Monday, June 30, 2008
I don't know whether right-wing antimilitarism is real and, if so, how serious it might be, but I do think that Merchet exaggerates the significance of the president's remarks. To my mind, Sarkozy was simply expressing the civilian's flabbergasted astonishment that such a thing could happen. Is it so "violently antimilitary" to insist that someone be held responsible?
That said, I do wonder how it happened. On France2 tonight, a retired general explained that there are "strict controls" to ensure that live ammunition is always accounted for. Forgive me, general, but I served in an army once myself, a long time ago, so I know what such "strict controls" are worth. Despite being obliged to count magazines and spent brass after each session on the firing range, I can't tell you how many times a member of my platoon returned to the barracks with a full magazine of live rounds. And of course when that happened, the military being the military, one never turned in the ammunition. It was buried in one of the well-known holes reserved for such contraband, because to return it was to risk punishment. And it wasn't always buried. Some soldiers had their private stashes for who knows what purpose.
So I'm not surprised that the guilty trooper had live rounds in his possession. What does surprise me, though, is how he could have loaded them instead of blanks. A magazine of live ammo, in this case the standard 5.56 mm NATO round, weighs noticeably more than a magazine of blanks. Even if the soldier mistakenly put the live magazine in his bandolier, he should have noticed its weight when he changed magazines during the exercise. Of course there was a lot of action and noise, the adrenaline was running, and he might have been distracted. But you do have to wonder ...
On July 1, Nicolas Sarkozy, as head of the French state, becomes the president (it might be more accurate to say "chairperson") of the Council of the European Union (not to be confused with the Council of Europe, which has nothing to do with the EU). The former council--let's call it the EC1, for short--is collectively the "executive" of the European Union. Now, there is also another EU organ, the European Commission, which also has executive or administrative-executive functions, and its president is not Sarkozy but José-Manuel Barroso. Let's call this EC2.
The presidency of EC1 is a rotating affair with a term of six months. The president has no greater formal powers than any other member of the council, although the visibility of his office affords him a certain opportunity for maneuver and initiative. Some occupants of the office have been content to deal with matters as they arise; others have attempted to launch initiatives, insofar as that can be done in a brief six-month tenure.
Sarkozy assumes office at a moment of crisis, in the wake of Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. But the EU has really been in crisis since the French and Dutch no votes of 2005. This chronic crisis--to be oxymoronic--may alter Sarkozy's priorities, which, according to Le Monde, are agriculture, defense, immigration, and environment. Defense is likely to sink to the bottom of the pile, as little headway can be made on a common defense policy in the absence of the more unified foreign policy apparatus that was to have been midwifed by the Lisbon Treaty. Rescuing the treaty itself may become Sarko's primary goal, though he is in an awkward position to repair the democratic deficit, as a head of state who decided to ignore the failure of his own people to ratify the agreement.
Sarkozy allegedly confided to Yasmina Reza that he knew he had only about a year to make his mark in France before rigor mortis began to set in. The clock has now run out on that effort, and the score, according to the latest LH2 poll, is 66-34 against the president. The temptation will therefore be great to make the most of the fresh clock afforded by the European jaunt, but Sarko will have forfeited the home-field advantage. He has also changed his style, and it remains to be seen whether he will return to the frenetic pace of his early presidency with its daily announcements and frequent interventions under klieg lights here, there, and everywhere. This hasn't been the style of EC1 presidencies past, but then Sarko's manner was new for the Elysée as well.
So Europe waits. Or, rather, a thin stratum of Euro-watchers waits, while most of Europe goes about its business in sublime indifference. It probably doesn't help Sarko's cause that much of the continent will be in fermeture annuelle, albeit with fewer tourists than usual owing to the steadfastness (recalcitrance?) of that other echt-European institution, the European Central Bank, which, alas, the EC1 president is powerless to do anything about. Before anyone begins paying attention to the news out of Brussels again, it will be autumn and Sarko's presidency will be half over. In the meantime, he has twenty-six other heads of state watching his every move like hawks, outgoing president Angela Merkel first among them. The state of play is quite different from the state of play at home, where the opposition is in disarray and the majority in disgruntled beatitude. It will be a test of Sarkozy's skills to see how he handles this. I don't rule out surprises, but I don't expect miracles either.
