Wednesday, November 30, 2011

DSK Gives His Version

What you've all been waiting for: DSK's side of the story. His 
biographer, Michel Taubmann, cites "extremely confidential 
information," but you will have no difficulty identifying the source of this 
account, which, exceptionally, I will translate: 
"She headed toward the door but seemed to be in no hurry. She looked
him straight in the eye. Then she unabashedly stared at his organ. The
flesh is weak. DSK interpreted this as a proposition. The situation
amused him. He did not resist the temptation of fellatio. The act was
rapid, very rapid. But it is contrary to the laws of physics that
without a weapon he could have forced his 'victim' to kneel." Later,
we are told, he passed her in the hall, and she waved to him and said
hello.
 
Not in this account, but on France2 TV tonight, we learn that the same
"source" told Taubmann that, yes, DSK did participate in orgies at the
Lille Carlton but never paid for sex and did not know that the women
were prostitutes. "He saw friends there, who introduced their
girlfriends. When a friend introduces a woman as his girlfriend, you
don't ask whether she is a prostitute." 
Perhaps, but you don't necessarily have sex with her either.
Nevertheless, the former IMF director has allegedly indicated that "he
is done with all that." 
C'est tout. 

Has the PS Lost the Working Class?

A recent poll has both Le Pen and Sarkozy beating Hollande among working class voters:

Avec 20 % d'intentions de vote auprès des ouvriers, il n'arriverait qu'en troisième position au premier tour, loin derrière Marine Le Pen (43 %) et même, pour la première fois, derrière Nicolas Sarkozy (22 %). Preuve que la question est prise au sérieux : un séminaire de travail est prévu, jeudi 1er décembre, entre M. Hollande et les auteurs de Plaidoyer pour une gauche populaire (Le Bord de l'eau), un ouvrage paru le 22 novembre dans lequel des sociologues et des politologues expliquent que "la capacité à renouer avec les couches populaires"est, pour la gauche, "la clé de son succès pour 2012".

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Hollande Gestures to the Center

François Hollande, turning his back on his party's rejection of an alliance with MoDem, has reached out to François Bayrou:

M. Hollande suivait alors une position isolée et risquée au sein du PS, où la perspective d'une alliance avec le centre avait été massivement condamnée lors du congrès de Reims, en novembre 2008. Le député de Corrèze était alors convaincu que la main tendue de Ségolène Royal en direction du centriste, entre les deux tours de la présidentielle de 2007, n'avait pas abouti car elle était survenue trop tard, et avait le tort de "renvoyer aux combinaisons, aux débauchages de dernière minute".
Meanwhile, and quite logically, J.-L. Mélenchon reads this maneuver as consummating a "divorce" from the left:
Plus radical, le candidat du Front de gauche à la présidentielle, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a notamment estimé sur France Inter, mardi 29 novembre, que "le trait d'union que veut faire François Hollande avec François Bayrou aboutit à un divorce avec la gauche", assurant de nouveau que lui et ses alliés communistes"n'iron[t] pas dans quelque gouvernement que ce soit avec les centristes car le programme de François Bayrou n'a rien à voir avec la gauche".

FO Wins Professional Elections

Force Ouvrière, which strongly opposes the government's plan to whittle down the size of government, the RGPP, is now the largest union in the public sector:

Selon les données communiquées par plusieurs syndicats mais non encore validées par le ministère de la fonction publique, FO arrive en tête avec 17,8 % des voix, suivi de la FSU (17,1 %), la CGT (16,4 %), l'UNSA (15 %) et la CFDT (14,5 %).

Interview with Me

I am interviewed on the Eurocrisis by the blog The Current Moment.

Monday, November 28, 2011

CdE Greenlights Monsanto GMO

The ban on genetically modified organisms, which was enacted as a political sop to angry farmers and demonstrators, has been overturned by the Conseil d'État on the grounds that the minister of agriculture failed to demonstrate an elevated level of risk:


Le Conseil d'Etat annule la suspension de culture de l'OGM MON 810

Le Conseil d'Etat a annulé la suspension de culture du maïs OGM de Monsanto décidée par le gouvernement français en février 2008. "Le Conseil d'État relève que le ministre de l'agriculture n'a pu justifier de sa compétence pour prendre les arrêtés, faute d'avoir apporté la preuve de l'existence d'un niveau de risque particulièrement élevé pour la santé ou l'environnement", explique l'instance dans un communiqué.

And in the center ...

Hervé Morin announced his candidacy this weekend. Is he anything but a stalking horse for Sarkozy, to prevent centrist voters from defecting to Bayrou, EELV, or even Hollande? I doubt it. On the other hand, Bayrou, who hasn't announced yet, might become a plausible candidate if Hollande proves to be an inept campaigner. A friend suggests that I've written him off too early and recommends this recent interview as a specimen of his abilities:




I find some of his formulas rather overdone: "On ne produit plus en France." To be sure, he follows up immediately by giving an accurate trade deficit figure. But he doesn't analyze the possible effects of the austerity program that he recommends on French production and the balance of payments. What troubles me about Bayrou is that he is, by predilection, un cavalier seul. He is excellent with the rhetoric of good government, but behind the rhetoric one has the sense that there isn't enough of an organization to formulate a coherent policy in all the areas that a government must govern. It's not enough to be "good" in the moral sense; one must also be competent, or "good" in the technical sense, and no one can do it alone. (h/t JG)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

DSK meets JFK

Edward Jay Epstein, a Warren Commission skeptic, applies his talents to the DSK Affair.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Nuclear War

The PS-EELV pact, which envisions shutting down 24 of France's 58 nuclear reactors, has handed Sarkozy a juicy campaign issue, which he plans to milk as much as possible. Although Hollande held firm on the Flamanville EPR, he gave in on the "sortie du nucléaire" line, not going quite as far as Merkel in Germany but still making major concessions to the ecologists. Or does his position reflect a true conviction about the need to exit from nuclear dependency rather than a mere political calculation? Impossible to say.

As I've said, I think this strategic decision is a mistake. It would have been better to promise tougher safety measures and to close any plants that don't measure up. And to couple that with increased research on nuclear alternatives. But to leap into the unknown is irresponsible, and Sarkozy will not let anyone forget it.

I understand the concerns about nuclear power but not the urge to abandon it precipitously and, to my mind, irrationally, with no viable substitutes in sight.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Sarkozy, Socialist

Bernard Girard criticizes President Sarkozy's intervention to prevent firms in which the state holds a capital interest from laying off workers:

Faut-il rappeler une nouvelle fois ce que les économistes répètent sans cesse : une entreprise qui ne peut pas licencier ne recrute pas. Ou pas avec des contrats à durée indéterminée. Elle fait appel à l'intérim, aux contrats précaires… Cela ne veut pas dire que les dirigeants des entreprises qui licencient prennent toujours les bonnes décisions lorsqu'ils choisissent de licencier, tant s'en faut, mais ils sont certainement mieux informés des besoins et de la situation réelle de leur entreprise que des fonctionnaires ou politiques qui ne la voient que de très loin.
Faut-il ajouter que des dirigeants qui jugent nécessaire de licencier et qui savent qu'un de leurs actionnaires va s'y opposer seront tentés, non pas d'abandonner leur projet, mais de charger la barque, d'expliquer qu'il leur faut licencier 1000 personnes quand en licencier 200 suffirait, pour se garder une marge de négociation? Le gouvernement qui aura obtenu que l'entreprise réduise ses exigences et ne licencie que 200 personnes pourra chanter victoire, mais l'entreprise aura obtenu ses fins.
Dubious economics, no doubt, but good politics? Time will tell, but it does put Hollande on the defensive.

Happy Thanksgiving

It's Thanksgiving here in the US, so, to all who are celebrating, happy holiday!

Du rififi chez les Verts, encore

The Greens see red:
"C'est cela, la leçon de cet épisode peu glorieux : il faut entourer Eva, ne pas lalaisser seule dans les situations difficiles." L'onctuosité des propos tenus hier par le député Vert Noël Mamère (Gironde) ne doit pas faire illusion.
Si les dirigeants d'Europe Ecologie-Les Verts (EE-LV), réunis mercredi 23 novembre après-midi en bureau extraordinaire, pour évoquer sans le dire le "cas Joly", se sont séparés dans une ambiance "apaisée", le "recadrage" de la candidate écologiste est en cours.

France, Italy, Germany: The Great Euroquarrel

Impending doom has failed to concentrate the minds of the key European leaders, Sarkozy, Merkel, and Monti:

En réalité, M. Sarkozy est particulièrement ennuyé, après l'échec du sommet avec Mario Monti et Angela Merkel, qui s'est tenu à Strasbourg, ce 24 novembre. LEs dirigeants ont décidé de ne pas parler de la banque centrale européenne. Officiellement, pour respecter l'indépendance de l'institution de Francfort. En réalité, parce qu'ils sont en désaccord total sur le rôle de l'institution pour sauver l'euro. M. Sarkozy veut qu'elle vole au secours des Etats en faillite. M. Monti n'en veut pas, mais défend l'idée d'avoir des euroobligations pour mutualiser le risque financier comme en Europe. Mme Merkel ne veut ni bouger sur la BCE ni bouger sur les euroobligations.
Sarkozy will deliver a major speech on Europe next Thursday, Dec. 1.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Frightful Times for the Eurozone

Ryan Avent:

THE bad news out of Europe is coming fast and thick now. Markets were still digesting news of Spain's terrible bond auction yesterday, in which the yield on its 3-month debt more than doubled, from 2.3% to over 5%. That was but an appetizer, however; in an auction of 10-year debt today, Germany failed to place some 40% of the issuance. The lack of appetite for German debt has come as a shock to many, and the language being used to describe matters is increasingly apocalyptic. "It is a complete and utter disaster", Reuters has one strategist saying. On the secondary market, German bond yields have finally joined those of its neighbours on their upward march. The German 10-year yield is up over 7% today, and back above 2%. It still has a ways to go to catch France and Austria (approaching 4%), Belgium (over 5%), and Spain and Italy (back near 7%).

La vieillesse est un naufrage ...

Le Monde:
Une société qui a peur de sa jeunesse est une société bien mal-en-point. La France vieillit, et le corps électoral qui choisira dans cinq mois le président de la République portera la marque de ce vieillissement. Dans la France de 2011, selon le portrait social de l'Insee, les moins de 20 ans représentent 24,6 % de la population (contre 27,7 % en 1991), et les 65 ans ou plus, 16,8 %, soit 2,8 points de plus qu'il y a vingt ans.
La société française est portée par une double dynamique : celle de sa natalité, un atout par rapport à l'Allemagne, et celle de l'allongement de l'espérance de vie. Et pourtant, la fracture générationnelle resurgit. Le sondage réalisé par Ipsos Logica Business Consulting à l'occasion du colloque organisé par Le Monde à Bordeaux, jeudi 24 novembre, est à cet égard inquiétant.

Lucidement, 81 % des personnes interrogées jugent qu'il est "difficile d'être un jeune aujourd'hui en France" et 71 % considèrent que la situation s'est détériorée par rapport aux générations précédentes. Les enfants des soixante-huitards vivent moins bien que leurs parents. C'est particulièrement vrai en termes d'emploi - où un chômage supérieur à 20 % et une précarité en hausse frappent en priorité la jeunesse -, de logement et de pouvoir d'achat.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Resignation or Indifference?

Elsewhere anxiety about threats to France's AAA rating fill the headlines, and even in France the CAC40 dropped sharply on the news, but the media are obsessed with the rape and murder of an unfortunate lycéenne by a recidivist classmate and seem to have discounted the financial news. Fillon is promising henceforth to incarcerate all youthful sex offenders in reform schools, but this forceful response seems, as always with the Sarkozy government, to mistake the nature of the problem:

Enfin, de l'étude sur les viols que nous avons pilotée avec Véronique Le Goaziou, nous pouvons ajouter que, étudiant les viols jugés aux assises dans trois département (Paris, Versailles et le Gard - justement) durant les années 2000, nous avons dépouillé 425 dossiers impliquant 488 auteurs et 566 victimes. Sur ces 425 viols, seuls 2 avaient été suivis de meurtre. Et l'un des deux violeurs-tueurs était un mineur (dont il n'était du reste pas absolument certain qu'il s'agissait d'un viol et pour lequel il n'y avait pas de situation de récidive). Au total, sur une période de presque dix ans et sur 3 départements, nous avons donc trouvé en tout et pour tout 1 seul cas correspondant un peu à la situation sous analyse.
In short, there are tragedies that governments can do something about, and others sadly beyond their power to prevent.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Rising Star on the Right

According to Le Monde, Guillaume Peltier, who has been a member of the Front National and follower of Bruno Mégret, has joined the UMP, where his advice is widely appreciated.

Son travail : décrypter l'opinion publique, comme son mentor Patrick Buisson [another transfuge from the extreme right] le fait pour Nicolas Sarkozy. Et dénicher des slogans contre le candidat socialiste que l'on retrouve, au gré des antennes de radio et des plateaux de télévision, dans la bouche des dirigeants de la majorité. "La France de Hollande, c'est la Grèce d'aujourd'hui", c'est lui. 

Polling

A bit early for this, but LH2 has Sarko running neck and neck with Hollande, 29 to 30. I expected a closing of the gap, but not this soon. Marine Le Pen is still the spoiler with 15, but both Mélenchon and Bayrou are at 7 and Joly at 6.

But Hollande would still win handily in the 2nd round, with 58%. My prediction for next May: Hollande, 53-47. You heard it here first.

Les Brigades Anti-Criminalité

Anthropologist Didier Fassin has investigated the work of the Brigades Anti-Criminalité that have been, since 2007 and the dismantling of the police de proximité, the spearhead of the war against crime in the Zones Urbaines Sensibles, or ZUS. He paints a disturbing portrait:

Trois mots en particulier reviennent en boucle dans la bouche des gardiens de la paix : la «jungle», qui désigne la cité, «sauvages» pour délinquants, et le terriblement polysémique «bâtard» employé à tout-va, en guise de «type»,«gars», «individu».
Fassin décrit aussi l’emploi moins généralisé, mais non sanctionné, d’une terminologie ouvertement raciste - «crouille», «bougnoules» -, comme l’affichage décomplexé d’opinions d’extrême droite. Il raconte le poster Le Pen placardé dans un bureau du commissariat, les tee-shirts «732» (référence aux exploits de Charles Martel) portés en intervention, à la vue des administrés. «La racialisation est un effet essentiel de la relation entre les policiers et les habitants», observe Didier Fassin.
...
Selon Fassin, cette double distance (origine socioculturelle et géographique) participe du sentiment d’hostilité vis-à-vis de ce monde - la banlieue - qui n’est pas le leur, confortant d’initiaux préjugés culturalistes. Mécanisme entretenu depuis une dizaine d’années par des directives politiques où la rhétorique volontiers belliqueuse («reconquérir les zones de non-droit», «déclarer la guerre à la délinquance») et truffée de références sur une identité et une cohésion nationale menacées vient valider cette idée que la population des banlieues constituerait en soi un «ennemi». A réprimer, plutôt qu’à protéger.

France's Problem Is Management, Not Workers

The Economist says that the problem with French firms is the way they are managed, not the attitude of workers (h/t Arun Kapil):

As Thomas Philippon, a French economist, pointed out in “Le Capitalisme d’Héritiers”, a 2007 book, too many big French companies rely on educational and governmental elites rather than promoting internally according to performance on the job. In the country’s many family firms, too, opportunity for promotion is limited for non-family members. This overall lack of upward mobility, argues Mr Philippon, contributes largely to ordinary French cadres’ dissatisfaction with corporate life. A study of seven leading economies by TNS Sofres in 2007 showed that France is unique in that middle management as well as the lower-level workforce is largely disengaged from their companies.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

CRIF charges PS with anti-Semitism

As part of its electoral deal with EELV, the PS agreed to give seats occupied by four deputies with "noms à consonance juive" (Blisko, Dreyfus, Hoffman-Rispal, Goldberg) to the Greens has led the head of the Jewish representative organization CRIF, Richard Prasquier, to raise the issue of anti-Semitism. The PS and the deputies eliminated vigorously deny the charge.

Truly, the PS negotiations with the Greens have been cursed with some sort of bad mojo at every turn.

Friday, November 18, 2011

EELV Bankrupt, Financially and/or Politically?

