Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Respectable Right Reminded of Its Disreputable Past

Manuel Valls caused a bit of a stir yesterday when he reminded Claude Goasguen of his extremist past. Then Gérard Longuet, former defense minister and leader of the extreme-right group Occident in the 60s, took to the TV to defend Goasguen. "It was half a century ago," Longuet said. True enough. So why did Valls bring it up now? Because the "respectable" right, which includes these refugees from the disreputable past, is accusing the government of being in league with the "Black Block" casseurs who made a mess of downtown Nantes in conjunction with a demonstration of écolos who are protesting the proposed airport that has been a pet project of PM Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Followed all that? A peaceful demonstration of écolos against an airport backed by the head of government veers into violence when a groupuscule of hooded thugs goes on a rampage. The "respectable right" blames the violence on the government, on the flimsy pretext that there are representatives of the écolos in the government, even though the protesting écolos were objecting to nothing other than the pet project of the PM. And even though those protesters had nothing to do with, and even tried to stop, the dérapage. So Valls, rightly annoyed by these attacks, dredged up some past history, when the grandes gueules of the Right, who have nothing better to do today than make catcalls in the AN, were themselves casseurs busting the skulls of the ex-Trotskyists who now sit in government. C'est la France, quoi! What would political life be without a tempest in a teapot now and then.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

90 Percent of French Youths Believe Finance Runs the World

Le Monde:
Mais pour la moitié des 18-25 ans, c'est tout vu, les politiques sont « tous corrompus ». Ces derniers ont bien encore du pouvoir (64 % des réponses), mais l'utilisent mal, puisqu'ils laissent la finance diriger le monde (90 %).
This survey of French youths, conducted by sociologists Cécile Van de Velde and Camille Peugny, paints a very pessimistic portrait indeed. Youth unemployment is skyrocketing, young people are exceedingly pessimistic, nearly 50% of those with low-status or no diplomas are unemployed, etc. Given these overwhelmingly bad numbers, the remarkable thing is that France has not seen more unrest.

The History of French Intervention in Africa

The role of Jacques Foccart, "Monsieur Afrique," is discussed here.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The President's War Room

Le Monde has what journalists call a "tick-tock," a detailed, minute-by-minute account of the most momentous night in recent French history. Was it the eve of the Malian incursion? A night of feverish planning concerning prior to the announcement that President Hollande was recommending armed aid to the Syrian rebels? A gathering of advisors to consider the repercussions of the proposed Responsibility Pact? No, it was the white night during which a small group of énarques put their collective years of climbing the competitive ladder to the top of the elite to the supreme task of controlling the damage from the impending disclosure of the president's affair with an actress.

There's not much news in this piece by Raphaëlle Bacqué and Ariane Chemin. There is a good deal of winking and nodding about who's in and who's out at the Élysée. There is plenty of innuendo concerning the allegedly abominable state of relations between the president and his prime minister and the president and erstwhile supporters such as François Rebsamen. There are titillating details about how Mme Trierweiler was hustled out of the Élysée and into a hospital with the aid of various accomplices. But the key point to make about this article is that what counts is not its (anonymously sourced) substance but its tone--a tone of open mockery of a sitting president by his advisors and the press:
Comme si ce soir, au-delà de la « crise » qui les réunit, les conseillers du chef de l'Etat avaient compris que le principal problème de François Hollande, c'était François Hollande lui-même.
This is an extraordinary thing in a regime in which the president normally dominates. With his ill-considered affair President Hollande has achieved the impossible: he has deflated the presidency of the Republic, abdicated his power without leaving office, and made himself hostage to the team of rivals cutthroats he calls his cabinet. Yes, indeed, as Le Monde says, François Hollande's main problem is François Hollande himself. It's now too late to save himself by throwing Ayrault to the wolves, though that will no doubt be tried after the next elections. It's too late to save himself by appointing a  prime minister more popular than the president such as Manuel Valls, though it may not be too late to boost Valls' chance for the nomination--or to ruin him, as Mitterrand did to Rocard, by demonstrating that image isn't everything, or even anything, when it comes to governing. As François Hollande, with his 35 years of experience at the center of French politics, should have known without having to read it in Closer.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Political Economy of the Bonnets Rouges Rebellion

Le Monde diplomatique has an interesting piece (h/t G. Henry) on the background of the Bonnets Rouges movement, which has been subject to many contradictory interpretations. One of the earliest was Jean-Luc Mélenchon's, who saw the BR as dupes of capital:

Les manifestations de Quimper et de Carhaix rassemblaient une foule hétéroclite : agriculteurs, salariés menacés de licenciement, mais aussi artisans «étouffés par les taxes», chefs d’entreprise… Il fallait méconnaître l’ampleur de la crise pour ne voir dans ce mouvement qu’une manifestation poujadiste. Les propos de M. Jean-Luc Mélenchon, coprésident du Parti de gauche, dénonçant des «esclaves qui manifestent pour les droits de leurs maîtres (2)», ont été largement condamnés, le sénateur communiste du Morbihan Michel Le Scouarnec parlant même d’un «mépris inacceptable pour des gens qui souffrent». Pour sa part, l’historien Jean-Jacques Monnier déplore l’aveuglement de certains syndicats, passés à côté de la mobilisation en organisant des rassemblements séparés : «Il aurait été possible de réunir toutes les forces en une seule manifestation où le poids des salariés, des syndicats et de la gauche aurait été suffisant pour écarter tout risque de récupération.»
But the most interesting part of the article has to do with the political economy of the Breton region:
La Bretagne sera-t-elle le laboratoire des « pouvoirs réglementaires » que le président de la République souhaite accorder aux régions ? Elle pourrait y prétendre, en raison non seulement des particularités de son positionnement géographique, de son fort sentiment d’identité collective, mais aussi de son clair ancrage à gauche. En 2007 et en 2012, elle a été la région qui a accordé les scores les plus élevés à Mme Ségolène Royal, puis à M. François Hollande.
Son glissement à gauche, amorcé au début des années 1970, est inséparable de l’affirmation d’un « modèle économique breton », aujourd’hui contesté : la modernisation de l’agriculture fut largement portée par les militants de la Jeunesse agricole catholique (JAC), qui ont également donné nombre de cadres locaux au PS. Le développement des industries agroalimentaires a encore renforcé l’influence d’une gauche qui a su conserver un lien privilégié avec les couches populaires, et notamment la classe ouvrière. D’un scrutin à l’autre, la participation électorale reste supérieure à la moyenne, et le Front national obtient toujours des scores très réduits.
Pourtant, alors qu’il jouit toujours d’une position quasi hégémonique, contrôlant, outre la région, les conseils généraux des Côtes-d’Armor, du Finistère et d’Ille-et-Vilaine, ainsi que la plupart des grandes et moyennes villes de la région, le PS semble étonnamment dépourvu d’initiative politique. Certains grands élus déplorent que le Bureau régional d’études et d’informations socialiste (Breis), une structure symbole de la culture régionaliste qui a longtemps été celle du PS breton, ne se soit pas réuni durant toute la crise des « bonnets rouges ». Aux élections municipales de 2008, la gauche a perdu de nombreuses communes de l’Ouest : Morlaix, Landernau, Châteaulin, Douarnenez, Quimperlé, etc. Une érosion de ce réservoir électoral est une menace que les socialistes ne peuvent prendre à la légère.
Le PS avait réussi à capitaliser à son profit la dynamique sociale des grandes mobilisations des années 1970, comme celle contre le projet de centrale nucléaire de Plogoff. En 2014, c’est contre le projet de Notre-Dame-des-Landes, défendu par un premier ministre PS, qu’un vent de fronde se répand. M. Troadec a pris l’initiative d’appeler à la manifestation du 18 février contre la construction de l’aéroport, au risque d’une rupture avec ses « alliés » de Locarn.
Le mouvement des « bonnets rouges », qui doit réunir ses premiers états généraux le 8 mars à Morlaix, pourrait bien témoigner de la profondeur du divorce entre la gauche sociale-démocrate et les couches populaires.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Intellectuals Petition for EU Reform

A collective of political scientists and economists has launched a petition for reform of the EU, including a corporate income tax (to be paid into an EU budgetary fund amounting to 0.5-1% of EU GDP). And to apportion this tax, they want a genuine EU legislative body:
Notre seconde proposition, la plus importante, découle de la première. Pour voter l'assiette de l'impôt sur les sociétés, et plus généralement pour débattre et adopter démocratiquement et souverainement les décisions fiscales, financières et politiques que l'on décidera à l'avenir de mettre en commun, il faut instituer une Chambre parlementaire de la zone euro.
The French group has apparently been in discussions with the Glienicke group in Germany.

This is an interesting proposal. Examining it seriously would be one way for the Hollande administration to show some initiative on European issues--initiative that has been sorely lacking, thus contributing to the effectiveness of anti-EU rhetoric on the extreme right.

Friday, February 14, 2014

French Cancer Treatment

I had a post a while back wondering how French cancer treatment would have compared with the treatment I received at Dana Farber in Boston. Here's an account that makes the French system sound awfully good, although I have to say that Sloan-Kettering, by this account, wasn't nearly as good as the Farber, where I rarely had to wait and radiation and chemo ran on a very tight schedule.

Léon Blum Fights a Duel: Video!



