Saturday, July 31, 2010

Lady Ashton Will Study French ...

... so that Europe may survive:

Where and when she would attend classes remained a secret after Ms. Ashton, who is British, disclosed that she would not take up a French government offer to study at a chateau in the south of France.

The flurry of interest in Ms. Ashton’s battle with the language of Molière reflects the continuing sensitivity of French officials about the role of their language. Though Ms. Ashton understands French, she is not fluent and speaks with a strong accent.

Raout Redneck

A little time out from politics to treat a burning question: What wine should you serve if you're hosting a banquet in which the main dish is squirrel? Never let it be said that the art de vivre français is not up to every challenge. Here are the recommendations. Next up: possum and raccoon.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Randow on Sarkozy

Die Zeit's France correspondent, Gero van Randow, gives Sarkozy's presidency a failing grade.

Iggy Pop on Tocqueville

Amazing what turns up on the Internet:

Pop admits he's tired of writing about his own personal experiences and, after basing his last solo album on Michel Houellebecq's novel The Possibility of an Island, his plans are equally epic for the next record. "I've said everything about myself that I care to say in life," Pop says. "Right now, I'm reading Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville. It's pretty heavy what he says about America. It could be an album."

Hard to imagine what Tocqueville would have made of that, or of being mentioned in the same paragraph as Michel Houellebecq. I hope, of course, that Mr. Pop is reading my translation.

Nostalgia

President Sarkozy seems nostalgic for the days when he was interior minister and tough talk was enough to keep attention focused on him. He's certainly talking tough: expulsions, revocations of nationality, "la nationalité française se mérite," etc. And the election is still almost two years away.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

France Yawns at WikiLeaks

French reactions to the WikiLeaks release of secret documents about the war in Afghanistan have been muted:

But reaction in France, another key member of the NATO coalition, has been much more muted, said Justin Vaïsse, director of research for the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“It’s nothing in magnitude compared with what happened two years ago, in August ’08, when 10 French soldiers were killed in a firefight with the Taliban,” Mr. Vaïsse said. That, he said, had “really prompted soul-searching about the French presence in Afghanistan and also prompted debate in the National Assembly. Here we have nothing of the sort.”
According to the same article, the leaks have sparked a more intense reaction elsewhere in Europe, especially Germany.

Incidentally, Vaïsse's book on neoconservatism (which I translated) is a must-read (link above to purchase from Amazon).

Carla and Woody, Take 35

Apparently, Carla Bruni's début as an actress isn't going well. The scene was shot, it seems, in the 5th. Arrdt., my old haunts. Anybody know where? Perhaps one of you encountered the shoot.

A Serious Matter

Bernard Girard eloquently analyzes why Sarkozy's absurdly overplayed attack on les gens du voyage, Roms, etc. is such a serious matter.

Other reactions here. And here.

I hate to perpetuate the government's amalgame by writing gens du voyage, Roms, etc., but how else to say what the target of this latest repression is? The attack is so crude, the conflation of categories so blatant, the identification of whole classes of people as "criminal or potentially criminal" so outrageous, that one is drawn into indiscriminate bluntness in response.

Of course I still have some way to go before I can match Brice Hortefeux's latest foray into ethnic indelicacy: seeking to discredit the communities of travelers, he remarked on "la cylindrée de certains véhicules qui traînent des caravanes.".Strange. I thought one of the tenets of Sarkozysm was that the pursuit of wealth ought to be encouraged, not stigmatized.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

More on Les Roms, Les Gens du Voyage, etc.

Another good piece on the amalgame that the government has created by conflating les Roms, les gens du voyage, certain local disturbances, and a supposed global problem that can be resolved by "expulsions" of all who are in "irregular situations." This whole episode is really an astonishing case study in the abuse of language and the ravages wrought by the republican ideology of "willful blindness" regarding the existence of subgroups and communities within the population.

Quilès Calls for French Withdrawal from Afghanistan

Paul Quilès, who was defense minister under Mitterrand in 1985-86, has called for France to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan on the grounds that it is no longer an anti-terrorist war but an anti-nationalist war that cannot succeed.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Les Roms

Regarding les Roms, I encourage you to read FrédéricLN's comment to this post and then compare with Pierre Lellouche's proposal to take up the problem of les Roms at the European level. Lellouche is guilty of precisely the amalgame that Frédéric points out.

This is not to say that the problem that really preoccupies Lellouche--crime by Romanian immigrant minors in Paris--is not a real problem (I myself was robbed this May in Paris by two young thieves who may well have been Romanian). But the incident in Loir-et-Cher that escalated a police matter to an affair of state had nothing to do with Romanian immigrants. Here we have a case where the terminological confusion is so great that bad policy is likely to result.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Plot Thickens

I'm vacationing on an island, but even here news of the Bettencourts is hard to avoid. The JDD adds a new dimension to the story: François-Marie Banier was allegedly the "intimate" friend of André Bettencourt while at the same time he and Liliane were "passionately friendly." "A handsome couple" but "free." Information gleaned from "friends" of the couple. When do we get the TV mini-series?


C’est un secret d’initiés que tous ceux qui ont approché les Bettencourt semblent partager. François-Marie Banier était aussi très proche d’André Bettencourt. Intime. "Ce n’est pas tout à fait exact", corrige-t-on dans l’entourage du photographe. "Liliane Bettencourt formait un très beau couple avec son mari, nuance un de leurs proches. Mais ils étaient libres tous les deux." Des personnages de roman, ce couple-là. Liliane Bettencourt, grande et magnifique femme, immensément riche. Et lui, André, un dandy élégant, raffiné. "Deux gentlemen", résume un avocat.

Quel rôle a joué Banier? "Liliane et François- Marie sont passionnément amis… Entre eux, c’est une amitié féroce, une complicité compliquée…" décode un proche. Quoi qu’il en soit, la rivalité du photographe avec la fille Bettencourt, Françoise Meyers, est ancienne: "Françoise n’a jamais supporté Banier, qui le lui rendait bien", confie un employé.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Guigou on the Affair

Ex-justice minister Elisabeth Guigou on the Bettencourt-Woerth affair:

Qu'est ce qui vous semble le plus grave dans cette affaire ?
Pour le moment, le plus dévastateur, c'est la question du conflit d'intérêt. Certes, M. Woerth affirme qu'il n'a pas fait embaucher sa femme par Patrice de Maistre. Mais le seul fait de ne pas se rendre compte qu'il y a une difficulté à ce que la femme du ministre du budget soit embauché par des gestionnaires de fortune - dont le seul objectif est de faire ce qu'on appelle pudiquement de "l'optimisation fiscale" - dépasse le bon sens. D'autant que dans le cas qui nous intéresse, il y a eu fraude fiscale.
Est-ce le fait d'une légèreté personnelle ou d'un contexte ?
C'est un comportement général. Il y a comme une perte de conscience de ce qui peut se faire ou non. Quand le pouvoir donne l'impression, ne serait-ce que l'impression, qu'il sert des intérêts particuliers et non l'intérêt général, c'est profondément dévastateur.

