Monday, February 28, 2011

Flight to Safety ... in Europe

With turmoil in the Middle East, capital seeking safety, which normally flows to the US in times of crisis, is going instead to Europe--despite Europe's own debt and banking difficulties. And it's not just the Swiss franc:
While the yen and Swiss franc have been driven higher by haven appeal, the euro and the pound have at the same time been supported by increasing expectations that the European Central Bank and the Bank of England will deliver interest rate rises before the US Federal Reserve.
On the dangers of such shifts in capital flows, see here (based on an IMF report):

(1) Large current-account deficits, by definition, require the economy running them to import a lot of capital from abroad. If, for some reason, the foreign capital stops coming suddenly, “these evidences often lead to large financial disruptions” that can affect many countries. This, they say, argues for “surveillance”–among the IMF’s favorite words–not only on the magnitude of current-account deficits but on a broader set of indicators.


Thierry Desjardins sheds some light on the nomination of Gérard Longuet, a political has-been with jail time for assault, youthful associations with the violent extreme right, and a record of involvement in several scandals (though there were no convictions), to be defense minister. He is the brother-in-law of Vincent Bolloré--the man who lent Sarkozy his yacht for that post-election "meditation period" on the Mediterranean. So, the Union of the Mediterranean has indeed been revived: the Sarko-Bolloré link is reaffirmed.

Truly, the wonders never cease in this government.

France Sends Aid to Libya

From the Times:
The French prime minister, François Fillon, said that two French planes were flying on Monday to the eastern city of Benghazi, the revolt’s birthplace, with doctors, nurses, medicines and medical equipment.
“It will be the beginning of a massive operation of humanitarian support for the populations of liberated territories,” Mr. Fillon said on RTL radio. The French government is studying “all solutions to ensure that Colonel Qaddafi understands that he should go, that he should leave power,” he said.
Looks like Sarko is aiming to make up for lost ground. 

Moïsi on "The Diplomacy of the Blind"

Without naming names, Dominique Moïsi critiques the performance of diplomats:

When regimes lose legitimacy in the eyes of their citizens, it is not reasonable to derive one’s information mainly from that regime’s servants and sycophants. In such cases, diplomats will too often merely report the regime’s reassuring yet biased analysis.
Diplomats, instead, should be judged by their ability to enter into a dialogue with all social actors: government representatives and business leaders, of course, but also representatives of civil society (even if it exists only in embryonic form). With proper training and incentives, diplomats would be better equipped to anticipate change.

But he does not paint all with the same brush:

The United States managed to get it right, albeit very slowly, whereas many European countries erred on the side of the status quo for a much longer time, if not systematically, as they refused to see that the region could be evolving in a direction contrary to what they deemed to be in their strategic interest. Historical and geographic proximity, together with energy dependency and fear of massive immigration, paralyzed European diplomats.
But there is something more fundamental underlying diplomats’ natural diffidence. They are very often right in their readings of a given situation – the US diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks, for example, include a slew of masterful and penetrating analyses. But it is as if, owing to an excess of prudence, they cannot bring themselves to pursue their own arguments to their logical conclusions.

Dans la mesure où ...

Fillon on Alliot-Marie:

«La voix de la France n'était plus audible, parce que Michèle Alliot-Marie faisait l'objet d'une campagne injuste, dans la mesure où c'est quelqu'un d'intègre».
Now, I find this a very interesting locution. To be sure, dans la mesure où has become, in le français courant, a frequent synonym for parce que or puisque. But its root sense is "to the extent that," "insofar as." So the subtext of Fillon's apparent endorsement is actually a covert critique: the campaign against her was unjust insofar as she is a person of integrity. But is she? Fillon is hedging his bets, under semantic cover, as it were.

What's Left?

Alain Juppé, who has been outspokenly critical of several aspects of Sarkozy's presidency, most notably the attack on the Roms last summer, is now foreign minister. And the post was reportedly offered to archrival Villepin, who turned it down. Jean-François Copé, a man who is too glibly supple in his positions to be considered a critic of Sarkozy--or perhaps who should be seen as an enemy of everyone but himself--is now the head of the party. An embittered Jean-Louis Borloo remains outside the government, and Fillon remains inside, which is not necessarily where the president wanted him. So Sarkozy is looking increasingly isolated among the heavyweights of the right.

In addition, one way of interpreting the shift of Guéant, une créature of Sarkozy, from the Élysée inner circle to the post of interior minister, is that Juppé demanded it, because Guéant was seen as Sarkozy's man on foreign policy within the palace (along with Levitte, who has largely dropped out of sight). If true, then Juppé will have eliminated a potential source of friction and established his independence from the start.

The days of the hyperpresidency are long since forgotten. Sarko no longer has the stage to himself, and most of his recent appearances have been pratfalls. He has become the comic relief; the serious men are back in charge.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sarkozy's Speech

Quel culot! After taking credit for overcoming the economic crisis and saving the euro, President Sarkozy announced tonight that he was going to lead the Arab world into a new era of liberty ... by reviving the Union for the Mediterranean and replacing Alliot-Marie with Juppé and Hortefeux with Guéant.

I'm afraid his speechwriter Henri Guaino just wasn't up to the challenge of putting lipstick on this pig. Not only did he revive his old hobbyhorse--the stillborn Club Med--but he couldn't even be bothered to explain how a ministerial change in France was going to change things up in the Mediterranean. It was a speech of breathtaking vacuity. When I measure the change over the past three years, I am sometimes flabbergasted: there used to be a certain flair in these high rhetorical moments. Now, nothing but bathos.


Selon des informations du "Monde", le remaniement est désormais fixé : Juppé remplace Alliot-Marie aux affaires étrangères. Claude Guéant devient ministre de l'intérieur, Gérard Longuet ministre de la défense. Hortefeux devient conseiller politique à l'Elysée. Patrick Ollier reste ministre des relations avec le Parlement.
Not much news there. Hortefeux's lateral move is hardly a sanction for his missteps, and he's always been a political advisor anyway. And is Ollier's retention supposed to be compensation for his companion's dismissal? If this is supposed to be Sarkozy's "je vous ai compris," I have to say, "on ne vous comprend pas. C'est le service minimum."

MAM Goes, Blames "Media Harassment"

If you're interested in her parting shot, it's here.

Chewing Gum?

Another diplomatic gaffe?

Le maire d'Ankara Melih Gokcek a fait savoir samedi qu'il s'était permis de mâcher du chewing-gum en présence de Nicolas Sarkozy lors de sa courte visite en Turquie vendredi, en réaction au "manque de respect" dont le chef de l'Etat français avait fait preuve selon lui en faisant de même.
L'édile, figure haute en couleur de la vie politique turque et à la personnalité controversée, faisait partie de la délégation qui a accueilli et raccompagné le président français à l'aéroport lors de sa visite éclaur en Turquie vendredi dans le cadre de la présidence française du G20, selon l'agence turque Anatolie.
"M. Sarkozy est descendu de la passerelle de l'avion en mâchant un gros chewing gum. Il s'est arrêté un instant, a regardé autour de lui et a continué à mâcher... Personnellement j'ai été vexé", a rapporté M. Gokcek à l'agence Anatolie.
Can this be true? Should the Turks look under the chairs in which the French president sat to see if there is any gum stuck there? Will the appointment of a new foreign minister repair the damage? Should the president be sent to the principal's office? So many questions, so few answers.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Roy's Analysis

In 2005, Olivier Roy prepared an analysis of political trends in the Islamic world for the government's Centre d'analyse et de prévision. He noted that it no longer made sense to view authoritarian regimes as a bulwark against Islamic radicalism:

