Thursday, April 30, 2009
Hmm. We have the makings of a rather obscure plot for a thriller. I can't wait to find out whodunit.
The new train route, all 35 billion euros worth of it, will circumnavigate Paris, but, more than that, it will, if the planners are right, alleviate the centripetal pressure on the historic core and animate the burgeoning periphery, whose vast extent most tourists never grasp. Paris is a huge bassin of humanity, a complex ecosystem of new and old growth, and every so often the future of the agglomeration is altered by some ambitious new plan to modulate and reshape the chaos that every vital city encompasses and disciplines as best it can.
I recall some of the early battles over the RER, a project at once radical and conservative. The conservativism is evident in the convergence of lines in the cavernous station at Châtelet, as if it were impossible to conceive of a Parisian circulatory system that did not have its heart somewhere close to the city's historic center. The new line purports to have no center, yet its circumference certainly implies one. Still, it will move people tangentially, not centripetally, in recognition of the fact that the region has become a congeries of edge cities rather than a single historic city with suburbs. In that it marks a real new departure.
This is the new growth pattern everywhere, but it has been easier for other cities to adapt because they don't generally have the root-and-branch identification with centralism that Paris has. Le Grand Paris marks a revolution in mentalities as much as in motion. I don't imagine I'll live long enough to see its ultimate effect on my favorite city in all the world, but no doubt it will be as great as that of le mur murant Paris qui rend Paris murmurant.
Mr Kouchner then requested that the UN be given access to the civilians trapped with the Tigers.
When the Defence Secretary responded that it was not safe for anyone to enter the area, Mr Kouchner volunteered to go himself.
"A smiling Rajapaksa told the French Foreign Minister that the LTTE was so desperate that he, too, would be taken hostage," the report said.
"I don't mind that risk," said Mr Kouchner, who co-founded the medical aid agency, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders).
The Sri Lankan defense minister was not amused, however:
“My problem is not what the LTTE will do to you,” he was quoted as saying. “Instead it is that should such a thing happen, we would not be able to take Prabhakaran as planned!”
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Hundreds of 'highly intimate' images of the French president's wife and her former lover have been stolen during a burglary.
The photographs and videos of Carla Bruni, who is on an official trip to Spain with Nicolas Sarkozy, date from the 41-year- old's affair with philosopher Raphael Enthoven.
Thieves broke into the Paris flat of his brother, 27-year-old actor Julien Enthoven, where the prints and videos were being kept, and stole them.
Police believe the images could be posted on the web, serving to embarrass Nicolas Sarkozy or be sold for a sizeable sum, thanks to his third wife's status.
And then there's this:
A week earlier £500,000 worth of jewellery was taken from the Neuilly apartment of Cecilia Attias, Mr Sarkozy's second wife.
£500,000? Really? That's a lot of bling for the ex-wife of a politician and current wife of a publicity man.
The Louvre's Pyramid is 20 years old. How odd that it has become timeless. I remember the shocked reactions of architectural conservatives at the time. Indeed, I attended one memorable dinner party at which a distinguished art historian held forth for quite some time about the unconscionable damage that was being done to the heart of Paris by the unspeakable president (as with FDR, there were some who could not bring themselves to pronounce the name of the loathed Mitterrand -- at least the wine was very good). Well, the shock has abated, and Paris has survived the Pyramid as it survived le Centre Pompidou, another scandal that has now become part of the landscape.
Today Sarko will announced his plans for Greater Paris. There is life outside the Périphérique, and it insists on being taken seriously.
Trois grands principes sont à retenir, et leurs ambitions ne sont pas des moindres.