 An extraordinary document. The future prime minister of the Popular Front fights with rival literary critic Pierre Weber. That's Blum on the left, of course, in his black poet's hat and black tunic. A rather different image of the young Blum from the usual dandyish, languid, Proustian ephebe--a point that Pierre Birnbaum makes in his forthcoming biography of Blum, which I'm translating for Yale.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Come again?

Times:
To Michelle Obama’s right was Stephen Colbert, the comedian and television host, whose connection to France consists largely in his determination to pronounce his surname as if it were French (he is of Irish, English and German extraction).
...
In his toast to Mr. Hollande, Mr. Obama offered humorous aperçus about life in America from the French political thinker Alexis de Tocqueville. “Vive la France, God bless America, and long live the alliance between our great nations,” the president concluded.
They could have invited me, but I guess saying that is just sour grapes.

Ukraine Is Saved: BHL Has Arrived!

BHL or Zelig? This guy is everywhere where an uprising makes for a good backdrop.
Nous avons, à Paris, la place de la Bastille où se constitua le peuple français. Vous avez cette place du Maïdan où s'institue le peuple ukrainien. Et c'est une grande émotion, pour un citoyen de la patrie des droits de l'homme, d'être le témoin, sur cette place, de cet exceptionnel moment d'histoire comme seuls en produisent les grands peuples.
I wonder how many Ukrainians know who he is.

Polling on FN Continues to Be Alarming

Le Monde:

Il y a un paradoxe Marine Le Pen. Son image se normalise et l'électorat UMP est de plus en plus séduit. Mais, dans le même temps, un sondé sur deux estime que le Front national (FN) « représente un danger pour la démocratie en France » et les deux propositions phare du FN, la sortie de l'euro et la « priorité nationale », sont rejetées en bloc.

Hollande Visits the Obamas

Here.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Monday, February 10, 2014

Is There a Fronde in the PS?

Le Monde suggests that "left-wing" Socialists close to Benoît Hamon and Julien Dray are up in arms about the Responsibility Pact, but even more so about being excluded from the podium at the upcoming party gathering.

A Political Scientist Looks at the Swiss Vote ...

... and finds a negative correlation between the vote to restrict immigration and the percentage of foreigners in a canton. Controlling for other factors such as language and religion, he finds that the German-speaking cantons were far more likely to vote to restrict immigration than the French-speaking ones.


The Martial French

Today's Times has an op-ed by François Heisbourg, an expert on foreign and military affairs at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. The basic argument of the piece is that France, despite its refusal to participate in the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq, has more often than not been keen to intervene militarily abroad. What's more, Heisbourg contends, this readiness to use force is broadly supported by the public, in part because the refusal to go to war in Iraq has demonstrated that France maintains its independence of the US and decides to use force judiciously based on French national interests alone. As Heisbourg puts it,
The outlier in this pattern was France’s refusal to participate in President George W. Bush’s misadventure in Iraq. While this may have imprinted on the American psyche a tabloid press impression of French membership in an “axis of weasel,” France’s robust opposition to the Iraq war has actually reinforced the French public’s trust in the executive’s judgment on matters of war and peace — in sharp contrast to popular attitudes in America and Britain, as we saw last August during the diplomatic crisis over Syria.
I am, to put it mildly, quite dubious of this argument. I don't agree that the French public trusts the executive's judgment. There is, for example, substantial opposition to French engagement in Afghanistan. As for the recent interventions in Mali and and the Central African Republic, the public is supportive only because these operations were quick, successful, and directed against weak adversaries who could be defeated with a relatively modest commitment of forces. Support for the Libyan operation was at best mixed, and "the executive" in that case, Nicolas Sarkozy, was widely criticized for acting precipitously on the advice of an outside meddler (Bernard-Henri Lévy) and without the knowledge of his foreign minister (Alain Juppé).

Foreign military intervention in France belongs to the chasse gardée of the presidency. It is one area where presidents can and do act with relatively little input from the ministries and public. Presidents naturally try to take credit for every successful intervention, but there is little evidence that this kind of success improves their image among French voters. Libya, though widely regarded as a "success" for Sarkozy, who cajoled and in some respects led an international coalition, did not enhance his approval rating. Neither Mali nor CAR has done anything for Hollande's dismal standing in the polls, to say nothing of Syria, which probably would have damaged him in the public's eyes if the attack he favored had gone ahead and then resulted, as it likely would have, in a protracted engagement with ambiguous results.

Heisbourg, it seems to me, is attempting to buff up the résumé of the French head of state in advance of his arrival in the US. The French, he says in essence, are not "cheese-eating surrender monkeys," to borrow the phrase made famous by The Simpsons. Indeed, they are not. But it's a bit of a stretch to apply the headline "martial prowess" to a president who intervenes successfully in former colonies against barely armed and disorganized irregulars to the widespread indifference of a jaundiced and apathetic public accustomed to such adventures over many decades (as Heisbourg documents in his article). I think Hollande is to be commended for his readiness to pay a small price to maintain order and encourage more democratic regimes in Africa. This modest but worthy achievement should be praised for what it is rather than magnified into something that it is not.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Le Hambourgeois

Hamburgers now account for one of every two sandwiches sold in France, versus one in nine in 2000 and one in seven in 2007.

