Tuesday, September 30, 2008
The criticisms were not altogether unjustified; the logic of Sarkozy's overly surgical distinction between "financial capitalism" and "market capitalism" will not really withstand scrutiny. But in light of the absolute debacle of political leadership in the United States, does not Sarkozy deserve at least some praise for taking note of the gravity of the crisis, attempting to explain it to his people, and frankly assuming responsibility for responding to it? To be sure, in the first few paragraphs he might almost be taken for a House Republican or talk-show populist. The bling-bling president has discovered the cardinal sins of gluttony and avarice; he brands as evildoers people whom he was courting only yesterday. But the vicissitudes of wealth bring out the hypocrite in us all, and Sarko can be forgiven for paying tribute to prudential virtues he discovered only after his bets turned sour. The important point is not that he has changed his tune but that he recognizes the futility of continuing to whistle the old one past the graveyard. Whereas the House Republicans want to save capitalism by cutting a corporate tax so riddled with loopholes that it goes mostly unpaid and by reducing the capital gains tax yet again, even though a capital gain has suddenly become a quaint historical artifact.
Sarkozy may not be anyone's ideal of a president, but to any French person who deplores his deficiencies, I say simply, Compare Sarko's Toulon speech with Bush's various speeches and news conferences of the past week. Then you'll understand what it means to have un président fainéant at the helm in a maelstrom.
Monday, September 29, 2008
La visite du Saint Père le pape en France, il y a quelques semaines, fut une sorte de vaste son et lumière gothique avec latin et habits extravagants (presque autant que ceux de la Gay pride).
-- Proofreaders of Le Monde
The same source also informs us that until the end of the Middle Ages the word pape was feminine in French and offers a rich lexicon of pape-related words (from which paperasse is omitted, however).
Moving on to brass tacks, we discover that Aubry is of the "flip-floppers can't win" school of politics. Thus the 35-hour week, the authorization for which bears her name, is defended by invoking a line of Joseph Stiglitz and some employment statistics from the year 2000. Alas, Stiglitz's remark about a shorter work week spurring a search for higher productivity can be developed into an argument about intensified discipline and substitution of capital for labor, and employment statistics post-2000 don't necessarily bear out Morelle's rosy assessment of the efficacy of the law. But however you feel about the 35-hour week--and in my estimation it deserves less praise than Morelle bestows and less blame than the Right would have you believe--we learn nothing from this review about either the politics that led to the reform or the politics of sticking with it today in a quite different economic context.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
The critical reaction hasn't been slow in coming.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Rocard once again demonstrates the political clumsiness that frustrated his once bright hopes. But I suppose that, as sober analysts, we ought to try to see this latest blunder in comparative terms. What Rocard seems to be groping for is some new ideological alignment that will break the depressing deadlock between what came to be called neoliberalism on the one hand and social liberalism on the other. The two positions had become increasingly difficult to distinguish at their core, so that peripheral issues (immigration, crime, religion, etc., declined in various ways in various national contexts) became decisive in narrow elections.
The disproportionate nastiness of political debate created a yearning for "postpartisan" politics, a yearning that, in the U.S., both Obama, outspokenly, and McCain, in his "maverick" excursions "across the aisle," as he likes to say, have attempted to satisfy. Sarkozy has demonstrated a similar instinct in France, with his ouverture to, or débauche of, Socialists, his references to Jaurès, etc.
The latest "crisis of capitalism" might provide an opening for a less decorative, more substantive search in this direction. Within a remarkably short period of time, attitudes toward market regulation and government intervention have changed dramatically. No politician has yet articulated a real grasp of the possibilities inherent in this suddenly altered political force field, but both Sarkozy and Rocard have shown that their antennae are quivering. When the sniping stops, other signs of change may well manifest themselves. We are on the cusp of real transformation, but no one yet dares to articulate what it might look like. This comprehensible fear of getting too far out in front was evident in last night's U.S. presidential debate, in which neither candidate would acknowledge the depth of the crisis for fear of looking doubtful and uncertain, when doubt and uncertainty would in fact be welcome signs of realism at this moment.
