Thursday, June 12, 2008

Admiration

My admiration goes to Maître Eolas for rapidly distilling the essence of today's Supreme Court decision restoring the right of habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees. The words below, which have the clarity and force of The Federalist, are worth quoting, even though they have nothing immediately to do with French politics.

(…)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.

Rocard Backs Delanoë

It's an odd statement from Michel Rocard: he will back Bertrand Delanoë for party leader but thinks it's a mistake for the party to choose a leader who is also a potential presidential candidate in 2012. This, he says, was a choice "imposed by the media," which insist on having a "star" for the JT de 20h. Rocard demonstrates the lack of political savvy and flair that has always distinguished his political practice. Does he believe that the choice of Delanoë will make the party's other "stars" less attractive to the media? The media love nothing more than a contest between heavyweights: witness Obama v. Clinton. Royal v. Delanoë will make for no less compelling television. The divisions in the PS will not go away simply because Michel Rocard has made his choice. And if he makes this choice à contrecoeur, why doesn't he go with Moscovici, who shares his view that the early focus on a single présidentiable is a mistake? No, it's just foolish to blame the media for this abdication of responsibility, which is entirely Rocard's.

Evaluating Universities

Managerial ideology rarely mixes well with the things of the spirit. I'm sure that the senators who were commissioned by Valérie Pécresse to come up with a way to evaluate university performance with an eye to funneling money to les plus performantes meant well. How could they not, when they named their system "Sympa": système de répartition des moyens à la performance et à l'activité. (The managerial ideology is inordinately fond of acronyms.) But their proposal is to measure university performance by ascertaining the employment rate of graduates at 6 months and 3 years post-graduation (correcting for post-graduate study). It's a short-sighted standard because it fails to control for many possible explanatory variables. If a temporary downturn in the electronics industry slows hiring of newly minted engineers, for example, a school with a high engineering enrollment will be penalized.

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 Ireland goes ...

Ireland votes today on the European constitution, and Europe waits with bated breath. Since Ireland has, by most accounts, benefited handsomely from EU largesse, a no vote would be astonishing--but not surprising. (I am reminded of the--doubtless apocryphal--story of the lexicographer Littré, whose wife one day caught him in bed with another woman. "Je suis surprise," said the wife. "Non, madame," replied Littré: "Vous, vous êtes étonnée. C'est moi qui suis surpris." If only all the nuances of French came with such delightful mnemonic anecdotes.)

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?