Thursday, November 30, 2006

Warm Winter indeed...

Threat to the ski World Cup:
The disappointing news came on the same day that the men's downhill and super-combi races scheduled for Dec. 9-10 in Val d'Isere, France, were scrapped because of lack of snow, bringing to three the number of World Cup events cancelled so far on account of unusually warm European weather. (Toronto Star)
Now apparently, there's enough snow in Colorado but just not enough sponsorship dollars.... Who would have thought that the Americans cared so little about skiing!


America's Battle for the Environment.

When it comes to the topic of the environment and global warming, President G. W. Bush best personifies the “Ugly American” in the eyes of many Europeans – after all, while America produces a quarter of the greenhouse gases that are heating the planet, the Bush administration refused to even acknowledge global warming for years and now continues to refuse any binding regulation anyway.

However, many Europeans forget that the U.S. is a Federation and that local politics is very powerful. In fact, when it comes to the environment, there is a real grassroots movement from public opinion and local or state authorities.

What is unique about the American legal system is that states can actually sue the Federal government for its failing policy. This is what is happening with the decision of the Supreme Court to take a case that questions whether the federal government is responsible for regulating vehicle emissions of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act in “Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency”. (Boston Globe)

The charge is that the EPA is failing its mission by “misreading the Clean Air Act, and ignoring the fact that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare”.

In fact, 12 states, three city governments, various activist groups, and American Samoa, a soon-to-be-submerged Pacific territory have issued similar petitions and they are supported by a further six states, two power companies, a ski resort, and assorted clergymen, Indian tribes and others. (The Economist)

As you can see on this picture, many states have passed laws to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. California as always has been in the vanguard, but other states have followed suit.

.... seven eastern states have formed something called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which will treat emissions from power plants in the same way. Almost 400 mayors around the country have signed a non-binding agreement to reduce their cities’ emissions in keeping with the Kyoto Protocol. Many members of the incoming Congress, and several of the leading presidential contenders for 2008, are much keener on emissions caps than Mr Bush. Change, so to speak, is in the air. (The Economist)

The US Supreme Court will probably not give its decision before next spring but during the first hearing yesterday, the Justices seemed divided on the subject along ideological lines.

(with Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, John Paul Stevens and David H. Souter inclined to find that the plaintiffs had met the standing test while Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., along with Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. were not. So by the end of the argument there appeared a strong likelihood that the court would divide 5 to 4 on the standing question, with Justice Kennedy holding the deciding vote. NYTimes)

This may be a naïve question but why does it always have to so ideological…!

NOTE: by the way, it seems that scientists have fewer doubts than they used to:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body which involves thousands of scientists from over 120 countries who develop detailed reports on climate change, produced a report in 2001 which was reviewed by more than 1,000 top experts, including so-called “climate skeptics” and representatives from industry. The report stated, “There is new and stronger evidence that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities.” (via Think Progress)


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wikipedia's Accuracy.

It is hard these days for anyone who surfs the net to ignore Wikipedia, the free online encyclopaedia which anyone can add content to or edit the existing content of. Its success is offset by accusations of lacking accuracy. After all, anyone can add their own personal knowledge (or lack of it), even anonymously if they choose to.

But a new study suggests that Wikipedia's accuracy is higher among experts than non-experts:
The researcher had 55 graduate students and research assistants examine one Wikipedia article apiece for accuracy, some in fields they were familiar with and some not. Those in the expert group ranked their articles as generally credible, higher than those evaluated by the non-experts. One researcher said 'It may be the case that non-experts are more cynical about information outside of their field and the difference comes from a natural reaction to rate unfamiliar articles as being less credible.'" (Slashdot)
That's pretty cool, except that the sample size was small (55 graduate students) and still 13% of the"experts" group reported finding mistakes in their assigned articles, and that's not a small number.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

Who finances the insurgency... ?

Well, it seems that these days, the "insurgency" does:
The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, connivance by corrupt Islamic charities and other crimes that the Iraqi government and its American patrons have been largely unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded. (NYTimes)
Great, they don't even need the Iranians or the Syrians. So there's no way to pressure or make deals with any government. Talking about a mess!!


America's Vibrant Culture.

I was told as a joke once that “In America, you can only find culture in yogurt”. [an obviouspun on the definition of the word ‘culture’ which is also, asin French, "the cultivation of microorganisms" which is what yogurt is of course].

However stupid or funny this joke may be, it reflects what many Europeans think of American culture. Of course, that has to do with the type of culture America sometimes export – the cheap fast-food chain or the big Hollywood blockbuster.

This is a particularly sensitive subject in France, where the national identity is closely related to certain forms of local culture(s), hence the “exception culturel” which basically says that cultural products should be treated differently than other goods.
Usually, the
US is the boogeyman of those who defend their national cultures (which they oppose to the "MacDo culture", the icon of US imperialism). Of course, the international negotiations on free trade in which United States has always been against the concept of "cultural exception" does not help America’s image among the defenders of local cultures in Europe and in France.

However, there is a rich and vibrant culture in the US and it is a pity that very few people outside America are aware of it. A new book by a Frenchman, “De la culture en Amérique” (On culture in the USA) breaks the clichés of an uncultured America. I haven’t read the book yet and I have ordered it but his views seem quite polemical.

The author, Frédéric Martel, is a former cultural attaché at the French Embassy in Washington and used to be an advisor on cultural policy to former (socialist) Prime Minister Michel Rocard.

In an interview (here in French) he gave to L'hedbo, the magazine of the French socialist party, he said a few unconventional things. Strangely he begins his interview in a typical French fashion, by saying that he’s been studying the American system in order to "better fight American cultural imperialism while letting our own system evolve. But then he also says that the American system could inspire French politicians in many ways and he makes some more controversial if not shocking points. Here are some extracts (translated by Jerome-a-Paris on Euro Tribune):

There is not one single source of financing [of culture in the US], but multiple of both private and public sources, via tax deductions on donations. It ends up that there is as much public money per person as in France, and a lot more of private money. Contrary to what one might think, US culture is not under-financed.


We are completely ignorant about the cultural policies of this country. For instance, the USA has twice as many artists as France, proportionally.

In a recent article on this book, Le Monde gives a few more details:

There are 2 million American artists who are « professionals hired by private and non-profit organizations alike. There are three times as many artists as police forces, and their number continues to rise : 0.56 million in 1965, 1 million in 1980 and 1.6 in 1990.

However, as Le Monde notices, more American artists are also unemployed (as much as 35%) which means that most of them have a second job.

  • According to Martel, the key element is the decentralized organization of culture funding. Yet, I do not think that it’s even fair to compare, and I fail to see how decentralized public funding is necessarily better for France. It makes sense in a large country like the US but I’m not sure it is what is needed the most in Europe. Neither system guarantees a fair distribution of the public resources anyway.
  • His other point is that there is a lot more of private money, and for sure, there are loads of Philanthropic Foundations, pressure groups, universities, communities or private individuals in the US who, with the help of tax-breaks and subsidies, give huge sums of money to art. This is not the case in France because it is so foreign to the French traditional view of culture - funded by the King, then by the Republic.

However, things are beginning to change. The restoration of the Chateau de Versailles was, for instance, partly funded by private corporations (here in French). With tax-breaks and other incentives, the government may be able to incite the private sector to be more involved. But that will not compensate for public funding.

The French system may need to adapt but it probably needs to find its own way, in accordance with its "local culture".
(more on this book after I read it)

NOTE: if you ever get a chance to do to Washington D.C. you’ll have a first hand experience of a museum complex funded by the American government (but also by its endowment, contributions, and profits from its shops). And all those museums are FREE. You can choose to donate of course, but it’s essentially free.
A couple years ago, I had a chance to see an Arthur Miller play in
Minnesota and I had the opportunity to see how vibrant the local culture is in this somewhat provincial city. (see this site)


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Thanksgiving Explained to the French.

Let's be fair - there is much more to Thanksgiving than the stupid presidential pardon of a turkey. It is a great American tradition.
As we said last year, no one can explain it better than Art Buchwald, the famous American humorist (and Francophile) who first wrote this piece in 1953 when he was the Paris correspondant for The International Herald Tribune and, which has been reprinted on every Thanksgiving ever since in the IHT. It is quite humorous, especially if you have some notions of French.

This year, we give you the entire text here below:
One of our most important holidays is Thanksgiving Day, known in France as le Jour de Merci Donnant .
Le Jour de Merci Donnant was first started by a group of Pilgrims ( Pelerins ) who fled from l'Angleterre before the McCarran Act to found a colony in the New World ( le Nouveau Monde ) where they could shoot Indians ( les Peaux-Rouges ) and eat turkey ( dinde ) to their hearts' content.
They landed at a place called Plymouth (now a famous voiture Americaine ) in a wooden sailing ship called the Mayflower (or Fleur de Mai ) in 1620. But while the Pelerins were killing the dindes, the Peaux-Rouges were killing the Pelerins, and there were several hard winters ahead for both of them. The only way the Peaux-Rouges helped the Pelerins was when they taught them to grow corn ( mais ). The reason they did this was because they liked corn with their Pelerins.
In 1623, after another harsh year, the Pelerins' crops were so good that they decided to have a celebration and give thanks because more mais was raised by the Pelerins than Pelerins were killed by Peaux-Rouges.
Every year on the Jour de Merci Donnant, parents tell their children an amusing story about the first celebration.
It concerns a brave capitaine named Miles Standish (known in France as Kilometres Deboutish) and a young, shy lieutenant named Jean Alden. Both of them were in love with a flower of Plymouth called Priscilla Mullens (no translation). The vieux capitaine said to the jeune lieutenant :
"Go to the damsel Priscilla ( allez tres vite chez Priscilla), the loveliest maiden of Plymouth ( la plus jolie demoiselle de Plymouth). Say that a blunt old captain, a man not of words but of action ( un vieux Fanfan la Tulipe ), offers his hand and his heart, the hand and heart of a soldier. Not in these words, you know, but this, in short, is my meaning.
"I am a maker of war ( je suis un fabricant de la guerre ) and not a maker of phrases. You, bred as a scholar ( vous, qui tes pain comme un tudiant ), can say it in elegant language, such as you read in your books of the pleadings and wooings of lovers, such as you think best adapted to win the heart of the maiden."
Although Jean was fit to be tied ( convenable tre emballe ), friendship prevailed over love and he went to his duty. But instead of using elegant language, he blurted out his mission. Priscilla was muted with amazement and sorrow ( rendue muette par l'tonnement et las tristesse ).
At length she exclaimed, interrupting the ominous silence: "If the great captain of Plymouth is so very eager to wed me, why does he not come himself and take the trouble to woo me?" ( Ou est-il, le vieux Kilometres? Pourquoi ne vient-il pas aupres de moi pour tenter sa chance ?)
Jean said that Kilometres Deboutish was very busy and didn't have time for those things. He staggered on, telling what a wonderful husband Kilometres would make. Finally Priscilla arched her eyebrows and said in a tremulous voice, "Why don't you speak for yourself, Jean?" ( Chacun a son gout. )
And so, on the fourth Thursday in November, American families sit down at a large table brimming with tasty dishes and, for the only time during the year, eat better than the French do.
No one can deny that le Jour de Merci Donnant is a grande fte and no matter how well fed American families are, they never forget to give thanks to Kilometres Deboutish, who made this great day possible.


