Saturday, March 14, 2009

Vacationgate

The lovebirds can't catch a break. Last year they vacationed in Luxor and showed themselves off to the photographers, as a result of which they were castigated for making a spectacle of their private lives, sponging off Bolloré, whose jet they borrowed, and rubbing the noses of their less fortunate concitoyens in the gaudy luxury they seem to like. This year they tried to seclude themselves at a swank Mexican hostelry en route to a tropical summit, and they're castigated for sponging off alleged narcotraficantes and not paying their own bills. Conservative jurist Philippe Bilger is in high dudgeon (albeit in the rather affected, euphuistic prose he holds dear):

Ce qui me frappe et ce sur quoi, à mon sens, on n'a pas assez insisté, ce sont moins les modalités du paiement par un autre des frais d'un séjour purement privé - modalités au demeurant guère reluisantes- que le fait incontestable que le couple présidentiel n'a pas jugé bon de régler lui-même les dépenses afférentes à son escapade intime de deux jours. Pour ma part, c'est cette abstention qui ne laisse pas de m'étonner, pour ne pas dire plus. Comment se fait-il que le couple, avec un partage aussi clairement établi entre le privé et le public, n'ait pas choisi l'attitude, qui allait de soi, de prendre en charge lui-même ce qui relevait de la phase festive ?


In short, Sarko is behaving like an ill-bred parvenu. Is anyone surprised by this anymore? It's been like this from day one, and the presidential character was confirmed the other by Sarko's friend Jacques Séguéla, the man who introduced the president to Carla. Séguéla, defending Sarkozy against the charge that his wearing a $16,000 watch during a recent press conference displayed a certain insensitivity in these hard times, said that if a man reaches 50 without having acquired a Rolex, he's wasted his life. The head of state apparently shares the values of the advertising man. De la pub' à la comm', il n'y a qu'un pas.

Watch more Dailymotion videos on AOL Video

Monica Won't Play Carla

The producers of Loft Story are going to do the presidential romance as reality show. They wanted Monica Bellucci for the role of Carla, but she's turned them down. They should aim higher and go for Carla herself. La première dame de France hasn't given up her professional career, and after model and singer TV star would seem a natural next step. Sarko could also appear as himself, and the pair could do a Loana-et-Jean-Edouard in the swimming pool, after which viewers could vote Sarko off the show and choose to retain First Lady Loana.

Kings, Bishops, and Pawns

If you think of politics as chess and like to watch positions developing over the long term, you'll be interested in the little skirmish that took place in a corner of the chessboard on Friday. The king's pawn (and tousled blond son), Jean Sarkozy, moved into position to attack one of the king's knaves (Valérie Pécresse) and in doing so opened up an avenue of attack on one of the king's bishops (Jean-François Copé). Copé of course wants to be president some day, and so, I wager, does Jean Sarkozy, so Copé is the real target here, and Pécresse is merely an expendable piece who is currently quite vulnerable because she hasn't managed to tamp down the smoldering rebellion in the universities. In supporting Karoutchi over Pécresse, young Jean hopes to knock Copé back a peg or two, and this can't displease the king, who seems determined to keep his bishop on the defensive at all times.

So if this is a chess game, why are the white pieces attacking one another? Because black has left the board entirely and gone off to play tiddlywinks in its own corner.

New Paris

Mitterrand had his grands travaux; Sarko has his "Grand Paris." Ten architects submitted plans this week. Agnès Poirier likes Roland Castro's. He proposes "moving the Elysée Palace to the tough north-eastern suburbs." Now, that's sure to endear itself to the pres, who is known for his affection for grime, grafitti, and poverty. (h/t Polly)

The FT Is Not Amused

The Financial Times has taken to referring to the G20 as "the gap of 20" owing to the stark difference between the US and European positions. Witness this characterization of the European reaction to American proposals:

With the crotchety air of a dowager duchess sending a sub-standard amuse-bouche back to the kitchens, Jean-Claude Juncker, Luxembourg prime minister and chair of the “eurogroup” of finance ministers from the single currency zone, added sniffily: “The 16 finance ministers agreed that recent American appeals insisting Europeans make an added budgetary effort were not to our liking.”


And the American stock market hasn't helped: the ten-percent rise in the Dow this past week can only fuel European suspicions that they're being hustled yet again by city-slickers (or should that be Citi-slickers?). Meanwhile, the Europeans seem to have "coordinated" on the one thing that won't cost them a dime, namely, regulation of errant financiers, especially those domiciled in "neoliberal" countries. The animus is so fierce that it's brought even Merkel and Sarkozy together:

Bashing unregulated financial capitalism in general and hedge funds in particular is sufficiently popular in continental Europe that this call even overcame the habitual froideur between Angela Merkel, Mr Steinbrück’s boss, and Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president. Later in the week, the two of them joined forces to argue that more rules rather than an open cheque book would be the way out of the financial crisis. Asked about the US push for stimulus, Ms Merkel pointedly responded: “This is the reason why we decided to speak with one voice today.”


Which is not to say that the financiers don't fully deserve the bashing. But when the pummeling falls incessantly on the "usual suspects," one begins to wonder who's escaping out the back door under cover of the fisticuffs:

One finance official characterises this attitude as akin to that of a pugilist in a bar brawl. “You wait until a fight breaks out and then take a swing at the guy you have always wanted to hit,” the official says. “Whether or not he had anything to do with starting the fight is not the point.”


So, that, dear readers is the current state of play in the staid chambers of international financial diplomacy at the moment: brawling wherever finance ministers gather, quiet in the streets (unless you happen to be in Iceland, Latvia, Hungary, Greece, Guadeloupe, etc.). Soon it may be the reverse.