Saturday, July 16, 2005

Getting perspective

Nobody said it would be easy in this world to get the full picture on things. What seems like black on Monday may seem an awful lot like gray on Wednesday. This isn't to say that all things are relative, only that when you take your worldview and throw it into a different context, it sometimes comes out looking quite different. This is one of the guiding philosophies behind this blog. So while we here focus on the Franco-American viewpoints, have a look at someone wrestling with Anglo-American perspectives on world events.


Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Rove in the limelight

Big Media has picked up the Karl Rove story with a vengeance. It's wonderful to see them finally hold this administration accountable for past actions and statements. The NY Times has a story with a link to several transcripts of statements from both Bush and his spokesman, Scott McClellan that are particularly painful to read:

Scott McClellan at a briefing Sept. 29, 2003.
Q. All right, let me just follow up. You said this morning, quote, "The president knows that Karl Rove wasn't involved." How does he know that?
A. Well, I've made it very clear that it was a ridiculous suggestion in the first place. I saw some comments this morning from the person who made that suggestion backing away from that. And I said it is simply not true. So - I mean, it's public knowledge I've said that it's not true.
Q. Well, how …
A. And I have spoken with Karl Rove. I'm not going to get into conversations that the president has with advisers or staff, or anything of that nature. That's not my practice.
Q. But the president has a factual basis for knowing that Karl Rove …
A. Well, I said it publicly. I said that - and so, I've made it very clear.
Q. I'm not asking what you said, I'm asking if the president has a factual basis for saying - for your statement that he knows Karl Rove …
A. He's aware of what I said, that there is simply no truth to that suggestion. And I have - I have spoken with Karl about it.…

This, my friends, is going to be interesting. So many questions, so many inconsistencies, so much fodder for The Daily Show.
Stay tuned...


Sunday, July 10, 2005

Summer Break.

Well, things have been going a bit slower in the last couple of days on our blog, despite the big news. That is because we're getting ready for some (well deserved) summer holiday. We'll try to continue posting here and there when we have a chance but not as regularly as our one-posting a day. We sure don't to become addicted to the whole idea and it's time to take a break.
Things will resume their normal course at the end of August with ever more exciting comments of current events from our Franco-American perspective.
One of us is leaving tomorrow for a' tour' of the U.S. and will be back soon with whatever gets him inspired. Come and visit us again (there are probably lots of archive postings you could read to have a better idea of who we are and what we think). Enjoy,
Joker to the Thief.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Change in American Perception of Global Warming.

Whether this will change anything going on in the G8 meeting, this is good news.
A vast majority of Americans disagree with President Bush's stance on global warming, a new poll said Tuesday amid reports of a widening rift over climate change between the United States and its partners in the Group of Eight (G8) dominant countries.
This shows once again that most Americans are not selfish morons who cannot see the bigger picture - once the truth comes out. Now Bush on the other hand...


The Colonial 'Exception'.

On the side of the G8 summit about Africa, here's a subject not so present in the media which may put things into perspective - how former European colonial powers see their past role in Africa.

As we discussed before on our blog, here and here, a controversial law demanding that teachers at schools all over the country and textbooks emphasise "the positive role (played by) France overseas, especially in the Maghreb region, in North Africa has infuriated a lot of people, including history teachers in France who signed a petition against it, as well as leaders in Algeria. The French association of history and geography teachers dismissed the law as "a call to write an official version of history."

What is interesting though is that how France reconstructs its own past based on the old assumption that their colonial system brought mostly positive things to Africa and Asia. In fact, if you ask them, a lot of people (mostly the old generation though – those like Chirac) will say ‘privately’ that “things were not so bad back then and that Africa was better off under the colonial regime – at least they had food on their tables and did not kill each other”. Some would even say that the current situation in the African continent proves their points, going as far as saying that they are incapable of keeping things right. But because it is a not a politically correct thing to say, most would not be too vocal about it.

The new law may make those people more at ease to express their opinions about the positive role of the colonies, but most historians would disagree. In this article,

Historian Marc Ferro, author of "Le livre noir du colonialisme" (The Black Book of Colonialism), an uncompromising account of European colonialism, noted that France has always insisted on describing its own colonial practices as "humane," while dismissing British or Spanish colonialism as ruthless and inspired purely by the aim of economic domination.

