10 Old Fashioned Dating Habits We Should Make Cool Again

1. Coming to the door to pick someone up.

I think we’ve all had it with the incredibly unromantic “here” text, and meeting up always seems to be more casual and platonic than the alternative. Of course, meeting someone from online or any circumstance like that would probably be the exception to this rule, but generally: the 30 seconds it takes to get out of a car or cab and knock on the door makes a huge difference.

2. Trying to dress really nicely for a date.

“Nicely” means different things for different people, so I think it’s just a matter of putting effort into how you put yourself together to go out with someone. It’s not about wearing suits and petticoats again, but just realizing that, whether or not we like to accept it, appearance does count for something, and we should do our best to make sure that our appearance says something about us, in whatever way we’d like it to.

3. Bringing flowers or other tokens of affection to the first date.

Now, many lucky ladies (and some men) I know get this regularly, and in fact, I have myself as well, but only ever with people I’d been dating for a while. I think there’s something to be said for bringing flowers to the door on your first date. It’s become uncool because it’s forward and it’s a gesture that confirms their interest, but we should definitely get past that idea and worry more about how we’re going to let someone know we really do care and appreciate that they want to spend time with us.

4. Going dancing that’s not grinding on a grimy club floor.

Whatever happened to this? Dancing for the sake of dancing, like fun, not essentially sex on a dance floor dancing. What’s a better way to literally shake off nerves than seeing them bust a really dorky move on a dance floor? And the art of slow dancing has generally been lost, though I’ve been one to do it in my living room with my slightly coerced significant other, and I’ll tell you he’s said on numerous occasions it ended up being one of the most romantic nights we had together.

5. Straightforwardly asking someone out and not calling it “hanging out.”

Or, as is very popular these days, “talking.” “Oh, we’re just… talking.” As in, seeing one another and speaking frequently as to get to know each other? So… dating? We’ve found these really convenient ways to skirt around the issue of having to put our hearts on the line, but honestly, it just ends up being messy and confusing for all parties involved. There’s no need to go back to the idea of courting or anything, unless you want to, but simply being direct about whether or not you’d like to go on a date with someone is a truly lost art, one that really shouldn’t be.

6. Additionally, being clear about when you’re “going steady.”

Oh, the awkward, “so… are we… you know… what are we?” talk. Classic. We should go back to asking one another if the other person would like to “go steady” or something. There’s something about asking them if they’d like to rather than assuming that you are or aren’t anything that’s just very cute, in my opinion.

7. Romantic gestures like writing poems.

Writing poems may not be for you, I know mine would look something like “Roses are red, violets are blue, I hate poetry but I love you.” I literally just made that up thank you please quote me when you inevitably post that gem on Tumblr. But seriously, like a handwritten letter in the mail or just surprising them with something you made even if it looks like the macaroni necklace you made when you were 5 is cute just because you tried and were thinking of them.

8. Turning electronics off and just being with one another.

I’m not sure there is anything worse than the person who picks up their phone and starts staring at it in the middle of dinner, or at any point while you’re together and having a conversation. I’m not anti-technology here (hello, I work for the Internet) but I am saying that there comes a time to turn it off and disconnect and remember what actually matters. People.

9. The general concept of asking permission for things.

It used to be principle for people to say: oh, when can I see you? Or, when could I call you? Rather than just assuming they can at any point. But I think that old concept could be applied to our modern world by just assuming that, unless told otherwise, you should ask permission to you know, touch them , take them out, call them at a certain time, etc. Once you’re in a relationship these things usually don’t require asking anymore, but some do, especially when it comes to sexuality. I once knew a person who said that they asked permission before so much as touching a girl’s thigh, and that always stuck with me.

10. Not assuming sex is to be had at point in time.

Now, I’m certainly not saying it should go back to being a taboo that’s unspoken of, but we certainly shouldn’t expect it from someone on the third date, on the first date, because they’re being flirty, because you know they’re into you, or even because they agreed to go out with you. A date does not have to be a precursor to sex, and you shouldn’t be disappointed if it isn’t because you should never assume that it will be. It depends on the person you’re with and what they want to do.

Read more: http://thoughtcatalog.com/kate-bailey/2013/12/10-old-fashioned-dating-habits-we-should-make-cool-again/

Henry David Thoreau by Laura Dassow Walls review radical, unsettling, relevant

A superb new biography of the seer of Walden Pond reconsiders his reputation as tax-refuser, recluse, environmentalist and writer

In March 1845, Henry David Thoreau borrowed an axe and set off for Walden Pond, near his home in Concord, Massachusetts. He was going to build a hut, and he knew exactly where: on a spot near the water, backed by a pine grove and fronted by smaller pines and a chestnut tree. Before stopping for his first lunch break, Thoreau had cut and trimmed enough of these pines to make the houses main timbers.

Then he paid $4.28 to buy a shanty from a railroad worker who was moving on the line had just been built past Walden Pond. Thoreau dismantled it and dried its planks in the sun to become the huts roof and sides. He laid a chimney foundation using cobblestones from the pond. When he finished the house that autumn, it had weatherproof shingles on the outside, neat plastering inside and a few carefully counted possessions: three chairs, a desk, one cup, two forks. He planted rows of potatoes, corn and peas and miles of white beans making the earth say beans instead of grass, as he put it. The project had begun: Thoreau would live there, dedicating himself to the principle of simplicity. He would observe nature and write.

The idea had come from his friend and neighbour, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said a writer must have a hideaway. Walden was an obvious choice: Thoreau knew it well, and had spent lazy days in his youth drifting in boats on the pond, playing his flute. Now, he had a more serious purpose. He lived for two years in the hut, then spent a further seven working up his notes for publication. When he produced Walden, he made the earth say a lot more than beans. This cranky, observant, mystical, polemical, exhilarating masterpiece became a classic of 19th-century Americana, studied by schoolchildren and stuffed into pockets for journeys on the road with generations of young idealists. Through this and his essay Civil Disobedience, which urged non-violent political resistance and the principled withholding of taxes, Thoreau called on Americans to tune in, drop out and seize control.

Walden had a rousing effect on me when I first read it. It still does, but I now find it disquieting, too. Besides nature lovers, Thoreau speaks to a spirit of refusal that runs through the modern US (and elsewhere). This spirit rejects political institutions, large-scale civic structures and tax-paying, in favour of holing up in a woodland fastness following only ones raw sense of personal rightness. It unnerves me to read the famous line in Civil Disobedience, That government is best which governs not at all. It sounded good once; now it evokes the kind of thinking that considers public healthcare an evil.

Others have raised milder doubts. After Walden came out, Thoreaus friends and critics alike voiced surprise at the books portrayal of a proud recluse, when they knew that Thoreau had gone on doing regular handyman work around Concord during those years, as well as popping home once a week for dinner prepared by the family cook. Friends visited him all the time, despite his lack of a full set of forks. He was a frequent visitor to other households so much so that Emersons young son Edward was surprised to learn that Thoreau had been officially resident at the pond during a time when he thought the writer was living with them.

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Dedicated to simplicity a replica of Thoreaus house on Walden Pond. Photograph: Alamy

In her superb new biography, Laura Dassow Walls defuses such cavils with a wry, understated humour. No other male American writer, she says, has been so discredited for enjoying a meal with loved ones or for not doing his own laundry. That quiet male is characteristic; like Thoreau, Walls lets her sharpest observations slip through to the readers consciousness without touching the sides. The observations and interpretations are not hammered home, yet they are persuasive. She gives us a Thoreau who is more interesting, more intellectually curious and more subtle than I (for one) had given him credit for despite his unsettling side, or perhaps because of it. Exploring his environmentalism and radicalism, she shows us why he might be worth reading differently in the 21st century.

The standard biographical way-stations are all covered. Walls explores Thoreaus childhood in Concord, his far from glittering years at Harvard, where he felt out of place (though he did master five languages and would spend his Walden evenings reading Homer in Greek), and his early attempts at schoolmastering. She then focuses on his writing life. Walls inspires us to read not just Walden, but his lectures, his essays and especially his journal.

This downright weird journal forms a backbone to his life and in Wallss biography is a theme in itself. He began it while under Emersons spell, opening it by quoting a question asked by his mentor: What are you doing now? Do you keep a journal? Later, his journal-keeping picked up tempo by adapting a modest volume of Nature Notes kept by his brother, John, who had died horribly from tetanus following a slight skin cut. Where John simply noted what he saw, Thoreau took it into a different dimension. Walls describes the uncanny feeling she had looking at this notebook, where Henrys raw and angular handwriting spills down the page, ripping open a vortex in Johns tidy checklist.

Later, Thoreau repurposed the journal as a professional naturalists log, but combined this with an attempt to capture every moment of each days experience, writing pencil notes almost continuously and transcribing them the next morning. (He used Thoreau family pencils, incidentally: their fortune had started from a graphite find, and he continued to work out ways of refining the pencils hardness.) By delicately juxtaposing her stories, Walls implies an intriguing possibility as to why this shift of style may have occurred. At around the same time, his friend Margaret Fuller had died in a shipwreck with her family, leaving Thoreau in grief. He wrote to himself: If you can drive a nail, and have any nails to drive, drive them … Be native to the universe. Perhaps, faced as well with the loss of his brother, Thoreau was attempting the impossible with his journal: to capture and preserve every scrap of experienced existence before it vanished.

Walls biography allows Thoreau to breathe his own air on her pages, while turning her critical gaze on each of the public roles he played as political activist, mystic, tax refuser and environmentalist. In the end, they all come together in Thoreau the writer the person who said: A man writing is the scribe of all nature he is the corn and the grass and the atmosphere writing.

Writing, for Thoreau, meant living with full attention and awareness living deliberately at every moment, in the sense of applying proper deliberation to his life. It meant, Walls says, living so as to perceive and weigh the moral consequences of our choices. If this isnt a reason to see Thoreau as a man with something to say to our times, I dont know what is.

Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Dassow Walls (Chicago, 26.50). To order a copy, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min. p&p of 1.99.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/aug/10/henry-david-thoreau-a-life-by-laura-dassow-walls-review

Luc Besson on turning Rihanna into a 28th-century Cleopatra and being stood up by Prince

From The Fifth Element to Lucy, Bessons gender-splicing sci-fi films have never played by Hollywoods rules. Now hes taking the biggest gamble of his career by sending Cara Delevingne into space in Valerian

No one needs a hit right now more than Luc Besson. His production company, EuropaCorp, recently posted record losses of $135m. He was ordered last year to pay nearly half a million dollars after being found guilty of plagiarising John Carpenters Escape from New York in his 2012 screenplay Lockout. And his new futuristic adventure, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, is the most expensive independent movie ever made, with a budget of around $200m. The film needs to crack at least $400m worldwide (like his Scarlett Johansson action fantasy Lucy) to push the company back into the black. Right now, that looks as far fetched as any of the films 28th-century intergalactic escapades. Valerian had a dismal $17m opening weekend in the US last month. In Germany, it landed in third place behind Despicable Me 3, which had already been on release for three weeks.

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Luc Besson. Photograph: Lee Jin-man/AP

There are glimmers of hope. France welcomed the movie enthusiastically last week, as it usually does with anything by the Parisian film-maker, giving it the second-best opening day of the year. But these are still fraught times for Besson. Its difficult launching a film like this, the embattled 58-year-old director says when we meet in a London hotel. The big studios dont leave you any room. They love to take all the space. He is a stocky bear of a man but today he looks small and sheepish with unkempt hair, a more-salt-than-pepper beard and a T-shirt bearing the title of the movie on which his reputation rests.

Besson had tried to get Valerian made for seven years. Its my baby. Probably my most important one. He gives a soft heh-heh. Its kind of crazy. Adapted from the comic strip Valrian and Laureline, the film presents a jubilant, noisy, gaily-coloured alien world. Flirting and bickering their way through it are a pair of young law enforcers, played by Dane DeHaan and Cara Delevingne, investigating an attack on a peaceful planet. The movie opens with a warmly funny montage of interspecies etiquette, as scientists and astronauts encounter various alarming extraterrestrial counterparts throughout the centuries.

Thats the stuff that makes it real. I wanted to imagine the future positively. Today people look around them and say, Oh shes black or hes homosexual or this one is too old, this one too young. Theres always some barrier to make others difficult to be with. Imagine now that we have to deal with 8,000 different species coming from space. Suddenly anyone terrestrial will look like my brother. So the film is my way of saying, Are you sure its so difficult to live together? Really? How comfortable will you feel when you have to deal with these guys?

Bessons equally out-there 1997 adventure The Fifth Element was progressive in its view of race and gender, placing in the traditional damsel-in-distress role a priapic African-American man (Chris Tucker). The new film goes further, enabling several characters to personify male and female simultaneously. Society is structured around the differences between men and women, but if you have too much difference, there is trouble. I think the artistic part is more feminine. I have the feeling that I have been using that side of myself since I was 10. That was the age he got hooked on Valrian and Laureline. It was the first time I had ever seen a couple where the woman was so in charge. That was a big influence. He grins. Look at me. I am like the guy who cuts down trees in Canada. A lumberjack? Yes! Im the lumberjack. But inside I have the sensitivity of a woman.

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Chris Tucker in The Fifth Element. Photograph: Allstar/GAUMONT

This claim is hard to reconcile with the man who bashes out coarse action thrillers beginning with T: Taxi, Taken and Transporter can all be attributed to, or blamed on, him. Thats Besson in hack mode, as a one-man script factory, whereas the films he chooses to direct (such as the hippy-dippy diving drama The Big Blue and the hitman buddy movie Lon) tend to be more nuanced. There is certainly tenderness in Valerian, which is dedicated to the directors father, who died last year. It was Besson pre who first introduced him to the Valrian and Laureline comics. I dont think he ever offered me a novel in his whole life, he laughs. But he bought me so many comic books. Another absent figure looming large over the movie is David Bowie, whose song Space Oddity rings out during the opening sequence. I was trying to find a good moment to call him to show him how the song fitted into the film but he died before I got a chance.

They last met when Bowie provided one of the voices for Bessons animated adventure Arthur and the Invisibles. Indeed, the director has a penchant for directing musical performers, including Rihanna and Herbie Hancock in Valerian and Madonna, Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and Snoop Dogg in Arthur and its two sequels. The Fifth Element also featured a cameo by Tricky and very nearly starred Prince in the Chris Tucker role.

Ah, Prince, sighs Besson, ruefully. I love him but it was impossible. He said yes to the part. You make a meeting for Monday at noon and he turns up on Tuesday at six. Or he cancels three times. Always so charming and sweet but the reality of musicians doesnt fit with film. I warned him a few times and he said, But this is my tempo. Finally, I asked him: Do you mind if we just do something less big another time? Working with Rihanna, who plays the shape-shifting dancer Bubble in Valerian, was more straightforward . He took particular pride in getting her to deliver lines from Anthony and Cleopatra. For me thats the ultimate pleasure Rihanna, the queen of music, as Cleopatra. Its the sort of mix I love. We can all listen to reggae music in Greenland while eating sushi. We are allowed to do whatever we like!

If this is Besson thumbing his nose at critics who accuse him of being lowbrow, then it wont be the first time. In his 2013 black comedy The Family, Michelle Pfeiffer blows up a shop in rural France because the owner is heard disparaging America. I am Michelle in that scene, he says. Ive heard so many French people saying, Oh, the Americans dont have culture. I want to say, When is the last time you went to the Louvre? Shut up!

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Jean-Marc Barr and Jean Reno in The Big Blue. Photograph: Columbia/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

His career can partly be explained as a populist lashing out against the cinephile country of his birth but it is also the revenge of the nerd. Bessons parents divorced when he was a child and dumped him in a boarding school while they started families with their new partners. When he realised he wanted to make films, he was mocked by his friends. They said: Oh, youre gonna work with Alain Delon, are you? He felt completely alone. Youre by yourself. Youre too weird for girls. The two subjects I could talk about were dolphins and movies. The girls actually ran away when they saw me.