It seems that EELV's finances are in as parlous a state as its presidential candidacy. Even if the party doesn't go bankrupt, everyone is wondering about the significance of Eva Joly's decision to withdraw from a televised debate and take a break from all media activity. Some say she'll be back in action next week, but others say that her candidacy is in tatters after several major gaffes and she is about to withdraw. Then what? Hulot? Duflot? Cohn-Bendit? Or a decision not to run a candidate, which was Cohn-Bendit's preference in the first place. It would make more sense to concentrate on inflecting the policy choices of the PS and working toward seats in the Assembly.

Slouching toward Eurodämmerung

David Brooks:

Thinking back on all the complacent conversations I used to have in Brussels, I was struck by a quotation I read this week in The Economist. A European central banker said he had always wondered how Europe’s leaders could have stumbled into World War I. “From the middle of a crisis,” he said recently, “you can see how easy it is to make mistakes.”

Wyplosz Lashes Weidmann

Here:


The EZ crisis is approaching a tipping point beyond which market panic and slow government reaction threaten to create a generation-defining loss of jobs, savings, and pensions. This open letter to the president of the German central bank presents arguments that counter German objections to using the Eurozone’s last remaining defence against economic calamity – the ECB.

Dear Jens,
A growing number of competent economists have come to the conclusion that the debt crisis will not come to an end until the ECB intervenes as lender of last resort. You have taken the opposite view. The question, for me, is why?
As I see it, your objection rests on three points:
  • Legality of bailouts;
  • moral hazard; and
  • independence of the ECB.
These are important issues, but the answer cannot be simply: “No, never.”

Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Je vous remercie de m'avoir écouté, MM les hommes importants!"


Daniel Cohn-Bendit : « Si on se fie aux doutes... by EurodeputesEE

Dany dit les choses. Be sure not to miss the guy behind him at no. 57 wiping his nose with his tie shortly after the 4 min. mark.

A Joly Mess

Eva Joly is proving to be a lamentable choice to represent the Greens. First she said that there could be no accord between EELV and the Socialists unless the Socialists renounced the Flamanville EPR. The PS refused, and EELV signed an accord anyway, agreeing to disagree about Flamanville. But now Joly says that the accord (with the disagreement over MOX now swept under the rug) "does not engage" her. It is strictly a "parliamentary accord," not relevant to the party's candidate in the presidential election.

Add this to Joly's previous gaffes concerning Armistice Day and honoring the military, and you get a picture of a candidate who conceives of politics as striking a series of moral postures rather than moving toward specific policy goals. Moralizing has its place in public life, but it doesn't belong in the middle of a presidential campaign. Joly has demonstrated remarkable ineptitude, and the greatest service she could do to her party would be to withdraw from the race before she further embarrasses herself by draining votes that Hollande may need in the first round and would surely get anyway in the second. There are other ways to defend her principles that don't require public incoherence and the demonstration of party disunity.

Anti-Semitism and the DSK Affair

The DSK Affair(s) have given abundant reasons for disgust but had, I thought until now, avoided adding the injury of anti-Semitism to the insult of Strauss-Kahn's reckless behavior. But Marc Weitzmann shows me that I was wrong. The novelist Marc-Edouard Nabe has produced a novel in which he uses a character named DSK as a device to unleash a torrent of sexualized anti-Semitic fantasies:

Quant à la technique narrative louée par Léo Scheer, consistant à se mettre dans la tête de DSK, elle permet surtout à Nabe de déployer un texte qui, au bout du compte, ne peut être lu autrement que comme un pamphlet antisémite et obscène entièrement dirigé contre Anne Sinclair. Rappelons ici que, avec Simone Weil et Robert Badinter - lequel est au passage qualifié dans le livre de "maître de la Gauche juive" -, Anne Sinclair partage depuis trente ans le douteux privilège deconcentrer l'essentiel des fantasmes antisémites de l'extrême droite journalistique et littéraire de ce pays. Ainsi dans les années 1980, pour ne prendre qu'un exemple, fut-elle qualifiée, dans un style que ne renierait pas Nabe, de"marchande de soutiens-gorge sur TF1, juive mal assimilée de tendance socialiste" par l'ex-milicien, journaliste à Minute et cofondateur du Front national, François Brigneau. Lequel fut condamné pour cela par les tribunaux. (Ce motif de la non-assimilation est d'ailleurs repris quasi-verbatim chez Nabe page 79.)

I will refrain from citing some of the more obnoxious passages of the book, which you can read in Weitzmann's review. It is worth noting, however, than the book has drawn critical support from Patrick Besson, a novelist himself and editorialist at Le Point:

"L'Enculé est à ce jour la synthèse la plus pertinente et la plus joviale de tout ce qu'on a pu lire,voir et entendre sur l'affaire DSK au cours de l'été dernier (...). C'est l'histoire d'un homme seul face à ses besoins, ses rêves, ses obsessions, ses souvenirs. Son innocence et sa culpabilité. Son rire (...). C'est l'être universel qui habite toutes les grandes oeuvres d'art : un coeur face à la mort, un sexe dans le mur."

France-EU: More Conflicted Than Ever

French opinion about the EU, never simple, is more conflicted than ever in the wake of the sovereign debt crisis:
"Les deux idées cohabitent au sein des mêmes individus", constate le politologue Roland Cayrol. Pour lui, "la majorité des électeurs veulent plus d'Europe et s'en méfient à la fois. L'idée s'est installée que sur les questions fondamentales, le seul échelon réellement efficace de décision est européen, et en même temps, il y a aussi l'idée qu'une harmonisation pèserait sur notre système social, considéré comme plus avancé que les autres."
As the spread between the French and German 10-yr bonds passed 200 basis points, a new record, President Sarkozy tried and failed one more time to persuade Angela Merkel to back a plan to make the ECB the lender of last resort.

Pour l’heure, le chef de l’Etat cherche à parer à l’urgence, alors que tous les pays de la zone euro, à l’exception de l’Allemagne, sont attaqués. Il a téléphoné mercredi à Angela Merkel, mais les négociations piétinent. M. Sarkozy a expliqué mardi que l’euro ne survivrait pas si la Banque centrale européenne (BCE) ne prenait pas les choses en main : pour contrer les marchés, il faut que les spéculateurs aient en face d’eux les moyens illimités de la BCE. Mais les Allemands s’y refusent. "Toutes les autres solutions se heurtent à des problèmes techniques majeurs. Il est parfois plus facile de s’attaquer à un tabou politique", poursuit ce diplomate français.

Justice, the Imperfect of the Subjunctive, and Jacques Lacan

« Bien qu’il [Lacan] eût émis le vœu de finir ses jours en Italie, à Rome ou à Venise et qu’il eût souhaité des funérailles catholiques, il fut enterré sans cérémonie et dans l’intimité au cimetière de Guitrancourt ».
This sentence, written by Elisabeth Roudinesco about Jacques Lacan, is at the heart of a lawsuit by Lacan's daughter, Judith Miller, against Roudinesco, who is accused of slandering the late psychoanalyst. Roudinesco's lawyer, the inevitable Georges Kiejman, bases his defense on Grévisse's French grammar:

A l’adresse du tribunal dont il pressent qu’il hésitera à s’aventurer dans l’interprétation des dernières volontés lacaniennes, Me Kiejman propose une caution plus familière. Celle de Grévisse, selon lequel, assure-t-il, le plus que parfait du subjonctif – « bien qu’il eût souhaité" - peut avoir « une valeur indicative ou conditionnelle sans que rien ne permette de distinguer ces deux modes ». Et vient la péroraison : « Le doute, fût-il grammatical, doit bénéficier à l’accusé ! ».
In other words, did Roudinesco write, that Lacan "may have expressed the wish to die in Italy and have a Catholic funeral" or that he "did express the wish?" Grévisse says there's no way to tell. « Le doute, fût-il grammatical, doit bénéficier à l’accusé ! ». For this, Kiejman will no doubt go down in the annals of French legal and grammatical history.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Krugman: Eurogeddon

From Paul Krugman: a picture is worth a thousand words:

While Fillon obsesses about le triple-A, the better to excoriate Hollande, the market has decided not to wait for the ratings agencies and has repriced French debt as if the downgrade had already occurred, just as Hollande claims.