For a more thorough exploration of the issues, see Judah Grunstein's blog.
Speculation is of course today's antithesis of motherhood and apple pie, the Great Satan, and no one is for it, particularly since no one is required to define it or differentiate it from ordinary garden-variety capitalism, which "modern" socialists favor. Thus M&M insist that "we must respond to the challenge of growth and French competitiveness by rehabilitating economic voluntarism." They favor "sustainable development" while "resisting the primacy of the short term and the supremacy of the market." If this farrago of buzz words means anything, it suggests that M&M propose to invest scarce public money in new technology whose returns will be realized only in the long run.
To remark that such industrial policy ("economic voluntarism") is in fact tantamount to "speculation" even riskier than the speculation they denounce would perhaps be to expect more rigor of a position paper than is warranted--even if this is the paper of the faction of the PS reputed to embody the soundest economic thinking. Indeed, the purpose of the paper is not to propose an economic logic but to issue an emotional appeal to the left of the party, without whose support M&M have evidently concluded they are doomed: "In opposition to financial speculation, which diverts capital from indispensable investments, and in opposition to the politics of the Right, which in France promotes rent-seeking, the Left must encourage entrepreneurial risk-taking." It would be churlish, of course, to ask what "entrepreneurial risk-taking" in the absence of "financial speculation" amounts to: a sort of technological bungee-jumping, I imagine.
But if the economic side of M&M's program disappoints, we can always console ourselves with "the ecological revolution," which "necessitates planetary solidarity." Revolution, solidarity--the words hallowed by tradition are coupled with the new kid on the left-wing block, ecology.
Sigh. The Socialist Party might do well to forgo the position paper exercise and get on with the clash of éléphants that will decide this contest. Delanoë and Aubry seem to have concluded that neither is quite enough of a mastodon to tackle the nimble gazelle alone, so my guess is that they are in the process of working out a power-sharing arrangement. Aubry's Web site is still a bare-bones affair, however, and although Rue89 thinks she swiped it from Obama, they're mistaking the mere look-and-feel for the actual sophistication of the Obama Web operation, which gathers information, collects money, and links visitors in to a vast direct e-mail operation from which there is No Exit (as the dozens of daily missives from the Obama campaign in my inbox will attest). Not even Ségolène Royal, who has the most extensive Web presence of any Socialist contender, can compete. If the Socialist Party is indeed in the process of transforming itself into a flaccid umbrella party of the Left, akin to the American Democratic Party, as Jean-Luc Mélenchon alleges and fears, its marketing, polling, and image-shaping apparatus remains artisanal.
Besoin de gauche is the title of the M&M position paper. "Needing the Left" is perhaps an accurate characterization of France's position today, but the actual performance of the Left makes "needling the Left" almost irresistible.
Friday, June 27, 2008
*coup de Jarnac: see here. Mitterrand used proportional representation to enable the Front National to take seats away from the RPR. It was an effective but perfidious tactic that encouraged the growth of Le Pen's party. Language lawyers might argue that I should have used coup fourré or coup bas rather than coup de Jarnac, but the coincidence with Mitterrand's birthplace forced my hand.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
It is not too much to say that what is at stake is liberty. As for the ostensible check on the president's prerogative in the form of required approval by the parliament and CSA, Tocqueville already saw through this stratagem in regard to another assault on French liberties nearly three centuries ago, when an absolute monarch promised to compensate for his refusal to convoke the Estates General by feigning to enhance the powers of les parlements:
There was a need to appear to provide new guarantees in place of those that had been eliminated, because the French, who had put up rather patiently with absolute power as long as it was not oppressive, never liked the sight of it, and it was always wise to raise some apparent barriers in front of it, barriers that could not stop it but nevertheless hid it a little.
---L'Ancien Régime et la Révolution, II.10.
Regardless of what finally happens, this situation [the confusion surrounding changes in the reimbursement for certain drugs] points out a serious problem in France. There is such paranioia that whenever any reform is announced - especially when things aren't clear, which is the case here - the French go rampant with conspiracy theories, and you read and hear, in the media, tons of conflicting reports of what is going to happen. (The politicians - especially the "opposition" help fuel this fire.) It's like during the university reforms, the students were demonstrating because the state was going to "privatize" universities.
