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).

Robin Hood in Reverse

Is the government robbing the poor to give to the rich? Martin Hirsch thinks so. François Baroin denies it:

Le ministre du Budget et porte-parole du gouvernement, François Baroina vertement répliqué :
« Ça ne marche pas comme ça, il n'y a pas un fléchage. C'est une contre-vérité qui n'est pas acceptable. »

Bizarre Story

Books intended for DSK are misdirected to a place in Brooklyn:

But curious she peeked inside and found a card, written in French. “It says good luck with your troubles,” she said, translating. “Here are some books to guide your way.”
Sent from the International Board of Jewish Missions, which is based in Chattanooga, Tenn., the religious books were missionary in nature: they preached a message of Jews who believe that Jesus is the messiah.

DSK Coming to SVU

L'affaire DSK inspire "New York unité spéciale"
Les scénaristes de la série américaine "New York unité spéciale", créée par le producteur Dick Wolf, sont en train d'écrire un épisode intégralement consacré à l'affaire Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Une histoire qui tombe à pic car l'unité de police new-yorkaise dont la série raconte les péripéties
est spécialisée dans les crimes et délits à caractère sexuel. Invité du Festival de télévision
de Monte-Carlo, qui à ouvert ses portes le 6 juin à Monaco, le producteur américain a aussi confié
que l'affaire DSK pourrait inspirer le scénario d'une série à part entière.

A Profile of Pierre Nora


Sapere aude vs. TMI: How Much Should We Dare to Know?

Sapere aude! What Kant proposed as the motto of the Enlgihtenment--"Dare to know!"--takes on a somewhat ironic meaning in the age of the Internet. Against Sapere aude! we now have what some consider TMI, "too much information," to borrow the ubiquitous acronym. Roman Pigenel argues in a thoughtrful post that there should be a via media between two extremes. Technological change, he argues, has lowered the barrier on publication to such a degree that we must now worry whether what can be known should be known.

The question is a good one, but we are likely to end in a hopeless muddle if we try to reason, as Roman does--understandably, since this is what bloggers are in a sense obliged to do--in terms of the flow of recent events, from Wikileaks to the contours of Cong. Weiner's crotch. I don't have a ready answer to the important question that Roman raises, but I don't think that "regulation" offers much hope, precisely because the technological changes that he cites make it so easy to circumvent any imaginable regulation. That said, the heart of the issue seems to me a problem of mores rather than technology.

What is at stake can be exemplfied, perhaps, by a comparison of Daniel Ellsberg and Julian Assange. The former, having worked within the world of government secrecy, had to wrestle with his conscience about the potential consequences of violating its norms. He was also intimately familiar with the content of the information he leaked. Whereas Assange, with his inflated sense of righteousness, seems to have been convinced that he could do no wrong. Ellsberg could rise to level of tragic hero--a man of honor who felt compelled to violate an oath of secrecy--because he lived in a world in which the concept of patriotic duty still had meaning. Assange wants to move us toward a world in which the only value is "transparency." But a transparent world is one in which the very concept of "knowledge" is debased. Knowledge in such a world is reduced to immediacy of perception; there is no room for reflection or judgment. To be "known" is simply to be perceived, and to be perceived is simply to be "tweeted," to join the endless flow of tattle, rumor, and innuendo. It's a depressing prospect, in which Enlightenment is reduced to the shining of klieg lights into the most secret recesses of existence.