« Le concept d'Etat islamique n'est plus à l'ordre du jour », ajoutait Olivier Roy, « sur le long terme, c'est la voie turque qui se profile. » Encore plus accablant au regard du fiasco de la diplomatie française, le paragraphe sur les Etats-Unis :
« Bien des intellectuels nationalistes prennent au Maghreb le chemin du dialogue avec les ambassades américaines. »
La diplomatie française, elle, avait pour consigne de ne pas fréquenter l'opposition. Cette note donne raison aux diplomates anonymes du « groupe Marly » qui s'exprimaient cette semaine dans Le Monde.
Elle accable encore un peu plus Michèle Alliot-Marie, qui semblait ignorer début février l'existence, au sein du ministère dont elle avait la charge, du CAP (créé en 1973), déclarant à Munich, en marge d'une conférence stratégique :
« Nous avons besoin d'une vraie capacité d'analyse et d'expertise stratégique au ministère des Affaires étrangères, ce qui n'existait pas. »

Into the Turkey's Den

President Sarkozy bravely faced down the lion Turkey, but was savaged anyway:

Turkish officials, meanwhile, said that the European Union had been too slow to respond to the turmoil in the Middle East and North Africa and that it should respond more rapidly to the needs of people fleeing the conflict, instead of trying to keep them away from European shores

Mr. Sarkozy strongly opposes Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, and his lightning visit to Turkey — intended to discuss Turkish participation in the Group of 20, of which France is the president this year — was loudly criticized by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in advance as insulting.
“We would have liked to welcome him as president of France,” and not as chairman of the Group of 20, Mr. Erdogan told Agence France-Presse. “So I think this is not a visit at the level of friendship between Turkey and France,” he said, adding, “Turkey and Turkish-French ties deserve better than that.” 

And the Turks aren't just talking: they've sent ships to evacuate people from Libya--which makes Sarkozy's tough talk on the subject look cheap.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Another Rumor

Well, now it's rumored that Sarkozy offered the foreign ministry to Villepin! Hard to believe. Would DDV accept? Maybe--among other things, the position would be a guaranteed stay out of jail free card. Not to mention sweet revenge. Stay tuned. And what if DDV leaked the story himself? Too many layers of irony here.

Meanwhile, the word that it's Juppé continues to spread.

Rostand Replies to Marly

The diplomats who blasted Sarkozy's foreign policy in Le Monde styled themselves le groupe Marly. Another group of anonymous diplomats responds today in Le Figaro, naturally, signing itself le groupe Rostand. The names, it seems, come from the cafés where the respective groups meet. Now, it so happens that when I am in Paris, the Rostand is one of my regular hangouts, a place where I often give rendez-vous. I would not want anyone to think, however, that I am part of the Rostand group. I absolutely deny any such imputation. But I do approve of the choice of the Rostand: the café has a lovely view of the Jardins du Luxembourg and serves a rich café crème.

But what's the point of all this anonymity, since journalists undoubtedly know who the signers are, and so does the Élysée?

Juppé in for MAM

As I predicted yesterday, MAM has become too much of a liability to be kept on, and Alain Juppé will replace her. Or so the rumor goes. But as rumors go, this one looks pretty solid, with the AFP attributing confirmation to "a minister."

I met Juppé once. My impressions: smart, sharp-tongued, arrogant. He's become slightly less arrogant over the years, and in his blog he sometimes comes across as downright warm and fuzzy. The exile in Canada may have mellowed him. In any case, he's certainly a more substantial presence at the Quai than either MAM or Kouchner.

"Nous avons des valeurs!"

On France2 last night, Dominique de Villepin, fresh from his retrouvailles with l'ami Nicolas, looking ebullient and full of vigor, declared forthrightly that France had no difficulty deciding what to do in regard to the Libyan uprising because "we have values" and the attempt to overthrow the dictatorial and mercurial rule of Col. Kadhafi (Gaddafi, Qadaffi, etc.) was a golden opportunity to demonstrate them. In assessing those values, he might want to take a look at this remarkable retrospective of French-Libyan relations in the Khadafi era. France does indeed have values, and when Khadafi was une valeur sûre, it invested heavily in him, but now that his value is plummeting, it's dumping its portfolio as quickly as it can.

Of course it's a cheap shot to pick on France and DDV this way. Who isn't compromised by life in this vale of tears? When I start up my car this morning, I'll be paying tribute to the Saudi king and the Gulf emirs and "the butcher of Benghazi" myself, so it ill becomes me to mock the leaders who grease the skids to perdition. Still, to watch Villepin with his broad smile and breathless delivery congratulate himself for having always been an apostle of Arab liberation is a bit much. In such circumstances, a little circumspection, a little humility, a little shame at the hypocrisies and compromises to which we are condemned seems called for. To me, anyway. Secular though I am to the core, the doctrine of original sin speaks, to my mind, to something deep in the human predicament.

MAM Defends Herself

The foreign minister was decidedly not pleased by the critique of French foreign policy published by a group of anonymous diplomats in Le Monde. She comes out swinging:

Non, en janvier il n'y avait pas dans les notes et télégrammes [diplomatiques révélés par le site WikiLeaks] de quoi anticiper ce qui se passe aujourd'hui dans le monde arabe. La France n'a pas su comprendre ce qui était en train de se produire. Pas plus qu'aucun autre pays d'ailleurs. Est-ce que cet aveuglement général nous excuse ? Evidemment pas. Cela nous oblige à réfléchir sur les causes profondes de ce manque de discernement qui ne date pas d'hier.

Hmm. So why was the ambassador to Tunisia sacked if nobody could have foreseen what happened? Mightn't he have been useful in reflecting on the "deep causes of this lack of discernment?"  And mightn't the fact that powerful people in the Tunisian Old Regime had the ear of powerful people in the French government have contributed to that strange lack of discernment? MAM seems to have overlooked this obvious point. Or was it some anonymous diplomat who was assigned to pen her statement for her?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Jet Set

I prefer to reserve my quarrels with statesmen for loftier matters than their spending a little too much of the state's money on themselves. Who hasn't splurged for a drink or a steak on the boss's dime from time to time? But there's that old adage about Caesar's wife. It also applies to Caesar's "collaborateur": turns out that François Fillon has been flying the company jet back to the Sarthe rather than put up with all of an hour and 20 minutes on a TGV. "A question of security," says the PM's office. Yes, indeed, but in these austere times we all make little trade-offs, and the PM might brave the terrifying dangers of travel by TGV (remember those "terrorists" who were snagging overhead power cables a while back?) in order to save the state a substantial pile of deniers publics. Heck, we once had a governor of Massachusetts who rode the subway to work, cheek by jowl with all the muggers, drug peddlers, and winos. And Fillon was supposed to be the sober and frugal steward of the state's treasure, unlike his bling-bling boss. Just goes to show, you can't judge by appearances.

Hide that Butcher's Hook

After hanging Dominique de Villepin from un croc de boucher, as promised, Nicolas Sarkozy is now meeting with the former prime minister at the Élysée. Only yesterday Villepin splashily resigned from the UMP, saying that it no longer embodied "the values of General de Gaulle." This meeting has occasioned much glee in the commentariat. Among the many ironies of the encounter, as Thierry Desjardins notes, is the fact that France desperately needs a new foreign minister right now, since MAM is totally discredited. And as Dominique Moïsi wrote in Libé on Monday, one of the failings of Sarko's foreign policy has been the incapacity of his two foreign ministers, Kouchner, and Alliot-Marie. Villepin would be a good replacement, and one that Sarkozy might even be desperate enough to swallow, despite the mutual hatred between the two men, but what is the likelihood that Villepin would jump aboard a sinking ship? So what alternative does Sarkozy have? Juppé? Borloo? Raffarin? Or l'ouverture: Védrine? Of course, he'd first have to fire MAM, and we know he isn't very good at firing people--but it must be said, MAM has given him ample cause. In her case, it wouldn't take Donald Trump to say, "You're fired!" Still, with billions of euros of high-tech sales to Gaddafi evaporating before our eyes and a major French oil and gas supplier in danger of descending into anarchy, the foreign policy shop needs beefing up. The president needs to make a move soon, and surely by now it must be obvious to everyone, even at the Élysée, that the presidency of the G20 is not going to do a damn thing to save the sinking Sarkozy.

What Women Study in France

Percentage of female students in various disciplines and programs:

La part des filles filière par filière :
Ecoles paramédicales                                                                     83%
Ecoles sociales                                                                                80%
Langues (licence)                                                                             74%
Lettres-SHS (licence)                                                                       71%
Ecoles littéraires et journalisme                                            69%
Médecine (premier cycle)                                                      66%
Droit-sciences politiques (licence)                                        65%
Université                                                                 59,2%
ENSEMBLE                                                              56%
Ecoles d’architecture                                                53%
BTS                                                                           50,8%
Management                                      48%
Classes préparatoires                    42,7%
DUT                                                   40,3%
Sciences                                            39%
Ecoles d’ingénieurs                        25,5%

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Some More Zemmour

I haven't written about Éric Zemmour's conviction for "inciting racial hatred" because the verdict displeased me almost as much as the man himself. Because I believe in free speech, I think that Zemmour should be allowed to say what he pleases, and his opponents should be free to criticize his sallies as they see fit. It's a bad business when the force of law is used to suppress the expression of opinion. But now the UMP has invited Zemmour to one of its forums to speak on "freedom of thought," which lends the imprimatur of the party to his sulfurous personality. Clearly, the UMP knows what it is doing: Zemmour has street cred with people who vote for the extreme right, and the UMP wants to win them back. This is reprehensible.

So is the move by the CGT to have Zemmour removed from the airwaves. I don't care much for the shock-jock programming of the likes of Ardisson and Ruquier, who use provocateurs like Zemmour to boost their ratings. But I care even less for the blacklisting of controversial voices by actors of the right or the left.


I can't tell whether J.-L. Mélenchon was pleased or not with his interview by J.-M. Aphatie. Here is Mélenchon's version:

Pour me punir de n’avoir pas répondu comme il l’avait prévu à ses premières questions, Jean-Michel Aphatie a décidé de couler l’entretien qu’il avait avec moi sur RTL. Lui-même déclare à l’antenne que l’entretien est incohérent. Mais il se garde de dire que s’il en est ainsi, c’est de son fait. Une nouvelle fois me lever à six heures du matin pour me faire traiter de cette façon mérite réflexion. Me faire interroger deux minutes sur sept à propos de Cuba le lendemain d’un samedi dimanche de manifestations pour la liberté et la démocratie en Algérie, au Yémen, au Maroc et surtout en Libye est sans doute la chose la plus étrange qui soit  et la moins respectueuse pour moi autant que pour l’auditeur! Quant aux questions sur Strauss-Kahn, mon début à propos de l’Islande lui ayant déplu, Aphatie est passé à Cuba. Je vais donc dire ici tout ce que je voulais dire sur les sujets qu’il était convenu d’aborder. Inclus  Strauss-Kahn, bien sûr. J’ai espoir qu’un jour on reconnaisse avec le droit à la liberté des questions le droit à la liberté des réponses. Mais avant cela je prends juste le temps de me réjouir de voir que même avec ses confrères le considérable monsieur Aphatie se donne un rôle de censeur professionnel tout à fait impérieux. Je crois que c’est une première.
Qu’aurait dit monsieur Aphatie si c’était moi qui avais fait cette leçon de morale à l’un ou l’autre de ses confrères !

It's possible to understand Mélenchon's disappointment with the way the press covers presidential campaigns and with the way he is treated by interviewers, but his urge to overpower his adversary is self-defeating, since it prevents him from presenting a coherent argument for his own position. Judge for yourself:

And incidentally, the expression "vous m'avez dans l'os, M. Aphatie," is not one you often hear in the mouth of a presidential candidate:

Avoir dans l'os:

Subir un échec.

L'"os" de cette expression n'est autre que le sacrum. Familièrement, l'"avoir dans l'os", c'est l'"avoir dans le cul". L'image est forte, mais sa connotation sexuelle évoque à merveille l'humiliation. Cette expression signifie qu'une personne a subi un échec, ou bien une forte déception.

"Amateurism, Impulsiveness, Preoccupation with Media Attention"

Scott Sayare sums up a critique of Sarkozy's foreign policy by anonymous diplomats writing in Le Monde: "An anonymous group of former and current French diplomats said Tuesday that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s approach to foreign policy was plagued by amateurism, impulsiveness and a preoccupation with media attention."

That's the succinct version. For the longer version, see Charles Cogan:

As he approaches four years at the helm of France and of France’s foreign policy, three things come to mind with respect to an evaluation of Nicolas Sarkozy’s foreign policy. Firstly, his ambition remains unchecked: to place himself, and his government, at the center, or more appropriately, near the center, of the world stage. In support of this ambition, he has doggedly striven to achieve French commercial advantage, in China, in Russia, and elsewhere. Secondly, he remains unceasingly on the top of his dossier, something that his rivals for the presidency in 2012 will have to look at quite soberly. Thirdly, he has calmed down somewhat, not only in his gesticulations and verbal excesses, but also in terms of what he expects to get out of foreign leaders, in particular Angela Merkel of Germany.


So Dominique and François had a little chat about the upcoming PS primaries. And maybe Martine was there too, or maybe she wasn't. I think we'll all live without knowing exactly who said what to whom. Maybe, two years from now, it will turn out that Yasmina Reza was there as well, and will tell us what happened ("G," the unnamed lover for whom she wrote the book on Sarkozy, is rumored to have been DSK). But we won't necessarily believe her.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Waterloo of "l'Intellectuel français"

It must have been more than 30 years ago now that Michel Foucault wrote an article entitled "La mort de l'intellectuel." Apparently Le Monde didn't get the message, because it invited four "intellectuals" to comment on the "Arab revolts." The choice of participants in this forum tells you something about what the word "intellectuel" means today. We hear from Alain Touraine, Alain Badiou, Elisabeth Roudinesco, and André Glucksmann. None is a specialist on the region in turmoil, on the history of revolutions, on Islam, on Arab culture, on the political economy of the rebellious states, on social movements in the Arab world, on previous rebellions against military dictatorships, on relations between the military and civil society, or any of a hundred other topics that might confer authority to speak about one or another aspect of the unfolding wave of rebellion.

To be sure, Le Monde did publish the other day a piece by Olivier Roy, a specialist in political Islam, to which I linked previously. But in France, to be a specialist is almost a disqualification to speak as an "intellectual." An intellectual is one who has risen above his or her specialty, if any, to acquire a quasi-priestly authority to pronounce on n'importe quoi -- and as often as not, to say n'importe quoi about it. But I wonder if this sort of rootless speculation has any purchase on the French audience today. Perhaps a piece like this in Le Monde is simply a throwback to the day when large numbers of people hungered to know what Sartre or Camus thought about the events of the day. Badiou I gather can still muster a coterie of youthful admirers. And Le Monde evidently wanted to cover certain bases: the old new Left, the psychoanalytic camp (and a representative of women), the old Nouveaux Philosophes (and at least they didn't turn to BHL), and the "radical" guru of the hour. But what do we learn from their musings? Too little to justify the time spent reading them, I'm afraid.

Get Your Official ENA Mug

French universities, now competing for students, have begun selling their own official branded lines of sweatshirts, hats, pens, coffee mugs, etc. Indeed, even ENA has gotten into the act, Scott Sayare tells us:

Even the elite École Nationale d’Administration, or É.N.A., whose graduates are all but guaranteed high-powered government posts, has expanded its promotional efforts, opening an online boutique offering sweatshirts and rugby shirts, mugs and pens. The products are aimed primarily at tourists and visiting foreign delegations, said Évelyne Heckel-Mantey, a spokeswoman, in the hopes of boosting the school’s international notoriety. “When you visit a museum, you always pass through the shop at the end,” she said.


Laurent Bouvet on Sarkozy's rejection of "multiculturalism" in the wake of Merkel and Cameron:

En déclarant, lors de l’émission « Paroles de Français » le 10 février dernier : « le multiculturalisme est un échec », Nicolas Sarkozy a commis une triple erreur. Il a utilisé un terme étranger à l’oreille politique française et d’un usage particulièrement complexe. En procédant ainsi, il semble persister dans l’erreur tactique qui consiste à se placer sur le terrain de l’un de ses adversaires électoraux, ici Marine Le Pen, sans en tirer aucun bénéfice. Et, last but not least, le président de la République brouille un peu plus le message qu’il voudrait envoyer aux Français sur les questions identitaires puisqu’après avoir longtemps promu la diversité et la « laïcité positive », il constate l’échec d’une politique renvoyant aux principes qu’il a lui-même proclamés.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

New Political Party


Raffarin on DSK

Jean-Pierre Raffarin says he doesn't think DSK is the "most dangerous" of Sarkozy's rivals because he has a "profile rather to the right of the center of gravity of today's Left." He may be right, despite the current polls. So who would be the most dangerous opponent? JPR doesn't say, but if the "center-of-gravity" metaphor is taken seriously, I think it might be François Hollande. In fact, I would be at all surprised to see Hollande emerge as a compromise candidate, the least objectionable to all factions. Assuming that DSK doesn't storm his way to success within minutes of making a formal announcement, which is apparently his hope. As I've said repeatedly, I think that may be a miscalculation on his part.

Who would make a better president, DSK or FH? That's a different question. I wasn't much of a fan of FH as a party leader, but his defects in that post might become virtues in a consensus-building presidency. And DSK might be too much of an economist, too little a politician, and just a bit too intellectually arrogant for a president in the televisual age. (Sarkozy's arrogance is of a different kind: it invites identification with his combativeness, whereas DSK's makes the listener feel ignorant. Remember Mitterrand's "je ne suis votre élève"--one of the most effective debate retorts ever).

True Believers

Jean-Luc Mélenchon has the knack of arousing strong passions. Periodically, I receive comments from his adepts. Here is one that just arrived, although the post to which it was connected appeared a month ago:

As a French, I was really interested to see some Americans getting interested about French politics! Usually it is the contrary you know...
So, congratulations for being open minded up to the point to read about J-L Melenchon, who created the Left Party "Parti de Gauche" in France 3 years ago, following the German "Die Linke" from Oskar Lafontaine.
I spent almost 3 years in US. I know Melenchon's arguments must appear weird to most American people. However you should know that Melenchon, at first a philosopher, has been for many years one of the most interesting and thought-provoking men in French Politics. I think one of his central arguments is that a society that submits itself to "a body without a head" like the international free market, without inventing a new political power to counterbalance it, is actually gradually giving up democracy.

The assumption here seems to be that if one isn't French, one needs extra help to understand a thinker of Mélenchon's subtlety. The writer seems not to consider the possibility that I might actually be quite familiar with the thought of this "philosopher" and still disagree with him profoundly. If only I immersed myself more fully in the "World according to JLM," she implies, the scales would fall from my eyes and I would join the ranks of his supporters.

This is a curious attitude, and one that I don't detect in the brickbats coming at me from other parts of the political spectrum. But perhaps that is because they have already written me off as an irredeemable social liberal, left apostate, or crypto-Sarkozyste. In fact, although I am an American, je ne suis pas un Américain à l'image des banquiers d'investissement, des managers de hedge fund, et autres suppôts du corps sans tête qu'est "the international free market," to borrow a phrase from my would-be instructor in the ways of capitalism. I don't find Mélenchon's thinking in any way "weird." Indeed, it is all too familiar. But certain adherents seem to be discovering this particular critique of capitalism for the first time.

I assume that the writer is young. There is something rather touching about her faith, and it ill behooves me, as an aging intellectual whose radical passions have waned, to attempt to dissuade her from pushing on with it. I used to take a dim view of people in my position, before I became one of them. So I accept the criticism indulgently, though it doesn't in the least shake my conviction that to embrace Mélenchon would be a seriously wrong turn for the French Left.

Another Olivier Roy Piece on post-Islamic Politics


L'Image de la France

There has been much talk this week of l'image de la France ... celle qu'on aime, celle qu'on n'aime pas. In France's new ambassador to Tunisia, we have a little of both. Watch this clip:

The good news is that this young diplomat speaks Arabic. The bad news, which begins at about 3:00 of the clip, is that he seems to be à l'image du Président Sarkozy, who appointed him and whom he served previously at the Interior Ministry. The veneer of diplomatic politeness falls away, and we have a very Sarkozyesque confrontation with the press, puncuated with aggressive franchements, accusations directed at reporters for asking questions débiles, etc. etc. To judge by appearances, M. Boillon is very young and still unseasoned (although he served as ambassador to Iraq from 2009 to 2011). Perhaps we should allow him time to grow into his job and acquire the diplomatic niceties. But already Tunisians are demonstrating to have him recalled.

CIA Gets Scammed, France Blows the Whistle

This is an extraordinary story. A software scam artist sold the CIA software he said could detect secret messages steganographically encoded in Al Jazeera broadcasts. The CIA believed that this information was real, to the point where it may have been prepared to shoot down airliners. Things never got that far, but flights were turned back in the air, and others grounded. But French officials didn't believe these tales:

French officials, upset that their planes were being grounded, commissioned a secret study concluding that the technology was a fabrication. Presented with the findings soon after the 2003 episode, Bush administration officials began to suspect that “we got played,” a former counterterrorism official said.
Unbelievable! Score one for France. (h/t Henry Farrell)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

About "la France des terroirs, celle qu'on aime"

Interesting piece in Rue89 on "la France des terroirs":

A l'inverse de l'intuition de Christian Jacob, un sondage Terre-net BVA publié le 17 février indique que Dominique Strauss-Kahn bénéficie précisément d'une cote de popularité positive dans ces contrées. Un seul autre homme politique est en mesure de le concurrencer : Bruno Le Maire, chiraquien historique et… actuel ministre de l'Agriculture.
A la retraite depuis trois ans, Joseph Jan, le maire de Sevron, qui dirigeait une coopérative agricole, n'est pas surpris que les agriculteurs se retrouvent en la personne de DSK, à défaut de s'y reconnaître. Prenant le contre-pied de Christian Jacob sans toutefois se passionner pour la polémique, il n'y voit rien de franchement paradoxal :
« Ces agriculteurs ont acquis une compétence, un savoir d'économistes. Ils cherchent un regard sur les échanges mondiaux, une connaissance des rapports entre production et consommation.
Les couples d'agriculteurs ont changé aussi : il est devenu très rare que les deux conjoints travaillent sur l'exploitation. Si je pense à deux ou trois exploitations sur la commune, une seule est tenue par monsieur et madame… mais il s'agit d'une ferme de 90 000 poules, ce sont de véritables entrepreneurs. Dans les autres GAEC [Groupements agricoles d'exploitation en commun, ndlr], l'un des deux conjoints travaille dans la banque, le commerce, l'enseignement… »


Jean-François Bayart describes what he sees as a government that has systematically put out its own eyes by politicizing and censuring the research arms of various ministries, especially the Foreign Ministry (h/t Laurent Bouvet):

Quoi qu'il en soit, j'ai donc servi pendant quinze ans sous des ministres appartenant à des majorités successives, et sous l'autorité de directeurs qui étaient généralement proches de ceux-ci, souvent pour appartenir à leur cabinet. Ainsi de Bruno Racine, avec Alain Juppé, et de Michel Foucher, avec Hubert Védrine. Jamais ces directeurs n'ont fait entrer en ligne de compte des considérations partisanes dans le mode de fonctionnement interne du CAP. Remarquable leçon d'éthique républicaine ! Je puis dire en connaissance de cause que le CAP a produit, pendant cette période, des notes, sur la plupart des situations, que la suite des événements n'a pas démenties. Il est vrai que le ministère a pu parfois faire preuve de frilosité par rapport à des analyses hétérodoxes, et que les directions ou les ambassades voyaient souvent d'un mauvais œil l'indépendance d'esprit que permettaient au CAP la coexistence en son sein de diplomates et de chercheurs et son rattachement direct au cabinet du ministre. Mais les politiques auraient-ils pris en considération, ne serait-ce que la moitié de la production de cette unité de prospective, ils auraient été parfaitement avertis des dangers de certains des volcans sur lesquels ils prenaient leurs vacances.

Grunberg on Jacob, Mélenchon, DSK, et tout ça

Gérard Grunberg:

Telos a suffisamment critiqué l’anti-sarkozysme systématique de la gauche pour pouvoir ici critiquer un anti-strauss-kahnisme de droite qui fleure bon l’entre-deux-guerres dans son idéologie. Que le Premier ministre couvre Jacob en mettant en avant l’anti-strauss-kahnisme d’une partie de la gauche de la gauche est peut être de bonne guerre politique mais moralement condamnable. Ici, la gauche de la gauche et la droite se donnent la main pour dénoncer en réalité en DSK quelqu’un qui n’est « pas de chez nous », pas vraiment près du peuple. Quant [sic] Mélenchon condamne « l’affameur des peuples » il y a cette même vision d’une sorte d’apatride qui, à la tête d’une organisation elle-même apatride, martyrise les « vrais gens » par un chantage de nature financière. Pour Jacob, comme pour Mélenchon, DSK n’incarne pas la France. Il ne peut donc prétendre à la diriger. Pour l’instant, les sondages disent le contraire quels que soient les commentaires farfelus que l’on entend ici ou là. Certes, les choses peuvent évoluer et tout dépendra de la capacité de DSK lui-même à faire une bonne campagne. Mais si droite et gauche de la gauche accélèrent leurs critiques de DSK c’est qu’elles savent désormais qu’il sera candidat et qu’il risque fort de l’emporter. Dès lors, dans leur propagande politique, la question n’est pas de savoir si DSK pourrait être un bon président mais de montrer qu’il n’est pas vraiment un bon français, qu’il n’appartient pas à « la France qu’on aime ».
So, the campaign is on, and the IMF will undoubtedly be a major issue if DSK is the Socialist candidate. It will be interesting to see how Sarkozy plays this. The allegedly nefarious role of the IMF is of course a given for the extreme left, altermondialistes, souverainistes, and economic nationalists of all stripes. But Sarkozy, inaugurating the G20 yesterday, called upon his fellow leaders to "renforcer, j'allais dire rehausser" the international institution, which he sees as the instrument of the "regulated" capitalism he now desires. So one campaign tack might be to say, "The IMF will play a key role in governing the economy, and DSK's abandonment of his post in the heat of battle has diminished France's influence in this important spot." This is pretty weak stuff, however, and DSK can easily counter by making a gift to France not of "his person" (that would recall Pétain, as Christian Jacob has tried to do) but of the knowledge gained from his years in Washington.

Friday, February 18, 2011

L'Association Française des Fundraisers

Well, I suppose that something as Anglo-Saxon as extracting lucre from private donors can only be rendered in franglais: l'Association française des fundraisers. I learned about this organization from an article in Le Figaro. So it seems that the sacrosanct concept of "equality" in higher education will be nibbled away at the edges rather than confronted head on. This is as it must be in France, as I discover every time I bring this subject up. Suggestions such as charging tuition or introducing selective admissions are routinely greeted with cries that such heresies are anti-egalitarian, anti-republican, and anti-French. Yet one's head has to be buried deeply sous le pavé, dans le sable, to fail to see the glaring inequities in the existing system, not only between the universities and the grandes écoles but between the better- and worse-financed universities. The acceptance of le fundraising will only exacerbate the inequities without imposing any fairness on the selection and retention process.

We read, moreover, that "sur quatre-vingt-trois universités, 39 fondations ont depuis été créées, qui auraient levé, au total, environ 80 millions d'euros." I had to rub my eyes once or twice. Could millions possibly be a misprint for milliards? Alas, no. I know that we have a warped perspective on these things in the US, but really, 80 million for 83 universities? Better than nothing, I suppose. But ask a young microbiologist, nanotechnologist, or condensed matter physicist what it takes to start up even a modest lab. Job candidates in the US arrive with laundry lists of necessary equipment that often add up to more than $1 million. And this money is supposed to be coming from French industry, which presumably knows what things cost. Here is further evidence, if any were needed, that France, for all its lip service to the importance of R&D in securing the country's economic future and capitalizing on its very real advantages in human capital, has yet to get serious about what it takes to be competitive. With all the recent talk about holding down wage increases in order to meet the German challenge, you'd think that someone would recognize the urgency of meeting the longer-term challenge of remaining near the technological frontier. A visionary leadership would recognize this as a top priority. Instead, we have l'Association des fundraisers.


Le timing, as they say in French, could not have been better. Dominique Strauss-Kahn landed in Paris for the G20 just as a new poll was published putting him ahead of Sarkozy 61-39 in the second round of the 2012 presidential election. I am reminded, however, of the adage of American presidential politics that goes like this: "Whom the gods would destroy they make the frontrunner." DSK has nowhere to go but down, and down he will surely go once he gets into the race. But the new poll does suggest that the Right's effort to paint the IMF head as the representative of the "ultra-caviar" Left, outsider, Jew, capitalist tool, etc., has only boosted his ratings.

These really are rather foolish, if obvious, taunts coming from the party of Sarkozy and Copé, but, hey, any port in a storm. Sarkozy's problem in the end will be not to widen the gap that already exists between DSK and the left of the Left but rather to differentiate himself from DSK, whose basic view of the economy is not so different from his, but whom voters are likely to choose as the more competent of the two in achieving his ends. That, too, may be an illusion, but Sarkozy knows better than anyone that elections are won by appearances, not realities. And he will remember better than anyone that, in order to win in 2007, he had to differentiate himself from Chirac, whom in many respects he resembled, by investing familiar formulas with a sense of renewed energy and can-do-it pragmatism. In 2012, DSK will be the challenger, a position that offers certain advantages in a period of serious voter discontentment.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Indignez-vous? Not so fast ...

Adam Kirsch has a very interesting review of Stéphane Hessel's best-selling Indignez-vous! which he regards as a misguided and even "dangerous" perpetuation of the apolitical moralism of the Resistance into a period in which such an understanding of public life can only cause trouble:

It might seem hard to object to Hessel’s message, which, on one level, is as platitudinous as a high-school graduation speech: care about the world you live in, fight injustice, cherish non-violence (“I am convinced that the future belongs to non-violence, to the reconciliation of different cultures”). Yet there is actually something quite troubling about the huge popularity of Indignez-vous! and about the political use it makes of the Resistance legacy. For what defined the years 1940 to1944 in France was, precisely, the absence of politics: a country under foreign occupation is deprived of the opportunity, and the responsibility, of self-government. This is a source of humiliation and suffering, but it can also, to those brave people who continue to engage in public life, be a source of exhilarating clarity. Especially when the occupier is as unmistakably evil as Nazi Germany, and especially when the resister is half-Jewish, like Hessel, the compromises and uncertainties of ordinary politics are abolished. “Resisting, for us, meant refusing to accept German occupation and defeat. It was relatively simple,” Hessel recalls.

And what could be more natural than wanting to carry this simplicity and urgency into the realm of ordinary politics, where everything is so maddeningly complicated and drawn-out? “We are determined to replace politics with morality,” Camus wrote in an editorial in Combat, the Resistance newspaper, on September 4, 1944. “That is what we call a revolution.” Yet, within days of the Liberation—as you can see dramatically in the remarkable volume Camus at Combat: Writing 1944-1947—the Resistance’s exemption from politics began to crumble, as the compromises involved in actual governing returned.

Since I am the translator of the Camus volume, and have also been struck by the abrupt transformation of Camus's thinking occasioned by postwar divisions and purges, I am pleased by this comparison. But no doubt it will make some readers indignant, because Hessel's book has become a rallying point for many.

Outrage à dictateur

Un professeur du lycée français du Caire a été convoqué à l'ambassade puis rapatrié « pour sa sécurité » parce qu'il avait manifesté contre Hosni Moubarak, place Tahrir, avec une pancarte « Casse-toi pauvre con ». C'est une curieuse histoire que révèle Car deux semaines plus tôt à Tunis, la famille d'un autre professeur, assaillie par les pillards, s'était vu, elle, refuser un rapatriement. Deux conceptions de la sécurité.

Full story here.

Sarko-Microsoft Lovefest

Hmmm. President Sarkozy has decorated Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer with the Légion d'honneur, saluting a firm that "understands the humanist values of France and Europe." And Ballmer returned the favor, recognizing France as a "land of innovation ... attractive [to investors, presumably] ... with many resources to be one of the leaders in international competition."

Cool. So why can't Google digitize the books in the BNF? Surely a Google monopoly is no more a threat to "the humanist values of France and Europe" than a Microsoft monopoly.

Ben Ali Had Many Friends in High Places

According to Le Monde.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Thank You MAM

So, it turns out that it wasn't just by chance that Michèle Alliot-Marie ran into her "friend" Aziz Miled on the tarmac in Tunis, where his private jet just happened to be waiting with its engines running for the French foreign minister and the other "members of [her] party," who were in fact her parents, already stockholders in one of Miled's businesses and about to acquire a majority interest. In a normal country, the latest revelations would finish her, and even in France they might: Le Monde has had it with her prevarications, and, more important, there has been an ominous silence from the Élysée. MAM's latest defense--that the revelations of Le Canard amount to an "attack on the private life" of her family is pathetic. Of course, even if MAM falls, she can look forward to a bright future in Tunisian real estate. And she can resign with the usual alibi of the politician caught red-handed: "I'm leaving office in order to spend more time with my family."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Roy in English

Here's an English version of the Olivier Roy essay on post-Islamist revolution that I linked to a few days ago.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Le Sarkozysme 2007 est mort, vive le Sarkozysme 2012!

The bouclier fiscal, a "red line" that the president said only months ago could not be crossed, that he would "never surrender," is out. In (modest) compensation, the threshold of the wealth tax has been lifted from €790,000 to €1.3 million. 300,000 families will now be exempted from the ISF.

So virtually nothing remains of a centerpiece of the reform that was supposed to revive growth by offering incentives to entrepreneurs, etc. And clearly the promised "complete revision of the tax code" for 2011 will not happen either. Sarko has evidently decided to run on his record tel quel. Slim as it is, he will need to put a rather fancy frame around it if he hopes to salvage any part of the market liberalizer he pretended to be in 2007.

But perhaps he has decided to cede that terrain to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, whom the Right has already begun to paint as "la gauche ultra-caviar," etc. For the purposes of the next campaign, it may well be expedient to pretend that Sarko never occupied this terrain at all, that he had nothing to do with DSK's appointment to the IMF, and that le néo-libéral, c'est lui.

But that's not all: Christian Jacob, Jean-François Copé's hatchet man, is in hot water for having let slip that DSK is "not in the image of rural France, the France that I love." The opposition has been quick to point out the possible anti-Semitic connotations of Jacob's remark, but I can't help noticing that it would have been simpler to say that if DSK isn't in the image of rural France, neither is Nicolas Sarkozy, the man who removed the patting of cow's rumps from the obligatory duties of a president. Ainsi va la France.

As for Jacob, I award him a title I once reserved for the other Christian, Estrosi: le roi des cons.

Les Grandes Gueules

If, in the guise of debate, you like to watch people shouting and scowling at each other, you'll enjoy the Mélenchon-Marine Le Pen confrontation on BFM. Here is one excerpt:

Mélenchon : "la classe ouvrière vomit Mme Le Pen"
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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Elie Cohen on French Competitiveness

Elie Cohen considers the question of French competitiveness. The French share of global exports has declined, but, he argues, this is not simply a matter of loss of market share to low-wage countries. France's share of exports within the EU has also declined. Furthermore, French unit labor costs have increased much more rapidly than Germany's. On the other hand, growth of French GDP per capita has kept pace with Germany's. So does the loss of export share matter? Cohen argues that it does: "It was formerly possible to believe that a debt held in euros by European investors did not pose a problem, but the sovereign debt crisis in peripheral countries of the Eurozone has changed that. A current account balance is therefore desirable [for each Eurozone country], for both domestic and European reasons. No one can remain in surplus or deficit indefinitely."

Extra credit: compare and contrast Cohen's argument with Paul Krugman's well-known contempt for the concept of competitiveness, as exemplified here and, more recently, here. And note, too, that Krugman observes the same problems of limited fiscal centrality and factor mobility in Europe as compared to the US that Cohen invokes.

Union for the Mediterranean

Remember l'Union pour la Méditerrannée? Perhaps it's time to revive the idea, with Tunisia and Egypt as charter members. Algeria, Libya and Morocco, and Syria could be invited to join.

But where is François Fillon? On the Persian Gulf. Now in Abu Dhabi, warning against the "clash of civilizations," having left Saudi Arabia, where he hoped to sell jet fighters whose presumed purpose would be to preserve the Saudi regime in case of some "intracivilizational" clash.

I don't mean to make light of the dilemma (well, maybe a little gallows humor). The schizoid tendencies of French (and US) policy toward the region have only been exacerbated by recent events, and the implications of social upheaval in the Gulf states for the global oil market will keep many leaders awake at night.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Paris Flood of 1910

Jeffrey Jackson's new book is reviewed here.

Olivier Roy on Egypt

Oliver Roy has a thoughtful article on Egypt as the first "post-Islamist" revolution. It's a subtle piece, full of interesting observations and arguments, so I won't attempt to summarize it.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Ideal Editor

The recent changes of leadership at both Le Monde and Libération have led Monique Dagnaud to contemplate the profile of an ideal editor. Her bottom line, however, is about as diametrically opposed to the ideal as I can imagine:

Qui recruter ? Pour affronter la secousse tectonique que subit la presse quotidienne nationale, le candidat devrait posséder les codes culturels de Mark Zuckerberg, l’allant d’un journaliste intellectuel comme Thomas Friedman, et le grain de folie de Rupert Murdoch : une génétique impossible à trouver. Ce qui oblige les actionnaires à de plus modestes choix.

Leave aside Zuckerberg (!) and Murdoch (!!!) . Anybody who mistakes Thomas Friedman for an "intellectual journalist" should turn in her CNRS ID badge.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Face au peuple

President Sarkozy was upstaged today by Hosni Mubarak. The former had chosen to brave le peuple, or at any rate a handpicked selection of "representative" people. I intended to watch, but TF1 blocked Internet transmission to the US for some unfathomable reason. So I had to make do with a summary, and to judge by what I read of the highlights, I saved myself 2 1/2 hours of tedium. The big news seems to be that Sarko, after Cameron and Merkel, has declared "multiculturalism" a failure. Unfortunately, the only nostrum he has to offer in its place is that the "identity" of the host country should take precedence over the "identity" of the immigrant. Et alors? Was love ever won by fiat? We're likely to hear a lot more of this sort of thing as the campaign heats up. I'll try to contain myself.