I think this kind of speculation is very dangerous....
I can agree with this observation up to a point. Suspicion and distrust pervade French political life, and this is not a healthy situation. But if a government wishes to reduce such suspicion, it has to explain what it is attempting to do. It has to provide a plausible rationale for reform and a credible financial logic. To that end, it needs to consult with a variety of interested parties. In the case in point, we see a policy conceived without consultation with a major player, the private insurers who are to pick up the cost of medications no longer supported by the government. Read the remarks of Jean-Pierre Davant, the head of the Fédération Nationale de la Mutualité Française, here: "There was no consultation with the various actors concerned with health policy." This is not a matter of distortion by "politicians" for self-interested reasons. Davant goes to the heart of the matter. It is true that, compared with other European countries, the French consume a lot of drugs and that these costs need to be brought under control, but there is nothing in the logic of the current proposal that would obviously contribute to that goal. Costs are simply being shifted from public to private funding. Unless, of course, the private funders ultimately deny reimbursement for some of the drugs. So it's reasonable--and not at all "paranoid"--to ask what the motive of the reform is. And it's not only the opposition that has raised the question. Deputies of the UMP and Nouveau Centre have also expressed puzzlement about what the government's real intention might be. The problem is not simply, as kirkmc suggests, a lack of clarity; it is rather a lack of plausibility in the aim of the reform, however generously its terms are construed. I am willing to grant a government, any government, the benefit of the doubt if I can make sense of its intentions. But if I can't, then I think it's not only reasonable but obligatory to ask what they're really up to.
The same reasonable suspicion attaches to yesterday's decision regarding the reorganization of public radio and television. At bottom I don't really care whether public broadcasting is paid for by advertising or public funding. I don't care whether this or that tax is 0.5 or 0.9 percent. But I do care that the person in charge of public broadcasting will henceforth be appointed by the president. The charade of advice and consent by a "majority" of parliament and the "concurrence" of the CSA is risible. We know how this system was abused in the past, in the bad old days of the ORTF, and we are within our rights to anticipate abuse in the future, since the reforms instituted to prevent them have been suddenly and stealthily overturned. And to compound the offense, we are told that the reason for the change is to promote "culture": in exchange for operas and plays uninterrupted by commercials after 8 in the evening, we are to accept direct presidential control of some of the most influential French media. Is it "paranoid" to object?
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
So what is going on? Apparently an internal report on the reform leaked out before the government was ready, triggering an uproar and leaving the two ministers to cover the internal confusion with a temporary story. But the broad thrust of the proposal is clear enough: the government will stop covering some drugs, the costs will be transferred to private insurers, those without private insurance will continue to receive government coverage, and the private insurers--we are assured--will simply swallow the bitter pill. This is as incredible as it is nonsensical. It is reform by obfuscation, and even if the government somehow strong-arms insurers into accepting this plan for some period of time, obviously it will eventually result in increased premiums.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
If this whets your appetite for more, you can read the full document here.
On doit la vérité à ses amis, sinon on n’est pas un ami." The president went on to say that he represented a country that had had to forgive and reconcile with its neighbors. He defended the principle of a Palestinian state. And he said that there could be no peace without an immediate halt to the colonization of the West Bank and called for legislation to induce the departure of existing settlers. It was an unambiguous statement, and Sarkozy had the courage to make it before the Israeli parliament.
And, mirabile dictu, his speech earned the unequivocal approval of a contender for the Socialist leadership, Pierre Moscovici. There won't be many days as good as yesterday in Sarkozy's quinquennat.
One might question precisely what the words "important role" conceal, however. The revulsion from the Socialist présidentiables suggests a resignation, in a broad segment of the Left, to non-governing status. An "anticapitalist" party is a party unable to conceive of itself in compromise with the world as it is. It is a party that believes the most useful role it can play is extragovernmental. It is a party that sees itself as a "tribune of the people" rather than a manager of the economy or vanguard in some constructive project. It is a party that believes that politics in the present means temporizing until some fundamental change occurs to open a new way forward. It is, in short, a party of populist protest, with any number of predecessors in the recent French past.