I couldn't agree more.

The Stress Test

French banks pass:

The four main French banks, representing 80 percent of the banking assets in the country, passed easily. “These result shows that they remain capable of ensuring a strong financing of the economy both under the central scenario and under the highly stressed scenario,” said Christian Noyer, governor of the Bank of France.
To pass the tests, a bank’s Tier 1 capital, a measure of reserves, could not fall below 6 percent of assets in the face of a new recession and a sovereign debt crisis. 

This is good news. I guess the rumors that French banks were particularly exposed to Greek and Spanish debt were exaggerated. Or perhaps not:

Some of the assumptions used by the examiners will certainly draw criticism, particularly the way the tests treated European government debt. Authorities did not consider what would happen if Greece or another country proved unable to repay its bonds — even though many analysts have grave doubts whether Greece can ever make good on debts that currently equal more than an entire year’s economic output.
European policy makers refused to consider that possibility because they insisted they would never allow Greece to default.
Regulators did examine whether banks could survive a sharp decline in the market value of European government bonds, including a 23 percent collapse in the price of five-year Greek bonds compared with the end of 2009, and a 4.7 percent decline in German bonds.
But, in another decision that will disappoint advocates of harsh tests, regulators allowed banks to exclude bonds that they did not plan to sell. Debt that banks keep on their books, on the assumption that it will be repaid at maturity, was exempt from the tests.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mme Bettencourt and Dexia

Marianne has reported that Mme Bettencourt sought to withdraw €500,000 in late 2006 but was prevented from doing so by her bank, Dexia. A lawyer finds this story implausible, because a bank may not refuse to deliver cash it has taken in deposit. But what the legal analysis suggests is that the bank, upon learning of the requested withdrawal, informed the client that a withdrawal that large would have to be reported to Tracfin, at which point the client decided not to withdraw the sum after all. The question would then become, Why was such a large amount of cash desired, and was it obtained in some other way?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Crisis and Medical Care

From the NBER Digest:

(1) ECONOMIC CRISIS AND MEDICAL CARE USAGE

   Annamaria Lusardi, Daniel J. Schneider, and Peter Tufano


Within countries, negative shocks to wealth and employment are strongly associated with reductions in routine medical care.
------------------------------
----------------------------------------

The global economic crisis, which began roughly in July 2007, took an historic toll on national economies and household finances. In The Economic Crisis and Medical Care Usage (NBER Working Paper No. 15843), co-authors Annamaria Lusardi, Daniel Schneider, and Peter Tufano examine the relationship between the global crisis and individual decisions related to routine medical care. To conduct their study, the researchers survey individuals in Canada, France, Germany, and Great Britain, all of which have universal health care systems, and in the United States, which does not. They find that within all countries, negative shocks to wealth and employment are strongly associated with reductions in routine medical care. The size of the reductions in the use of medical care, however, depends upon the degree to which individuals must pay for it.

Individuals and families across all five developed countries lost wealth through falling stock prices. They also lost income because of unemployment. These effects were strongest in the United States, where nearly 55 percent of American respondents reported some decline in wealth. These losses affected medical care usage. "The greater the reported loss in wealth, the larger the net reductions in routine care," the authors find.

U.S. citizens, lacking universal coverage and paying the highest out-of-pocket amounts for care, reported the most dramatic reduction in seeking routine care during the global economic crisis. Between 2007 and 2009, more than 25 percent of Americans reported reducing their use of health care - a rate two to five times that of Europeans, who also reduced their use of routine medical appointments during this period. Compared with their British counterparts, Americans were 16 percentage points more likely to reduce their use of medical care. The most pronounced reductions were found among the unemployed, the young (ages 16-24), and those with lower incomes.


-- Sarah H. Wright

http://papers.nber.org/papers/W15843

Gens du Voyage

Yesterday I used the term "gens du voyage," echoing the language of Sarkozy's official declaration to crack down on "les gens du voyage et les Roms." Where does this designation come from? Apparently, according to Le Monde's proofreaders, from administrative reluctance to refer to an ethnic group qua ethnic group (although Sarkozy's announcement, while paying homage to this practice, immediately violated it by adding "et les Rom"). Other less politically correct synonyms can be found here.

As everyone knows, ethnic communities have no official existence in France, so when it is deemed necessary to crack down on one, or merely to regulate, circumlocutions are needed. But of course no one is deceived.

For more on the story, see here:

Ce qui s'est passé à Saint-Aignan n'est pas un problème lié aux gens du voyage. D'autant que, comme l'a souligné le maire de Saint-Aignan, Jean-Michel Dillon (divers droite, ndlr), la victime appartenait, certes, à la communauté des gens du voyage, mais vivait sédentarisée dans un logement "en dur" depuis deux générations et disposait même d'un caveau de famille au cimetière. (Pierre Hérisson, UMP)

In short, we have a crime committed by one of the "traveling people" belonging to a family that hasn't gone anywhere for two generations and buries its dead in the local cemetery. A "sedentary" traveler indeed.

Confidence and Lack of Confidence

The juxtaposition of two articles in today's Le Monde creates an interesting contrast. One states that while the confidence of households has touched a new low, that of industrialists is at a new high. The other reports on  difficulties in labor negotiations at a GM plant in Strasbourg. Workers, having just voted to grant a number of concessions to management, find themselves now confronted with still other demands not mentioned during the original negotiations. Although management claims that these new demands were already known, they were not included in the signed agreement. But apparently the 73% vote by workers to approve the original concessions has emboldened management to come back for more. If les gars are that desperate to keep their jobs, one can imagine them thinking in the board room, why not squeeze them a little more? Is this what management confidence rests on? No wonder households are feeling desperate.

Insults in Politics

Insults in politics are the subject of a new book by Thomas Bouchet, reviewed here.

Ça ira!