Le premier consiste à changer notre démocratie sociale, en réformant en profondeur le fonctionnement (rôle et représentativité) des syndicats, afin de promouvoir un syndicalisme de services sur le modèle des pays nordiques. Il faudrait ainsi adapter au cas français le "système de Gand", où l’adhésion à un syndicat est la condition d’obtention de certaines protections (comme par exemple l’assurance chômage). L’objectif affiché est d’échapper à la "tragédie des communs", les salariés non syndiqués se comportant en passagers clandestins dans un système où les conventions collectives signées sont automatiquement étendues à l’ensemble des salariés. Cette proposition (avec au passage une pique de plus contre le SMIC, accusé de jouer contre le syndicalisme puisque bénéficiant à tous, sans parler du frein qu’il constituerait pour l’emploi des non qualifiés) s’accompagne d’une condamnation de l’opacité des financements des partenaires sociaux, qui jouerait contre la confiance, principe abstrait à l’origine d’un cercle vertueux de croissance et d’emploi, si l’on en croit les études de la Banque Mondiale sur la qualité des institutions et la bonne gouvernance, et l’analyse de nos auteurs eux-mêmes . La question du rôle des syndicats dans un pays où seulement 5% des salariés du privé et 8% des fonctionnaires sont syndiqués n’est certes pas nouvelle, et sans conteste importante. Mais le rôle et la légitimité des syndicats ne peuvent se résumer au seul chiffre du taux de syndicalisation, quand on voit que 3 millions de salariés sont descendu dans la rue le 19 mars à l’appel de ces mêmes organisations.
Le second concerne notre démocratie politique, les parlementaires étant accusés de dénaturer les réformes en oubliant l’intérêt général au profit de leur réélection locale. Le progrès passerait ainsi par l’interdiction du cumul des mandats et le renforcement constitutionnel des pouvoirs du Parlement. Les auteurs en appellent ainsi à une nouvelle nuit du 4 août, abolissant les privilèges des groupes d’intérêt particuliers au bénéfice de Parlementaires éclairés, soudain capables de favoriser le réformisme au détriment des logiques corporatistes (alors même qu’ils sont accusés du contraire dans l’ensemble de l’ouvrage). Ces propositions sont certes louables, mais ne sont-elles pas un peu trop générales et abstraites quand on a besoin de mesures à effet immédiat avec 80 000 chômeurs de plus par mois ?
Le troisième est justement plus concret, et touche directement à la frange de la population privée d’emploi. Il s’agit de l’activation des dépenses d’assurance chômage, incitant les bénéficiaires à une réinsertion rapide sur le marché du travail (au prix parfois de sacrifices en termes de qualité de l’emploi), en leur garantissant en retour un accompagnement renforcé. Les réformes récentes de la fusion ANPE-Unedic avec Pôle Emploi, et la mise en place du rSa étaient censées participer de cette logique de lutte contre les "trappes" à inactivité, mais la faiblesse des budgets accordés aux projets fait douter de leur efficacité. Si l’idée d’un accompagnement de qualité fait l’unanimité, l’analyse en creux de la rationalité purement économique des chômeurs, pour lesquels il faudrait "rendre le travail payant", reste sujette à débats entre les spécialistes de la question. De même, les auteurs plaident pour une externalisation des prestations d’accompagnement des demandeurs d'emploi, alors même que les expériences étrangères dans ce domaine restent peu concluantes quant à leur efficacité. Si ces exemples viennent illustrer l’échec des réformes du président Sarkozy dénoncé par P.Cahuc et A.Zylberberg de manière étayée, ils soulignent aussi l’urgence du débat autour des analyses économiques à l’origine des projets de réforme, systématiquement présentés comme allant dans la bonne direction, ce qui n’est pas si sûr ; sans parler de l’économie politique des réformes qui n’est pas abordée ici, comme si il n’y avait qu’à pour que ça fonctionne. Depuis le temps, ça se saurait…
Another statistic from the IMF report: to recapitalise the banking system to reach capital ratios that prevailed in the mid-1990s, capital injections of $275bn would be required for US banks, and a whopping $500bn for European banks.
You get the picture. All these data tell us that Europe has both the biggest problem and has made the least progress. And since recessions associated with financial crises last longer than ordinary recessions, as the economic literature on financial crises suggests, the eurozone has a big problem. The IMF says that even if the right policies are implemented at the right time the recovery will be slow and painful, because deleveraging takes its time. But if the right policies are not implemented, the recovery will take much longer.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||M - Th 11p / 10c|
|Intro - French Finance Minister|
Paradoxically, some opponents of collection claim to do so on the grounds that collection poses a potential threat to the security of minority groups. Minorities appear not to share this fear to the same degree as those who would protect them.
