Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: the usa

Divided States of America

Ieri Unimondo ha pubblicato un mio articolo in cui parlo della squadra di governo selezionata da Donald Trump. Le scelte del presidente-eletto rappresentano una prima indicazione delle politiche che seguirà una volta insediatosi alla Casa Bianca. L’amministrazione voluta da Trump ha un profilo piuttosto omogeneo, essendo composta quasi esclusivamente da uomini anziani, bianchi, ricchi, filo-russi, molto di destra e convinti che il riscaldamento globale non esista. Buona fortuna.

Contested conventions

On Wednesday Fivethirtyeight published an article (It’s Still Not Clear That Donald Trump Will Get A Majority Of Delegates) explaining that Donald Trump still has on only a little more than 47 percent of the delegates allocated so far. It is possible that the withdrawal of other candidates from the race will make things increasingly easier for him, making it possible to reach the 1,237 delegates needed to secure the nomination. But what happens if he falls short?

Most delegates are pledged to candidates only for the first ballot. After that, they can vote for whoever they please and throw open the convention. So, says the Guardian today, “it would probably be anarchy“. Just like the 1924 Democratic Convention, which had to choose the candidate to challenge the Republican incumbent, President Calvin Coolidge. The Convention turned into a heated contest between a candidate who banked on support from the Ku Klux Klan, William G. McAdoo, and Governor Alfred E. Smith of New York, who was reviled by the Klan for his religion. Neither of them came close to getting two-thirds of the delegates needed for the nomination: it took 16 days to the delegated before they could agree on a compromise candidate, John W. Davis. He then went on to get only 29 percent of the vote when he ran in the general election against President Calvin Coolidge.

Four years later, Governor Smith won the Democratic nomination, but the Klan awaited him as he crossed the country, burning crosses and spreading lies. The Democratic party lost those presidential elections too, the fourth in a row. Such a spectacular streak of electoral defeats resulting from internal splinters sounds familiarly sinister to the G.O.P., which has produced a monster out of its “wild obstructionism”, its demonisation of political institutions, its flirtation with bigotry and its “racially tinged derangement syndrome” over President Barack Obama. Now that monster is strong enough to destroy the party.

A good night for marijuana

Republican Party candidates, who had transformed the mid-term elections in a referendum over the Obama administration, slaughtered their Democratic opponents in last night American Senate’s mid-term elections winning 21 of the 33 seats that were contested. They now have a strong majority in the Chamber (they already did before the election) and in the Senate (they did not), leaving very little room of manoeuvre to President Obama for the last two years of his mandate.

the US 2014 mid-term results

So much good news for the Grand Old Party. Indeed, last night was a success for the Republicans, but it was a good night for marijuana too, and for minimum wage. In the referendums held in many states, alongside the Senate elections, voters in Arkansas, Nebraska and Illinois decided to raise the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to 9, 8,50 and $10 respectively. In Oregon, the District of Columbia and Alaska citizens voted in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use – joining Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana had been allowed a few months ago. Paradoxically, while the Republicans have been tightening their stance on immigration and public debt over the last few years, they are now back in power at a time when the US is becoming more progressive than ever on social and civil issues. In his effective op-ed, Alessio Marchionna argued that if the Republicans want to capitalize on the success of the mid-term elections and aspire to the presidency in 2016, they will have to change along with the rest of American society.

Very European indeed

These last few weeks were, as I believe you people say, a bust. I had some exciting times around the referendum on independence, I wrote a few things, I walked a lot, I ran, and I definitely made good use of Scotland’s driest September in over fifty years. Quite importantly, also, I met very fine people from different parts of Europe. Most notably among these, I would like to mention two promising academics who belong to the powerful EUI connection: Dejan, who finished his PhD in 2012 and worked as a postdoc here in Edinburgh for two years before becoming my mentor, wing-man, and flatmate; and Pedro, who finished his PhD in 2013 and worked as a postdoc in the UK’s fourth biggest city for one year before meeting me in a shady bar and offering me a gentleman’s hospitality in Glasgow over the weekend.

Speaking about Glasgow, I am must state right away that my writing at the moment is influenced by the 2014 Ryder Cup that is taking place a few miles from here on the PGA Centenary Course at the Gleneagles Hotel near Auchterarder, Scotland. For those of you who are not familiar with it, the Ryder Cup is a biennial men’s golf competition between teams from Europe and the United States.  The current holder is Europe, who won at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois in 2012 by a score of 14½ points to 13½, having overturned a four-point deficit going into the final day’s play, as it was duly though only incidentally noticed on this blog. The Ryder Cup is the biggest golf event in the world and to my knowledge it is also the only sport event where Europe plays united as a continent.

ryder cup 2014

So this is supposed to be about the how, and why, and what it takes to be European. The reason why I bring this up is because while spending time with Dejan and Pedro and all the other good people I met here I realized that there is one defining feature of my character and this is really about relying on the others. Put it simply, if I have been able to pursue the things I like in my life is because somebody else gave me a great help along the way. I suppose this is a very European ideal.

In fact, the idea that you owe your success to others does not go down well with other political cultures. In the US, for instance, during the run-up to the 2012 election President Obama was criticized for his remarks about the role of government. “Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive,” the President said. “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.” President Obama was widely attacked for stifling the idea of individual success at the core of the American dream. This is not to say that everybody in the US believes in rampant individual self-reliance: I have many friends in North America who would distance themselves from this statement.