Friday, September 26, 2008
On the subject of photographing the president, it has been hard to avoid noticing that wherever he goes, Carla is strategically placed to enhance the shot. She gives new meaning to the phrase "eye candy." The "trophy wife" phenomenon is not uncommon, but it's really rather unseemly to flaunt one's trophy everywhere. People may begin to ask whether you're worthy of the honor.
So? So, if I were to find myself in a dark alley some night, I'd rather meet up with these guys than with Fabius, Cambadélis, and Montebourg. The Aubry camp seems to embody the Florentine side of the Mitterrand legacy. The henchmen still have their daggers, and it is only a matter of time before they turn on one another. The Delanoë camp is altogether more sober, which, alas, may be a polite way of saying boring. Royal offers a mediagenic front to a phalanx of suits, and Valls runs her a close second as the most presentable of politicians, though what he says runs the risk of running counter to what she says. If I were a betting man, I guess I'd put my money on Royal at this point, and I think that if her faction wins, the party leadership will in fact go to Gérard Collomb, the mayor of Lyon.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
If you're a guy, of course, it's a good thing to be tough, to be able to take the hits, roll with the punches, and come back fighting. But if you're a head of state, or even a quarterback, for that matter, it's better to anticipate the hits and evade them, or call a draw play. Angela Merkel played this opposition better than any of the guys: she was calling for banking regulation and reduction of the US deficit before the guys were. True, she didn't need to curry favor with Bush and wasn't trying to entice part of the derivatives trade from London to her own capital. And she was unsuccessful, but not for lack of trying.
The nagging question, however, is why does this go on, and the evident answer is that, inexplicably, people are willing to pay to put their eyes once more to the peephole. Indeed, the venal aspect of Lévyness, not to be confused with Lévinas, has lately been put in startlingly stark relief by the revelation that none other than BHL is the Monsieur X who will team up with another writer whom good people everywhere love to hate, Michel Houellebecq, in a slily promoted production to be released by Flammarion on October 8. At home Lévy has mastered the art of keeping himself perpetually in the public eye, while more recently he has stretched his tentacles around corpulent America, which can't seem to shake him off. Americans may no longer be able to stomach French wine, food, theory, or film (unless it's animated or about Piaf or penguins), but we seem to need an "intellectual," however ersatz, if only as an object of derision.
Clearly there will be no end to this foolishness until we collectively conclude that Lévy is too trivial to loathe and unworthy of our finer sadistic instincts. But as Augustine said in the fleshpots of Antiquity, "Lord, help me never to sin again, but not just now, please." Repentance is fine, but it can wait until tomorrow.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Why Delanoë? Because Aubry's alliance with Fabius was, in Mosco's eyes, unnatural, half woman, half goat; and because the "political culture" of Royal and her "friends" was too different from that of Mosco and his "friends." We had best not inquire too closely into what "political culture" means in this context. Nothing very lofty, I suspect. Mosco also has the elegance to inform us that Royal at the last minute proposed to make him "first signature" on her group's motion, an honor now left to Gérard Collomb.
Ségo seems to be fond of this sort of gesture: the overture to Mosco was like the overture to Bayrou between the two rounds of the presidential elections. I'm not sure in the present case what she would have gained, though she is apparently convinced that if Bayrou had accepted her other offer, she would be president of the Republic today. Perhaps that thought was enough to induce her to try the same ploy again. Paris vaut bien une messe, la présidence vaut bien une mésalliance, but I'm not sure that the leadership of the Socialist Party is worth throwing a life jacket to a man you'd previously thrown overboard. Still, the gesture couldn't have muddied the waters any more than they already are, and it does at least demonstrate that Royal is by no means resting on her laurels and expecting the crown to descend of its own accord upon her head, simply because it had rested there once before. She's throwing elbows with the rest of them. In politics as in basketball, winning depends in part on knowing what you can get away with.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
And now it's a question of counting up the votes. But the result will be anticlimactic. The pre-congress maneuvers have only highlighted the insurmountable fissures in the party. In a year or two, however, it will all be forgotten, and this period will look like ancient history, because the impending economic crisis will, I am fairly certain, change the contours of political debate not only in the United States but across Europe.
Monday, September 22, 2008
The economics team at one (surviving) US investment bank recently concluded that France now boasted the most pro-reform government of the G7. Even if he is opposed to “liberal” trade and competition policies at a European Union level, Mr Sarkozy supports further market liberalisation within France.