* "Die ganzen Zahlen hat der liebe Gott gemacht, alles andere ist Menschenwerk." -- Kronecker
Monday, April 27, 2009
Jospin's speech and various press reviews can be found here.
There is of course truth to this, but it's a complaint against democracy that goes back much farther than the invention of television, where Rocard seems to situate it. Good-government reformers have always deplored the emotionalism of voters, their lack of knowledge of the issues, and the superficial basis of their judgment. Splenetic attacks don't get us very far. It's time for Rocard to take down his volume of Aristotle's Politics and Plato's Republic. These will help him while away his time in retirement.
On a related (?) note, we have the petite phrase of Dominique de Villepin last week: asked whether it was true that he had a crush on Ségolène back when both were students at the ENA, the dashing pol said, "Oui, et pourquoi pas, elle le mérite, elle était belle et elle le reste." Most galant. Perhaps Ségo's next apology will be to M. de Villepin for having had the "merit" of attracting his roving eye.
European complacency--I don't think the word is too strong--in the face of the crisis is one of its more perplexing aspects. As this VoxEU column points out, there is good reason for concern about the level of debt that "emerging Europe" owes to Western European banks. Perhaps the reason for the complacency is that the most troubled banks are not in France and Germany but in Austria. But the French and German governments should show a greater sense of urgency, as should the ECB.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
But isn't this "beggar-thy-neighbor" economics? Protectionism through devaluation? Of course, Krugman thinks, rightly, that the ECB is culpable for not lowering interest rates and expanding the money supply more aggressively, so he no doubt thinks Britain's enhanced competitive position is only the just reward of a recalcitrant central bank. But British abuse of regulatory and rate competition is one reason why the ECB has been so conservative. To my mind, progress toward cooperation would be a much more positive sign than clever exploitation of competitive advantages made possible by being outside the Eurozone.
I think the revolution watchers are getting ahead of themselves. If there is to be a spring upheaval in France, it will happen next year. If the crisis deepens, if there are more layoffs, if the government response remains weak, and if the Socialists continue to dither, diminishing the likelihood of any political relief in the foreseeable future, then large numbers of people might be willing to take the risk. For now, I think there is still too much uncertainty about where things are headed. To be sure, the mood in the universities is turning increasingly angry, and students, who have less to lose than workers, are often the catalyst for wider disruption. But, unless I miss my guess, the mood among students is far less buoyant and far less radical than it was in '68. The complaints remain limited, small-bore, and, pour tout dire, corporatist.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
One begins to see a pattern here: hyperpresident at the top, hypopresidents everywhere else, but in each institution a single point of control.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Indeed, the Turkish amalgame is an excellent example of how foreign policy should not be made. It was petulant, illiberal, and profoundly irrelevant to both NATO's mission and the question of Rasmussen's competence to serve. But I'm not sure that Kouchner's response is an exemplary countermeasure, either. It seems equally petulant and equally irrelevant to the deeper arguments both for and against Turkish membership.
Unless of course Kouchner is extrapolating from this incident of symbolic politics to draw deeper conclusions about the nature of Turkish society and the character of the Turkish government. If so, he ought to spell out his thinking, given the importance of the change. I grant, however, that an improvised response to an unanticipated question prompted by an off-the-cuff use of the imperfect tense was probably not the ideal occasion to embark on such a reflection.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
But now that I'm back at my keyboard and in the privacy and anonymity of my boudoir, I will have to balance my sympathies against my blogospheric duty to thrust unwanted truth upon unseen power.
I also had a moment to reflect on the fleeting nature of power and glory. True, Jospin did fill an auditorium with 500 people in a foreign country 7 years after leaving office. But the next morning I found myself sitting alone with him in a student cafeteria at the UMontreal business school, and students came and went without noticing that a former prime minister was among them. And when we were joined by Jacques Parizeau, a former prime minister of the very province in which we were sitting, he attracted no more notice.
And Etienne Wasmer examines the effects of the crisis on employment and speculates about possible social and political consequences.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I must say that the former prime minister was also quite witty. I had always thought of him as an intelligent man, but wit never seemed uppermost among his qualities. But when a questioner tried to draw him out on a point by suggesting that he was close to Ségolène Royal, a "member of the same political family," Jospin observed that the young man, who had previously identified himself as "un concitoyen," clearly was French and not Canadian, as evidenced by his intimate knowledge of French politics and thoroughly Gallic "subtlety."
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Blogging will probably be slow for a few days.
Friday, April 17, 2009
And haven't the French ever heard of "off the record" or "Chatham House rules?" Really, this is no way to run a state, and if Sarkozy doesn't know it, perhaps some wise old head--a Guéant or a Levitte--ought to whisper it in his ear. Perhaps they have, and he is deaf.
British reactions here and here.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
His death has earned him a murderous obituary from Libération, which blasts him as "a young resister turned old reactionary." The piece ends thus:
Pour la génération qui l’a connu homme politique, il symbolisait une certaine forme de réaction culturelle. Il a résisté avec acharnement à la modernité et au changement social. Mais il avait auparavant résisté avec panache à la pire barbarie. Certains font des erreurs de jeunesse. Il a surtout fait des erreurs de vieillesse. Voilà qui mérite l’indulgence…
He will be remembered for Le Chant des partisans and for his resistance to the feminization of certain words such as le ministre. No doubt Madame la ministre de la Culture, who now holds the portfolio that was once Druon's, will speak at his funeral. Perhaps he would have savored the irony.
Le Monde reminds me of another thing for which Druon will be remembered: his opposition to Giscard d'Estaing's admission to the Académie. Not because Giscard is an execrable writer but because, in Druon's opinion, he stabbed de Gaulle in the back. And on Druon's resurrection of the word sébile, see here.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
So as we come up on the regime's second anniversary, the time seems ripe for un remaniement. Claude Guéant has said that there would be one at the midpoint in the presidency, but the midpoint of un quinquennat is really at the two-year mark, since the last year is consumed by preparations for the next presidential election. So it's time, and it's known that Dati will be going soon. Cashiering her will look less vindictive if her exit is accompanied by the swan songs of others. We don't know the results of the vaunted "ministerial evaluations," but we know that the displeasure of the palace has been mounting lately. The magazines are beginning to speculate about who covets what. The more interesting question is what mid-course correction the captain might choose to make, and I confess that Sarko's desires have become opaque of late, at least to me. The erstwhile omnipresident has for some time seemed content with less exposure, even before the Conseil d'Etat ruled that his media time must be counted, at least in part, in partisan totals. Has he settled in as un président fainéant, rather like the late Chirac, of whom he was so critical? Or is he just gathering his forces for another blitz? Does he have any idea where he wants to go, or where it might be possible to go in France's straitened circumstances? Or will he just play it by ear? Within the next month or two we should have a better idea.
For now, there's nothing to write about but small beer, but I refuse to follow the example of Marianne and wring my hands over the prospect of Morano at l'Education Nationale. Je m'en fous comme de l'an quarante.
P.S. Another way to fill the vacuum: with hot air about Sarkozy's supposed jealousy of Obama.
The philosopher Pascal Bruckner also points out that the French, perhaps more than other nations, are easily seduced by physical beauty. "Her looks are certainly a big plus," he said. "She has come to stand for a rebellion of youth and beauty against the establishment ... She is hated for precisely the same reasons within the government. And that makes her allure all the greater."
If the establishment has nothing more to fear than this "rebellion of youth and beauty," it will stand for a thousand years. We do get this choice tidbit, however:
Mme Yade was invited to accompany M. Sarkozy on a trip to West Africa two weeks ago. Another minister, Brice Hortefeux – a friend of M. Sarkozy's for 30 years – is reported by Le Figaro to have "half-jokingly" told her: "You're coming with us. That's good. But we don't have to bring you back again." Considering her African origins and that M. Hortefeux used to be the immigration minister, Mme Yade is said to have found the remark offensive.
Could Hortefeux really have been that maladroit? If Le Figaro is the source, it must be true. (h/t World Politics Review)
Monday, April 13, 2009
Research 2000 conducted a poll for Daily Kos gauging public attitudes about San Francisco, New York City, France, and Europe in general. Both San Francisco and New York both enjoy broad favorable numbers, but I was especially interested in the other parts of the poll.
* "Do you have a favorable or unfavorable opinion of the country of France?"
Overall, 61% of Americans have a favorable impression of the U.S. ally, including majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. The favorable impression was strong in the Northeast, West, and Midwest, and the only constituency with an unfavorable opinion of France was Southerners.
I think it's correct that minorities organize first at the local level before commanding power nationally. Still, Sabeg's argument connotes a strange passivity on the part of French minorities. It's as if they're waiting for power to be bestowed on them. Then they'll organize, using the state resources that become available to officeholders. This has things backwards. Power is rarely bestowed unless the bestowers have some reason to give up part of what they already have in order to preserve the rest. Minorities need to organize first outside the system if they expect to gain a foothold within it. But I'm sure the Obama representatives didn't omit that part of the lesson, even if it didn't come through clearly to all in attendance.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
France needs the equivalent of a Nate Silver: somebody who can authoritatively tell the pollsters why they've got their heads up their ...
Friday, April 10, 2009
Thursday, April 9, 2009
And then the EU may take care of it altogether:
Pendant les vacances parlementaires en France, les députés européens doivent se prononcer le 22 avril sur le paquet télécom, un ensemble de directives qui régiront les télécommunications dans l'Union européenne. Un amendement défendu par la socialiste Catherine Trautmann, ancienne ministre de la Culture, pourrait rendre la loi antipiratage française contraire au droit européen, s'il est adopté. Son vote ne fait guère de doute, puisque les eurodéputés se sont déjà prononcés par deux fois en faveur d'un amendement similaire, à la quasi-unanimité.
Back when he was a candidate, Sarkozy professed to "understand" the recourse to "direct action" by certain groups, such as fishermen, whom he described as "threatened with economic death." The defense was thus one of legitimate self-defense: who cannot countenance violence in such circumstances? Sarkozy implicitly asked. Now that he is president, he prefers to emphasize the existence of a "society of laws" and to call for the "most extreme severity" in dealing with demonstrators who break those laws. Olivier Besancenot has taken the opposite line: "Il est légitime et cohérent que cela dérape," he said, speaking of the destruction that took place in Strasbourg. Never mind that many of the demonstrators did not endorse the violence, or that much of the damage was confined to one of the poorer quarters of the city. And Besancenot's sentiments have been echoed, in less forthright terms, on both the left (Royal) and right (Villepin)--for an analysis, see Koztoujours.
The "legitimate self-defense" justification is one that I am prepared to countenance, but only in the most extreme circumstances. Neither a NATO summit nor layoffs at Caterpillar qualify. "Que cela dérape" is perhaps more "normal" in France than it ought to be, but "legitimate?" I don't think so, and the political class ought to remember the Chinese proverb: "He who mounts the tiger will end up inside." (I am aware of the proverbial riposte to this ancient wisdom: "The monkey rules the mountain when there is no tiger." Alas, after the tigers have eaten all the monkeys and each other, it is the hyenas who rule the mountain.)
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Below is a guest post from Arun Kapil, commenting on my earlier post on Villepin's ambitions:
The chances of Dominique de Villepin making a credible run for the presidency in 2012 are close to nil and for the following reasons.
- Even if Sarkozy stumbles between now and then, i.e., does not significantly better his current poll numbers (or even drops into the 20s), he will still run for re-election. One may be sure of that. And whenever an incumbent, however weakened, is challenged by a candidate within his own camp in a re-election campaign (first round in France, primaries in the US), the incumbent always wins.
- Sarkozy will be the candidate of the UMP and with all its formidable resources (militants, élus, money, etc). This is a certainty. An insurgent candidate – which is what Villepin would be – cannot mount a serious presidential campaign in France without the backing of a political party.
- In the unlikely event Sarkozy were to decide not to run for re-election Villepin would still not be the UMP’s candidate, for the simple reason that he has practically no base in the party. The villepiniste current in the UMP is comprised of a handful of seconds couteaux who carry no weight within the party and are unknown to the public. And if one remembers, Villepin as Prime Minister was deeply unpopular among UMP deputies – and particularly after the CPE fiasco –, who he treated with disdain (and privately as connards). UMP élus for their part simply could not warm up to a PM who had not only never run for elective office – who had never once undertaken the laborious task of building up a local constituency – but made it clear he considered such an exercise to be beneath him. In this respect, DDV has not changed one iota.
- Not only was there no love lost between PM Villepin and the UMP élus but he was/is not particularly popular among the party barons either. If Sarkozy is hors course in 2012, there is no way the party leadership will pass the standard to DDV or sit passively if he tries to seize it. Juppé will in likelihood be the man (and all the more so as he remains popular among UMP militants). Who knows, maybe even Fillon, once he’s replaced as PM (by next March at the latest), will come into his own and pose a credible alternative to Sarko within the party.
- Villepin has never had strong numbers in public opinion polls. Sure, he was greatly appreciated for his February 2003 performance at the UNSC but this never translated into support for his political ambitions. Even during his first several months as PM he never polled outside the single digits in the category of tout à fait favorable (as opposed to merely plutôt favorable), i.e., his support was soft even in the best of times and without a partisan hard core. After the CPE fiasco his numbers went south and stayed there. His name does not even figure in the IPSOS "Palmarès des leaders politiques" nowadays. And it should be noted that he was relatively popular as much – if not more – with voters of the left as of the UMP. But in 2012 those left voters will be looking toward the PS candidate and not a DDV on a white horse.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Lellouche's challenge to Mélenchon to fight a duel brings the absurdity to a pinnacle.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Maybe that's what Cambadélis is supposed to be doing at Aubry's side ... but if I were DSK, I wouldn't trust my fate to Cambadélis. I'd love to know what other bridges DSK maintains with the party back home, but I haven't seen much about this in the press.
On why European labor takes to the streets so readily, while American workers seem more reluctant to do so:
Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers, said there were smarter things to do than demonstrating against layoffs — for instance, pushing Congress and the states to make sure the stimulus plan creates the maximum number of jobs in the United States.
“I actually believe that Americans believe in their political system more than workers do in other parts of the world,” Mr. Gerard said. He said large labor demonstrations are often warranted in Canada and European countries to pressure parliamentary leaders. Demonstrations are less needed in the United States, he said, because often all that is needed is some expert lobbying in Washington to line up the support of a half-dozen senators.
This, mind you, from a union that got protectionist legislation out of the adamantly free-trade Bush II administration. This is a man who, by "politics," definitely means "the art of the possible" and not the construction of utopian ideals or ideological dreams--or even democratic majorities. It's getting done what the members need to get done.
Friday, April 3, 2009
“This happens elsewhere, but to my knowledge, taking the boss hostage is typically French,” Olivier Labarre, director of BTI, a human resources consulting firm, said in an interview with the newspaper Libération. “It’s the nature of the social dialogue in our country.”
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Au sommet de Londres, où Berlin et Paris ont obtenu gain de cause sur la régulation des marchés financiers, le président français a redécouvert la force de frappe du couple franco-allemand.The New York Times:
While the United States was determined to resist European efforts to create regulatory authorities with crossborder authority, officials said the two sides worked out policies on transparency and early risk warnings for banks that would placate France and Germany.
“There’s not going to be a ceding of sovereignty to a global regulator,” said a White House official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the negotiations were confidential.
Elu député en 1988, Nicolas Sarkozy continue sa carrière d'avocat. En accompagnant parfois ses riches clients vers des cieux fiscalement plus cléments.
The article contains other interesting information about Sarkozy's legal career, which merits further investigation.
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I note that executives of the Caterpillar plant in Grenoble, who had been held hostage by workers upset about their severance package, have been released, and negotiations with the company have resumed. A conference about the future of democracy in this morose social climate should be very interesting indeed.