One of them is certainly Derek. Derek is a doctor I met in Brussels in 2012. We have been in touch on and off ever since. Now that he’s back in the US he sends me some reflections about the differences between the old and the new continent. In the last letter he asked me to  “watch this American car commercial so you can understand our insane culture“. The celebration of individual pursuit is indeed a core part of the American culture. There is plenty of academic evidence showing that European values differ significantly from those of the US in being less individualistic. It is no accident that one of the most magnificent works in political science explains that the success of democracy in American is primarily  due to the fact that Americans are radical, unencumbered individualists.

American cowbody VS relaxed Frenchman

I love the contrast of this picture: Team USA Zach ‘Robocop’ Johnson VS Team Europe Victor ‘Obelix’ Duboisson

What is it about Europeans that makes reliance on the others more appealing than it is in the US? As a nerdy social scholar, I am tempted to say it is because while in the US people begin identifying with America’s customs and its celebration of individual pursuit at a young age, Europeans are shaped by millennia-old disputes over territory and sovereignty, tribalism, and the EU, not to mention the Champions League. Dealing with diversity and learn how to live with it is part of what we do – and here is the connection with my experience with Dejan and Pedro. In this Ryder Cup, Europe’s 12 players were drawn from eight different countries – with six different languages. Bringing these cultures together to form a cohesive unit is a real challenge. Europe’s captain recently gave a very practical example: one of the players, Sweden’s Peter Hanson, likes to eat dinner at 6:30 p.m. Then we had Miguel Ángel Jiménez, one of the Vice-Captains, who’s quite the opposite. He likes to eat at 11:00 p.m., because that’s the Spanish culture. So, to bridge this gap, the European Team always has a running buffet from 6:00 p.m. till midnight. That’s one way we have of incorporating everybody, whatever their culture or personal preference.

Better than other cultures

Academic surveys about differences between European and other values show other differences too. One of these is that the majority of European do not believe their culture to be superior to others. In fact, I do not think that European values are any better than others. There are plenty of lessons Europe should learn from other cultures. And indeed there are many things that make it complicated to speak of a cohesive European sense of being. But on one important respect, the conviction that my personal realization fundamentally depends on the collaboration and help from the others, I feel happily and convincingly European.

Was Cheney right?

After Barack Obama was elected to his first term as President but before he took the oath of office, Vice-President Dick Cheney gave an exit interview to Rush Limbaugh. Under George W. Bush, Cheney was the architect, along with his legal counsel, David Addington, of a dramatic expansion of executive authority—a power grab that Obama criticized, fiercely, on the campaign trail, and promised to “reverse.” But when Limbaugh inquired about this criticism Cheney swatted it aside, saying, “My guess is that, once they get here and they’re faced with the same problems we deal with every day, they will appreciate some of the things we’ve put in place.”

What is happening on the other shore of the ocean is intriguing. This post by the New Yorker is just one out of many provocations that will ignite debate on such a broad range of issues. First about Obama’s presidency: is Obama is risking political damage that will get in the way of the rest of his term in office? Is his second term in the office going to be killed stone dead by issues of security and intelligence? thus far, all the major scandals, from Benghazi to the datagate, including the very recent cover-ups of internal investigations, have involved security services and intelligence. Also, I find it somehow fascinating that the political narrative has switched so quickly from security (between 2001 and, say, 2008) to economy (2008-2013) and now it seems we are back with security again as the most important issue on the agenda.

There is, obviously, much more than that. People may blame an administration for wire-taping calls and email, but at times they seem to forget that this is the price you have to pay if you want to fight terrorism. Surveillance and such techniques, although invasive and potentially dangerous, have prevented several terrorism attacks. But are these “modest encroachments on privacy” a fair price to pay? This, I believe, is a fascinating debate which is about terrorism, privacy, and trust in government.

And then there’s the whole discussion about transparency and use of the data. As Juliane Assange, Edward Snowden is a fascinating guy. He definitely has some charisma, doesn’t he? And, of course, he makes a point, which makes me think of Michael Focault’s Surveiller et Punir (Discipline and Punish). As suggested by the New Yorker, surveillance technologies are like a loaded weapon—one that may not have been misused so far, but that could be any day.

Wide right turns

I am sick of all these people saying that ‘Obama did nothing at all’. I was not among those supporting his presidency: initially, when everyone was cheering Obama I was supporting McCain.

Then, starting from summer 2008 I started realizing that he was actually meaning what he was saying with stunning capacity. Obviously, if you judge him from outside it is easy to get disappointed. As pointed out by Nicholas Kristof on the NYT, ‘President Obama came into office with expectations that Superman couldn’t have met. Many on the left believed what the right feared: that Obama was an old-fashioned liberal’. Surely, Obama did not revolutionize the country, nor world politics. But he accomplished a huge list of achievements. For this reason, saying that he did nothing at all is plainly not sense.

Here’s a list I draw of the very main things he did (sources: one and two).

Read the rest of this entry »

Jobs, jobs, jobs (and a flavor of art)

While the fall of unemployment in the US leaves a sweet scent of re-election (cit. Old Tom), I was quite amused by the art-works from the ‘Obama for America 2012 campaign’. Check it out.