Sunday, November 23, 2008

View on Immigration in France and the U.S.

Interesting findings on the view of immigration in Europe, France and the United-States - kind of surprising if you think Americans are (almost) all descendants of immigrants after all.
Study found in this Transatlantic Trends report on immigration by the German Marshall Fund of the United States published (via Super Frenchie)

Q: Do you see immigration as more of a problem or more of an opportunity?

More of an opportunity: France 46% - US 33%
More of a problem: France 35% - US 50%

Comment from Transatlantic Trends: “Immigration is more of a problem for all but the French and the Dutch.”

Q: Will immigration increase crime in society?

Respondents who disagree: US 48% - France 70%

Comment from Transatlantic Trends: “Of all countries surveyed, the French public was the only one to strongly reject the idea that immigration increases crime. While public opinion in the other countries surveyed was either split (47% of Americans agreed, 48% disagreed) or the majority agreed that immigration will increase crime (53% in the U.K. and Poland, 57% in Germany, 61% in the Netherlands and 66% in Italy), only 28% of the French public agreed (while 70% disagreed). Among those who disagreed, 76% had a friend or colleague from another country.”

Q: Do immigrants take away jobs from native-born workers?

Respondents who agree: France 24% - US 51%

Comment from Transatlantic Trends: [A] majority of Americans believed that immigrants take jobs away from workers in their labor market. Interestingly, educational level was not a predictor of sentiment on this issue in the United States. Of the most highly-educated Americans—those with graduate degrees—39% still believed that immigrants take jobs away from natives. In Europe, by contrast, only 17% of the same highly-educated group agreed.

Q: Should legal immigrants be given the opportunity to stay permanently instead of being admitted only temporarily?

Legal immigrants should stay: France 72% - US 62%


Hate crimes surge in US after Obama election: Experts Say.

I have not read much in the media and on blogs about this AFP report:

Mark Potok, director of the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, said the final weeks of the US election campaign and its immediate aftermath had witnessed "hundreds and hundreds" of hate-related incidents.

"Since the closing weeks of the campaign, we've seen a real and significant, white backlash break out and I think it's getting worse," Potok told AFP.

Potok traced the onset of the incidents to around the time of election rallies by Republican vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin where shouts of "Kill Him!" were reportedly heard from sections of the crowd.

"But what we're seeing now is everything from cross burnings, to death threats, to Obama effigies hanging in nooses to ugly racial incidents in schoolyards around the country," Potok said.

"It's been really quite something. I can't quantify the figures beyond saying that clearly there have been hundreds and hundreds of these incidents."

Brian Levin, a professor from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino also said the rise in hate crimes appeared to fit into part of a longer term trend.

"We don't have exact figures but what I can say anecdotally is that there does seem to be a significant spike in hate crimes from around the election period up until now," Levin said.

Of course, there a lot of "seems" and "can'ts"... so it remains to be confirmed. Besides, it seems that hate crimes also increased in some parts of the country last year (See this article on the state of Washington. ).
I am just surprised that this is not talked about. Fear that it might give more people ideas and ignite more hate crimes? Or just too taboo to be discussed?
Strangely, the scary idea that Obama might be killed by a nutjob has crossed the minds of some of my students who asked me a couple of days after the elections "How long do you think he has"?. Well, granted, they may just have spent too much time watching 24.
Given the hate of some of the people at the Republican meetings, I wouldn't be surprised that some haters would try to retaliate against "minorities" yet I think it is just the last convulsions of a dead beast!


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Truth better than fiction once again

We recently blogged about the unfortunate prank phone call that Gov. Palin received from a couple of Canadian radio personalities. That call was humiliating enough for the governor, but excusable given the duo's obvious talent and her staff's ignorance of campaign protocol (vet the calls). But if there was a single silver lining in the whole affair, it was learning that the name of President Sarkozy's press secretary is Franck Louvrier. We thought it was just another joke within the prank, but it turns out that his actual name is Louvrier, which means his name translates as Frank the Worker. Given the endless campaign roll-out of what Jon Stewart referred to as spokespersons for Medieval America (i.e. Joe the Plumber, Tito the Builder, Susie the Shopkeeper), could there be a more aptly named government official? I mean seriously, Frank the Worker is a Sarkozy's actual spokesperson. Vive la République !


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fires in Orange County - California not like French Riviera.

Yesterday turned a bit dramatic for friends of mine : they were forced to evacuate their home because the blaze coming their way. A couple hours before their church went out in flames.
They live in Anaheim Hills, Orange county, California.

What struck me is how quickly the fires in Southern California spread to rather urban areas. In Orange County, it started at about 9 am and by the afternoon, it had burned more than 100 structures over a large swath of hillside land in Corona, Yorba Linda, Anaheim Hills and Brea.
The dry weather and gusty Santa Ana winds are obvious reasons, with embers flying miles away and starting new fires..

In many ways, Southern California is very much like the French Riviera. Both have Mediterranean climate (sunny, hot, dry summers and mild winters) and both have strong winds (the Santa Ana winds in CA and the Mistral in France). So both are regularly threatened by impressive fires.
However, there is a major difference : the fires in the south of France mostly burn the back country in the pine forests and only threaten isolated communities. The fires in California has quickly threatened even major urban areas and entire cities - not just small isolated towns.

I wonder if the rapid urban growth in Southern California in the last 20 years may not be the reason why the fires have been so destructive - but at the same time, the French Riviera is also very much built up. Or maybe, it is the type of construction. French homes are usually made of concrete or stones, not wood.....

Whichever it is, the consequences are dire, and I can only home that my friends there will not lose their house.

UPDATE : it turns out my friends didn't lose their house after all. Phew..... that was a close one!


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sarkozy and Diplomacy

This has been reported all over the news, but in case you missed it... :

It is on the usefulness of President Bush in today's diplomacy :
With Russian tanks only 30 miles from Tbilisi on August 12, Mr Sarkozy told Mr Putin that the world would not accept the overthrow of Georgia’s Government. According to Mr Levitte, the Russian seemed unconcerned by international reaction. “I am going to hang Saakashvili by the balls,” Mr Putin declared.

Mr Sarkozy thought he had misheard. “Hang him?” — he asked. “Why not?” Mr Putin replied. “The Americans hanged Saddam Hussein.”

Mr Sarkozy, using the familiar tu, tried to reason with him: “Yes but do you want to end up like [President] Bush?”

Mr Putin was briefly lost for words, then said: “Ah — you have scored a point there.”

The Times, Nov. 14, 2008.


Looking for the French Obama (2)

As a follow-up to the previous post on the "French Obama" issue, I must add this : I have been pretty amazed how the French media and politicians have been really obsessing about how behind France is compared to the U.S., without hardly ever underlying the how different the situations and historical backgrounds are.
France's defense minister, Hervé Morin, called the Obama victory "a lesson" for a French democracy late to adopt integration.
"In this election, the Americans not only chose a president, but also their identity," said Dominique Moïsi, a French political analyst. "And now we have to think, too, about our identity in France — it's the most challenging election ever. We realize we are late, and America has regained the torch of a moral revolution." (Wash Post)
I don't mean to say there's no problem in the French political system and with the political representation of minorities, but one must really put it all into perspective :
Most European countries were relatively monoethnic until the postcolonial period. Britain, for example, was largely white until the mid-20th century and still does not have a substantial black middle class, while French immigrants are almost all from former French colonies in North Africa, like Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, or in black Africa, like Mali, Senegal and Ivory Coast. (.../...) Given that France has such close ties to its former colonies and more Muslims than any other country in Europe, the debate here is more complicated.(Wash Post)
France may need some form of "affirmative action" of its own but the difficulty of such a change is not simply due to racism (even if there might be some of that) but it is also that the tenets of the French Republican model is to make no distinction of race and color.
In this day and age, it may be more an unrealistic ideal than a reality, but it is understandably difficult for an entire nation to depart from what seems like a good goal : have a Republic that is colorblind.
I am personally for a change that would integrate the differences rather than eliminate, deny or simply ignore them, but such a major change may take a few more years to be accepted by a majority of people, especially the older generation.

There are reasons to be optimistic though :

First , some form of "affirmative action" has already quietly been initiated by some elite French colleges and it seems to give good results. Wait a few more years and you'll probably see some dire changes in the political sphere.

Second, one must remember that even if he's not black, and not from a poor background, President Nicolas Sarkozy is a child of immigrants, "a guy with a funny-sounding name to French ears, and has given three cabinet positions to black or Muslim women.", and there was a female candidate running for the higher office.


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Looking for the French Obama.

The election of Barrack Obama has some unexpected consequences here in Europe :
Barack Obama's victory has prompted a wave of soul-searching in France, a country proud of its egalitarian tradition but where racial minorities have yet to break through to the top ranks of politics and business.

France's self-image as a home of ethnic equality previously suffered a shock when weeks of riots shook Paris's immigrant suburbs in late 2005. With the U.S. -- often criticized in Europe for a troubled history of race relations -- electing its first black president, some French politicians are questioning their own country's prejudices.
And that's a good thing...even if the Obamania sweeping France is a bit over the top (one might call it slightly immature) and probably short-lived. It has the merit of forcing the French to face their contradiction - the like to extol the merits of recipes from abroad without doing much to concoct them "at home."
Of course, one must remember that the situation in France is very different from that of the U.S.. If about 10% of France's population has African or Arab roots, this is very recent - only in the last 30 years.
"The hierarchical structure of French politics means that there is no French Obama," says Vincent Tiberj, a researcher at the Center for Political Research at Sciences Po. France's big wave of immigration also came later than in the U.S. "In France, the drive for equality only started in the 1980s," he says.

"Looking for the French Barack Obama," was the headline of a two-part investigation recently by French newspaper Le Monde. "This morning we all want to be Americans and capture a piece of the American dream," Senegalese-born Rama Yade, French secretary of state for human rights, said in a Wednesday interview with French radio.

A sense of envy at America's electoral feat is being felt across Europe, where no nation has elevated a racial minority to its highest office.


The Next Puppy in the White House may be a French Poodle.

From This Week's The Economist :
My favorite is Sarkozy - appropriately he is the annoying mean-looking French poodle clinging to Obama's leg. How relevant!

PS : Incidently, poodles are very French indeed :

According to Wikipedia :
The name poodle comes from the German word pudel, short for pudelhund or "splashing dog", reflecting the breed's development from a water dog; the word pudel is related to the English word puddle.) However, most sources concur that the French are responsible for developing the modern breed into its current form, and developing the different sizes. The French name for the poodle is caniche, referring to ducks and the poodles' water dog origins.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Election Turnout.

This needs to be confirmed with the final numbers, but as of now it seems that the percentage of Americans who voted this year's historic presidential elections may reach the highest level in four decades (since 1968).
About 133.3 million people cast ballots — or about 62.5% of the electorate, said Michael McDonald, a leading voter-turnout expert at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. (Wall Street Journal)

Interestingly, the French presidential elections last year also saw a record turnout : it was 74%. (Wash Post)

I have a few ideas why the French vote more than the Americans : traditionally the French are more political (they talk about it more out in public), the French always vote on a Sunday (so you don't need to tale some time off work), it's a smaller country and the voting system is a lot easier to understand. In France you vote only for one election at a time when in the U.S., it is obviously more complex.
The downside: most authorities (judges, police, etc...) are not not elected but appointed in France, which is less democratic.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama : the Green Victory of Common Sense.

Everybody calls it a "historic" win and that's what it is. French newspaper Le Monde called it a "9/11 in reverse". (Un 11 septembre à l'envers).

The congratulations from the French president were warmer than the usual polite note :

French President Nicolas Sarkozy led European congratulations to Barack Obama, hailing his "brilliant victory" in winning the White House.
Amid hopes of a fresh EU-US relationship under a new leadership in Washington, President Sarkozy said president-elect Obama's victory raised great hopes across Europe in the midst of major global challenges. (PA)
On a more personal level, it is going to make my life as a teacher of American English, a lot easier. After the lowest point of 2003 (during which I must say, I remained a faithful defender of the American people against the flow of anti-Americanism that swept the world and Europe), there is a sense of relief. This election justifies everything I've believed in when it comes to the U.S.

President-elect Obama (oh, sweet words) said best :
If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer. (text)

It is also going to be a lot easier for Americans to travel and live in the world.

As Asia Times put it well:
Finally, after eight years of insult, embarrassment and shame - it is once again cool to be an American living abroad. The George W Bush debacle is mercifully over, and it doesn't matter if you are black, white or otherwise. Suddenly, you're cool. Your accent is cool, your mixed heritage is even cooler and your willingness to embrace that larger world outside the borders of the United States is cooler still. What a difference a presidential election can make.

Ironically, now that the verdict is so convincingly in, most non-Americans look on in admiration and wonder because they know that their countries are not capable of a political and social feat of this magnitude: electing a member of what had been an enslaved minority to the highest office in the land.

The Obama victory parties are now sweeping over Asia and spanning the world - and the interesting thing is that it's not just overseas Americans who are celebrating. Indeed, in many places it is non-Americans who are leading out. Arguably, for the first time, we have a president of the world.
Ironically, even if the situation in Europe is historically very different, it seems that the U.S. is teaching the rest of the world a lesson - that's how some French blacks see it anyway.

However, Obama was not elected BECAUSE or IN SPITE of being black but simply because he was better.

Obama won the votes of more white men than the last five Democratic presidential nominees, according to a National Journal study of exit polls -- and nearly half of white independents. (LATimes).
Racial antagonism still exists. But with Obama's victory, voters showed that such feelings no longer hovered over American politics as they had for decades.

"The important question was not black or white but green. That is, who was best to handle the economy," said Peter A. Brown, associate director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.



Today on this historic day, I am so very proud to be an American.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

Palin Pranked by Fake Sarkozy!

In an over-the-top accent, one half of a notorious Quebec comedy duo claims to be the president of France as he describes sex with his famous wife, the joy of killing animals and Hustler magazine's latest Sarah Palin porno spoof.
They also discussed politics, Sarkozy's wife Carla Bruni, and the perils of hunting with Dick Cheney. During the prank, the duo identified Johnny Halliday [an old French singer] as Sarkozy's advisor on American relations, Stef Carse, [a Canadian singer] as the Prime Minister of Canada and their Les Cerveaux de l'info co-host Richard Z. Sirois as the Prime Minister of Quebec.
(Globe and Mail)

Click below to listen to the 6 minute prank.

I can't help feeling sorry for Palin's secretary, Betsy, who will probably get in trouble. (in fact, if you listen carefully to the beginning of the tape, there's already some confusion about how to handle calls).
To be fair with Palin, those guys have pranked major celebrities before : including Bono and Mick Jagger, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Queen Elizabeth and even Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy (who thought they were talking to Candadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper- click here for the French audio)