carson has virtually no chance of winning the nomination and Trump not a lot more than that.

My theory is this: it is possible to win the nomination without the ex ante support of party elites. But it is not possible to win the nomination without serious commitment and a real campaign apparatus. Turning out votes in the long primary process has generally required a real organization backed up with money, and I still don’t think the magic of the internet means that this is no longer true. I don’t know if a Ben Carson who was running a real campaign could win the nomination, but I’m very confident that a Ben Carson who’s plowing 70% of his fundraising into more fundraising can’t. His pre-existing support among evangelicals might make him very competitive in Iowa if he stays in the race, but I think he’d be spent and maneuvered into oblivion after that just like Santorum and Gingrich and Huckabee were after their early wins against establishment candidates the base was notably unenthusiastic about.

This doesn’t mean that the party will “decide.” Although I’d put a modest bet on Rubio if I lived in a jurisdiction that allowed it, he may never catch fire. But if neither he nor Jeb! can emerge as a frontrunner, the most likely beneficiary is not Carson or Trump but Ted Cruz. Party elites don’t like him because of his grandstanding, but he has a lot of support in the base, and he’s an actual professional politician who understands the importance of organization and has a lot of cash. And if it comes down to Cruz v. Trump, party elites will mostly end up rallying around the former.

Some Thoughts on My Corner of the Digital Art World

[ 24 ] November 18, 2015 |

I’m always surprised by how little snobbery I encounter when I tell people I am a digital artist who focuses on photo manipulation. I don’t know if this is because the genre’s largely been accepted as a legitimate art form or because people are just genuinely ignorant about it so don’t know enough to adopt a snobby attitude. I suspect it’s a little from Column A and little from Column B. That being said, I thought it might finally be time to educate people a little about what I do.

What is photo manipulation? Generally, it’s when you take elements from different photos and combine to create a new art piece. Ideally, these elements will include purchased stock photography or stock that’s been offered gratis. (It’s considered in pretty bad form to use stock that is not purchased or freely given in photo manipulation , especially if you intend to sell your works.) It’s also not unusual for manipulators to use tubes (photographic elements that have already been cut out) or 3-D renders. And many manipulators also digitally paint on top of their works. So take all these elements, and you have the basics of what photo manipulation is.

Read more…

TPP, Vietnam, and Labor

[ 9 ] November 18, 2015 |


The U.S. and Vietnam have a side agreement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership that supposedly makes it easier for labor unions to organize. It sounds good in theory but probably will do nothing to protect worker rights.

A pact between Washington and Hanoi to strengthen labor unions in Vietnam could give workers more bargaining power, but the impact will depend on how Vietnam carries out the agreement, longtime Vietnamese government advisers and other specialists said on Thursday.

The side agreement to the Trans-Pacific Partnership calls for Vietnam to pass legislation that would legalize independent unions, allow them to strike and let them seek help from foreign labor organizations like the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Sounds good, right! But….

But Tony Foster, the managing partner of the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City offices of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, a big global law firm, said that the labor provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership had been expected, and that it was unclear how much change they would bring to Vietnam.

The central question, he said, will be the extent to which the trade agreement increases the influence and independence of labor unions.

“The devil is really going to be in the details on a lot of this stuff — I’m sure people are going to be parsing it very carefully to determine what will really be required,” Mr. Foster said in a telephone interview from Hanoi. “It will be a balancing act for the government, and I’m sure they will comply, more or less.”

Multinationals have shown much more interest this autumn in investing in Vietnam, and the anticipated labor provisions of the trade accord have caused little concern among companies, he added.

That this doesn’t worry the corporations is a sign that this is probably going to be totally meaningless, or nearly so. First of all, there does not seem to be any hard consequences to Vietnam if they ignore it. The corporations certainly won’t care. The TPP gives all the benefits to the Vietnamese government up front. The real political concern here is getting the TPP through Congress. Once that happens, what’s the enforcement mechanism? If there was an enforcement mechanism and–most importantly–if workers themselves could access that mechanism and file complaints–then it would be a good thing. As is, this will probably go the way of other labor provisions in these big trade agreements and do almost nothing. It’s also worth noting, since the evangelists of free trade never actually ask workers in other countries what they think, that the Vietnamese labor movement opposes the TPP because it feels that it will make it harder for them to improve the conditions of workers.

Speaking of such things, this is a good place to remind people of my talk tonight in Providence at AS220 at 5:30 (although really at 6). I talked about the TPP with RI Future if you want to get a preview.

Take the Long Range Strike Aircraft Out Your Carrier

[ 5 ] November 18, 2015 |
CVA-42 approach 1970s DN-SP-04-08721.JPEG

USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42) approach, 1970s. USN photo, licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

My latest at the Diplomat looks at one of the more impressive recent salvos in the ongoing Carrier Wars:

Jerry Hendrix traces the history of the carrier air wing, with emphasis on how the World War II experience led American naval aviators to appreciate the need for long range attack aircraft. Especially late in the war, the effectiveness of Japanese land-based kamikaze aircraft helped create interest in longer range attack planes, which in turn drove an increase in deck and ship size. This culminated in the mid-1970s, when US carrier wings could boast the long-range F-14 interceptor and the A-6 strike aircraft, as well as organic aerial refueling capabilities.

Interest Rates

[ 136 ] November 18, 2015 |


I’m surprised the Federal Reserve hasn’t raised interest rates yet as it’s been rumored for a good year. But the time is coming, despite Janet Yellen doing some work to forestall it thus far. And it is a bad idea because not only is inflation not a problem, but the underlying economic factors that are creating problems for the middle class can’t even be addressed if we don’t raise rates, not to mention if we do. Robert Kuttner:

That said, even if the Fed kept interest rates at effectively zero for another year, it’s increasingly clear that monetary policy alone is not sufficient to get unemployment rates down to where they need to be—or to translate falling jobless rates into raises for workers. During the past few decades, there have been momentous changes in the structure of employment.

Unions are weaker than they have been since before the Wagner Act of 1935. The combination of outsourcing, union-busting, and the creation of part time, temp, contract, and on-demand jobs as the new normal means that a low nominal unemployment rate doesn’t produce the pressure for wage increases that it once did.

Plus, the Obama administration has colluded with the Republicans in believing that we need more deficit reduction. So liberal monetary policy collides with overly tight fiscal policy, as well as trade policy that will promote more outsourcing and export of good jobs.

In short, unless we get major reforms in labor markets, to protect workers from the on-demand economy, plus massive public investment to create millions of good jobs, whether monetary policy is a little tighter or a little looser won’t be a game changer. Still, raising rates eliminates one of the few sources of economic stimulus that we have.

The fact that inflation phobia has been consistently disproven by events for seven years has not stopped the monetary hawks. The fact that a progressive economist like Yellen has been prodded into embracing a rate hike is testament to the immense undertow of the conventional wisdom.

But inflation!!!!!!! It’s always 1978 for the economists.


[ 39 ] November 18, 2015 |

The GOP may be meaner than a trip of rabid stoats, but that’s politics for ya.

You might think this observation scarcely warrants a Tweet. But that’s because you’re not professional wordmeister Chris Cillizza. He managed to spin it into an article.

Which … is very much summarized by the Tweet.

It’s a living. I guess.


If You Stand for Nothing, What Do You Fall For?

[ 207 ] November 17, 2015 |

The Democrats could take Kevin Drum’s advice and get to the right of Ben Wittes, or they could not:

As readers of this site know, I do not hang out, intellectually or emotionally, in the human rights clubhouse. I defend non-criminal detention. I believe actively in robust surveillance authorities. I have no moral or legal qualms about military commissions. I don’t mind drone strikes. I’ll even—still—cop to harboring mixed feelings about coercive interrogations in the highest-stakes cases. #SorryNotSorry.

But turning our backs on refugees? Count me the heck out.

There is a critical moral line here; there is also an important strategic line…

Let’s start with the moral point: Unlike the many tough and controversial tactics the Bush and Obama administrations have used in combatting terrorism, what’s going on now involves action directed at concededly innocent people. Even the CIA’s interrogation program waterboarded people believed to be Al Qaeda’s senior operational leadership. The tens of thousands of people governors are pledging to keep out of their states are, by contrast, innocent victims of the very people we are fighting. Nobody contests this. Nobody argues that they are, in fact, an army of ISIS operatives. The concern, rather, is that some tiny percentage of them will be sleeper operatives infiltrated into a much larger group of people deserving of our protection.

I would make an analogy here to throwing out babies with bathwater, except that it would be in poor taste. We’re dealing with real babies, after all.

I’d go with “not.”

Shorter Chris Christie: “Nits Make Lice”

[ 23 ] November 17, 2015 |


Above: New Jersey governor Chris Christie

Christ, what an asshole.

Gov. Chris Christie on Monday said the United States should not admit any refugees from the Syrian civil war — not even “orphans under age 5.”

“I do not trust this administration to effectively vet the people who are supposed to be coming in in order to protect the safety and security of the American people, so I would not permit them in,” the Republican presidential candidate said on conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt’s syndicated radio show.

Some 12 million Syrians have been forced from their homes due to Syria’s raging civil war, with half of them children, according to the Christian relief charity, WorldVision. More than 4.2 million Syrians have fled for countries like Turkey, Germany, Jordan and Lebanon, according the U.N.

When asked about this on Monday night, Christie at first demurred, saying that “we can come up with 18 different scenarios.”

Then, he said: “The fact is that we need for appropriate vetting, and I don’t think that orphans under 5 should be admitted to the United States at this point.”

“We need to put the safety and security of the American people first,” Christie said.

This immediately reminded me of one John Chivington, who said this when ordering his troops slaughter the Cheyenne and Arapaho at the Sand Creek Massacre.

Some regular army officers protested that to attack the peaceable village would betray the army’s pledge of safety. Chivington ignored them. “Damn any man who sympathizes with Indians,” he said. “Kill and scalp all, big and little; nits make lice.” He ordered the attack.

Nits make lice. Better keep all the little towelheads out. I think that will be on the Republican platform next year.

….I see Scott beat me to the punch. Great minds and the like.

Finally, Someone Willing to Set Priorities

[ 21 ] November 17, 2015 |

Republican presidential candidate in the formal sense Chris Christie has things to say:


As the GOP presidential hopefuls compete to see who can strike the toughest, most macho-looking anti-immigrant pose, we’ve witnessed Donald Trump’s “Operation Wetback,” thrilled to Ben Carson’s plan to Make Mexico Great Again, and heard Marco Rubio say “We can’t. We just can’t.” But here comes swaggering dicknose Chris Christie to deliver the hard truths those other pussies won’t: Not even an orphaned Syrian four-year-old would be allowed into the U.S. on his watch.

“The fact is that we need for appropriate vetting,” he told Hugh Hewitt Monday, “And I don’t think orphans under five should be admitted into the United States at this point. They have no family here, how are we gonna care for these folks?”

Maybe three-year-old orphans are TROJAN HORSES! We can’t be too careful! Besides, any money that goes to war orphans cannot be funneled to developers of failed casino projects.

Gun Rights are White Rights

[ 61 ] November 17, 2015 |


Another reminder that gun rights are a euphemism for white rights:

A Texas state legislator wants the U.S. to stop allowing Syrian refugees into the country. His reasoning: They might be able to buy guns in his state.

Rep. Tony Dale (R) made this argument in a television interview on Monday and in letters to Texas’ U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz (R) and U.S. Reps. Michael McCaul and John Carter (R).

“While the Paris attackers used suicide vests and grenades,” Dale wrote, “it is clear that firearms also killed a large number of innocent victims. Can you imagine a scenario were [sic] a refugees [sic] is admitted to the United States, is provided with federal cash payments and other assistance, obtains a drivers license and purchases a weapon and executes an attack?” He urged the lawmakers to “do whatever you can to stop the [Syrian refugee] program.”

But Dale is one of the Texas legislature’s most fervent gun-rights advocates. Two weeks ago, he tweeted his National Rifle Association membership renewal. In accepting an “A” rating from the group and the Texas State Rifle Association’s PAC in 2012, he observed: “Perhaps no right is more fundamental than the right to keep and bear arms.” And his campaign website vows his fealty to the Second Amendment, saying it “isn’t just an archaic document,” a “guarantor of all of our other freedoms.” And he and his colleagues in the state legislature have blocked mandatory background checks for all gun purchases.

Of course conservatives like Ronald Reagan were all about Second Amendment restrictions when it was Black Panthers carrying guns into the California statehouse and following cops to stop police brutality. And the National Rife Association was a benign hunters group until it got caught up in the white backlash to civil rights in the 1970s and transformed itself into the fanatical devotee of gun rights it is today. The modern gun rights movement and white rights movement have always been intertwined. These connections need a lot more exploration than the occasional note that some Texas state legislator is freaking out about Muslims buying guns but wants all the whites in his state to be armed to the teeth.


[ 39 ] November 17, 2015 |


Allow me to indulge in my continual project of self-promotion around Out of Sight one more time. I am speaking tomorrow evening at AS220 in Providence from 5:30-7:30 (actual speaking will begin at 6) and I hope to see some of you there. The event is being hosted by the great progressive site RI Future and they have been featuring me for a week. There’s a 3-part video interview with me you can watch. The first part is on the book, the second is on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (only 16 minutes on the TPP!!!) and the third is on my relative indifference to the Democratic primary. I also did a subsequent Q&A with Rhode Island journalist Philip Eil, which allowed me to go into my disdain for Rhode Island beer and to tell people to buy Wussy albums.

Books will be for sale and I will be happy to sign those books. You can even buy me a beer if you want. No vodka though.

Finally, you can listen to my conversation with Sarah Jaffe on the Dissent podcast, Belabored.

This is the last scheduled book event but I hopes for a couple more and will announce them if they work out. Certainly I am happy to go anywhere and talk to anyone if we can work out the travel arrangements.

…Also, Chapter 1 of the Shakezula-curated reading group on Out of Sight is happening December 3. Read away!

Page 10 of 2,149« First...89101112...203040...Last »