Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Analysis of 2010 Budget

The left-wing think tank Terra Nova offers its analysis of the government's 2010 budget, unveiled yesterday.

UPDATE: The pdf seems to have been taken down, try this link instead for an html version.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Maître Eolas on Polanski

Ah, it's good to hear a Frenchman citing Tocqueville in the Polanski affair:

Et je bondis en entendant le ministre de la culture parler de « cette amérique qui fait peur ». Ah, comme on la connait mal, cette amérique.

Tocqueville avait déjà relevé il y a 170 ans, la passion pour l’égalité de ce pays. Elle n’a pas changé. Il est inconcevable là-bas de traiter différemment un justiciable parce qu’il appartiendrait à une aristocratie, fut-elle artistique. Il y a dix ans, l’Amérique a sérieusement envisagé de renverser le président en exercice parce qu’il avait menti sous serment devant un Grand Jury. Quitte à affaiblir durablement l’Exécutif.

Une justice qui n’épargne pas les puissants et les protégés des puissants ? On comprend qu’un ministre de la République française, qui a soigneusement mis son président et ses ministres à l’abri de Thémis, trouve que cette Amérique fait peur.

Pushback on Polanski

A few public voices in France have begun to push back against the knee-jerk support for Roman Polanski expressed by two government ministers.

It strikes me, in reflecting further on this affair, that the support for Polanski has been entirely abstracted from the facts of the matter. It is as if Mitterrand and Kouchner were invoking a long tradition of "defense of the artist" as the very incarnation of freedom. Thus André Malraux, arrested by the French colonial authorities for desecration (for quite venal purposes) of Cambodian antiquities, nevertheless enjoyed the full (and successful) support of the cultural avant-garde, despite the dubious motives of his adventure. And Malraux, of course, went on to become "Malraux," apparently justifying the defense ex post.

The defense of Malraux was dubious enough, but his crime can hardly compare with Polanski's. But combine "the freedom of the artist" with the (apparent) French prejudice that the American system of justice is biased and corrupt, and you get the statements of Mitterrand and Kouchner.

UPDATE: And then there's this astonishing comment from L'Express:

Dernier point, essentiel. Je lis, même en France, les propos de quelques commentateurs s’étonnant que Polanski craigne tant la justice d’un pays civilisé comme les Etats-Unis. Pas si simple.
Les lois américaines ont considérablement changé depuis les années 70. Et Polanski, quand bien même il serait jugé selon les législations en vigueur à l’époque, serait confronté à des jurés, et à une machine politico judiciaire qui a fait des crimes sexuels sur les mineurs le tabou et l’épouvantail de prétoires médiatisés. Le système se moque totalement de la réinsertion ou de la rédemption des « délinquants sexuels » et obéit à une logique paranoïaque d’éradications et de bannissement, attisée par les médias locaux, par les juges et les procureurs en quête de réélection, autant que par des législateurs terrorisés par les réactions d’un électorat toujours plus apeuré par « les monstres qui rodent autours de leurs enfants ».


Yes, we "paranoid" Americans afraid of "sexual delinquents" preying upon our children would have no counterpart in a civilized country like France, except of course in an isolated place like Outreau, or perhaps in the Elysée, where the president of the Republic received the parents of le petit Énis, the victim of a child molester whose réinsertion was "totally mocked" by "the system" after it proved to have been a mistake.

The Crisis of Social Democracy

Political scientist Laurent Bouvet ponders the crisis of social democracy.

RSA Extension

President Sarkozy will today announce an extension of the Revenue de Solidarité Active (RSA) to youths under 25. This is the group hit hardest by the crisis. Additional measures to aid the young unemployed include guidance for high-school dropouts between the ages of 16 and 18. The UMP isn't happy about Martin Hirsch's influence in this area, but Le Figaro paints the relationship between Hirsch and Sarkozy as "utilitarian" and "contractual," taking the words from Hirsch himself. Each is using the other, in other words. Or so each thinks.

Two informed views of the decision.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Web Sites

So Ségo and BD (Delanoë) have incurred some ridicule for their Web sites. But does having a slick site make you a viable candidate? Compare this and this. Competent Web design but not much electoral hope.

Deux poids, deux mesures

The official French reaction to Roman Polanski's arrest has been rather surprising. When "The Jungle" in Calais was closed last week, minister Eric Besson said he regretted having to crack down on such unfortunate people, but the law is the law. When immigrants are expelled from France, minister Brice Hortefeux reminds those given to compassion that France is a country in which the rule of law is sacred.

Yet when a film director who pleaded guilty to sex with a minor and then fled the United States to avoid the consequences was arrested this weekend in Switzerland, minister Frédéric Mitterrand rushed to the microphones to make known his shock and consternation and assured journalists that his reaction was shared by the president. The rule of law was not mentioned. But a certain anti-Americanism was evident in M. Mitterrand's remarks:

Just as there is an America which is generous and which we like, so there is an America which is frightening, and that is the America which has just revealed its face.


Now, granted, 31 years have passed. And the victim would prefer to see the case forgotten. She has moved on. Perhaps the rest of us should as well. In the end I may even be persuaded that this is the best course of action, all things considered.

But in the meantime I think that, for once, the rule of law might well be invoked by a government that is in the habit of relying on it only when it is convenient. Why, indeed, shiould the minister of culture be involved in a case of statutory rape? To listen to M. Mitterrand, you'd think that this was yet another of those cases in which "American puritanism" and "philistinism" got in the way of the sophisticated and comprehensive understanding necessary to understand why Polanski acted as he did. What else could explain the acharnement of the American authorities, perpetuating the alleged vindictiveness of Polanski's original judge?

And yet, and yet ... the facts of the case are not disputed. For some reason not clear to me, Polanski deserves forgiveness because he is ... a creator and was himself once a victim of Nazi persecution. I have difficulty following this argument. I have difficulty understanding why it is the minister of culture arguing this case rather than the minister of justice. I have difficulty seeing why the rule of law should not be allowed to take its course. If Polanski is to go free because he is now 76, because his victim has forgiven him, and because no public purpose would be served by sending him to prison, then so be it. But that is a case to be made in court, and not by the minister of culture in front of a microphone. I am glad to see that other observers agree with me.

P.S. After I last criticized Frédéric Mitterrand, several readers e-mailed to say that I really ought to read his book of memoirs. I have now done so and agree that it is a very good and very moving self-portrait. Having read it, I think better of the man. But the man is now a minister, and his public actions to date continue to raise questions in my mind.

P.P.S. There's more from the UMP in the anti-American vein:
«Ca doit nous interpeller également sur un autre point», a estimé le porte-parole adjoint Dominique Paillé. «On nous présente toujours les Etats-Unis comme une très grande démocratie et une sorte de démocratie exemplaire». Or «on découvre aujourd’hui qu’il n’y a pas de prescription pour les crimes et délits» dans ce pays, a-t-il relevé.


Statute of limitations? The man has been a fugitive for 31 years. I don't think France has a statute of limitations for fugitives either. This is simply obtuse.

UPDATE: A good comment by Scott Lemieux.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Implications of the German Result

The German Social Democrats have suffered a stunning defeat. What lessons will the French Left draw from the failure of the "Grand Coalition" in Germany? There are of course many differences between the two countries' situations. But Die Linke did surprisingly well in today's election, and the past few years' effort to rule from the "responsible center" seems to have done nothing to help the sagging fortunes of the Left. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, whose effort to form a splinter party on the left was inspired by Die Linke, sees the outcome as a warning to the PS. The outcome is sure to be spun every which way by others in the French Left.

Frankly, I'm not sure what to make of the German vote.

PS Needs Web Designer

After Ségolène Royal's Web site was mercilessly mocked, to the point where Pierre Bergé, her mécène de service, refused to pay for it (it was designed by her boyfriend), you'd think Bertrand Delanoë would have hired a pro. Perhaps he did, but the result is rather amateurish.

Are the Socialists doomed to be Les Pieds Nickelés of politics in all departments?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Pleased as Punch

Sarko is pleased as punch with the G20. He got his way on the banker bonus thing. The so-called "moralization of capitalism" is one of those resonant phrases that sounds good in a sound bite--or presidential debate. Sarkozy and Guaino are no doubt already honing the line for use against whatever candidate the Left finally chooses to sacrifice to the juggernaut. What were you doing to "moralize capitalism" back in the crisis, Sarko will say, while I was staring down the servants of Wall Street at the G20?

But when it comes to the nitty-gritty of financial system regulation--bank capital requirements, for example--France and its fellow Europeans like to fall back on Basel II. If you don't know why that's a bad idea, Joe Nocera explains it here. And for an even more pessimistic read, there is always Simon Johnson, who believes that G20, by inducing a false sense of security, may actually have been "dangerous."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Presidential Temper

For some reason, the press seems more interested in the spat between Nicolas Sarkozy and Arlette Chabot than in the dressing down of Bernard Kouchner that precipitated it. Convergent accounts suggest that the president, immediately after his less-than-stellar performance in a televised interview, attacked his foreign minister for telling the NY Times that he had serious reservations about imposing sanctions on Iran. Since France is about to join the US and Britain in accusing Iran of concealing a nuclear facility from inspectors, a move that is almost certain to issue in a call for sanctions and heightened tensions with Iran, Kouchner's defection is a serious matter, which will provide ammunition to the Chinese, who oppose the Western powers on this issue. After all of Obama's work to bring the Russians closer to the US position, Kouchner's article was no doubt a major irritant to the Americans, though nothing has yet leaked publicly about any reproaches to France from the American side, as far as I know.

So it is rather astonishing to discover that a) Kouchner apparently did not clear his statement with the president's staff and b) that Sarko would dress him down in public, before an audience of journalists. It is frequently said that Sarkozy is his own foreign minister and Kouchner merely window-dressing, which makes it all the more surprising that Sarkozy would tear away the curtains and expose the family quarrel to public view.

Given the seriousness of the issue involved, Sarko's subsequent carping to Chabot about the deterioration of the state TV news service, justified or not, seems trivial.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sarko's Gaffe

After the last G20, President Sarkozy was heard complaining about Barack Obama's insufficient knowledge of climate issues. It seems that Sarko has some studying to do himself: yesterday he confused the greenhouse gas effect with the depletion of the ozone layer.

Oops: a gaffe of my own--I forgot to mention Sarko's other gaffe, referring to the defendants in the Clearstream case as "guilty" rather than "accused." Tsk, tsk.

Alain Duhamel thought Sarko looked emaciated in his TV interview with Pujadas and Ferrari last night. I agree, but perhaps that was by comparison with the Pujadas-Ferrari couple, the Ken and Barbie of TV news. They weren't up to much, but they didn't have to be, since Sarko was determined from the outset to do all the talking.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Abrasions

A Le Monde journalist of North African descent recounts his daily encounters with prejudice.

Regionals


Compare two maps: this one in Le Figaro, showing where the paper thinks the Right will do well in the regionals, and the one below, the most recent map of unemployment in France. The Right is generally doing well where unemployment is lowest.

Giscard Fesses Up

OK, so he didn't sleep with the princess and is just an over-the-hill skirt-chaser with a hyperactive imagination: un homme, donc, fait de tous les hommes, et qui les vaut tous et que vaut n'importe qui.

Incomprehensible

Gérard Collomb, once an important backer of Ségolène Royal, finds her recent actions "incomprehensible" and in particular cannot understand her change of position on the carbon tax. (She, of course, denies that she has changed position, but I'm with Collomb on this one.) Here is yet one more sign that Ségo is now essentially on her own in her quest for the presidency. Apart from Bianco and Frêche, I'm not sure that anyone of remotely national stature remains in her camp.

Meanwhile, as Bernard Girard notes, the Socialists did badly in the by-election in Yvelines, outstripped 20-15 by the Greens. One can propose various explanations for this poor showing, but I am inclined to agree with Bernard that the most plausible is voter fatigue with the Socialists' inability to distract themselves from their internal quarrels long enough to propose any sort of recognizable alternative to the policies of the Right.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

UNESCO Saves Its Conscience

UNESCO rejected Farouk Hosni's candidacy in favor of Bulgarian Irina Bokova. Claude Lanzmann and Bernard-Henri Lévy had made quite an issue of this in France, owing to Hosni's threat as Egyptian minister of culture to burn any Israeli books he found in Egyptian libraries. Others had argued that Hosni's election would be a signal to Muslim countries.

Yes, but what kind of signal? It's not often that I agree with BHL, but really--making a man who threatened to burn books, and Jewish books at that, the head of an organization charged with the world's culture. It was an affront to the world's conscience. And the vote--31 to 27--suggests that the world has precious little of that invaluable quantity.

Clearstream

Dominique de Villepin's grandiloquence was abundantly on display at the opening of the Clearstream trial yesterday. With his unique blend of bonhomie, verve, and chutzpah, he presented himself as the "victim" of the "will" and "relentlessness" of one man, Nicolas Sarkozy. This swashbuckling sword thrust successfully captured the attention of the media. In the France24 debate in which I took part yesterday, it seemed to be taken as a given that the presence of the president of the Republic among the parties civiles somehow "compromised the independence of the court."

I tried to push back against this interpretation. Indeed, the independence of the judiciary is always an issue in France, but the questions and doubts would hardly disappear if the president were not a partie civile. In a case that hinges in large part on the testimony of government officials and intelligence operatives and on control of information, there is abundant opportunity to influence the course of the trial, quite apart from any direct hierarchical pressure on the prosecutors and magistrates. Indeed, Sarkozy's being a party to the case is, I think, more of a coup de comm' than a form of influence. He is demonstrating his pugnacity rather than pressuring the court. It would perhaps have been wiser for him to enhance the appearance of neutrality by staying out and pulling strings, if he is of a mind to, behind the scenes, but that might have seemed perilously close to running from a fight, which is not his style. And Villepin has chosen to reply in kind, as if he had just emerged from un cachot to lead the people in an uprising against their cruel oppressor.

Perhaps, when all is said and done, the case will be remembered as a milestone in the shift from one regime of crony capitalism to another. In the past politicians felt the need to conceal their relationships with the "malefactors of great wealth" through a variety of subterfuges. Sarkozy's relationship to wealth is décomplexé. He courts it openly and, so far as we know, has never reached under the table for a stuffed envelope. That's rather remarkable for a political career that began in the Hauts-de-Seine and evolved at the highest levels of the UMP, which cannot boast in general of so clean a record.

Sarko the Unamerican

John Vinocur of The New York Times sees tensions mounting between France and the US over Russia's desire to buy a French helicopter carrier to enhance its amphibious assault capability. With the US just having recalibrated its own policy, essentially removing Russia from the list of imminent threats to Europe, it should have no basis in principle for objecting to the deal. And yet, and yet ... old habits die hard, ruffled East European feathers need to be smoothed, and there is also the potential, as Vinocur notes, of European military sales to China, which Sarkozy strongly favors and the US military strongly opposes.

So, in the space of a few years, US-French relations have veered from execrable to euphoric (when Sarko was acclaimed as La Fayette reincarnate by the US Congress) to normal, which is to say, tense and at times testy. Normal, to my mind, is better than either execrable or euphoric, because realism is the only basis for a lasting relationship.

Monday, September 21, 2009

France24 Appearance

I'm going to be on France24 today at 19:10 Paris time (1:10 PM EST) to discuss the Clearstream Affair and hopefully set it in a broader context. I'm not sure how one watches France24 except via the Web. There will be two other participants in the discussion.

Kiss and Tell

Suddenly, the presidency has gone all literary. Sarko is reading Proust, and Giscard is rewriting La Princesse de Clèves with himself in the role of princess lover. Only, as befits the media age, the princess in question is Lady Di, with whom Giscard intimates he was intimate prior to her beatification. She was 23, he was 58 and already out of power (so if power wasn't the aphrodisiac in this affair, it must have been economics, or some Gallic je ne sais quoi). Having read one of Giscard's earlier literary efforts, I think I'll wait for the film.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Open War?

Ségolène Royal was in Montpellier today, and her message to her followers was quite simple: it's time to "transcend the PS" and "create the powerful and open movement that the country wants." Is this a declaration of war against the Socialist Party? I was going to say "against her own party," but it seems increasingly clear that Ségo no longer regards the PS as her party or as essential to her quest for the presidency. As for the movement that the country "wants," I suspect that even Ségo has no illusions about being wanted personally. What she seems to be banking on is that smoldering discontent with Sarkozy can be fanned into a movement, which will then seek a leader, for which position she is hereby tendering her candidacy.

I don't think either premise of this argument is correct. The discontent with Sarko is no more coherent now than it has been at any time in his presidency, indeed probably less so. And even if it were to cohere, there is no reason to think that it will automatically cohere around Royal. I think she is less popular now than she was when she lost the presidential election. She has not grown in opposition, and the sheer fear of a Sarkozy presidency, which was her main trump before, has diminished, as he has proven to be a president like the others rather than a Trojan horse who would either bring the aliens (neoliberal aliens) into the city or else empower those whose abiding aim was to toss the aliens out.

Obama Will Upstage Sarkozy

It looks like Obama will steal Sarkozy's thunder at the G20: he will come on strongly in favor of limiting bankers' compensation, along lines set forth yesterday by Tim Geithner. This had been Sarko's signature issue and the object of his walkout threat. Now the headlines will be Obama's, except perhaps in France. But the devil will remain in the details, as I suggested in my post yesterday. The banks are already inventing schemes to circumvent the regulations.

Sarkozy Reads Proust

That's what it says here. I am therefore announcing today a French Politics contest. Entrants must choose which character in Proust Sarkozy most resembles and explain the reasons for their choice. A prize will be awarded to the winner: a copy of Sarko's biography Georges Mandel: Le Moine de la politique.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Le Cheval de Retour

Will the carbon tax bring back the horse? It seems that in the field of trash collection, it already has. I'm not sure that the horse's carbon footprint relative to that of the garbage truck has been all that carefully calculated, however. Growing all those oats must be pretty carbon intensive. And what about the CO2 of all that fecal decay (to say nothing of the methane footprint). We need a full accounting.

Sarkozy, the G20, and the Banks

Nicolas Sarkozy is already collecting press clippings about his not-yet-achieved success in persuading the G20 to curb bankers' bonuses. The EU is already on board, and he has spoken to Obama by telephone. So we can expect that enough will come out of the conference to justify a brief song and dance in Paris. But the bankers aren't sitting idly by. Gillian Tett today describes what one bank, Barclay's, is doing to beautify its balance sheet while creating an offshore, non-bank entity in the Cayman Islands, where ex-bankers will be able to collect bonuses as executives of a non-bank investment vehicle that won't be subject to whatever regulations the G20 come up with. Here we have a perfect example of the difficulty of regulating global finance, even when national governments are willing to coordinate globally.

Which is not to say that Sarkozy doesn't deserve credit for trying. But what is needed here is a long-term effort to change the whole culture of banking. I'm not sure that persistence is Sarkozy's long suit, but his leadership here could be useful, since Obama, despite being snubbed by the very American bankers whom he so unstintingly bailed out earlier this year (they didn't even turn up for the mild tongue-lashing he administered on Wall Street this week), seems to have decided that changing the culture of banking is a job too big for the US government to tackle. Someone needs to hold Obama's feet to the fire, and Simon Johnson can't do it alone.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Balladur Looks Back

Édouard Balladur looks back on his relations with Mitterrand, Chirac, and Sarkozy.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

OECD Note on French Unemployment

The OECD's note on French unemployment can be consulted here. Young workers have been most severely affected by the crisis, with a jump in the youth unemployment rate from roughly 18% in 2007q4 to 24% in 2009q2. But "the social consequences of the jobs crisis could be less severe in France than in many other OECD countries" owing to a superior social safety net.

All Politics Is Local

Here's one for the "all politics is local" department.

Labo des Idées

The Socialist Party has launched its Laboratoire des Idées, which is supposed to serve as a "hub" linking intellectuals, from whom the party had by its own admission "cut itself off" in recent years, to the inner circles of politics and policy. On verra. An account of the first meeting can be found here.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Measuring Well-Being

If you're interested in the contents of the Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi Commission report, you can find it here.

Ségo Makes Her "Solemn Statement"

Ségolène Royal has delivered the "solemn statement" she promised on the question of fraud in the PS. She wants "sanctions" against anyone found guilty of fraud.

"An Example of What We Shouldn't Be Doing"

That's Sarko on the DNA testing controversy, in which he came down squarely on Eric Besson's side. "Everybody knows DNA tests are useless." Of course he didn't say that back when the law was being debated. Then he seemed to be in favor of it. But that's what happens when you try to steer a course through the dangerous straits of immigration restrictions. The president has hard-liners in his party to appease, but he doesn't want to start any sleeping hares. He did start quite a few with this now defunct law, but their opposition was no more serious than the law itself. All shadow boxing.

Bibliometrics

An interesting critique of "bibliometry" as a method for evaluating research performance, and why it won't work in France as currently envisioned.

More on Mitterrand and German Reunification

Pierre Haski looks back on 1989 in light of the recently released Thatcher-Mitterrand discussions and sees "a shadow on Mitterrand's diplomatic record." The video clip, in which he tells J.-P. Elkabbach that the French have no reason to fear events that we now know made him afraid, makes for interesting viewing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stiglitz Commission Report

The Stiglitz Commission has submitted its report, and Sarkozy says he will push its recommendations for new ways to measure economic progress that rely less on the standard macroeconomic indicators such as GDP and more on measures of "individual well-being." You will recall that this all began with a call for a new "politics of civilization." Twenty-two experts were called in to help define the civilizing process, and today's report is the result. Time will tell what comes of it.

Here is Stiglitz's comment.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

DNA Testing Is Quietly Buried by Besson

Eric Besson, the ex-Socialist now in charge of immigration, has refused to sign orders authorizing DNA testing provided for under a law passed last year:

"Et moi je ne peux pas, dans le délai imparti, respecter et l'esprit et la lettre de la loi", a conclu le ministre.
And that's that. The law has been quietly buried, and no one seems to care, perhaps because the government is so intent on "essential matters," as Sarkozy recommended in the wake of the Hortefeux affair.

Bankers Look at France

There's this:

“There is no doubt in my mind that there is a deliberate plan to direct people’s anger towards the financial community and away from the government,” said one investment banker. “They are clearly looking for scapegoats at which to finger-point and trying to make themselves popular in the public eye.”


And then there's this:

“At its base, French culture is a mix of Catholic conservatism and Marxism,” a senior banker said. “One of the charming things about France – but one of its problems also – is that everything does not revolve around money.”


Yes, charming indeed.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Busy, busy

France is blessed with leaders who haven't a moment to lose. Yesterday, President Sarkozy let it be known that he had too much work to do to worry about Brice Hortefeux's unfortunate sense of humor:

"Franchement, en ce moment, j'aimerais que chacun se concentre sur son travail et ne perde pas de temps dans des polémiques", a déclaré le président, en réponse à une question de la presse à l'issue d'un entretien à l'Elysée avec le président du gouvernement espagnol José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. "Moi, j'essaye vraiment de me concentrer sur mon travail. Je demande à chacun de le faire. Il y a tellement de réformes, tellement de difficultés... Ce que j'en pense, c'est que j'ai vraiment peu de temps de perdre avec ça", a conclu le chef de l'Etat.


And Martine Aubry is far too busy to be distracted by charges that she owes her surménage to having cheated her way into her present leadership position:

... moi, je sais une chose, c'est que j'ai mieux à faire aujourd'hui, c'est préparer ce projet de l'alternance pour 2012 et c'est donner ce matin le coup d'envoi de la rénovation du Parti socialiste qui va rénover profondément la vie française.


Which leaves the poor blogger panting to catch up with the evasions of les uns et les autres.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Hortefeux Scandal Roundup

Azouz Begag sees a lying minister and a violation of the law. Le Monde editorial sees a betrayal of the values of the Republic. Reconstruction of the exchange. Another. Partisan polemics.

Le Monde, while claiming to defend republican values, wants to play down the episode, which, says Eric Fottorino, took place in a "bon enfant" setting and represents yet another unfortunate intrusion upon the "privacy" of public officials characteristic of our degraded age. Perhaps so, but the words of the Minister of the Interior are all the more shocking because they exhibit the cavalier contempt that he exhibits in private for a substantial number of his constituents. And his subsequent denials attest to an equally cavalier contempt for the truth. Sarkozy should fire him.

Hold the Presses: Krugman Defends Sarko!

Paul Krugman, one of the leading voices of the American Left, has spoken out with characteristic bluntness in support of Sarkozy's proposal to impose a "carbon tariff" on imports to the EU:

Yet when France’s Sarkozy says something entirely reasonable on the subject — and something that may well be an essential part of the politics of climate change policy — the usual suspects pop up declaring that it’s evil protectionism.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hortefeux's Outrageous Words

In the United States, a remark like this would end Hortefeux's political career:

Sur cette vidéo que s'est procurée "Le Monde", le ministre de l'intérieur, Brice Hortefeux, a posé pour la photo en compagnie d'un jeune militant, samedi 5 septembre lors de l'université d'été de l'UMP, à Seignosse dans les Landes. "Il ne correspond pas du tout au prototype", plaisante M. Hortefeux en référence à l'origine arabe du jeune homme, avant d'ajouter : "Il en faut toujours un. Quand il y en a un ça va. C'est quand il y en a beaucoup qu'il y a des problèmes."


It's particularly astonishing that this hasn't created more of a flap in view of the firing by Brice Hortefeux of the prefect Paul Girot de Langlade for an alleged remark of similarly racist tenor.

The Collapse of Trade

Why has global trade fallen at a faster rate than global GDP? A variety of economists look at the reasons here. Several single out the increased importance of global supply chains. Barry Eichengreen puts it best:

When a U.S. household decides not to buy a
$40,000 Cayenne sport utility vehicle from Germany,
German exports to the United States go down by $40,000,
but Slovakian exports to Germany go down by perhaps
half that amount, since while the final assembly is done in
Leipzig, the coachwork is done in Bratislava.

Carbon Tax Details

Sarko's speech. The initial tax will be 17 euros per ton, up 3 from the 14 previously announced by Fillon but still well below the 32 recommended by the Rocard Commission. Still, Sarkozy deserves some credit for sticking to his guns and rejecting those in his own party who wanted to renege on this initiative.

Elle s’appliquera à tous les consommateurs d’énergies fossiles, ménages comme entreprises à l’exception notable de celles soumises au système européen d’échanges de quotas de CO2 dont notamment l’électricité. Elle couvrira 70 % des émissions de l’Hexagone et devrait rapporter de l’ordre de 4,3 milliards d’euros par an. Cette somme sera placée dans un fonds autonome et son utilisation sera soumise au contrôle d’une commission indépendante comme l’avaient souhaité les experts réunis autour de Michel Rocard.

Mitterrand on German Reunification

François Mitterrand's opposition to German unification was no secret, but previously secret British documents reveal its depth as never before:

Secret British government documents to be published on Friday reveal that François Mitterrand privately warned Margaret Thatcher that a reunited Germany might “make even more ground than had Hitler”.

...
Another notable encounter took place over lunch at the Elysée palace on January 20 1990. Mr Powell reports that Mr Mitterrand talked about how reunification would see the re-emergence of the “bad” Germans who had once dominated Europe.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

France and l'Esprit Militaire

I have been called out in an interblog dogfight. This blogger thinks France is unusually militaristic in its national celebrations. This one begs to differ, and asks for my opinion. I agree with the latter. Parades and symbols are not the whole story, however. The influence of the military is pervasive in the United States government. Grunstein mentions Powell and Eikenberry. I would point out that the current national security advisor, James Jones, is a former general as well (he speaks French, by the way).

American veneration of the military is more a matter of psyche than hardware, however. It's true that one doesn't often see armor rolling down Pennsylvania Ave. (although I believe there were tanks in the inauguration day parade, and I certainly recall the tanks tearing up the quiet streets of my hometown in N.J. in the 1950s on the Fourth of July). It's more common in America to lament ostentatiously the sacrifices of "our men and women in uniform" than to flex muscle Moscow-style.

We dote on this sort of poshlost, to borrow a word from Nabokov. It's actually rather convenient to place the accent on one's own sacrifice rather than on one's country's superior equipment. The equipment, if displayed, might actually get Americans to think, as they rarely do, of the sacrifices of those against whom it is deployed.

The Germans are facing this inconvenient aspect of warfare right now in the context of a national election. The large recent loss of civilian life in Afghanistan may have been due to an error or inadvertence by German soldiers. For Germans this has become an issue. But the collateral damage has barely been noticed in an America inured to incidents of this kind. For us the issue is framed in terms of whether the continued sacrifice of American lives is justified by any achievable American interest. The Afghans barely figure in the debate except as instruments. To my mind, that is the mark of a militarized culture: one that sees the landscape solely in terms of coordinate grids and numbered objectives rather than as the home of a people. (And yes, I know that Generals Petraeus and McChrystal are supposed to be soldiers of a different kind, who don't make this mistake. They have changed the instrumentation, yes, but have they really changed the score?)

The French may delude themselves in one way with their fighter jets spewing tricolore contrails as they swoop down over Paris on July 14; Americans suffer from a blindness of another sort entirely.

Boutin on Sarkozy

Via Bernard G., this comment by Christine Boutin on what she learned as a minister under Sarkozy:

Interrogée par Canal-Plus sur ce qu’elle avait découvert de la politique aux côtés de Nicolas Sarkozy, la plus cruelle de ses ex-ministres a répondu : « Je pensais que la politique, cela consistait à faire avancer des dossiers. En fait, il s’agit de faire du buzz ».

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

And About that University Reform ...

So, Sarkozy's idea for reforming the universities was to devolve greater power to university presidents. His minister, Valérie Pécresse, has just discovered a bump in the road to Toulon. When you concentrate power in the hands of one person, you had better make sure that person can be trusted.

Sources?

Now, you have to wonder about the source(s) for this "story." When did Le Point turn into Closer?

More Trouble for Martine

Here.

Joan Scott Reviews ...

... two books on the headscarf controversy and has high praise for one, by Cécile Laborde, whose work I, too, greatly admire:

[I]f critical political thinking requires not only analysis of what’s wrong, but visions of what could be right, this book represents a tremendous achievement. Critical republicanism, as Laborde imagines it, allows us to interrogate “the republican credentials of existing institutions and norms.” Taking republican norms at their word, provides a tremendously useful vantage for those seeking to change existing practices. They become the standard against which social ills can be diagnosed and the need for reform justified. From this perspective, headscarves become not the measure of Muslim intransigence, but of the shortcomings of the French political system. They reveal that France is not – as some of its critics have maintained – too republican, but “not republican enough.” (p. 257)

Banking Regulation

The G20 finance ministers have firmly rejected Christine Lagarde's contention that the Basel II regulations would be sufficient to police the post-crisis banking system. The new capital and leverage requirements are tough and will be particularly difficult for European banks, because they limit the substitution of hybrid capital for true equity (see this article for technical explanations), a common practice in Europe. The limitation of leverage to a maximum of 25 to 1 will not please American investment banks, or what is left of them in their new guise as bank holding companies, since many of them were running considerably higher (and very unsafe) leverage ratios before the crisis.

But Simon Johnson is having none of it:

This is a sophisticated delaying action and you are seeing masters of economic policy spin at work. When something goes wrong on a colossal, global scale, here’s the playbook (e.g., as applied to capital requirements).

  1. Agree that there is a problem, but be very vague about it. “It’s complicated” is a good watch phrase.
  2. State some completely bland principles to which no can object.
  3. By all means, have a spat with the French or Germans. But then patch it up amicably at the big summit; agree to do a bit of everything, in principle. People are wowed by your leadership.
  4. Send the job of formulating technical details to a committee of experts, asking them to report at the end of 2009 – and then make adjustments through the end of 2010.
  5. Rely on the experts to produce a report of mind-numbing detail, which few really understand. The experts know their job and will deliver.
  6. Provide leaks of this work and your “true feelings” to sympathetic reporters. They will help declare victory against great, albeit vaguely specified, odds.
  7. At this point, it’s 2011 and either (a) new people are in power, or (b) other things have gone sufficiently well that everyone has forgotten about the financial fiasco of 2008-09.

The brilliance of this approach is that you can say, whenever someone objects that capital requirements are not being increased as much: “we are doing that, but the details are not yet fully settled,” or “but we agree with that principle; of course the details are complicated.”

And, in this context, the point of a G20 or IMF meeting is to have the world’s economic policymakers show mutual support. After all, our opinion leaders reckon, if everyone is on board, then this must be the right way to go.

There will be some minor changes, and these will be much trumpeted. But what will really change in or around the power structure of global finance – as it plays out in the United States, Western Europe, or anywhere else?

Nothing – and you know this because otherwise the CEOs of all our top financial institutions would be mounting massive PR campaigns against the proposals, with op eds, Internet ads, innumerable cable appearances, and a virtually constant presence at Treasury. Just think back to how active they were earlier this year, when FDIC-type resolution for big banks was on the table.

France Will Oppose Google

France will formally oppose Google's plan to digitize books. Frédéric Mitterrand, the minister of culture, who charmed the UMP's Jeunes Pops this weekend with a little softshoe comedy routine, will sign the order today.

I might add that I don't find M. Mitterrand as charming as do the UMP youngsters. I can't quite put my finger on why. Normally I appreciate irony, and M. Mitterrand is nothing if not ironic, but there's a certain lack of frankness in his character, a pleasure in the wearing of veils, a bit too much ostentation in the display of cultivation, and a demeanor that I find retors. But I judge from a distance and could be quite wrong.

Royal Flirts with Bayrou

It's 2007 again: Ségo is sitting by her telephone waiting for a call from François. Will Bayrou keep the date this time? In any case, Ségo has not waited for her chaperone Martine to give her the OK. Continuing her quest for the presidency as une cavalière seule, she has responded to Bayrou's overture to the Socialist Party by substituting herself for the party that didn't quite elect her its leader. It remains to be seen whether Martine will take this lying down. Either way, she loses: either a) Ségo becomes the de facto public face of the party, relegating Martine to the background and the thankless business of organizing the unorganizable, or b) she rebukes her maverick rival and shatters the façade of unity that is barely two weeks old. My guess: public rebuke. Martine veers left, with Hamon and Cambadélis applauding audibly, and the rules of the party primary are fixed to try to tamp down the possibility of centrist voters crossing over to choose the candidate of the Left. Though I'm not really sure what appeal Ségo holds these days for the 18% who voted Bayrou in the first round of 2007. Many of them would rather vote Green, I'm sure, than vote for Ségo or any of her potential PS rivals.

Competitiveness

France ranks no. 16 in competitiveness. Countries with a high emphasis on financial services such as the US and UK have dropped in the rankings since last year but are still ahead of France, according to the World Economic Forum.

For a stinging critique of the whole idea of competitiveness rankings, see here.

Tocqueville Review

The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville is now available on-line via Project Muse. You're entitled to one free issue, and, as it happens, the current issue 30(1):2009 contains an article by me, "A Fearful Asymmetry," as well as articles by two other "friends of French Politics," Justin Vaïsse and Éloi Laurent. If you don't have access through a university library, you might as well make this your sample issue.

This issue is a special one in honor of Stanley Hoffmann, le doyen of French studies in the U.S., who celebrated his 80th birthday this year. Stanley himself contributes the introduction to the issue, which was ably edited by Cheryl Welch (to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for valuable suggestions that greatly improved my piece).

One Last Map Set

I said that I wouldn't plague you any more with maps of unemployment, but indulge me one last time. Labor Day weekend is over, and I have to get back to work, so this really will be the last, but this is worth looking at, I think. Unfortunately I have to host it on another site, because Blogger won't display animated gifs. So you'll need to click here. When you do, you'll see an animated map showing unemployment in France in the first quarter of each year from 1982 to 2009. You'll see the business cycle come alive.

Monday, September 7, 2009

No Comment

Roselyne Bachelot evaluates the physique of the young Socialists.

Convenient Capitulation

How convenient: France's partners didn't want to cap bankers' pay, so now France won't have to either. Sarkozy's outrage needn't compromise the competitive position of French banking after all. Perhaps the best comment on this charade is from a German:

“Sometimes I get the impression that in some countries, and in some financial institutions, the casino is open again,” said Jürgen Thumann, the head of BusinessEurope, the pan-European employers’ group.

Françafrique vit encore

Nicolas Sarkozy had promised to change the ways of France in dealing with Africa. He intimated that Françafrique was no more. But Robert Bourgi, who was deeply enmeshed in the old ways of doing business and who presents himself these days as close to Sarkozy, has been saying that things haven't changed all that much:

«Je suis allé voir le Président de la République à l’Elysée en présence de M. Guéant et je lui ai passé le message ferme et voilé de menaces du Président Bongo. Et il m’a dit: écoute, dis à Omar (comme il l’appelle) et aux autres Chefs d’Etat que M. Bockel partira bientôt et sera remplacé par un de mes amis, un ami de M. Guéant. Il m’a donné le nom en me demandant de le garder pour moi. Et il m’a dit aussi (c’est important): ce nouveau ministre prendra ton attache, ne sois pas étonné et quelque part, tu l’initieras à l’Afrique.»

Effects of the Crisis


OK, bear with me: this will be the last map post for a while, I promise. Here you can see rather dramatically the effects of the crisis. From 2006 through 2007 there is steady improvement in the unemployment picture (click to enlarge), but then the crisis hits and sets most of the country back to where it was in 2006. Only the northwest is slightly better off: Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis.

Power and the Press

Marianne has an interview with Yves Bertrand, former head of the Renseignements Généraux, in which he comments on the press:

Connaître le nom du futur patron du Monde, de L’Express ou de Marianne était, pour moi et mes « lecteurs », quelque chose de fondamental. Probablement plus que de connaître le nom du futur ministre des Energies renouvelables ! Le Monde n’est pas n’importe quel organe de presse. L’affaiblissement du monopole idéologique exercé par ce quotidien ne pouvait me laisser indifférent. A` une certaine époque, personne n’osait contredire Le Monde. L’équipe constituée par Edwy Plenel, patron de la rédaction, et l’investigateur Hervé Gattegno était à même de nuire à n’importe quelle réputation ou situation : vous aviez traversé la rue en dehors des clous ? Vous étiez mort ! Mais lorsque vous voulez être trop puissant, vous finissez par vous faire abattre, ce qui a fini par arriver à Plenel, qui a laissé derrière lui un journal dont la ligne n’a pas fini de flotter...

Unemployment Again




Still playing with the mapping routines in R. Here is a comparison of unemployment in France at decade intervals: 1q of 1989, 1999, and 2009 (INSEE data, click on any map to enlarge). I've fixed the South Corsica bug and changed the color mapping so that the deepest blue is the lowest unemployment and the brightest red is the highest. As we approach the regional elections, maps like these may become useful. As you can see, things have improved quite a bit since 1999 but are still not back to the "cool" map of 1989.

The Traveling Salesman

Sarko's back to his old VRP routine, peddling high-tech weaponry in Brazil. Outsourced to Judah Grunstein.

Bayrou's "Public Offer of Dialogue"

François Bayrou refuses to stay down on the mat. He was pretty well wiped out in the last (European) elections, yet over the weekend he was attempting to resurrect himself as leader of the opposition, making a "public offer of dialogue" to the PS. (Eric Dupin wittily compares this "OPD" to an OPA.) He brings little to the dialogue other than his pretension to be the most anti-Sarkozyst of all and therefore the natural leader of the opposition. It takes chutzpah to do this after being repudiated by the voters and humiliated by Cohn-Bendit. But the slow-talking Bayrou is a patient man. He expects that somehow, some day, the tide will turn. And so he persists in his increasingly lonely and futile quest.

IMF Blog

The IMF has a blog.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hospital Co-Pay Will Rise

The hospital co-pay will rise from 16 to 20 euros per day. The ostensible reason is to help reduce the Sécu deficit of 20 billion, but the price hike will raise only an estimated 400 million, which still leaves a pretty big hole. Some new restrictions on reimbursement of over-the-counter medications will raise some additional cash, but the center of the trou still gapes.

Unemployment Across France

This post is just an excuse to show off the skill I've just acquired in using the mapping capabilities of the statistical software package R. The map (click to enlarge) shows the most recent unemployment figures (INSEE) by département in five levels:
gray = 4-6%
blue = 6-8%
green = 8-10%
red = 10-12%
black = >12%

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Sarko's Coup de Comm'

Hat tip to MYOS for this one:

Sirinelli on the Right

Historian Jean-François Sirinelli considers the achievement of the UMP in establishing itself as a unified party of the Right. He is inclined to give much of the credit to Nicolas Sarkozy. He makes a persuasive case, although I would place much greater stress than he does on changes in the ideological climate. The demise of communism, the decline of Marxism as an intellectual force, the rise of neoliberalism and its attendant shifts in conservative understandings of the role of the state in managing the economy--all are important factors. Sirinelli's discussion raises the interesting question of why the Right has been able to achieve unity while the Left has not. I would stress sociocultural factors: the Left must bridge the gap between a culture of management and a culture of confrontation, whereas the Right is built upon a culture of order to which even its working-class elements subscribe. Insecurity and immigration--the most potent of the perceived threats to order--are therefore important factors in establishing right-wing solidarity.

Climate and Wine

Another FT piece catches the eye this morning: the French wine industry is threatened, many wine growers feel, by climate change. France's culture de la vigne is as much an accident of geography as a product of history. For millennia the French climate has been perfect to support a variety of grapes. We have heard for years about the threats to the industry from globalization, but now the globalization menace has a new dimension: other regions may benefit from climate change as France suffers. This year's unprecedented heat wave is taken as a case in point: it has been hard on the vine growers. Such heat waves are expected to become more frequent as the planet warms.

So, in compensation for the carbon tax, how about a tax rebate on wine consumption?

France Drags Its Heels

The Financial Times sees a rift opening in the G20 between the US and the UK on the one hand and France on the other. The issue is how to regulate the financial system to prevent a repeat of the crisis of 2008-9. To simplify, France favors regulating individual incentives by limiting bonuses to traders and bankers. The US and UK want to shore up bank capital positions by requiring higher reserves and lower leverage ratios.

There is a problem with the US-UK position: it tends to be procyclical. In a downturn, bank assets diminish in value, and with stringent capital regulations in place they are more likely to be forced to sell to raise capital, thus further decreasing asset prices and making everyone in the system worse office. Yet there is no doubt that before the current crisis, capital reserves were too low, so that even a modest fall in housing prices raised doubts about bank solvency. So there is ample reason for the US and UK to take the stance they do.

By contrast, France, in the person of Christine Lagarde, is arguing that the Basel II regulatory framework, agreed to by banks after 20 years of negotiation, should suffice. Basel II relies less on capital requirements and more on so-called Value at Risk (VaR) models to set limits on bank borrowing. The problem with Lagarde's position is that the VaR models in widespread use did not perform well in the crisis. These models, which rely in essential ways on the banks' own representations of the risks involved in their financial instruments, depend heavily on statistical analysis of historical performance data. The banks hit hard by the crisis were already using VaR models for their internal risk management, and these models predicted that they had nothing to worry about. In a widely quoted statement, one Goldman Sachs risk manager said that market movements at one particularly bad stage of the crisis were "5 standard deviations beyond what the model predicted" for several days running. Hence there was something wrong with the model.

Obviously improvements will be made in light of post-crisis data, but still it seems imprudent to rely, as Lagarde seems to want to do, on such modeling alone. Capital requirements are conservative, old-fashioned, potentially pro-cyclical, and increase the cost of capital, but perhaps one needs to cling to them until the VaR concepts at the heart of Basel II have been more thoroughly tested.

See also Nicolas Véron, here.

UPDATE: Looks like the US-UK version prevailed.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Royal's New Strategy

Ségolène Royal is as wary of Martine Aubry's Socialist Party as she is needful of its rank-and-file. Her evolving strategy reflects this dual relationship. On the one hand, she has decided that a frontal assault is doomed, so she has resolved to be a good party member. She no longer attacks Aubry, the two share the stage, are photographed together, etc. On the other hand, she wants to foster an image of herself as larger and more comprehensive than the party, no doubt in preparation for the eventual primary of the left. So she has assumed command of her own organization, Désirs d'avenir, which she wants to turn into "an international NGO" plugged into "American think tanks," which she claims are eager for her expertise on participatory democracy. (Permit me to doubt her on this point. I know my countrymen.) At the same time she has attempted to present herself as a sort of eminence on the European scene. Without entering into the polemic that erupted yesterday over the precise nature of her alleged relationship with the United Nations Program for Development (PNUD, to use its French acronym), it does seem that she somewhat overstated the significance of a form letter that the PNUD sent to any number of regional leaders in Europe and around the world.

Will this strategy work? I think Royal's main strength at this point is her celebrity. It is also her main weakness, since every gaffe she makes, such as the PNUD flap, is immediately magnified by the press coverage that automatically attaches to her every move. She needs to keep herself in the public eye constantly yet ensure that the coverage actually amplifies rather than diminishes her image. It's a tricky business, and she hasn't been particularly adroit at it in the past, in part because her positions on key issues seem, bluntly speaking, to vacillate. Sarkozy also exploited the media, but he cultivated great message discipline and hit upon a few simple themes to encapsulate what he was about. Royal hasn't yet managed to identify the issues that are to define her candidacy.

On the failure of Désirs d'avenir to extend its reach beyond the PS, see this on the departure of its former head, Jean-Pierre Mignard.

ADDENDUM: Royal captures my thought in her own words:

« Ce n'est pas mon problème, je n'interfère plus dans les sujets internes au Parti socialiste. Moi, je m'occupe de ma région et de travailler dans le cadre de Désirs d'avenir. Je ne m'exprime pas ni au nom du PS ni pour protéger le PS. »

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's Not Over Yet

The "bargaining" over the carbon tax legislation isn't over yet, according to Cécile Duflot. The president still hasn't made up his mind--in case anybody was wondering who "the decider" is in France. Since Fillon has already announced the figure of 14 euros a ton as a done deal, we'll see if that changes or if there are modifications in the various compensatory schemes promised to affected constituencies. Of course the whole idea of a carbon tax is to force people to change their behavior in consuming energy, yet the whole idea of les arbitrages, to use Duflot's word, seems to be to minimize the pain and therefore the incentive to change anything whatsoever.

And no wonder the politicians are getting cold feet: the polling is terrible.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Carbon Tax Debate Continues

Alain Juppé, who was to have been Sarkozy's Green Czar until he lost his bid for a seat in the Assembly, has come out in favor of the carbon tax proposal, but his embrace of the measure should really be described as oui, mais ... Although he criticizes Ségolène Royal, rightly, for her incoherence on the issue, he more or less echoes her complaints about the inequitable impact of the new tax, which, perversely, his party insists on characterizing as "not a new tax"--it's such a pity that the French haven't picked up the handy American phrase "revenue neutral," the slick way of saying that a tax isn't really a tax at all.

The problem with all green issues, of course, is that everybody is for doing something to--fanfare!--"save the planet," but no one wants to bear the cost. It should all just happen. So what you get is a dance of the seven veils, and all the parties are currently whirling and sashaying to the music of planetary time.

Lest Ségolène's backtracking on the carbon tax confuse anyone, Martine Aubry reaffirmed that her party's leadership group is unanimously in favor of some kind of contribution climat énergie, as long as it's not Sarkozy's. So we are back to the Left's old tricks: we'll give you what the Right promises to give you, only we'll do it in a more social way. Just as we had "social Europe," now we have "social ecology." But this will-o'-the-wisp is never bodied forth as a full-blooded counterproposal.

Then the Right muddies its own position in response: in addition to Juppé's equivocations, you have Jean-François Copé saying that he's "not hostile to the principle" of a carbon tax, but of course one mustn't "mistake the target," and the "incentives" have to be got right. Well, sure. So what incentives do you propose?

More comment here.

More on Martine

Bernard Girard picks up on my comment about the change in press coverage of Martine Aubry and takes it a step further. Not only has the characterization of Aubry changed in recent weeks, but so has the pictorial portrayal. I quote Bernard:

La virago vaguement alcoolo [ouf!!-ag] qu'on nous montrait il y a quelques semaines a cédé la place, non pas à une beauté mais à une femme déterminée, au regard plein d'espérance qui n'est pas sans rappeler certaines héroïnes soviétiques. Comme Martine Aubry (qu'on peine à appeler Martine, comme on fait avec Ségolène) n'a pas changé en quelques jours, comme elle n'est pas devenue plus photogénique, il faut en conclure que ceux qui choisissent les images ont saisi ce frisson dans l'air du temps.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

How Did She Do It?

There are so many Martine Aubry comeback stories in the press that I'm tempted to suspect that the fix is in. If there were such unanimous hosannas of praise for Sarkozy, you can be sure that someone would see a conspiracy. The truth, I wager, is more prosaic: the old story line--"PS in terminal decline, on the verge of extinction"--had run out of steam. Now we will be treated to a new story line: "Martine revives PS." We will read about the clever advisors with whom she has surrounded herself. We will see the hungry quadras maneuvering to get closer to the new heart and soul of the party. We will hear about the new energies galvanized by the long-awaited renovation, at last under way.

This will endure until the regional elections. Then it will be time to call rewrite.