Christian de Boissieu, chairman of the Council of Economic Analysis, the government’s economic think-tank, argues the EU should press for the redesigning of the global financial institutions established by the Bretton Woods agreement of 1944. In particular, he suggests the International Monetary Fund should switch its focus from dealing with monetary issues to global financial market challenges.
“My personal view is that France – and the EU – should push forward the idea of a financial Bretton Woods,” Mr de Boissieu says. “The IMF has no more customers today and we should reinvent its role.”
This repurposed IMF, he says, could develop smarter rules governing the transparency and operation of credit ratings agencies, accounting standards, and liquidity requirements for global financial institutions. “But to be fully credible on the global stage the EU must make better progress in improving our own economic and political governance,” he says.
Why, then, did this election attract so little attention? For one thing, the UMP's control of the institution was never in doubt, owing to the (unfair) way in which Senators are chosen. For another, the legislative branch in France, of which the Senate is the less significant part, is not really a legislative branch but a sort of electoral college and glorified watchdog agency. It doesn't really legislate: projets de loi begin with the government and ministries. It rather influences the choice of government and tinkers with the legislation laid before it. Ambitious men become députés, a job with so little responsibility that they have plenty of time to pursue their ambitions by becoming mayors, presidents of regions, or even working as lawyers: Jean-François Copé, whose middle name is I-Want-to-be-President, practices law on the weekends. Men who used to have ambitions become senators, a job with even less responsibility than the député's, which leaves them plenty of time to write their memoirs or entertain their constituents with blogs.
Why are things done this way in France? Many learned tomes have been written about the subject, but I would single out several factors. Things were different in the Third and Fourth Republics, and the legislative branch did not cover itself with glory. Corruption was rampant, much as it is in the U. S. Congress. The parliament of the Third Republic voted les pleins pouvoirs to Pétain. To be sure, the parliament of the Fourth Republic muddled through the early stages of postwar recovery, largely by abdicating much power to a superbly competent civil service, but it could not cope with war in Algeria. When de Gaulle returned to power, he brought with him a contempt for quotidian politics, bickering parties, and the horse-trading that is the stuff of legislative business. The Constitution of the Fifth Republic expresses this contempt, and the Senate suffers not only from it but also from the distrust of an "upper house" or "aristocratic chamber" that has run through all French history since the Revolution.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
L’Article 7.14 est modifié comme suit :
Désignation du(de la) Premier(e) Secrétaire du Parti
Le(la) Premier(e) Secrétaire du Parti est désigné par tirage au sort
L’ensemble des adhérents du Parti, réunis en Assemblées générales de section, après le Congrès national, votent pour composer une liste d’aptitude.
Sont retenus sur la liste d’aptitude les candidats ayant obtenu 10% du collège electoral.
Un tirage au sort est alors effectué parmi les candidats aux fonctions de Premier(e) Secrétaire du Parti figurant sur la liste d’aptitude.
En cas de vacance du poste de Premier(e) Secrétaire du Parti, il est procédé à son remplacement dans les mêmes conditions.
Finally got through to the official statutes, which gives art. 7.14 as follows:
Article 7.14 :
élection du(de la) Premier(e) Secrétaire du Parti
Le(la) Premier(e) Secrétaire du Parti est élu(e) à bulletin secret par l’ensemble des adhérents du Parti, réunis en Assemblées générales de section, après le Congrès national. La majorité absolue des suffrages exprimés est requise pour être déclaré élu au premier tour. Seul(e)s peuvent se présenter au deuxième tour -organisé dans les mêmes conditions que le premier - les deux candidat(e)s arrivé(e)s en tête au premier tour. En cas de vacance du poste de Premier(e) Secrétaire du Parti, il est procédé à son remplacement dans les mêmes conditions.
I don't know if this has been amended as above or not.
Friday, September 19, 2008
What will happen? If Aubry and Delanoë work out a compromise and join forces to stop Royal, they could win. Otherwise, she wins. But none of these leaders really control their troops, so no matter who wins, nobody wins. The whole thing remains as much in flux as ever. Clear?
Unfortunately, Attali also neglects the internal divisions in the EU that would render his specific proposals unworkable. Still, his basic proposition is correct. NATO's mission has become impossibly confused. US-European cooperation should be organized around new organizations with clearer missions. Europe can then choose which aspects of US policy it wishes to support and which to reject rather than being enlisted in the crusade to "defend the Free World," the definition of which is sufficiently plastic to subsume a host of ulterior motives.
Actually, I was rather surprised at the hue and cry. I have long marveled at the assiduousness of French picknickers, who seem to be able to pack a banquet in a wicker basket and set the old family quilt with a china service for 20 complete with crystal for the wine and silver couverts. Why should such resourceful diners care about a tax on plastic cups? What Frenchman would drink his Petrus from a plastic cup? But I digress.
As for the opposition, Ségolène Royal seems to have seized on the same contradiction between the parochial and the universal. But rather than praise Sarko for his prudence, she has berated him for his inaction, and in rather picturesque terms: there he stands, she says, "arms dangling in the face of the crisis," doing nothing beyond slapping a picnic tax on his hapless countrymen. It's an image that will stick in the mind longer than anything Ségo might have said about responding to the crisis. Her avoidance of the issue she pretended to address--the global financial meltdown--might seem even more parochial than the picnic tax. But she's still electioneering, even though her opponent at long last seems to have left the permanent campaign behind as he tries to wrap his mind around a problem that neither presidential candidate foresaw and no one knows how to deal with.
One thing is certain: this won't be a picnic.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
But you have to wonder: how does a major undertaking like this get so far without scrutiny, only to be completely overhauled in a week after a political firestorm forces the president's hand? The government, apparently, would rather appear incompetent than sinister. Surely there must have been internal debates in which some officials argued for the inclusion of what they knew would be controversial information. They carried the day then. The minister who now so eagerly announces the revised plan must have signed off on the original . Was she convinced then that it was well-founded? Or was she simply not paying attention?
She seems to want us to believe the latter. This strains credulity. And until we know why she previously thought it was a good idea to collect more data, can we really be confident that she isn't looking for a surreptitious way to circumvent the decision to collect less? Other databases more hush-hush than Edvige are known to be in the works (Cristina, for one). What's in them? Why are they needed? There's something awfully unconvincing about the quick turnaround on Edvige.
Now that socialism from above* has come to the United States, Wall Street is substituting a representative of the real economy for the fallen representative of the paper economy: LU cookies, purchased from Danone by Kraft Foods, is as of today officially a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Index, replacing AIG. As Marie-Antoinette might have said, "Let them eat cookies!"
* Perhaps "financial socialism" would be a more descriptive term if it didn't border on oxymoron. Incidentally, I thought I had coined this phrase when I posted it a moment ago, but I see that others are using it as well.
McCain's notion of NATO is quite flexible, it seems: the organization should stretch to accommodate Georgia but shrink to exclude Spain, or at least punish Spain by not inviting its PM to dinner. McCain also seems to be rather unclear about where Spain is located. In his mind it seems to be inextricably associated with Latin America, even though the interviewer tries to remind him that the country is in Europe.
Sarkozy will no doubt want to examine the McCain doctrine ("You're either with us or against, and only if you're with us can we talk") closely. His idea of closer cooperation with America was good enough for Bush, but it might not be good enough for John McCain. But of course the word is that Sarko is backing Obama. Some enterprising French reporter might want to sound the Straight Talker out about whether he'd be willing to invite Sarko to the White House.
Le Monde has noticed.
So what does all this maneuvering imply about the evolution of the party line? The big loser seems to be Strauss-Kahn, whose stalking horse-protégé-rival Moscovici finds himself out in the cold (he has been grumbling of late about lack of support from DSK). I think it's pretty plain that DSK has decided that he either doesn't want to be president or won't make it and has cut Mosco adrift. In any case, DSK will have his hands full at IMF with the crumbling global economy. The "economists" are out; the politicians have taken over, and since the strength of the PS is in the cities, it is the big-city mayors who are in the driver's seat. And as Europe slides into recession (as I think it inevitably will on account of the impending US contraction), there will be plenty of action at the urban level, plenty of social discontent to mobilize. The whole complexion of political debate will change over the next few years. The prominence of deficit-reduction, tax and labor-market reform, ecological issues, and European integration will diminish, and the importance of finding ways to mobilize the unemployed (perhaps in infrastructure projects) will rise. Local pilot programs can be plausibly advanced as national models and made the basis of a "new socialism." Meanwhile, fissures in the right will widen, as "economic patriots" square off against the dwindling number of "neoliberals."
