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.