And just for good measure, read this:

And if you are an investor, this is the moment of truth. Everything – every asset class – depends on how the euro zone performs in the Italian Job. There are only two outcomes, here. If Italy blows up, a Depression is upon us; banks would be insolvent, CDS triggers would implode the system, bank runs would begin, stock markets would crash, and you will would see sovereign debt yields go to unbelievable lows for nations with a lender of last resort. If Italy survives, I would expect a monster rally in periphery debt, stock markets, and bank shares and a selloff in CDS at the minimum. However, the euro zone is already in recession so that rally will not be sustained.

Attacking Welfare Fraud--Again

Sarkozy and his minions are highlighting the issue of welfare and health care fraud and publicizing the cost to the state. They will do something about it, they promise, if re-elected in 2012. The only problem is that they harped on the same string in 2007, made the same promises, and accomplished nothing in the four years since then. As policy, therefore, their promises ring hollow, but of course the purpose of such campaign rhetoric is not to outline policy but to stigmatize groups associated with the other side.

Social Portrait of France

INSEE, the French statistical agency, has released its annual "social portrait" of France. Laurent Mauduit details the primary findings here. Sarkozy's labor market reforms coupled with the economic crisis have changed the structure of employment significantly:

« Le taux d'emploi en CDI a ainsi atteint un point haut au 4etrimestre 2008,où il s'établissait à 50,5% de la population, puis il a diminué en 2009. La reprise de l'activité n'enraye pas tout de suite cette diminution: le taux d'emploi en CDI continue de baisser tout au long de 2010 et début 2011 (48,7% au 1er trimestre 2011) pour ne repartir à la hausse qu'au 2e trimestre 2011. »
Inequality has increased, although average purchasing power has held steady.

A lot of moxie

So, all is not well in the PS-Green accord. It seems that the Greens wanted an end to MOX processing (MOX is a type of recycled nuclear fuel, a mixture of uranium and plutonium oxides) and thought the PS had agreed to this, but the clause disappeared somewhere between the draft and final agreements. Le Monde insinuates, and Mediapart flatly asserts, that the clause was dropped at the behest of Henry Proglio, head of Areva, a Sarkozy appointee who replaced the Socialist Anne Lauvergeon. (Proglio is not only a Sarko appointee but also a loyalist and the former companion of Rachida Dati). Areva specializes in the production of MOX, and French nuclear installations depend on it.

The Greens will no doubt take this badly, especially since they have already had to eat Eva Joly's promise that there would never be an electoral accord with the PS without a capitulation on the EPR at Flamanville and a promise to wean France off nuclear power. Will the agreement break down? It's not out of the question, given the fissiparous tendencies of EELV and a sense among the rank-and-file of having been sold out.

The Hollande Machine

François Hollande has announced his new campaign organization, and it looks remarkably like his old campaign organization. Moscovici and Le Foll are at the top, and Manuel Valls has been added to take charge of communications. Overtures have been made to all the éléphants, losing candidates, and their entourages, but the core remains the group that saw Hollande through the primaries. This is a victory for the right wing of the PS: the elevation of Valls, the party's rightmost leading figure, to the position that in the party belongs to Benoît Hamon, one of its leftmost leading figures, underscores the point. Cambadélis, the Strauss-Kahnian who bolted to the Aubriac left, is nowhere in sight, whereas Moscovici, the Strauss-Kahnian who opted for Hollande, is at the top of the organization chart. Foreign policy has been entrusted to Bartolone. On s'engage, puis on voit.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Reality Prevails

The PS and the EELV have reached an agreement. Despite all the bold talk of principle that would never be compromised, in the end the Greens compromised, and the PS did not sacrifice the EPR at Flamanville.

Credit Crunch Ahead

With banks under pressure across the Eurozone to increase their capitalization as protection against losses on their sovereign debt portfolios, credit is expected to become tighter, causing economic growth to slow. This will only worsen the sovereign debt crisis.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Cost of Promised Reforms

The Institut Montaigne proposes to evaluate the costs or gains of various reforms proposed by the presidential candidates over the next six months. Here is the first batch:


François Hollande - Créer 60 à 70 000 postes dans l'Education nationale
Coût : 1,9 Md € par an

Nicolas Sarkozy - Proposer aux étudiants un prêt à taux zéro 
Coût : 0,36 Md € par an

Eva Joly - Engager un plan massif d'investissement dans les transports collectifs
Coût : 5 Mds € par an

François Hollande - Supprimer des niches fiscales et sociales 
Gain : 9,4 Mds € par an

Jean-Luc Mélenchon - Rétablir le droit à la retraite à 60 ans à taux plein 
Coût : 33 Mds € par an

Modem : Augmenter le budget de la recherche
Coût : 2,8 Mds € sur 5 ans

Egalitarian France

France is more egalitarian in income distribution than the US or Germany.


This is from the database on world top incomes assembled by Thomas Piketty and his colleagues.

A Diaspora of Chevènementistes

Thomas Wieder has an interesting piece in Le Monde today on former supporters of J.-P. Chevènement who can now be found in far-flung reaches of the political spectrum from the FN to the Front de Gauche. In reaction to the imposition of market discipline by external forces, nationalist sentiment is rising in all parts of the political spectrum and can be expected, in the future as in the past, to make strange bedfellows. To be followed closely.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

What Will the ECB Do?

Many observers believe that the only way out for the Eurozone is for the European Central Bank to become a lender of last resort. Jean Quatremer quotes Marco Kranjec of Slovenia, a member of the ECB Board of Governors, saying that bank is "flexible" and will go "as far as necessary." He does not, however, quote Bundesbank president Jens Weidmann, also a member of the BoG of the ECB, who warns that the bank absolutely must not become a lender of last resort: it's not only wrong, it's illegal, Weidmann says. And Mario Draghi, the new head of the ECB, says that the LOLR role is "not the bank's job."So we have an impasse, with time running out.

For those who like their doom and gloom leavened with math, here are some numbers.

Learning French with J.-L. Mélenchon

Jean-Luc Mélenchon isn't an authority I would recommend for learning economics, but he's great for expanding your French vocabulary:
"D'un côté, François Hollande décide tout seul qu'il continue le nucléaire ; de l'autre côté, des gens catégoriques disent 'il faut sortir du nucléaire'. Puis on s'aperçoit qu'ils échangent des centrales nucléaires contre des circonscriptions. Tout cela sent beaucoup la carabistouille."
To the dictionary:
Carabistouille, s.f,: Belgicisme. Calembredaine, galéjade. S'emploie surtout au pluriel (cf. H. Baetens BeardsmoreLe Français régional de Bruxelles, 1971, p. 400).
He also characterized Hollande as "the captain of a pedal boat," not a vehicle to turn to in a storm.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Marine Le Pen Courts American Jews

A fascinating analysis by Arun Kapil of the Front National's relations with American conservatives from the time Jean-Marie Le Pen to the current effort by Marine Le Pen to court conservative American Jews can be found here. A small excerpt from a long, thorough, and intriguing analysis:

A new trend in the European populist right, which seeks to enlist Jews in its campaign against Islam and Muslims (e.g. Geert Wilders). But French Jews, who have voted in their large majority for the left over the years but are now moving right—Jews were enthusiastic supporters of Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007—, are deaf to Marine LP’s siren song. The far right, on account of its history and sociological composition, is radioactive among Jews, but also the Israelis, who have shown no interest in Mme Le Pen’s overtures. Acceptance by Jews is the key to making the FN respectable and in breaking down the wall between it and the mainstream right. So if Marine LP can’t get to French Jews via Israel, she’ll try to do so via their American counterparts.
After her stopovers in Washington and New York, she flew to south Florida, with Jews and Republicans the twin objective. On Saturday November 5th a reception was held for her at the plush Palm Beach home of Bill Diamond, a wealthy realtor and member of the Palm Beach town council, and to which some 200 mostly Jewish Republicans were invited (here and here). Diamond, a prominent member of the local Jewish community, is pals with Rudolph Giuliani—he was a top Giuliani appointee in New York and a financier of his 2008 presidential campaign—, was Florida co-chair of the recent Draft Trump boomlet, and is a local fundraiser for AIPAC (here, here, and here). Mme Le Pen’s intermediary in all this—her US fixer—was one Guido George Lombardi, an Italian-American operator, friends with Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi so it seems, a leader of something called “Tea Party Italy”—”which has brought the values of small government and more personal freedom to Italy”—, and the executive director of an outfit called the North Atlantic League, “which promotes positive foreign relations between Italy, Israel, and the United States”… (here and here).

