Thursday, September 1, 2011

Setting Things Straight

Certain deputies of La Droite populaire have their knickers in a twist about the use of the word "genre" in certain textbooks. They see an attempt to foist upon France's schoolchildren a trumpery born in the United States, called "gender studies," which in their view leads to the subversive notion that sexual orientation is freely chosen rather than biologically determined. In any event, they don't like it. The pejorative phrase "homosexual agenda" does not exist in French, as far as I know, but if it did, these deputies would no doubt see gender studies as a part of it. Éric Fassin sets them straight.

Patricia Williams on DSK

Patricia Williams, a law professor at Columbia, discusses the DSK affair and makes a lot of sense, in my opinion.

Sarko and Raffarin Clash over ... Theme Parks

"Irresponsible," thundered Sarkozy at Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who had the temerity to suggest that the president's decision to raise the VAT on theme parks was an "attack on the poor."

I can think of better ways to defend the poor than by giving them incentives to be exploited by Disney et al.

Feldman on the "Golden Rule"

Noah Feldman on why Sarko's newest pet project, the budgetary Golden Rule, is such a crock of nonsense:
Germany is the only euro-area country that already has a constitutional provision governing deficits — and sure enough, it contains an exception big enough to drive a truck through. Adopted in 2009, Germany’s “golden rule” or “debt brake” requires that by 2016, the federal deficit not exceed 35 percent of gross domestic product. But the same provision says that the government “may introduce rules intended to take into account the effects of market developments that deviate from normal conditions.”
(h/t MR)

Montebourg to DSK: Apologize!

Ah, have you no shame, Socialists? First they defended DSK--we know him, he never could have done such a thing, they said--and now they want his apology to "the Socialists, the people of the left." OK, it's only Montebourg, not the whole party. But really, this is shameless posturing--and Montebourg is only taking Aubry's distancing herself from DSK one step further.

Strong-Arm Tactics?

Is it pre-presidential shenanigans or something more sinister? Suddenly charges are flying right and left. Une juge d'instruction in the Bettencourt case told the authors of the oddly titled book Sarkozy m'a tuer [sic] that one of the witnesses in the case did indeed state that Sarkozy had left the Bettencourt house with an envelope full of cash, but only after her official interrogation had ended--off the official record, in other words. Why didn't she recall the witness to put this charge, allegedly made to her clerk, on the record? Because it would have done no good, the judge says, because the witness had received death threats and was terrified of testifying. Alas for lovers of the truth, the witness now says that the story about Sarkozy is untrue but that she did in fact receive death threats, so that one does have to wonder how eager she is to reveal what she knows.

All rather murky, and as I noted in my Le Monde piece, leaks from juges d'instruction in violation of the secrecy of the investigation have become a way of life in France. Les petits juges may believe that these unauthorized methods are necessary in affairs of state, but they leave a bad taste nonetheless.

Meanwhile, Le Monde now has evidence that its reporters' phones were tapped by state agents in the Bettencourt case.

And to top it all off, Mediapart has alleged that its editor and one of its reporters received death threats in the Takkiedine affair. The threats ostensibly came from the cell phone of one Pierre Sellier, alleged former DGSE agent and now head of a PR firm called Salamandre. Here is a sample:

Plenel le moustachu et Arfi le barbu, si je vous prends désormais à encore essayer d'enculer le juge Trevidic (il s'agit du magistrat chargé de l'enquête sur l'attentat de Karachi-NDLR), je vais vraiment me facher, Cela est une MENACE DE VERITE pour protéger le juge, Dénoncez moi au juge, SVP 

It does strike me as rather odd that an alleged former secret agent would be so inept as to send such a crude threat from his own phone, but who knows? Of course, we know from the Murdoch affair in England how easy it is to spoof someone's caller ID, so the threats could have come from anyone. Perhaps we will some day find out from whom, but more likely, I suspect, we won't. In the meantime, everyone will be accusing everyone else of coups tordus, and thus we will know that campaign season has arrived in earnest.

Selling Sarko

I've had a soft spot for Bruno Le Maire since reading his book, but being charged with writing a campaign platform for an unpopular president is a thankless job, and Le Maire is thus far showing none of the writerly flair he displayed in his memoir. The ex-Villepiniste is proposing a program of painless economic restructuring: all new spending will be financed by cuts in old spending. Where have we heard this before? France will have an inudustrial policy because, well--La France veut-elle rester une terre de production, garder ses usines, son agriculture ? La réponse est oui, trois fois oui ! -- but of course this will be based on small businesses "adossées aux grands groupes." I really love that choice of words: adossé, as if the "grands groupes" will just be standing by watching the backs of those mom & pop firms that are going to constitute France's new industrial infrastructure. And Le Maire has an equally winning way of announcing a cut in unemployment benefits:
M. Le Maire dit s'interroger notamment sur la capacité de la France à "garder un dispositif d'indemnisation chômage parmi les plus généreux au monde".
 And there are more glittering generalities in the same vein.

Silver Linings

Alberto Alesina and Francesco Giavazzi argue that eurobonds ought to be called "a German guarantee on Spanish and Italian debt." Then it becomes easy to understand why the Germans reject the idea. At the same time, they see a silver lining in the recent slowdown of the German economy, because this will make it easier for the ECB to inject more liquidity into the system by continuing its purchases of sovereign debt, which many Germans have opposed.

This situation offers a window of opportunity for southern countries to reform. The financial emergency is a force which can help politically with difficult reforms. The possibility that the ECB might slightly relax its monetary stance creates a unique opportunity. The time for action is now.