Saturday, June 7, 2008

Brain Trust

What the new "progressive think tank" Terra Nova will produce in the way of ideas to rejuvenate the Left remains to be seen, but it has already generated a prodigious amount of publicity, suggesting at the very least a certain media savvy that can't hurt the left wing of the political spectrum either. The president of the organization is Olivier Ferrand, a Strauss-Kahnian, who is interviewed here by the blogger versac. Ferrand claims to derive inspiration from the Center for American Progress, the brainchild of John Podesta, Bill Clinton's former chief of staff. Among his competitors on the left he sees Vincent Peillon's Institut Edgar Quinet (close to Royal), Manuel Valls "hypothetical" Cercle 21 (on the right end of the PS), and Benoît Hamon's La Forge, founded with green Noël Mamère, as well as Les Gracques and the Institut Montaigne in the center (but the latter's budget is 3 million euros a year compared to only 1 million for Terra Nova). A formidable advisory committee of experts has been assembled. The idea is to serve as an intermediary between academia and practical politics by preparing policy papers on a range of issues, intervening in public debate with op-eds and think pieces, etc.

On the Other Hand ...

French unemployment is down again; U.S. unemployment is up. In the first linked article, Bénédicte Constans of the Institut Montaigne argues that the French figures probably paint too rosy a picture of the actual situation; in the second article Paul Krugman argues that the U.S. figures probably paint too bleak a picture. Both emphasize a need to look at the participation rate and to worry about anomalies in the counting of the unemployed. I think it was Harry Truman who is supposed to have said "Get me a one-handed economist!" after hearing too often the familiar refrain, "On the one hand ... but on the other hand ..." Still, it seems clear that it's too soon to pop the corks on the champagne bottles in France, while Americans are probably well-advised to follow Hillary's lead and stow the champagne bottles for now in favor of a beer and a bracing shot of cheap whiskey.

An Unusual Greeting

Sarkozy is in Lebanon today, and he arranged for himself to be greeted on the ground by representatives of all the French political parties with representation in the Assembly. So Copé and Hollande and Bayrou are there, to say nothing of Marie-George Buffet for the PCF and Jean-Michel Baylet for the PRG (who knew it still existed?). One can readily imagine the wisecracks being exchanged in le peloton as the head of state emerged from his plane. The goal, presumably, was to mark Lebanon as the object of special French attention. I'm not sure that the Lebanese will be sensible of the honor being done them, but it was shrewd of Sarkozy to choose a place where the political situation is so sensitive that none of the assembled dignitaries is likely to feel free to criticize the president for treating that nation's representatives as if they were a royal retinue.