I shed a tear for le jambon-beurre, le croque-monsieur, etc.

Hollande Retreats Again

PMA--medically assisted procreation. You wouldn't think that would be such a big deal to offer the "social left" as consolation for the Responsibility Pact. You wouldn't think that another Manif' pour Tous could frighten the head of state enough to back off a reasonable measure that actually means a lot to some of his constituents. But that wouldn't be to reckon with the strange political calculus of François Hollande, who, with an approval rating hovering around 25%, figures it's better to tick off his core supporters than to add another twig to the stack of wood piled around the stake at which the reactionaries would like to burn him. Here's the way Le Monde describes it:
La vérité est autre. François Hollande, peut-être parce qu'il a personnellement éprouvé ces derniers mois le déplaisir des sifflets et des huées, se révèle de plus en plus sensible aux protestations de la rue. Avec le mariage pour tous, le candidat de « l'apaisement » avait échoué, au printemps 2013, à devenir le président du « rassemblement ». On l'a vu, à l'automne, plus prompt à céder aux revendications des manifestants, ainsi sur l'écotaxe face aux « bonnets rouges » ou sur le cas Leonarda face aux lycéens. Pourquoi donc risquer une crispation supplémentaire de l'électorat conservateur agrémentée de polémiques internes à la majorité ?
A real profile in courage.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

New Plan Regarding Cancer

France has just announced a plan to "reduce inequalities in the face of cancer." This has an admirably republican ring to it, but what does it actually mean?
Le plan vise à réduire le délai moyen d'attente pour obtenir un examen par IRM pour bénéficier d'un diagnostic. Actuellement de 27 jours, il devra passer à 20 jours maximum sur l'ensemble du territoire.
The subject is of more than usual interest to me because I was diagnosed with cancer in the fall of 2012. My first MRI came within 2 days of the initial tentative diagnosis. In the course of my treatment, the intense phase of which lasted about 3 months, I had 3 PET scans and a dozen more MRIs in conjunction with fractionated radiation therapy. (The treatment was successful, in case you're wondering.)

To a patient like me, 20 days sounds like a very long time to wait for an MRI. No doubt that's an average across all uses of MRI, and the rationing would be different for a patient undergoing intense radiotherapy. Still, I wonder what my situation would have been had I been in France. When I hear comparisons of the French and American medical systems, I wonder how fine-grained the comparisons are. It's true that American medicine is horribly expensive, but when you're sick, it's awfully nice to have an abundance of resources at your disposal.

Forgive me for abandoning my preferred sober analytic approach. In this instance I think I'm entitled to express gratitude, even if I have to concede that anecdote is not evidence and it would be wrong to draw any sweeping conclusions from my individual experience.

Monday, February 3, 2014

The New Republic Bashes French

Bashes French, the language, not France, the country. Why do I find this argument so muddle-headed? Is it the sheer philistinism? The unshakable utilitarian confidence that "use-value" is all that matters, or that the only "uses" that count are to be found in "business" or "everyday life?"

Peace. To each his own. Let a hundred flowers bloom.

Dieudonné Banned from England

Dieudonné, persona non grata au Royaume-Uni

Le ministère de l'intérieur britannique a annoncé que l'humoriste, qui avait prévu de se rendre au Royaume-Uni pour soutenir Nicolas Anelka, faisait désormais l'objet « d'une mesure d'exclusion » et était interdit de territoire.

Paul Krugman's Lecture on the Causes of the Great Recession

Here. See particularly the slide on "European industrial output," which shows the decline in this recession compared to the Great Depression.

Europe and Venture Capital

This is a very interesting piece by a Finnish entrepreneur and Silicon Valley insider. Europe has a vibrant tech/entrepreneurial scene, he says, but it's fallen off the US radar:
Go to Europe these days – to Berlin, London, Helsinki – drop in on any of the regional tech confabs and you will quickly see that the European startup scene is in the most bustling, vibrant shape it’s ever been. The potential is everywhere, and the energy is undeniable. Then you return Stateside, in my case to Palo Alto, and Europe isn’t just irrelevant among the tech industry power-set. It has virtually ceased to exist.
That is a mistake. Blame for the ruptured relationship lies on both sides of the Atlantic, but it is Europeans that have the power, and should have the motivation, to mend things.
I wonder where Paris fits on this map: Berlin, London, Helsinki--none of these cities is in France. (h/t FM)