"But in practice, the differences between French and English colonialism were not as clear-cut as the official French version would like them to be," Ferro told IPS. He added that French colonialism came to an abrupt end after World War II, provoking a new national crisis after the catastrophe of France's collaboration with Nazi Germany.

Meanwhile, British rule in Africa and Asia went, with the clear exceptions of India, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, through a smooth transition from colonialism to co-operation within the Commonwealth.

"We can say that if French cultural intentions were perhaps more humane than Britain's, France's political practices in the colonies were actually more restrictive and repressive, in part because colonial France wanted the indigenous peoples in the colonies to become French. Britain never thought of transforming Kenyans or Indians into Englishmen," Ferro added.

Even though there is not much to worry about after all. It is likely that no history teacher is going to change their teaching. But this new trend is also taking grasp in other European countries:

In Britain, historian Niall Ferguson has for years conveyed a revisionist view of colonialism, describing British colonial rule in Africa and Asia as "nation-building."

Whereas in France an attempt to erect a stele to the glory of the O.A.S. - Organisation de l’Armée Secrète, a short-lived French right-wing terrorist group formed in January 1961 to resist the granting of independence to the French colony of Algeria) was countered by the regional prefect.

All this means that the old guard is trying to change its legacy. The good thing is that they will soon be gone .


Monday, July 04, 2005

The Great French-American Alliance.

On this 4th of July, it seems that the great alliance between France and the United States that helped give birth to this great nation 230 years ago is actually still very much alive today - 2 years after the (infamous) public quarrel over Iraq. There are several positive points to make:
The Tour de France of course is in people's minds these days with American Lance Armstrong making his way for a possible seventh successive victory.... but, sorry as great as this is it is only a second rate issue.
If the American view of France has changed more favorably, it is partly due to the current problems in Iraq which illustrate by the day the lack of planning of the Bush Administration and remind people of the emptiness of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. Walter Jones,
'Mr Freedom Fries' himself has now expressed regrets for war jibe, turning against the war in Iraq, and the direct result is that now a majority of Americans now have a favorable view of France, says a Gallup poll.
But the most important illustration of the unwavering alliance between our two countries is to be seen behind the spotlights, in the form of a top secret center in paris, code-named 'Alliance Base', that was set up by the CIA and French intelligence services in 2002. Its existence has been recently revealed and is the topic of an article published this week-end in the Washington Post.
John E. McLaughlin, the former acting CIA director who retired recently after a 32-year career, described the relationship between the CIA and its French counterparts as "one of the best in the world. What they are willing to contribute is extraordinarily valuable."
An NBCnews T.V report by Tom Brokaw has also emphasized the importance of the cooperation between France and the U.S. on the war on terrorism.

According to the Washington Post's investigation:
Alliance Base, headed by a French general assigned to France's equivalent of the CIA -- the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) -- was described by six U.S. and foreign intelligence specialists with involvement in its activities. The base is unique in the world because it is multinational and actually plans operations instead of sharing information among countries, they said. It has case officers from Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia and the United States.
The broader cooperation between the
United States and France plays to the strengths of each side, according to current and former French and U.S. officials. The CIA brings money from its classified and ever-growing "foreign liaison" account -- it has paid to transport some of France's suspects from abroad into Paris for legal imprisonment -- and its global eavesdropping capabilities and worldwide intelligence service ties. France brings its harsh laws, surveillance of radical Muslim groups and their networks in Arab states, and its intelligence links to its former colonies.
But the most interesting point in the article, I think, concerns the negative role of Rumsfled who has obvisouly put his own obsession for revenge and retaliation above national security.
Rumsfeld prohibited general officers from telephoning their French counterparts, grounded U.S. planes at the Paris Air Show and disinvited the French from Red Flag, a major U.S. military exercise in which they had participated for decades.But Rumsfeld persisted a year later, excluding the French Air Force from the Red Flag exercise in 2004.
Rumsfeld's symbolic jabs baffled some officials inside the Bush administration. "Most things the secretary of defense did I could understand, even if I disagreed with him," said Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Powell. "On this one, it was totally irrational, even dumb."

The good thing though is that the intelligence services showed more brains and more professional skill than Rumsfeld, keeping themselves from political and ideological subjectivity and putting national security before their egos - something Rumsfeld is clearly incapable of doing. This yet another good illustration of the dangers of giving too much power to the Pentagone when the man at the wheel has so many times proved himself incompetent. Does the name 'McNamara' ring a bell? Yep, history repeats itself in many ways..


Sunday, July 03, 2005

A nation of slackers

Matthew Yglesias over at TPMCafe gives Thomas Friedman the black eye he deserves for his recent articles which hold up France as the straw man in his arguments for unabated globalization. France, according to Friedman, is very much Old Europe and very much on its way into the museum (the Louvre, to be exact) unless it adopts some serious fiscal policy changes at the national level. Yglesias points to a study comparing per capita GDP in the US and Europe which argues that doing a little math shows that, surprise, the French are actually a bit MORE productive than their American counterparts but CHOOSE to invest in leisure time instead of material goods.
So France has fewer workers, working shorter weeks, and taking longer vacations -- that is why they make less money. Per hour of output, France is generating much more value than America is. If your buddy made 50 percent more than you because he was working 50 percent longer and had four weeks less vacation than you did, it certainly wouldn't be obvious that your buddy had a better job than you do. Similarly, while it's clear that the French have less stuff than we do, they have more leisure time, and it's not obvious that our situation is better. Indeed, it's not clear what "better" would even mean in this context.
Perhaps Mr. Friedman is the one who will end up shortly in a museum. Oh, and Mr. Friedman, that's LE Louvre to you!


Saturday, July 02, 2005

Rove reversal

This is the news circulating around the blogosphere right now. Oh please let it be true! It couldn't happen to a more deserving individual.


Fearful Torturers.

Take a look at Friday's op-ed in the WaPo by former Bush I physician, Burton J. Lee. Speaking out against the reports of torture in the various military prisons, he is calling for an outside investigation. He also concludes with thes incisive remarks:
Torture demonstrates weakness, not strength. It does not show understanding, power or magnanimity. It is not leadership. It is a reaction of government officials overwhelmed by fear who succumb to conduct unworthy of them and of the citizens of the United States.
The leaders are reaping the consequences of instilling fear in everyone. Civil society cannot function when it is paralyzed by fear.


Friday, July 01, 2005

The Real Battle is About to Begin.

Now that Supreme Court Justice O'Connor has just announced her retirement, there is one seat available for new nominations by the president and with another Chief Justice William Rehnquist crippled with health problems who might soon have to retire too, there will probably be two very soon. The controversy in the Senate over judicial nominees was nothing.
This one is going to be a bloody war and the Democrats have a lot to lose if they don't fight hard with all the tools available to them. Let's hope that they will be as tough as the conservatives can be. It is time to get on the offensive and stop chickening out in the face of the voiciferous and powerful right.


Identity Theft - Regulation is the Answer.

Last night, NBC News had yet another of its numerous reports on 'identity theft' which seems to become a huge problem in the U.S.
On Wednesday, the public policy think tank Privacy and American Business released a study saying 1 in 5 Americans identify themselves as a victim of identity theft. Researchers there estimated the crime has hit a staggering 44 million people.
In the end, it could even impact e-commerce and on-line banking as the news reports are becoming more and more alarming Now what I find interesting is that the NBC report seems clueless about possible solutions and that this does not seem to be an issue in Europe. Why is that?
Well, the reason is quite simple - most western European countries have tougher regulations which do not allow the "financial records and other data obtained on people for one purpose to be sold or shared without their consent." France for instance has one of the toughest privacy laws protecting the right of the indivual as a consummer.
"We're behind much of the developed world," said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who is pushing a broad bill aimed at impeding the crime. "The major European countries are doing more than we are doing, and somebody can feel safer about giving information about themselves there than in America."(.../...)
Meanwhile, countries with less restrictive data rules – and wider use of credit – such as Canada and Great Britain have struggled more with identity theft.
This is a good illustration of one of the many reasons why some regulation is needed and why capitalism is good only if kept in check - a good lesson for Mr Thomas Friedman. But it seems pretty clear that while the people are increasingly concerned, businesses are reluctant to accept tighter regulations... but it will happen once the fear starts affecting business.