Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Hilary = France

In the US, the campaign for the primaries has been making the headlines - mostly on the battle in the Democratic party between Obama and Hillary. Here's an interesting case on the Republican side.
Mitt Romney was the Republican governor of Massachusetts (2003-07) and he is now a candidate for the Republican nomination for president in 2008.
But his bid for president was dealt a minor setback this week when a powerpoint presentation outlining his strategy was leaked to the press.
The 77-slide PowerPoint presentation offers a revealing look at Romney’s pursuit of the White House, outlining a plan for branding himself, framing his competitors, and allaying voter concerns about his record, his Mormon faith, and his shifts on key issues like abortion.
There's the usual plan for addressing voter fears regarding his chosen religion, Mormonism, and the usual potshots at what conservatives consider the arch enemy, Hilary Clinton. But what was especially interesting was this:

Enmity toward France, where Romney did his Mormon mission during college, is a recurring theme of the document. The European Union, it says at one point, wants to “drag America down to Europe’s standards,” adding: “That’s where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France.” The plan even envisions “First, not France” bumper stickers.
Who knew that politicians could still get some traction from the lame, France = everything that is wrong with America?! Things just never seem to change. Despite our many efforts here to explain differences and demonstrate how France is more productive, more livable, more highly regarded, and more, eh, right than the US when it comes to intelligence, still US politicians hold it up as everything America should aspire not to be. When will they learn?

NOTE:Courtesy of Wonkette.


The [Unusual] French Presidential Campaign.

The French presidential campaign is now in full speed and it's been somewhat interesting to observe it.
Just as reminder here are the three major candidates:
But a number of things have made this campaign unique
  • there is no incumbent and there is no one from the "old guard" representing the major political parties.
  • the candidates tend to have different profiles than the usual contenders did in the past: one is a woman, another is the son of a Hungarian immigrant often described as Atlanticist, and the third one is the son of a cultivator with a more humble educational background.
  • for the first time the socialist party had a primary in which the socialist candidate was elected (not unlikely an American closed partisan primary)
  • there has been no traditional debate or questions and answers with journalists and pundits. Instead, the political TV shows have taken on the shape of Town-Hall meetings. This has been controversial of course as pundits and journalists have been sided. Some people have lamented over the demagogy of this campaign. True, but this may be the direct result of the incompetence of the journalists in past elections as they have repeatedly failed to ask tough questions and confront politicians when they distorted the truth. So now, one of the main theme of this year's campaign has been to be "closer to the people" in a direct way, however demagogical it may be.
  • The main political tv shows have broken audience record. This new interest in the campaign is in line with the rise in voter registration in recent months. This may also mean that the alienated and disadvantaged ethnic Arab and black African citizens may play a bigger role than in previous elections.
  • The far left and its neo-Marxist rhetoric seems to be losing steam (they even failed to to choose a single candidate) but the socialist party has also been hesitant in clearly endorsing the market economy. There are signs, however, that important things have been happening. One of them is that Ségolène Royal has been more pro-business than the previous socialist candidates. She claims that she wants to reconcile people with business.
  • All the candidates claim they favor law and order ("l'ordre juste" says Ségolène) and even personal responsibility. That's new. Not only has Nicolas Sarkozy proposed to change criminal procedure for youngsters, but even left-wing candidate Ségolène Royal has proposed to send unruly youths to centers under military discipline. Unheard of on the left!
  • The main issues have been domestic and that's not unusual but the topic of the debt is certainly new. So is the cost of measures promised by the candidates. There seems to be great weariness of promises that failed to be kept, and people seem willing to hear more reasonable less costly measures which helps explain the last point:
  • ... the rise of the centrist contender in the polls which has altered the dynamics of what was expected to be a two-horse race. François Bayrou has a program that mixes the entrepreneurial dynamism of the right and the sense of security of the left. This may not be enough for him to win the first round, but his vision seems to gain momentum.
The choice will be a tough one - which one could sum up in a choice between a mother-protector and a strict father. The middle-ground might be Bayrou but the idea of a coalition that could actually govern in France may be unrealistic. A lot of French may be willing to give it a try, at the their own risk. (the risk might also be to give far-right wing candidate J.M Le Pen a chance to make it to the second round as in 2002 - he tends to be quite strong and his electorate is hard to assess in polls)
More will follow soon....


Monday, February 26, 2007

Romney - Abortion

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has come out as a stanchly pro-life candidate. This was not, however, always the case. In 2002 he campaigned for the MA governship as adamently pro-choice. Where does he actually stand? It seems to depend on the wind. Here he is in a 2002 debate with his Democratic rival, Shannon O'Brien.

This is the man who now claims to be pro-life. What's scary is that I saw this debate in 2002 and thought that he came off better than his opponent. But I was wrong. O'Brien, in fact, saw the deception and made note of it. Romney's gift is his ability to cause just enough fog so that people listen to his voice instead of looking at the facts. Nice voice.


Obama - Iraq from 2002

Competent leadership is what we look for as both the US and France head into full campaign season. Fed up with an irrelevant leader who has made a career out of political office on the one side of the Atlantic, and an irrelevant leader who makes us cringe each time he weighs a decision on the other, people are looking for capable leaders who can bring legitimacy and respect back to the office of president. Our goal is to provide you with a snippet of the top candidates and a bit of analysis when the opportunity arises.

Here's our first snippet of Barack Obama in an interview from 2002, before the invasion of Iraq.

Even though he chooses his words carefully, he comes out clearly on the side of diplomacy. And his prediction of long-term instability? right on the money.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Alternate Reality Lives

In 2004 a Bush administration official famously labeled Bush's critics as members of the reality-based community for their desire to judge each situation based on the evidence and described Bush's preferred alternative universe in which adminstration supporters create their own reality. The idea received considerable attention at the time, and rightly so, for its remarkable disdain for enlightenment principles.

And now? The flight from reality continues and construction of that alternate universe pushes on. Fox Television has decided to respond to shows like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report with their own conservative take on humor, The Half Hour News Hour. Of course, the fact that the former two riff on material gleaned from conservative shows like O'Reilly and Fox News makes Fox's version oddly self-referential. It's also, judging from its poor quality and low ratings, not funny. But don't take our word for it, see for yourself. Just don't let your laughter drown out the canned laugh track.

On a related note, it seems that Wikipedia is also too liberal for the conservatives. In order to counter the anti-American, anti-capitalist, anti-Christian slant of Wikipedia, conservatives have started their own wiki - Conservapedia. I kid you not. So what's they're take on reality? Oh, the usual: intelligent design, global warming, God and all things America. Just a small example of the anti-American attitude on Wikipedia that they intend to combat:

Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English speaking users are American. Look up "Most Favored Nation" on Wikipedia and it automatically converts the spelling to the British spelling "Most Favoured Nation", even there there are far more American than British users.
Ahh, how charming. And how do the facts of evolution stand up against the facts of intelligent design?

...even though most Americans (and probably most of the world) reject the theory of evolution, Wikipedia editors commenting on the topic are nearly 100% pro-evolution.

Did you follow that? Majority rules. I believe this is why Stephen Colbert's "truthiness" took word of the year. You have to see it to believe it.


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

People's Wisdom?

This news suggests that the "masses" may not be so stupid and ignorant after all! There may even be hope... who knows?!

A poll of 28,000 people carried out for the BBC World Service found that a majority of surveyants from around the globe believe the main causes of problems between the West and Islam are not based on religious but political and economic factors.

The BBC reports that Doug Miller, the president of GlobeScan – the company which carried out the poll for the BBC – said the results suggested that the world was not headed towards an "inevitable and wide ranging clash of civilizations.

(More here in The Christian Science Monitor)


Monday, February 19, 2007

Were the French Right on Iraq (2)?

It seems now (see our previous post) that the French may have been right in predicting the chaos that would follow an American invasion of Iraq (read de Villepin's speech to the UN for an eery vision of today's situation). The US is known for winning wars and losing peace.
So was the war a mistake? Given what we see today, so it seems. But I think that if THE war (badly planned as it was) was a mistake, A war against Saddam Hussein may have been a necessary evil anyway.
Obviously the world was pretty divided on the question of Iraq (old Europe v. New Europe, the U.S. v. most of the world?), yet a binary view of the events is the wrong way to frame the story. That’s how the whole thing was sold to us but it is clear to me that the situation offered a third possibility and another moral position could be made.
There should have been a U.N. intervention in Iraq, led by the U.S. We know now that there were no WMDs, we also know that the Bush administration has greatly spun the intelligence to fit their own agenda (‘spun’ or even 'lied to'). However, the fact remains that Saddam Hussein did not fully comply to the UN Resolutions and to what the inspectors required and we must be fair and remember those facts.

In his January 2003 report, Chief Inspector Hans Blix’s report stated that;

Iraq appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance – not even today – of the disarmament, which was demanded of it and which it needs to carry out to win the confidence of the world and to live in peace.

In fact, Iraq had failed to comply with two UN resolutions - resolution 687 and resolution 1441. In fact, 1441 was passed precisely because Iraq was in...

.. material breach of its obligations under relevant resolutions, including resolution 687 (1991), in particular through Iraq's failure to cooperate with United Nations inspectors and the IAEA, and to complete the actions required under paragraphs 8 to 13 of resolution 687 (1991)

In March 2003, Blix also stated yet another report that

"Iraq, with a highly developed administrative system, should be able to provide more documentary evidence about its proscribed weapons programmes. Only a few new such documents have come to light so far and been handed over since we began inspections."

The problem of Resolution 1441 was the ambiguity of its conclusion when it concludes :

Recalls, in that context, that the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations;

Obviously, the reason why the resolution was voted, as it is often the case at the UN Council is precisely because of its ambiguous wording. It was easy enough to understand whatever fitted your agenda in the expression “serious consequences”.

Obviously, the Bush administration had already made up their minds, and the reason why they reluctantly attempted to go back to the UN is because the British who wanted unanimity for a second resolution. But by that time (March 10), French president Jacques Chirac declared that France would veto any resolution which would automatically lead to war. That infuriated Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary and, in my mind, he was right about it.

So while most of the blame for the current failure in Iraq should obviously fall on George Bush, Jacques Chirac also has some serious responsibility there.

What was needed was a UN Resolution to push for a (true) coalition, probably led by the US to go to war and topple Saddam Hussein, who after all was no angel – a coalition that would have included Muslim countries and would have resembled the force used in the Gulf War. What 150,000 men could not do (like securing the border or providing law and order), 500,000 were more likely to do. Wishful thinking? Certainly Bush did not care much about diplomacy and had little patience with it but Chirac did not give it a chance either. Hubris on both sides!

One needs to go back to the facts and see that the events were actually framed so that only two options seemed to make sense – a US-British war or no war at all. Once again, "THAT" war was wrong from day one, but probably not "A" war.

A “legal” U.N. war was needed. I also agree with Bernard Kouchner's view that at least a "proper" war in Iraq would have put an end to the brutal dictatorship there which is why the demonstration in support of Iraq always felt out of place. Certainly not the war we have seen though.

The question remains as to why Saddam Hussein failed to fully comply with the UN if he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction. It has been suggested that that was either because Saddam Hussein didn’tactually know he didn’t have them any more (because his people lied to him out of fear) or because he wanted his old enemy, Iran, to believe he was still capable of waging a massive attack against them. The second explanation makes sense to me – that plus a sense of Arab pride.


Were the French Right on Iraq (1)?

Here's an excerpt from the article published last week by The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, entitled "They were Right on Iraq". "They" is the French....
No one west of Normandy's beaches remembers or cares what French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said at the United Nations on Feb. 14, 2003, as President Bush and his neocon missionaries geared up to take down Saddam. Everyone in America was too busy making surrender jokes.
But after nearly four years, several thousand deaths and half a trillion U.S. dollars, the arguments Mr. De Villepin made in a vain attempt to cool President Bush's pre-emptive jets sound pretty sensible, not to mention prescient.
The "premature recourse to the military option" now might appear to be the "swiftest" way to strip evil Saddam of the weapons of mass destruction, De Villepin said, but "let us not forget that having won the war, one has to build peace." Check.
"Let us not delude ourselves; this will be long and difficult because it will be necessary to preserve Iraq's unity and restore stability in a lasting way in a country and region harshly affected by the intrusion of force." Check.
And nine months later, as Iraq began its spiral into bloody chaos, De Villepin offered this still timely advice to America on CNN: "Don't believe that you are going to solve Iraq because you are going to send more troops or more money." Attestation.

There is plenty of criticism to make of de Villepin's government's attitudes back in those days, but what is certain is that there was too much hubris in the U.S. in 2003 for anyone to even consider anyone else's opinion. It was the humiliation of 9/11 that gave way to anger, blindness, stupidity and arrogance. The surrender jokes about the French have a bitter taste now, don't they?

NOTE: Surprisingly, the article is on Pat Buchanan's blog. Pat Buchanan, of all people! Granted, he's been a fierce opponent of the war in Iraq, and a traditional conservative rather than a neo-con. Still, praising the French may be a bit too liberal for a conservative, don't you think?


Sunday, February 04, 2007

Conservative Think-Tank Bribed Scientists.

The United Nations report on the environment concocted by 2,500 scientists from more than 130 nations made the headlines last week. The main points are basically that warming was pretty much certainly man-made and it's only going to get worse (i.e. more droughts, heatwaves, rains and rising sea levels) before it gets better if it ever does!

But what has not made the headlines so much is powerful lobbies have tried to bribe scientists:
Letters sent by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), an ExxonMobil-funded thinktank with close links to the Bush administration, offered the payments for articles that emphasise the shortcomings of a report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The AEI has received more than $1.6m from ExxonMobil and more than 20 of its staff have worked as consultants to the Bush administration. Lee Raymond, a former head of ExxonMobil, is the vice-chairman of AEI's board of trustees.
The Guardian.
Exxon is very familiar with propaganda - they after all, along with other oil companies, funded tv ads that claimed that carbon dioxide is actually good for you.
The Bush administration is also good at misleading the public, as we all know by now - and I don't mean just the WMD
. Remember when a scientist from NASA said in 2002 that the Bush administration was "trying to stifle scientific evidence of the dangers of global warming in an effort to keep the public uninformed" (MSNBC)
We have also recently talked about AEI: it is a neo-conservative think tank which has been the main architect of the Bush administration's foreign policy (i.e. at the core of the ideology of the war in Iraq), which also wants to bomb Iran!
A great combination of people, isn't it? At least they have the merit of being consistent. I give them that! Time to face reality : they have lost on Iraq, they are losing on the environment, and they will lose in Iran. Time to get real people!


Charlie Rose - An hour with Nicolas Sarkozy

Last week, Charlie Rose (PBS) interviewed Nicolas Sarkozy, Interior Minister of France and the UMP candidate for the French presidency. If you want to have an idea of who are the two main contenders for this year's presidential elections in France, the beginning is a good introduction. The interview itself is also pretty good. Charlie Rose does not spare his interviewee the tough questions.
As a teacher of English, I may be a bit too sensitive to this issue but I find it appalling that Sarkozy does not speak English and actually needs a translator... He was after addressing an American audience. What kind of world leader is this? Today, it is clear that English is needed for diplomacy and for interacting with other leaders at a more personal level.
Recently, when Sarkozy met with Tony Blair, and well... they spoke French. Good for Tony but it's not exactly like everybody in the world speaks French fluently. Recently, some people in France took offense at the fact that the UN Secretary does not speak French fluently and prefers spaking English. Well, maybe the French leaders should begin to acknowledge reality and adapt to today's world! This is worrisome for the so-called new generation of French politicians. (Chirac, Jospin, or de Villepin all speak English reasonably well..)
It seems that the other main contender for the presidential race (French socialist candidate Ségolène Royal) does not speak much English either (watch a video here). Sad!
The irony is that Sarkozy often shows himself quite an Anglophile, and even an Americanophile in some instances... so you'd expect him to speak English well enough! But no, he doesn't! The latter may explain the former, cynics might say!

It is also worth noting that at some point Sarkozy presents himself as a self-made man who had to fight to make it to the top. This is not entirely true and as you can read in his biography, he came from a fairly wealthy family and spent most of his life in the wealthiest exclusive Parisan suburb of Neuilly of which he eventually became the mayor. This of course does not mean he's not a skillful politician who has worked hard to make it to the top... but let's not buy into the entire myth of the man who's made it from the bottom to the top! Sarko's life is no Horatio Alger story!

Enjoy the video...