But how strong is such a party? How much of the population does it represent? Is the 4.08% that Besancenot polled in the last presidential election more representative of its actual support than the 43% he received in the beauty contest poll cited above? I suspect so. To signal approval of Besancenot to a pollster is protest on the cheap; actually to vote for him is another matter. Still, the surveys should stand as a warning to leftists of all stripes: many on the left are still looking for a home, despite all the promises of "renovated" quarters ready to move into any day now. Leave them out in the cold much longer and they may well build a ramshackle shelter of their own.
Now, in a very interesting critique, Nicolas Delalande questions this thesis from two angles. First, he notes that the statistical evidence on which the case that France is an especially distrustful society rests looks less impressive when the Scandinavian countries are left out. Second, he questions the underlying historical premise of the work by the two economists. In Delalande's view, Algan and Cahuc see the Third Republic as a "golden age" of trust, which they claim came to an end in World War II and its aftermath. But what if this is not the case? It would certainly come as a surprise to many students of the history of France that "the contentious French" enjoyed a happy hiatus of mutual confidence in the years before the Second World War.
Although Delalande doesn't say so, his critique raises questions about a type of argumentation that has become popular in recent years. Algan and Cahuc rely heavily on survey data such as the General Social Survey and World Values Survey. Similarly, Thomas Philippon, in another much-praised book, also relied on data gathered by questionnaire. Econometric methods were then used to relate these soft data to "harder" statistics pertaining to economic performance. The sophisticated machinery yielded an air of solidity to conclusions that call for closer scrutiny. To put it bluntly: How trustworthy are the comparative data about trust? Do the questionnaires perhaps magnify cross-cultural differences? In view of the interest that Algan and Cahuc's work has attracted, their methods deserve careful study. Nicolas Delalande's essay has the merit of making a start in that direction.
Monday, June 23, 2008
Both of these sagas--Bruni seeks to seduce the world, PS seeks a leader--have become rather wearisome, but I have to ease myself back into the blogging routine, so I begin by regaining my bearings with two overly familiar stories, about which, alas, I have nothing novel to say.
Friday, June 20, 2008
Thursday, June 19, 2008
Our local paper--the Depeche du Midi--had a screaming headline today suggesting that the Senate's rejection of an amendment to the constitution recognizing that regional languages are part of the country's patrimony meant a prohibition on using Occitan (that wasn't quite what the headline said, but I think that's what most readers will take it to say). Nowhere in the accompanying article was it said precisely what the implications of the amendment or its suppression would be. The amendment was sponsored by the government, but only tepidly; the main opposition to suppressing the amendment came from the Socialists and the Greens, who see things quite differently from the Revolutionary forbears, who were among the first to insist that regional languages had to be subordinated to French. But even the UMP was not unanimous in support; as one UMP senator put it, "Nos enfants parlent Texto, il faut renforcer le français et ce n'est pas en faisant appel aux langues régionales [qu'on le fera]." In any event, it seems pretty clear that the government is not going to forbid speaking, writing, or even teaching regional languages (my daughter studied Occitan in elementary school), and that the regional papers, as usual, are indulging in hysterical demagogy on this point.
It seems that regional language courses are quite popular in certain parts of the country. No one is proposing to shut them down. Let a thousand flowers bloom. I understand the urge to recover one's "roots," though I wish more people were inclined rather to develop "branches," to exfoliate new growth turned toward the light rather than burrow down into the dark earth in search of a seed that no longer exists. I wouldn't impose my preference on anyone, but I wouldn't want to see the preferences of others given special constitutional prominence. A constitution is a special kind of document. It should seek to express a spirit. The more encumbered it becomes with technicalities and special pleading, the more likely it is to collapse of its own weight. The Lisbon treaty exemplifies this error. The Fifth Republic shouldn't follow Europe down that wrong path.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Indeed, Sarkozy visited a military base yesterday and inspected a drone. He had one question for the general: How much does it cost? (Answer: 1.5 million euros.) The drone is the symbol of a certain type of warfare: high-tech, remote-control, low-risk to one's own forces. Small, nimble, compact, high-tech: Americans will recognize the Rumsfeldian approach. France, similarly, is downsizing its forces and upsizing its ambitions: it hopes to project force into the Middle East and beyond. It also hopes not only to gather intelligence but to "project" it: the new strategy of "anticipation" seems to be premised on the notion that we need to understand foreign cultures better if we are to defend against threats emanating from them.