It's a ray of hope for the Left. A pity that it will have taken a catastrophe to make it happen--and of course I'm being far too optimistic in suggesting that the catastrophe will unfold in anything like such an orderly fashion. My true thoughts are pessimistic in the extreme, but for the moment I'll confine my comment to the day's political news while turning a deaf ear to the crashing sounds emanating from the large city to the south of where I write.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
P.S. Mathieu points out that if you don't have a Google mail or Blogger account, you won't have a dashboard link. He nevertheless became a follower by going to the bottom of the lower right-hand column of the blog and clicking the link there. Sorry that this is such a complicated business, and thanks to those who've taken the trouble to satisfy my curiosity about who's reading.
P.P.S. At the suggestion of Vertigo, I have moved the Followers gadget up near the top of the right column.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Yet desire, when it grows strong enough, is endlessly resourceful, and capable of circumventing any and all regulation via recourse to the ruse of reason. Ulysses may have bound himself to the mast in order to resist the sirens' call, to which he knew in advance he would succumb, but though we may be aware of the problem, we never seem to make the bonds strong enough to contain us in our next bout of lust. Since our only defense against the tumescence of greed is appreciation of the potential for subsequent disaster, regulation should focus on heightening awareness of the risk of debacle and of the deceitful wiles of the concupiscence that wraps itself in the chaste disguises of "rationality."
The mad market for credit default swaps is a case in point. No one knows how large it is ($60 trillion, $100 trillion, $150 trillion--that's trillion, with a t), because there is no central repository of information. CDS's are supposed to provide insurance against credit defaults, but it seems that many of the insurers were glad to take the premiums even though they had far too little capital to make good on their promise to pay in case of default. No matter: default was assumed to be rare enough that it was still "rational" to make, and accept, a promise that both parties were (vaguely) aware could not be kept. One party could then assure its "regulators" (whether internal or external) that it was protected, while the other could earn an apparently cost-free supplement to its income. The Lehman bankruptcy and potential failure of AIG will soon reveal just how deluded the masters of the universe were.
In retrospect such arrangements seem irrational to the point of daftness; in prospect they seemed the quintessence of modern financial engineering with its mantra of "risk management." Regulation needs to step back from rationality, even the "bounded" rationality advocated by Rationalité limitée, to the more primitive stage of prudence, which stemmed from a healthy fear of the unknown that no one yet presumed to measure. The attempt to turn all uncertainty into quantifiable risk is the contemporary hubris responsible for the rebirth of tragedy.
It seems that not enough of them have decided in her favor, so that she is backing off her insistence that the party must unify early behind a presidential candidate and then proceed to designate a candidate of the left via a national primary. Her failure to persuade enough of les militants seems to be responsible for this change of tactic. What remains of the national primary idea in her new strategic vision is unclear at this point. She does not seem to be able to command the party's internal mechanisms, but in the meantime her strength in the population at large is also declining, to judge by recent polls. If she can't impose herself internally and can't impose herself externally, her moment will have passed. It may well have passed already.
Monday, September 15, 2008
... tendency of Americans to assume that we’re by definition the best — the kind of attitude which lets people get away with warning –warning! — Americans that the likes of Hillary would give us French health care. (If only.)
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Actually, her twisting of the knife is a little more subtle in French, with a nuance that is awkward to translate. She says: "Depuis, j'ai appris que le président français se rendrait probablement à Davos ..." The combination of the conditional with probablement leaves one wondering just what Mme Attias learned about her ex's intentions: the French president allegedly will probably attend, it is said that the French president will probably attend, etc. Maybe he'll be there. Maybe not. Never mind. The dagger is planted. Her ex allegedly probably in her opinion had her current hubby fired from his job.
After all, everybody allegedly probably knows already that this is the sort of thing "le président français" does. Well done, Cécilia. You should be working for the McCain campaign. You've mastered the art of character assassination, and there is no way that your ex can escape the charge: if he goes, he's keeping his part of the alleged bargain with Schwab; if he doesn't go, it's because you've exposed his machinations. Bien joué. And what a blackguard: his woman leaves him, so he banishes her and her lover to the farthest corner of Arabia, where contre mauvaise fortune ils font bon coeur: after all, it's only "two hours from India, from China; you can go there for the weekend," even if you have to give up the Parisian pleasures of nightly theater and opera.