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dr. Doom Prophesies the End of the Euro

Nouriel Roubini, for whom every cloud is lined with lead, foresees the imminent end of the euro.

DSK and Clarence Thomas, même combat

DSK has joined Clarence Thomas in portraying himself as the victim of a "high-tech lynching" ("lynchage médiatique" in DSK's case). His latest grief involves the publication of text messages he allegedly sent to one of the indicted co-conspirators in the Carlton affair. The messages speak of special soirées at private clubs and boîtes coquines here and there in Europe and the US, to which DSK and his friend proposed to go accompanied by petites and demoiselles. As far as I am aware, DSK has not denied sending and receiving these messages. It's the invasion of his privacy that he resents.

Ecology and Economics

I want to call your attention to two very interesting articles by Éloi Laurent in Le Monde, one concerning the "ecological debt" and the other on the role of economics in understanding sustainability.

A Film Reviewer Looks at French Politics

La Conquête has come to the United States. Here is film reviewer Stephen Holden's reaction to this glimpse of French political life:

If “The Conquest” aspires to be a Gallic answer to “The Queen,” it more closely resembles a diluted, somewhat less amusing French answer to “In the Loop.” From its jaundiced, inside-the-bubble perspective, the political game in France is a circus of competing egomaniacs.

...
I should add that the spectacle, despite its absurdities, doesn’t appear nearly as farcical as the current prelude to the 2012 presidential election in the United States.


Not mistaken on either count.

The "Four Currents" of the Right

Mediapart has an interesting analysis this morning of what it takes to be Sarkozy's new strategy vis-à-vis the UMP. Rather than pretend that no differences exist within the party, he has explicitly authorized four "currents" to express themselves. The very term recalls the good old days of the PS, with its constant inter-current sniping. In the UMP, according to Marine Turchi, we have the following currents: Droite populaire, Droite sociale, Droite humaniste, Réformateurs libéraux Le Figaro offers a similar breakdown, without the latter group. Each of these currents responds to some sort of disappointment with Sarkozy's reign.

The Droite popu' is out to recapture the FN voters who deserted Le Pen père in 2007 but are flocking to Le Pen fille in 2012. The liberal reformers are disappointed that Sarkozy's intended neoliberal rupture (low taxes, benefit reductions, labor market reforms) was curtailed by the crisis. The "humanists" are in fact centrists who cannot stomach the president's heavy-handed law-and-order approach to immigration and security issues. And the Social Right is a misnomer, because its real mission is to reorient social programs away from the poor and toward the middle class, where there are more votes to be had; helping the poor is now stigmatized as "fostering a culture of l'assistanat."

Apparently, a decision has been made that these differences can no longer be concealed behind the kind of soaring rhetoric that Guaino fashioned for Sarkozy in 2012. It's better to let each group attempt to persuade its own portion of the electorate that the president really favors their views but must, for strategic reasons, compromise with the others. Sarkozy himself will try to hover above the squabbling crabs, as Mitterrand did with the PS. In this way, he can run against his own record, which he must do, since it is a record that has left no one on the right fully satisfied.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

France's Credit Rating

S&P "accidentally" downgraded France's AAA rating today, causing a 7 basis-point rise in yield. Meanwhile, the less well-known Egan-Jones rating agency said that it was going to downgrade France from AA- to A+ or perhaps even lower.

The UMP Solves the Problem of Education

Brilliant:

Vous connaissez Christine Maso ? Non ? Moi non plus, jusqu'à ce que j'assiste mardi à Bobino à la Convention UMP sur l'éducation. Et que Christine Maso, une prof de maternelle assise à la tribune, propose une loi pour interdire le tutoiement des petits, rendant donc obligatoire le vouvoiement, histoire d'imposer le respect...
As in, vous êtes un pauvre con, cher maître ...

J'accuse

"A serious violation of human rights." This is the conclusion of the European Committee on Social Rights regarding France's expulsion of Roms in 2010. It will be interesting to see if François Hollande takes this up as a campaign theme. He should, because the expulsions were not only unjust and heavy-handed but a demonstration of the Sarkozy regime's cynical exploitation of situations of distress. The problem for the opposition is that the expulsions were popular, as dealing harshly with scapegoats can sometimes be, even if no real problems are solved. But here is a chance for Hollande to show some "bravitude."

The Fixers

Via Henry Farrell:


I’m at a workshop, unable to blog properly, and saving my eurozone energies for revisions to a piece for The Nation (the ending of which has changed dramatically twice, and which is likely to change dramatically again before its Friday deadline). But this piece in the FT is not very far from what I would be writing if I had the time.
Apparently, the answer to the huge problems of the eurozone is the replacement of elected premiers with economic experts – approved officials dropped from European institutions. In Greece, Lucas Papademos, a former vice-president of the European Central Bank, has been pushed hard for the job; in Italy, Mario Monti, another economist and a former EU Commissioner, is much mentioned. They may lack a democratic mandate but they’re fantastically well regarded in Frankfurt. It remains to be seen if either will clinch the role. But what exactly is the great attraction of technocrats?
If ever modern Europe needed brave, charismatic leaders to carry their nation through turbulent times, it would seem to be now. Instead, it is as if the crew of the Starship Enterprise had concluded that Captain Jean-Luc Picard is no longer the man for the job and that it is time to send for the Borg. Efficient, calculating machines driving through unpopular measures across the eurozone with the battle cry “resistance is futile” are apparently the order of the day. Faced with a deep crisis, once-proud European nations are essentially preparing to hand over power to Ernst & Young.

Not Good News

As eurozone contagion spreads to Italy, the clouds thicken over France:

But on Wednesday, the spread of 10-year French government bonds over their German equivalent rose to a euro area high of around 140 basis points. “Contagion” is not just a movie.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Push From the Left

Left-wing economists, from the heterodox Économistes atterrés to the more mainstream Thomas Piketty, are urging François Hollande to take a bolder line on economic policy and set himself apart from the apparent European consensus in favor of austerity. Hollande's speech on the subject showed some cautious willingness to accept their advice. Meanwhile, Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, warned of a "lost decade" ahead and said that the global economy is entering a period of turmoil and danger.

Elsewhere, Sarkozy accused Hollande of "demagoguery" for proposing a 30% reduction in the salaries of the president and ministers. After Baroin's outburst in the Assembly yesterday, it seems that the UMP's strategy is to goad the Socialists into responding intemperately to provocations in the hope of casting the opposition as a party of irresponsible hotheads, in contrast to the newly imperturbable president (although it must be said that Baroin looked far from imperturbable in the chamber yesterday--indeed, with his eyes ablaze and forelock flapping, he looked the part of the quintessential political wild man, a far cry from his usual demeanor, which reminds me of a slightly bored clubman languidly awaiting his turn on the tennis court).

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Baroin Brings Down the House

François Baroin caused a near-riot in the Assemblée Nationale today by accusing the Socialists of having come to power par effraction in 1997. Surely, as a protégé of Jacques Chirac, Baroin can't have forgotten that in fact the Socialists came to power because of Chirac's foolish hubris in thinking he could win an election after having been repudiated massively in the streets in 1995.

If this is an indication of the level of the campaign ahead, we are in for a long six months. (h/t KJS)

Campaign Jitters

Some Socialists are nervous, it seems. After monopolizing the airwaves during the primaries, the party was pushed off the front page by the G20 and by relentless and coordinated attacks by UMP minions. Hollande is "consulting," his aides say, and does not wish to unveil his strategy prematurely. Nevertheless, there he was on France2 last night, strutting his stuff.

As I said in the previous post, he scored a point by forthrightly supporting the EPR construction at Flamanville, rejecting Eva Joly's ill-judged ultimatum and thus showing that he has backbone. On the whole, however, he struck me as over-eager and over-rehearsed. He ran through a series of disappointments with Sarkozy's bilan, as one might expect a challenger to do. But to focus on the incumbent's record, however dismal, is a mistake, in my view. That is politics for normal times, and voters know full well that these are not normal times. What they want is to have a course laid toward a safe harbor, not carping about how the ship of state wound up where it is today.