French drones manned by cultural anthropologists hovering over Asian caves: this might be a facetious way of summing up certain changes suggested by the white paper. A caricature, to be sure, but a caricature that M. Gautier at any rate seems to worry is being taken seriously by French defense planners.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Someone should write a book about the highly variegated French style of protest. The symbolic massing of tools of a particular trade--ambulances, in this case--in some highly visible location is one. I recall once stumbling upon a demonstration of sheep raisers on the Champ de Mars, which was filled for the occasion with bleating sheep. I don't think I would have known about it if I hadn't happened to be there. The papers barely mentioned it. Another time there was a strike of interns. I encountered hundreds of them in white jackets with stethoscopes around their necks, somewhere in the vicinity of the Ecole Militaire.
There is often something festive about these strikes. American picketers, by contrast, frequently seem bored, marching up and down with their signs proclaiming unfairness. Even when protesting there is a manifest need to "get the job done," even if the job for the moment is to close down the plant. French strikers need to be noticed, and first of all by le pouvoir, hence the frequent choice of Paris as stage. And often their need to express is directed, after the government, at the public at large, as though nothing good can come of private protest unless it is taken up by la volonté générale, the sole legitimating force. Even if the harangue is in the form of wailing sirens, it is le peuple that is exhorted to make the protesters' cause their own. The problem, of course, is that the sympathies of le peuple are fickle, easily bestowed and easily forgotten. It is almost as if the theatrical pleasures of French protest were intended to be their own reward. Often they have to be, since practical results do not follow.
Education minister Xavier Darcos has allegedly prevented publication of this report since October 2007. The issues it raises are nevertheless important. Open enrollment is a double-edged sword. It can be used to break down "ethnic concentration," especially where residential patterns tend to create segregation in neighborhood schools. It can also be used to promote separation, especially by social class. The government's intentions are therefore at issue. A policy may be well-intentioned but have perverse effects. Or it may be ill-intentioned. The report might help to clarify which is the case. Its suppression raises the suspicion that the government is unwilling to allow its true intentions to be scrutinized. A government that is deliberately promoting social, ethnic, and racial segregation is pursuing a policy that will come back to haunt the country in the long run. Darcos should make the report public so that people can assess what the actual effects of his policy are.
Monday, June 16, 2008
To be sure, if one watches the video of students at the Lycée Condorcet emerging from the test (scroll to bottom for video), it's hard to imagine any of these young people having much of interest to say on the question of desire and suffering. But the real story is not whether the "massified" student is more or less mature than those who sat for the bac in the 19th century. It was (I think) Tolstoy who wrote that "the aristocrat takes gratis from life what the commoner must spend his first thirty years acquiring." These young students may know more about desire and suffering in 10 years' time than they know now. But already the educational system is sending them the message that they need not bother their heads with such fluff: the "coefficient" of the philo grade may be 7 on the literary bac, but it is only 4 on the econ-soc bac and 3 on the scientific bac. The clear implication is that philosophy is a purely decorative subject, fit to be an ornament of the literary mind but no longer the "queen of sciences," ethical guide, beacon to the citizen, or any of a myriad other justificatory appellations that used to be bestowed on it. Students, not being fools even if their appreciation of the relation between desire and suffering, however existentially acute, may fail to pass philosophical muster, adjust their investment of time accordingly. Perhaps the schools need at last to admit that Victor Cousin is not much of a mentor to the 21st century.
Overall, the army is to be reduced in size by 17 percent, the air force by 25 percent, and the navy by 11 percent. The decision about a second aircraft carrier has been postponed, even though the reason for it is that the one existing carrier is often out of service for longer periods of maintenance. Rejoining NATO seems to be central to maintaining France's military posture with reduced forces.
The prime minister characterizes the reports of a report card as des supputations.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
It's hard to conceive of a source for this story other than Villepin himself. Unless it was Sarkozy, which seems less likely. Villepin, who had a sword at his throat only a few months ago, is cast in the role of swashbuckler who has managed for now to avoid doom. And Sarko, if the report is true, would appear to be worried enough about the intraparty Fronde that he needs to spare his old enemy, against whom he had seemed to be waging a personal vendetta. Earlier reports had suggested that the prosecutors wanted to close the case against Villepin for lack of evidence but had been prevailed upon to reopen the investigation. The hint then was that the pressure had come from on high. If this new story is true, then Sarko has decided to relent, but since the investigation remains open, he has Villepin on a short leash.
Stay tuned. A duel between Sarkozy and Villepin promises to be infinitely more amusing than a duel with Devedjian or Copé. Quoting Mazarin seems apt. S and V may not be characters out of Corneille, but they do rise above Les Guignols de l'Info.
Friday, June 13, 2008
Irish government concedes defeat.
Contrairement donc à ce qui est souvent dit et même ressassé aujourd'hui, ce n'est pas le couple ami/ennemi, mais le couple liberté/servitude qui est le critère déterminant du politique. Cela veut dire simplement que l'essence du politique ne doit pas être pensé en fonction de l'ennemi (intérieur ou extérieur), c'est-à-dire de la guerre, mais en fonction de la liberté et de la paix. La politique ne disparaît pas quand la guerre cesse, ce que pourtant certains s'ingénient à nous faire accroire. L'antilibéralisme politique (de droite ou de gauche) se définit le plus souvent négativement par opposition au libéralisme, mais il masque en général ce qu'il est réellement : une pensée politique qui a pour horizon indépassable la lutte, l'affrontement et la guerre. Sur ce point également Montesquieu définit l'esprit du libéralisme politique.
La prestation du RSA s’écrirait selon l’équation suivante :
RSA = (MIN) - T1(RT) - T2 (RT-RTo)
RT est le Revenu du Travail
RTo est le point de départ de la deuxième décote (soit 0,7 SMIC pour une personne seule, 1 SMIC pour un couple), avec R-Ro toujours supérieur à 0.
Min est un minimum garanti.
T1 et T2 correspondent à des taux de prélèvement implictes évoluant selon le nombre d’enfants du ménage, et qui permettent d’évaluer les deux décotes successives. Additionnés, ils permettent d’aboutir à un point de sortie du complément de revenu désiré.
Les ressources globales (RG) de la famille pourraient se formuler ainsi :
RG=RT + RSA + PF
RT= Revenu du Travail
RSA = Revenu de Solidarité Active
PF = Prestations Familiales
Thanks to Koz, who has other interesting things to say on the subject as well.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
(…)Our basic charter cannot be contracted away like this. The Constitution grants Congress and the President the power to acquire, dispose of, and govern territory, not the power to decide when and where its terms apply. Even when the United States acts outside its borders, its powers are not “absolute and unlimited” but are subject “to such restrictions as are expressed in the Constitution.”
(…) Because our Nation’s past military conflicts have been of limited duration, it has been possible to leave the outer boundaries of war powers undefined. If, as some fear, terrorism continues to pose dangerous threats to us for years to come, the Court might not have this luxury. This result is not inevitable, however. The political branches, consistent with their independent obligations to interpret and uphold the Constitution, can engage in a genuine debate about how best to preserve constitutional values while protecting the Nation from terrorism. (…).
(…)We hold that petitioners may invoke the fundamental procedural protections of habeas corpus. The laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system they are reconciled within the framework of the law. The Framers decided that habeas corpus, a right of first importance, must be a part of that framework, a part of that law.
The determination by the Court of Appeals that the Suspension Clause and its protections are inapplicable to petitioners was in error. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The cases are remanded to the Court of Appeals with instructions that it remand the cases to the District Court for proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Supreme Court Of The United States, 553 U. S. (2008), Boumediene v. Bush, 12 juin 2008. (PDF)It's good to know that our national soul-searching is so closely followed in France. Thanks, Eolas.
One understands the desire for objective criteria. But subjective judgments are essential in education. The objective measures should be designed as a control on subjectivity, to ensure fairness and comparability, but not as a mechanical substitute to compensate for a fundamental lack of trust. Le système Sympa n'est pas sympa.