Friday, September 12, 2008
Quite apart from this circus, the decay of Catholicism over the course of the 20th c. in France is a subject that deserves more serious thought than it is often given. One has a tendency to accept Tocqueville's judgment that the Church was so intimately entwined with the Ancien Régime that it suffered a near-fatal blow with the fall of the latter:
Ecclesiastical lords enjoyed the same advantages, because the Church, which had a different origin, destination, and nature from feudalism, ultimately became intimately involved with it. Although the Church remained an alien body in the feudal system and was never fully incorporated into it, it penetrated so deeply that it remained encrusted within. (AR II.1)
Then, in a belated attempt to apply Tocqueville's dictum that religion can survive only if not tainted by temporal power, the separation of church and state in 1905 killed it off--an iatrogenic demise consequent upon a surgery delayed too long. But this is far too simple a tale, and as so many other countries endure fitful revivals and seem to find religion difficult to do without, France remains proudly aloof, despite the best efforts of its president to sell opium to a people that prefers, if not lucidity, then at least derision. La gouaille aura eu raison de la religion.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
All right, this post isn't about politics, so sue me. I have to attend a meeting today, so I won't have time to read the papers. But in my morning scan of the news, I came upon this item in the Financial Times about the LHC: "CERN atom smasher set in motion." Now, one comes to expect an almost universal ignorance of science among journalists and even among my university colleagues in non-scientific fields. People who would be surprised to learn that a colleague did not know about the assassination of a certain archduke in a certain Sarajevo are almost proud to profess that they haven't the foggiest idea what Schrödinger's equation is. This docta ignorantia always astonishes me. I recognize that I'm that rare bird who has migrated across the boundary between the sciences and the humanities, but still I think it's not unreasonable to expect a minimum of scientific literacy in a world in which the mundane realities of production and power are so heavily dependent on scientific knowledge. So I find it truly appalling that a journalist for a newspaper as excellent as the FT, assigned to write an article about the LHC, is capable of calling it an "atom smasher." As Wikipedia (or etymology) could have told the writer, the LHC is a "hadron collider": hadrons are heavy subatomic particles (as opposed to leptons, light subatomic particles), in this case protons. Two counter-rotating beams of protons crash into each other--"collide"--hence the name. This is 2008; the FT seems to think it's still 1930.
You can follow progress at LHC on this blog. You can brush up on the Higgs mechanism here. For a complete rundown of quantum field theory and the standard model of elementary particles, try Steven Weinberg's remarkable trilogy, if you happen to have a spare decade to set aside for reading. Or you can simply admire the screen shot above: the LHC works!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
ADDENDUM: I call your attention to Louis's comment below and to the blog post by Frédéric Rolin that he recommends.
But it all got away from him. He insulted citizens and reporters; he seemed inebriated (or winded, depending on your point of view) after a meeting with Putin. PPDA likened him to a child with a new toy at his first G8. The remark may have cost PPDA his job and his pedestal, but the accumulation of criticisms seems to have given the president pause. He didn't have as much control over as his image as he thought. His efforts often appeared to be counter-productive. So he pulled back. He remarried and, in what may be his most important imagineering effort to date, portrayed himself as newly settled, centered, and calmed. Contemplation of Carla was now said to be enough to assuage his spiritual and cultural yearnings, and for the rest he could concentrate on doing his job, the scope of which seemed to shrink as the problems became more intractable and the permanent campaign mode revealed itself to be a poor method of government.
Lately the imagineering has been left to Carla herself. A précis of her appearance on Drucker's show can be read on Bernard Girard's blog (I haven't seen the program myself). What began as a macho presidency (remember the buddy bonding with Fillon, who also ran in shorts and sweated in public) has been feminized. The rakish president, who told Yasmina Reza that "nous [les hommes politiques] sommes des bêtes sexuelles," has been upstaged by his justice minister, who has invented a female machismo all her own. Meanwhile, the bête sexuelle has been taken in hand by the woman whom Bernard Girard calls "Madame Nunuche." Infantilized? Carla had said that what she wanted was a man with a nuclear bomb. Instead she has a teddy bear who plays with the Russian bear.
