Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sur le pont d'Avignon, on n'y danse plus ...

Brent Whelan reports on the sad end of the saga of Ilham Moussaïd, the NPA militante who ignited a firestorm by wearing a headscarf while campaigning for office.

It's official: Ilham Moussaïd and 11 of her colleagues have resigned from the NPA's Vaucluse chapter, after eight months of fruitless negotiation with the central party. 

Things aren't going well for the NPA, it seems:
While Ilham is at best a footnote, her story I feel is devastating for the NPA (which is hemorrhaging members for a variety of reasons), and for the immediate future of the far-left.

O'Rourke on the Euro

The reaction to the news that Irish taxpayers are to be squeezed while foreign bondholders escape scot-free has been one of outraged disbelief and anger. At the start of last week, it was possible to make the argument that ‘burning the bondholders’ was irresponsible, since it would inevitably lead to contagion, and the spread of the crisis to Iberia. That argument has at this stage lost all validity, since contagion has happened anyway. Besides, the correct response to the possibility of contagion was never to engage in make-believe, but to extend taxpayer protection to other Eurozone members as required. Swapping debt for equity in a coordinated fashion across Europe would show ordinary people that Europe is on their side; but like the PLO of old, the European Union never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. It could have provided a means of kick-starting a new post-crisis growth strategy based on investment in the infrastructures we will need in the future; instead it has transformed itself into a mechanism for forcing pro-cyclical adjustment onto countries that are already sinking. It could have led the way in reining in an out-of-control financial sector; instead it now embodies the discredited principle that banks must never, ever, default on their creditors, no matter how insolvent they may be. (h/t Henry Farrell)

And for more gloom, see Ken Rogoff.


The DSK watch continues. The haurspices minutely examine the entrails. Their interpretations are contradictory and inconclusive. And one has to assume that that's just the way DSK likes it. Because, really, folks, it wouldn't be all that difficult to put up a more persuasive picture of an active candidacy if one really wanted to. This business of IMF-enforced neutrality is nonsense. The game isn't really that hard to play. You form a political action committee, or whatever the French equivalent might be. You put in charge someone known to be close to the prospective candidate. Of course the principal himself officially disavows any connection with the efforts made on his behalf, but the fiction is transparent. The spokesman parries the attacks and maneuvers of the rival candidates. Meanwhile, an organization is constructed, and private assurances are given to prospective affiliates. When the moment is right, the candidate resigns from his international post and enters the fray with an organization already in place, well-honed, and ready to roll.

So why isn't DSK doing this? Either he's not a terribly competent politician--a possibility I don't rule out--or he'd rather not take positions on the issues of the day, because as a nonaligned potential candidate he's likely to remain a lot more popular for a lot longer than as a declared candidate favoring one line over another. But this is a mug's game. This has been the problem of the Socialist Party for nearly a generation now. It is more comfortable with the vagueness of "opposition" than with the definiteness of commitment. Its poll numbers rise as the situation of the government worsens. But then when it comes time to stake out a position in the campaign, its platform seems hollow, because it hasn't really established an identity over the long term. Voters feel they're being sold a bill of goods by a flim-flam artist. Whatever else you can say about Sarkozy in 2007, you have to concede that he had successfully crafted an identity for himself. Like it or loathe it, voters had a sense of a man who was precommitted, who wouldn't simply blow in the wind. When it comes to DSK, the left of the left already knows that it doesn't like what it's likely to get, but the volatile voters in the center, who will decide the election, want definition that the Strauss-Kahnians, whoever they may be, have been loath to provide, lest those buoyant poll numbers start to tumble back to more realistic levels.

Simon Johnson on Eurozone Debt Crisis


In other words, any one member of the euro zone can veto a country from being determined merely illiquid, thus cutting it off from cheap and endless credit (from the European Central Bank or European Stability Mechanism or any window to be named later). So now Germany effectively has a veto, as do other fiscally austere countries including Estonia (from Jan. 1, when it becomes the 17th member of the euro zone).

Most likely we will witness the creation of an Austere Coalition (actually a modified Hanseatic League) of Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Estonia and a few of the smaller countries. Ending forever what is charmingly known as moral hazard — the prospect of soft bailout money — is an admirable goal. But getting there under current conditions is going to be rocky, because that new regime implies that prominent countries need to have less total debt and a longer maturity on their debt than they do now.

Head Fake

Well, we do learn something from WikiLeaks after all: namely, that the Americans believed that the French deliberately played up Bashar al-Assad's (nonexistent) role in the release of Clotilde Reiss in order to validate Sarkozy's earlier "opening" to Assad, of which the Americans disapproved.

Long-time readers of this blog will recall that I surmised that Sarkozy was pushing the opening to Assad in order to give himself, and France, a more central role in the Mideast diplomatic game. I even thought that the US might be cooperating in a double game, rejecting talks with Syria for itself but encouraging France as an intermediary. Apparently I was wrong. Or at least wrong at the low level of secrecy penetrated by WikiLeaks. As Daniel Ellsberg, who knows a thing or two about official secrets, recently said, the leaked database was easily penetrated because it was considered to contain such unimportant material (viz., Sarko chasing Louis's rabbit) that it wasn't held very closely; it was the kind of material he wouldn't have bothered to look at back in his time as a RAND intelligence analyst. So there may still be another part of the story.

But while we're on the subject of WikiLeaks, it seems that I may be endangering my future security clearances by even talking about it. See James Fallows' astonished report. I don't know if Fallows has ever worked for an intelligence service, but he might be less astonished if he had. Of the Obama administration's executive order he asks, "Why not just stamp 'Secret' across the front page of The New York Times?" When I was in the US Army, that's essentially what we did: "intelligence" would be gleaned from newspaper reports, typed up on official letterhead, and stamped "Secret." So, in theory, one could have been sent to jail for disclosing what one read in The New York Times. But of course you have to be on the inside to know that a secret is a secret. To the average Joe, it looks like common knowledge. You'd be amazed at how the transformation of common knowledge into secret knowledge inflates one's sense of self-importance. This is one of Ellsberg's fundamental points in a book I recommend, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers.