Thursday, June 30, 2011

DSK Case Collapsing!!!?

The woman's veracity is in doubt.

Prosecutors met with Strauss-Kahn’s team on Thursday to discuss dropping felony charges. Both teams of lawyers are due in court in Manhattan on Friday morning, where it’s possible that Strauss-Kahn could immediately be freed from house arrest.

MLP Wants Christian Names for French Children

Marine Le Pen wants the first names of children born in France to be taken from the calendar of Christian saints, as in the past. This, she claims, always functioned as an "aid to assimilation." (h/t NV) Hmm. Steeve Briois, her party's no. 2, may be named after St. Stephen, but his name isn't particularly French. And Bruno Gollnisch may be named after St. Bruno, but it's not exactly Jean-Baptiste. On the other hand, it isn't Mohammed or Moïse, so I guess it has the proper "assimilative" quality. Gosh, even "Marine" might not pass muster if Marine becomes president. To be sure, she was born Marion Anne Perrine Le Pen, but if she had wanted to be a true daughter of the eldest daughter of the Church, mightn't she have chosen a "real" French name, like, say, Martine or François or Nicolas?

New York Magazine Does DSK

Lots of gossip.

A "Soft Dick" Kind of Guy

Did Martine Aubry really call François Hollande "couille molle" because of his limp support for the 35-hr week?

Ethics Inquiry into DSK Victim's French Lawyer

DSK's alleged victim has retained the services of a French lawyer, who has been charged by her American lawyer with searching for other supposed DSK victims in France. The head of the Paris bar association says that such a search for victims is unprecedented in France and has called in the attorney in question, Me Thibault de Montbrial, to determine whether the procedure is a violation of French legal ethics.

Lamy: "Démondialisation" is "Reactionary"

"Démondialisation," a word that has been in vogue in certain circles for some time and that has been seized upon as a campaign-defining slogan by Arnaud Montebourg, is denounced as "reactionary" by Pascal Lamy, head of the WTO. Well, if Lamy didn't defend globalization, I guess he'd have to resign, but his argument--that it is technologically determined, by container ships and the Internet--rather than driven by policies and ideas is open to criticism. Technology is what it is, but policies can be modified and ideas can evolve, as we saw yesterday when the European Commission proposed a Tobin tax. Globalization can be shaped, tamed, and regulated, and Lamy would be a better defender of free trade if he recognized this rather than polarize the debate in response to an opportunistic polemic.

Sarkozy Attacked

The president is grabbed by the lapel and collar:

"Casse-toi, pauvr' con!"

Why a Green Candidate?

Bernard Girard asks, pertinently, why the Greens are fielding a presidential candidate at all, when that candidate (who will surely be Eva Joly) has no chance of winning? Their intellectual heft, Bernard argues, would be greater if they participated in the debates that will be organized by the Socialists. I think this is correct, and it is surely part of the reason that Cohn-Bendit wanted the Greens to focus on gaining influence rather than running for the presidency.

That said, it's no doubt an indication of the maturity of EELV militants that they preferred Joly to Hulot. The latter has greater name recognition and celebrity, which no doubt accounts for his high poll numbers in the general population, but Green militants were apparently put off by his ties to major corporations, an embarrassment given that one of the Greens' principles is to break with the "productivist" logic of the capitalist economy.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that the best way to articulate the passions that motivate the Green movement are through a political party at all. The Greens have long since ceased to be a "single-issue" party, but the essence of politics is compromise, and the existence of a "green"-labeled party in my view has mainly served as an alibi for those who have been unwilling to make the compromises that governing parties are required to make. Non-governing parties of all stripes are good incubators of unorthodox ideas, but they are also vehicles of protest that serve the interests of those who value ideological purity over compromise. Sometimes this is healthy, sometimes not.

La Main de Mosco

Pierre Moscovici, the last of les éléphanteaux PS to make up his mind, has thrown in his lot with Hollande. At least we're spared yet another futile candidacy.

Pigenel Analyzes Aubry's Speech


DSK Revisionism

Michel Taubmann has revised his Roman vrai de DSK to reflect recent events, and the Times reads the dropped chapter of Tristan Banon's book.

France Arming Libyan Rebels

France conceded that it had air-dropped arms to the Libyan rebels.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"Un capitalisme fou!"

Mélenchon is a man possessed! I can't even recognize his voice. But it does make a rather odd effect when his denunciation of "le capitalisme fou" is interrupted by commercials for fetishized commodities.

Discours de Jean-Luc Mélenchon by LCP

EC Proposes Tobin Tax

The Tobin tax--a tax on financial transactions--used to be the hobby horse of radical antiglobalization forces. But like so many ideas that start out beyond the pale, this one has come in from the cold (to mix metaphors): the European Commission--generally perceived as a bastion of neoliberalism and headed by José Manuel Barroso, the conservatives' choice for the post--has proposed such a tax as a way of financing an ever-increasing EU budget (and perhaps providing some resources for bailouts of struggling PIGS--resources not subject to veto by skittish voters convinced that they work harder than the lazy folks across the border and shouldn't have to bail them out). The City of London is up in arms, of course. And political opposition will be fierce across Europe, no doubt, as the neo-Tobin tax will be painted as an undemocratic picking of the pockets of ordinary folks for the benefit of fat-cat bankers.

Savor the ironies, if you can, as the torrent of rhetoric comes crashing down on all sides.

Joly ahead of Hulot

Éva Joly almost took the EELV primary in the first round but fell short by just 63 votes out of 25,000 cast. She is well ahead of Nicolas Hulot, however.

Backstabbing in UMP

Bruno Le Maire was set to become finance minister, replacing Christine Lagarde, when François Baroin threw a hissy fit. Le Maire then refused to take the budget job that is now Baroin's, which would have made him a subordinate. Valérie Pécresse seems ready to take that job, however. All three see themselves as eventual présidentiables. Two other présidentiables, Copé and Fillon, seem to have done battle par parties interposées in arranging this reshuffle. After 2012, the UMP will begin to look like the PS: un panier de crabes in which each crab wants to get his claws into the presidency. And Sarkozy is no longer capable of imposing order.

UPDATE: Wauquiez replaces Pécresse. His reward for attacking the RSA?

I have to say that Baroin is the must unctuous politician I have ever encountered. Watch this clip, for example:

François Baroin fait son cinéma après le conseil... by LCP

Vive la différence???

The trans-Atlantic feminist wars are heating up again in the wake of the DSK affair. A quartet of French wome (one can't say quadrumvirate!) say, yet again, Vive la différence! and extol what they believe is the delightful légèreté of the French jeu galant, against the American Joan Scott, who is having none of it. Éric Fassin offers an eloquent rebuttal to his French sisters:

L'épouvantail américain se défait en même temps sous nos yeux : les féministes françaises (et non "à la française") ont réussi à se faire entendre, à la faveur de l'affaire, sans complaisance aucune pour le viol, le harcèlement, ou les propos sexistes dont le charme leur échappe. Il ne s'agit donc pas tant de culture nationale que de démocratie. Reste alors la question qu'agite l'antiféminisme depuis deux siècles : la séduction serait-elle incompatible avec la démocratie ? Que devient-elle après l'Ancien Régime de la domination masculine ? Ne nous appartient-il pas de penser une érotique féministe – non moins désirable, mais plus démocratique ?
Sans doute faut-il renoncer au fantasme d'affranchir le sexe du pouvoir : la séduction vise une emprise sur l'objet désiré, à condition toutefois qu'il existe aussi en tant que sujet de désir. Pour être féministe, il n'est donc pas nécessaire de renoncer aux "plaisirs asymétriques de la séduction". En revanche, pourquoi l'asymétrie serait-elle définie a priori, la pudeur féminine répondant aux avances masculines, comme si les rôles sociaux ne faisaient que traduire une différence des sexes supposée naturelle ? Autant dire que les relations de même sexe seraient dépourvues de séduction !
Au contraire, l'incertitude fait le charme d'un jeu qui consiste à improviser sans savoir d'avance qui joue quel rôle. "La surprise délicieuse des baisers volés"n'est délicieuse que si l'on n'est pas condamné à rejouer sans surprise les rôles assignés à chaque sexe par une convention figée. Autrement dit, dans l'érotique féministe, le trouble dans le genre s'avère… troublant. Quant au "respect absolu du consentement", plus qu'une conversation préalable, il requiert une incessante négociation amoureuse. Le contrat sexuel n'est plus la règle définie d'avance, mais l'enjeu d'une partie sans fin. Au lieu d'être nié, ou sublimé, le rapport de pouvoir devient ainsi la matière même de la séduction démocratique.