One might usefully compare this with the transvaluation of symbols that has taken place in the Republican Party in the United States. Sarah Palin, the self-described pit bull with lipstick and hockey stick, seems to arouse the men who read mercenary magazines in their spare time more than the war hero himself does. And the war hero--at least to judge by the biopic projected at the Republican Convention--has chosen to portray himself as a Christ-like figure, the man who suffered for our sins. Rambo is now a cross-dresser, while jet-jockey Maverick shows himself laid out on a stretcher, incapacitated, at the mercy of the enemy--a long way from the days when polio-stricken FDR would not allow himself to be photographed on crutches, and public appearances were contrived so that he could be propped up behind a podium and hustled on and off stage out of public view.
I draw no conclusions yet from these observations. Perhaps they signify nothing more than that power remains an elusive thing, as it has always been. "Ike was a general," Harry Truman supposedly said. "He thinks that when he gives an order, everyone will hop to it. When he's president, one thing will surprise him: he'll give an order, and nothing will happen." So power is a will-o'-the-wisp, which changes its shape as easily and as often as those who pursue it. And it's a fickle thing. One minute it's in your grasp, the next it's run off with someone else and produced a love child.
Check out the Helen of Troy whose abduction by Leca, the king of the Apaches of Belleville, triggered a war with the Orteaux gang, led by Manda de la Courtille. And other photos from the new book Présumés coupables, a photographic history of crime in France.
Some sceptics about the value of mass university education also argue that graduates earn more not because they have learnt many economically useful things, but because by finishing university they are signalling to employers that they are likely to be the cleverest and most motivated workers. This theory sees university more as a recruitment fair than as a place of useful learning.
The FT worries about cheapening the product.
ADDENDUM: Pisani-Ferry is more reserved.
* Paul Krugman dislikes the use of the word "nationalize" in connection with the Freddie Mac-Fannie Mae operation. He prefers "deprivatization," because these government-sponsored entities (to use the jargon) always enjoyed a strange in-between existence, not entirely private but certainly, since 1968, not entirely public when it came to the appropriation of profits. This seems to me overly fastidious, and I think that the word "nationalize" is preferable because it brings home the gravity of the situation, particularly in the United States, where socialism is still the bogeyman and nationalization conjures up images of armed men seizing steel mills in wartime in order to force striking workers back on the job. Of course there is always the delightful Britishism "quango," for quasi-nongovernmental organization, the sort of outfit to which one devolves power in order to tie the hands of public officials who would otherwise be incorrigible in their use of it to bolster their own position. In any case, it remains an open question whether the nationalized GSEs will be run in the national interest or in the interest of the bankers among whom Henry Paulson used to be primus inter pares.
Monday, September 8, 2008
To join, search "Groups" for "Friends of French Politics Blog." The link I gave previously didn't work. But this one might.
The commenter signing himself "F-Town," my principal contradictor on matters Georgian, recommends reading this article by BHL in The New Republic. I read it. It combines défauts et qualités in the patented BHL manner: a vigorous, energetic style, high moral dudgeon, a tendentious recital of recent history, a speculative assessment of Russian motives and goals presented as absolute certitude, a liberal use of emotive phrases such as "mass murder," an a priori rejection of attempts to examine the errors and misdeeds of the side he considers to be in the right, and a readiness to characterize anyone who would disagree with him as a cowardly appeaser. "Only by openly acknowledging the possibility of blackmail or an interruption in oil or gas supplies can we be realistic and pragmatic," he writes. Indeed--but who would deny that? And he fails to mention that it was one of the "young democracies" he champions--Ukraine--that attempted to use the interruption of gas supplies to Western Europe to strengthen its hand in market negotiations with Russia. And of course he places himself at the center of world history: if only the West had heeded him and his "friend, the writer André Glucksmann," all this unfortunate mess could have been avoided.
So, F-Town, I am not persuaded, and in the end I am not even clear what Lévy is proposing that would go beyond what Sarkozy is attempting to do. Lévy writes:
In the end, people say, "But even if we admit that they [the Georgians] are right, what can we do about it? What great country wants to go and die for Tbilisi?" The truth is that it is not about dying, but about being firm and conditioning our relationship with Russia on its minimal respect for the rules in its dealings with its neighbors. And the truth is that in this particular situation, it is not only about those neighbors but about us, we Europeans. Why? Because what is at stake are Europe's energy needs.
Indeed. Who would say otherwise? And the stentorian denunciation of the "mass murderer" ends with this wet squib:
That Russia is a great country, no one can deny. That it is inevitably a partner is obvious. But a partner can sometimes be an adversary. And maintaining normal relations with Russia does not exclude speaking clearly to it about truth and principles.
Absolutely. I'm all for speaking clearly about truth and principles. I'm not all for building up the Georgian military, inserting U.S. antimissile systems into Eastern Europe, setting up Ukraine and Georgia as NATO-protected pinch points for squeezing supplies of energy from Russia, or countering separatist movements with Western military support. So if we're going to speak clearly to the Russians, let Lévy speak clearly about exactly what he proposes, if dying for Tbilisi isn't it.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Trichet seems bent on defying my prediction of yesterday that he would be forced to bow before the reality of recession and unemployment. I may yet turn out to be right--indeed, I stand by my prediction--but for now Trichet is determined to be more Catholic than Pope, or at any rate more German than the Germans, on the issue of credible commitment to price stability. Will this lead, as Le Monde suggests, to the patient dying of good health? On verra.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
As it stands, this is hardly a ringing endorsement, on clear moral grounds or even in terms of international law, of the supposed alternative to power politics, an alternative for which Vernet finds no better adjectives than "clumsy and hypocritical." Before reaching this conclusion, Vernet fairly recounts the tortured history of Georgia's breakaway provinces. "Georgia's responsibility in the outbreak of hostilities in 1991 is undeniable," he writes, but the subsequent ethnic cleansing led to the elimination of most ethnic Georgians from both provinces. These are the faits accomplis of which the Russians now presume to take advantage. An ugly thing, to be sure, but would it be less ugly to seek to reverse by military means a situation for which Georgia bears part of the "responsibility" in order to restore Georgian "territorial integrity," its territory being already an artificial construct of an earlier era of power politics, and "sovereignty" over provinces now largely devoid of Georgians? I am hard put to see who would gain here, what lofty principles would be preserved, or how such a move would be any less an exercise in "power politics" dedicated to the "creation of faits accomplis" than what the Russians are doing.
Friday, September 5, 2008
What about France? Sarkozy, of course, has played artfully on any number of strings in the harp of social ressentiment. For instance, his attacks on May '68 could have been translated directly from the American Republican idiom of denunciation of "the angry Left," "the feminazis and bra-burners," etc. His animadversions on la racaille and les égorgeurs de moutons dans leur baignoire demonstrated a pith and pungency in the articulation of unavowable prejudice that an American Republican might envy (although the application of the adjective "uppity" to Obama is in an identical register).
Yet for all the parallels one might draw, I think that France is still a long way from descending into the pit of mindless animosity that right-wing politics has become in the United States. The mobilization of resentment has yet to become a full substitute for political thought, policy prescriptions, and economic debate. In a sense, France is moving in the opposite direction. It has known the politics of resentment in the past, known it in spades, as my example from the 1930s shows. The demise of the revolutionary ideal has moved the core of political debate in France closer to the civil discussion that Americans claim to want for themselves, closer than it has been at many points in the past. The decline of French jingoism has also diminished the virulence of social resentment, which thrives on the idea that, for whatever reason, some who pretend to be one's fellow citizens don't share one's nonpareil love of country or patriotic frenzy. Hence appeals to resentment in France are marginal rather than central, even though they may be decisive in close elections and may indeed have been crucial in 2007.
By contrast, the United States has been moving in the opposite direction: the electorate is so deeply and so closely divided that resentment has become an essential tool for prying the marginal voter from the other side, and the perverse effects of the Electoral College make it logical to claw and gouge one's way to victory by appealing to the basest common denominator in states that may be far from the center of cultural gravity but nevertheless central to the assembling of a majority of 270 electors.
So, still smarting from my wounds and shaking my head in disbelief after four days of Republican invective against me and my kind, I can only say, Vive la différence!