Bush Pardons Birds.

Call me insensitive but I really find this whole business of the presidential pardon of a Thanksgiving turkey the most ridiculous “American tradition” that I know.

Not only were Fryer and Flyer (those are the names of the birds this year) pardoned but they were given two first-class tickets to LAX, and places of honor in a Thanksgiving Day parade at Disneyland.

Come on! They’re just stupid ugly BIRDS, for God’s sake! I’m all for animals’ rights but let’s put this into context: the ceremonial show put on by the White House after years of illegitimate war and uncompassionate policy is bad-taste at best and sickening at worst. It may have been just a tiny bit better to keep a low profile about it and avoid the big ceremony, just for the sake of America's image in the world.

What do you think the rest of the world is going to think of this display of American “mercy”… for a bird?

This is all the more hypocritical for a president who is so pro-death penalty and unwilling to pardon humans… oh, actually that’s not entirely true, he can pardon his friends, like Caspar Weinberger!

But maybe this is a metaphor for the hypocrisy of politics driven by image. As you can read here, the pardon has never prevented Bush from enjoying his turkey-meal.

Now I admit I may lack a sense of humor, so let’s try to see the funny aspect of the whole thing. Of course, there is this famous picture:

But it doesn’t make up for it – it just barely makes me smile.

I also admit, I’m not big on traditions and sure, this Turkey-pardon has been a true innocent (albeit dumb) American tradition for 59 years, since Harry Truman. Well, maybe not so innocent though. According to Wonkette, it was actually suggested to Truman by the National Turkey Federation to ensure the sale of Turkey.

But the main question is: what exactly is the turkey pardoned for?

Last but not least, why is the Turkey always white? After all, Truman’s turkey was black.

Every time I see Turkeys, they’re black – especially the North American Wild Turkey.

Mmmm… maybe there is more to read into this tradition than one might think after all.


Monday, November 20, 2006

"Bomb Iran!"

While recently both veteran news reporter Ted Koppel (who just returned from Iran) and Washington Post reporter Robin Wright rejected the military option with Iran as “unrealistic” (Think Progress), Joshua Muravchik a member of the American Enterprise Institute (the neo-conservative think tank which has been the main architect of the Bush administration's foreign policy) says in the LATimes ‘bomb Iran”.

Maravchik even asks:

Wouldn't such a U.S. air attack on Iran inflame global anti-Americanism? Wouldn't Iran retaliate in Iraq or by terrorism? Yes, probably. That is the price we would pay. But the alternative is worse.

Is that typical how they so easily dismiss the price to pay? This is a lot of dramatic irony in all this, especially if you consider this piece of new:

The White House dismissed a classified a CIA draft assessment that found no conclusive evidence of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program, The New Yorker magazine reported. (Yahoo news)

Another typical feature of neo-con rhetoric is to use history to simplify a different reality and make it fit their agenda:

After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime. His colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the idea.

Right, what's next? Superman and Lex Luthor?

Another 'rational' used by the AEI is the "dominance of Iran" and the fear of Mullahs taking over the world:

If Tehran establishes dominance in the region, then the battlefield might move to Southeast Asia or Africa or even parts of Europe, as the mullahs would try to extend their sway over other Muslim peoples

Someone should probably tell those morons that if Tehran establishes dominance in the region, it is thanks to the failure of their policy in Iraq, an idea first laid out by... the American Enterprise Institute. And terrorism fueld by anti-Americanism might indeed be the price to pay in "Southeast Asia or Africa or even parts of Europe,".

But apparently, some people just haven’t learned their lesson yet and live in a world of their own.



Sunday, November 19, 2006

Black/Far-Righ Anti-Semitism: the Odd Couple.

Besides, Segolene Royal’s win of the socialist patty nomination for presidential candidacy, an odd couple seems to be forming on the far-right in France, as The Independent pointed out today:

Jean-Marie Le Pen, veteran xenophobe and leader of the powerful French far right, chatted amiably in public with Dieudonné M'bala, a black comedian, one-time anti-racist campaigner, now the champion of a conspiracy-obsessed and anti-Semitic segment of the far left.

Now Dieudonné is a formerly popular comedian who has broken with most of his friends, including his former partner Jewish comedian Elie Semoun because of his anti- semitic humor. But his words are not just bad-taste humor, Dieudonné has a whole theory that the problems of black people, can be traced to Israeli and Jewish influence.

"those Jews that criticise me are all former slave-merchants who now control the media and the banks" (Wiki)
In many ways, this theory is not unlike that of Louis Farrakhan (from The Nation of Islam) in the U.S. as John Lichfield also from The Independent did not fail to notice a few months ago.

Even in the US today, according to this survey, more blacks (36% in 2005) hold anti-Semitic attitudes than overall Americans (14% in 2005) - although, a similar percentage of Hispanics also hold anti-Semitic views, 29% in 2005, although a greater number of them were those nor born in the U.S.

While it is easier to see why some Muslims may be anti-Jewish, given the political situation in the Middle-East what’s up with those anti-Semitic blacks in France or in the U.S.?

Eric Marty, professor of contemporary literature at Paris-VII University, links the Dieudonné phenomenon to the similar savage hatred of Jews among some American black radicals, which began in the 1960s.
He says it a question of transfer of anger from real causes of black suffering - white slave masters, white prejudice - to a rival victim, "someone who is identified as more of a victim than yourself". (The Independent)

I find this interesting because in my opinion, it is not so much religion (Islam v. Judaism) which causes tension, or is at the root of anti-Semitism rather than the social mores of the lowest classes. The Jews are used as scapegoats for all that is wrong in a process of victimization. Granted, the recent policy of Mighty America with the Bush administration has certainly not helped.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Bush's Re-writing History.

Here's another of those great Bush moments I really didn't want to miss on this blog.
In first visit to Vietnam, President Bush was “asked about the war here over three decades ago and the comparisons to the war in Iraq today.” Bush said there was a comparison: As in Vietnam, “We’ll succeed unless we quit.” (via ThinkProgress, video here)

This shows once again what this administration has been about: ignoring reality and re-writing history!


What is American about Segolène Royal.

Tonight, the French media are all hype about Segolene Royal’s huge victory in the socialist bid for the presidential candidate. It is undeniable that these elections are a sign of major changes in France. There are even a couple things in direct connection to our Franco-American perspective.

First, as we mentioned previously, the socialist party is the first French political party to choose its candidate through a US-style primary election (other countries have recently done the same, Italy for instance).

Second, this is so new in France that it almost feels like this is actually a national election and that her speech to the party (televised live on every French channel) resembles an American inaugural address.

Her words were very inclusive but also a mix of old socialist rhetoric and a more modern tone, including the need to reform.

She is hard to figure out though. On the one hand, her campaign has been inspired by Tony Blair (whom she has said to admire) in its emphasis on moral values, great sense of media opportunity and her ability to connect with the public. On the other hand, her economic views are much more in the tradition of French orthodox socialism. While she speaks of the need to break with the "French way", she also talks about the need to protect jobs and increase security in the face of “globalization”.

It is also unusual, in centralized France, for a politician to give a major speech from a small town outside Paris, as she spoke from Poitou-Charentes, the region where she is the regional president.

Her words have emphasized another very American theme – looking to the future and change with bright optimism and building a grassroot movement:

The world has changed. France has moved, so politics must change. I do not only want to embody this profound change but to build it with you. The French are ready for reform, but they're not going to consent to decisions imposed on them without their involvement.

Her speech was very inclusive - something you always see in American political speeches after primaries:

France must completely recognize -- as its own, legitimate children -- all the young people whose families came from abroad, who are today French in their own right. France's diversity must bring a formidable energy.

It is also worth noting that she has clearly hinted at Kennedy whom she has also said to admire (here in French):

We shall climb the mountain up to victory. We are supported by a cause that is greater than us. So I call for all the French, men and women of our country – unite and rally and ask yourself what you can do for your country.
Let's imagine a France that has the courage to face changes without renouncing its ideal of liberty, equality and fraternity.

That is definitely a break from old French political rhetoric. Now we’ll see if she acts accordingly. Whatever she might say, there is a consensus that above all, she is much more pragmatic and ideological. That too, is a very American trait. Maybe just what the French need in this day and age.


First Female Presidential Candidate Chosen By French Socialists.

Ségolène Royal won the primaries in the socialist party. So she is now the official Presidential candidate of the left in France. That's really no surprise, athought she won with a comfortable majority of 60.62%. That's a huge margin.
Her main opponent is likely to be Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the ruling rightist party, the Union for a Popular Movement.
An Ipsos opinion poll published in the weekly Le Point on Thursday predicted a 50-50 draw if Royal and Sarkozy faced each other as expected in a second round run-off next May.
Royal's victory in the socialist party is a sign that France is craving for change. Both likely candidates are popular in the bolls because they try to campaign on a platform of “rupture” with the status quo which is a bit ironic since both have been in politics for decades.
The recipe has been her straight-forward language with a mix of glamor, and emphasis on traditional values while being close to the people.
She dominated the primary campaign, putting forward unconventional ideas such as creating "citizen juries" to shadow the work of parliamentarians and questioning the efficiency of hallowed Socialist legislature, such as the 35-hour work week. (NYTimes)
Responding to voters’ disillusionment with traditional elitist politics, she is promising more power to the people, giving local governments more authority and encouraging citizens to submit their ideas online about how to run the government. (Wash. Post)

The presidential election's first round is on April 22.

More later...


Thursday, November 16, 2006

An Enemy Elected to Congress?

A lot of people think CNN is way too liberal, but not so much. Consider right-wing host CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck
[whose program is actually syndicated by Premiere Radio Networks which is owned by radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications on more than 160 radio stations across the country. see our post here]

Here's an exchange (via Media Matters) that is greatly significant of the rampant anti-Muslim views in some American right-wing shows. Beck interviews Rep.-elect Keith Ellison (D-MN), who became the first Muslim ever elected in Congress.

BECK: History was made last Tuesday when Democrat Keith Ellison got elected to Congress, representing the great state of Minnesota. Well, not really unusual that Minnesota would elect a Democrat. What is noteworthy is that Keith is the first Muslim in history to be elected to the House of Representatives. He joins us now.

Congratulations, sir.

ELLISON: How you doing, Glenn? Glad to be here.

BECK: Thank you. I will tell you, may I -- may we have five minutes here where we're just politically incorrect and I play the cards face up on the table?

ELLISON: Go there.

BECK: OK. No offense, and I know Muslims. I like Muslims. I've been to mosques. I really don't believe that Islam is a religion of evil. I -- you know, I think it's being hijacked, quite frankly.

With that being said, you are a Democrat. You are saying, "Let's cut and run." And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, "Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies."

And I know you're not. I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way.

ELLISON: Well, let me tell you, the people of the Fifth Congressional District know that I have a deep love and affection for my country. There's no one who is more patriotic than I am. And so, you know, I don't need to -- need to prove my patriotic stripes.

BECK: I understand that. And I'm not asking you to. I'm wondering if you see that. You come from a district that is heavily immigrant with Somalians. And I think it's wonderful, honestly, I think it is really a good sign that you are a -- you could be an icon to show Europe, this is the way you integrate into a country. I think the Somalians coming out and voting is a very good thing. With that --

ELLISON: I'd agree with you.

It is no less than racism and in fact, Back uses the very same rhetoric device of many racists who love to point out that "they know black people" and "like them" and even "do things with them". It's the same thing, only with Muslims. Beck has even been to a mosque... Imagine that! how open-minded!
If you watch the video (here on Media Matters), you will see how Beck stresses with a great contemptuous tone the word "democrat" and "Minnesota". Such a classic!


When a Socialist Turns Far to the Right.

Georges Freche, a socialist from the southern Languedoc-Roussillon region of France, was quoted by Midi Libre newspaper as saying he was ashamed that up to nine of 11 starters on the French team are black.

"It would be normal if there were three or four, that would be a reflection of society," Freche was quoted as saying. "But if there are so many, it's because whites are no good. I'm ashamed for this country. Soon there will be 11 blacks." (IHT)

The worst part is that he's done it before. So what are the socialists waiting for kicking his ass out? Certainly, now they have no choice.

The Socialist mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, demanded Freche be expelled from the party, saying that he'd apparently been converted "to the ideology and rhetoric of the extreme right."

One funny thing:

Laurent Blondiau, a spokesman for Freche, said the politician did not deny making the comments, but added that Freche did not stand by the views he'd expressed.

Mmm... how do you "not stand by the views you'd expressed" Gotta be schozophrenic.


French Socialists Hold Primaries for Presidential Candidate.

Tonight is the end of a period that has captivated the French and the media: the bid for the socialist candidate for the presidential elections next year in France. This is something new in France and they call it "primary". Indeed, that's exactly what it is, a closed primary (where only registered members of a party can vote).

The three contenders are Laurent Fabius, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and Ségolène Royal. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, a second round will take place in a week (23 November).

There has been six 'debates' (which were very dull and very formative), with no direct exchanges. Some were public and televised and others were carried out by the pary behind closed doors (where they have had some fun moments - for instance, when Royal was whistled and booed).

  • Segolene Royal is the clear favorite, in the media and in the polls, although no poll of the party members has been carried out, so there's a bit of suspense, supposedly anyway.In my view, she has shown too much inconsistency in a few "serious" policy issues - incuding education, even though she worked as a Minister-delegate at the head of the Ministry of Education.
  • As for Fabius, after being a centrist-socialist while a Prime Minister, he has tried to make a come back as an unapologetic lefty, supporting a far-left policy worthy of the late 70s. He also lead the rebel faction of the socialst party in favor of a no vote to the European Constitution in 2005.
  • My favorite candidate is definitely Dominique Strauss-Kahn who has what resembles a social-democratic platform. He seems to be gaining momentum but most experts still think he has very little chance against Royal.

The French media seem to take the polls for granted and keep predicting a final contest in the second round of the presidential election with Segolène Royal (socialist) and Nicolas Sarkozy (conservative UMP).

At least, we'll know more about the socialist candidate tonight, around midnight.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A Flag War?

Now here's a bizarre story - according to NPR, a number of US states are considering recognizing the old flag affiliated with South Vietnam in place of the official one.
The California state Assembly considers a resolution that would formally recognize the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam in lieu of the current Vietnamese flag, as eight other states have done.
Experts say the trend could create tension amid warming relations between the United States and Vietnam.
Even more bizarre is this:
Before his departure, a graphic on the White House Web site for Bush's Asia trip displayed a picture of the flag of the former Republic of Vietnam — South Vietnam — instead of the current actual flag of Vietnam.
The old flag was replaced in 1975.
The erroneous image has since been taken off the White House Web site. (NBC)

Whatever!! I guess changing a flag is a lot easier and less costly than winning a war! It may even even a bit too cheap.


Class Struggle may not be a (totally) dead idea in America.

Jim Webb is an interesting fellow. He recently won the seat in Virginia that gave the Senate to the Democrats. Yet because he used to be a Republican (in the Reagan years), he’s been accused of political opportunism. Far from it.

For one thing, he had enough guts and intelligence to predict the current situation in Iraq. (see his opinion piece in the NYTimes which he wrote in March 2003) at a time when you could pass for a quasi-traitor for even suggesting there was no need to go to war.

Today, he wrote another excellent (but rather idealistic) opinion piece published by The Wall Street Journal which offers in a few words a great analysis of the Republican strategy in the last few years:

The politics of the Karl Rove era were designed to distract and divide the very people who would ordinarily be rebelling against the deterioration of their way of life. Working Americans have been repeatedly seduced at the polls by emotional issues such as the predictable mantra of "God, guns, gays, abortion and the flag" while their way of life shifted ineluctably beneath their feet. But this election cycle showed an electorate that intends to hold government leaders accountable for allowing every American a fair opportunity to succeed.

The title of his piece itself is quite provocative, Class Struggle and it almost sounds dangerously… leftist, if not, if I may use this dirty word, “socialistic”.


Religion, Politics and the mid-term Elections.

Now you may think that with the results of the US mid-term elections, we have seen the demise of the mixing of politics and religion, but if the influence of the Christian Right may have waned, they remain strong enough - too strong in fact.

Rick Perry was for instance successfully re-elected governor in Texas, in the footsteps of another governor – George W. Bush. Gov. Perry agrees with Rev. Hagee who said non-Christians are “going straight to hell with a nonstop ticket.”

Perry said he believes in the inerrancy of the Bible and that people who fail to accept Jesus as their savior will go to hell. (Dallas Morning News)

The idea of Bible infallibility makes no sense to me. As a text, albeit a Sacred one, it is interpretable. In fact, no one follows it literally, not even creationists. Besides, no one but God knows what’s in people’s hearts so isn’t it a bit of a blaspheme to speak as if they were God Himself?

Apart from theological questions, the problem of mixing extreme religious views with politics, is that the former is exclusive while the latter should be inclusive. The consequences can be dreadful. In fact, as it has been argued many times before, religion has played a crucial role in the recent American pro-Israel policy.

As you can read on our blog, John Hagee- the man who had Perry as a guest in his church - is a minister whose theology is based on a Dispensation Premillennialist interpretation of the end of times (which claims that the Jews are a distinct people, irrevocably entitled to the promises of God and that they will undergo trials or Great Tribulation, until they finally recognize Jesus as their promised Messiah.).

Now, Perry is not a unique case in the Republican party:

Mr. Perry sat on the red-carpeted stage next to the Rev. John Hagee. Mr. Perry was among about 60 mostly Republican candidates who accepted the invitation to be introduced to the megachurch's congregation of about 1,500, plus a radio and TV audience.

Now, you may think, well, this is Texas after all. But even in Democratic Minnesota, Republican Michele Bachmann who thinks God asked her to run, campaigned in churches and mixes religion and politics with absolutely no shame, was actually elected senator.

That would (almost!) make you wonder….


Will the French (really) go green?

The environment has been an increasing political issue in France: not only was al Gore all over the media with his popular movie recently, but, Nicolas Hulot, a former presenter of a popular television nature program and now a leading green campaigner has gained popularity, thus forcing the agenda of the environment on the presidential candidates.

This may be why the French government now wants to show its potential electorate it is (finally!) doing something. So they announced that electrical equipment will now be taxed with an "ecoparticiation", and cannot be thrown out. Instead, it must be recycled - the cost of which will be covered by the ecoparticipation. (see Le Monde article here, in French)

This new “ecotax” will go from 1 cent (of a Euro), for cellular phones for instance to approximately 13 Euros (for fridges and washing machines which are more costly to recycle). To be fair, manufacturers are also put under pressure with new strict guidelines and rules on how to operate.

Consumers will have a choice to take their equipment either back to the shop where they bought it, to the town council, to a local recycling center or they can even donate them to certain organizations, who will take it away, repair it and sell it on to low-income households.

We’ll see if the French are coherent with their ideals – after all, 93 % of them said they were “concerned for the environment”, when at the same time, each French person throws out 14kg of electrical equipment per year.

Call me a cynic, but the fact that EU is demanding that each EU country should recycle 4kg of electrical equipment (per person) by December 31, 2006 may have a lot to do this sudden decision. It came too late for France to meet its target though.

NOTE: In the meantime, London is going to charge more the most polluting vehicles. Way to go Mr Livingstone! (BBC)


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Israel and America, ties as strong as before.

While the situation in Iraq has turned into a quagmire, it seems that any solution to any Middle-East problems revolves around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is even what Tony Blair now believes:

Tony Blair made an open plea yesterday to George Bush to recognise that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the core of any hopes for wider peace in the Middle East, including Iraq.
He argued: "We should start with Israel-Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on
Lebanon. We should unite all Arab and Muslim voices behind a push for peace in those countries, but also in Iraq."
He believes
Syria and Iran have a long-term interest in a stable Middle East, including an end to the sectarian conflict inside Iraq.

Blair can plea as he wants, it is unlikely that the unwavering support of the US for Israel is about to change – certainly so long as Bush is in power. Even the victory of the Democrats will not change anything. After all, Nancy Pelosi, the new Speaker of the House is a strong supporter of Israel.

The US opposed a resolution to veto a U.N. Security Council draft resolution Saturday that sought to condemn an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip and demand Israeli troops pull out of the territory.

This despite the terrible pictures of the 18 civilians killed in Gaza shelling (because of a "technical" error) last week, including women and children. The friendly meeting between prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and President Bush in Washington yesterday is not likely to improve America’s image in the Arab world.

The American support of Israel has many causes as we have often discussed on this blog (see here, here, and here). The role of the Conservative Christians is a major one. Yesterday, the NYTimes published an interesting article on the issue:

Many conservative Christians say they believe that the president’s support for Israel fulfills a biblical injunction to protect the Jewish state, which some of them think will play a pivotal role in the second coming. Many on the left, in turn, fear that such theology may influence decisions the administration makes toward Israel and the Middle East.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Armistice and Immigration.

On November 11, 1918, German and Allied leaders sat down to sign the armistice that put an end to the Great War. Fighting would continue for weeks as word traveled slowly to the front that the war was over. In France, an entire generation of young men had been lost to the war. On a population chart of France, the normal gentle slope of population growth shows a sharp chunk missing in the years 1915-1920. The war machine had reshaped French demographics. The loss of male labor was a boon for immigration; Polish, Italian, and Spanish laborers poured in to fill the spots left vacant. Interestingly, in the last two hundred years, no European country has received more immigrants than France. Per capita, it has more immigrants than even the US. If you travel to certain parts of France, the northern mining towns in particular, you can still hear the foreign accents among the locals. The legacy of war reverberates far beyond the battlefield.


Can humor affect voters? Certainly more than anger can...

Not long ago, we talked how faux news (namely The Daily Show) can be just as reliable as regular news. Well, there is a lot of talk on the blogsphere these days about the influence of the Comedy Central shows on the mid-term elections.

The victory Republicans in 1994 was partly blamed on the rise of conservative talk radio across the nation (mostly stations owned by Clear Channel) and just like Rush Limbaugh was called the "Majority Kingmaker" by Newt Gingrich, it seems that this year a number of bloggers (conservative and liberal alike) and media think that Jon Stewart is today’s "Democratic kingmaker". Even the more liberal Los Angeles Times had a piece on the influence of The Colbert Report (a spin-off of The Daily Show) on the elections, calling Colbert the “biggest winner” in these elections:

As the comedian was only too happy to point out during the channel's election coverage, every incumbent candidate he interviewed in his notorious "Better Know a District" segment was reelected. This was the same segment that had scared off several invited congress people for fear of being made to look foolish in the campaigns' final weeks. How foolish do they look now?

Colbert has indeed been labeled as one of 100 Most Influential People by Time Magazine. His made-up wordthruthiness” has even entered the American lexicon. It is also undeniable that both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have greater influence on the American young electors than, say Hannity, Limbaugh and O'Reilly.

However, the jury is still out as to whether the youth vote was an overwhelming factor in the 2006 election (see Kevin Drum’s post). It seems reasonable to think that Iraq, Foley and a number of bad Bush policies laid heavier on the results.

But it seems to me there is a point to make here anyway. No matter what, humor is a greaterweapon than anger, and anger is all that the Conservative talk-show hosts seem to have to offer. The great success of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert is not (just) that they deconstruct the political machine of the GOP and the lies of the Bush administration; it is that they are extremely funny. I would watch Stewart or Colbert anytime over Hannity, Limbaugh and O'Reilly simply because I’ll have a good laugh, while learning things.

I am not sure Steve Young is right when he suggests that it was not Iraq but the jokes about Iraq that changed the elections, but it’s an attractive idea.

This, be the way, reminds me of the claim that Jacques Chirac’s victory in 1995 was helped by the popular French satirical puppet show, Les Guignols de L'info which portrayed him as a loveable rogue.

What is undeniable is that humor is a powerful weapon and the Conservatives have a long way to go. Thank God for the good times I have spent watching Comedy Central, if nothing else.

NOTE: read this extensive "competitive" piece on Colbert and Stewart in Rolling Stone. It's a bit long... but fun!


Thursday, November 09, 2006

Power in Congress since 1910

For those of you who like to put things into perspective....


UPDATE: Allen Concedes, Democrats Win the Senate.

Virginia Sen. George Allen (R) will concede that he has lost the election to Democrat James Webb at a 3 p.m. news conference in Alexandria, according to a source close to the campaign with direct knowledge of the senator's intentions. (Wash. Post)

NOTE: Done! The Dems gave the Senate!


A lot of good news and a few bad news about the elections.

Obviously, Joker-to-the-Thief is very pleased with the results of the elections overall. Here are some good and not so good results!

  • We are particularmy happy about the loss of Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania, not only a close Bush ally but also a man who loves religious jingoism.
  • Religious fanatic Katherine Harris was also heavily defeated by Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in Florida. If you remember, Harris was Florida's Secretary of state who certified Bush as winning the contested race in Florida. There is some poetic justice after all and some irony in this result.

Also a couple of interesting results from Minnesota:

  • MN has voted for Keith Ellison the first Muslim to be elected to the US Congress. This has good symbol value. However, as much as his religion was not a problem, his past association with Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the radical Nation of Islam was.
  • Finally, while Hillary Clinton won an impressive 67% of the vote in New York, Joe Lieberman won a new term in Connecticut — dispatching Democrat Ned Lamont. After losing the demicratic primaries, he ran as an independent. My problem with him, even as he was on the ticket as vice-president with Al Gore's in 2000 is precisely his foreign policy. He is ultra-pro Israel and a long supporter of the war in Iraq. I fail to understand how he managed to get elected - except that he got some help from the other camp....

But let's finish on the best news of all: Rumselfd is out! That is worth everything else.


UPDATE on Virginia race.

The Democrats are very likely to get the Senate but there is a bit of confusion depending on what you read.
The Associated Press and MSNBC, declared Webb the winner of the election tonight with a roughly 6,700-vote margin out of more than 2.3 million ballots cast, or less than one-half of 1 percent.
But George Allen (R) has not conceded yet.

State officials were conducting a rapid recanvass of the vote as part of the process of formally certifying the result. That process could be done as early as Thursday afternoon, officials said.A senior aide to Allen said tonight that the senator would not comment on the election until the canvass was completed. (Source IHT)


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why the Senate Vote matters.

There is probably no much need to come back on the much commented mid-term election results.

The race in the Senate does matter a great deal too, not just because the Democrat need just one last win in Virginia to gain a majority but also because the Senate is more important in terms of power than the House.

The Senate has oversight over presidential appointments, and can confirm or reject presidential appointments and justices to the Supreme Court.
In the House, Democrats will control committees with power to launch investigations and subpoena witnesses but the Senate committees are more powerful. A lot of heads could fall if those committees investigate the cronyism, corruption and incompetence in the
Iraq war and reconstruction effort, for instance.

The “funny” thing about the situation in Virginia is that it could turn into another Florida mess. A potential recount could take a long time and lengthen the suspense.

That prospect could mean prolonged uncertainty over control of the Senate, since a recount can be requested only after the results are officially certified on Nov. 27th, according to the state board of elections. Last year a recount in the race for Attorney General was not resolved until Dec. 21. (NYTimes)

Now if the Democrats do not win Virginia, the Senate standings will be 50-50 and the Republicans will retain control through Vice-President Dick Cheney's tie-breaking vote. Besides, can we really consider Lieberman a Democrat even though he said he would align themselves with the Democrats?


Monday, November 06, 2006

When art reflects reality

Sometimes comedy just says it better than all the talking heads. I guess this is why people tune in to watch Jon Stewert and why the Simpsons is in its 16th season.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Party of "BIG-government Conservatism".

When I look at this mid-term election campaign, there is one thing that really troubles. It is not the negative ads – we’ve seen that before, it is rather how much the Republican politicians use some old tricks to fight the Democrats, lied, transform reality and think they can get away with it.

A good example is what President Bush said yesterday:

President George W. Bush warned on Saturday Democrats would raise taxes if they win control of Congress in Tuesday's elections. (Reuters)

And why is that? Well, maybe because:

In President Bush’s first 5 years federal spending has increased by 3.1% annually, the most ever done since Lyndon Johnson. Under Mr Clinton, the number of federal employees shrank by 200,000 (excluding the armed forces and postal service). Under Mr Bush, it rose by 79,000. (The Economist)

Granted, you may think the circumstances are different. This is after all a post-9/11 world, but still. Most of the spending has to do with things other than the “war on terror”, especially since we all know that the war in Iraq has actually nothing to do with 9/11.

Let’s take to examples developed by The Economist this week:

  • first there is Medicare Part D for the elderly which has been criticized for being not only confusing but also not so efficient ( it covers the first $2,250 of drug spending and anything over $5,100, but leaves a “doughnut hole” in the middle). As The Economist puts it:

It will cost an estimated $1.2 trillion over the first ten years—making it the biggest expansion of the welfare state since Mr Bush was dancing the Alligator at Yale.

  • the second illustration is not just the corruption we have seen lately but the legal American tradition of pork barrel also called “earmarking”) which basically consists in “government funding of something that benefits a particular district, whose legislator thereby wins favor with local voters.” It is no less than legal bribe. And even if Democrat-controlled Congresses largely used this system, it has taken a whole new dimension under Republican leadership:

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, a watchdog group, the number of porky earmarks has exploded under Republican rule, from 1,439 in 1995 to 13,997 last year.

The party of “free-trade” has also given a large package of subsidies to farmers in 2002 which was signed by Mr Bush. [And the same year, he imposed tariffs on imported steel.]

Now how is that spending financed? Not be taxes for sure but by borrowing more and more money. As a result:

....the past six years have seen a $236 billion surplus transmogrified into a nearly equal and opposite deficit, with the prospect of much bigger deficits to come.

Who cares, it's only our children who will pay for it.... and bush will be long gone. Then his party will certainly seize the opportunity to accuse the Democrats of bad management. So the hypocrisy of this president when he accuses the Democrats of raising taxes is beyond belief.

It should be the dismay of true conservatives to see that the party of “small government’ is now the party of “big-government conservatism”.

By the way, I "borrowed" this cartoon from The Economist. I just think it says it all: