Saturday, May 01, 2004

Again and again and again

MIF informs us of latest outrage. In the Alsatian village of Herrlisheim, vandals painted swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on 127 headstones in the town's Hattstatt-Herrlisheim Israelite Cemetery in the night of Thursday to Friday, April 29th - 30th.

Chirac immeidately said that anti-Semitism is really, really against the rules; or rather that it is "contrary to the all the values, principles and ideas of the Republic." Prime minister Raffarin wrote to a Jewish group to express the embarrassment, awkwardness and difficulty he feels in having to denounce something that is now so routine, common and banal the country he represents. Interior minister Dominique de Villepin cancelled his appointments and headed to the scene of the crimes — which he has the luxury of doing, now that he's no longer required to look the other way before such acts since he is no longer cozying up to anti-Semitic Arab regimes as minister of Foreign Affairs.
The Hattstatt Synagogue

Herrlisheim had a strong Jewish community in 1784 (389 people) but all that remains today is the cemetery. Situated in the middle of a vinyard, it has been sacked and defaced several times since the Holocaust but each time it has been restored and it requires constant attention and continual restoration, given its age. Some of the tombs and stelas have crumbled and most are made from a porous and soft stone which will be difficult to clean. For more information about Alsatian Jews, you can visit this site.

According to local prosecutor Pascal Schultz, the "investigation is making good progress," reports the AFP. "There appear to have been several writers," he said, adding that graphologists would be assigned to determine their number scientifically. Other experts will be appointed to determine the kind of paint used and origin of the two German flags found on two of the cemetery's stela. The flags bore slogans exalting the Nazi regime. Schultz says the investigation may require collaboration with German police.

The legalese for the crime is "defacement of a place of burial aggravated due to membership in an ethnic group, religion or race" and is punishable by three years in prison and a fine of €45,000. This is in addition to charges for incitation to racial hatred.

Daniel Bernard 1941-2004

French ambassador to Algeria Daniel Bernard died Wednesday night in a Paris hospital, aged 62.

While ambassador to London, Daniel Bernard achieved notoriety when Barbara Amiel, wife of the "fat crook" (a.k.a. Conrad Black) reported that Bernard had referred to Israel as "that shitty little country." She writes that he added, "Why should the world be in danger of World War Three because of those people?" (Bernard denied ever making such remarks.)

Say things like that and "those people" will still be talking about it the day you die.

Bernard was anything but marginal. A graduate of the National School for Administration (a factory that produces France's political elite), he started out as vice-consul in Dublin before moving on to Brussels where he represented France at various multilateral organizations. In 1984, he became diplomatic advisor to Socialist prime minister Laurent Fabius. From 1990 to 1993, he was director of foreign minister Roland Dumas' cabinet. Following this, he became ambassador to the Hague, then to the UN (in Geneva), and then to London. He became French ambassador to Algeria in 2002 (his final posting) and was still in office when Chirac visited that country last April — the first official visit by a French president since the Algerian war of Independence. Chirac visited Algeria again this April.

On Thursday, Algerian president Abd al-'Aziz Abu Tifliqa expressed his "most friendly condolances" to Chirac. "The news of his death (...) fills me with sadness," said Bouteflika. "The few years he spent with us taught us to appreciate his indisputable qualities as a informed diplomat but also, and above all, for all that was human in his conduct and amicable in his relations with us." Bouteflika was also very cordial with one of Iraq's great butchers, Ali Hassan ibn al-Majid.

UPDATE: Le Monde appears almost charmed by Bernard's indiscretion. Daniel Vernet writes in passing:
In his diplomatic postings, he maintained his frank (*) way of speaking and this earned him a few moments of discomfort; particularly in London, where, over the course of a diner, he used an incisive expression with regard to Israel that, even though uttered in private at the home of a press baron, could never have remained a secret.
That's it. Tut, tut; hee, hee! When the representative of France calls Israel a pile of excrement in polite company, this ammounts to no more than a comedy of manners. Oh, that zany Daniel! "Those people" and "shit," how incisive! Does Vernet share this view of Israel as shit? Does he consider it worth criticising? Can this be so unimportant as to go unexamined as it does here?

(* nb: the word "frank" comes from the French word franc, which itself comes from the Latin Francus, a name for the Frankish people. Le Robert (the standard-bearing French dictionary) says this name may come from the Germanic frëka, meaning "eager for battle." Weird.)

Friday, April 30, 2004

How Best to Explain the Iraq Conflict to Your French Kid?

By calling it "the War for Oil", bien sûr. (Vous êtes cons, ou quoi?)

Better yet: let a twice-monthly magazine for kids do the work for you.

That's part of what is called education in France (l'éducation nationale).

In its Discovery of the World section, Okapi number 744 (thanks to Gabriel Gonzalez for bringing this to my attention and for providing me with that particular issue of the magazine "100% ado") has a double-spread photo of an American soldier standing on a tank and brandishing an automatic rifle while on the horizon, (sabotaged?) oil wells rise in flames.

Entitled "La guerre du pétrole", the article's subhead reads as follows: "Every year, 3,5 billion tons of oil are used on Earth. That makes it the most-used commodity in the world... and also the most coveted. To gain control over this black gold, certain countries fight each other in battles without mercy. Explanations follow."

Oh, c'est génial, Okapi, merci beaucoup! Good thing the all-knowing Jean-Yves Dana will provide the explanations for this war, and inform us French kids that "certain countries" (unlike us peace-loving French) are so cruel and crazy and greedy as to kill each other, while we Frenchmen are the epitome of humanity, generosity, and the ability to reason. Everybody else in the world is base and stupid, only we are "lucides". Good thing we start getting taught these self-serving truths right away, while we are young. Good to know that we French are above all that. And what about the French government kowtowing to a mass-murdering dictator, you ask? And how about the UN graft scandal? Any articles about that? Ça va pas, non?! Nooooon, ça ce sont des situations beaucoup plus compliquées, comprenez-vous. Zose are very complicated situations, somesing that ees far too complicated for our young kids to understand.

Turning the page of the Bayard Presse publication, we come to another double spread, illustrated by a "Monsieur Mérou": "Iraq's oil at the heart of the conflict" rings the title, with this subhead speaking directly to the kids: "During the war in Iraq, one image may have shocked you: while the museums were abandoned to the looters, oil wells were protected by the soldiers. Here is why." Three reasons follow (entitled "The United States need Iraq's oil", "In the Middle East, Iraq is an important country", and "Iraq also holds large reserves still unused"), each of them followed by matter-of-fact-tone castigations of Uncle Sam in what is nearly baby talk.

Elsewhere in the magazine dated September 15, 2003, we have more information abut l'Amérique. François Descombe provides us with a view of ER, as well as the paramedics and emergency rooms that provide the TV show's content. It goes without saying that the article compares the U.S. with the French equivalents, and that the comparison (quelle surprise, les enfants!) comes out in favor of la République française.

Isn't it chouette that French kids are taught the intricacies of the world, and that in such a straightforward manner? Isn't it génial that they are made to understand how the world works? Isn't it merveilleux how they start getting, this early, a view of the legendary objectivity of their country's journalists?

And the Dinner Winner Is...

When results came in for the 50 best restaurants in the world, French restaurants, not surprisingly, dominated the top 10 (four of them, five if you include Monaco). But none of those was among the top three eateries, in this event run by Restaurant magazine and decided by an international panel of restaurateurs, chefs, critics, and journalists.

And first prize went to a — choke — Yankee. While second place went to — oh Seigneur! — a Limey. In fact, London restaurants dominated this year's list of top 50 restaurants. Finally, no French-speaking country won in the individual award category. (I got what follows in an email without attribution, so all I know is it's from British magazine; if any reader has any clues, kindly forward them to me.)

British cuisine is celebrated as Fat Duck
brings home the bacon (and egg ice-cream)
By Cahal Milmo and Andrew Johnson (21 April 2004)

When it comes to finding the best cuisine in Europe, many gourmets will head for the hills of Tuscany or the boulevards of Paris. But, as of today, the correct route is to turn off the M4 at junction eight and seek out a 450-year-old former pub run by a chef named after a motorway service station.

Heston Blumenthal, the proprietor of the Fat Duck restaurant in the Berkshire village of Bray, which has become synonymous with such gustatory delights as bacon and egg ice-cream and cauliflower with chocolate, is now the owner of the best eaterie on the continent.

The restaurant, which is already the holder of the most rapidly achieved three Michelin stars in British history, saw off competition from such temples to gastronomy as El Bulli in Spain and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon in Paris to collect the award at a ceremony in London last night. It was only beaten to the title of the world's best restaurant by the American incumbent, French Laundry, in California's Napa Valley.

The top 10 for the award, run by Restaurant magazine and decided by an international panel of restaurateurs, chefs, critics and journalists, contains two other UK restaurants — Gordon Ramsay (8th) and Nobu (7th), both in London. These make Britain second only to France, which has four listed. …

Commentators will draw parallels between the philosophy of Blumenthal and that of his rival for the number one spot in global gastronomy, Thomas Keller, who opened the French Laundry in the Californian countryside in 1993. Just as his British counterpart pays obsessive attention to the constituent parts of his ingredients and the physics of cooking, so too does Keller. …

Thom Hetherington, the marketing director for Restaurant magazine, said yesterday: "It's great to see that such a variety of British restaurants made the list." Experts also pointed to the nation's growing strength in depth. Eleven of the top 50 restaurants are in Britain.


1: French Laundry, Yountville, California
2. The Fat Duck, Bray, Berkshire
3. El Bulli, Montjoi, Spain
4. L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Paris
5. Pierre Gagnaire, Paris
6. Guy Savoy, Paris
7. Nobu, London
8. Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London
9. Michel Bras, Laguiole, France
10. Louis XV, Monaco

Denmark: Standin' Tall and Walkin' Right

Secretary of State Colin Powell made a six-hour stopover in Denmark, a steadfast U.S. ally in military operations.
[During a news conference in Copenhagen] Powell's insistence that the United States and its allies must remain and steer Iraq toward Democracy drew an instant endorsement from Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller. "We reiterated our intention to stay until the job is done," Møller said. …

Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen … said "we owe it to the Iraqi people to assist them ... to protect them from the terrorists."

Denmark's decision to keep some 500 troops in Iraq countered somewhat the defection of Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
A week earlier, Rasmussen flew into Houston to receive the Lyndon Baines Johnson Moral Courage Award on behalf of his country.
Gratitude and remembrance resonated through the ballroom of the Hilton Americas-Houston Wednesday night as Holocaust Museum Houston honored Denmark. … After Rasmussen received the award, Benjamin Warren presented him with a pair of custom-made cowboy boots emblazoned with the flags of Texas and Denmark. "Texans are particularly proud of their boots and count on them to help them to stand tall and walk right," Warren said, adding, "The Kingdom of Denmark clearly understands the importance of standing tall and walking right."

The Prime Minister's speech

Le Monde Special on Enlarged European Union

Le Monde's issue of April 29 features a special 20-page section on the European Union's taking in of 10 new members on Sunday. Three articles, in particular, concern Uncle Sam's relation, direct or indirect, to the enlarged union:

Two News Items

*** Newsflash: French Communists Are Corrupt: On Tuesday, I mentioned police raids on union offices at France's largest electricity comapny as part of an anti-corruption investigation. Today the AFP reports the investigation is widening to include the French Communist Party and the powerful union known as CGT (Confédération générale du travail). Authorities allege the Idelia car-fleet management company and the events organizer, Compact, issued phony bills to the EDF workers committee (comité d'entreprise) in order to cover for funds being diverted to the committee's friends. They allege furthermore that the committee paid €145,000 in 2001 for super-sized video screens for the annual Fête de l'Humanité, a Communist Party festival held by the eponymous newspaper, once the flagship publication of French communism, and that the committee paid €26,800 for sound equipment and production for the presidential campaign of Communist leader Robert Hue. Ten party functionaries got fake jobs at the committee while working for the CGT or the Party, say investigators, and last year, the committee bought 77,000 copies of the weekly edition of l'Humanité.

*** The BBC reports that international terrorist attacks are at a thirty year low:
US government figures suggest that terrorist attacks have fallen to the lowest level for more than 30 years.

The annual report records a slight fall in the number of international attacks last year and a dramatic decrease in the number of victims.

The report says that less than half the number of people lost their lives in such attacks last year compared with the year before.

However, most of the violence in Iraq has not been included in the figures.

Papon's Last Defeat

Last February, convicted war criminal Maurice Papon, 93, sought to have his sentence overturned. In 1998, a court at long last sentenced Papon to ten years in prison for approving the deportation of 1,500 French Jews from la Gironde to their deaths in Nazi concentration camps during the German occupation of France. The AP is now reporting that Papon's request has been turned down. (He is currently a free man after his release on health grounds in 2002.)

His story is a very painful episode in which every error and misstep the authorities committed was compounded over and over again. Following the war, Papon went on to a brilliant career in French public life, becoming minister of Finance and serving for a long time as Paris police commissioner, notably during the generalized outburst of anti-Arab violence that occurred in Paris on October 17, 1961 (and during which the Paris police are alleged by some to have used the very same tactics that they employed in rounding up Jews for deportation — bur more about that another time) and which is rarely ever mentioned publicly.

Papon's past was brought to light on May 6, 1981 by the satirical and investigative news weekly known as Le Canard enchaîné (which is so behind the times, it has no Web portal, just this).

Papon was twice indicted for crimes against humanity in 1983 and again in 1984. His lies about having been a member of the resistance during the war very publicly began to fall apart. In 1987, an investigation into Papon's past was annulled for misconduct and a new one was begun. Papon was again indicted in 1988 for crimes against humanity and the list of "coplaintiffs" continued to grow. In December of 1989, the investigating magistrate assigned to the case, abandoned it and in 1990 another judge (the fourth!) took up the case.

He was indicted again 1992. Meanwhile, in 1993, René Bousquet, another former official with the French police accused of collaborating with the nazis in rounding up Jews, was assassinated the very day before he was due to begin his trial for crimes against humanity.

This last investigation was finally closed in 1995 and the case went to trial in October of 1997. At long last in April 1998, Papon was sentenced to ten years (the prosecution had sought 20) and France's longest-ever post-war prosecution finally came to an end, seriously damaging the Gaullist version of France's anti-German resistance in the process. Papon also lost the civil proceeding against him and was ordered to pay FF 4.6 million.

Rather than face prison, he fled to Switzerland in 1999 pending an appeal of his conviction, which was therefore denied. He was then captured and taken to jail but in 2002, the European Court of Human Rights awarded him €29,192 in legal costs after it ruled in his favor — his lawyers had sued French authorities because, if memory serves, of something known in France as "mise en état," (putting into status, i.e. go to jail) which requires the accused to enter prison before his appeal can be heard. The ruling found that such a procedure was unfair and hindered the accused's access to the courts.

The end result was that Papon was in effect giving lessons in the law to France, the country that had suffered such a colossal failure of nerve in trying to prosecute him in the first place. It was a deeply humiliating spectacle.

He was released from prison that year out of consideration for his deteriorating health.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Fascinating News with an Original Slant

Regularly, I get invitations for a trial subscription to various newspapers and magazines. Being of a curious nature (and liking freebies), I usually accept. So I sent off for La Vie before I left on my trip to the American Southwest, and when I returned, there were three or four copies of the Christian News Weekly in my mail. It looks like a fascinating magazine.

An article in issue 3059 (April 15) is entitled "Irak, apocalypse now", and next to a color picture of a marine placing a dead comrade in a truck in Ramdi on April 6, it shows Nick Ut's famous black-and-white 1972 photo of half a dozen Vietnamese kids, one of them naked (Kim Phuc), running straight towards the photographer, away from a napalm attack near the Trang Bang road.

Problem is, either the art director didn't consult with the authors (Christian Troubé and Thomas Cantaloube), or else he, all three, or the entire editorial team were just paying homage to the adage that one must always up the ante where Uncle Sam is concerned. Indeed, although the article says the Bush administration is on the defensive, a sentence in the article does away with the Vietnam comparison. "Basically, the Repubicans are probably right. From the number of soldiers killed (close to 650 in Iraq versus 58,000 in Vietnam) to the conflict's ideological justifications through the American reconstruction efforts, few elements are comparable."

A book review in issue 3058 opens with this sentence: "Whether or not one remembers Bush's famous address to the Congress ["We are the best"], it is difficult not to agree concerning the arrogance and the sentiment of all-powerfulness which pervades the American political discourse." Thus, Élisabeth Lequeret echoes her colleagues and fellow citizens across the French Republic, who never bother, it seems, to mention arrogance and the sentiment of all-powerfullness that pervades in the discourse that says: we are more humanistic, more generous, more solidaires, more generous than anyone else. At least, in America, this type of sentiment brings condemnation. In France and all other societies where it is heard, it brings unanimity.

The April 8 issue also carried a story about "base racism". It's very sad. It seems that an "anti-racism champion" has been "sidelined": The head of the MRAP (Mouvement contre le Racisme et pour l'Amitié entre les Peuples) calls himself a "victim of the 'exclusion' which he has always fought against", Corinne Chabaud writes. It sounds like a very moving story. Imagine: A communist party conseiller régional for the Île-de-France, Mouloud Aounit has not been chosen as one of the region's four vice-presidents, his socialist party ally (and boss) having "sidelined him".

"The oldest son [51] of a Kabyle immigrant thinks he is the victim of base racism. Isn't he a bit vocal in his defence of Arafat and the Palestinians? Hasn't he been vocal in his opposition to a law on the [Muslim] veil? Last Fall, he was aggressed after a debate organized by a Jewish organisation." But not to worry. It's "a humiliation that does not lessen his determination to fight against rejection of one's fellow man" (le rejet de l'autre). What a relief.

No Comment Again

At Yesterday's Foreign Affairs ministry press conference:
Do you have a reaction to the statements by World Jewish Congress chairman of the board Israel Singer, who felt that banning the Islamic veil in French public schools could create a "ghetto" phenomenon and "second class citizens"?

"I have no comment to make on Mr. Singer's statements. Incidentally, the implementation of the so-called law on secularism does not fall under the responsibilities of the Ministry Foreign Affairs."
The AFP reports that Singer made the remarks in question in yesterday's issue of the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel (any help here, Medienkritik folks or readers of German?) on the opening day of the second conference on anti-Semitism held by the Organizsation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Mr. Singer also had some remarks that should echo deep within us all. AFP reports that Tagesspiegel writes that Singer "believes that in this way a minority is being lead into the ghetto, that they are being charicatured, that they are not being helped to open themselves to the world, to become part of society, that they are being isolated."

UPDATE: David Kaspar emails to provide a link to the original article in Tagesspiegel. David says, "Singer makes his comment to the banning of the veil in French schools in the last paragraph."

Thanks, David!

Cheers, mate


Via CounterBias:
[John Kerry has] thrown a demented right-wing talking point frequently used against him right back at a prominent Bush-Cheney 2004 figurehead, and this time, its based on more than just the aura of Frenchiosity. ¶ Presumably tired of months of horrendously ridiculous and borderline racist attacks on his French “connections” and “French” appearance, Kerry has taken it upon himself to point something out that nobody else would.

Karen Hughes, one of George W. Bush’s chief propagandists, was herself born in France.

"I understand that Karen Hughes was born in Paris”, Kerry stated, on the 27 March 2004 broadcast of MSNBC’s Hardball. The host, Chris Matthews, a Democrat with Republican leanings (or is it the other way around?), found the comment funny—as most likely did every non-Bushist watching.

That’s right! Bush's fierce attack dog, sent out with her new book (which oddly enough wasn’t denounced by Bush fans for its political nature while everything critical about Bush is) to pounce on Kerry while consistently flattering her friend George to extremes, is a cheese-eating surrender monkey.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

The UN's Oil-for-Terror Program (and the World's True Oil-Hungry Nations)

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post show just how unreliable American media outlets are, since they don't focus on Bush et al's supposed lies, but devote their space to the United Nations' oil-for-terror programs, even suggesting that the organization's Iraq money may have ended up in accounts tied to al Qaeda and the Taliban. (Thanks to Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds.) This is so unfair! We should all shift our reading habits to Le Monde and Pravda. They and their like, at least, speak of generosity and open-mindedness, of "dialog and consensus", of "respect and humility", of understanding and universal brotherhood.

Let's start with the New York Post:
Anyone who pines for genuine international multilateralism would do well to follow the bribes now being uncovered in the United Nations' Oil-for- Food scandal.

Why did France and Russia oppose efforts to topple Saddam Hussein's regime? And why did they press constantly, throughout the '90s, for an expansion of Iraqi oil sales? Was it their empathy for the starving children of that impoverished nation? Their desire to stop the United States from arrogantly imposing its vision upon the Middle East?

It now looks like they it was simply because they were on the take. Saddam was their cash cow. If President Bush has suffered some discredit over his apparently false — but not disingenuous — claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, the lapse is minor compared to the outright personal selfishness and criminality that appears to have motivated many of those who opposed his efforts to rid the world of one of its worst dictators.

Throughout the '90s, France and Russia badgered the United States and Britain to increase Iraqi oil production. President Bill Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair fought them at each step, but then reluctantly gave way. First Iraq was allowed to sell 500,000 barrels daily. Then, on Franco-Russian insistence, it was raised to 1 million, then to 2 million and, finally, to 3 million barrels a day.

Each time, America and Britain — the nations now accused of coveting Iraqi oil — resisted the increases in Iraqi production and urged tighter controls over the program. Each time, the French and the Russians prattled on about the rights of Iraqi sovereignty and the need to feed the children.

Now we know why the French and Russians were so insistent. Iraqi government documents (leaked to the Baghdad newspaper Al Mada) list at least 270 individuals and entities who got vouchers allowing them to sell Iraqi oil — and to keep much of the money. These vouchers, and the promise of instant great wealth they carried with them, bought vital support in the United Nations to let Saddam stay in power. …

The defect of international coalitions is that they include the just and the unjust, the bribed and the honest, the democratic and the autocratic. And their members cannot be trusted equally. The group that stood up and backed the invasion of Iraq was nicknamed "the Coalition of the Willing." Now it appears it was also "the Coalition of the Honest."
This causes Instapundit to note:
The press's relative lack of interest in this colossal scandal — which dwarfs anything involving Enron or Martha Stewart — is hard to explain … this is likely the biggest financial-fraud scandal in history.
As for the Wall Street Journal, it lent its editorial page to Claudia Rosett for a very good reason. The result is an article, a longer version of which was published in Commentary.
It's looking more and more as if one of the best reasons to get rid of Saddam Hussein was that it was probably the only way to get rid of Oil-for-Food. The problem wasn't simply that this huge United Nations relief program for Iraq became a gala of graft, theft, fraud, palace-building and global influence-peddling — though all that was quite bad enough. The picture now emerging is that under U.N. management the Oil-for-Food program, which ran from 1996-2003, served as a cover not only for Saddam's regime to cheat the Iraqi people, but to set up a vast and intricate global network of illicit finance.

And though much debate has focused on the list published this past January in the Iraqi newspaper Al Mada — cataloguing some 270 individuals and entities world-wide alleged to have received illicit oil vouchers worth millions from Saddam — the Al Mada list may be the least of it … Dwarfing the Al Mada list for size, scope and menace was the U.N.-piloted mothership, the entire $111 billion U.N. Oil-for-Food program. Supplied by Iraq's oil wells, the sums involved in Oil-for-Food's transactions were so enormous that even the routine rounding errors of a few hundred million here or there easily rivaled, for example, the $300 million or so in family money believed to have given Osama bin Laden his terrorist start.

In a world beset right now by terrorist threats — which depend on terrorist financing — it's time to acknowledge that the U.N.'s Oil-for-Food program was worse than simply a case of grand larceny. Given Saddam's proclivities for deceit and violence, Oil-for-Food was also a menace to security. By letting Saddam pick his own business partners and draw up his own shopping lists, by keeping the details of his contracts and accounts secret, and by then failing abjectly to supervise the process, the U.N. — through a program meant to aid the people of Iraq — enabled Saddam to line his pockets while bankrolling his pals world-wide. …

In tallying various leaked lists, disturbing leads and appalling exposés to date, what becomes ever more clear is that Oil-for-Food quickly became a global maze of middlemen, shell companies, fronts and shadowy connections, all blessed by the U.N. From this labyrinth, via kickbacks on underpriced oil and overpriced goods, Saddam extracted, by conservative estimates of the General Accounting Office, at least $4.4 billion in graft, plus an additional $5.7 billion on oil smuggled out of Iraq. Meanwhile, [Kofi] Annan's Secretariat shrugged and rang up its $1.4 billion in Iraqi oil commissions for supervising the program. Worse, the GAO notes that anywhere from $10 billion to as much as $40 billion may have been socked away in secret by Saddam's regime. The assumption so far has been that most of the illicit money flowed back to Saddam in the form of fancy goods and illicit arms.

But no one really knows right now just how much of those billions went where — or what portion of that kickback cash Saddam might have forwarded to whatever he deemed a worthy cause. A look at one of the secret U.N. lists of clients authorized by the U.N. to buy from Saddam is not reassuring. It includes more than 1,000 companies, scattered from Liberia to South Africa to oil-rich Russia. … would Mr. Annan care to explain why the U.N. authorized Saddam to sell oil to at least 70 companies in the petroleum-soaked United Arab Emirates?

In Oil-for-Food, "Every contract tells a story," says John Fawcett, a financial investigator with the New York law firm of Kreindler & Kreindler LLP, which has sued the financial sponsors of Sept. 11 on behalf of the victims and their families. In an interview, Mr. Fawcett and his colleague, Christine Negroni, run down the lists of Oil-for-Food authorized oil buyers and relief suppliers, pointing out likely terrorist connections. One authorized oil buyer, they note, was a remnant of the defunct global criminal bank, BCCI. Another was close to the Taliban while Osama bin Laden was on the rise in Afghanistan; a third was linked to a bank in the Bahamas involved in al Qaeda's financial network; a fourth had a close connection to one of Saddam's would-be nuclear-bomb makers.

U.N. secrecy — in deference to the privacy of Saddam and his former clientele — makes it extremely difficult to confirm the many whiffs of sleazy and sinister dealings in these lists. … Basically, Oil-for-Food was Saddam — just slightly harder to spot, swaddled as he was in that blue U.N. flag.
I cannot even start telling you how impressed I am with the French media for their legendary professional behaviour, i.e., their superhuman efforts to get to the bottom of that atrocious scandal: that Bush, Blair, and Aznar are liars and that they knew in no uncertain terms that there were no WMD in Iraq. I can imagine that the Russian press is showing the same signs of stirring valor, brave independence, and acute professionalism. Keep on the good work, les gars. Nous sommes fiers de vous! So proud of you! So proud of your integrity, which is second to none!

Zapatero's "Dialog and Consensus" with "All"

And speaking of Zapatero...

The afrancesado has learned his (French) lessons well.

In his inaugural, el caniche de Chiraque said that his mantra was "dialog and consensus", adding "I will govern for all with respect and humility".

These expressions, of course, are taken straight from the pages of the French politicians' basic manual, and as with them, the "dialog and consensus" is supposed to apply to "all", except... the usual suspects: Uncle Sam (who, as you well know, is the world's enemy Numero Uno) and those who support the U.S. (those who are dumb enough not to realize this).

So, so far, the 21st century's Neville Chamberlain seems to be living up to expectations.

Vinocur III: Zapatero's Rewards for Rejoining "the Community of the Just" Are Hardly of the Earthly Kind

I remember very clearly what a Spanish socialist party official said prior to the bombings in Madrid, when it seemed clear that José Maria Aznar would win the Spanish elections. What had Spain gotten from its role alongside Uncle Sam and Britain? Miguel Angel Moratinos (Madrid's future foreign minister) asked rhetorically. His own answer: "We've gotten nothing."

Anytime a national leader follows U.S. policy (whether it's Blair, Berlusconi, or whoever), it seems that opponents always ask what good the nation got out of it, suggesting that whatever the case might be, it is nothing or at least nothing tangible. The implication is that U.S. leaders are a criminal lot, or that their policies are at best misguided, and anybody following them have sold out (hence, the ubiquitous poodle/vassal charge).

As it happens, one country did get something out of its support, and although it may not seem like much, it — along with the simple knowledge of living up to one's obligations to one's friends (i.e., fraternal nations) and being in the right along with them — fills some Danish hearts with pride (albeit of the quiet kind).

What nobody ever seems to ask is what leaders who follow those opposed to Uncle Sam get out of that.

Still, the International Herald Tribune's John Vinocur provides an answer in his weekly Politicus column (which will probably start becoming a mainstay on this weblog).
The detoxed Spain of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, it was pledged, was going to rush back into the family-like warmth of the European Union, and rush home its troops from Iraq. In a whoosh, it would rejoin the community of the just, and end what the new Socialist government called the country's miscast role as superpower-adjunct of the Americans.

Promise keepers, the new guys did what they said they would in their first full week on the job. For which they got something short of an international standing ovation.

The big hello from Europe on Thursday in Luxembourg was an EU decision that overrode the self-characterized Good Spain's vote in favor of subsidies and blocked scores of millions of euros in potential payments to support Spanish production of cotton, tobacco and olive oil.

The big embrace from the forces of global moral leadership was mostly silence — and a statement from the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace saying it did not share the thinking behind the new Spanish government's decision to begin immediate withdrawal of its troops from Iraq.

The big show of understanding and solidarity from John Kerry, the man Zapatero said he would go to America to campaign for, was a comment marking disapproval of the pullout and noting that European countries with a view on Iraq needed to share in the risks and burdens of its stabilization. For good measure, if the difference between U.S. Democrats and Zapatero Socialists wasn't clear, the Democratic candidate for president described Israeli attacks on Hamas leaders as justified.

Beyond Spain's borders, for all the government's rhetoric and its lionizing by Spain's leftist press, there was no novice's state-of-grace for Zapatero. Instead, his government learned of its non-hero status in cash-conscious EU give-and-take, and seemed at least to some to fall over itself in haste to get out of Iraq before the United Nations might complicate its cover story for not staying.

Interestingly, it fell to the Vatican to point out first in Europe one of the troubling things about Zapatero's withdrawal. While Germany, which clearly did not approve, chose the coldness of declining to speak to the issue at all, Renato Cardinal Martino, president of the peace council, commented, "The new Spanish government is trying to keep its electoral promises, but there's a time for fulfilling them."

No stooge of the Americans, having accused them of humiliating treatment of Saddam Hussein after his capture, the cardinal insisted that leaving Iraq implied abandoning it to civil war, and possibly to an Islamic fundamentalist regime. Then he stuck the needle in. He said, "It isn't wise to rush the United Nations, knowing that it won't assume its responsibilities for the Iraqi situation before June 30."

That appeared to be exactly the Zapatero government's problem. A diplomat who served for four years in Spain said that it appeared the UN Security Council would pass an enabling resolution, that it would get a key role in Iraq, and that Spain saw an onrushing embarrassment in the new circumstances because they resemble those Zapatero set out for his troops to stay on — UN political and security control of Iraq after June 30.

Indeed, Zapatero's pullout announcement came on April 18, a Sunday. Two days before, the UN special envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, had unveiled a plan to establish a caretaker government to replace the Iraqi governing council. ...

Although they are no longer talking the same language, Kerry and Zapatero appeared to get snarled in the same predicament: George W. Bush's new willingness to offload large parts of the United States' burdens to the United Nations.

For Kerry, this pre-empted a chunk of his argument that the best means for America to deal with Iraq is through internationalization. For Zapatero, it forced him to keep an election pledge in a way that raised questions about how acute Good Spain's sense of responsibility was going to be as an international grown-up.

As for the Bush Administration, according to another diplomat, it told Zapatero's foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, that the decision to withdraw was a blunder. The language actually may have been harsher. In a dispatch from Washington on Sunday, Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger, foreign editor of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, wrote that congressmen he spoke to last week regarded Zapatero as a modern day Neville Chamberlain.
Zapatero, you silly afrancesado. Don't you realize that the reward for being in the ranks of the just is exactly that? Being in the ranks of the just.

There is no reward for following Paris and Berlin. Being
el caniche de Chiraque is reward enough in itself! It is reward enough to know that you are as naturally intelligent, as naturally peaceful, as naturallement solidaire, as naturallement lucide, as naturally humanistic, and as naturally filled with wisdom as the French lovers of peace.

Vinocur II: Danish Leader Feels the Heat

In his Politicus column, the International Herald Tribune's John Vinocur writes about another Bush ally who "simmers in [the] political stew of Iraq", although he doesn't have to bid for a second term until late 2005.
Your poll numbers ain't great. Unemployment is up. Your troops hunker down in Iraq at the edge of harm's way.

You can bring the boys home. You can goose the economy, loosening the cash taps now, paying later. You can blame the classic midterm blahs. You can even fine-tune a safe, vote-getting issue at home, while going the international statesman route (a speech on world affairs plus photo-op'ed consultations with a global big-hitter.

Pick one from column A, another from column B. Or none of the above. Or just soldier on.

To the extent politics can replicate a board game, these are, very schematically, the current circumstances of Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark.

Atlanticist, visitor to the Bush White House, first non-Socialist leader of his country in almost a decade, belligerent in Iraq with 510 combat troops, a pocket battleship and submarine in the American-led war effort, Rasmussen, like Tony Blair in Britain or his counterparts in Poland, has hit a rough patch.

Last week, it got choppier with a fired military intelligence officer saying Rasmussen had lied to Parliament about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — a charge denied by the Danish Intelligence Service, which said the prime minister hewed to its analysis of the weapons' probable existence, yet one held up now as government untruthfulness by the opposition Social Democrats. ...

In one sense, and with fairly heavy irony, Rasmussen's visit to [Jacques] Chirac (they could easily have been joined by Gerhard Schröder) served to demonstrate that European political discomfort hardly discriminates these days between supporters and opponents of toppling Saddam. ...

A visitor talking to Rasmussen between lunch and speech provided the stick and the sand. The prime minister was asked if the example of the defeat of José María Aznar in Spain, a like-thinker on Iraq and America's security role, and the victory of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the new Socialist government chief, scared him.

The answer came out slowly, but three times. No, once. Again, no. And once more, as if to dispel any wisp of doubt, even his own.

Elaboration followed in precise, complete sentences. "I think it's of crucial importance to help a new Iraq government in developing a free, modern Iraq," Rasmussen said.

"We shouldn't be surprised if there are a lot of security problems in the short term. We should remind ourselves that there are a lot of extremists groups which are interested in blocking the process leading to democracy. They fear a situation in which Iraq could be a bright example for the Arab people, a bright example of how democracy could flourish in the Middle East."

No flutter here. Rasmussen did not mention Zapatero by name, but emphasized that the only condition attached to the maintenance of the Danish force would be a request as of July 1 from the new Iraqi political authority — not a United Nations-linked element as is the case with Spain.
Now, wouldn't it be interesting if some journalist carried out an investigation to find out exactly in which ways Zapatero has been rewarded for his valiant and heroic efforts to betray American leaders and rejoin what might be called the community of the just?

Update: Denmark Stands Tall and Walks Right

Vinocur I: France and Germany Turning Down the Heat

In a front-page article in the International Herald Tribune, John Vinocur notes that
France and Germany have been strikingly discreet about America's new troubles in Iraq, reflecting what appears to be their judgment that the country's instability threatens any positive development in the Middle East over the long term.

"No one has any interest in an American fiasco," the former French foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, said Friday. That did not take in the schadenfreude of some French and German commentary, but it had the sound of an operative formula to describe a situation in which Washington's misery did not objectively equal Paris' or Berlin's gain.

In attempting to draw closer to the United States over the past months — the Germans actively, with American backing; the French in a less public mode — the two countries set courses for improving trans-Atlantic relations that would be destroyed by Iraq-related ironies or we-told-you-so's from ranking officials.

Besides, the French and Germans shared an absence of alternatives and an element of direct self-interest. With time, France and Germany's attempt to turn Europe against the United States in the run-up to the war has come to be regarded by strategists in both countries' capitals as a tactical mistake that resulted instead in a majority of the 25 European Union countries opposing the French-German drive for European pre-eminence.

In a Europe greatly weakened by its fractures over the war, and frightened now by terrorism on its soil, the error of trying to turn the Americans into the ultimate villains in Iraq while they are still the ultimate guarantors of European security was clearly not one the French and Germans would repeat.

In Germany, where a poll on Thursday found that 53 percent wanted the Americans to pull out of Iraq, the government had a rather different stance. Weeks ago, Defense Minister Peter Struck, in suggesting that a Spanish troop withdrawal would be unwise, said an American pullback would mean total instability.

Since January, while refusing to supply troops for Iraq, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government has given its approval to the grand lines of a Bush administration initiative for the Greater Middle East, signed a German-American Alliance for the 21st Century that stresses common goals in the region, and, through Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, defined "Jihadist terrorism" as "the new totalitarianism" that constitutes the greatest threat to global security.

In France ... [Jacques] Chirac's opportunities to maneuver were limited. He is hemmed in by the reality that his surge in popularity at home during the 2003 Iraq debate has dissipated into his current grief-filled domestic political situation.

At the same time, he faces a series of encounters with President George W. Bush and other leaders at four major international meetings through the month of June — with sentiment in favor of righting the situation in Iraq unmistakably outweighing interest in doling out blame.

In a sense, Germany and France's options were also limited by the reality that it was no longer possible to justify countering American policy by the selective demonization of the Bush Administration.

Just as John Kerry had called on the new Socialist prime minister of Spain, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, to reconsider his pledge to bring Spanish forces home from Iraq, the Democratic candidate's reaction on Thursday to the worsening military situation hardly let Europe off the hook from its faulty presumption that no unified American view existed on Europe's ongoing share of Iraqi responsibilities.

"No European country," said Kerry, "is made safe by a failed Iraq, yet those countries are distinctly absent from the risk bearing."

Perhaps remarkably, some French commentators appeared to be taking the idea to heart that assisting the Americans, however passively, in Iraq is the best alternative to chaos in the Middle East.

Le Figaro, in an editorial, said that since the United States was not going to clear out of Iraq, "France would be well advised to abstain from diplomatically harassing its ally on the question of the handover of power, and to stop continuously referring everything to the United Nations."
Vinocur's article ends with Le Monde's correspondent in Baghdad presenting a revisionist account of where France's excellent view of its own record stops in explaining how Iraq had gotten to where it was.
Without directly touching on it, the report presaged French discretion on America's grief of the moment.

It said: "Iraqis remain exceedingly critical of French policy. Contrary to what Europeans often think, the fact of having opposed the American occupation does absolutely nothing to boost the popularity of Europe or of a given country in Iraq."

"French policy over the past year is severely criticized," the correspondent continued. "It's impossible to find anyone, apart from a few out-of-work Baathist officials, who support the French position over the Iraq crisis."

you're the one for me, fatty

Le Monde reported yesterday that a 17 year-old Jew was allegedly assaulted in Sarcelles (Val-d'Oise) on Sunday. At the advice of the mayor's office, the boy's mother filed a complaint at police headquarters for "gang theft with violence and anti-Semitic insults." The events in question reportedly occurred on April 23rd at 7:30 in the evening when a gang of ten allegedly stole the boy's mobile phone/digital camera.

On the bus ride home, Maghreban youths insulted ("Dirty Jew, we're gonna kill you") the boy, Alexandre, and held a knife to his stomach, forcing him to exit the bus with them at the next stop. The young boy then called out for help but no one on the 168 bus intervened. Alexandre ran to his aunt's house to take refuge but the group caught up with him outside the building and while some beat him, others rifled through his pockets. He was wounded in the legs, the chest, the neck and the face and has a hematoma on the lips.

The mayor, François Pupponi (Socialist), said, "In the last two or three months, we've been noticing tension and an increase in assaults of this kind. We urge [the victims] to press charges." (See here for an account of another anti-Semitic event on the same bus line.)
French police raided the workers' council headquarters at France's state electricity company Electricité de France (EDF) today, according to the AFP. Source's say the search was part of an investigation that began in February into alleged embezzlement ("abuse of confidence, fraud, forgery") at the council.

EDF controls nearly all of France's electrical supply and its workers council, with 5,000 of EDF's employees, is the wealthiest in the nation, with a budget of €400 million.
The French economy grew at a paltry 0.5% in 2003, reports the AP. This surpassed previous forecasts of 0.2%. GDP also expanded by 0.7% in the fourth quarter and the increase in third-quarter GDP figures was revised upwards from 0.4% to 0.7%.

These are the weakest growth figures since 1993 and they are far below even those of 2002 (1.2% growth)
The AFP is also reporting that a parliamentary office has found that the French populace could reach US levels of obesity by 2020. The report was prepared by senator Claude Saunier for the Parliamentary office of evaluation of scientific and technological options (OPECST). According to Saunier, only 6% of the French populace was obese in 1990. In 2003, the figure was 11.3%. Over the least six years, the number of obese people increased annually by 17%.

"We are therefore confronted with a social scourge which we know with certainty will be the cause of a health catastrophe and the financial implosion of national health insurance," said Saunier. "But the progress of this scourge is not inexorable."

Saunier says that, at this rate, the French will be as obese as the Americans by 2020 and that this will require expenditures of €14 billion for health insurance alone.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

French Chef's Panel Discusses America's 'Food Revolution'

Between April 15 and 21, 2004, culinary leaders of America, France, and the UK came together to celebrate the creativity and influence of American chefs on cuisine, wine, farming, and lifestyle throughout the world.
The United States was already famous for its wines, which have become serious competitors for France
wrote Gilles Brochard three days later in Le Figaro.
These days, the country of fast food announces that la haute gastronomie made in USA exists as well. Five years ago, 80% of the chefs in gastronomic restaurants in the United States were French. Today, 60% are American. ...

Raymond Blanc [the most mediatised French chef and restaurateur in England] has brought together American, English, and French chefs in his Quat'Saisons manor near Oxford to hold debates about the 'American food revolution', along with producers, sociologists, and university professors.
The April 24/25 article, entitled Révolution culinaire aux Etats-Unis, goes on to state that the participants sought to understand what is happening in America, where
a veritable tidewave has started to sweep aside "malbouffe" [junk food], often with the complicity of doctors and nutritionists. This turnabout in consumption, notably with the younger generation, favors a healthier education in the fight against obesity, a scourge which is also hitting Europe.

les gueules noires...

France's last functioning coal mine closed for good last Friday in Lorraine. Long the mainstay of France's Communist Party, the mining industry had been suffering a steep decline for decades.

In 1947, there were 370,000 miners in France. Production peaked at 60 million metric tons in 1958 and declined steadily thereafter. According to the AFP's Franck Iovene, France's first coal mine opened in 1720 and throughout the long history of the industry, its workers were were at the forefront of the struggle for social progress, as was the case in many places. France's first miner's strike in 1884, lead by Emile Basly, was the basis for the novel Germinal by the crusading writer (and one of my personal heros) Emile Zola.

Upon nationalization of the mines after the Liberation, the Communist party gained control over the organization of the mining workforce and coal production became vital to post-war reconstruction.

But the long goodbye started with the arrival of cheap foreign coal and then nuclear power in the 1970s. Recruitment was frozen as early as 1984 and by 2001 there were only 6,823 miners left in France. In 2002, there were just three mines, producing only 1.6 million metric tons at a cost of production far greater than the price of imported coal.

This process concluded last Friday. In a solemn ceremony, the last block of French coal was removed from the La Houve pit at Creutzwald. The ceremony began (see program — PDF; 77k) with the arrival of minister for Industry Patrick Devedjian and the last French miners bid the pit farewell in the presence of their children. Twenty-five hundred guests assembled under a big-top tent and observed a minute of silence in honor of those who had died in the mine. Conspicuously, representatives of the powerful union known as the Confédération générale du travail (CGT) were not asked to speak during the ceremonies.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

"I've walked about freely in Iraq..."


MANCHESTER, England -- Angry demonstrators emptied a garbage can on the car of French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on Sunday after he spoke in support of the anti-immigration British National Party.

Shouting "Nazi scum, off our streets!" about 100 demonstrators slowed Le Pen's car as he tried to leave a hotel in Altrincham on the outskirts of the northern city of Manchester.

Le Pen, who has been convicted of racism and anti-Semitism at least six times in France, was appearing at two British National Party events Sunday despite some demands that he be barred from the country.

At a news conference in the hotel in Altrincham, the leader of the anti-immigration French National Front party gave his backing to the British party ahead of June elections for the European Parliament.

As Le Pen and BNP chairman Nick Griffin met in a hotel, anti-fascist demonstrators gathered outside, angrily shouting slogans such as "Fascist scum, never again!" "Hitler, Griffin and Le Pen!"

Inside, Le Pen expressed mild surprise at the feeling his visit generated.

"I've walked about freely in Iraq and Turkey, in Malaysia and Indonesia," he said. "I don't see why I shouldn't be able to walk about freely in England."

He said the BNP and his National Front recognized what he said was a threat to Europe from immigration originating in the developing world.

"If this phenomenon is not stopped, our populations will be subjugated," Le Pen said.

When Le Pen's car began to pull away, the demonstrators emptied a large garbage can over the car and kicked and pounded it.

Get Up - Stand Up

The industrious Hak Mao has established a Web page with links and advice, providing information on what you can do to help the forces of progress in Iraq.