Saturday, March 15, 2014

You do not install one mistress at the Élysée when you have another mistress; That is simply bad form

  … we face another Gallic paradox, like the one about red wine and foie gras keeping you thin
writes Maureen Dowd in the New York Times.
“The whole problem with this Hollande scandal is that he is not married,” says Jean-Marie Rouart, the French novelist. “Had he been married, this affair would never have been revealed.”

He observed that, as an “elected monarch,” the president has to maintain appearances. “In France, having a mistress is not considered cheating,” he says. “We are not a puritanical country. France is Catholic. We accept sin and forgiveness.”

It’s bad enough to hide under a helmet and dismiss your security and go incognito on an Italian scooter to have a tryst in an apartment that is a stone’s throw from the Élysée Palace and has some tenuous connection to the Corsican Mafia. But everyone here except François Hollande seems to agree: You do not install one mistress at the Élysée when you have another mistress. That is simply bad form.

Why should the tabloids stick to the rule of the French press to ignore the private lives of presidents if Hollande breaks the rule of French presidents to lead an “exemplary” public life, which means having a real wife to cheat on?

 … “The concept of the first lady doesn’t exist in France, and even less the first mistress,” sniffed Olivier de Rohan, a vicomte and head of a foundation that protects French art. “The protocol in France is very strict. It is not a question of choice or pleasure. The wife of the president of the republic was always seated as the wife, never paraded as the first lady. I don’t care with whom Hollande sleeps. But the whole thing is totally ridiculous, the head of a great state exhibiting mistresses, one after the other.”

Or as one French journalist murmured, “All this, in the place where de Gaulle was.”

 … The French have spent centuries making fun of us for our puritanism, and now they feel the unbearable sting of our mockery, as our press and comedians chortle at a mediocre pol caught up in a melodrama with all the erotic charge of week-old Camembert. (Maybe that’s why the French got so swept up in the ridiculous but glamorous rumor about Obama and Beyoncé.)

All those French expressions we siphon because English isn’t nuanced enough — finesse, etiquette, savoir-faire, rendezvous, je ne sais quoi, comme il faut — Hollande flouted.

In the minds of many here, the French president is a loser because he’s so unrefined he might as well be American.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The only subjects schools seem to be good at teaching are environmentalism, critical race theory, and queer studies

There’s a reason why only one out every thousand Americans can name all five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment 
writes Benny Huang regarding the recent scholastic achievement test cheating scandals.
It’s because our schools fail to teach civics, just the same way that they fail to teach history, foreign language, and nearly every other subject. The only subjects they seem to be good at teaching are environmentalism, critical race theory, and queer studies. If kids today graduate school knowing anything it’s that humans are poisoning the earth, white people are evil racists, and homosexuality is an unqualified good.

When I juxtapose the multi-state cheating scandal next to the Long family’s legal battle to homeschool their children, I can come to only one conclusion: there’s something fundamentally backwards here. Parents have to prove, to the satisfaction of the state, that they can educate their children, when it should really be the other way around. Year after year public schools award diplomas to twelfth graders who can’t perform at a twelfth grade level and yet no one removes the captive children from their custody.

 … Maybe it’s time for the government-run school systems to start proving to parents that they are up to the task of educating children. The way we do it now is backwards—parents groveling for permission from the state to educate their children at home.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

“Every stone and every tree in Sevastopol is drenched in blood," claims Sevastopol tour guide, "with the bravery and courage of Russian soldiers"

Sevastopol constantly feeds thoughts of war and its agonies
writes Andrew Higgins in a New York Times story on the historical aspects of the Crimean peninsula, an article echoed by Michel Guerrin in Le Monde.
With nearly every other main street named after a Russian military hero or a gruesome battle, its lovely seafront promenade dominated by a “monument to sunken ships” and its central square named after the imperial admiral who commanded Russian forces against French, British and Turkish troops in the 19th century, Sevastopol constantly feeds thoughts of war and its agonies.

Bombarded with reminders of the Crimean War, which involved a near yearlong siege of the city in 1854-55, and World War II, when the city doggedly resisted Nazi forces until finally falling in July 1942, Sevastopol has never stopped thinking about wartime losses — and has never been able to cope with the amputation carried out in 1954 by the Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev.

… When Ukraine became a separate independent nation near the end of 1991, however, Sevastopol — the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since the 18th century — began howling, culminating in the Crimean Parliament’s decision on Thursday to hold a referendum on March 16 on whether to break away from Ukraine and formally become part of Russia again. Jubilant residents gathered in Sevastopol. 

 … “Every stone and every tree in Sevastopol is drenched in blood, with the bravery and courage of Russian soldiers,” said [Irina Neverova, a guide at Sevastopol’s Crimean War museum]. “This is obviously Russia, not Ukraine,” Ms. Neverova said later in an interview.

Religious liberty belongs to all of us, not just to clergy and churches; Forfeiting constitutional rights is not the price of going into business for yourself

The reason the [religious liberty] bills are controversial is because a generation of Americans reared in a statist society and taught false history and civics cannot understand what religious liberty means. They think of it as “a cloak for prejudice,” as washed-up Star Trek actor George Takei described the Arizona bill on MSNBC.
Thus Benny Huang hits the nail on the head.
Allow me to summarize the Left’s position: they’re all for religious liberty and all that, but you can’t discriminate!

I always ask the same question: Why not?

There is no clause in the Constitution that says that religious freedom must yield to someone else’s fanciful right to flowers or wedding cakes. If liberals would like to insert that exception into the Constitution they’re welcome to go through the process of amending the Constitution. All it takes is two thirds of both houses and three quarters of the state legislatures. As it stands now, the First Amendment is not qualified with a “but you can’t discriminate” clause.

There’s always a “but” with these left-wingers. They adore freedom of the press but the government has to rein in Fox News. The Second Amendment is grand but it must yield to “public safety” concerns. They care deeply about free speech but you can’t engage in hate speech. But, but, but. The never ending stream of “buts” allows them to pay lip service to our Constitutional rights while simultaneously violating the letter and the spirit thereof.

Protecting citizens from this type of coercion is exactly what the free exercise clause was designed to do. Sometimes religious minorities (and we’re all religious minorities in this country) have beliefs and practices that other people find offensive. The purpose of the Amendment is to protect the unpopular beliefs and practices. If it doesn’t apply here then it isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

When liberals tell you that your church will not and cannot be forced to perform same-sex weddings, they’re making a tacit admission that discrimination is, in fact, part and parcel of religious liberty. So it isn’t really a question of whether constitutional protections extend to discriminatory practices but rather who is entitled to constitutional protections. Bishops have full protection but not bakers, pastors but not photographers.

Which is nonsense, of course. Religious liberty belongs to all of us, not just to clergy and churches. Forfeiting constitutional rights is not the price of going into business for yourself.

Liberals’ confidence that no church will ever be forced to perform a same-sex wedding probably stems from their belief in the mythical “separation of church and state” clause of the Constitution. I call it “mythical” because it’s not there. Look it up. According to this argument, a law compelling churches to perform same-sex weddings would be unconstitutional because the state would be overstepping its boundaries into the realm of the church, but a bakery is not a church so different rules apply. 
Read the whole thing

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

That’s what nondiscrimination laws are—involuntary servitude laws; 150 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Democrats are still fighting for involuntary servitude and the party of Lincoln is still fighting against it

The Employment Nondiscrimination Act (ENDA) … which would ban discrimination based on the amorphous and ill-defined concepts of sexual orientation and gender identity, has long been the dream of the rainbow crowd 
writes Benny Huang as he accuses Arizona Governor Jan Brewer of acting in a moment of extreme cowardice. ("Nondiscrimination laws are handy for one purpose, however, and that’s for demonstrating that liberals’ hypocrisy is as limitless as the heavens. Arguing in bad faith has become second nature to them because every goal they’ve ever achieved has been accomplished by a sustained campaign of lying.")
ENDA is toast. For now.

Thank goodness for that. Government imposing nondiscrimination laws on supposedly sovereign citizens and their enterprises is silly at the very least, and usually a violation of constitutional rights.

Every economic transaction has two ends—a buyer and a seller. Both ends of the transaction should be completely voluntary. Employment is an economic transaction like any other, with the employee selling his labor to the employer at an agreed upon price. Employees and employers have to reach a mutually acceptable agreement. The government should never mandate that citizens engage in economic transactions against their will.

In the absence of a contract, employers should have free reign to fire or not hire whomever they want, just as employees have the ability to quit or not take any job that they want.

Unfortunately, this issue is clouded by a number of very emotional issues, to include racism, though it doesn’t have to be that way. Nondiscrimination laws are about the ability of free people to make decisions without the crushing power of government hanging over their heads. The issue doesn’t boil down to being “pro-discrimination” or “anti-discrimination.” It’s about freedom.

The usual rebuttal to my argument is that it represents a giant step backward to the bad old days of Jim Crow. Such historical ignorance abounds. Jim Crow laws didn’t permit discrimination, they mandated it. People in the segregated South were not free to serve whomever they wanted. They were compelled by law to serve one race or another, and always in separate sections. In any case, it’s more than a little far-fetched that a business, in this day and age, would refuse to serve black customers. If any business did, the proper response would be to exercise some much deserved public shaming by means of a boycott, not to run to the government and force the business owner into involuntary servitude.

That’s what nondiscrimination laws are—involuntary servitude laws. Take, for example, the case of Elaine Huguenin, a devoutly Christian photographer in New Mexico. In 2006, a lesbian couple approached her to photograph their commitment ceremony. Huguenin, thinking that she had the ability as an independent businesswoman to decline a contract, told them no. Silly woman thought this was a free country. One of the two lesbians filed a complaint with New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission, a misnomer if ever there was one. After years of fighting in court, the photographer was forced to pay the woman $7,000 in damages.

Here’s what Huguenin should have done. She should have accepted the contract, then arrived wearing leg irons and an orange jumpsuit. The message would have been clear—you have made me your prisoner. Mrs. Huguenin did not want to serve this couple, so the couple appealed to the government to force her to serve them. By definition, that is involuntary servitude, which is prohibited by the Thirteenth Amendment’s Section One. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

One hundred and fifty years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Democrats are still fighting for involuntary servitude and the party of Lincoln is still fighting against it. Some things never change.

 … Private sector nondiscrimination laws have no place in a free society. By their very nature they compel people to engage in economic transactions against their will. Be on guard against ENDA and any other law that forces one person to do business with another. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Check out Benny's look "at some of the disingenuous phrases that liberals spout" (“You can’t impose your morals on others”, “Don’t judge”, “Tolerance”…)

Monday, March 10, 2014

Payroll Tax in France Is Almost Double That Paid in the UK, Complains a British CEO

“There is a great fear about taxes” [in France, said Ian Cheshire, the group chief executive of Kingfisher, a British do-it-yourself retail conglomerate]. Last year, Kingfisher paid €216 million in payroll tax on about 11,500 French workers. “That’s almost twice the amount we paid in Britain for the same number of employees,” he said.
Thus writes Liz Alderman in a front page article in the International New York Times.
President François Hollande of France has begun a major charm offensive to convince the world that France is open for business in a bid to lure back investments, which have slumped since he took office. 

Armed with pledges not to be overly taxing, he gathered nearly 40 chiefs of some of the world’s biggest multinational companies and investment funds on Monday under the gilded eaves of the Élysée Palace and told them that their money was not only welcome — it was sorely needed.

Mr. Hollande reiterated his pledge from last month to reduce by 30 billion euros, or $41 billion, the social charges that companies pay on their employees. But he went further on Monday, announcing plans to stabilize corporate tax rules, simplify customs procedures for imports and exports and introduce a tax break for foreign start-ups.

“I know that France is seen as a more complicated country than others,” Mr. Hollande told the leaders of General Electric, Volvo, Nestlé, Mars and others, as well as representatives of BlackRock and the sovereign investment funds of China, Qatar and Kuwait. The message, he added, is that “we aren’t afraid of opening ourselves up to the world.”

But it remains to be seen whether he can deliver those needed investments while burnishing an image tarnished by everything from high taxes to a labor dispute earlier this year in which employees at a Goodyear tire factory temporarily held their bosses captive. He has spooked investors by hewing to a populist agenda, including a proposal, now watered down, to impose a 75 percent marginal tax on the wealthy, and threats to nationalize companies to protect jobs.

Despite his new business-friendly promises, he still faces the hurdle of getting policy changes enacted into law over opposition from his fellow Socialists and other left-leaning politicians, who have successfully cowed him into retreat in the past. He must also persuade investors and multinational companies that France really is determined to change, after years of employers judging France to be an expensive and inflexible place to do business.

France “has everything it needs to succeed,” said Ernst Lemberger, an Austrian industrial investor who participated in the Monday meeting. “But still it’s been behind neighboring countries in taking the necessary economic reforms.”

 … after two years of rising unemployment and a languishing economy that has twice flirted with recession, the French president last month did a striking about-face with business, shifting his agenda and announcing a so-called responsibility pact to cut government spending and deliver a €30 billion reduction in the social taxes that support family benefits like day care.

 … Yet even as he talked to business leaders, the French Parliament began considering a law that would steeply fine companies trying to close operations the government deems economically viable.

 … In December, the heads of 50 French affiliates of foreign companies wrote an open letter to Mr. Hollande warning that it had become increasingly difficult to persuade their parent companies to invest more in the country.

“There is a threat hanging over France’s ability to attract foreign investment,” wrote officials from Microsoft, American Express, Xerox, Siemens, Unilever and others, which jointly employ about 150,000 workers in France. They cited the “penalizing” complexity and instability of the legislative and regulatory environment; a lack of flexibility in labor laws; high employer costs; and an overall “cultural mistrust” of the market economy.

 … A week earlier, it was Mr. Hollande who offered a gesture of reconciliation to French entrepreneurs, thousands of whom have left France for Silicon Valley, London, Hong Kong and other dynamic destinations.

After spending time in Washington, Mr. Hollande visited Silicon Valley. While there, he gave an American-style bear hug to the entrepreneur Carlos Diaz, who founded a group called “les Pigeons,” or the suckers, in 2012 to protest what they called Mr. Hollande’s “business-crushing” tax policies, including now-shelved proposals to double the capital gains tax for people selling their companies.

High taxes have generally been the sorest point for businesses. Ian Cheshire, the group chief executive of Kingfisher, a British do-it-yourself retail conglomerate, said on Monday that he would be ready to open 50 stores in France within five years, creating thousands of jobs, if he could be assured the tax regime would remain stable.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Lance Armstrong and the Riders of the Tour de France: It’s not cheating if everybody is doing it

Throughout the 1990s, [John Thomas Neal] was [Lance Armstrong’s] main soigneur at some domestic races and at national team training camps.
The New York Times carries a page-long excerpt from Juliet Macur's Cycle of Lies (Cycles de mensonges in French).
But in Europe and at the big races, the honor of rubbing down Armstrong went to John Hendershot.

Among soigneurs in the European peloton (another French word, one that refers to professional riders generally as well as the pack during a race), Hendershot was at once the cool kid and the calculating elder. Other soigneurs envied the money he made and the cachet that came with the cash. Wherever he walked — through race crowds or at home in Belgium — people turned to catch a glimpse. Teams wanted him. Armstrong wanted him. Neal said he was “like a god to me” and called him “the best soigneur that ever was.”

Hendershot, an American who lived in Belgium to be closer to the main cycling circuit, was a massage therapist, physical therapist and miracle worker. His laying-on of hands would bring an exhausted, aching rider to life. Eating at Hendershot’s direction, sleeping according to his advice, a rider began each morning reborn. He came with all the secrets of a soigneur and an unexpected skill developed over the years. In Neal’s words, Hendershot took to cycling’s drug culture “like a duck to water.” But his enthusiasm for and skills in chemistry would be remembered as his special talent.
Before speaking to me last year, Hendershot — who had retired from the sport in 1996, shortly after Armstrong’s cancer diagnosis — had never told his story to a reporter. After all the years of silence, he seemed relieved to finally share it.
  … Hendershot said the riders on his teams had a choice about using drugs. They could “grab the ring or not.” He said he didn’t know a single professional cyclist who hadn’t at least dabbled in doping. The sport was simply too difficult — and many times impossible, as was the three-week Tour de France — for riders who didn’t rely on pharmaceutical help.

 … Cycling has been one of Belgium’s most popular sports for generations, and the pharmacist didn’t question Hendershot’s request for such large quantities of drugs. In exchange, Hendershot would give the pharmacist a signed team jersey or all-access passes to big races. Then he would leave with bags filled with the blood booster EPO, human growth hormone, blood thinners, amphetamines, cortisone, painkillers and testosterone, a particularly popular drug he’d hand to riders “like candy.”

 … Hendershot said all those riders probably believed they were doing no wrong by doping. The definition of cheating was flexible in a sport replete with pharmacology: It’s not cheating if everybody is doing it. Armstrong believed that to be the dead-solid truth. For him, there was no hesitation, no second-guessing, no rationalizing.

As Hendershot had done, Armstrong grabbed the ring.

 … His former sponsors — including Oakley, Trek Bicycle Corporation, RadioShack and Nike — have left him scrambling for money. He considers them traitors. He says Trek’s revenue was $100 million when he signed with the company and reached $1 billion in 2013.

“Who’s responsible for that?” he asks, before cursing and saying, “Right here.” He pokes himself in the chest with his right index finger. “I’m sorry, but that is true. Without me, none of that happens.”

What Do French Cartoons on Russia's Crimea Annexation Look Like?

Le Monde has been printing a number of cartoons but, needless to say, few (such as the Xavier Gorce and the Plantu cartoons above) that are very hard-hitting — their point being indeed kind of obscure. One exception might be the Xavier Gorce penguin cartoon below.

Then again, we have the cartoon of a Bonhomme, which paints moral equivalence between "the great powers", the U.S. and Russia along with the EU, with (a unified?!) Ukraine a poor innocent victim of them all…