Thursday, September 18, 2008

FP Goes to College

It seems as though we've become assigned reading at Oberlin.

Edvige Revisited

So Edvige, the spiffy new high-tech database cooked up to replace the dusty old files of les Renseignements Généraux, has received a quick makeover. Data on sexual behavior will not be collected. Minors may still be included, but information on them will be deleted, supposedly, if they reach 18 without an offense. The whole thing will be submitted to the CNIL for closer scrutiny.

But you have to wonder: how does a major undertaking like this get so far without scrutiny, only to be completely overhauled in a week after a political firestorm forces the president's hand? The government, apparently, would rather appear incompetent than sinister. Surely there must have been internal debates in which some officials argued for the inclusion of what they knew would be controversial information. They carried the day then. The minister who now so eagerly announces the revised plan must have signed off on the original . Was she convinced then that it was well-founded? Or was she simply not paying attention?

She seems to want us to believe the latter. This strains credulity. And until we know why she previously thought it was a good idea to collect more data, can we really be confident that she isn't looking for a surreptitious way to circumvent the decision to collect less? Other databases more hush-hush than Edvige are known to be in the works (Cristina, for one). What's in them? Why are they needed? There's something awfully unconvincing about the quick turnaround on Edvige.

Let Them Eat Cookies!

Now that socialism from above* has come to the United States, Wall Street is substituting a representative of the real economy for the fallen representative of the paper economy: LU cookies, purchased from Danone by Kraft Foods, is as of today officially a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Index, replacing AIG. As Marie-Antoinette might have said, "Let them eat cookies!"

* Perhaps "financial socialism" would be a more descriptive term if it didn't border on oxymoron. Incidentally, I thought I had coined this phrase when I posted it a moment ago, but I see that others are using it as well.

Tough Talk

Apparently John McCain doesn't think Spanish PM Zapatero is friendly enough to the U.S. or a strong enough supporter of democracy to meet with him in the White House. This is rather remarkable, as Matt Yglesias points out, since Spain is a NATO member that the US is obligated by treaty to defend, as well as a demonstrated target of the terrorists whom McCain claims to know how to defeat.

McCain's notion of NATO is quite flexible, it seems: the organization should stretch to accommodate Georgia but shrink to exclude Spain, or at least punish Spain by not inviting its PM to dinner. McCain also seems to be rather unclear about where Spain is located. In his mind it seems to be inextricably associated with Latin America, even though the interviewer tries to remind him that the country is in Europe.

Sarkozy will no doubt want to examine the McCain doctrine ("You're either with us or against, and only if you're with us can we talk") closely. His idea of closer cooperation with America was good enough for Bush, but it might not be good enough for John McCain. But of course the word is that Sarko is backing Obama. Some enterprising French reporter might want to sound the Straight Talker out about whether he'd be willing to invite Sarko to the White House.

Le Monde has noticed.

The ECB May Be Getting the Message

So says the Wall Street Journal. You heard it here first.

This Could Work

So, as the dust settles after Ségolène Royal's declaration that she no longer considers her candidacy for leadership of the PS a "prerequisite" ("prerequisite for what?" as J.-C. Cambadélis pertinently remarked), the contours of a new faction begin to emerge. Ligne Claire, the alliance of Socialist mayors including Gérard Collomb of Lyon and Manuel Valls of Evry, will throw in its lot with Ségo's crowd, and there will be a compromise choice as leader, perhaps Collomb, who is less of a présidentiable than Valls. Over the next several years, Valls, the young challenger, will duke it out with Ségo to see which one eventually runs for president. Valls is pleased with the prospect. Of course he says nothing about his own ambitions, though he does mention that he's also meeting with the Aubry-Delanoë faction. It makes no sense to foreclose options at this point.

So what does all this maneuvering imply about the evolution of the party line? The big loser seems to be Strauss-Kahn, whose stalking horse-protégé-rival Moscovici finds himself out in the cold (he has been grumbling of late about lack of support from DSK). I think it's pretty plain that DSK has decided that he either doesn't want to be president or won't make it and has cut Mosco adrift. In any case, DSK will have his hands full at IMF with the crumbling global economy. The "economists" are out; the politicians have taken over, and since the strength of the PS is in the cities, it is the big-city mayors who are in the driver's seat. And as Europe slides into recession (as I think it inevitably will on account of the impending US contraction), there will be plenty of action at the urban level, plenty of social discontent to mobilize. The whole complexion of political debate will change over the next few years. The prominence of deficit-reduction, tax and labor-market reform, ecological issues, and European integration will diminish, and the importance of finding ways to mobilize the unemployed (perhaps in infrastructure projects) will rise. Local pilot programs can be plausibly advanced as national models and made the basis of a "new socialism." Meanwhile, fissures in the right will widen, as "economic patriots" square off against the dwindling number of "neoliberals."

It's a ray of hope for the Left. A pity that it will have taken a catastrophe to make it happen--and of course I'm being far too optimistic in suggesting that the catastrophe will unfold in anything like such an orderly fashion. My true thoughts are pessimistic in the extreme, but for the moment I'll confine my comment to the day's political news while turning a deaf ear to the crashing sounds emanating from the large city to the south of where I write.

Note to the ECB

Frederic Mishkin, a former member of the Fed's Board of Governors, justifies the Fed's "accommodative" interest-rate policy. Jean-Claude Trichet could profit from reading this piece. (Via Mark Thoma.)

Philo-Semitic France

Enfin, presque. But what's up with Spain?


A lawyer is being prosecuted for slander because, in the course of defending a client accused of fraud, he alluded to the allegation made by L'Express that the minister of justice claimed to have an MBA that she never received.