Times Disses Europe

The New York Times takes note of the severity of Europe's crises and calls the continent "leaderless." Sarkozy is damned with faint praise: "In a welcome concession to reality, France’s president, Nicolas Sarkozy, announced that French banks are now prepared to “voluntarily” extend the maturity of some Greek debt." Without minimizing the seriousness of Europe's multiple crises, I find it a bit rich that the Times, speaking with disembodied majesty as if representing the interests not only of the US but of the "world" or "global community," lectures Europe at a time when the US political system is not only in near paralysis but is threatened with disintegration because one of its two major parties refuses to concede anything to reality. If the Times really wanted to contribute to the reality-based community, it would be admonishing the Republicans to raise the debt limit as required by the Constitution that "constitutional conservatives" claim to favor. Amendment 14, sec. 4, of that document reads:

Section 4.
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. 
The Times should clean its own house first.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Krugman: DSK vs. Lagarde

Paul Krugman hopes that Christine Lagarde will prove to be a little less conventional and sensible than she appears:

The Mystery of Lagarde

OK, so it’s Christine Lagarde for the IMF. I wish her luck. And I wish we had any idea how well she’ll do the job.
It’s not as if she’s especially enigmatic: in addition to being smart, by all accounts she’s serious, responsible, and judicious. But that, of course, is what worries me.
For we’re living in an era in which, for the time being, conventional prudence is folly, conventional virtue is vice. The things Very Serious People want to do — slash deficits right away, “normalize” interest rates, worry about inflation — are exactly the kind of things that could turn the slump of 2008-? into decades of stagnation.
Under Strauss-Kahn, the IMF was staking out a position as the least dogmatic, most open-minded of the major international organizations. That’s not saying too much, but it was much better than the madmen in authority at the OECDor the BIS.
So the question is, will the IMF become more sensible under Lagarde? For the sake of the world economy, let’s hope not.

Lagarde to IMF

Christine Lagarde, as expected, has been chosen to head the IMF, so now the cabinet reshuffle can begin in France. I've heard that Bruno Lemaire is the favorite to succeed her, which would then leave an opening at Agriculture. Would Baroin (also rumored to be in line for Finance) stay on under Lemaire? On verra.

My Travels

Anybody curious about where I've been for the past few days can follow my journey photographically here. The set opens with the Huntington Library (gardens, desert garden, sculptures, etc.), then the Getty Museum, then Pasadena (Pasadena Playhouse and the fabulous Elements Kitchen, where we had a 3-star dinner), and finally some shots of the Pacific coast at Santa Monica.

Inside Baseball

So, which Socialists are supporting Aubry, and which Hollande?


Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, Michel Destot (deputy and mayor of Grenoble), who headed a circle of local pro-DSK pols now supporting Aubry, plus former ministers Alain Richard andTony Dreyfus, le président du conseil général d'Ile-de-France, Jean-Paul Huchon. Most strauss-kahniens have followed Cambadélis, except for Pierre Moscovici, still on the fence. And probably Bertrand Delanoë, mayor of Paris.


François Patriat, sen. of Côte-d'Or, André Vallini, deputy from l'Isère, and Gérard Collomb, mayor of Lyon.


Parmi les cadres du PS, ils ne sont plus qu'un petit cercle de fidèles, et elle s'est peu à peu départie de tous les barons qui jusqu'ici pouvaient troubler son message modernisateur (les fédérations de l'Hérault et des Bouches-du-Rhône, ou le maire de Lyon, Gérard Collomb). Dans le premier cercle, l'on retrouve les anciens mitterrandiens Jean-Louis Bianco ou Dominique Bertinotti, ou les jeunes pousses Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, Delphine Batho ou Guillaume Garot.

Aubry's Speech

Martine Aubry's inaugural speech as candidate (see previous post) is one that must have been worked over quite a bit, yet it reads a bit like the primer on la langue de bois that I posted the other day. A few choice lines:

Il est temps, il est grand temps que cela change vraiment.Je veux rendre à la France sa force, sa sérénité, son unité.
Je veux redonner à chacun le goût de l'avenir et l'envie d'un destin en commun.
J’ai la conviction que face aux multiples défis de notre monde, une vision claire, une action cohérente et un langage de vérité permettront de récréer de la confiance, de redresser notre pays et de le rassembler dans la justice. La peur, le repli sur soi et le défaitisme : ce n'est pas la France!...Je vous le dis en m’appuyant sur ce que j’ai de plus cher, les valeurs transmises par ma famille : la morale, le sens de la justice et le goût des autres. Je puise ma force dans mes convictions de toujours, celles de la République et celles de la gauche. 

Aïe. Maybe it's not too late to hire Henri Guaino to write a speech full of references to Jaurès, Blum, etc.

Martine Launches

No surprise: Martine Aubry is in. She's running against neo-liberalism, high finance, markets, etc. Why am I not excited? In other news, GénérationDSK has renamed itself Génération4G.

Déclaration de candidature de Martine Auby à la... by LCP

French Banks to Roll Over Greek Debt

French banks have a plan for Greece: they will roll over loans to Greece coming due over the next several years. This is the proverbial "kicking the can down the road" response to insolvency. The markets aren't entirely buying it. Here is one possible version of the future: news in the future conditional, not a mode commonly used by the Times, but appropriate to this kind of story.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Marine Le Pen

Hello from Santa Monica, CA. Since blogging time is limited, I outsource this to Arun Kapil.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Union at the NY Sofitel

A good story on the role of the union in protecting workers like the woman allegedly assaulted by DSK.

The NPA Shrinks

Not so long ago, the NPA looked like THE growth party on the far left. It has rapidly lost militants, however, and is now about a third the size it was two years ago, to judge by the number of people turning out for its local conventions. The reasons for the collapse, as far as I can tell: the resignation of Olivier Besancenot as spokesperson, the rapid rise of the Front de Gauche, and internal dissension over such issues as allowing candidates wearing headscarves to represent the party.

Can French Haute Cuisine Survive?

A chef in Nîmes has turned in his Michelin star and lowered his prices in a bid to survive the downturn.

Bosses Like the Euro

Here. Germans and French together.

Blog Hiatus

I will be in California until Monday evening, so blogging will be sporadic.



The UMP Attacks the PS Primaries

The UMP attack on the Socialist primaries bores me almost as much as the primaries themselves, but here and here are two thorough articles on why the UMP has its knickers in a twist.

Why do the primaries bore me? Because they are yet another delaying tactic, in which the Socialists can continue their favorite sport of magnifying the small differences among them while putting off yet again the business of developing a coherent strategy on which to run against Sarkozy and Le Pen without alienating the voters of the extreme left, center, and ecological parties, whose votes they will need in the second round. The longer they put off establishing a party identity in the minds of voters, the more difficult their task becomes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Maîtriser la langue de bois

In case the previous post did not divert you from the imperatives of your job, you might want to view the video below, particularly if you're considering running for office.


If you're really determined to avoid work today, you can 1) follow the liveblog of the John Galliano trial (capsule summary: "It wasn't me who said those things, it was some drunk wearing my face", h/t MT), or 2) catch up with the events connected with the launch of France's latest social movement, "Osez le clito," which has drawn a certain amount of fire from the usual suspects. Poster pasters at work.

And the Goal of the War in Libya Is ...

David Bromwich, in an article highly critical of President Obama's handling of the war in Libya, among other things, notes the extraordinarily rapid "mission creep" from enforcement of a no-fly zone to protect civilians in Benghazi to an all-out air war plus ground support intended to topple the Qaddafi regime. But if Obama has been silent about his strategic intentions in Libya, so has the principal sponsor of the war, Nicolas Sarkozy. As I noted the other day, French forces have gone all-in on this adventure, to the point where the carrier Charles de Gaulle will have to be withdrawn from service next year for maintenance if the war doesn't end soon (according to a French admiral). Yet we have heard nothing from Sarkozy about how he sees the evolution of military operations, the prospects of imminent victory, or alternative plans if the current strategy proves a failure.

Already there are rumblings in the US about the cost of the operation, the violation of the War Powers Act, and the usefulness of NATO, for which the US now bears 75% of the cost, higher than during the Cold War years. Robert Gates, on his way out as Secretary of Defense, has lambasted the Europeans for their willingness to free-ride on American largesse. Ultimately, Sarkozy's pressure on NATO to get involved in Libya may turn out to be the straw that breaks the camel's back of unquestioned US support for NATO. This war, launched precipitously in the hope that an exit plan would materialize in short order, has become a burden for everyone involved. Once again, we have seen the danger of allowing televised images (in this case of threatened civilians and plucky rebel fighters), overzealous entrepreneurs (today BHL, yesterday the neocons), and false or dubious analogies (the idea that an "Arab spring" could bring about painless regime change across the Arab world) to result in ill-considered engagements from which there is no easy exit.

Can Lagarde Be Derailed?

Christine #Lagarde has been all but anointed the new head of the IMF. But a new preliminary inquiry has been opened against one of her subordinates in the Tapie affair. Will this be enough to change the IMF's mind? It seems unlikely. Thus far the organization has doggedly ignored all suspicions of a misstep by Lagarde in the Tapie case despite numerous indications that things were not entirely kosher. Or are all these investigations last-minute machinations by enemies of Lagarde inside the French government? In any case, if the Lagarde directorship blows up in the future, the IMF will have only itself to blame.

Aubry's Digital France

Martine #Aubry has published a manifesto on her vision of the digital future. Two high points: she envisions a "right to connection" and she will abolish the HADOPI law. The first problem I see is that the two points are in tension, not to say contradiction, with each other. Consider that the right to connection includes free access in many places:

Au-delà, il nous faut imaginer la France connectée de demain dans ses aspects les plus quotidiens. Il faut pouvoir accéder à l'internet partout et à tout moment : dans les trains comme dans les aéroports, les hôpitaux et les mairies, les jardins publics ou les hôtels. Et il faudrait y accéder gratuitement. Les jeunes Français se retrouvent plus volontiers dans les cafés si le wifi est libre d'accès.

But:the abolition of Hadopi involves 3 conditions:

Emprunter cette voie exige trois conditions, pour lesquelles notre programme comporte des propositions précises.
D'abord, que nous adaptions et renforcions les droits d'auteur.
Ensuite, de fonder de nouveaux financements pour la création sur une contribution, forfaitaire et d'un montant modeste, des internautes et sur un prélèvement qu'acquitteront les opérateurs et les fournisseurs d'accès. Justement réparti, ce serait un apport massif pour soutenir la culture en France, et pour trouver cet équilibre, j'en appelle d'abord à un dialogue loyal avec toutes les parties prenantes.
Enfin, intensifier la lutte contre la contrefaçon commerciale.

But free, anonymous access in public places means that ISP's can't collect fees from users, because they won't have any relationship with those users, unless some new mechanism is established whereby the user of public access in France will have to obtain an ID and establish a means of paying whatever ISP furnishes the public access. The system would be more like the Vélib' than like the open access systems available in many US airports. And would downloads under this artist remuneration system be limited to users in France? Is it technically feasible to enforce such a requirement?

I like the principles and await the details. In any case, with the proposal to abolish Hadopi, Martine is obviously angling for the youth vote.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

About that Burqa Law

So, wearing the burqa is now illegal in France. What about enforcement? This morning I googled "interpellation burqa" and "arrestation burqa" and came up with this, this, and this. But these are all arrests of people demonstrating against the law. Has anyone been arrested for, you know, actually wearing a burqa as part of daily life? Anybody know?

Les Hussards Noirs de la République ...

... ne sont plus ce qu'ils étaient. The post of professeur--once a respected profession, an avenue of upward mobility, an entrée into the professional classes--is apparently not something of which young people still dream. The Ministry of National Education--le mammouth qu'il fallait dégraisser, according to Claude Allègre--can no longer fill all the posts it needs to fill. The requirements have become stiffer, and the allure of other lines of work stronger:

Résultat, sur les 85 postes Clair de l’académie de Lille, 45 n’ont pas trouvé preneur ; dans l’académie d’Aix-Marseille, seules trois places ont été pourvues sur les 26 proposées ; dans celle de Toulouse, aucune candidature n’a été enregistrée pour la moitié des postes... Conséquence, soit les élèves se retrouveront face à des contractuels sans formation, soit les postes seront remis dans le circuit classique des mutations avec le risque d’envoyer des professeurs inexpérimentés dans les classes les plus difficiles.

On the other hand:

Nicolas Sarkozy a annoncé mardi un maintien du nombre total de classes en école primaire l'an prochain, sujet hautement sensible à 10 mois des élections présidentielle et législatives de 2012. Lors d'un déplacement en Lozère, un des départements les moins peuplés de France, le président de la République a en revanche confirmé les 1 500 fermetures prévues pour la rentrée 2011 et réaffirmé qu'il ne cèderait pas sur la règle de non-remplacement d'un fonctionnaire sur deux partant à la retraite. "Je soutiens la rentrée 2011 telle qu'elle a été préparée par le ministre" de l'Éducation nationale, Luc Chatel, a-t-il dit lors d'une table ronde. "Pour la rentrée 2012, je souhaite que l'école primaire bénéficie d'un traitement particulier." 

Hmm. Same number of classes, fewer teachers. So, students, your homework problem is: How is this trick managed in theory and/or practice?

Critique of Le Maire

As regular readers know, my favorite politician on the Right is Bruno Le Maire, the minister of agriculture. Since I've praised him in the past, I feel bound to point out this critique of his tenure as minister.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Philosophical Overload

It seems that the number of French teachers of philo has been cut so much that there aren't enough around to correct all the bac copies that need correcting. As it is, teachers are expected to grade 130-140 copies each in 11 days. Apparently, fewer teachers can teach the subject to an ever-increasing number of students, but they can't handle the resulting paperwork. A good subject for next year's bac en philo: "Can an insufficiency of means compromise a worthy end?"

Deserting the Sunken Ship

The first Strauss-Kahnian to transfer his allegiance is J.-C. Cambadélis, and his vote goes to ... Martine Aubry.

The Unpopularity of Trade Unions

The media often note that President Sarkozy's approval rating is below 30%. What is less often reported is the unpopularity of other institutions, such as the trade unions:

 En décembre 2010, le baromètre annuel du CEVIPOF montrait que la confiance que l’opinion accordait aux syndicats était en recul de trois points par rapport à l’année précédente ; elle se situait à 33% contre 61% d’avis négatif. Les syndicats se positionnaient ainsi loin derrière des institutions comme les hôpitaux (78% d’avis positifs) voire les grandes entreprises publiques (43%) ou l’Union européenne (40%).

Bayrou Still Incarnates the Center

Despite all the publicity that Jean-Louis Borloo has received since breaking with the UMP, he has not persuaded the French that he represents the values of the center. That honor still belongs to François Bayrou.


Laurent Ruquier has changed his mind and will now have Audrey Pulvar and Natacha Polony as replacements for Zemmour and Naulleau (Polony was chosen instead of Jean-Jacques Bourdin, as originally reported). Polony's blog is here. And here is Richard Descoings's opinion of her.

Here is Polony denouncing feminism and praising machismo, with Jean-Marie Le Pen, Jacques Julliard, and Franz-Olivier Giesbert looking on (a rather depressing performance, to my eyes):

Natacha Polony L'homme est l'avenir de la femme by CyberPeople

Ironies of History

With Mélenchon's designation as the official candidate of the PCF, now subsumed in the Front de Gauche, students of the left can savor the irony that the Communists will be represented by a former Trotskyist:

Mais le rapt du PCF par Jean-Luc Mélenchon n'en reste pas moins chargé de symboles. Fin d'une période ; fin d'une histoire; extinction définitive d'une puissance. Nous avons tant combattu le stalinisme qu'il ne faut pas le regretter. Mais de Jacques Duclos à Jean-Luc Mélenchon, un pan de notre histoire vient de se refermer.

Voter ID

Jean-François Copé has been fulminating about the "risks to individual freedom" if the PS compiles lists of people who vote in its primary. I guess that we Americans live in a totalitarian state, then, since voter lists in most states identify the party affiliation of each voter in order to prevent crossover voting in primary elections. But all's fair in love and war, and Romain Pigenel has compiled a useful list of his own: remarks that right-wing politicians can use to denounce the Socialist primaries under any number of hypotheses.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rama Yade

While putting in my treadmill time this morning, I watched Rama Yade on TV5Monde's Internationales, a political chat program. As always, she recited her lines ably without giving much sense of the political analysis or imagination that underlies her advocacy, now of Borloo's Parti Radical. This, she claims, is the "social, humanist, ecological current" of the Right, yet she refuses to be drawn into overt criticism or even identification of the other "currents" of right-wing politics in France. To be sure, she did say at one point that "la droite populaire" is the source of opposition to gay marriage on the right. She herself supports gay marriage but feels that others must be brought along slowly, that time must be allowed to do its work. As for Borloo's ultimate goal--does he really expect to win, or is his aim to ensure Sarkozy's defeat, or is he angling for the prime ministership in the next Sarkozy regime--she managed to avoid answering despite repeated attempts to push her off her standard refrain: "I am in politics to be for, not to be against."

Yade's remarkable popularity is of course out of all proportion to her achievements or her political acumen, but she's still in her apprenticeship. She laughed off suggestions that she might harbor presidential ambitions of her own, but the question will continue to be raised, if only because she is in some ways the ideal candidate for a televisual age: she looks good, speaks well, and is completely unflappable, while managing to project vivacity and authenticity even as she dispenses standard bromides in a well-polished langue de bois. I expect her to be around for a long time to come.

Decriminalization of Marijuana Trafficking

Bernard Girard considers the developing debate in France over the decriminalization of marijuana trafficking and its possible role in the presidential campaign.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vive la différence!

Hollande and Villepin, former classmates, struggled to disagree:

Dominique de Villepin n'a pas manié «l'humour corrézien». Vendredi soir à Strasbourg, l'ancien Premier ministre et François Hollande ont pourtant peiné à véritablement montrer leurs différences, lors d'un débat organisé par le Nouvel Observateur et Terra nova, club de réflexion socialiste.
Harmonic convergence, I guess. Maybe they'd like to discuss their relationships with Ségolène Royal.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Health Insurance

Why universal health coverage is a good thing: not your average bureaucratic commercial (h/t Jean Quatremer).


I confess, not without a guilty conscience, to a certain weakness for Laurent Ruquier's various infotainment confections. In the old days there was On n'a pas tout essayé and then there was On n'est pas couché, which plucked Éric Zemmour from obscurity and made him a national object of adulation or opprobrium, depending on your tastes. Recently, Ruquier announced that he was dropping his tandem of chroniqueurs, Zemmour and the other Éric, Naulleau, and now it appears that they will be replaced by Audrey Pulvar (a TV journalist as well as Arnaud Montebourg's petite amie) and Jean-Jacques Bourdin, news chief at RMC.

So what does this change connote? A softer approach to the job, I suspect. I know Pulvar only from having seen her on On n'est pas couché and Bourdin only from the clip below, which nicely contrasts the acidulous style of Zemmour with the ecumenical blandness of Bourdin. There's no doubt that Pulvar will be easier on the eyes than either Zemmour or Naulleau, neither of whom has a face made for television, but the whole interest of the two Érics as commentators was a certain fearless feistiness. Neither man hesitated to tell authors to their face that their books were wretched, but they did it with a certain flair that for the most part rescued the critique from mere nastiness. Zemmour of course earned a reputation as a "neo-reactionary," misogynist, racist, and xenophobe, and there are any number of his statements on the show that were more than regrettable, but it was precisely the omnipresent threat of a sulfurous outburst that lent piquancy to his more substantive critiques, which could be quite intelligent. Naulleau, a less grating personality, could nevertheless be incisive. I found the frankness of both interesting in a country where most printed book reviews are bland and noncommittal. They never left you in doubt about where they stood. To judge by the clip below, Bourdin conceives his role quite differently. But perhaps his new position will draw on a different aspect of his experience.

Zemmour face à Jean-Jacques Bourdin by prince_de_conde

DSK Arrest Report

What DSK said in his initial conversations with police (pdf).


Éric Besson seems to be taking etiquette lessons from his boss, President Sarkozy, but Sarkozy I, the "Casse-toi, pauvr' con" Sarkozy, not Sarkozy II, the circumspect, soft-spoken Sarkozy who has been trained in the art of public relations by his new wife. Besson stormed off the stage of an M6 taping yesterday:

«Le ministre s’est levé. Il a retiré son micro et l’a jeté sur la table et il a dit: "Allez, je vous laisse. Je me casse. Fait chier"», a raconté la personne qui a assisté à la scène. «Quand le journaliste lui a demandé ce qu’il faisait, le ministre a répondu: "Je me barre"».
The immediate cause of his anger seems to have been a segment on alleged safety flaws at French nuclear plants. Hardly the sort of thing to trigger such an outburst. A seasoned pol should be able to deal with this kind of low-level whistle-blower allegation without breaking a sweat, even if the allegations are true. I mean, what's a minister for, if not to deny the truth when necessary with a perfectly straight face. Blowing up only suggests that there's something to the story. A first-class blunder for a guy who's not well-liked by his "comrades" in the UMP, who naturally see him as a turncoat who has been rewarded beyond his deserts. This incident may be all the ammunition they need to do him in.

The Extreme Right

Les Cahiers du CEVIPOF has a piece on the extreme right in France by Pascal Perrineau, available here (pdf).

Interesting factoid: Only 34% of FN voters consider themselves to be on the extreme right. 16% say that they are on the left, 12% on the right, and 9% in the center (!), while 28% say "neither left nor right."

Also: in a 2010 poll, 27% of workers favored the PS, 19% the FN, and 17% the UMP, making the FN the second largest "workers' party" in France, behind the PS but well ahead of the Front de Gauche (not fully organized at the time, to be sure) and NPA combined..

Libyan Ironies

The French led the charge against Libya. Sarkozy, egged on by Bernard-Henri Lévy and his own desire to lead a wartime coalition, saw an opportunity. At the time, I wrote that the opportunity might prove to be a trap if Qaddafi didn't fall quickly. And he hasn't. A week ago, Admiral Pierre-François Forissier said that the unexpectedly protracted war was "eating up the potential" of the French navy. If the carrier Charles de Gaulle is still at sea at the end of 2011, he added, it would have to be taken out of service in 2012 for maintenance. And there is no replacement available.This confirms what I wrote at the time about the limits of France's ability to wage war beyond its borders without US assistance--and Libya isn't even that far beyond France's borders. At the time my remark drew hostile comment from some who read my piece in Foreign Policy.

And now, to make matters worse, the US Congress is threatening (NYT link) to invoke the War Powers Act to force the US out of the Libyan operation. With a Democrat in the White House, Republicans (and some Democrats) are discovering the virtues of an Act that they scorned when it might have been invoked against the foreign adventurism of George W. Bush. If the US were to withdraw from the Libyan operation, France and Britain would be in a serious bind. They cannot carry on alone. But Qaddafi remains in place.

So, what will happen? I expect that the War Powers Act will not be invoked in the US, although with the Republicans intent on embarrassing Obama in every possible way, such an eventuality cannot be ruled out. In the meantime, however, pressure on Qaddafi will probably be intensified, simply because a prolonged military effort will put too much strain on scarce assets. But Qaddafi reads the papers and knows that the NATO mission is reaching the end of its tether. So he is likely to dig in and tough it out. And so we learn, yet again, that impetuous military action fueled by visions of quick and easy victory is almost always a mistake.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Éloge de Bayrou

By Philippe Bilger, with a commentary by Frédéric Lefebvre-Naré.

Protectionism Ahead?

If you believe this poll, then yes.

Le Bac Philo

Le Monde proposes that you try your hand at the bac philo by answering one of the following 4 questions in 1500 characters or less:

- Peut-on avoir raison contre les faits ?
- La maîtrise de soi dépend-elle de la connaissance de soi ?
- Ressentir l'injustice m'apprend-il ce qui est juste ?
- L'art est-il moins nécessaire que la science ?

The first of these questions, "Can one be right contrary to the facts?" sounds to me as though it was suggested by one of DSK's lawyers.

Privatizing the Police?

I must be dreaming. First Hollande proposes a new definition of social democracy that involves turning over state functions such as retirement funding to the private sector. Now the UMP is proposing a privatization and/or "territorialization" of the police and gendarmerie, with the creation of a new status of "municipal policeman." Exactly what problem this is supposed to solve is not clear. The police will still have to be paid for one way or another.

But what is happening to l'État, which deserves its capital letter in France? Why this sudden wish to divest itself of important functions?

Impending Change at Top of French Nuclear Industry

So, it seems that Anne Lauvergeon has finally lost her bid to retain control of Areva, the French nuclear firm. This has been a long saga, dating back to the beginning of the Sarkozy administration. But it seems to be drawing to a close.

A "Greeced" Pole

Violence in the streets of Athens and a government resignation, tremors in the world's financial markets, obduracy of the European Central Bank: that is where we are today. Greek debt has been downgraded to CCC, the lowest rating of any country in the world. Meanwhile, Moody's has placed 3 French banks--SocGen, BNP Paribas, and Crédit Agricole--on warning of impending downgrade because of their exposure to Greek debt, about 9 billion euros for the three combined. Something has to give, and my guess is that it will happen in Greece. Although Germany's position has softened, the financiers seem unwilling to countenance any restructuring and want to put the whole burden on the Greeks, who are unwilling to shoulder it. But Greek leaders can't afford to remain as stubborn as the bankers. They're on the verge of losing control of the situation. With 2-yr Greek debt currently at 25%, the country is already effectively shut out of the markets, but it can't afford to cut itself off from the EU, which is helping to sustain its fragile budget. With no apparent way out of the impasse, radical action is all but inevitable. But what will it be?

Marine Le Pen and Her Party

Caroline Fourest and Flammetta Venner have published a study of Marine Le Pen and her party, which is reviewed here. From the review:

Elles montrent que, pour l’essentiel, le Front national avait commencé sa mue dès 2002 et l’avait accélérée à partir de 2006[1]. Le parti a en effet « glissé » depuis lors d’une extrême-droite revencharde mais assez satisfaite de sa propre marginalité à un populisme conquérant.

Le rôle de syndic des extrêmes-droites ne lui suffit pas, pas plus que des succès électoraux sans lendemain. Caroline Fourest et Fiammetta Venner le reconnaissent du reste : « si Marine Le Pen rêve de quelque chose, c’est assurément de siphonner les voix de l’UMP, au point de devenir la nouvelle force autour de laquelle la droite classique en miettes devra se recomposer[2] ».


Elle n’hésite pas en revanche à présenter l’islam comme une menace pour la France et pour la civilisation occidentale. Quitte à faire de la laïcité une valeur « culturellement située » : un bouclier respectable qui, volé à la culture républicaine, permettrait de lutter contre l’islam en évitant l’accusation d’islamophobie.
A l’image de mouvements populiste néerlandais ou suisses par exemple, le Front national commence, sous l’impulsion de Marine Le Pen, à faire du rejet de l’islam le cœur de son discours politique. Rejet qu’un Geert Wilders ou un Toni Brunner justifient au nom d’une « liberté » érigée en spécificité de leur Occident obsidional.

L’islamophobie de Marine Le Pen tranche donc avec l’arabophobie de son père. Là où l’ancien combattant d’Algérie rejouait symboliquement une guerre perdue en stigmatisant les musulmans, sa fille détourne un certain discours sur les libertés individuelles, les présente comme menacées et désigne l’ennemi : l’islam.
Arabophobie il y avait, islamophobie il y aura donc au Front national. Mais les idées de la fille sont bien plus dangereuses que celle du père, car elles avancent masquées sous le loup de la tolérance et de l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes par exemple.

(h/t Chris B.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Demuynck Report

There are several ways of looking at the Demuynck report on the problems of students in the first years of higher education in France. Last night's JT on France2 offered the most dramatic interpretation: a 48% failure rate after the first two years (counting those who drop out, fail and repeat a year, or switch to another field of study, losing a year in the process). Le Monde, by contrast, chooses a comparative angle: France is no worse than other OECD countries. Really? This way of looking at things depends on seeing "reorientation" from university to technical training as a positive sign, rather than an indication of failure. Finally, the PS emphasizes a political failure: after 10 years of right-wing government, there are not enough posts for young teachers and not enough student support (scholarships, housing, etc.).

Mélenchon et Moi

Jean-Luc Mélenchon apparently sees François Hollande's attempt to redefine "social democracy" as I did yesterday: as an attempt to remove the state from collective bargaining over all aspects of the social wage and labor code, including retirement income. This would mark a step toward a privatization of the French social model--a far more "neoliberal" proposition than anything Sarkozy has put forward and a very strange way for a Socialist to stake out his position in advance of the primaries.

Why would Hollande do this? Several reasons, I imagine: he thinks that the primary can be won by attracting the votes of the right wing of the PS, mopping up the DSK support; he expects Aubry to run to his left; he hopes to attract campaign financing both now and in the later stages of a presidential campaign from business elements favorable to such a proposition. I have seen little reaction to this proposal to date, but I would expect to hear more, especially from the unions. What an odd election this will be if Hollande ends up running to Sarkozy's right on economic and social issues!

Profile of DSK's Accuser

The New York Times has published a profile of DSK's accuser, based on extensive reporting. Yesterday, DSK's attorneys said that they were not planning to attack her reputation, and to judge by the Times article, they wouldn't have much to go on if they did. Although the woman's name is now routinely used in French news reports, the Times, consistent with American practice in rape cases, does not mention it, nor will I. We now await official confirmation of the reported DNA and other physical evidence. If this evidence is as reported, and there is no basis on which to attack the woman's veracity, I'm not sure what defense DSK's attorneys can mount. "Consent" will seem quite implausible if the Times' portrait is accurate.

The Social Investment Paradigm

Discussed here.

Sauvez la rue Sébastien Bottin et Vive le eBook français!

France's latest social movement:

L'appel du 15 juin by Europe1fr

I've always had a faible for the name Sébastien Bottin.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

La Dolce Vita

When not accusing other ministers of perverse sexual tastes, Luc Ferry has been living the good life, surrounded by friends and admirers. La pensée 2008 ...

Chirac, Le Grand Séducteur

Elaine Sciolino goes on at great length about Jacques Chirac's subtlety as a kisser of hands, a great traditionalist in the art of seduction. For a view of a less subtle Chirac in full dragueur mode, watch this video from 2:52 to 8:30 or so. Le beauf ...

Stunning Impact of DSK Affair on Presidential Politics

Selon un sondage LH2 pour le Nouvel Observateur, publié mardi 14 juin, près d'un Français sur trois a revu sa position pour l'élection présidentielle de 2012 après l'arrestation à New York de l'ancien directeur du FMI et ex-probable candidat socialiste à la présidentielle,Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Ainsi, 28% des Français interrogés déclarent que la mise hors-jeu de DSK pour 2012 les a conduit à revoir leur position personnelle.
"Les rapports de forces électoraux ont été repensés au cours du mois écoulé, avec le retrait d'une candidature probable qui séduisait aussi au centre et à droite", note l'institut LH2, qui souligne que toutes les proximités partisanes sont concernées.
Si c'est auprès des sympathisants socialistes que l'on trouve la plus forte part d'individus ayant revu leur position (42%), "on note que l'impact de l'absence de Dominique Strauss-Kahn dans 'l'équation présidentielle' pour 2012 transcende les clivages partisans avec une part importante de 'positions revues' auprès du Modem (33%) et de l'UMP (22%)". De même, 25% des personnes qui avaient voté Nicolas Sarkozy en 2007 ont déclaré avoir changé leur position après le forfait de l'ancien chef du FMI.

PSA, the Union, Besson, etc.

Does PSA intend to close its plant in Aulnay? The union, armed with internal documents, says yes. Industry minister Eric Besson called in the PSA CEO to hear his denials. François Fillon was a little more forceful: we bailed you out, you owe us, he said in essence.

But what is the reality? The PSA document may indeed be a contingency plan, but there is an implacable logic at work. Indeed, I vividly recall a conversation with a French union leader several years ago in which he said that the Italian unions had been much more realistic in their negotiations with Fiat because they recognized impending changes in the scale of the auto market and the concomitant need for auto companies to restructure in order to compete globally. He hoped to persuade his own union to take a more strategic view but said that it was an uphill fight.

Perhaps this is what Hollande has in mind when he uses the phrase "social democracy" (see previous post): a shift from confrontation to cooperation based on a sharing of information and open-eyed decision-making. The problem is that there will be losers in the end, and the only way to enlist their cooperation is to assure them of adequate compensation. Can this be achieved through negotiations at the branch level, as Hollande suggests? Or is the national political arena a better place to have this discussion (or battle)? Or the European arena? The game has become very complex, more so than the article in Mediapart wants to acknowledge. But this is the kind of issue that has sapped the old political structures of their meaning and rendered the right-left distinction increasingly problematic (see the earlier post about Chirac's "endorsement" of Hollande). It is also the kind of issue that explains why Marine Le Pen and others find protectionism such a tempting answer.

So Aulnay is a good place to think about a number of the issues that have come up in recent days.

Hollande's "Social Democracy"

François Hollande has published a manifesto calling for "social democracy," but he gives a rather fuzzy meaning to the term, at once drily technical and vaguely unspecified:

Je propose donc de nouvelles règles permettant des relations plus équilibrées et plus responsables.
Ainsi, la Constitution devrait garantir à l'avenir une véritable autonomie normative aux partenaires sociaux. Je suggère d'élargir l'article 8 du préambule de la Constitution de 1946 qui dispose que "tout travailleur participe par l'intermédiaire de ses délégués à la détermination collective de ses conditions de travail ainsi qu'à la gestion des entreprises".
Il s'agirait désormais de reconnaître un domaine à cette même négociation collective en précisant son périmètre comme son champ d'intervention et en conditionnant la conclusion d'accords au respect des règles majoritaires.
Concrètement, le gouvernement et le Parlement seraient juridiquement liés par le contenu de conventions signées entre partenaires sociaux sur des sujets bien précis et avec la vérification des mécanismes de représentativité.

This is intended, apparently, as a riposte to the alleged degradation of relations among the social partners under Sarkozy:

Avec Nicolas Sarkozy, le dialogue social a été à l'image de son quinquennat : confus, artificiel et brutal. A quoi bon convoquer des sommets sociaux à l'Elysée s'il s'agit, sous couvert de concertation, de faire avaliser des choix déjà pris comme sur le dossier des retraites ? A quoi bon inciter les partenaires sociaux à négocier sur le partage de la valeur ajoutée si c'est pour annoncer inopinément et contre l'avis de tous une prime qui ne concernera qu'une minorité de salariés ?
I'm really not at all sure what this boils down to. It sounds almost like a call for an American-style system of collective bargaining between employers and employees not only over wages and working conditions but also over components of the social wage such as retirement income. This would be a major change indeed, but it hardly amounts to "social democracy," since it removes the state from the determination of the social wage. Perhaps what he has in mind is something closer to the German mitbestimmung. But this would be a radical change for France.

Certes, les légitimités sont différentes, les démarches sont distinctes et les aspirations souvent contradictoires, mais j'affirme que démocratie politique et démocratie sociale concourent l'une comme l'autre au service de l'intérêt général.
L'Etat doit rester le garant de la cohésion nationale et de l'ordre public social mais il n'a rien à redouter de laisser une plus grande place aux partenaires dans la définition et l'élaboration des normes sociales. Dans un pays comme le nôtre qui, depuis la Révolution française, se méfie des corps intermédiaires, cette évolution ne va pas de soi, d'autant que souvent, c'est la loi qui protège et la liberté des acteurs qui menace, les rapports de force ne peuvent pas se substituer à la règle commune.

Hollande seems to be aiming to capture the "social democratic" space freed up by the abrupt elimination of Strauss-Kahn while covertly introducing a major change in the French social model that on its face seems likely to hold greater appeal to employers than to employees. I am puzzled.

Elle Persiste et Signe

Marine Le Pen by franceinter

The end of this interview, in which Marine Le Pen talks economics, is an extraordinary profession of faith. "La politique peut tout," she says, and apparently she believes that she will be able to work the miracle of loaves and fishes if she is elected. Because she will exit the euro, throw up customs barriers around France ("like 95% of the other countries in the world"), and yet suffer none of the adverse consequences that such moves might be expected to engender.

I would like to say that such fanciful notions would immediately disqualify in the eyes of the electorate, but in the United States the Republican Party has been wedded for years to even more fanciful notions without much damage to its support, so apparently mass delusion and mass education are perfectly compatible. Even, alas, in the land of Descartes, although it is to be hoped that there Marine Le Pen remains unelectable, malgré tout, whereas in the US, anything could happen.

Monday, June 13, 2011


La Seduction [sic] is the title of Elaine Sciolino's new book. That's La Seduction without an accent aigu, because Sciolino doesn't want you to think she's gone native or anything. In fact, after telling you that she's signed up for seduction lessons from Arielle Dombasle and Inès de Fressange, who tell her that the subject is so "vast" that she cannot hope to master it without firsthand experience, she is at pains to make it clear that, earnest pupil though she is, she has informed her tutors that she loves her husband and has children, hence there are limits beyond which her education cannot go (one can only imagine the bemused smiles of these two "courtesans," as Ms. Sciolino calls them, at this declaration of chastity). We are thus forewarned that we needn't worry, when Maurice Lévy, the CEO of Publicis, demonstrates the four degrees of the baisemain, building to a crescendo that is supposed to convey through an intricate combination of twitches and glissandos of the lip, the ultimate message of the hand-kissing ritual, "I want to sleep with you tonight." Ms. Sciolino professes fascination with such subtleties of French culture, and no less an expert than Bernard Kouchner attests to her mastery: "It took an American woman and a journalist to write a truly exciting book about France and the French. Elaine Sciolino brilliantly captures the French character." So says the blurb.

Yes, brilliantly. So we are seduced--are we not?--by the "American woman's" beguiling anecdote of the Versailles gardener who beds an "astonishingly beautiful" Japanese tourist by admitting her to the palace for a private tour on a day when it is closed and then serving her champagne in the garden before inviting her to join him for the night. But since Ms. Sciolino is "a journalist" as well as "an American woman" (dixit Kouchner), she is careful to include a picture of the gardener, lest we think she simply made him up, and, alas, the magic of Versailles and bubbly and the aphrodisiac of absolutism is abruptly deflated by the sight of a quite prosaic fellow whom one more easily imagines rooting about the flower beds on all fours than cavorting in the royal bedchamber. Yes, the gardener is real, but, sad to say, the possibility that he made up the story of the beautiful Japanese--trop beau pour être vrai--does not seem to have crossed her mind.

Infatuation with things French is in the air again, DSK notwithstanding. Woody Allen has released his Midnight in Paris, an exercise in the pleasures of besotted innocence, which redeems itself, though just barely, by gently mocking the myth of the golden age in which it otherwise wallows. Sciolino has probably achieved a similar level of self-consciousness, but she is too artless to convey it, or else too canny about her prospective audience of yearning young French majors off to the City of Light in search of Monsieur Beau Idéal.

The publisher for some reason sent this to me as a freebie. Proving yet again that you get what you pay for. Please, if you want to know about the seductiveness of the French, read Henry James' The Ambassadors. Or, for an antidote, try Cynthia Ozick's Foreign Bodies, a deft contemporary parody--although the word "parody" doesn't quite do justice to Ozick's subtle deconstruction of the master.

Are Teachers Still on the Left?

Teachers, once the most reliably Socialist of all public-sector voting blocs, may be less so, but the reasons why are unclear. A lengthy discussion can be found here.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Endorsement

Jacques Chirac, looking distinctly usé (to borrow an adjective from Lionel Jospin), said yesterday that he would vote for François Hollande for president, but only because Alain Juppé wasn't running. One might see this as one more fit of Chiraquian pique against Nicolas Sarkozy, whom Chirac mauls a bit in his recent book, or as a continuation of the Rocard-Juppé dialogue, in which the two whiz kids who never became president agree on nearly everything and can't find "a sheet of paper's difference" between them. So this, apparently, is what political conflict comes down to in the country that invented "left" and "right" as terms of political difference. La pensée unique with a vengeance: everybody agrees about everything, including the unsuitability of Sarkozy to sit in their rightful place. Bizarre. No wonder there's a populist backlash. Oh, but wait, April Fool, it was just de l'humor corrézien.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Sexual Aggression in a Paris Hotel

A chambermaid in a Paris hotel claims to have been assaulted at the Park Hyatt Vendôme by a member of the royal family of Qatar with diplomatic immunity. The case was classée sans suite.

Enquête pour agression sexuelle dans un palace by BFMTV

Sarko's Brain Trust

Anyone who is counting Sarkozy out in 2012 should read this article in Libé, which recounts the meticulousness of his campaign preparation. Gone is Emmanuelle Mignon, who honed the themes of the 2007 effort, but she has been replaced by a whole Comité de Pilotage led by agriculture minister Bruno Le Maire:

Un petit cercle, baptisé «Copil», pour comité de pilotage, plutôt masculin (à l’exception de deux femmes), jeune et hautement diplômé. Hormis Le Maire, aucun politique digne de ce nom n’est à la table. Tous sont des conseillers techniques, dévoreurs de rapports et producteurs de notes en série. L’Elysée est bien sûr surreprésenté. Autour de Jean-Baptiste de Froment, conseiller éducation, on trouve Emmanuel Moulin, conseiller économique, Boris Ravignon, chargé du développement durable, et Olivier Colom, responsable du suivi du G20. Claude Guéant est représenté par son conseiller politique et l’UMP par ses deux directeurs des études. Le but de ces réunions ? Faire le point sur le degré d’avancement de la dizaine de groupes de travail qui moulinent en toute clandestinité sur des thèmes aussi variés que la fiscalité, l’éducation, le logement, le budget, la santé, la sécurité… Et élaborer une boîte à outils de mesures prêtes à l’emploi.

What are they doing, apart from consulting right and left (the CGT refused to participate, but the CFDT and FO are in, for example)?

«Crise». A quoi ressemblera ce programme ? Le «travailler plus pour gagner plus» de 2007 a-t-il déjà un successeur ? Pour l’instant non. En revanche, le point de départ est connu. «Tout partira de la crise», dit Le Maire. «La nouvelle contrainte des finances publiques va structurer tout notre programme économique», assure un participant du Copil. Le groupe réfléchit notamment à comment faire évoluer la révision générale des politiques publiques (RGPP) et sa fameuse règle d’or de la suppression d’un fonctionnaire sur deux. Et, donc, à redéfinir les missions de l’Etat.
Certaines options fiscales ont été clairement tranchées : les avantages et inconvénients d’une fusion de l’impôt sur le revenu avec la contribution sociale généralisée (CSG), comme le défend le PS, ont été pesés. «C’est techniquement une très bonne mesure, mais c’est politiquement invendable pour nous, puisque c’est réintroduire trop de progressivité pour les classes moyennes», assure un participant. Sur la question du pouvoir d’achat, l’équipe planche sur les modalités d’une augmentation de la rémunération directe sans toucher aux coûts globaux du travail. «Un des points clés de la réussite du programme, c’est de pouvoir s’adresser à tous les salariés modestes qui ne supportent pas que leur revenu reste identique quels que soient les résultats de leur entreprise. La gauche veut répondre par la redistribution, nous par un autre partage de la valeur ajoutée et la généralisation des mécanismes d’intéressement», continue Le Maire.
Outre la santé et le logement, le Copil travaille à des propositions ambitieuses sur l’école, notamment primaire. «Ce sera un thème fondamental de la campagne», prédit un participant. Mais comment reprendre l’initiative alors que le gouvernement prévoit 1 500 fermetures de classes primaires à la rentrée ? «On peut penser que l’on n’a fait que tailler dans la masse, mais ce n’est pas vrai. On sera crédible car on montrera que c’est maintenant une priorité», ajoute un autre participant. Avec comme lignes directrices : autonomie, personnalisation des parcours, décentralisation et redéploiement des moyens… «On peut aller jusqu’à dire que les professeurs devront travailler plus, comme Ségolène Royal en 2007, quitte à imaginer une forme de revalorisation. On sait que ce genre de proposition cartonne auprès de notre électorat», poursuit-il. Quand aux questions d’identité nationale ou d’immigration, le groupe du lundi avance avec prudence : «Après le fiasco du débat sur l’identité nationale, le sujet est mort. Même s’il y a un vrai besoin de réassurance identitaire et culturelle chez les Français.» Le Maire espère bien remplacer dans le lexique de la future campagne le mot de«sécurité» par celui «d’autorité». Quitte à conditionner demain des allocations sociales et familiales au principe de «responsabilité» des parents vis-à-vis des enfants.

And in the end, the central theme of the campaign will be to recognize that Sarko is Sarko: "You don't like me much," he'll say to France, "but at least you know what you're getting. And you don't like the rest of them any better." Which may not be far off the mark.

US "Default" and Europe

John Quiggin has an interesting piece today on the impending US sovereign debt "default":

The problem is not so much “can’t pay” but “won’t pay”....More importantly, the US government isn’t “other governments”. The ratings agencies are US firms operating in a US political context, and their actions will be governed by a mixture of concerns, starting with self-preservation, but also including a desire to influence US policy in a way favorable to bondholders as a group. In the medium term, that means support for a rapid return to budget balance or surplus, ideally through cuts in spending on the poor and middle class, but including tax increases if necessary. (emphasis added)

In other words, the ratings agencies will participate in the political Kabuki mounted by the Republicans in the hope of forcing Obama to do precisely the wrong thing regarding US economic policy. But the question I want to raise is what this will mean for Europe. As Quiggin points out, some institutional bondholders will be forced to sell if US sovereign debt is downgraded, and this will throw markets into a tizzy, even if a compromise is struck in the US within a reasonable period of time. And if no compromise is struck, market turmoil will be even greater. Given the house of cards that European debt structure is at the moment, this might be all it takes to begin a series of other defaults, this time without the scare quotes. Because if the scenario of US "default" is pure political theater, the scenario of Greek, Irish, or Spanish default is not. One might expect European and international authorities to be taking steps to warn US actors of the dangers here. Perhaps they are, but the issue doesn't seem to have much salience in Europe yet, perhaps because Europeans don't understand how insane American political discourse has become since the Tea Party filled the House of Representatives with angry but inexperienced people with limited understanding of the nature of the federal deficit.

It would be the most colossal of political ironies if a sham "default" in the US were to trigger actual financial collapse in Europe, whose ramifications then caused actual damage to the US economy. If this happens, the gods will be laughing, I'm sure, but if they have any decency, their laughter will be mixed with tears.

Change in the Schools?

An article in Mediapart suggests a sudden change of heart in regard to "priority education," programs designed to give students from poor areas a chance to make it to France's top schools. In 2006, the Réseau Ambition Réussite (RAR) was launched as a potential replacement for the Zones d'Éducation Prioritaire (ZEP). But it seems that the RAR has now been abolished in favor of something called Eclair (Ecoles, collèges, lycées pour l'ambition, l'innovation et la réussite), which aims to control violence in the schools rather than to improve instruction. The new philosophy is that the failure of children in poorer schools to prosper is due more to the climate of violence in the schools than to deficiencies in teaching, despite evidence that the RAR program was having a positive effect.

Loose Cannon

It is with the greatest reluctance that I break my vow never to write about BHL. But this time he's really put his foot in it. France24 is reporting that BHL led Netanyahu to believe that the Libyan rebels wanted "normal relations" with Israel. Netanyahu then leaked this information, forcing the Libyan National Transition Council to deny it and to deny that it had ever discussed Israel with him, while identifying him as a "Special Envoy" of France.

Exactly who is not telling the truth here and who is confused about the nature of BHL's activities is not clear. Perhaps he misrepresented what the NTC said. Perhaps he misrepresented his position to the NTC. Perhaps he made things up when talking to Netanyahu. Perhaps the NTC simply misunderstood, or BHL did. But isn't it time for somebody to put a leash on him before he does real damage? Or maybe the damage is already done.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Will Greece Come Unglued?

Jean Quatremer considers the possibility:

Si l’on en croit les sondages, les Grecs sont massivement prêts à ces réformes. Ils n’ont plus aucune confiance dans leur État et leur classe politique (ils se réjouissent que ce soit une commission indépendante dans laquelle siégeront des Européens qui supervisera les privatisations) etl’on voit croitre de jour en jour un rejet inquiétant de la démocratie. Il s’agira là d’une véritable révolution destinée à créer un État de droit, garant d’une véritable justice sociale, qui seule pourra remettre le pays sur les rails, l’austérité étant insuffisante. Si les écuries d’Augias ne sont nettoyées rapidement, cette révolution pourrait venir de la rue avec tous les risques de déstabilisation que cela représente.

Economics Is Not Marine Le Pen's Forte

Marine Le Pen is clear about one thing: protectionism is the answer to France's economic woes. But when asked about what will happen to prices of imported goods if high tariff barriers are erected around the Hexagon, her answer is simple:

Quant aux prix des biens importés, ils n’augmenteront pas dans la mesure où nous contrôlerons très sévèrement les marges de la grande distribution, un chantier qu’il est temps d’ouvrir. Chacun pourra continuer d’acheter ses I-phones « made in China ». Mais mon ambition est qu’on en fabrique en France ! La désindustrialisation n’est pas une fatalité.
This answer betrays a confusion on a par with Sarah Palin's confusion about Paul Revere's midnight ride. If Le Pen imposes tariffs on imported goods, their price will rise even if the retailer's margin is limited to zero. And if she somehow persuades Apple that manufacturing the iPhone in France is a reasonable investment, it will only be because its French price will have increased to the point where it becomes economical to manufacture it with French labor paid at French wages. But then the phone companies will have to raise their subscription fees so much that French workers won't be able to afford the phones even with their French wages.

But never mind: she will forge an alliance with Heinz-Christian Strache of the radical right Austrian FPO:

D.B. : Hier, au Parlement européen, vous avez tenu une conférence de presse commune avec Heinz-Christian Strache, le leader de la droite radicale autrichienne (FPÖ) . Certes, son parti est en train de devenir la première force politique d’Autriche. Mais en vous affichant avec un personnage aussi sulfureux, ne ruinez-vous pas tous vos efforts pour dédiaboliser l’image du Front National ?MLP : « Sulfureux » ? Cette affirmation parfaitement gratuite procède de la diabolisation des partis patriotes européens par des élites qui craignent pour la survie de leur système mondialisé. Je vous rappelle que le FPÖ est un grand parti qui a déjà participé au gouvernement autrichien. C’est aussi l’un des fers de lance de la lutte pour la liberté des nations contre l’Union Européenne. Pour ma part, je compte bien me rapprocher des partis patriotes belge, suisse, britannique, italien ou suédois pour proposer une alternative au funeste projet de l’UE.

I think that perhaps we are about to witness the bursting of the Le Pen bubble. The Austrian connection will undo the effort to de-demonize the FN, and the economic confusion should be apparent even to those most committed to the belief that protectionism and exit from the EU are good answers to the difficulties of globalization.

Biography of Marine Le Pen

Discussed here.

Sarko Comeback?

OK, I know I shouldn't pay any attention to approval ratings, beauty contest polls, etc., but the arrest of DSK has shaken things up in ways that are hard to evaluate, and the latest CSA poll gives us a first indication of winners and losers. And Sarkozy seems to be a winner: his approval rating is up for the second month in a row. To be sure, 35% is still low, but it's not abyssal and at least puts some daylight between him and Marine Le Pen, who is down to a 22% "positive image" rating (down 8 from a month ago), just above Mélenchon at 21 and below DSK at 26 (down from 50 a month ago!). In other words, DSK post-Sofitelgate is now where Sarko was two months ago.

Meanwhile, Aubry is up 11 at 53 and Hollande up 9 at 52, so those two are running neck-and-neck. Of course, Nicolas Hulot topping the list tells you that this poll isn't really about politics: it's about image, perception, as the title indicates. And look at the middle of the pack: Borloo, Bayrou, Royal, and even Villepin and Chevènement--what an assortment--all enjoy positive image ratings approximately equivalent to Sarko's approval rating, if these two different rating scales are comparable (I doubt they are in any simple way, and I haven't the patience to try to figure out some statistical relationship).