Out of these feelings of isolation came his witty 1983 debut, The Last Battle, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland populated by mute, scavenging survivors. The first scene shows the hero having sex with an inflatable doll, a moment I had always taken to be a screw-you to the establishment which had denied Besson entry to film school because his influences (Spielberg, Scorsese, Milo Forman) were too mainstream. But he corrects me. The message of that scene was exactly the same as Valerians: look after what youve got before you lose it. It was a way of saying to people: Be careful. If you destroy everything, this is what youll be left with. Earth will be dying and you will be all alone, fucking a plastic Barbie.

Perhaps that message extends also to Bessons own future. A bruising for Valerian would still knock the stuffing out of EuropaCorp. But thats unlikely to hamper someone as passionate and eccentric as Besson: he has been making films for too long now to start playing it safe. My dreams are my dreams, he says proudly. I wanted to do Valerian for the longest time. I wondered, Can I do it? But once I get started, Im like the English foxhound: I will never let go.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/03/luc-besson-valerian-interview-cara-delevingne-rihanna

Big Sur, Californias most scenic coast, reopens to hikers only

The picturesque highway from San Francisco to LA was battered by floods last winter, but an emergency walking route for residents is now a tempting trail for hikers too

The coastal drive along Highway 1 between San Francisco and Los Angeles is one of the worlds great, classic trips. Anyone planning on doing it anytime soon, however, is missing a vital piece of information: you cant. Around 35 miles of the highways best-loved stretch, Big Sur, have been closed since February, after winter rains caused the Pfeiffer Canyon bridge to the north to collaspe and swept large parts of the road into the ocean to the south.

Big Sur map

With the only road in or out cut off, residents have been stranded in the middle, and the only tourists getting in were the mega-rich who could afford a helicopter. But Big Sur has finally found a way to reopen to everyone if you dont mind a bit of adventure.

To help those marooned, an emergency hiking trail was dug into surrounding woodland so residents could at least buy groceries; unauthorised hikers were subject to fines. But since 1 July, its also been a way for tourists to get in. The trails purpose has expanded to include helping the economy, which is losing thousands of dollars every day.

Hiking
Sur thing Hiking trails at Pfeiffer Big Sur state park, California. Photograph: Alamy

It was a perfect summer day when I hit the trail, which entails a steep half-mile climb up a hillside. Signs at the trailhead warn of rattlesnakes. Still, this is how the kids get to school, so no excuses. And though I spent half an hour plodding up switchbacks, the towering redwoods and green Santa Lucia Mountains rewarded the effort.

I emerged on to a silent highway, right where the bridge is being rebuilt. Its usually a route for hundreds of thousands of people a week, but today youre more likely to meet a deer than a car. Locals recently spotted a mountain lion wandering the road.

Pfeiffer
Pfeiffer Canyon in high summer

Helping visitors get to the emergency trail is a dedicated shuttle bus, run by a local operator. Trying to book gives you a measure of Big Surs remoteness: phone reception is limited. You fill in an online form and can expect a reply within 72 hours. This may be California, but its not Silicon Valley.

Make the effort, though, and youll be rewarded. Nepenthe, a cliffside restaurant known for its bohemian scene and two-hour waits, went from serving 1,000 people a day to 30 when it was totally isolated. It sees 250 a day now the trail is open. It really is a unique and special time to see Big Sur in all its beautiful glory, said third-generation owner Kirk Gafill. If you want a once-in-a-lifetime experience, take advantage now.

Kirk is also president of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, and estimates that about 450 tourists a day are using the trail. But not all businesses are benefiting: the historic Deetjens Big Sur Inn remains closed, unconvinced people will hike their luggage over.

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Henry Miller Memorial Library

The Henry Miller Memorial Library, dedicated to the risque author who put the region on the map, is usually like a little United Nations, its director Magnus Toren told me. People from all over the world hang out on the lawn, drinking coffee, playing music, reading books. Now, with a smaller number of people to tempt through the doors, its future feels uncertain. The majority of people dont spend too much time worrying about the culture of the area and some dead author, Toren shrugged.

But there are more reasons to return to Big Sur, with two star attractions reopening. The popular campground at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park reopened on 1 July, following the opening of some of its smaller trails in May. The park, loved for its redwood groves and rushing rivers, was closed for a year after this winters rainfall and last summers massive Soberanes fire wreaked havoc . (Were hoping famine and pestilence arent next, quipped Rob OKeefe, from the tourist board of Monterey County.) The campground is already near capacity every night. Wildly photogenic Pfeiffer Beach, also cut off by landslides, will be accessible by August.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2017/jul/27/big-sur-reopens-after-floods-hiking-trail

Paradise Lost ‘translated more often in last 30 years than previous 300’

Global study finds Miltons verse epic rendered in languages from Tamil to Tongan, and argues interest is linked to social turmoil and political revolutions

Three hundred and fifty years after it was first published, John Miltons epic revolutionary poem about the fall of man, Paradise Lost, continues to find relevance around the world, with research revealing that new translations in the last 30 years outnumber the previous three centuries output combined.

More than 50 academics around the world collaborated to research a new book, Milton in Translation, discovering that the works of the 17th-century author have been translated more than 300 times and into 57 different languages. These range from Faroese and Manx to Tamil and Tongan, from Persian and Hebrew to Frisian and Welsh.

The scholars, led by Purdue Universitys Professor Angelica Duran, Birmingham City Universitys Dr Islam Issa, and Grand Canyon Universitys Dr Jonathan Olson, found that translations of Paradise Lost often mirror[ed] periods of rebellious ideology or nationalism. In Soviet Estonia, the translation was an act of national resistance against the USSR, they said, while in the Middle East, translations took place during the Arab spring uprisings. Yugoslavian political prisoner Milovan Djilas translated Paradise Lost into Serbo-Croatian in the 1960s while he was imprisoned, writing the epic out on toilet paper with a pencil, and smuggling it out of prison.

We were surprised by the number of languages [Milton] is translated into, said Issa. We expected lots of translations of Paradise Lost, but we didnt expect so many different languages, and so many which arent spoken by millions of people, such as Manx. You assume Spanish or French, but you dont assume Welsh and Manx.

Paradise Lost is, according to Issa, a very universal story Adam and Eve, the fall its timeless. And with Milton specifically, there is the revolutionary nature of his writing. He was a republican who played a part in the execution of Charles I, he was anti-Catholic, and theres his characterisation of Satan, trying to revolt against God the father. As a result, at times of political and religious struggle, such as countries trying to move away from Soviet rule, or the Middle East during the Arab spring, people are translating these revolutionary ideas.

First published in 1667, the blank verse Paradise Lost tells of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit / Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste / Brought Death into the World, and all our woe, / With loss of Eden. Miltons Satan is cast out from heaven with his rebel angels, Hurld headlong flaming from th Ethereal Skie / With hideous ruine and combustion down / To bottomless perdition, there to dwell / In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire. He goes on to tempt Adam and Eve, and to bring about their expulsion from Eden.

Milton in Translation, which is published on Thursday by Oxford University Press, is, say the scholars, the first ever detailed research into how Milton has been translated and read across the globe. Issa said: This book shows the real reach of literature, even if its from 350 years ago. It also confirms that Miltons works, particularly Paradise Lost, have themes that are both universal and adaptable to different contexts.

He added: For me, the most fascinating thing was seeing how all around the world, religion and politics have been so closely linked with what people choose to translate and how they go about it. There were many common trends. So readers going through independence took real interest in Miltons revolutionary ideas. Or, interestingly, translators in Egypt, Estonia and Spain from completely different times self-censored the exact same sexual scenes.

Issa said: I think he should be more widely read. Paradise Lost is possibly the most important poem in the language. It affects so much of what comes after it. He is the first poet to not use rhyme, to not be confined by anything, and you can see the influence of that today. I think we are missing out if we are not realising his position.

The list demonstrates that around the world people are taking real interest in Milton … And here in the UK we are not doing that so much, even when his writing speaks to us today.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/jul/20/paradise-lost-translated-more-often-in-last-30-years-than-previous-300

Macron to woo Trumps in Paris with military pomp and tourism treats

French president will offer the US president and his wife dinner at the Eiffel Tower among other delights

The US president, Donald Trump, will arrive in Paris on Thursday, to be greeted with a show of military pomp by the French leader Emmanuel Macron, who has chosen to move from his aggressive first handshake and style himself as Trumps new straight-talking best friend on the international stage.

Trump, under pressure over his sons meeting with a Russian lawyer during the US election campaign, will begin a 24-hour visit to the French capital, where Macron will woo him by escorting him to Napoleons tomb, taking him to dinner at the Eiffel Tower then watching the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs Elyses.

The centrist presidents invitation to Trump might at first seem surprising, after he publicly asserted his superiority by crunching Trumps knuckles at their first meeting in May and later rebuked him for pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord.

But the invitation is part of a determined strategy by Macron, who observing the US presidents increasing isolation on the western stage has sensed an opportunity.

Christophe Castaner, a government minister and spokesman, described it as a kind of persuasive bridge-building with Trump. Sometimes Trump makes decisions we dont like, such as on climate. But we can deal with it in two ways: we can say We are not going to talk to you, or we can offer you our hand to bring you back into the circle, he said.

The invitation for a US leader to attend this years Bastille day military parade had been in the pipeline long before either Trump or Macron were elected, because 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into the first world war. Inviting foreign leaders to Bastille Day celebrations is common in France Nicolas Sarkozy even made Syrias Bashar al-Assad a guest of honour in 2008. But it was not certain Trump would accept when Macron personally re-issued the invitation in a phone call last month.

The Elyse has added what one official called a personal post-card tourism touch: instead of dining at the Elyse Palace, Macron and his wife, Brigitte, will invite the Trumps to eat a meal cooked by the chef Alain Ducasse in a restaurant at the top of the Eiffel Tower.

It is a deliberate attempt to show the French capital was still welcoming after Trump told a rally that Paris is no longer Paris following a string of terrorist attacks.

The Trump organisation has no financial interests in France and it is unclear how well the US president knows the country. He said last year that the 2015 Paris terrorist attacks would have been very different if French citizens were allowed to carry guns.

On Thursday afternoon Macron and Trump will hold more than an hour of talks at the Elyse Palace focused mainly on counter-terrorism, Syria, Iraq and French anti-jihadi military operations in north Africa. Where we have differences, we talk about them very clearly such as on climate but there are issues like counter-terrorism where we are on the same line and need close cooperation and common action, an Elyse official said.

French diplomats said Macron had been concerned about Trump feeling backed into a corner. The French leader has seen a potential opportunity to sway US thinking and elevate the role of France a nuclear power and permanent member of the UN security council in global affairs, in particular on Syria and the Middle East.

France is the second-biggest contributor to the US-led coalition in Syria and French officials had expressed concerns about what vision the US had in Syria beyond taking the military fight to Islamic State.

The two leaders are starkly different. Trump, 71, is an anti-globalist elected on a pledge to put America first. Macron, 39, believes in a kind of cosmopolitan globalism and is an ardent pro-European. Yet they share some traits both were outsiders who challenged their countrys political status quo. Trump loves a winner and although he deemed Macrons far-right rival, Marine Le Pen, the strongest candidate in Mays French presidential election, he has praised Macrons solid election score.

The military pomp of the Trump visit reflects Macrons new style of showmanship diplomacy seen when he invited Russias Vladimir Putin to the palace of Versailles. It is aimed at highlighting French prestige and grandeur and as much for his domestic audience as foreign leaders.

Macrons defiant, alpha-male handshake with Trump when they first met in Brussels in May played well at home in France. He had to show the French domestic audience he knew how to say no to America, said Philippe Roger, author of the American Enemy, a history of French anti-Americanism, adding that for Macron to be seen to be too pro-US would be the kiss of death in French politics. But he said Macron was now showing it was time to talk to Trump.

I think Macron understands very well that with Mr Trump you have to be present see him and talk to him face to face Ambassadors dont exist for Trump The only thing is to be in the same room and to talk.

Laurence Nardon, head of the US programme the French institute of international relations (IFRI) said: Macrons team tried to establish respect in the first phase and now Macron is trying to become the best buddy in the second phase. It strikes me really as quite clever. Its probably a very smart approach to deal with a bully.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/13/macron-prepares-tourist-treat-charm-offensive-for-trumps-paris

Naomi Klein: how power profits from disaster

The long read: After a crisis, private contractors move in and suck up funding for work done badly, if at all then those billions get cut from government budgets. Like Grenfell Tower, Hurricane Katrina revealed a disdain for the poor

There have been times in my reporting from disaster zones when I have had the unsettling feeling that I was seeing not just a crisis in the here and now, but getting a glimpse of the future a preview of where the road we are all on is headed, unless we somehow grab the wheel and swerve. When I listen to Donald Trump speak, with his obvious relish in creating an atmosphere of chaos and destabilisation, I often think: Ive seen this before, in those strange moments when portals seemed to open up into our collective future.

One of those moments arrived in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, as I watched hordes of private military contractors descend on the flooded city to find ways to profit from the disaster, even as thousands of the citys residents, abandoned by their government, were treated like dangerous criminals just for trying to survive.

I started to notice the same tactics in disaster zones around the world. I used the term shock doctrine to describe the brutal tactic of using the publics disorientation following a collective shock wars, coups, terrorist attacks, market crashes or natural disasters to push through radical pro-corporate measures, often called shock therapy. Though Trump breaks the mould in some ways, his shock tactics do follow a script, and one that is familiar from other countries that have had rapid changes imposed under the cover of crisis.

This strategy has been a silent partner to the imposition of neoliberalism for more than 40 years. Shock tactics follow a clear pattern: wait for a crisis (or even, in some instances, as in Chile or Russia, help foment one), declare a moment of what is sometimes called extraordinary politics, suspend some or all democratic norms and then ram the corporate wishlist through as quickly as possible. The research showed that virtually any tumultuous situation, if framed with sufficient hysteria by political leaders, could serve this softening-up function. It could be an event as radical as a military coup, but the economic shock of a market or budget crisis would also do the trick. Amid hyperinflation or a banking collapse, for instance, the countrys governing elites were frequently able to sell a panicked population on the necessity for attacks on social protections, or enormous bailouts to prop up the financial private sector because the alternative, they claimed, was outright economic apocalypse.

The Republicans under Donald Trump are already seizing the atmosphere of constant crisis that surrounds this presidency to push through as many unpopular, pro-corporate policies. And we know they would move much further and faster given an even bigger external shock. We know this because senior members of Trumps team have been at the heart of some of the most egregious examples of the shock doctrine in recent memory.

Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, has built his career in large part around taking advantage of the profitability of war and instability. ExxonMobil profited more than any oil major from the increase in the price of oil that was the result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It also directly exploited the Iraq war to defy US state department advice and make an exploration deal in Iraqi Kurdistan, a move that, because it sidelined Iraqs central government, could well have sparked a full-blown civil war, and certainly did contribute to internal conflict.

Rex
Rex Tillerson, now US secretary of state, is a former CEO of ExxonMobil. Photograph: Mike Stone/Reuters

As CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson profited from disaster in other ways as well. As an executive at the fossil fuel giant, he spent his career working for a company that, despite its own scientists research into the reality of human-caused climate change, decided to fund and spread misinformation and junk climate science. All the while, according to an LA Times investigation, ExxonMobil (both before and after Exxon and Mobil merged) worked diligently to figure out how to further profit from and protect itself against the very crisis on which it was casting doubt. It did so by exploring drilling in the Arctic (which was melting, thanks to climate change), redesigning a natural gas pipeline in the North Sea to accommodate rising sea levels and supercharged storms, and doing the same for a new rig off the coast of Nova Scotia.

At a public event in 2012, Tillerson acknowledged that climate change was happening but what he said next was revealing: as a species, humans have always adapted. So we will adapt to this. Changes to weather patterns that move crop production areas around well adapt to that.

Hes quite right: humans do adapt when their land ceases to produce food. The way humans adapt is by moving. They leave their homes and look for places to live where they can feed themselves and their families. But, as Tillerson well knows, we do not live at a time when countries gladly open their borders to hungry and desperate people. In fact, he now works for a president who has painted refugees from Syria a country where drought was an accelerant of the tensions that led to civil war as Trojan horses for terrorism. A president who introduced a travel ban that has gone a long way towards barring Syrian migrants from entering the United States.

A president who has said about Syrian children seeking asylum, I can look in their faces and say: You cant come. A president who has not budged from that position even after he ordered missile strikes on Syria, supposedly moved by the horrifying impacts of a chemical weapon attack on Syrian children and beautiful babies. (But not moved enough to welcome them and their parents.) A president who has announced plans to turn the tracking, surveillance, incarceration and deportation of immigrants into a defining feature of his administration.

Waiting in the wings, biding their time, are plenty of other members of the Trump team who have deep skills in profiting from all of that.


Between election day and the end of Trumps first month in office, the stocks of the two largest private prison companies in the US, CoreCivic (formerly the Corrections Corporation of America) and the Geo Group, doubled, soaring by 140% and 98%, respectively. And why not? Just as Exxon learned to profit from climate change, these companies are part of the sprawling industry of private prisons, private security and private surveillance that sees wars and migration both very often linked to climate stresses as exciting and expanding market opportunities. In the US, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (Ice) incarcerates up to 34,000 immigrants thought to be in the country illegally on any given day, and 73% of them are held in private prisons. Little wonder, then, that these companies stocks soared on Trumps election. And soon they had even more reasons to celebrate: one of the first things Trumps new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, did was rescind the Obama administrations decision to move away from for-profit jails for the general prison population.

Trump appointed as deputy defence secretary Patrick Shanahan, a top executive at Boeing who, at one point, was responsible for selling costly hardware to the US military, including Apache and Chinook helicopters. He also oversaw Boeings ballistic missile defence programme a part of the operation that stands to profit enormously if international tensions continue to escalate under Trump.

And this is part of a much larger trend. As Lee Fang reported in the Intercept in March 2017, President Donald Trump has weaponised the revolving door by appointing defence contractors and lobbyists to key government positions as he seeks to rapidly expand the military budget and homeland security programmes At least 15 officials with financial ties to defence contractors have been either nominated or appointed so far.

The revolving door is nothing new, of course. Retired military brass reliably take up jobs and contracts with weapons companies. Whats new is the number of generals with lucrative ties to military contractors whom Trump has appointed to cabinet posts with the power to allocate funds including those stemming from his plan to increase spending on the military, the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security by more than $80bn in just one year.

Contractors
Contractors for the US-based Blackwater private security firm in Iraq in 2005. Photograph: Marwan Naamani/AFP/Getty Images

The other thing that has changed is the size of the Homeland Security and surveillance industry. This sector grew exponentially after the September 11 attacks, when the Bush administration announced it was embarking on a never-ending war on terror, and that everything that could be outsourced would be. New firms with tinted windows sprouted up like malevolent mushrooms around suburban Virginia, outside Washington DC, and existing ones, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, expanded into brand new territories. Writing in Slate in 2005, Daniel Gross captured the mood of what many called the security bubble: Homeland security may have just reached the stage that internet investing hit in 1997. Back then, all you needed to do was put an e in front of your company name and your IPO would rocket. Now you can do the same with fortress.

That means many of Trumps appointees come from firms that specialise in functions that, not so long ago, it would have been unthinkable to outsource. His National Security Council chief of staff, for instance, is retired Lt Gen Keith Kellogg. Among the many jobs Kellogg has had with security contractors since going private was one with Cubic Defense.

According to the company, he led our ground combat training business and focus[ed] on expanding the companys worldwide customer base. If you think combat training is something armies used to do all on their own, youd be right.

One noticeable thing about Trumps contractor appointees is how many of them come from firms that did not even exist before 9/11: L-1 Identity Solutions (specialising in biometrics), the Chertoff Group (founded by George W Bushs homeland security director Michael Chertoff), Palantir Technologies (a surveillance/big data firm cofounded by PayPal billionaire and Trump backer Peter Thiel), and many more. Security firms draw heavily on the military and intelligence wings of government for their staffing.

Under Trump, lobbyists and staffers from these firms are now migrating back to government, where they will very likely push for even more opportunities to monetise the hunt for people Trump likes to call bad hombres.

This creates a disastrous cocktail. Take a group of people who directly profit from ongoing war and then put those same people at the heart of government. Whos going to make the case for peace? Indeed, the idea that a war could ever definitively end seems a quaint relic of what during the Bush years was dismissed as preSeptember 11 thinking.


And then theres vice-president Mike Pence, seen by many as the grownup in Trumps messy room. Yet it is Pence, the former governor of Indiana, who actually has the most disturbing track record when it comes to bloody-minded exploitation of human suffering.

When Mike Pence was announced as Donald Trumps running mate, I thought to myself: I know that name, Ive seen it somewhere. And then I remembered. He was at the heart of one of the most shocking stories Ive ever covered: the disaster capitalism free-for-all that followed Katrina and the drowning of New Orleans. Mike Pences doings as a profiteer from human suffering are so appalling that they are worth exploring in a little more depth, since they tell us a great deal about what we can expect from this administration during times of heightened crisis.

Before we delve into Pences role, whats important to remember about Hurricane Katrina is that, though it is usually described as a natural disaster, there was nothing natural about the way it affected the city of New Orleans. When Katrina hit the coast of Mississippi in August 2005, it had been downgraded from a category 5 to a still-devastating category 3 hurricane. But by the time it made its way to New Orleans, it had lost most of its strength and been downgraded again, to a tropical storm.

Thats relevant, because a tropical storm should never have broken through New Orleanss flood defence. Katrina did break through, however, because the levees that protect the city did not hold. Why? We now know that despite repeated warnings about the risk, the army corps of engineers had allowed the levees to fall into a state of disrepair. That failure was the result of two main factors.

One was a specific disregard for the lives of poor black people, whose homes in the Lower Ninth Ward were left most vulnerable by the failure to fix the levees. This was part of a wider neglect of public infrastructure, which is the direct result of decades of neoliberal policy. Because when you systematically wage war on the very idea of the public sphere and the public good, of course the publicly owned bones of society roads, bridges, levees, water systems are going to slip into a state of such disrepair that it takes little to push them beyond the breaking point. When you massively cut taxes so that you dont have money to spend on much of anything besides the police and the military, this is what happens.

Mike
Vice-president Mike Pence with Donald Trump. Photograph: Evan Vucci/AP

It wasnt just the physical infrastructure that failed the city, and particularly its poorest residents, who are, as in so many US cities, overwhelmingly African American. The human systems of disaster response also failed the second great fracturing. The arm of the federal government that is tasked with responding to moments of national crisis such as this is the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema), with state and municipal governments also playing key roles in evacuation planning and response. All levels of government failed.

It took Fema five days to get water and food to people in New Orleans who had sought emergency shelter in the Superdome. The most harrowing images from that time were of people stranded on rooftops of homes and hospitals holding up signs that said HELP, watching the helicopters pass them by. People helped each other as best they could. They rescued each other in canoes and rowboats. They fed each other. They displayed that beautiful human capacity for solidarity that moments of crisis so often intensify. But at the official level, it was the complete opposite. Ill always remember the words of Curtis Muhammad, a longtime New Orleans civil rights organiser, who said this experience convinced us that we had no caretakers.

The way this abandonment played out was deeply unequal, and the divisions cleaved along lines of race and class. Many people were able to leave the city on their own they got into their cars, drove to a dry hotel, called their insurance brokers. Some people stayed because they believed the storm defences would hold. But a great many others stayed because they had no choice they didnt have a car, or were too infirm to drive, or simply didnt know what to do. Those are the people who needed a functioning system of evacuation and relief and they were out of luck.

Abandoned in the city without food or water, those in need did what anyone would do in those circumstances: they took provisions from local stores. Fox News and other media outlets seized on this to paint New Orleanss black residents as dangerous looters who would soon be coming to invade the dry, white parts of the city and surrounding suburbs and towns. Buildings were spray-painted with messages: Looters will be shot.

Checkpoints were set up to trap people in the flooded parts of town. On Danziger Bridge, police officers shot black residents on sight (five of the officers involved ultimately pleaded guilty, and the city came to a $13.3m settlement with the families in that case and two other similar post-Katrina cases). Meanwhile, gangs of armed white vigilantes prowled the streets looking, as one resident later put it in an expos by investigative journalist AC Thompson, for the opportunity to hunt black people.


I was in New Orleans during the flooding and I saw for myself how amped up the police and military were not to mention private security guards from companies such as Blackwater who were showing up fresh from Iraq. It felt very much like a war zone, with poor and black people in the crosshairs people whose only crime was trying to survive. By the time the National Guard arrived to organise a full evacuation of the city, it was done with a level of aggression and ruthlessness that was hard to fathom. Soldiers pointed machine guns at residents as they boarded buses, providing no information about where they were being taken. Children were often separated from their parents.

What I saw during the flooding shocked me. But what I saw in the aftermath of Katrina shocked me even more. With the city reeling, and with its residents dispersed across the country and unable to protect their own interests, a plan emerged to ram through a pro-corporate wishlist with maximum velocity. The famed free-market economist Milton Friedman, then 93 years old, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal stating, Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.

In a similar vein, Richard Baker, at that time a Republican congressman from Louisiana, declared, We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldnt do it, but God did. I was in an evacuation shelter near Baton Rouge when Baker made that statement. The people I spoke with were just floored by it. Imagine being forced to leave your home, having to sleep in a camping bed in some cavernous convention centre, and then finding out that the people who are supposed to represent you are claiming this was some sort of divine intervention God apparently really likes condo developments.

Baker got his cleanup of public housing. In the months after the storm, with New Orleanss residents and all their inconvenient opinions, rich culture and deep attachments out of the way, thousands of public housing units, many of which had sustained minimal storm damage because they were on high ground, were demolished. They were replaced with condos and town houses priced far out of reach for most who had lived there.

And this is where Mike Pence enters the story. At the time Katrina hit New Orleans, Pence was chairman of the powerful and highly ideological Republican Study Committee (RSC), a caucus of conservative lawmakers. On 13 September 2005 just 15 days after the levees were breached, and with parts of New Orleans still under water the RSC convened a fateful meeting at the offices of the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC. Under Pences leadership, the group came up with a list of Pro-Free-Market Ideas for Responding to Hurricane Katrina and High Gas Prices 32 pseudo-relief policies in all, each one straight out of the disaster capitalism playbook.

New
New Orleans residents wait on a rooftop to be rescued after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Photograph: Reuters

What stands out is the commitment to wage all-out war on labour standards and the public sphere which is bitterly ironic, because the failure of public infrastructure is what turned Katrina into a human catastrophe in the first place. Also notable is the determination to use any opportunity to strengthen the hand of the oil and gas industry. The list includes recommendations to suspend the obligation for federal contractors to pay a living wage; make the entire affected area a free-enterprise zone; and repeal or waive restrictive environmental regulations that hamper rebuilding. In other words, a war on the kind of red tape designed to keep communities safe from harm.

President Bush adopted many of the recommendations within the week, although, under pressure, he was eventually forced to reinstate the labour standards. Another recommendation called for giving parents vouchers to use at private and charter schools (for-profit schools subsidised with tax dollars), a move perfectly in line with the vision held by Trumps pick for education secretary, Betsy DeVos. Within the year, the New Orleans school system became the most privatised in the US.

And there was more. Though climate scientists have directly linked the increased intensity of hurricanes to warming ocean temperatures, that didnt stop Pence and his committee from calling on Congress to repeal environmental regulations on the Gulf coast, give permission for new oil refineries in the US, and green-light drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Its a kind of madness. After all, these very measures are a surefire way to drive up greenhouse gas emissions, the major human contributor to climate change, which leads to fiercer storms. Yet they were immediately championed by Pence, and later adopted by Bush, under the guise of responding to a devastating hurricane.

Its worth pausing to tease out the implications of all of this. Hurricane Katrina turned into a catastrophe in New Orleans because of a combination of extremely heavy weather possibly linked to climate change and weak and neglected public infrastructure. The so-called solutions proposed by the group Pence headed at the time were the very things that would inevitably exacerbate climate change and weaken public infrastructure even further. He and his fellow free-market travellers were determined, it seems, to do the very things that are guaranteed to lead to more Katrinas in the future.

And now Mike Pence is in a position to bring this vision to the entire United States.


The oil industry wasnt the only one to profit from Hurricane Katrina. Immediately after the storm, the whole gang of contractors who had descended on Baghdad when war broke out Bechtel, Fluor, Halliburton, Blackwater, CH2M Hill and Parsons, infamous for its sloppy Iraq work now arrived in New Orleans. They had a singular vision: to prove that the kinds of privatised services they had been providing in Iraq and Afghanistan also had an ongoing domestic market and to collect no-bid contracts totalling $3.4bn.

The controversies were legion. Relevant experience often appeared to have nothing to do with how contracts were allocated. Take, for example, the company that Fema paid $5.2m to perform the crucial role of building a base camp for emergency workers in St Bernard Parish, a suburb of New Orleans. The camp construction fell behind schedule and was never completed. Under investigation, it emerged that the contractor, Lighthouse Disaster Relief, was in fact a religious group. About the closest thing I have done to this is just organise a youth camp with my church, confessed Lighthouses director, Pastor Gary Heldreth.

After all the layers of subcontractors had taken their cut, there was next to nothing left for the people doing the work. Author Mike Davis tracked the way Fema paid Shaw $175 per sq ft to install blue tarps on damaged roofs, even though the tarps themselves were provided by the government. Once all the subcontractors took their share, the workers who actually hammered in the tarps were paid as little as $2 per sq ft.

Every level of the contracting food chain, in other words, is grotesquely overfed except the bottom rung, Davis wrote, where the actual work is carried out. These supposed contractors were really like the Trump Organization hollow brands, sucking out profit and then slapping their name on cheap or non-existent services.

In order to offset the tens of billions going to private companies in contracts and tax breaks, in November 2005 the Republican-controlled Congress announced that it needed to cut $40bn from the federal budget. Among the programmes that were slashed: student loans, Medicaid and food stamps.

So, the poorest people in the US subsidised the contractor bonanza twice: first, when Katrina relief morphed into unregulated corporate handouts, providing neither decent jobs nor functional public services; and second, when the few programmes that assist the unemployed and working poor nationwide were gutted to pay those bloated bills.

New Orleans is the disaster capitalism blueprint designed by the current vice-president and by the Heritage Foundation, the hard-right think tank to which Trump has outsourced much of his administrations budgeting. Ultimately, the response to Katrina sparked an approval ratings freefall for George W Bush, a plunge that eventually lost the Republicans the presidency in 2008. Nine years later, with Republicans now in control of Congress and the White House, its not hard to imagine this test case for privatised disaster response being adopted on a national scale.

The presence of highly militarised police and armed private soldiers in New Orleans came as a surprise to many. Since then, the phenomenon has expanded exponentially, with local police forces across the country outfitted to the gills with military-grade gear, including tanks and drones, and private security companies frequently providing training and support. Given the array of private military and security contractors occupying key positions in the Trump administration, we can expect all of this to expand further with each new shock.

The Katrina experience also stands as a stark warning to those who are holding out hope for Trumps promised $1tn in infrastructure spending. That spending will fix some roads and bridges, and it will create jobs. Crucially, Trump has indicated that he plans to do as much as possible not through the public sector but through public-private partnerships which have a terrible track record for corruption, and may result in far lower wages than true public-works projects would. Given Trumps business record, and Pences role in the administration, there is every reason to fear that his big-ticket infrastructure spending could become a Katrina-like kleptocracy, a government of thieves, with the Mar-a-Lago set helping themselves to vast sums of taxpayer money.

New Orleans provides a harrowing picture of what we can expect when the next shock hits. But sadly, it is far from complete: there is much more that this administration might try to push through under cover of crisis. To become shock-resistant, we need to prepare for that, too.

Main photograph: AP Photo/Palm Beach Post/Gary Coronado.

This is an edited extract from No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics by Naomi Klein, published by Allen Lane at 12.99. To order a copy for 11.04, go to bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over 10, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of 1.99.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/06/naomi-klein-how-power-profits-from-disaster

Scots economy in ‘precarious’ position, experts warn – BBC News

Image copyright AFP

Scotland’s economy is in a “precarious position” with a recession “in the balance”, experts have warned.

A report from the Fraser of Allander Institute said Scotland seemed to be “stuck in a cycle of weak growth”.

The Strathclyde University think-tank said that while growth is forecast to pick up in coming years, it is “likely to continue to lag behind the UK”.

Ministers insist that the fundamentals of the Scottish economy remain strong, highlighting Brexit as a key challenge.

Figures are due out at the start of July which will confirm whether or not the Scottish economy has formally gone into recession – defined as two consecutive quarters of falling output.

The Fraser of Allander Institute report said that “on balance it is likely to be a close run thing”.

It forecast growth at 1.2% for 2017 as a whole, 1.4% for 2018 and 1.6% for 2019.

‘Increasing concern’

The analysis includes some positive news – an apparent pick-up in business activity, unemployment at a record low and sectors like food and drink and tourism benefiting from the low value of the pound.

However, it also voices “increasing concern” about the slowdown apparently spreading across a wider set of industrial sectors.

It said political factors like Brexit “cast a shadow over the outlook”, but said that this and the downturn in the oil and gas sector could not be solely to blame. The report said that “Scotland’s economy seems to be stuck in a cycle of weak growth, declining confidence and poor investment and net export figures”.

Image caption Growth in Scotland has lagged behind that in the UK as a whole. Source: Scottish government

Fraser of Allander director Graeme Roy said the scale of the gap between the Scottish economy and that of the UK as a whole was growing.

He said: “On balance, our forecast is that growth will return in 2017, with tentative signs of a more positive outlook for Scotland’s oil and gas sector and improving order books across Scottish businesses.

“In the current climate sentiment can change quickly. Should the upcoming Brexit negotiations go badly, or the UK economy slows down more quickly than anticipated, then Scotland’s economic prospects could take a sharp turn for the worse.

“That being said, a number of sectors should post relatively healthy returns this year. In particular, Scotland’s food and drink and tourism sectors should benefit from the low value of Sterling.

‘Emerging confidence’

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said there was good news in the report, highlighting projected growth in the financial and business services, tourism and food and drink sectors.

He said: “This comes after good news for Scottish jobs. Scotland’s unemployment rate is at record low levels of 4% – equalling the previous all-time low – and is also at its lowest rate since the recession, and much lower than Fraser of Allander’s post-Brexit forecast of 7% for this year.

“And while challenges remain, the report also confirms emerging signs of confidence returning to the oil and gas sector, building on recent reports from Bank of Scotland and Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce.

“While these signs are encouraging, we must be clear that the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy continues to be Brexit – as this report makes clear.

“To avert the ‘Brexit negotiations going badly’, as the report states, the UK government must work with us and the other devolved administrations with the aim of keeping the UK and Scotland in the single market and customs union.”

Image caption Economy Secretary Keith Brown said Brexit was the biggest threat to Scotland’s economy

Opposition leaders said the report showed the Scottish government must do more to support the economy.

Scottish Conservative economy spokesman Dean Lockhart said: ‘”As this report states, whether or not Scotland officially enters recession hangs in the balance. And that’s while the rest of the UK powers ahead, so the SNP can’t possibly blame Brexit.

“This is on the Scottish government’s shoulders, and it has to explain what it is going to do to kick-start the economy it is in charge of.

“Make no mistake, Scotland has great potential. But that potential has been utterly neglected by an SNP government which has its priorities focused elsewhere.”

Labour’s economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said Scotland was “teetering on the brink of recession because Nicola Sturgeon has been more interested in running a campaign for a second independence referendum than running a government”.

She added: “Every time difficult figures for our economy are announced SNP ministers claim the fundamentals of our economy are strong. ministers must take their heads out of the sand and stop being complacent.

“With the new powers of the Scottish Parliament and the budget for public services more dependent on Scottish tax revenues than previously, we need a government with a laser focus on growing the economy and creating jobs.”

Read more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-40434545

Kushner’s impossible task in the Middle East is the easy part

(CNN)Jared Kushner’s visit to Israel this week reflects an unexpected development in current Middle East politics.

It is not that Kushner’s chances for success are greater than those of a long list of special envoys, but rather that of all the problems in the region, it is the almost seven decades-long Arab-Israeli conflict that seems most amenable to US diplomacy.
This is because following what is universally referred to as the “Arab Spring,” major countries of the region have been plunged into instability, uncertainty, and violence that is well beyond Washington’s capacity to resolve.
    For many people across the region, the unfortunate fact is that life is worse than it was before they began pouring into the streets six years ago to demand freedom.
    Although support for Tunisia’s Zine el Abidine Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and former Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi remains, people are for the most part pleased to be rid of them.
    Corruption, brutality, and violence marked the decades they were in power. But being happy that these dictators fell does not mean that people are better off.
    That is certainly not the case in Libya and two other failing or failed states in the Middle East, Yemen and Syria, where there were also uprisings in 2011. In Libya, not long after the uprising against his father began, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi warned that it would lead to “forty years” of violence.
    As the country has fragmented, rival armies, two different governments, and extremists have vied for control. Somewhere between 13,000 and 30,000 Libyans have lost their lives since 2011.

      Bassem Youssef: Egyptians are ‘upset’ and ‘tired’

    Syria is a vortex of violence. More than 400,000 people have been killed there since March 2011, when protests broke out against the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad. In addition to the staggering death toll, about half the population has been displaced in a conflict that now includes Russian, Iranian, Turkish, and US forces as well as a dizzying array of militias and extremist groups, including ISIS.
    If not for the Syrian war, the conflict in Yemen would likely be dominating world headlines. The country’s longtime ruler, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was also deposed in 2011, though he was not prepared to give up power so easily. His hand is evident in the current conflict there, which began when Houthi tribesmen drove Saleh’s successor out of power.
    The fight has cost an estimated 10,000 lives in the region’s poorest country, where Yemenis now face starvation and a massive outbreak of cholera.
    What about the countries that have not slipped into civil war?
    Egypt has had a turbulent six years, with three leadership changes and the development of a violent extremist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula that has spilled over into the country’s population centers, often targeting the Christian minority.
    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has undertaken some important economic reforms and Egypt’s macroeconomic indicators are starting to point in the right direction. But average Egyptians are suffering with high inflation, low employment, nonexistent services and little opportunity.
    These problems existed during the Mubarak era, too, but there was also a measure of stability that attracted 15 million tourists in 2010, large amounts of foreign direct investment, and a political environment that was more permissive than it is now.
    In a speech to the nation the day before he was deposed, Mubarak warned his fellow Egyptians that the uprising against him would, in the end, cause suffering. He was right.
    Tunisia is often billed as the one Arab Spring success story, and by all measures it has done better than the other countries that experienced uprisings. The country has a new constitution that establishes clear checks on executive power, has had free and fair parliamentary and presidential elections (though turnout was a problem), and has a strong civic culture that pulled the country back from the edge of violence in the summer of 2013.
    At the same time, Tunisia has a weak government, a large bureaucracy that has proven resistant to change, and an economy that has continuously struggled to produce growth, and jobs along with it.
    According to the World Bank, Tunisia’s real GDP growth rate in 2015 (the last year for which data are available) was 1%, current unemployment rate is 15%, and inflation is at 5%.
    All of this represents a significant hardship for average Tunisians, though their economic situation is not all that different from the year prior to the protests that dislodged Ben Ali.

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    When the uprisings began in late 2010 and early 2011, the romance of the barricades was infectious.
    The region that the New York Times once called “Democracy’s Desert” seemed to be in bloom, and with it was the widely held expectation that this Arab Spring would produce democracies.
    The result turned out to be something considerably different. Like the era before the uprisings, the “new Middle East” is still authoritarian, but it is also unstable. This does not bode well for Arabs, Turks, Europeans and Americans, because the current uncertainty, instability, and, at times, unspeakable violence of the region — which has occasionally spilled out across continents — is likely to be the future of the Middle East for the next several years.

    Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/21/opinions/kushner-middle-east-opinion-cook/index.html

    Inside La Colombe d’Or, modern art’s home on the French Riviera

    Cannes, France (CNN)Walking around La Colombe d’Or, a casual eye places it among the many inns dotting the French Riviera. This Provencal auberge wears its rustic charm like a badge of honor, or perhaps armor, warding off the dull trappings of the 21st century.

    Whitewashed plasterwork, scratched and scuffed, evokes simpler times. The inn’s many nooks and crannies speak of a building that has lived, breathed and grown over the years, before settling into reassuring, unrefined normality.

      Discovering the Riviera’s hidden masterpieces

    Except there’s nothing normal about La Colombe d’Or. Look closer and artworks start to emerge: a Picasso nestled in one corner, a Matisse in another. In the courtyard outside, an Alexander Calder mobile rotates in the breeze while a Fernand Lger mosaic remains unmoved.
      Some of the greatest names in modern art, nonchalantly arranged to look not only as if they belong, but as if they were created here. The thing is, some of them were.
      “[The artworks are] completely part of the house, so we don’t think of it anymore,” says the inn’s third-generation owner Daniele Roux. “But you can’t touch them, because the alarm system is so strong.”
      Perhaps unsurprisingly, she won’t be drawn on La Colombe d’Or’s insurance value.

      Tea with Matisse

      The story of La Colombe d’Or (which translates as “The Golden Dove”) is of a family that played the long game. In 1931, farmer’s son Paul Roux and his wife Baptistine opened their restaurant in a secluded corner of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a medieval hilltop village west of Nice.
      Its raison d’etre was bon vivance; good food and good times, a place to while away lazy summer days, eat heartily and drink well.
      With a handful of rooms above a bustling eatery, there was nothing remarkable about the inn’s setup. What no one could have anticipated was the clientele drawn to this crumbling bolthole and its unlikely role as a meeting place for the creative elite of the 20th century.

      “Portrait of a woman,” by Henri Matisse.

      World War I drove many French artists south, where they took up residence along the Cote d’Azur. When peacetime came, some stayed. Among them were Fernand Lger and Georges Braque, who Paul — a versed, if not schooled art admirer — befriended. Alongside them, an aging Henri Matisse.
      “He didn’t really come in because at the time he had problems with his legs,” says Paul’s granddaughter-in-law, Daniele. “Paul Roux would spend time with him in [Matisse’s] limousine,” on occasion taking tea.
      The artist became a regular at La Colombe d’Or, and others soon followed, either as diners or lodgers.

      Actor Yves Montand at the Colombe d’Or in front of a mosaic by Leger, commissioned in the 1950s.

      Paul Roux was the fulcrum around which these artistic figures pivoted, “an autodidact and a man of lovely enthusiasm who, having begun to buy paintings, did not hesitate to provide accommodation for certain painters in exchange for their work,” writes Martine Prosper (nee Buchet) in the 1995 book “La Colombe d’Or.”
      Paul Roux was admired and respected — a working class Peggy Guggenheim, thoroughly ingratiated with a community of modern artists without being a creative name in his own right. (Under the advice of Matisse, Roux did pick up a paintbrush in later life. His artworks now hang alongside those of his famous friends — one is to the left of the Miro in the main dining room.)
      The guests’ wildly different styles, modes and philosophies all found a home under Roux’s roof. Within La Colombe there was commonality and community. Indeed, a sign hung above the inn’s entrance read “Ici on lodge a cheval, a pied ou en peinture” — “Lodgings for man, horse and painters.”

      The friendship of Picasso

      With the arrival of World War II, life in La Colombe d’Or held a reassuringly even keel, even as both German and American officers both found their way into its guest book.
      In the post-war years its reputation was further enhanced. Joan Miro, Marc Chagall and Cesar Baldaccini all added to the inn’s growing art collection.
      Pablo Picasso was a regular visitor and became firm friends with Paul. But the Spanish master left no impression on La Colombe’s walls until shortly before Paul’s death in 1953.

      Spanish painter Pablo Picasso at the bar of La Colombe d’Or during the 1950s.

      “Paul was not well physically, and Tichin [his wife’s nickname] was a strong woman,” recalls Daniele. “She went round to see Picasso and said: ‘You promised you would give him a painting one day.'”
      He offered three paintings and Paul chose one. “Flower Vase” still has pride of place. On the day of Paul’s funeral, Picasso was the first to pay his respects.

      Post-modernists

      Paul’s son Francis took the reigns, but one night in 1959 — disaster. All the paintings were stolen; all except one, a Chagall. The artist came down the next day, most irked, Daniele says. Clearly the thieves had poor taste. (Word spread of the theft and all the paintings were soon returned.)
      By the ’60s a new set was frequenting the inn. Intellectuals Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir would stay, while James Baldwin’s fiery rhetoric could often be heard at the dining table. The American iconoclast even relocated to the region after staying at La Colombe in 1970, remaining in the area until his death in 1987.

      “The Thumb” by Cesar (1965).

      As with so many things on the Cote d’Azur, the inn was not untouched by the Cannes Film Festival. Stars of the “Nouvelle Vague”, Brigitte Bardot and director Francois Truffaut, spent days in the dappled shade of La Colombe’s courtyard, along with Orson Welles, Charlie Chaplin and David Niven, while Roger Moore owned a house nearby. Its glamorous credentials were never in doubt — the kings of Sweden and Belgium, and Edward VIII (then Prince of Wales) all visited in the 1950s.
      Successive generations continue to pay pilgrimage.
      French literary titan Bernard-Henri Levy has written several of his books at La Colombe. Prosper and Martine Assouline, founders of their eponymous publishing company, based their first title on the inn, such was their adoration.

        Episode 14: The allure of French Riviera style

      Artworks continue to be added, most recently a giant ceramic apple by Irishman Sean Scully in 2007. New young names are scouted out by Daniele and Francois, though most works lie in storage. By and large, the painters have gone, and the region that inspired them has become a playground for people who buy masterpieces rather than those who paint them.
      But three generations in, there’s little sign this Provencal institution will cash out. A precedent was set by Paul Roux many years ago when a wealthy American tried to buy the business. He sent back a bouquet and a note: “These flowers are for you, La Colombe is for my son.”
      Daniele laughs at the mention of a fourth generation, batting away the question. “We have a son, we have a daughter, but we’re still here and we’re going to see what happens,” she says. There’s no pressure on them, she insists.
      If they one day accept the role, their charge will be to uphold an idiosyncratic space of art and life well lived — to find room, amid the modernist bricolage, for the next chapter of its story.

      Read more: http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/arts/la-colombe-dor-vence-art/index.html