As I was saying, the fear of a no vote once again has the chattering classes agitated. Of course, as with the French and Dutch no votes of 2005, Europe will limp on, though it is a valid question to ask how many such repudiations can be sustained before a politician in a major country is elected on a thumpingly anti-European platform, and real reform rather than just treaty-tinkering becomes the order of the day? (Answer: not long.) But national referenda are not the only tests Europe is facing at the moment. The latest oil shock, rising prices for food and other commodities, and other economic stresses are putting Europe to the test as well.
More immediately, these stresses are putting the Eurozone to the test: is it really an optimal currency area? If inflationary pressures provoke very different responses in different countries, with inflation rising very rapidly in some places and much less rapidly in others, the answer will be no. And what would be done then? No one wants to think about it. But let's see what happens in Ireland. A yes vote might postpone the need for such thinking indefinitely. A no vote, on the other hand, will be clear proof that economic rewards alone cannot generate sufficient loyalty to hold the Union together. Europe will need to invent a new rationale for itself.
What enormous power the Irish suddenly have! With just one percent of Europe's population, they may determine Europe's future. It's rather like the United States, where a handful of voters in Iowa have gained the power to launch or derail presidential juggernauts. Is this a democratic aberration, or the quintessence of democracy, in that power cannot be content with pleasing only itself but must please the humble voter as well?
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
In sampling some of the numerous television documentaries on May '68, I was amused to come across one in which various right-wing personalities remembered their experience of "the events." Debré was among them, and his memory was dominated by the contrast he experienced between the exuberance of his young friends at school and the morose atmosphere at home, where his father, the arch-Gaullist Michel Debré, could only lament the collapse of the General's vision of a state at last stabilized under the tutelage of a strong and hypothetically incontestable president: "All that work [to establish the Fifth Republic's constitution] for this," the younger Debré remembers his father saying ruefully. One can imagine his dismay. The son seems to have taken the lesson to heart, though he shows little appreciation of the institutional anomalies created by a constitution that provides for a government named by the president but responsible before the parliament. "Rebalancing" the constitution is the primary concern of the reform's chief architect, Edouard Balladur.
Je suis une enfant/Malgré mes quarante ans/Malgré mes trente amants/Une enfant
Tu es ma came/Plus mortel que l'héroïne afghane/Plus dangereux que la blanche colombienne
You see, what the singer is really singing about is her liberty. Therefore she is a liberal. What's not to like? And if anyone thinks that it's a trifle daring to compare the president of the Republic to a bolus of opiate, well, they're just not liberated. Or is Carla's came one of the 29 previous amants? Well, far be it from me to confuse private life with public life. I'll let the Times of London correspondent do it for me.
le système de cosmétovigilance mis en place en 2004 rapporte 8 déclarations d’effets indésirables survenus avec des tatouages éphémères à base de henné en 2004, 9 en 2005 et 16 en 2006.
It seems that a chemical has been added to some henna dyes used for temporary summer tatoos and that some people are allergic to it. Hence the need for cosmétovigilance. This is not a French version of Reagan's Star Wars, which exhorted the U.S. to cosmovigilance. In this era of dégraissage de l'administration, it's good to know that there's still room in the budget for les cosmétovigiles. Knowledge of this foresighted staffing may reduce the volume of the howls when the public learns that although thousands of schoolteachers have to go, the president appears to be in the process of acquiring a personal Airbus.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Monday, June 9, 2008
The gossip now comes full circle. It was rumored that Ferrari left TF1 when her then husband, Thomas Hugues, was passed over as PPDA's heir-apparent in favor of Harry Roselmack, the station's first black anchor. Then Hugues and Ferrari divorced, fueling speculation that she was the object of Sarkozy's affections, a rumor scotched by his marriage to Carla Bruni. Now, presumably, it's Roselmack's turn to feel miffed and Claire Chazal's to feel threatened. Ah, quel monde! Et si petit.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
Further evidence of confusion on the issue.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Friday, June 6, 2008
Rue89 has published an article explaining the use of the phrase and the reality of the approach, which was "neither left nor right," according to the author, but rather a policy implemented by mayors desperate to find some way to reach people in their unsettled quarters. She cites the experience of Serge Dassault in Corbeil. No one would accuse Dassault of belonging to the Left.
That odd paratactic construction leaves it unclear whether Villepin considers venom to be the cause of courage, the consequence, or simply the accompaniment, the sauce to lend piquancy to the main dish. I wouldn't have thought the interwar French press could be held up as a model of anything other than corruption, venality, and vituperation. Think of the Stavisky Affair and its attendant revelations of journalists bought and paid for. Think of Albert Camus's wartime editorials lambasting the wretched newspapers for which he wrote before WW II.
That said, there is cause for concern about the state of the French press today. Many people would argue that it is biased. I think, rather, that the problem is superficiality. As far as one can judge from his own superficial critique, Villepin agrees: "After five minutes, there's nothing to read." If there were a culture of more thorough exploration and critique, bias could not thrive as readily as it does. I'm not sure that the financial crisis of the media is the whole story. The decline of the daily press seems to me to have deeper roots. As government became more technocratic and less literary, the technical competence of the press as of the public failed to keep up. The advent of television altered the affective relationship between political leaders and their constituents. The Internet provides space for more ample development at relatively low cost, but it also allows readers to tailor what they read to their tastes and therefore never to confront opposing views.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
And yet a substantial majority of the French (77%, up from 73) worry about "social conflicts" to come. If and when they do come, you can bet that Sarko's soft support will solidify very quickly. Just as people who saw de Gaulle as usé in early May of '68 were rallying around him by the end of the month, many who mocked Sarkozy as a buffoon will be the first to close ranks in a crunch. Yet lurching from cynicism to reaction is not a sign of political good health, even when leavened by velleities of revolutionary bonhomie
And so the Socialists continue in their petty squabbles. If they really want to see full-blown liberalism in the European sense, they of course need to turn their attention to the United States (where the word is used differently, but the thing itself flourishes). A case in point (via Marginal Revolution):
A small number of California jails have begun to offer pay to stay programs. These programs allow inmates in for minor crimes to "upgrade" to a private or public jail with better facilities. Evidently the fees are profitable to the jails. Take a look at how Santa Ana county advertises it's
The Santa Ana Jail is pleased to host a full range of alternatives to traditional incarceration. Our offerings include weekends in jail, non-linear jail sentences, and a variety of work release options. Our philosophy is designed to allow our clients (!, AT) to serve their obligations to the court in a manner that respects them as human beings and permits them to continue to provide for themselves and their families....
- Programs that include 2-day or 3-day weekends with minimal impact on the client’s professional life. Work on Saturday and Sunday? No problem...
- Programs that permit jail sentences to be served in multiple parts. Perfect for clients that live out of the area or clients with frequent business travel.
- Programs that permit the client to leave jail for work everyday. We have helped everyone from 9 to 5 business people to oil-rig workers, so no work schedule is out of the question.
The Santa Ana Jail is the most modern and comfortable facility in the region. Our housing areas are a world away from cement and steel bars....
Most clients can be approved immediately, over the phone. We can also provide same-day acceptance letters for the court.
The fate of the two individuals at the heart of the matter is of course buried beneath the avalanche of passions. In an interesting aside, Eolas remarks that he believes the reason the couple did not seek divorce by mutual consent is that the law requires both parties to appear together before a judge before such a divorce can be granted, and neither party wished to be in the presence of the other. If the defense of the Republic requires that a court insist that such a marriage remain legally intact, then one might be tempted to conclude that there is something wrong with the idea of a Republic that requires such a defense. The ultras are unlikely to find such an argument persuasive, however.
ADDENDUM: The flood of readers coming here from Andrew Sullivan's site may want to look at this earlier post on the subject. I think commenter ejm gets it about right.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Olivier Blanchard, a French-born professor of economics at MIT, has been appointed chief economist of the IMF. This is a great choice: Olivier is not only a leading macroeconomist, the author (with S. Fischer) of an excellent textbook on the subject (not for the faint of heart, however), and an expert on unemployment. He is also a reader of French Politics. So how can the IMF go wrong? Congratulations, Olivier.