The UMP has grasped this point. As I said in the previous post, I think it's "austerity" theme is largely a sham. The government isn't making major cuts, but it has chosen to emphasize the negative, the better to contrast its supposed "responsibility" with Hollande's alleged fecklessness. While Fillon dispenses doom and gloom, Copé fairly shrieks: "Eek! Hollande is going to hire 60,000 teachers! Hollande is going to create 300,000 emploi-jeunes! He's going to set the retirement age back to 60! And how is he going to pay for these things? The coffers are empty! The ratings agencies are at the door!"

Hollande has been too quick to rise to this bait. He has an unfortunate tendency to finish his interviewers' sentences before they do. He blurts out his answers in a way that seems rushed. Just as Sarkozy has managed to master an appearance of deliberateness and grim determination, Hollande arrives with the air of an eager schoolboy unable to contain himself. His frantic enthusiasm has the undesired effect of making Sarkozy, of all people, look settled and thoughtful--présidentiel, quoi! This error must be corrected forthwith. But most of all, Hollande must overcome the understandable desire to expose the contradictions in Sarkozy's past policies. There's no shortage of them, of course, but the crisis has changed everything. Everyone was wrong in the past, so the contest will be about whose prescriptions for the future seem more convincing. And if the UMP has chosen to embrace, or at any rate pay lip service to austerity and to the mistaken doctrine of expansionary contraction that David Cameron must already be regretting, then what Hollande must do is emphasize formulas for spurring growth. The trick is to find some that do not resemble pie in the sky.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Rigueur by any other name ...

The Élysée doesn't like to use the word rigueur, but François Fillon, a dour man in the best of times, did not shrink from calling the new plan "le plus rigoureux" since 1945. He spoke repeatedly of the "effort" and "sacrifice" that would be demanded of the French. But actually it didn't sound all that rigorous: the salade niçoise you eat for lunch will be taxed at 7% rather than 5.5; the renovated bathroom will cost 3,042 euros instead of 3,000 (according to France2); the RSA will be reduced (an unkind cut, that) apologies, my mistake; dividends will be taxed a bit more; etc. It wasn't clear that France was actually sacrificing so much as making a show of sacrifice, to impress the ratings agencies.

This matters, of course, but does it matter quite as much as Fillon thinks? I think not. What really counts is the spread on Italian bonds, which rose today, increasing the pressure on French banks. Jiggering the budget has its uses, but what the market really wants is some sign of European coordination sufficient to enlist foreign investment. A few extra centimes on the jambon-beurre isn't going to cut the mustard (hold that culinary metaphor!).

Meanwhile, Hollande, interviewed on France2's JT 20h, clearly rejected Eva Joly's ultimatum and said he would support the EPR at Flamanville. First hurdle cleared on the way to becoming presidential.

More Trouble for DSK

Another prostitute comes forward in the Carlton Affair:
Dans un entretien avec «Nord Eclair» publié jeudi, la jeune femme, qui se présente comme «Jade», raconte avoir rencontré Dominique Strauss-Kahn lors d'une partie fine à l'hôtel Murano à Paris en mars 2009.
Elle évoque également un voyage à Washington en janvier 2010 pour rencontrer l'ancien patron du FMI, en compagnie du commissaire Jean-Christophe Lagarde et de l'entrepreneur Fabrice Paszkowski, tous deux mis en examen pour proxénétisme aggravé dans cette affaire. L'autre prostituée à s'être portée partie civile a par ailleurs porté plainte pour violation du secret de l'instruction, a précisé Me Laporte. (h/t KB)

Sarkozy to Obama: "Netanyahu is a liar."

Private conversation between the two leaders leaks, reported here:

Selon nos informations, les deux présidents ont laissé de côté toute retenue à propos du délicat dossier des relations israélo-palestiniennes. Obama a d'abord reproché à Sarkozy de ne pas l'avoir prévenu qu'il allait voter en faveur de l'adhésion de la Palestine à l'Unesco, alors que les Etats-Unis y étaient fermement opposés. La conversation a ensuite dérivé sur Benyamin Nétanyahou, le Premier ministre israélien. Sûrs de ne pas être entendus, les deux présidents se sont lâchés. "Je ne peux plus le voir, c'est un menteur", a lancé Sarkozy. "Tu en as marre de lui, mais moi, je dois traiter avec lui tous les jours !", a rétorqué Obama, qui a ensuite demandé à Sarkozy d'essayer de convaincre les Palestiniens de mettre la pédale douce sur leur demande d'adhésion à l'ONU.

Will China Bail Out Europe?

Not if this man has anything to say about it:

"If you look at the troubles which happened in European countries, this is purely because of the accumulated troubles of the worn out welfare society. I think the labour laws are outdated. The labour laws induce sloth, indolence, rather than hardworking. The incentive system, is totally out of whack.
"Why should, for instance, within [the] eurozone some member's people have to work to 65, even longer, whereas in some other countries they are happily retiring at 55, languishing on the beach? This is unfair. The welfare system is good for any society to reduce the gap, to help those who happen to have disadvantages, to enjoy a good life, but a welfare society should not induce people not to work hard."
Maybe Jin Liqun should run for office in the US as a Republican. He's absorbed the party line perfectly. (h/t Sophie M.)

L'histoire chévénementielle

Jean-Pierre Chevènement is running for president. This is not necessarily good news for the Socialists, although they are not unduly worried, since JPC is likely to take more votes from Jean-Luc Mélenchon than from François Hollande. Chevènement is and always has been a Euroskeptic, and he believes that recent events have vindicated his doubts. Back in the day, however, his position was more "socialism in one country" than "deglobalization," a term that would have made no sense in 1983, when those in the Mitterrand administration who opposed social market reforms were marginalized as "Albanians."

Chevènement is an honorable man, whose opposition to the party line throughout his career has always been principled. I've generally disagreed him but think that his influence has been useful. I hope he abandons this candidacy while continuing to defend his position. Standing for principle is always good, but one principle of a presidential system is that party discipline is essential.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Greek Accord

Grèce : accord pour un gouvernement de coalition sans Papandréou (officiel)

La présidence grecque annonce un accord entre George Papandréou et l'opposition de droite portant sur un gouvernement de coalition. Le premier ministre sortant ne sera pas reconduit dans ses fonctions. Une nouvelle rencontre est prévue lundi entre George Papandréou et l'opposition pour décider qui sera premier ministre. (AFP, Reuters)

Joly's Ultimatum

Eva Joly says that if François Hollande does not promise to shut down construction of the EPR reactor at Flamanville, there will be no electoral accord between her party and the PS. Of course, if Hollande does agree to Joly's ultimatum, Sarkozy will accuse him of succumbing to blackmail for a mess of pottage and of flip-flopping on the issue, since he has already committed to completing Flamanville if safety requirements are met.

This is typical behavior for the Greens, but as Cohn-Bendit has warned his party, politics by blackmail is a losing proposition. It enforces party purity but isolates the pure and renders them unsuitable as allies in a governing coalition, since governing is invariably an impure business. Non-negotiable demands may make partisans feel good but may disserve their ultimate goals. What is more, their ultimate goals may be wrongly conceived, and in this case I think they are.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pressure on Italy

Italy is under pressure from the bond markets, and Silvio Berlusconi is under pressure from his counterparts in France, Germany, the US, and the IMF. This is the big enchilada. If Italy goes--and at a 450 basis point spread over Germany, it's on the brink--France, which has considerable bank exposure to its southern neighbor, will be in serious difficulty.

Home Alone

Despite the great show of Franco-American solidarity at the end (see previous post) and polite nods to Europe's "wisdom and ability" by Hu Jintao, the message from the rest of the world was that Europe's problem is Europe's to solve. Alain Faujas's analysis in Le Monde confirms my sentiment. The problem is that I don't share this confidence in Europe's ability to muddle through. Things will therefore have to get worse before they get better, that is, before a deeper level of cooperation is forced on national leaders who are still too focused--and who can blame them?--on saving themselves.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Obama and Sarkozy's Excellent Adventure

Barack Obama, after needling Nicolas Sarkozy in a rather unpresidential way yesterday--he said that it was "an excellent thing" that Sarko's newborn daughter would inherit her mother's looks rather than his--did him an extraordinary favor today by agreeing to sit for a lengthy interview in French and English by David Pujadas and Laurence Ferrari. The diplomatic justification was no doubt to show financial markets that the US and Europe are on the same page in dealing with the crisis. Sarkozy was the host of the G20, so he gets to stand in for Europe. But he is also an undeclared candidate to succeed himself as president of France, and Obama cannot have been unaware that he was doing a political favor for a leader with whom he has not always enjoyed warm relations.

Will it do anything for Sarkozy in the polls? There are too many opportunities for failure in the weeks ahead, but if the euro crisis calms, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sarko obtain a small boost from this evening's show, which eager commentators will seize upon as a sign of an impending comeback. The truth is that the fortunes of both presidents--Obama and Sarkozy--are hostage to events not entirely in their control.

Do It Yourself Bank Stress Test

Don't trust the authorities? Try your own stress test. (h/t pg)

New Social Science Research Portal for France

Called Isidore.

Chinese FDI

Sophie Meunier reports on recent Chinese investment in EU countries.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Israeli Ambassador Meets with Marine Le Pen at UN

Le Monde is reporting that:

Marine Le Pen a rencontré l'ambassadeur israélien à l'ONU

L'ambassadeur israélien à l'ONU, Ron Prosor, s'est joint au déjeuner de Marine Le Pen avec plusieurs diplomates, jeudi 3 novembre, à New York. C'est la première fois que la présidente du FN rencontre un officiel israélien. (Le Monde)

Why?

Details here.

Papandreou Calls Off the Referendum

Was this the intent of his gamble? To frighten the opposition into backing the plan? If so, it worked. Now, to make the plan work.

As for France, Sarkozy's intent to run for re-election on a platform of "I saved Europe" is once again operational.

CNN Nails It


"Don't know much about geography ..."

ECB Drops Interest Rate

Mario Draghi took over on Tuesday; today the ECB decreased its key interest rate by 25 basis points. A sign of a new activism? Response to events? It's too early to tell.

No Cannes Do

The G20 are meeting in Cannes. The Greek situation is in flux, and it's not clear that Papandreou's government will survive, or what might become of the referendum. President Sarkozy is trying to wrest a promise or two from Hu Jintao. The latter has rather inscrutably said that he believes Europe itself has "all the wisdom and ability necessary" to resolve the crisis while also assuring Christine Lagarde of his confidence that the IMF under her leadership will know how to "speed up its reform" to meet the emergency. This does not sound like a full-throated pledge by China to offer whatever assistance may be needed. More like a warning: you made this bed, now lie in it. Meanwhile, Mr. Juncker has made it clear that the interests of Germany and Luxembourg come first: "We are considering the issue of how we can ensure that no harm comes to our people in Germany, in Luxembourg, elsewhere in the euro zone."

Meanwhile:: "Le soutien chinois peut atteindre 100 milliards de dollars, mais à deux conditions, a expliqué un haut responsable de la banque centrale de Chine, Li Daokui : avoir la preuve de l'efficacité du Fonds européen de stabilité financière (FESF) mais aussi la garantie des pays les plus solides de la zone euro, l'Allemagne et la France, "car on ne peut pas exclure que l'affaire ne fonctionne pas".
In short, sauve qui peut.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Only in France

Where but in France would you find an article with a paragraph linking a sentence from Michel Foucault to a sex toy offered as a gift by a health insurance company?

Dans la pile de courrier déposée ce matin-là sur notre bureau, un canard rose sourit complaisamment. Un vibromasseur, adressé par une mutuelle de santé afin de vanter ces contrats qui "peuvent vous faire du bien". La pile est fournie. On comprend un instant ceux qui disent être incommodés par cette sexualité marchande et invasive. Et réclament le droit, comme l'écrivit le philosophe Michel Foucault, de rejeter l'"austère monarchie du sexe".
And the article is about an alleged revolt against the "tyranny of sexuality." Not sure what this implies about French politics, but surely it means something. The movement awaits its Rousseau: "Abstainers of the World, Unite! If your birth was the first of your misfortunes, why add to the world's misery by submitting to the procreative imperative?" (h/t Polly-Vous Français)

Charlie Hebdo Firebombed

The offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo were firebombed after the newspaper mocked the presence of Islamists in the newly elected government of Tunisia. An editorial associate responded to Le Monde's question:


Craignez-vous une récupération politico-idéologique de cette affaire ?On va certainement être soutenu par Marine Le Pen et Riposte laïque. On le déplore mais on ne va pas se censurer pour cela. Par ailleurs, on s'attend aussi à une série d'amalgames sur l'islam et les islamistes ou encore des interprétations douteuses sur le soutien de Charlie Hebdo aux révolutions arabes donc, pour certains, aux islamistes... Mais on ne changera pas notre ligne éditoriale "libre-penseur" qui est un fondamental de Charlie Hebdo. Pour nous, dès que la religion devient un instrument politique, on le critiquera.

État de grâce for Hollande in Polls

François Hollande, fresh from his primary victory, is riding high in current polls:

Fin 2006, après avoir remporté la primaire du PS face à Laurent Fabius et Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Ségolène Royal avait également bénéficié de bons sondages, mais son avance sur M. Sarkozy ne dépassa jamais 3 à 4 points dans les intentions de vote du premier comme du second tour. Aujourd'hui, M. Hollande creuse l'écart beaucoup plus nettement, puisqu'il devancerait le président sortant de 11 points au premier tour et de 24 au second.
Marine Le Pen is credited with nearly 20% of the first-round vote, not far behind Sarkozy. This is the race to watch when Hollande's numbers return to more realistic levels as the campaign wears on.

Conference on Eurozone Crisis

Economist James Galbraith has organized a conference on the Eurozone crisis at the U. of Texas, Austin:

My conference on "Crisis in the Eurozone" here in Austin Nov 3-4 willbe web-cast live at
http://realaudio.cc.utexas.edu:8080/ramgen/redundant/eurozone.rm
starting at 8.30 CT on Thursday morning, and running through Friday at12.15.
The full conference details and program are at:
http://www.utexas.edu/lbj/events/2011/leading-economic-policy-experts-discuss-financial-crisis-euror
http://tinyurl.com/3kut4k5
The participants at this event are coming in from Greece, Germany,France, Austria, the UK, Italy and the US.  All are exceptionally well-informed.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

MLP Not a Regicide

The Nation interviews Marine Le Pen:

Asked who her favorite authors are, Le Pen answers, “I was fed Victor Hugo by my father. La Légende des siècles[The Legend of the Ages, a collection of poems] is a favorite. I also love poetry and Baudelaire. Marguerite Duras and Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose books were compulsory at school, have, however, remained totally hermetic to me. Today I read a lot of books on the economy but also on history. I have just finished a new biography on Charles IX.” On literature and her father, she makes this unexpected remark: “You know, Jean-Marie Le Pen is not an ideologue; he’s an amoureux. He reads a lot.”
To my French interlocutors, I often ask one final question: Would they have voted the king’s death after 1793, during the French Revolution? Marine Le Pen pauses for a moment: “No. No, I wouldn’t have voted for the king’s death. It wasn’t necessary. We could have chosen a parliamentary monarchy like Britain. It would have prevented many deaths. You know, I’m in favor of reconciliation.” Is she, really?

Ron Paul Blows Off Marine Le Pen

They were supposed to meet, but he has canceled. Who else will she see while in the US?

Krugman Prophesies Doom

Paul Krugman, cheery as always:
The question I’m trying to answer right now is how the final act will be played. At this point I’d guess soaring rates on Italian debt leading to a gigantic bank run, both because of solvency fears about Italian banks given a default and because of fear that Italy will end up leaving the euro. This then leads to emergency bank closing, and once that happens, a decision to drop the euro and install the new lira. Next stop, France.
It all sounds apocalyptic and unreal. But how is this situation supposed to resolve itself? The only route I see to avoid something like this involves the ECB totally changing its spots, fast.
Aside from that, Mr. Draghi, are you enjoying your new job?

A Pre-Revolutionary Period?

Many of you must have wondered at one time or another what will happen if the center does not hold, if the current system cannot be patched up and made to work again. This morning, coincident with the unraveling of the Brussels pact on the Greek debt crisis, I came across an article by Jean-Clément Martin, one of the leading historians of the French Revolution, who considers the possibility that we are in a "pre-revolutionary situation." Below I publish his article (from Facebook), with permission (Merci, J-C.!):

Sommes nous en Pré-Révolution ?
Dans la France de 2011, le sentiment de vivre une fin de règne, une mutation profonde, voire un changement de régime, taraude l’opinion publique agitée par les mouvements d’indignés de tout poil et de désabusés de tous bords. Les émeutes urbaines des années 2000 ont marqué nos esprits ; les manifestations récentes semblent liées à la montée de la gauche, même si le détachement du politique est aussi perceptible, alimenté par la dénonciation des tout-puissants au-dessus des lois, affichant des enrichissements monstrueux et compromis dans des scandales. Sommes-nous dans une des cases du jeu de l’oie national Monarchie, Pré-Révolution, Révolution, Terreur ? Rejouons-nous la bataille « privilégiés contre sans-culottes » avec Bastille à la clé ?
Pour savoir si nous sommes en train de vivre ce que les Français ont vécu entre 1787 et 1789, il est nécessaire de faire une petite révision des connaissances. Le mécontentement était réel. Mais ce n’était pas la famine, comme l’écrira Michelet : depuis cinquante ans le peuple de France avait perdu l’habitude des disettes et des chertés, avait oublié que les pauvres étaient morts de faim et de froid au début du XVIIIe siècle. Bon an, mal an, le pays avait prospéré au chaud de ses frontières, barrières et octrois de toutes natures. Les insurrections parisiennes et les innombrables émotions populaires de1787-1789 n’ont pas déclenché la Révolution, elles ont inquiété tout le pays, elles ont révélé que le gouvernement de la France, le roi et ses ministres, était incapable de faire face. Louis XVI avait accueilli les révolutionnaires américains, hollandais, belges en France en même temps qu’il continuait à accorder des pensions aux aristocrates les plus riches du pays et couvrait les dépenses somptuaires de la reine. Il avait creusé la dette nationale en aidant la Révolution américaine, qui n’avait rien rapportée en retour, et voulait rationaliser les collectes d’impôts et en augmenter le taux. Les incohérences de la politique étaient flagrantes. Même ses frères estimaient qu’il n’était pas à sa place et répandaient des rumeurs, souvent graveleuses, sur son compte et plus encore sur celui de Marie-Antoinette dans tout le pays. Internet n’existait pas mais les rumeurs colportaient des ragots dégoûtants. Le cousin, duc d’Orléans, s’entourait de tout un groupe d’activistes qui manipulaient l’opinion pour que le duc devienne roi ! Deux cents ans plus tard, il n’est pas difficile de changer les noms, de chercher d’autres révolutions et d’autres causes à « la dette » et, au final, de comparer des mécanismes bien proches.
Il faut rappeler que de tous les royaumes du monde, la France était celui qui était le plus riche, le plus cultivé, le plus homogène – malgré les disparités que l’on signale toujours en oubliant qu’ailleurs, même chez les voisins, les clivages étaient encore plus grands, encore plus insondables. Il était aussi celui où les appétits nés de cinquante ans de croissance ne supportaient pas de freins, où les avantages anciens ne toléraient pas qu’ils diminuent pour tenir compte des mutations récentes, où la parole et l’écrit circulaient librement de facto et arrivaient, malgré les langues et la faiblesse de l’instruction, à toucher toute la population. Il était celui enfin où l’appareil d’autorité, les rouages administratifs et les institutions culturelles, religieuses et politiques étaient parcourues de haines et de divisions rendant impossible de prendre une décision sans que celle-ci soit torpillée par des groupes unis dans l’attaque et rivaux dans l’exercice du pouvoir. La rupture entre la haute noblesse, richement dotée, et le reste de la société, petite noblesse militaire (entendez cette noblesse d’État selon Bourdieu, « fonctionnaire ») comprise, aiguisait les rancœurs. Rien de neuf sous le soleil ? si, l’accroissement des écarts, la conscience de ne pas pouvoir les combler et le désarroi devant l’incapacité du pouvoir à trouver des solutions équitables. La parade des ultra-riches, les people du moment, avec leurs maîtresses, leurs scandales et leurs voitures à six ou huit chevaux insultait tous les gens ordinaires, juristes, clercs, militaires, « intellectuels », industriels et artisans, tous ceux qui faisaient vivre les structures et les rouages du royaume et qui étaient inspirés par les idées de régénération et de révolution répandus dans le monde depuis une trentaine d’années. Les débats étaient vifs dans le pays, y compris avec ceux, tout aussi nombreux, qui entendaient préserver les coutumes et lois du royaume et qui pensaient qu’un changement mal conduit bouleverserait le pays en son entier et précipiterait sa ruine. Mais si le mot révolution était devenu courant, nul n’était « révolutionnaire » en 1789, mais réformateur, régénérateur, désireux d’améliorer en revenant à l’état « d’avant ». Reste qu’un état d’esprit général soufflait accoutumant les esprits à des mots inconnus encore quelques années plus tôt. Le vent des Révolutions venait en 1787-1788 de l’Amérique, des Pays-Bas, de la Belgique, du « nord », alors qu’il vient du « sud » aujourd’hui.
Face à cette situation inédite, le pouvoir avait perdu ses assises traditionnelles et aucune personnalité ne se dégageait pour orienter les choix. Le roi indécis prenait des avis opposés et se soumettait aux caprices des groupes de courtisans. Sa légitimité était en cause depuis que Marie-Antoinette avait été accusée de débauches sexuelles et d’achats inconsidérés de bijoux. Les rivalités internes affaiblissaient le pouvoir, soumis à toutes les influences et changeant au fur et à mesure des échecs survenus après des réformes mal appliquées et discutées systématiquement. Les grands corps de l’État, les parlements, et les « notables » hommes sélectionnés par le pouvoir avaient, les uns après les autres, refusé d’endosser les décisions d’augmenter les impôts, de répartir autrement le budget, préférant que le royaume s’engage dans une consultation générale dont on attendait en définitive un choc pour limiter l’autorité royale au profit des représentants des provinces et des ordres. La parole était à l’encan. L’exemple en fut la convocation des Etats généraux, pour lesquels on incita toutes les paroisses, les corps, les groupes à dresser la liste de leurs doléances, donc à exprimer des souhaits, des espoirs inédits. L’attente créée allait aspirer le pays dans une spirale incontrôlable. Fin 1788 début 1789, les Français s’étaient retrouvés pour la première fois à voter librement pour désigner des délégués et exprimer leurs peines, même les femmes avaient participé parfois à ces expériences de « démocratie participative » avant la lettre. Tous voulurent garder cet avantage pendant les cinq ou six années suivantes. Pire enfin, cet état anomique avait poussé le roi et son ministre Necker à prendre des initiatives audacieuses en espérant garder la haute main sur le cours des choses. Puisque les nobles, même les Princes, le clergé, les notables étaient intraitables, ils facilitèrent l’élection des roturiers dans ces Etats généraux, pour que ces gens du Tiers État, ni nobles, ni évêques, puissent soutenir la politique royale ! Le mot démagogie n’existait pas encore, il aurait pu pourtant s’appliquer à Marie-Antoinette qui avait revendiqué être « la reine du Tiers-État ». Le populisme n’est pas une invention récente, il était déjà là ; il a simplement changé de forme et demeure tout aussi redoutable.
La Pré-Révolution de 1787-1788 a donc tenu en une rencontre dont on peut se demander si le modèle n’est pas encore le nôtre : un pouvoir central discrédité, impuissant et divisé en clans, un mécontentement et une inquiétude sur l’avenir, enfin une conscience accrue des inégalités et une attente des changements. En 1789, les révoltes populaires avaient simplement accéléré les reclassements, poussé à une remise à plat des institutions, et quoi qu’on en dise elles n’avaient fait qu’enclencher un processus de réforme. Les faiblesses n’ayant pas été corrigées et les haines s’étant accrues, tout a été emporté dans un tourbillon échappant à tout contrôle. Pré-révolution alors en 2011 ? Il nous resterait combien de temps pour dénouer ces contradictions, trouver des personnes charismatiques et crédibles, apaiser les tensions et raisonner les égoïsmes ? Mais après tout, l’Histoire n’est pas, heureusement, une science prédictive.