In the clip below, Jean-François Copé looks back at the French Revolutiion and observes that it "did a lot of harm" to the country (his reflections on the Revolution begin at 7'30" into the interview). He then jumps from the night of August 4, 1789, when privileges were abolished in France, to the Bettencourt scandal, which he links, implicitly, to resentment of "privilege" associated with that "harmful" Revolution («le ah ça ira, n'est plus d'époque: les temps sont passés»; «la révolution a fait beaucoup de mal et a fracturé la société»). The France of Copé's dreams is one in which "every Frenchman, of whatever ethnic or religious background," is "free to succeed" and to enjoy, unmolested by oppressive taxes such as the ISF (wealth tax, discussed earlier in the clip), the fruits of that success. There you have it in unadulterated form: the resentment of inequality, according to this leader of the Right, is the root of all evil, from the French Revolution to the persecution of Éric Woerth. Astonishing, no? The American Right dreams only of rolling back the New Deal. The French Right dreams of rolling back the Revolution. (h/t Philippe Cohen)


Jean-François Copé - France Inter
Uploaded by franceinter. - Up-to-the minute news videos.

The Longest War

Le Monde documents Nicolas Sarkozy's long-standing penchant for military rhetoric when speaking of domestic crime.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Move Over, Burqa, You've Got Company

Scarecrows are useful to politicians: they frighten the birds out of the neighbor's field and send them winging on home. Sarkozy's career has had its share of scarecrows: "socialo-communists," racaille, burqas ... and now les Gens du voyage. The Roma have a bad reputation in France, and a group of Roma in Loir-et-Cher didn't help themselves by going on a rampage the other night after one of them was shot dead by police in an incident at a roadblock. But was this minor police incident really worthy of a major presidential intervention:

Ce matin, au cours du Conseil des ministres, Sarkozy a donc annoncé qu’il organiserait une réunion, le 28 juillet, à l’Elysée sur « les problèmes que posent les comportements de certains parmi les Gens du voyage et les Roms » et qu’on y déciderait « l’expulsion de tous les campements en situation irrégulière ».

Boutin Organizes the 21st Century

Christine Boutin is in Washington. Although she renounced her salary last month after being criticized for accepting the gift of a sinecure in exchange, allegedly, for not running against Sarkozy in 2012, she has set herself an ambitious goal: organizing the 21st century, no less.

Elle doit encore rencontrer des experts mercredi, ainsi qu'une représentante de l'administration Obama. "Ce n'est pas seulement une question économique et financière, c'est une question de civilisation : comment va-t-on organiser le XXIe siècle ? Va-t-on intégrer [à la gestion des affaires économiques] une dimension sociale et humaine ?", s'est interrogée Christine Boutin dans un entretien avec des journalistes dans la capitale américaine.

Yes, the "politics of civilization" is back. This was Henri Guaino's phrase for the new measures of governmental success introduced by the Sen-Stiglitz-Fitoussi Commission. Some of my best friends have also devoted considerable thought to the question of what constitutes a successful society (see the book pictured to the left). Christine Boutin may be reinventing the wheel, but once she hammers it into shape, she has several well-blazed trails she can try rolling it down. Presumably it will do no harm if a politician actually pays attention to what academics are saying.

The Government Vanishes

What has become of the French government? To be sure, there is Éric Woerth. And there is retirement reform, which has become so bound up with the Woerth affair that public discussion of the issues has been submerged. But is there action on any other front? Education? Research? Justice? The suburbs? Housing? Fiscal overhaul? Territorial reform? Defense? Foreign policy? Energy policy?

Sarkozy, who arrived in office beating all drums, seems to have concluded that the system can handle only one reform at a time. No longer the "omnipresident," he risks becoming what he once despised, the caretaker president that he accused Chirac of being, un roi fainéant. No doubt he is busy preparing his re-election campaign, or the promised October remaniement. In the meantime his ministers are either scouring the want-ads for future employment or lobbying quietly to be included in the shrunken government promised for the fall. With the government marking time, the papers have nothing to discuss but the tribulations of the soccer satyrs and their underage playmate.

It is truly a summer of discontent, but also, I fear, of ominous disconnect. The country is not happy, despite the apparent calm. France has exhausted its elites. Feeling let down by their énarques, the French decided to let the nouveau riche business elite--the Neuilly crowd--have a go at running the country. What they got in return was an expanded tax shield and the Bettencourt-Woerth affair. In place of the network of old boys from X and Sciences Po, they discovered a nexus of financial advisors, tax shelters, horse-race enthusiasts, luxury hotels, thermidors humidors filled with Cuban cigars, private jets, microparties, and appartements de fonction. So who is to govern now that these two elites have discredited themselves?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Industrial Culture Policy"

Culture under Sarkozy:
« Vous nous proposerez des mesures d’accompagnement à la transition des industries culturelles… »
 ...
 L’ami de Martin Bouygues et d’Arnaud Lagardère sait en effet tout le parti qu’il peut tirer de la mise en œuvre d’une politique culturelle industrielle qui, selon lui, est la seule capable de « permettre à tous d’accéder à la culture ».

Austerity vs. Stimulus: Eyewash

In the austerity vs. stimulus debate now raging on both sides of the Atlantic, certitudes are flying right and left, as if genuine knowledge were involved. But this is a debate in which the truth is known to the participants and  arguments can be found to fit whatever truth has been embraced. The European Central Bank, having embraced austerity long ago, has now found a suitably sophisticated argument to back its position. It can be downloaded here. The authors find, much to the ECB's comfort, that the fiscal multiplier has decreased over time. The methodology, you will be comforted to learn, is "Bayesian time-varying parameter vector autoregression." In other words, to borrow the title of the recent Rogoff-Reinhardt opus on financial crises, "This time is different." We know it's different because we've used Bayesian methods to estimate new structural parameters.

All who believe that this is really why the ECB believes what it believes, raise your hands now.

More on Greek Debt from Merle Hazard

Retirement Reform

From today's editorial in Le Monde:

La réforme des retraites est nécessaire, pour des raisons démographiques et financières. Mais là où les Français attendaient une réforme de société et un large débat, le gouvernement présente une réforme comptable qui ne répond pas aux exigences d'équité. Les inégalités d'espérance de vie entre catégories sociales ne sont pas intégrées. Le projet confond pénibilité et invalidité. Il pénalise les carrières longues et les femmes, dont 28 % risquent d'avoir désormais à travailler jusqu'à 67 ans. L'acte II doit impérativement permettre de corriger de telles injustices.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Europessimist

Raghurham Rajan, former IMF chief economist:

Western Europe’s total factor productivity growth had been falling steadily even before this crisis. With little growth in the labor force, and substantial amounts of capital per employee, it is hard to see where trend growth will come from. Add to this the effects of the high debt load and the weak banking system, and it is hard not to be pessimistic about Europe. 

Of course the neoliberal economist can always find a silver lining. Rajan adds:

Yet, in all this pessimism, there may be a silver lining in that it prompts structural reforms and greater liberalization of closed markets in Europe.

This rather reminds me of Marxists back in the day, who used to profess glee that things were bad and getting worse, because this meant that le Grand Soir was just around the corner. To be sure, Rajan is one of my favorite neoliberals. He was among the few who didn't think that all was for the best in the best of all possible worlds before the crisis. In fact, he issued a warning of weaknesses in the financial sector before the crash and was accused of raining on Alan Greenspan's parade. But it does seem to me that, post-crisis, economists need to be a little more precise when calling for "structural reforms and greater liberalization."

Manuel Valls Has a Microparty

The Woerth affair has brought les micro-partis into the news. We now know that Woerth, Pécresse, and others on the right financed their election campaigns in part through contributions to their own microparty formations. Now we learn that Manuel Valls has a microparty of his own, helping to finance preparations for his primary run, and according to Valls, he's not alone.

Fit to Print

Your humble blogger is quoted in today's New York Times (h/t Bernard G.)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Taguieff

In the United States one sure way to create controversy is to posit the existence of an "Israel lobby," as Walt and Mearsheimer discovered when they published the book pictured at the left. In France one sure way to create controversy is to posit the existence of an "anti-Israel conspiracy," as Pierre-André Taguieff should have discovered with the publication of his new book, La nouvelle propagande anti-juive. But Jacques Tarnero claims that the press is deliberately ignoring Taguieff's work, thus making controversy out of the absence of controversy. Perhaps Taguieff has simply been hoeing this row too long, since this latest book follows Les prêcheurs de haine and La nouvelle judéophobie.

And the Latest ...

... from the affair itself:

La police dispose, depuis les perquisitions opérées dans les sociétés de M. de Maistre, d'une note datée du 31 août 2007. Un simple curriculum vitae de Mme Woerth, avec cette mention, en bas de page : "rémunération environ 200 000 euros (…) Je suis obligé d'en parler à LB vu le mari 120 000 euros".


Interrogé, M. de Maistre s'explique : "Il s'agissait d'une note que j'ai dû amener à M. et Mme Bettencourt pour évoquer le recrutement de Mme Florence Woerth dans mon équipe. Cette démarche était due au fait que son mari était ministre, et que c'était donc sensible…", relate le gestionnaire de la fortune Bettencourt. Il l'assure aux policiers, "Mme Woerth ne représentait pas un risque majeur".

Gauchet on the Bettencourt-Woerth Affair

Marcel Gauchet considers the effects of the affair on the perception of Sarkozy's presidency. His judgment is pitiless:

Au-delà de cette affaire, avez-vous le sentiment d'une remise en question des principes démocratiques ?

Non, au contraire. Ce n'est pas la démocratie en tant que telle qui est remise en question, c'est la manière dont certains en profitent. Le culte de la chose publique est plus fortement intériorisé en France que partout ailleurs. Les gens sont donc très choqués quand les individus au pouvoir se comportent en individus privés. La plus grande faille de Nicolas Sarkozy, c'est qu'il n'a pas le sens de l'institution. Le côté privé du personnage prend toujours le dessus. Il n'arrive pas à être un homme d'Etat.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Regulating Immigration

Patrick Weil suggests ways in which US immigration reform can profit from European experience.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Raising the Retirement Age

A little comparative politics (the issue is hot in the US too).

Report on the Report

Did the IGF report really exonerate Eric Woerth of all responsibility in the Bettencourt affair? Not if you read the fine print and between the lines, apparently. And now François Baroin's role is in question as well.

The Radical Center

From the center of the political spectrum (Senator Jean Arthuis) comes a (modestly) "radical" proposal to do away with both the tax shield and the wealth tax and raise the marginal income tax rate instead. Makes sense to me. Indeed, the entire French tax system (like most tax systems) has become unduly cumbersome, complex, and opaque. Time for an overhaul. If Sarkozy were serious about the volonté de réforme for which he constantly praises himself, he would dispense with the cosmetic surgery and cut to the bone.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Protection Racket?

News item:

Florence Woerth, l'épouse du ministre du Travail Eric Woerth, a candidaté en 2009 auprès des filiales françaises de deux banques suisses, au moment où son mari luttait contre l'évasion fiscale, a affirmé mercredi le journal Libération, ce que l'avocat de Florence Woerth dément. 

Two somewhat cheeky comments: first, when did candidater enter the language? (recently, it seems); second, does this story remind anyone else of American gangster movies of a certain era? You know, the ones where a tough guy saunters into a business and tells the proprietor, "Nice bank you got here. It would be a shame if anything happened to it. Protection will cost you  €10,000 a month."

Another curious aspect of this affair is the Woerths' apparently intense interest in horse racing. Mme Woerth's stable was yesterday's news. Today is M. Woerth's involvement in the sale of a racetrack in the forest of Compiègne. Strictly legal, to be sure.

Interview Flops

Steve R. wrote yesterday to say that in his part of the country, Sarkozy's interview with David Pujadas seemed to have gone over rather well, but this doesn't seem to be the case nationally:

Sur les trois grands sujets abordés au cours de l'émission, Nicolas Sarkozy n'a été jugé convaincant ni sur la réforme des retraites (53% contre 37% qui l'ont trouvé convaincant) ni sur la réduction des déficits (55% contre 29%) et encore moins à propos de l'affaire Woerth-Bettencourt (62% contre 23%).

Nicolas Sarkozy n'a finalement convaincu que son camp politique, à savoir 82% des sympathisants de droite, contre 11% seulement des sympathisants de gauche.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Mme Bettencourt's Taxes

Mme Bettencourt's fortune has been estimated at €14 billion. Let's assume that €10 billion of that is invested in stock of L'Oréal. The company's shares are selling for about 80 and currently paying a dividend of 1.50, or 1.9%. Dividends on 10 billion would therefore be approximately 190 million. Yet we know, because Mme Bettencourt's tax advisors and lawyers have told us, that she has paid an average of €40 million in taxes over the past 10 years, or 21 percent of her income. Yet she received a refund of €30 million under the tax shield last year, and the tax shield is supposed to kick in at 50% of income. No doubt I'm overlooking something quite obvious here, but isn't it time we had a reasonably careful accounting of Mme Bettencourt's tax liabilities, payments, and refunds? Would pushing the tax shield back up to 60% really drive Mme Bettencourt and her fortune out of France, as Pres. Sarkozy claims to fear (or at any rate that portion of her fortune that hasn't already secretly fled)?

