Saturday, May 29, 2004

Cloak and Dagger: Thierry Imbot R.I.P.

NP'ers, if you've been paying attention, you should all be familiar with this scandal (I've blogged about how it connects to larger global events here). But one of the innumerable scandals surrounding former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, also known as the "Prince of Intrigue," it concerns the illicit sale of 6 French frigates to Taiwan in 1991, a $3 billion sale that generated commissions at around $550 million, or almost 20%. It was known as "Operation Bravo."

Authorities alleged Dumas persuaded oil giant Elf (since merged with Total to form the world's fourth largest oil company) to hire his old girl-friend, an erstwhile underwear model named Christine Deviers-Joncours whose furious memoirs were entitled "Whore of the Republic" and detailed her exploitative and business entangled affairs with France's most powerful men. Authorities also alleged Elf then paid Deviers-Joncours millions of francs to bribe Dumas so that he would approve the sale of the frigates, which were manufactured by Thomson, a defense contractor that was then publicly owned. In exchange for their influence peddling, Elf allegedly received a commission on the sale. Dumas was also alleged to have received a few goodies directly, including $1,900 worth of Italian shoes and five antique statues worth $47,000. Dumas had long opposed the deal in accordance with mainland Chinese wishes but suffered a conspicuous change of heart. (He was sentenced to six months but his conviction was recently overturned after a court found he hadn't yet actually received the bribes from Elf). He also won a judgment for libel against Le Monde and their investigative reporter Hervé Gattegno, who accused Dumas of using the Conseil constitutionnel to protect Jacques Chirac from criminal prosecution for corruption while in office. See more here).


There's been some developments... Earlier this month, the Advisory Commission on National Defense Secrecy (CCSDN) ruled that the Defense ministry could make public a selection of reports written by the recently deceased Thierry Imbot, head of of French intelligence in Taiwan. (He worked there for the agency, which is known as the Central Foreign Security Directorate (DGSE), from 1991 to 1993). The CCSDN has, however, refused to advise the release of Imbot's notes, which it said would reveal French intelligence gathering methods but do not directly concern the sales.

An unlikely candidate for suicide, Thierry died on October 10, 2000, age 48. He was found at the bottom of a stairwell, having fallen from his window four stories to his death. According to the AFP, authorities ruled the death an accident but Imbot's father says that his son's body landed too far from the building for this to be true. He also said that prior to his death, his son had spoken of massive graft in the case.

Imbot's father René was head of DGSE from 1985 - 1998. An interview given to Le Monde on May 14 contained the following exchanges with him:
In 1985, I was surprised to learn that we had close collaborations with the CIA, for example, but none with China, though we had a common enemy, the USSR. Beijing asked me to assign a correspondent over there: I named my son. He left in July 1986 and the Chinese opened all their doors for him. He was even brought into the company of General Masud. When I left DGSE, my successor needed a liaison to the CIA. He designated my son who left for Washington and worked on the Gulf War in particular in 1991.

How did Thierry Imbot end up in Taiwan?

Claude Silberzahn [head of DGSE from 1989 to 1993] needed an officer in Taiwan while economic discussions were going on with France regarding the sale of Mirage planes and frigates. He was sent there in September of 1991 under a cover provided by the Finance minsitry. Then in 1993, DGSE withdrew him from this position and my son sought to leave the service in order to get married. He remained in close contact with DGSE.

Did he reveal anything to you about the sale of frigates to Taiwan?

Not really. He just said to me one day, "Dad, you can't imagine the fortune that some people made in the frigate operations." He spoke of two people, a Chinese man and a French one.

Did he mention these things in his reports to the DGSE?

He wrote many reports. In their notes to their superiors, agents write everything they know. My son had to have mentioned these payments. I know that Silberzahn has supposedly told the investigators that he can no longer remember any reports written by my son. It's unthinkable! If these reports do not harm national security, which I believe, it is irregular that they shouldn't be declassified.

Your son returned to France, where de died on October 10, 2000, having fallen from his window...

I think that he frightened some people when he came back to France. He had this "accident." I went to the scene the day after it happened. I saw where the body had been. When you fall from a window, you fall vertically. My son's body was much further off.
Continue reading "Cloak and Dagger: Thierry Imbot R.I.P." ...

Friday, May 28, 2004

Our Man in Cannes (The Final Chapter)

"To K, E, V, I, N, space, K, L — no, a K, not a C — K, L, I…"

Weapons Manufacturers and Oil Barrons: France's Idealists?

At first blush, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly unusual about this:
The escalation of violence and the horrors of the Middle East are plunging us into stupefaction and indignation. How in the 21st century can we come to this, when globalization summons us to understanding and tolerance, the bases for a peaceful and prosperous world? And, above all, how can our American friends have allowed themselves to be drawn into this mess and hornet's nest, engaging their best troops and hundreds of billions of dollars?

The successive pretexts: weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, eliminating a bloody tyrant, did not convince us, we, who are so keen on cartesian logic, that most French of singularities.

The mercantile motives suggested here and there do not stand up either and it would be an insult to this great people to suggest that they could be stirred to action on this account.

Some then spoke of promoting democracy and, consequently, of peace, in the Middle East, an entirely respectable aim, but which arises out of a messianic ideal and which submerges us in incomprehension before the scale and risks of such a crusade, especially if extended to the rest of the world.

Alone the trauma of September 11 may serve to explain and justify American conduct in this matter, especially if one thinks of the culture in this great nation, "melting pot" of the pioneers. One has only to recall that, in this country, they think nothing of the fact that the majority of citizens are armed and the American law trumps international law.
I'll spare you any more of this. I didn't pay it much mind myself when I first saw except for the fact that, even by Le Monde's standards, it struck me as a particularly boring piece of boilerplate. Even for people who opposed the war, could this essay possibly contain anything new?

Then I scrolled to the bottom to see who'd written it: Henri Martre, is a high-flying 76 year-old French aerospace industry magnate, president of GIFAS (Groupement des Industries Françaises Aéronautiques et Spatiales, an industry collective) and member of the board of directors of Renault. But — most significantly — I nearly doubled over laughing when I read that he is "honorary president" of... aérospatiale, an enormous French defense contractor that sold a great many weapons to Saddam.

In 1992 Aérospatiale merged with another French defense contractor Matra (which stands for Mechanique Aviation et TRAction) to form AéroMatra. Then in 2000, Aérospatiale-Matra merged with Daimler Chrysler Aerospance AG and Spanish contractor CASA to form the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS). Aérospatiale's most famous project was Ariane Espace, a commercial aerospace project for putting satellites into orbit. France's answer to NASA, (named for Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos and Pasiphaë, who gave Theseus the thread which lead him out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur when the former had been imprisoned on Crete).

You may remember that Aérospatiale once manufactured the Roland missile, found last autumn in Iraq by Polish troops who mistook the model number for the year and thought they'd found French weapons in Iraq dating from 2003 (it turns out Aérospatiale ceased production of the Roland-2 missiles in 1988 and of the Roland-3 in 1990.) The Roland turned out to be particularly handy for Saddam when the Russians ceased weapons deliveries during the war with Iran.

Get this: there is an uncanny similarity, right down to choice of words, between Martre's remarks and those of Jacques de Boisseson, director of foreign relations for oil company Total, who told a breakfast gathering on March 20 of last year that "one does not impose democracy and the American vision of the Middle East is terrible because it is founded on messianism." We are all well aware of what was at stake in Iraq for Total, of course. But note that de Boisseson was answering the question, "How do you view the democratization of the Middle East?"

Guess who put that question to him... the president of GIFAS? But he's the same one who...

No... it couldn't be.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Our Man in Cannes (V)

A fan of ¡No Pasarán! asks one of your webmasters for an autograph. "By the way," he wondered aloud, almost nonchalantly: "Who is the man (the woman?) hiding behind the W — who is the man behind the mask at MiF?" But nothing the fellow said would make us break our vow of secrecy.

'Beat it, you dirty kike' 'Barre-toi sale feujard'
At Nanterre University, Dieudonné, unfunny French comic, presided over an election rally for the Euro-Palestine ticket (a sort of appeasers and terrorists ticket) during which anti-Semitic comments were made and a Jewish participant was pelted with rubbish and insulted. On May 18 on radio station RMC, in response to a questionnaire on political figures, Dieudonné repeated that he prefers Bin Laden to Bush (Thanks to Charles for the RMC info).
A la fac de Nanterre, Dieudo, toujours de moins en moins drôle, a présidé une réunion électorale pour la liste Euro-Palestine (une sorte de liste de soutien aux terroristes et à ceux qui sont de mèche avec eux) pendant laquelle les commentaires antisémites fusaient et où on a lancé des ordures sur un participant juif en l'insultant copieusement. Le 18 mai sur radio RMC, en répondant à un questionnaire au sujet des personnalités politiques, Dieudo a encore répété qu'il préférait Ben Laden à Bush (Merci à Charles pour le tuyau au sujet de RMC).

Complex Reality

Erik alerted me to the following letter to the editor which ran in yesterday's Le Monde (no link available):
There are several ways to render the sporting triumph of a small Galilean town in Israel (Le Monde May 20). It all depends on the point of view you take. You took the opportunity to mention mainly the identity problems of Israel's Arab citizens and the tensions they experience among their fellow citizens. You thought it fitting not to leave out mention of the fact that Israel treats them as second class citizens, without exception. To state that the development of football is an escape for Israeli Arabs while you seemed surprised by the non-nationalistic nature of the team in question.

However the players, as is done in so many countries, rounded the stadium with a flag to celebrate the victory. The flag of... Israel.

Another choice was possible for Le Monde's front page. For example, [you could have] told of the symbol of the reconciliation of identities; insisted on the existence of such mixed teams, capable of winning all despite the obvious tensions. In doing so, you might have emphasized the numerous origins of the players in the lineup (There were Jews. There were Arabs. I believe there were also non-Israelis). On this occasion, you might have informed us on life inside the Judeo-Arab collective of this Israeli football club. You might have revealed with humor that Haifa, the unlucky finalists, were also a mixed side with two Arab players among them.

You might even have described the classic congratulatory telephone call from the head of state, Ariel Sharon, in this case, to Mazen Ghnaim, the club president, an hour after the victory. Without further comment. You might have told of how the winning team celebrated its victory on the pitch with Israeli Arab members of parliament, one of whom said, "This victory has done honor by all of Israeli society and demonstrates the potential for total equality between sectors [of society]." You might also have mentioned the remarks by the team captain, Abas Suan: "We represented the nation with pride tonight and we intend to do it with even more pride next year in Europe." At last, you might have told how the fans gathered to celebrate the victory, around 20,000 of them from the entire surrounding Arab neighborhood but also Jewish fans from neighboring cities.

All the choices to relate the event are possible. None is foremost or necessary. As is often the case, reality is many-sided. There are difficult matters and others, more happy. Sometimes the event bears symbolism and hope, beyond a mixed reality. Thus, on the subject in question, the choice ultimately depends on the way in which one has decided to illuminate the event.

Isabelle Langlois

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

When I say that this place is a Godless shithole, I mean it Quand je dis que c'est un trou à merde oublié de Dieu par ici, je sais de quoi je parle
Zeropeans are squabbling about their Constitution and the absence of any reference to God. Expect a reference to God to be inserted faster than you can say 'dhimmi' as soon as 'second generation' Zeropeans start blowing themselves up in shopping centers.
Les zéropéens se chamaillent au sujet de leur Constitution et l'absence de toute référence à Dieu dans celle-ci. Attendez-vous à voir des références à Dieu insérées illico presto dès que des zéropéens 'issus de l'immigration' se mettent à se faire exploser dans les centres commerciaux.

Our Man in Cannes (IV)

A fan of ¡No Pasarán! asks one of your webmasters to pose for a souvenir picture. (Actually, she was disappointed, because she wished her real hero, Douglas (aka the last of the famous etc), had been present, but had to settle for our man in Cannes…)

"That's Why We're Fighting the Bastards, Isn't It?"

In his weekly column in the International Herald Tribune, John Vinocur brings us a story on how the Iraq war is affecting the British government's chances in the European Union elections on June 10, by reporting on the election campaign from "a town where Labor has ruled since the Flood".
"It hurts that war, it hurts me," [A A Khaliq of Rotherham] said. "Blair made a mistake in backing Bush. I support the British troops, but not the United States. We should never have let the U.S. draw us in. We're in with a regime that doesn't listen to anybody. We should pull out."

All this came out like ice, with such little bombast that the visitor offered the school board official an instant conclusion based on what sounded like the controlled rage of man with his mind made up: So you believe Iraq will blow up in Tony Blair's face.

"Oh, on voting day?" Khaliq said. "I don't think so."

This is what newspapers call anecdotal evidence. Still, it's the kind of exchange that Labor cabinet members like Denis MacShane, the minister for Europe, have been hunting down for the past two weekends. Expecting poor European parliamentary results in any circumstances — more engagement in Europe is a tough sell with Britain's economy now outperforming France's and Germany's — Labor leaders have gone back to their constituencies looking for traces of a late spring catastrophe.

After all, in London, the prisoner abuse scandal had a sickening run of new chapters, the America of George Bush did not inspire confidence, and much of the British media was reporting a leadership wobble within the government. That, it was said, could lead to the prime minister's departure in favor of Gordon Brown, the chancellor of the Exchequer, whose label, within Labor, is paradoxically more pro-American and protective of Israel than Blair's.

… In London, Iraq could seem like "an elephant in the dining room," [MacShane] said, but what counted most here was a 3.1 percent unemployment rate in a place once designated as poverty-stricken by the EU, and private home values that have at least doubled in recent years. All on Blair's watch.

Rotherham's member of Parliament during the same period, MacShane said of Khaliq, "A ways back, this is a guy who was shouting that the Brits and the Americans were wimping out and demanding the 7th Fleet bombard Milosevic when the Serbs were mistreating the Muslims."

Which, he points out, wound up happening.

"Going door to door," said MacShane after two days of talking, "I don't get the impression that Iraq is what's on people's minds. It's how things are working out for them. One guy said, 'Iraq's a problem, isn't it Denis?' Then he talked about the young fellow beheaded on television, and he said, 'that's why we're fighting the bastards, isn't it Denis?'"

…In the real world of hard jobs and cheap flights to the sun, in which Rotherham holds charter member status, Labor appeared to think these arguments had their eternal merit. As for MacShane, he could report back: from up here, nothing like disaster in sight.

Incidentally, today is the Duke's birthday — he who once said: "Courage is being scared to death — but saddling up anyway."

Our Man in Cannes (III)

A fan of ¡No Pasarán! asks one of your webmasters for an autograph.
(The fan had a question: Why does Jonathan never blog on The Radical anymore?
We had no answer to that one…)

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Le Monde, the Mouthpiece of the French Foreign Ministry

When referring to Le Monde, is it any wonder that the International Herald Tribune's John Vinocur speaks of the newspaper's close relationship with the French Foreign Ministry? A front-page "analysis" in the newspaper of reference is consecrated to foreign minister Michel Barnier's decision not to send French soldiers to Iraq, "not now nor in the future".

First of all, the title — The Chirac-Bush Rupture over Iraq — is misleading — making it sound like the rupture of a patient Jacques Chirac was recent and has not been ongoing for the past year and a half. Throughout the article, the wording benefits — nay, lionizes — France and castigates not only America, but, at times, everybody else, including the UN and Berlin ("contrary to Germany, France affirmed that it 'would assume its responsabilities'"). The message is loud and clear. France is responsible, sensible, humane, and the only country to conduct a responsible, sensible, and humane policy towards Iraq. Some outtakes:

  • "Never have France's leaders been so categorical" (when Washington is categorical, the French call it "being intransigeant")
  • "France considers the time has come to clearly say…" (only Paris is frank and forthcoming)
  • "Today, Paris has decided to draw the necessary conclusions" (only the French know how to reason in a reasonable manner)
  • "Washington's double-dealing with the UN" (self-explanatory)
  • "To make a long story short, the American administration wants support and relief but will not let go of the reins. It calls on the UN for help all the while maintaining the vagueness on the role it is ready to grant to it" (the article immediately follows this example of "double-dealing" with a quote calling the August 2003 bombing of the UN's headquarters in Baghdad the result "the UN paid for this ambiguity", i.e., it is all Washington's fault)

And when questions arise as to the righteousness of France's conduct, now or earlier, author Claire Tréan raises them only to have some French official, identified or not, conveniently provide an answer in the next line that shows that the French policy is not only coherent, it is the only correct one.

In fact, there are 19 quotations in the article, ranging from a short phrase or even a single word to full-blown paragraphs. Not a single one is from an American. Not a single one is from anybody else but a Frenchman. Not a single one.

Lire la version française

Our Man in Cannes (II)

A fan of ¡No Pasarán! asks one of your webmasters for an autograph…

For EU Deputies, the Gravy Train Can Add 100,000 Euros a Year

In a front-page article in the International Herald Tribune concerning perks at the EU Parliament, Doreen Carvajal and Martin Gottlieb ask whether it is a system out of control.
…the legislature's well-oiled system of perks and privileges … might make a corporate president smile in recognition: chauffeured cars; daily and monthly stipends that can add tens of thousands of euros to basic salaries; jobs for relatives paid out of a E150,000 (about $180,000) a year secretarial allowance; free health care; pensions that, as one legislator put it, can put "gin on the terrace"; and, most stunningly, a travel expense procedure that reimburses legislators for as much as 10 times the amount of their airfare ticket prices.

According to payroll and expense records obtained by the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times, a legislator can add well over E100,000 to a base salary when all the tax-free benefits are calculated. …

"I have been accused of boarding the gravy train," said Bill Miller, a Scottish member who argued for reforms. "I have been accused of being dishonest. I've been accused of being greedy. I've been accused of being a parasite. I've been accused of being a leech. And that's just by members of my own political party."…

Whether the legislators will be crucified remains unclear. Europeans will engage in sweeping elections June 10 to 13, sending 732 delegates from the 25 countries of the newly expanded European Union to a legislature whose laws will govern life from western Ireland to the borders of Ukraine.

Substantial issues involving trade, immigration and integration of the 10 new, mostly Eastern European members are certainly campaign trail topics. But so, in many places, are the legislature's grab bag of goodies, with items like the E262 daily expense allowance legislators receive when they register for work in the Parliament's seats in Brussels or Strasbourg, a delicate election problem for some who have been seen signing in at 8 a.m. and then bolting for planes home.

Michiel van Hulten, a Dutch Democratic Socialist member who has campaigned for reform, said the issue was basic for the EU because to win popular acceptance it needed "institutions that citizens have faith in." …

Budgeted at nearly E100 million in the aggregate, European deputies' benefits easily top those for members of any EU-member national parliament. (The U.S. Congress, in which members of the House receive million-dollar budgets to finance sizable staffs is another story, but nepotism in hiring is barred there and reimbursement is generally tied to actual costs incurred.) …

The system of pay and perks has evolved like new generations of computers, each more efficient and faster than the last.

When members complained that they couldn't sign for their daily expense money at 8 a.m. without risking missing their flights, registration hours were pushed back to 7 a.m.
Read the entire article, notably how one slightly disheveled Austrian legislator (Hans-Peter Martin) assembled some of the most revealing information about the perk system with "a hidden minicam the size of a big sponge".

France Briefing

New Terminal at Paris Airport Collapses

My own mom passed through Roissy - Charles de Gaulle to-day, hours after Sunday morning's partial collapse of the new 2E departure terminal.

Authorities have revised the number of dead killed in the collapse downward to four (it had been five earlier) because, as the Times' Craig Smith reports in ghastly detail, "earlier reports of additional deaths were based on body parts that have since been determined to belong to one victim." Among those killed were a Chinese man and a Czech woman. At the moment of the collapse, passengers were getting off planes from Newark and Jo-burg while another flight to Prague boarded. In addition to Air France, five other airlines used the terminal: AeroMéxico, Alitalia, Czech Airlines, Delta and Koran Air.

Paris firefighters continued to search for survivors to-day, using dogs to sniff for bodies and crane to remove debris, but cracking noises and the appearance of additional fissures, halted rescue efforts temporarily for fear of subsequent collapses. The AP reports that another 30 people working in adjacent offices had had to be evacuated for this reason.

I can find no estimates as to how many people may still be buried beneath the rubble or how many have been reported missing. Reuters reports that not a single flight was canceled due to the collapse and all flights scheduled to dock at terminal 2E have been rerouted to terminal E.

Prime minister Raffarin came to the site of the disaster as did Finance minister Sarkozy (how the finance minister's presence will help at the site of an airport terminal collapse I fail to see... unless it serves to lionize the great Sarkozini yet again in his quest for the prime ministership...)

Le Parisien ( an aside, I should note that, to advertise Nescafé, all copies of the print edition of this newspaper will bizarrely be scented with coffee to-morrow, according to the AFP) also reports that three border police agents saved the lives of 80 people. Five to ten minutes before the collapse, passengers alerted them after seeing a fissure develop in the ceiling and the three men evacuated as many as they could and blocked of the area to prevent others from entering.

I was in that space myself last August just after it opened last July and I had to admit it was really beautiful. I hadn't flown internationally for a while and I was surprised by the new renovations I saw at JFK but they were no match for this. The interior was an enormous open space yet there was very little echo from the sound of so many people, creating a feeling of intimacy. You were also surrounded in light that peered in through the vaulted concrete shell down the length of the terminal. The seats were all a dark, burgundy red, if I remember correctly. It's not often you get to be in a place like that.

So it goes without saying that this is really bad news. Aéroports de Paris president Pierre Graff told Le Parisien that, "if all the rings that make up this terminal are irrecoverable, we'll raze the whole thing to the ground, of course."

The architect who designed the place is Paul Andreu, who was in China working on the Beijing National Theater at the time of the collapse but has returned to France in a hurry. Among his many projects, Andreu has also designed a number of airport structures: terminal 3 of the Dubai International Airport; an extension to terminal 2 of Aéroport de Nice-Côte-d'Azur, a new terminal at Madrid Barajas International Airport; a new terminal at the airport in Canton-Baiyun, Guangzhou privince, China; another at the Ningbo Dongshe airport, also in Chna. According to the Times, he also designed the old departure gateway at Roissy where boarding passengers ascended up escalators through crisscrossing glass tubes that traversed a light-well in the middle of a donut-shaped glass building. Kind of cool, too.

In an interview from Beijing, Andreu told L'Humanité that "everything was done according to the rules" during construction and that "I can't explain what happened. I can't understand."

An administrative and a criminal investigation have been opened into the collapse. The magistrate leading the investigation has named an expert panel to assist him. The AP reported that interior minister de Villepin said that the investigation would be "something huge and really difficult." We'd be lost without him. (continued in 2nd column...)

(continued from 1st column...) This will be terrible for Andreu's career but clearly the heaviest immediate suspicions will fall on the engineers and contractors who worked on the place. Graff told Le Parisien that the terminal was built by the GTM construction company. However the Times reports that it was built by construction firm Eiffel architecture firm Laubeuf (incorrectly identified as a construction company).

According to the Times, the terminal cost $900 million and was projected to handle 10 million passengers a year as part of French plans to turn Paris in Europe's largest air-travel hub — only one of the things that has been seriously called into question by yesterday's catastrophe.

Le Monde's editorial to-day talks of a wound to French pride and of grave longer-term consequences. "The display of beauty and power made in the form of this building thus turns dramatically toward a show of weakness. [...] As the world's eighth largest airport, Roissy had begun expansions that were to allow it to rival London and Frankfort. The new Airbus A380 was to dock at terminal 2E. The 'earthquake' may call this ambition into doubt. Not to mention the consequences for the recent privatization of Air France and the one planned by the government for Aéroports de Paris ¶ Ultimately, an earthquake for French architectural know-how and its exportation abroad..."

French Surgeons Threaten to Leave France en Masse

The AFP is reporting that, citing a profession-wide crisis, a collective of French surgeons calling itself "Chirurgiens de France" is threatening to "leave French territory" if its "appeal isn't heard."

"Most liberal surgeons are to-day ready to leave French territory entirely if their appeal isn't heard," a press-release read, according to the AFP.

The group's grievances include sky-rocketing insurance premiums (which have increased by €15,100 in the last 11 years). On the other hand, they say that doctors' fees haven't been raised in 14 years. They also say that a crisis in staffing is looming, asserting that 50% of the positions for surgical interns in the Paris region went unfilled in 2003.


The AFP also reports that a whopping 83% of the French public feel that the "lack of personnel" is the greatest problem they encounter in Public hospitals. Sixty-six percent complain of insufficient supply while 43% complain of the 35-hour work week rule. Nevertheless, 67% said they were satisfied overall with the French health system (which probably accounts for France's high average longevity). That percentage rose to 69% among hospitalized persons and to 72% among those of retirement age. Eighty-two percent have a "good opinion" of French public hospitals. Almost one in two (43%) said their views on French hospitals had improved in recent years (31% said they had worsened). Only 4% want the hospital system to be privatized and 37% expect the current situation to be maintained over the next 50 years. The results of the study are available here.

It Finally Happened: Socialist Party bounces pro-Israel candidate to court Muslim vote

According to Moroccan newspaper Le Matin, the Socialist Party has bumped euro MP François Zimeray — reputedly a fierce defender of Israel — from its list for next month's European elections the better to court the Muslim vote. Looks like the PS may have gotten rid of Pascal Boniface but kept his strategy... Meanwhile, debates on Israel at the European parliament haven't always been proud occasions, according to DF.

Expect this matter to make lots of news in the coming days.

Many French Feel Islam Undemocratic

Forty-seven percent of French people feel that Islam is incompatible with democracy, according to a survey published in the right wing French newspaper FranceSoir and repeated here. A third disagree and twenty percent are undecided.

France Won't Cancel All of Iraq's Debt

Reuters reports that France has agreed in principle to cancel as much as 50% of Iraq's current French debts but is as yet refusing to go as far as the 80-90% sought by the US. Iraq currently owes France about €3 billion, largely in unpaid bills from the 1980s when France sold Iraq gargantuan amounts of military technology and built enormous large-scale constructions (Saddam International airport, for example).

Turkish Imam Finally Expelled

Turkish Midhat Guler, accused of inciting terrorism and placed under house arrest, was forcibly repatriated on Friday, according to al-Jazeera. See here for more about Guler's case.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Our Man in Cannes

A fan of ¡No Pasarán! asks one of your webmasters if he wouldn't mind posing for a picture…

Sunday, May 23, 2004

"A Press Club Culture That Stifles Independent Reporting". Is It France? Europe?…

Is that the French media that Norimitsu Onishi describes in his Thursday column in the International Herald Tribune? Or that of some other European country? Obviously not, when you realize his name is Japanese and that his column falls under the category called Asian Letter

No, we're talking Japan here, and there may be (and are) differences in la forme, but see if you can't find any similarities between the land of the rising sun and the land of Pascal in le contenu, as Onishi discusses "a press club culture that stifles independent reporting".
In Japan, the government and big news outlets have always been close, a coziness institutionalized by the press club system in which members exclude other journalists and, in return for exclusive information from government agencies, tend to stick to the government line. It is an entrenched cartel, barely challenged here, even as South Korea, which inherited the press club as a Japanese colonial legacy, began dismantling it last year. The system did not befit a democracy, the South Koreans said.

…According to critics, the system makes its members act as a herd, producing bland reports that rarely include outside viewpoints.

"Press club members loyally write articles within the framework" set by government, said Tatsuya Iwase, author of "The Reason Newspapers Are Not Interesting," a 1999 book. "There is no more convenient a system for bureaucrats and government than the press club."…

The press clubs' defenders say any failings are with the people, not the system. Hiroshi Wada, an official at the Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association, said: "Getting the news by becoming close to a person is a starting point for a journalist. Closeness is O.K., but a collusive relationship is bad. It is not something related to the press club's existence."

But critics say the system is inherently corrupt and should be abolished. "Farmed sweetfish forget how to find food on their own," said Takeuchi, the former journalist. "They just keep on eating the feed that they're given."
(I'll stop here, but read the original article if you would like to see how "the presence of Japanese troops in an increasingly violent Iraq" plays out in this perspective.)

Read about a specific example of malfunctioning in
the collusion between Japan's authorities and its media

Who Was "Us"?

Us, the 25 members of the EU? Us, Germany and France? Or us, Schröder and Chirac?

John Vinocur continues his run of excellent Tuesday columns in the International Herald Tribune with a story on the European Union and how it is viewed by the leaders of France and Germany.
The parliamentary elections, a month from now, look largely like national preference polls, with voters' reflexes linked less to a vision of Europe than to an often angry free swipe at governments at home. The behind-closed-doors choice of a commission president already seems to have the feel of another my-guy-for-your-guy swap, a notional body from Luxembourg perhaps winding up at the World Bank, a Spaniard, by carom shot, as the EU's rep in Washington, and the top Brussels job going to someone whose most certain great skill is survival on the European political commodity exchange.

If a second attempt at a draft constitution — still not finalized or, for that matter, read by the EU's citizenry — clears a summit meeting here June 17 and 18, then it would have to be ratified by the member states. The thought that one of these responsible democracies actually might reject it was described in tandem last week by Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder as "inconceivable."

At the same time, the French and Germans were said to be working on a plan that would allow a group of EU countries to override the current provision that a single nation's veto blocks the constitution's adoption. Here was déjà vu, recalling the hardball moment last year when Paris and Berlin, their economies unable to keep up with the performance criteria of the EU's Stability and Growth Pact, simply overrode it.

…talking about the enlarged EU's chances to become a supranational undertaking as opposed to a glorified free-trade zone, the French newspaper Le Monde found that, "for the most part, the governments of the 25 members lack enthusiasm for the European project." …

Schröder (like Chirac), with his mind on the ballot box, has made a point of insisting that the new member countries will not be able to carry on with corporate tax rates lower than their western counterparts, and at the same time expect massive infrastructure subsidies improving their ability to compete within the community.

This would turn the EU's back on a formula that allowed a Spain or a Greece to come up toward the big guys' speed as new entrants. It hardly takes an advanced degree in Brussels arcana to see such an approach as further deadening any idealistic notion in Eastern Europe of a united, all-for-one future.

Maybe, in the consecrated EU manner, all this eventually can be worked in the dark of night through a cat's cradle of deals, arranged, as Robert Zoellick, the U.S. trade representative, once said of the EU, in a nice hotel at a pleasant destination.

But that does not address the EU's heart or dynamism. Occasionally, a European leader does.

Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, one of the new members, went straight at the place where reality clashes with sentiment-on-command. "We are not becoming a member of Europe," he said last month, "but an EU member. That's a prosaic proposition, not a lyrical one. Sadly, people are expecting something new, and it's not going to happen. They're going to be disappointed."

By sticking to the prosaic small print, Schröder, on the other hand, last week found room for a smile. The chancellor, sitting alongside Chirac in Paris, responded to a question at the end of a news conference about the chance of a German referendum on the EU constitution. He answered that Germany's Basic Law ruled out such votes. Then, beaming, and apparently thinking that his microphone was shut off, Schröder turned to Chirac, and said in English, according to Reuters, "That's good for us."

Who was us?