Meanwhile, Mubarak also chose to brave son peuple, not quite so carefully handpicked. And the consequences will surely outlive the effect, if any, of Sarko's ill-conceived apologia pro vita sua.  France2 had no regular news tonight, at least not in the US. Its usual half hour on TV5Monde was given over entirely to the situation in Egypt. I fear that violent confrontation lies ahead, and it's anybody's guess which way the army will go.

Another comment re Sarkozy on the justice system here.\

Alain Juppé has kind words for the boss here.

Another Economist Intervenes

While we're on the subject of economists intervening in public debate, I recommend a look at this long but very interesting review of Philippe Askenazy's new book, Les décennies aveugles. Of particular interest is the discussion of Askenazy's critique of the failure of microeconomic interventions in the labor market.

Piketty/Hollande Debate on Taxes

Here is the Piketty/Hollande debate on taxes. Please excuse the annoying advertisements. It's fascinating to watch the difference between the discourse of the academic economist and that of the politician.

Hollande - Piketty et la révolution fiscale 1-2
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Hollande - Piketty et la révolution fiscale 2-2
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I'll let Bernard Girard explain why I'm not discussing la petite phrase d'Anne Sinclair.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

La Garde des "Seaux"

At the beginning of Sarkozy's presidency, we were told that consulting firms were going to be used to evaluate the performance of ministers. All very efficient and businesslike. But things have degenerated, and now ministers are being required to request permission from the prime minister before vacationing abroad. What next? Hall passes to go to the bathroom?

It's also rather quaint to have to clear that time in the sun with the PM, who's in a bit of hot water himself over accepting handouts from dictators. And the president himself vacationed in Marrakech at the expense of the Moroccans. Does he need to ask for an exit pass as well?

Still, it might do France's elite good to stay home and see a little more of the provinces. You can have a lot of fun in France. Just ask any number of members of the Bush administration, who bashed France in public but vacationed there on the QT.

Pardon my pun, but I guess we can now call the prime minister la garde des seaux (et des pelles): "Boys and girls, before you can go the beach and play in the sand with your pails and shovels, check with François."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Flying Charges

So, now we know that François Fillon used a jet made available by Hosni Mubarak to ease his vacation travels. I guess one just expects the red carpet treatment when one is a French official sojourning abroad. But we also learn that President Sarkozy is purer than Caesar's wife: he flew from Brussels to New York this weekend to visit little Louie, and he paid his own way on a commercial flight (rather than reimburse the state for the €20,000 per hour cost of Air Sarko 1).

Kahn-Mélenchon, Pas le même combat

They debated, it seems:

Car Jean-Luc Mélenchon et Jean-François Kahn ne peuvent être d’accords [sic] sur tout. "Le peuple veut que l’on respecte le clivage politique", explique le député européen sous les applaudissements. Au jeu de la dénonciation, c’est Jean-Luc Mélenchon qui remporte le plus de suffrages. Parce qu’il est un homme politique, aujourd’hui plus que jamais médiatique. Parce qu’il a quitté bruyamment le PS, parce que sa dénonciation de l’oligarchie épouse efficacement ses ambitions révolutionnaires. Provocateur : "On me demande ce que je réponds à ceux qui menacent de s’en aller. Je leurs [sic] réponds : Au revoir !", prophétique : "Ce monde de pacotille, qui vit cramponné à des phrases creuses sur la concurrence, s’écroulera en 24 heures", et toujours ce sens de la formule qui fait mouche : "Vous avez besoin de quelqu’un qui n’a pas peur de passer pour Poujade, parce qu’il sait qu’il est plutôt Jaurès." Jean-François Kahn n’est pas plus mesuré dans ses propos. Il n’est simplement pas un révolutionnaire de gauche. Alors quel est le point commun entre Jean-Luc Mélenchon et Jean-François Kahn ? La cristallisation de la haine autour de Nicolas Sarkozy et de la politique qu’il représente. "Le véritable problème est de savoir si l’on est contre ce gouvernement parce qu’il est de droite, ou parce que c’est un gouvernement monarcho-populiste, qui porte atteinte à ce qu’il y a de bien dans le libéralisme", explique Jean-François Kahn. La salle le hue. Amusé, il continue : "Il y a quelque chose de contre révolutionnaire à se replier, à exclure les gens qui veulent se battre avec vous. Heureusement qu’en 1789, on n’a pas refusé La Fayette sous prétexte qu’il était aristocrate". Et, déterminé à prouver que les idées révolutionnaires ne se trouvent pas là où l’on crie le plus fort, il conclut : "Même si vous gagnez le pouvoir, cette révolution ne se fera pas avec une alternance."

The sics are mine: needs to do a better job of copy-editing. If you're going to denounce Sarkozy for his grammatical errors, you'd better clean up your own.

The Magistrates' Strike

Jean-François Copé brings out the sarcasm in me. Here is Copé on the magistrates' strike:

Selon le secrétaire général de l'UMP, «le président de la République est dans son rôle lorsqu'il dit qu'il faut des sanctions. Heureusement qu'il y a un président de la République qui est là lorsqu'il y a un dysfonctionnement. Le président de la République est le garant de cela».
Le garant de quoi? Le dysfonctionnement? It seems not to have occurred to Copé that the more serious "dysfunction" of the justice system is the one that the magistrates are protesting: the lack of means and resources to perform the function that is demanded of the system.

Quant aux propos du Premier ministre lundi, jugeant «excessive» la réaction des magistrats, le député maire de Meaux (Seine-et-Marne), a estimé que «François Fillon a dit les choses, il a bien fait».
Fillon said "things"? He  "did well" to say them? A brilliant analysis from "le député maire de Meaux (Seine-et-Marne)," head of the UMP, leader of the UMP group in parliament, and part-time private attorney. Perhaps if he cumulait fewer mandats, he'd have more time to think about "things."

France in Indochina

Another historical note this morning: both American and French readers may have a particular interest in Indochina: An Ambiguous Colonization, 1858-1954, by Pierre Brocheux and Daniel Héméry, reviewed here by Amaury Lorin.

Demorand Takes Over at Libé

Libération has a new editor: the radio and TV personality Nicolas Demorand. Print journalism used to be relatively impervious to the celebrity phenomenon, but a certain implacable logic seems to be at work throughout "the cultural industries," as people have begun to call them. In the US, AOL just paid $315 million for the Huffington Post. "Content is king," proclaimed the head of AOL. But when "content" rules, product differentiation requires celebrity endorsement. Demorand may have what it takes to make a good newspaper editor, but he also brings with him (Libé's owners no doubt hope) an audience larger than most newspapers dream of.

1688 or 1789?

David Bell compares the events in Egypt to the French Revolution. His main point is that one can't easily predict the course of an extended revolutionary process from the character of its early stages. The point is well taken, and David deserves credit for sticking his neck out: most historians shy away from this sort of comparison (another exception is Simon Schama). David observes:

So the crucial point to keep in mind, as events in Egypt unfold, is that even in the best-case scenario -- Mubarak falls without further violence and is replaced by a seemingly stable, democratic, secular government -- the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 may still just be getting started. Its crucial moments may lie months, or even years, in the future. It is after Mubarak's fall that American support for Egypt's democratic forces will be most important. And the last thing anyone should do, if Egypt appears to complete a revolution this year that looks like 1688, is to breathe a sigh of relief. At the end of 2011, Mohamed ElBaradei may well be president of a democratic Egypt. But then, at the end of 1789, Louis XVI was still King of France.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Politicians, Police, and Appearances

Judah Grunstein has an interesting post on the way in which the questioning of legitimacy of foreign governments can spill over into domestic politics. He isn't quite echoing Mélenchon's contention that foreign revolution will come home to roost, which I challenged the other day. Loin de là. But he is making the valid point that the expression of popular power--"the people out of doors," as Thomas Jefferson used to say--can be contagious in unpredictable ways (as anyone who lived through 1968 is aware).

To be sure, if you watch the video to which Judah links, which shows gendarmes using some sort of chemical spray (it's not tear gas, I don't think, since the police aren't masked. Perhaps Mace? something else?) on protesters attempting to block a railroad line (for what purpose we are not told), you see something rather different from the thuggish repression in Egypt. The police, who seem friendly enough with local officials, have evidently been ordered to clear the tracks, and they obey their orders despite not having enough manpower to do the job properly. There are a lot of older people in the crowd, which seems to have been committed to nonviolence, so the cops come off looking pretty bad. But they don't club anyone, don't break heads or bones, and as far as one can see from the video, the protesters escape with some bruises, burning eyes and skin, and flaring tempers. I remember being told by veterans of many French manifs  that it's better to face the CRS than the local police or gendarmes, because the former know what they're doing, whereas the latter aren't really trained for riot duty and tend to panic in the midst of an angry crowd. I don't know if that's true, and these police don't panic, but they do seem rather unprepared for what happens after they unleash their chemical spray.

In any event, Judah links this event to the concept of delegitimation and to the latest embarrassments of Mme Alliot-Marie. Indeed, MAM seems to be twisting slowly, slowly in the wind as she attempts to explain her close relationship to a billionaire friend of ex-Tunisian dictator Ben Ali. She is receiving no support from the Élysée, which has led some observers to conclude that she is on the way out (relations between her and Sarkozy have never been warm in any case). And she hasn't helped herself with her explanations, perhaps because she can't seem to grasp why it's so unseemly for the minister of foreign affairs to have such close personal ties to a man whose fortune derives from his close personal ties to the head of a repressive regime. MAM is so ungifted a politician that she is tone-deaf to the way her own alibis only tighten the noose around her neck. The second jet flight to the south of Tunisia was merely a "group excursion," she said on TV last night, in which her "group of friends" was accompanied by the owner of the jet himself, a dear pal of hers. What on earth could be wrong with that?

To be sure, Hillary Clinton not so long ago described Hosni Mubarak as a "close friend of my family." But as far as I know, she was never foolish enough to accept a vacation at the expense of a foreign leader (or close associate of one). But I wouldn't be surprised if I learned I was wrong about that, and the Clintons did accept vacations from prominent US businessmen during Bill's presidency. Sarkozy vacationed in the US thanks to the generosity of wealthy Americans with personal connections to various French officials. So how much worse is MAM than the lot of them? On this point, two French comments, here and here. Desjardins pinpoints the défaut de style:

Avec sa fausse assurance, sa morgue méprisante, son petit coté pincé, elle était souverainement antipathique et on comprenait soudain, grâce à elle, l’une des failles du régime. Nos dirigeants actuels ne sont pas souriants, pas chaleureux, ils n’ont rien d’« humain » et tous, en effet, plutôt « une sale gueule ».

But is that all it is? Or is there, as Desjardins, Girard, and Grunstein all suggest, a creeping deligitimation of governments in many countries owing to the widening gap not just between rich and poor but between those with voice and those without, those who have access to the levers of power and those who are condemned to watch from outside? Perhaps that is the lesson of the events in Egypt, where the Times sees just such a divorce between elites and people (and even between the power elite and what might be called the functional elite, members of which are prominent in the anti-government protests):

Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt has long functioned as a state where wealth bought political power and political power bought great wealth. While hard facts are difficult to come by, Egyptians watching the rise of a moneyed class widely believe that self-dealing, crony capitalism and corruption are endemic, represented in the public eye by a group of rich businessmen aligned with Gamal Mubarak, the president’s son, as well as key government ministers and governing party members.

Countless people in France believe that this description is true of their own government. How often does one hear that the country is ruled by la bande à Fouquet's? In the US, since the crisis, I can't count the number of books that have been written that argue, not without justification, that government has been captured by the financial elite. At what point does the accumulation of power through wealth, which can never be prevented altogether, veer into illegitimacy? Perhaps that is what we are going to find out, as we try to parse the shades of deligitimation that have developed throughout the world in response to financial collapse, governmental austerity, and rampant and growing inequality.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

FPC&S 28(3):2010

A new issue of French Politics, Culture & Society is out with a dossier on the "future of France," including an article by me on culture.

A Tale of Two Eras

With President Sarkozy's use of two jets to travel 500km to Brussels making news, Laurent Bouvet reminds us that the train de vie of the French state wasn't always thus. The photo at left, posted by Bouvet on Facebook, shows Lionel Jospin, while prime minister, waiting at an airline gate for a flight to Toulouse alongside several other passengers, one of whom certainly isn't being as diligent about her homework as the PM. The photo is by Raymond Depardon.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saving the Euro, Chap. 6

The good news is that France and Germany seem to be cooperating again. The bad news is that many other countries, starting with Belgium, which doesn't even have a government, aren't happy about it. This is what passes for "coordination" in the Eurozone. The details of the plan are still vague, but one thing is clear to Yves Leterme, the interim Belgian PM: the Germans want wage-indexing to be verboten, whereas wage-indexing is seen by a number of countries as the key to social peace.

It's rather interesting that the Germans should be making such a fuss about wage indexing. Indexing, after all, is to inflation, and we've been hearing for years that the Germans are so wary of inflation that they want it constitutionally outlawed and won't tolerate even the slightest wavering by the ECB. But it may also have become apparent to some in Berlin that one way out of the monumental debt overhang is to inflate it away. The "inflation tax" is relatively painless (to all but those living on a fixed income) and serves to spread the losses from bond holders to the population at large. So there is something suspect about the sudden German interest in doing away with wage indexing. Then, too, abolishing wage indexing helps to make inflation as politically unpalatable in other countries as it is in Germany. So it tends to enforce economic discipline.

There is also talk of new authority for market interventions by monetary authorities. That, too, may be related to the desire to keep creditors solvent and minimize their losses. More to come soon, I'm sure.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sarkozy and the Judicial System

Nicolas Sarkozy's relations with the judicial system have long been strained, but yesterday they neared the breaking point.

The immediate problem was the president's promise to punish those responsible for failing to prevent the murder and dismemberment of a young woman, Laetitia. The accused in the case, Tony Meilhon, is a multi-recidivist. That there were lapses in his parole supervision is undisputed. What is in dispute is the reason for the lapses. Sarkozy wants to blame individuals. Officials lower in the chain of command want to blame the system. France2 last night publicized letters from the lower echelons of the hierarchy to officials higher up, complaining of the chronic lack of funds and personnel for the supervision of ex-convicts on probation. Meilhon, despite his long record, was not classified as a dangerous sex offender and was therefore placed in a lower priority group by a bureaucracy that could not manage its case load. Magistrates, parole officers, and police have all joined in alleging that if anyone is culpable here, it is a government that failed to respond to an urgent and well-documented need.

In truth, this case is just one more in a long pattern of conflict. The punishment of criminals, and especially violent criminals and repeat offenders, has been an issue of predilection for Sarkozy. He seems to have concluded that this is one area in which people actually crave more government, particularly in the immediate aftermath of heinous crimes. What's more, each new episode offers the president an opportunity to play a role that he has perfected: at once compassionate and tough, deeply pained by the suffering of the victim's family but also profoundly angry, not so much at the criminal as at the supposedly feckless officers and magistrates who are, in his eyes, virtual co-conspirators. One had only to watch him on TV yesterday, his face contorted by this patented mixture of compassion and rage, his body language intended to convey disciplined fury, his eye glistening with righteous vengeance, to guess how much he relishes this role. It's a role that allows him to reach down from the Olympian heights, to touch ordinary people in the provinces, to convey emotion, and, yes, to shirk responsibility by pretending yet again that systemic failures can be fixed by going after a few scapegoats. has compiled a dossier on Sarkozy and the justice system. It's worth reading.