Form and Substance

What a long way we've come in the three years of Sarkozy's presidency when it comes to solemn confrontations with the press. At the beginning it was all pomp and circumstance. The setting was regal, and sometimes courtiers were invited to witness the performance. But the watchwords now being thrift and honesty, all the props have been stripped away, all the gilt and upholstery and tapestry banished, and we have the president face-to-face with a lone representative of the people (or, rather, of the state TV network, whose new boss reports directly to the president), across a card table, out in the back yard, as it were. There will be no garden party this year at the Élysée, but there was last night a backyard conclave.

Sarko seemed tense, drawn, angry at times, exasperated at other times, didactic, impatient, and rude. His voice at first was surprisingly hoarse, as if he'd been shouting for hours. Many of his familiar rhetorical tricks were on display. Questions were deflected and turned back on the questioner: What would you have me do? How could I do otherwise? All our neighbors have done X, what choice did I have? David Pujadas tried gamely to give the president the répondant he claims to want, but the president's style is designed to make follow-up seem petulant and petty. "I've already thought of everything you can possibly ask me," he seems to be saying, "and my answers are tailored for maximum efficiency. Any dawdling over details is a waste of time, and time is pressing." Indeed, this was a recurrent theme of the evening: any diversion from the Sarkozyan agenda, be it for scandal or debate of the details of his self-vaunted "reforms," was treated as theft from the precious few moments remaining to him to do "what the French people elected me to do." At times he seems genuinely pained by these "distractions," as if he had planned every moment of his five years and now will have to leave a few things undone because ingrates have forced him to waste time defending transparently honest ministers or exercising his compassion on those who smoke the taxpayers' money: "I am a just man. When someone makes a mistake, I try to find out why before acting."

Despite this concern with lost time, he devoted the first quarter of an hour to the Woerth affair, even though his opening gambit was to say that Woerth has now been cleared by the inspectors of finance. Yet in the next breath he named a commission to study the issue of conflict of interest, indirectly acknowledging a problem with his "honest and competent" minister. And again the old refrain: "Je ne suis pas un homme d'argent. If I had wanted to make a lot of money, I wouldn't have gone into politics. I wouldn't have had to put up with calumny and injustice."

As for substance, Sarkozy had mastered the retirement dossier, as well he should, since he's been repeating himself for three years now. He's a bit edgier now, less interested in cajoling than in getting on with it. And since he pretends that there is no alternative to his plan, he is impatient with any hint of nuance or opposition. Except on the issue of pénibilité (shall we translate this as "arduousness"--odd that we have no generally accepted word for this in English). Now, the lip service paid to this issue may be simply "compassionate conservatism" in the Bushian sense--that is, a will o' the wisp. Or it may be an opening to compromise, or again--more likely still--to a host of side deals intended to buy off the most truculent opposition. Under the head of pénibilité, one can offer sweeteners to anyone inclined to make trouble. On verra. Perhaps only Eric Woerth knows what's really going down in closed-door negotiations, and perhaps that's why Sarkozy is so loath to part with him.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Eliminating Dual Labor Markets

Three economists suggest "graded job security" as a solution to the problem of labor market "dualism" that plagues Europe.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Transnational Institutions or National Surrogates?

The IMF and the ECB are supposed to be transnational institutions, but here we have the ECB in the person of German executive board member Jürgen Stark squaring off against the IMF in the person of French chief economist Olivier Blanchard. Is this a national confrontation par institutions internationales interposées? Or is it rather a confrontation between economic theory and pragmatic caution? See, for example, the discussion here.

Pocket Money

One wonders why investigations in France are always such information sieves. How, exactly, did the press get hold of Mme Thibout's famous notebooks? (I note in passing that the Bettencourts may have €14 billion, but they don't seem to have thought of buying their accountant a computer with a spreadsheet program. But I digress.) Here we have Le Figaro's take:

Pour un certain nombre de montants, les mentions «Monsieur» ou «Monsieur Bettencourt» apparaissent dans la colonne dépenses. Au total, 183.350 euros seraient concernés, d'après les calculs des journalistes. Or Claire Thibout avait déclaré aux enquêteurs que les sommes destinées à financer des politiques portaient justement ces mentions, car elle remettait alors directement cet argent à André Bettencourt, ou à son gestionnaire de fortune Patrice de Maistre. La défense des Bettencourt concernant ces opérations est simple. Comme le soutenait jeudi George Kiejman, l'avocat de Liliane Bettencourt, dans Libération, «pas le moindre élément (ne permet) de dire que ces sommes ont servi à autre chose que d'argent de poche à André Bettencourt».

Sheesh. That's a lot of pocket change. Not only haven't the Bettencourts heard of spreadsheets, they don't seem to know about checks or credit cards either.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Gem

Eolas makes a brilliant find: François Fillon's views in 2006 on the need for a minister under a cloud of suspicion either to prove his innocence or resign. To be savored in its entirety.

On Raising the Retirement Age

Ezra Klein looks at the US case, but the points he makes are applicable to France.

Verbatim

For a verbatim comparison of what Bettencourt's accountant told Mediapart and investigators, see here.

Lecture

My Collège de France lecture, "De la démocratie en américain: conditions et conflits chez Tocqueville," can now be listened to online, here.

The Ten Largest French Fortunes

Here. It's interesting to note how many of these are based on luxury goods, cosmetics, fashions, etc. Dassault makes airplanes. Mulliez of Auchan, no. 2 on the list, is at the opposite end of things: low-end mass retailing. Decaux is in advertising and real estate. Conspicuously absent is any representative of high tech.

Walking It Up Again

La donna è mobile:

Selon les informations du "Monde", Claire Thibout a fait, devant les enquêteurs, un récit édifiant des pratiques d'une partie de la classe politique française. Si elle se rétracte pour partie sur la version qu'elle a livrée à Mediapart, elle maintient qu'Eric Woerth a été cité et confirme que l'hôtel particulier de Neuilly-sur-Seine était un lieu prisé par les hommes politiques. 

UPDATE:

Mais si elle se rétracte pour partie, elle demeure très accusatrice. Ainsi, elle confirme que l'hôtel particulier de Neuilly-sur-Seine était un lieu prisé par les hommes politiques. Elle précise même que "ces messieurs venaient pour avoir de l'argent" mais indique n'avoir jamais assisté à la moindre remise d'enveloppes. "Il y avait des enveloppes d'espèces qui étaient remises par M. Bettencourt ou de temps en temps par Mme Bettencourt à des politiques", relate-t-elle.
M. Sarkozy était-il concerné ? C'est "possible", avance-t-elle, sans qu'elle puisse prouver quoi que ce soit. Elle raconte les invitations à l'hôtel particulier de Neuilly-sur-Seine. On y croisait, si l'on en croit Claire Thibout, Pierre Messmer, Mme Pompidou, François Léotard, Gérard Longuet, le couple Chirac, Edouard Balladur, Bernard Kouchner, Danielle Mitterrand ou encore Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, Nicolas Sarkozy et plus récemment Éric Woerth.

Bérégovoy, Salengro ... now Dreyfus

Frédéric Lefebvre takes himself for Émile Zola. He writes:

L’alliance d’une opposition rageuse et sans idées, et de certains médias aux relents d’extrême droite et de trotskisme mêlés, auxquels s’ajoute la vengeance de riches fraudeurs qui ne pardonnent pas à un ministre de les avoir combattus… 

The wealthy cheater he has in mind is of course Xavier Niel, who has invested in Mediapart and is now part of the group that Sarkozy attempted to prevent from taking over Le Monde. Odd, he says nothing about the tax evasions to which Mme Bettencourt has publicly admitted. Very odd. For Lefebvre, outrage at Bettencourt's cheating is evidence of a "filthy alliance" and a "populist tidal wave." N'est pas Zola qui veut ...

Out of Africa

h/t TexExile. Be sure to check out the credits below the picture.

"Youthful Mistakes"

With the epithet "fascist" back in the news, it's perhaps time to have a look at the early years of the Bettencourt saga, when they still had their wits about them. Here's the tale:

He [André Bettencourt, Liliane's late husband] wrote for the Nazi-sponsored, anti-Semitic weekly newspaper “La Terre Francaise”, in which he described Jews as “hypocritical Pharisees” whose “race has been forever sullied by the blood of the righteous. They will be cursed.”

‘Youthful mistakes’

After the war Bettencourt played down lines such as these as “youthful mistakes”, preferring to laud the fact that he joined the Resistance in 1943 alongside his friend Mitterrand, whom he helped whisk away to London to make contact with General de Gaulle.

Walking It Back

Hmm. What have we here?

Mme Thibout est revenue pour partie, mercredi soir devant les policiers, sur ses déclarations du 6 juillet au site Mediapart. Si elle confirme la remise de 50 000 euros en espèces à ses employeurs, il n'est plus question du 26 mars 2007. Quant aux enveloppes à Nicolas Sarkozy lorsqu'il était maire de Neuilly, l'ex-comptable a affirmé aux enquêteurs que ses propos auraient été "romancés". (Le Monde)

UPDATE: More details here. And here.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Fascist!"

Christian Estrosi compares Mediapart to the extreme-right gutter press of the 1930s, and Xavier Bertrand, eschewing such historical subtlety, calls the site "fascist." Press historian Christian Delporte looks at the history of scandal-mongering by the French press, in particular the suicides of two ministers, Roger Salengro in 1936 and Pierre Bérégovoy under Mitterrand:

Concernant Salengro, « ce n'est pas comparable » car « il n'y avait pas d'enquête judiciaire, uniquement de la calomnie », rappelle l'historien :
« Là, Mediapart prolonge une enquête judiciaire en interrogeant cette ancienne comptable qui s'est déjà confiée à la police.
De toute façon, à chaque fois qu'un homme politique est atteint personnellement dans une enquête, on sort l'épouvantail Salengro, la calomnie qui finit par détruire un homme et aboutit à son suicide. »
A propos de la mort de Bérégovoy, Christian Delporte trouve aussi la comparaison peu pertinente. Pour deux raisons :
« Dans un cas, il s'agissait d'une affaire de prêt personnel. Dans l'autre, il est question du financement d'un parti politique et d'une éventuelle violation de la loi. Ce n'est pas Woerth en personne, mais le financement de la campagne électorale de tout un parti, l'UMP, et de Nicolas Sarkozy.
A mon sens, Mediapart a fait son métier. On peut aussi rappeler à M. Estrosi que la droite de l'époque avait exploité les articles du Canard Enchaîné sur Bérégovoy. »

When Is a Stable an SME?

Florence Woerth seems to have another problem. She created an enterprise that allows high-rolling society matrons to invest in racehorses--a sort of time-share in horse flesh. And it turns out that this venture is classifed as a small-to-medium enterprise (PME in French), which, thanks to a tax loophole created by Eric Woerth when he was budget minister, allows these investors to claim a tax deduction.

In the land of scandal, when it rains, it pours. All perfectly legal, to be sure. Let's be clear about that. We wouldn't want to be sued for libel. By Monsieur either.

European Banks

Daniel Gros:

But the real problem is that the EU’s banking system is so weakly capitalized that it cannot take any losses, while also being so interconnected that problems in one country quickly put the entire system at risk. Until the banks’ balance-sheet problems are dealt with decisively, financial markets will remain on edge.

Playing the Game

Why has the government's response to the Bettencourt-Woerth affair been so lame? Doesn't anyone know how to play this game? Until now, no one would have accused Sarkozy of lacking mastery of the media. He has been in politics a long time and knows the dynamics of scandal. So when allegations against Woerth first arose, he should have known that it was time for some cold calculations. He knew that Mme Woerth worked for Mme Bettencourt. He would have had his men call in Woerth to find out how deeply she was compromised. He would have learned about the trips to Switzerland. He would have demanded to know what business was transacted. He would have concluded that the patent conflict of interest would not withstand scrutiny, and he would have asked for Woerth's resignation.

Which of the above did he not do? And why not? Did he already know too much about how deeply Woerth was compromised? But even then he should have known that keeping Woerth on would only perpetuate the outcry and spur further investigations. His actions are baffling. But this crisis is coming to a head. With the confirmation today of a large cash withdrawal on precisely the date indicated by Mme Bettencourt's former accountant, questions will have to be answered and cannot be dismissed as "playing into the hands of the extreme right," as François Baroin attempted to do yesterday at the National Assembly, provoking a Socialist walk-out.

The thing to watch now is what those who stand to gain from Sarkozy's fall will do. Baroin--a Chirac protégé--is one of them. His performance yesterday can be seen as a carefully calibrated one. He has demonstrated his loyalty to the power that is but has not compromised himself by denying allegations that he claims to be investigating. Copé, rubbing his hands with glee, has called on the president to explain himself to the French people, while pretending to believe that a perfectly plausible explanation will be available. Raffarin has done the same. Christine Lagarde has called for a clarification of the rules concerning ministerial conflicts of interest. Other potential winners have been very quiet to date: Bruno Lemaire, for example, who is close to Villepin. Jean-Louis Borloo. Hervé Morin. Alain Juppé* joined Hubert Védrine in denouncing the mismanagement of the Quai d'Orsay under Sarkozy--a sign that he stands ready to fill any power vacuum.

A very interesting moment on the Right: le système Sarkozy may be entering its final days. And all because of a disappointed daughter and a disgruntled butler. This saga is the French King Lear: a thankless child attacks a failing parent and a regime totters.

*UPDATE: For example, here's what Juppé is now saying (I skip several paragraphs of langue de bois):

Que faire pour calmer la tourmente politique?
Etablir la vérité, bien sûr, sur toutes les affaires en cours. C’est la mission de la justice.
Retrouver l’élan pour réformer, moderniser, dynamiser. C’est la responsabilité du Président de la République, en charge de l’essentiel.
Et, sans doute, remettre le gouvernement en situation de gouverner, ce qui passe, au moment que le Président jugera opportun, par un profond remaniement mais aussi par un changement de méthode: le Président ne peut et ne doit être en première ligne sur tous les sujets; le gouvernement doit être à la manoeuvre quotidienne, en étroit dialogue avec le Parlement.

In short, "I'm ready, Mr. President. You want somebody to take charge of the front lines and shield you from some of this flak, you have a battle-scarred veteran waiting in the wings. Take me now."

Lost in Translation

The New York Times reports that American restaurant-goers are shocked, shocked to have their wine tasted for them by the sommelier, as if they didn't know their châteaux from Shinola:

Few issues of wine etiquette seem to cause as much consternation as the increasingly common practice of a sommelier taking a small sip of wine, usually unbidden, to test for soundness. Diners often are surprised to learn that their bottle has in effect been shared with the restaurant, even if it’s just the smallest amount.


The practice, which is more common at high-end restaurants with ambitious wine lists, can make diners uncomfortable. Some believe the restaurant may be taking advantage of them by consuming wine that they have bought. Others feel demeaned, that their role of assessing the wine has been usurped.

By way of explanation, the newspaper evokes the tastevin:

“It goes back hundreds of years, when the role of sommeliers was to ensure that kings or royalty didn’t get poisoned,” said Evan Goldstein, a wine educator and former president of the American chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers, an organization dedicated to raising the standards of beverage service. “My understanding is that the tastevin was put on a chain and put around the neck of the sommelier exactly for that purpose.”

Which reminds me of one of my favorite French associations, la Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. I once dined with a member, who transformed the mundane business of quaffing wine into an Olympian sharing of the nectar of the gods.

No Joy in Mudville

Ain't lookin' good for the home team. Two flash e-mails from Le Monde in quick succession:

Les policiers de la brigade de répression de la délinquance sur la personne (BRDP) ont retrouvé, selon "Le Monde", la trace d'un retrait en espèces de 50 000 euros à l'agence de la BNP, le 26 mars 2007. Une information conforme aux propos tenus par l'ex-comptable de Liliane Bettencourt, Claire Thibout, au site Mediapart.

Le parquet de Nanterre a annoncé avoir ouvert une nouvelle enquête préliminaire de police sur les allégations de l'ex-comptable de Liliane Bettencourt mettant en cause Eric Woerth. Selon Claire Thibout, l'héritière de L'Oréal a financé illégalement la campagne de Nicolas Sarkozy en 2007.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

More Signs of Collapse

As I said earlier, when power begins to fray, people begin to speak out. Here are some particularly undiplomatic remarks by a former diplomat, Jean-Christophe Rufin, who was appointed ambassador to Senegal by Sarkozy but recently removed, apparently at the behest of Senegalese President Wade. He has some choice words for Sarkozy and his palace guard:


Qui dirige aujourd'hui la politique africaine de la France ?
Ces dernières années, un mode de gouvernance particulier s'est construit : les affaires africaines les plus sensibles sont tranchées par Claude Guéant, qui est un préfet et n'a pas une connaissance particulière de l'Afrique. Dans ce domaine qu'il s'est réservé, le secrétaire général de la présidence agit d'autant plus librement qu'il n'en répond ni devant l'Assemblée ni devant le gouvernement. Il dépend du seul président de la République, dont j'ignore s'il est complètement informé des initiatives de son collaborateur.
Que s'est-il passé depuis trois ans ?
Il s'est passé que Bernard Kouchner n'a pas souhaité ou pas pu s'imposer dans ce domaine et, plus généralement, en politique étrangère. Etant donné son parcours que nous admirons tous, il est difficile de comprendre comment il peut avaliser des décisions prises par d'autres sur des bases qui ne sont pas les siennes.
D'un côté, il y a un Quai d'Orsay qui sert de vitrine à la fois "people" et morale, et, de l'autre, une realpolitik faite par-derrière et par d'autres. M. Kouchner a réorganisé le ministère des affaires étrangères à la manière d'une organisation non gouvernementale (ONG). Le Quai d'Orsay est aujourd'hui un ministère sinistré, les diplomates sont dans le désarroi le plus total, car ils ne se sentent pas défendus.

The Baroin Report

François Baroin said that he was going to investigate the handling of the Bettencourt affair and issue a public report within 10 days. Apparently that promise has been "rendered inoperative."

The Legal Ins and Outs of the Bettencourt-Woerth Affair

By Eolas. (h/t MYOS)

A Way Out for Sarko

Thierry Desjardins sees a way out of the hole into which Sarkozy has dug himself:

Certains s’amusent à imaginer une dissolution. Elle conduirait évidemment à mener Martine Aubry à Matignon. Et il est vrai que les présidents de cohabitation, Mitterrand en 1988 et Chirac en 2002, ont été réélus. Mais ce n’est qu’une hypothèse d’école…
Ce quinquennat va être interminable.

Distribution of Eurozone Unemployment

A very interesting graph:

Discussion here.

Is Sarkozy Retreating?

First there was the nomination of Rémy Pflimlin, a centrist and not a Sarkozy loyalist, to head France Télévisions, despite months of rumors that Sarkozy wanted Alexandre Bompard for the job. Now we learn that Anne Lauvergeon will stay as head of Areva, despite months of rumors that Sarkozy wanted her out and intended to install someone more compatible with his good friend Henry Proglio, head of EDF, who has been feuding with Lauvergeon, an erstwhile Mitterrand protégée. Meanwhile, the formerly reliable friend-of-Sarko prosecutor Philippe Courroye has been pushing the investigation of the Bettencourt-Woerth scandal, which has taken yet another astonishing turn. So, on the one hand, Sarkozy no longer feels strong enough to do as he pleases, elbowing all opposition aside, while on the other hand people in high places are no longer afraid to incur his displeasure. The management of the Woerth-Bettencourt affair has been disastrous from all points of view, perhaps because executing a retreat under fire is the most difficult of maneuvers. If this continues, retreat could soon turn into rout. But there is now no obvious way to stop the losses, because a Woerth resignation, which might have helped two weeks ago, will now seem like capitulation. Indeed, France2 reported last night that Sarkozy did not want Alain Joyandet, another former loyalist, to resign, but Joyandet refused to wait until October, as the presidential PR plan had envisioned. Another sign of lost confidence.

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Tale for Saint-Simon

The story of the nomination of Rémy Pflimlin to head France Télévisions needs a Saint-Simon capable of recounting, in all its savory detail, the court intrigue. Perhaps one of the losing candidates, or the disappointed éminence grise, Alain Minc, will regale us with the backstabbing and logrolling. But one thing is clear: this is not the way the media should be run in a democracy. It isn't quite "Berlusconization." France, after all, has different traditions, and the monarchical presidency was not invented by Sarkozy.

The Beat Goes On

Dans un rapport à sa hiérarchie, le procureur de Nanterre indique qu'il entend enquêter sur les conditions de l'embauche en 2007 de l'épouse du ministre Eric Woerth par la société qui gérait la fortune de Liliane Bettencourt, héritière de L'Oréal. (Le Monde)


Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sarko lâche du lest

Alain Joyandet et Christian Blanc, secrétaires d'Etat respectivement à la coopération et au Grand Paris, ont tous deux présenté dimanche 4 juillet leur démission du gouvernement, qui a été acceptée, a annoncé l'Elysée dans un communiqué. (AFP)

So it seems that paying for cigars and jets with the taxpayer's money will get you fired. Remains to be seen if failing to collect the money from France's biggest taxpayer will do the same. The government, here seeking to avoid the issue, is, I think, rather inflaming it by making the dual standard palpable.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tax Havens

Apparently Mme Bettencourt isn't the only one:

Wealth protected offshore is now estimated at between $7 trillion and $15 trillion. The figure is based on “high net-worth” individuals – not corporations. That’s equivalent to a fifth or a quarter of world GDP, varying analysts say.
A 2005 figure by the Tax Justice Network, an international group of lawyers, scholars, and accountants found $11.5 trillion. “We think it is a low estimate,” says John Christensen, director of TJN. “Most of us would be surprised today if the figure is lower than 15 trillion. Wealth management firms believe the high-net wealth category has recovered [from 2008], often with spectacular gains.”

Is this possible? An astonishing figure! Summing up:

“The Bettencourt story embodies the quintessential French paradox,” argues Karim Emile Bitar, editor of the Paris journal ENA. “The French are very resentful of inequalities and privileges. They refer fondly to the “Nuit du 4 août” [in 1789, that ended the monarchy and abolished privileges]. At the same time, every French Tom, Dick and Harry tries to maximize and protect his own privileges. He wants to eradicate abusive tax shelter deals but would vehemently protest if the fiscal authorities investigate his own books too closely.”

(h/t KEB)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Transatlantic Relations

From RealClearPolitics (h/t Polly-Vous Français):

The list of McChrystal's vulgar attacks on the administration was long and appalling. But President Obama was reportedly even more incensed by the contempt shown America's allies, above all the French.
Unlike most Europeans in Afghanistan, the French have done serious fighting -- at the cost of more than 40 soldiers' lives. (The biggest French unit, located in Kapisa Province, is named Brigade La Fayette.)
Just last October, Stars and Stripes reported that "the French military is going toe-to-toe with the Taliban, shedding blood and proving a worthy partner in Afghanistan," according to U.S. officers.
French marines were tasked with calming the Tagab Valley, a place the Soviets couldn't pacify in the 1980s. The article quotes one American solider saying that he liked patrolling with the French because "they roll out heavy."
The first French soldier landed in Afghanistan within three months of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America. A poll taken right after the terrorist outrage showed 96 percent of the French public "in solidarity" with the United States.
Nonetheless, when France refused to go along with the Iraq War, yahoos in Congress forced the House of Representatives cafeteria to change the name of French fries to freedom fries. (Three years ago, the old name was restored.) Dimwits in the U.S. media ridiculed the French as cowards.
When it comes to facing down terrorism, the French have been tougher than most. And so why do American leaders become so deranged on those occasions when the French see their national interests as other than ours?
An outbreak of American buffoonery toward the French seems never far below surface. McChrystal, the Rolling Stone piece said, resented playing the diplomat, though that's part of the job. He also hated going to posh Parisian restaurants with candles on the table. Well, suck it up, general.
Lafayette had his differences with Gen. Washington, but in his public comments, he never offered anything other than the highest praise for the founding father. Lafayette, we are embarrassed.

Genevagate

More trouble for Eric Woerth. (h/t Bernard Girard)

And then, closer to home, there's this.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Not so docile ...

Yesterday I said that Sarkozy might be right to gamble that the Woerth affair would evaporate over the summer, in part because he had seen to it that France had a "dccile press." Well, maybe not so docile ... Blood is in the water, and the sharks are circling.

Interesting Factoid: The Density of Paris

Why is Paris street life so vibrant? An obvious answer is the density of the city's population. Just how dense is it? Five times denser than Washington, DC, according to Matt Yglesias. Which means that Paris is to Washington as Washington is to Fargo, North Dakota.

Jospin on "The Affair"

A relaxed Lionel Jospin considers the relation between the worlds of politics and money: