Sarkozy vs. Juppé

4 July 2011, Paris, France --- Former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy --- Image by © Neil Marchand/Liewig Media Sports/Corbis
4 July 2011, Paris, France — Former French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy — Image by © Neil Marchand/Liewig Media Sports/Corbis

On his blog, Art Goldhammer calls attention to the brewing struggle for power in the UMP. Here is my thinking: By hook or by crook, Nicolas Sarkozy will  be the candidate of the UMP, which, in turn, will almost certainly be the dominant political party in the 2017 election. It true that Sarkozy has been up and down in the polls but it would appear likely that his loyalists will have firm control of the party apparatus after the upcoming leadership election, which, in turn, suggests that Sarkozy will have a big fat thumb on the scales during any sort of open primary against Juppé. It’s a simple principle: To paraphrase Stalin, whoever makes the rules will rule.

As for this supposed yearning for centrist leadership that it is claimed will propel Juppé forward—it does not exist. I’ve said many times before, if the French people had the appetite for centrism that the chattering classes attribute to them, François Bayrou would be president and the Mouvement Démocrate would be dominant everywhere in France.

In any case, where will the center of French politics be for the 2017 presidential election and who will be occupying it? The easy answer is: Whoever wins the UMP primary. Will it be Juppé? I have my doubts. Could Juppé make the second round if he isn’t the UMP’s candidate? I would say, no. At the moment, Juppé has no organization for running a campaign independent of the UMP’s resources and also he has an extraordinarily blank slate for a man with a lifetime in politics—with, of course, the notable exception of his disastrous proposals of 1995.

Who else should we look to if not Sarkozy? There is nobody occupying the left and Bayrou, the man who occupied the center previously, seems strangely inert. Worse, there is not so much as a sliver of space between any of the prospective candidates except for Le Pen on Europe or the economy—all are totally committed to austerity and to letting the depression run its course. In other words, at least on the important issues, all the candidates are basically Sarkozy. In effect, France has basically been suffering through Sarkozy’s second term and because neither Juppé nor any prospective candidate is offering anything better in 2017, it is tragically condemned to suffer his third term if anybody but Le Pen wins. This is destined to be an election with no good outcome for France.

As for whether Le Pen can win: I have said repeatedly that I believe she can win and I’ve explained why. At the moment, “Europe” is the placeholder for the dominant economic philosophy of austerity and liquidationism. When Le Pen rails against “Europe” she is implicitly offering something to the voters that every poll shows they want: An end to austerity, the creation of a front against Germany, the protection of people’s retirements, the protection of the social welfare state, and so forth. Normally, all these would be the promises of the Parti socialiste but that is inexplicably no longer the case. Consequently, Le Pen is free to poach among the left and the center.

The prevailing philosophy seems to be that everyone competes only for the votes of right-leaning voters partly because the left is déclassé and out of favor with the interests that now finance all political campaigns while offering the promise of cushy retirements for the political class and because the left (who needs government to function and provide services to the people) will have no choice to vote for the least bad alternative.

At the same time, the prevailing wisdom is that a candidate can sail as close to the right as he or she wishes because the voters of the right understand that their first choice, Le Pen, can’t win so they will settle for whoever panders to them the most. This was always Copé’s attraction and I believe this was the logic underlying Sarkozy’s droitisation in 2012. But it is a strategy that can backfire because if the people of the right see that Le Pen is in the second round against a man of the right, what incentive do they have to vote for their second choice? None—they will uniformly vote for her.

Ultimately, then, that gives Le Pen supremacy on the right and the ability to make significant inroads on the voters of the left, many of whom will need to find new political homes since there will apparently be no authentic candidate of the left competing. An appeal to French nationalism will perhaps allow her to gain some support among the Gaullists who otherwise regard her as anathema. That looks like a potential majority. So why can’t she win?

Dark Clouds over Europe: Marine Le Pen can win, Part II

1366x768_no future

I think even though Arun Kapil and I are seeing the same dark clouds over Europe, we are using very different frameworks in interpreting their meaning, and therefore we necessarily reach very different conclusions. The response of Kapil to my earlier comments is a thoughtful, careful, data-driven analytical approach.  He reasons that MLP cannot be elected because things aren’t really that bad yet and, besides, the French are much too sensible to vote for her, except as a protest candidate.  The dark clouds will somehow dissipate—because they must—and we will somehow find ourselves in the sensible center—again, because there’s no realistic alternative.

It seems to me however, that Europe, and particularly France, has genuinely changed since 2008 in ways that Kapil’s analysis discounts far too heavily. I think the disastrous response of the elites to the financial crises has awakened some demons that we thought had been laid to rest by the European project. Indeed, I think it’s possible to see what might be the very faint outlines of another gathering storm threatening Europe.

As Paul Krugman and others have been saying, the thing that’s mainly responsible for this gathering storm is Europe’s unprecedented commitment to both the euro and to a destructive austerity that is shrinking its economies and flirting with deflation.   It’s true that the results of austerity haven’t yet been as “murderous” in France as elsewhere but, whether it’s the desired result or simply an inevitable consequence of economic mismanagement, austerity and the euro are hollowing out France’s economy and destroying the social welfare state.   Even an economy as strong as that of France cannot withstand this battering for much longer.

So, yes, perhaps it might have been hyperbole to say that France is today experiencing murderous austerity. Nevertheless, many others in Europe certainly are and the future doesn’t look promising for France.   I suppose it would have been more accurate for me to have said that austerity is murderous in Greece, Spain and England but, for the moment, is only ruinous in France with murderous coming up fast on the rails. But, as George Brassens might say, hang here or hang there, what difference does it make if you end up hanged anyway?

Which is my main point. I think the mature, level headed French can see the writing on the wall. They don’t want to be hanged in the name of austerity.  Not here. Not there.  Not anywhere.  Every defector to the FN that has told his or her story in Marianne, Libé and elsewhere has expressed some variation on this theme and the polls confirm that these fears about the future are what’s been driving the rise of MLP.

And yet, the unwavering commitment to austerity by the UMP, François Bayrou and the PS means that a Frenchman who is fearful about the future has no way to vote against the current policies except by voting for MLP.   In other words, MLP’s unpopularity will be irrelevant because the election will not be between parties or candidates along a political spectrum of left and right but rather will represent a simple binary choice between austerity and prosperity with MLP coopting the mantle of prosperity.

Of particular concern for me is that there is no electoral outlet on the left for middle class and working class people to protest against their diminished fortunes or to secure a better life for their children at the ballot box. The people of the left must retake their parties from those who have embraced austerity and rejected the political and economic ideas that brought about an era of peace and prosperity in post-war Europe. That is why I renew my call for new leadership on the left that is committed to offering the people hope for a better future through a new manifesto that will embrace a “socialisme du possible” for today.

Marine Le Pen can win: A response to Arun Kapil

27 May 2014, Nanterre, France — Marine Le Pen, France’s National Front political party head, attends a news conference at the party’s headquarters in Nanterre, near Paris. Image by © PHILIPPE WOJAZER/Reuters/Corbis

I highly recommend this analysis by Arun Kapil of the new government formed by Manuel Vallis.   It is incisive, informative and worth reading.  Although I agree with much that Arun says, I think he is far too sanguine about the threat of a victory by Mme Le Pen in the 2017 élection présidentiel.   In one of Art Goldhammer’s recent posts he speaks about the phenomena I call the “New Versailles,” and observes how elites of the political class have “become the intendants of the Fifth Republic, a caste of royal officials utterly divorced from the society they purport to govern.”   Clustered together in the chic arrondissements of Paris “le pouvoir grows more out of touch and less capable of responding to the groans from below. The rise of the Front National is only one sign of the resulting malaise.”

My feelings about the Front National and the Le Pen family are hardly a secret to anyone who reads this blog or my comments on other websites. I believe that the FN is a party that hides its true agenda. I see MLP as the velvet glove that hides the party’s iron fist—an iron fist that would crush liberty, equality and fraternity if given the opportunity. I believe that the FN are the heirs of Vichy and that they want to basically recreate that fascist state in every corner of France.   I believe the FN would liquidate or expel most immigrants, Jews and other “undesirables” if it could. A MLP presidency would be an unspeakable evil and a disaster for France.

Nevertheless, it’s easy for me with my comfortable bobo lifestyle to look down my nose at the many ordinary Frenchmen who today face economic ruin and a future that becomes bleaker every day. Yes, it is too easy for me to dismiss the people whose fears have lead them to defect to the FN from the PS or the FdG. I don’t know what I’d do if my world was crumbling around me and Le Pen was the only candidate promising even the slightest relief from the murderous austerity regime that is destroying everything.

Nor should it be a comfort that, as Arun Kapil observes, the FN has always been a protest party whose leader is regarded negatively by an overwhelming number of Frenchmen.  I fear that the shift of the PS to become a party of the center right, in combination with the near universal embrace of austerity by all of the other large parties has changed everything. And because of their alliance with Hollande, even the FdG has acquiesced in these terrible policies. So where else in the political spectrum is the rejection of austerity?

I have read the stories of those who have left the PS or the FdG for the FN. It is clear that they all have very negative views of Le Pen and the FN but felt compelled to defect anyway, for reasons that are entirely understandable. People are frightened for the future. They need a better economy and some hope for a decent future for their families, not reminders about how awful the FN is—undoubtedly these people know well what monsters they would empower but feel that there is no other choice that will give them relief from the murderous austerity regime that has been so cavalierly imposed upon them.

As I say, there is only a “Sophie’s choice” for the French. Out of all the prospective candidates for 2017, the only one who has offered the people—and especially the working class and the middle class—the slightest hope of a better economic future is MLP.   Ironically, however, the economic program of the FN has far more of Keynes and Jaurès about it than does the increasingly Thatcherite “Parti socialiste”.

If Hollande had been inspired to fight for a better life for the French people, I have little doubt that everyone would be better off today. Instead, he chose neoliberalism, liquidationism and an increasingly horrible life for most ordinary French people.The 2017 élection présidentiel is shaping up to be a choice between the monsters of the FN and decades more of murderous austerity.  Unless the left wakes up, dumps Hollande and Valls and begins to fight against austerity and develop a manifesto for a new “socialism of the possible”, I fear that MLP is very likely the next president of France.

“Death to the Jews”?

La-mort-aux-juifs, France
La-mort-aux-juifs, France

Arun Kapil has commented on the controversy about the tiny place in France that is named “La-mort-aux-juifs”. I think he’s right to call this a tempest in a teacup. But, controversy aside, it is an undeniably bizarre name and I am curious about its origin and meaning. Arun links to an excellent article about the controversy in Marianne that is worth reading but does little to illuminate how this place came to be called “La-mort-aux-juifs”.

It is a grave understatement to say that a person such as myself who struggles even to order dinner in French is obviously not the right person to make an authoritative translation. Nevertheless, I am happy to offer my opinion anyway. I think the name means “the place where the jews died”.  In other words, the name probably marks the occurrence of an historical event but provides no clue as to whether the name was bestowed in sorrow or joy.

I am honestly not sure what it means in French and so I am doubly baffled about how it should be translated in English. Hopefully, an immortal will take a break from the strenuous task of not reforming and harmonizing the French language to offer his or her thoughts. Failing that, perhaps an editor of Le Monde will make a definitive pronouncement.

However, this is a good opportunity to introduce my readers to one of my favorite blogs about life in France. It is called “Frogsmoke“. In addition to offering a keen and sometimes cynical view of French life, the blog occasionally highlights unusual or disgusting place names of French places. It is almost entirely written in English and I highly recommend it.

Update (Sunday, October 26, 2014)

A person who actually knows something has weighed in on the controversy. It turns out the the name “La-mort-aux-juifs” may actually be neither a call for the killing of Jews nor a commemoration of an historical event. Pierre-Henri Billy, author of the “Dictionary of Place Names in France” has an article in Le Monde in which he concludes that the name has nothing to do with Pétain or the Nazis. In fact, it very probably didn’t refer to Jews at all but rather evolved more or less accidentally as French spelling and pronunciation changed and evolved over many centuries.

Sunday could be a nightmare for the PS

It’s true, of course, that the first round was bad for the PS. But on Sunday it could be much worse if the lists of the other left-wing parties do not merge with the PS.

Especially in Paris. The PS is too confident about certain districts. Especially the 12th and the 14th and the 9th arrondissements. In these arrondissements, I think that many PS voters will not follow their party leaders, even if lists do merge. For example, I predict that the PS will not win the 9th. Many residents are not PS voters and the leftists and the immigrants who can be found there are totally against the property developers. They are going to stay at home or vote for NKM.

Everywhere, the FN rises and the left is demoralized. Hollande and the PS offer nothing to people of the left. Nothing. Everything for the property developers, the bankers and the eurotrash. They piss on everybody else.

It can only get worse. I have deep worries about 2017. Le Pen is certain to make the second tour and I think that she can beat the weakling Holland or the clown, Copé. I fear greatly for the safety of the French Republic.

Sarko speaks and proves that silence is golden.

We often say that you should never speak unless the words are better than the silence. As a lawyer, this is advice I often give to my clients.  Nicolas Sarkozy should heed that warning.

I will not be discussing the merits of the numerous assertions of corruption against Sarkozy. I do not know what proof the police and the judges have collected and thus I am not capable of judging his protestations of innocence. Nor do I know how these dramas play out in France. I am,however, familiar with the peculiar dance of public corruption investigations in America and my experience is that these counter-attacks are generally a reliable indicator that the government probably a death-grip on the testicles of the politician who squeaks. I suppose that it is the same thing in France, which would seem to portend nothing good for Sarkozy.

The counter-attack of Nicolas Sarkozy gives me an impression of despair, as if he is not sure of how much information they have but he knows he too much said about too many things on the telephone and he knows that it could be devastating if the police were recording everything. For me, I think that attacking the judges and the government at this stage is a bad bet.

I do not think he’s likely to frighten away the judges and police who apparently have him by his testicles, but he may very make them just that much more highly motivated to take his scalp, because from this point forward, failing to bring him down makes them look like cowards or crooks. They will be much more likely to pull the trigger on a prosecution that they might have otherwise walked away from. Which, I suppose, is another way of saying that it is never wise to stick a finger in the eye of the one who decides on your fate.

Here is some free legal advise: Sarkozy should keep his closed mouth.

The strange parallel between John Gotti “The Godfather of Teflon” and Nicolas Sarkozy, “The President of Teflon”

It seems strange that many of his partisans seem enormously proud that Sarkozy has been investigated and indicted many times over the years without being convicted of a crime. I see the situation a bit differently.  I’m reminded of the fall of the American gangster John Gotti. He was nicknamed “The Godfather of Teflon” because even though he was accused of a vast number of terrible crimes,  the charges never stuck to him, hence the nickname. John Gotti beat a lot of raps, until he raised his profile and the government bug his phones and all the places he did his business. It should be a cautionary tale for Sarkozy because Gotti was convicted largely of his big mouth, as captured on tape by the wiretaps and bugs.

Here is the parallel: John Gotti did not win these cases because he was innocent or because he had good lawyers or because he was every kind person. He gained acquittal after acquittal by the corrupting the judicial system with bribes and threats. Now, we hear much the same in the legally-obtained wiretaps of Sarkozy, who has managed to stay one step ahead on the law all these years by  corrupting  those whose duty was to enforce the law.

All which evokes a line from Guy and Dolls,in which a character points to the many times he has thwarted the justice as proof of his good character. When he testifies in a prayer meeting that he was forced to attend, the character Big Julie, a notorious Chicago gangster, claims that he has changed his way, by saying: “Well, I used to be bad when I was a kid, but ever since then I’ve gone straight, as has been proved by my record: Thirty-Three arrests and no convictions!”

Who profits the most from Taubira’s lies?

On his excellent blog “French Politics” Art Goldhammer supplies an exceptionally clear analysis of the minor scandal of Christiane Taubira’s lie about when she was told by the police about the wiretaps and bugs targeting Sarkozy. He concludes that the only winner is MLP and the FN. For me, I think that it is only partially true. Even if I agree that the FN is going to take advantage of the own purpose of Taubira, I think that the main winner will be Sarkozy.

This affaire is proof, if more was require, than Hollande and his government are (as we say in America) “not ready for prime time”. Taubira, in particular, seems out of her depth. Certainly a simple statement that it would be inappropriate for Minister of Justice to speak about a current investigation would have been enough.

If Tubira had wanted to say more, something along the lines of “yes, as Minister of Justice, I was told about that the former president was a target of court-ordered electronic surveillance. Naturally, I did not interfere in the investigation in no way. This is the serious affair which transcends all the questions of the politics, on such matters my duty is to France and the politics must not never interfere. I can say no more.” Such a statement would certainly have been enough. But no. Taubira lied, and seems to have caused others in the government to lie in her support. For no good reason that I can see.

Hollande and his gang of clowns are more and more compromised and, indeed, Goldhammer is right that the FN will take full advantage of this. For me, however, I think that Sarkozy is the big winner. Now, there will be a controversy on the legitimacy of the independent judicial inquiry which will distract attention from what seems to be serious crimes and, indeed, crimes against the State itself, involving the corruption of at least one judge. Thus, Sarkozy is maybe better a little bit off politically for Taubira’s having lied.

As regards the effect on the PS: This affair will probably not have no effect on the PS. Candidly, I think that there is very little, maybe nothing, that could lower the Parti Socialiste in the estimation of the French people. They have already touched the bottom.

My evaluation is that MLP is the only conceivable opponent that Hollande could be capable of defeating in the second round of the 2017 election and then only if the FN remains totally unacceptable to France as was the case in 2002. If there is no republican front, Holland will be probably beaten by MLP in the second tour (if by some miracle he arrives there). It would be so catastrophic for France that I do not understand why Hollande and principal ministers do not leave public life and allow the PS to choose a better candidate to represent the left.

Because, MLP is going to be a very strong candidate. The incompetence and the promotion of the austerity by Hollande will surely rebound strongly in her favor. Also, all the confusion and the infighting in the other parties will probably increase the willingness of the voters to take a chance on the FN because it is, inexplicably, the only major political party whose economic policies are not based on liquidationism. Taking France out of the euro is not only a good idea, but also seems to be increasing in popularity every day.

On the other hand, I think that Sarkozy is clearly the most formidable opponent against MLP in the second tour. He could doubtless begin to make amends to legitimize the FN and widen his support in the center and the left by promising his support for a republican front when he announces his candidacy. He has most space to run to the left, in the way that only Nixon was able to go in China. If Sarko can reach the second round against MLP, he will clearly be the lesser evil in a choice between two extremely unpalatable evils.

As an aside, I continue to find it surprising that there isn’t a serious revolt between the roots of the PS and the party’s leaders. How can a supposedly left-wing party take the warning of Mellon “to liquidate workers, to liquidate stocks, to liquidate the farmers, to liquidate the real estate …” as a model for its economic policies in a moment of depression?

France Stagnates: Time for another episode of “Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber”

The French economy is stagnating. Worse, it appears to be teetering on the brink of deflation. This is just more proof, if any was still needed, that Paul Krugman is right to say that austerity proponents such as Jens Weidmann are like medieval barbers who—when they noticed that their previously-bled patients had become worse—prescribed yet more bleeding. Worse, these idiots are driving us into a deflationary spiral that will cause even more terrible economic hardship for millions of French and probably the sort of political instability and chaos that can profit only the parties of the extreme right. Lest anyone thinks me excessively alarmist, may I remind everyone that Marine Le Pen is now leading in the polls?

Krugman has frequently observed that the many years of evidence demonstrating conclusively that austerity regimes don’t work hasn’t changed any minds in the austerity camp. I am in total agreement with his explication of why this is so: Austerity isn’t really about debt and deficits. It’s about using deficit panic as an excuse to dismantle social programs.

I consider it astonishing and shameful that the parties of the left throughout the world are doing nothing to oppose this idiocy. Except in France, of course, where the PS is actually as deeply committed as anyone in the Troika to using this murderous austerity to destroy everything for which the left has fought and bled since the end of the Second World War.

Economic sanctions are a powerful weapon against Russia, if we have the will to use them.

Ukrainians protest and call for assets freeze and sanctions
23 février 2014, Londres, Royaume-Uni. Ukrainiens et les partisans de la liberté et de la démocratie pour l’Ukraine protestent à Whitehall pour le gouvernement britannique pour geler les actifs de l’élite ukrainienne qui vivent ici, à Londres et à retenir les héros morts place de l’Indépendance à Kiev. © Ruth Whitworth /Demotix/Corbis

There are many people who say that the West has no influence on Russia. This is not really true. In fact, the West has the power to impose devastating economic sanctions against Russia for her invasion of Crimea.  But only if it can overcome its own greed and corruption.  Indeed, this is one of the few situations where targeted sanctions can impose devastating consequences that will seriously get the attention of the Russian elites. But these sanctions require the West to have the national will to critically examine the ways in which the influx of dark money from Russia has begun to change our own countries.

For starters, why would sanctions against the oligarchs will be effective? It’s simple. The oligarchs know they cannot keep their wealth or families in Russia. The one inescapable reality in a mafia state like Russia is that wealth is ephemeral. Everyone and everything is still in a vulnerable state of nature where a man can keep only what he can personally defend. The oligarchs know that this because it’s is how they made their money; in a blood-soaked orgy of violence, they looted and plundered the patrimony of a Russian empire that had lasted a thousand years. Nothing and no one was safe. This is why the oligarchs keep their families safe and wealth safely in the West.

The prospect of having to defend their money and families within the state of the Russian Mafia would make the oligarchs’ blood freeze. If the West expelled all Russians and forbade their children to be educated in the West, seized bank accounts and property of Russian oligarchs and prohibited the ownership of Russian stocks, bonds, bank accounts and land while the Crimea is occupied, the sanctions would be truly devastating.

How to start? It is also very simple. Bankers and other elites earn with Russian gangsters. In an excellent article in the magazine The New Republic, Oliver Bullough describes the many ways in which the Russian elites have used their wealth to corrupt Europe and Britain in particular. As Bullough observed:

 “The Russian economy is vulnerable. The ruble has tumbled, as has Russia’s stock market too. But that will not bother the elite, which keeps its money in dollars and spends as much time in the West as in Moscow—and that encapsulates how hard it is for Europe to take action. In London, thousands of people—the estate agent who sold the home on West Heath Road; the brokers who shift Andrey Yakunin’s stock; the lawyers who sign off on his deals; the teachers at his son’s school—have a piece of Russian action. And this isn’t just a London problem. Andrey Yakunin has a brother in Geneva. (There are just the two Yakunin boys. The appeal of the many-child family appears to have struck Natalya Yakunin late in life.)

Other rich Russians live all over Europe—France, Spain, Italy, Cyprus—and they spend a lot of money. If Europe wants to punish Putin, it has to persuade its citizens to forgo that cash.”

The extent to which British policy was the slave of the interests of the City of London was made explicit by the Cameron government in the negotiations on the EU-wide banking regulation. The same willingness to subordinate moral principles is exposed in the current crisis in Ukraine. A secret document was leaked without his knowledge by a senior government official at a meeting of the National Security Council convened by Cameron personally. The document said that Britain “should not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close the financial center of London for Russians”

So now you know the real heart of the wicked, ruthless Conservatives who are always willing for the shilling, and the Russian oligarchs have lots of shillings.