France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

January 30, 2009

Laurent Joffrin’s Media Condescension

Here’s the thing about conspiracy theories: Even if at the end of the day they’re proven to have little factual basis, they don’t come out of nowhere but often start with a suspicion based in reason. Let’s take, for example, one of the most apparently extreme of recent times: The so-called 9/11 Truth Movement. If you look at it from the factual perspective, the idea that the 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were not the work of terrorist fanatics but the government is ludicrous. *But*, if you look at how the Bush-Cheney administration immediately went to work to exploit these attacks for own agenda of hegemony and abuse of human rights abroad and suppression of civil rights at home, well then, it becomes at least more understandable that some citizens might think that they went so far as to create the incident that created the opportunity. In effect, by simply dismissing the conspiracy theorists as lunies and not probing further into their motivations, one misses an opportunity to look at the genuine concerns that might have lead them to this improbable place.

But let’s apply this lesson closer to home.

Across the world, the public doubts the mainstream media, whether it be corporate- or state-owned. And they have reason. At least in the U.S., if not Europe, the corp. and state media went along, for the most part, with the Bush lie that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that justified an offensive attack. (Because for anyone who read or listened to alternative media or the rare lonely voice in corp. medfia, it was no surprise that the weapons weren’t there.) But let’s look at a more recent event, here in France. Listening to France Culture radio this morning, we’re supposed to believe that the same reporters and anchors who joined yesterday’s general strike — regular radio emissions were replaced with canned music — can report credibly and objectively on that same event. Surprise surprise, we’re told that the strike was a grand success. Sure, passing glance is given to the lower police estimates of march participants, but no one — no one — poses the question of whether the strike was justified. Of whether in a time where unemployment is mounting — even here in France — workers who at least have jobs aren’t being a little bit offensive to complain about their work conditions. Of whether the unions’ claim that they were also protesting the loss in purchase power wasn’t a cynical attempt to engage more of the public than the meager eight percent who actually belong to unions.

In between the mostly glowing reports on yesterday’s strike, the France Culture morning program featured Laurent Joffrin, the editor in chief of the French daily Liberation, who’s been making the rounds (of various state-run radio stations) to hawk his new screed, “Media Paranoia.” According to Joffrin, apparently (haven’t read the book), for the most part, all that media mistrust and criticism cannot possibly have any basis in fact, but is a result of public paranoia about the media. To hear people talk, he says, you’d think he calls the (Liberation principal stock-holders) Rothschilds every day to find out what should be in the paper tomorrow.

It’s a nice try, Laurent, but it isn’t so much that we think that just because the Rothschilds own your paper that means you call them every day for marching orders. Rather, what concerns many in the public is that you all live, work, go to school with, party with, interact with and thus rarely question the basis of the thought and actions of your own rarified circle made up mostly of, if not government officials, at least politicians, commentators, and fellow journalists. *You rarely question establishment thinking.* In the United States that might mean that the New York Times is never going to really seriously question the official version, until it’s too late. (As the brilliant veteran British foreign correspondent Robert Fisk once said, the Times might as well change its name to “Officials say.”) In France, for an historically traditional Left-leaning journal like Liberation, the Establishment is the unions and the Socialist party, and you’re never going to question whether they’re right to go call and support a strike. (And, when the Establishment Left and Right back the European Constitution, you’re going to distort and mock the legitimate fears of those who oppose it.)

Instead of roundly dismissing roundly held public concerns as ‘paranoia,’ Joffrin might have looked at his own and his colleagues’ responsibility: How did we get here? What have journalists been doing, or not doing, to provoke such widespread public mistrust — and belief that they’ve advocated their founding principle of true independence? Instead, he’s content to cynically dismiss their concerns; those who criticize the media, as he said on France Culure this morning, “Are often extremists who blame the media” for not paying attention to their ideas “when the problem is their ideas.” Then when the public reacts by buying less newspapers, he has the temerity to warn, “If there are less journalists, there are going to be less people to challenge power.” Ou ca?


January 27, 2009

Ralph Nader, meet Olivier Besancenot

Okay, so maybe the day has not yet arrived in France where a young black boy, or girl, can dream of growing up to be president of the republic, even if the Socialist Party’s most visible representative these days is a politician of African origin whose name really is Harlem Desir. But a young radical communist tyke faces no such obstacles, thanks to a political — and more important, media — French democracy that beats the American model hands down. Contrast, if you will, the fate of Ralph Nader, whose 50-year track record winning battles for a very mainstream constituency, namely consumers, hasn’t stopped the U.S. corporate media from excluding him from every presidential debate, with the result that he’s never tallied more than two percent of the vote, with that of Olivier Besancenot, a.k.a. the postman from Neuilly, the leader of the League of Communist Revolutionaries (soon to become the New Anti-capitalist Party) who got nearly 5 percent of the vote in the crowded first round of the 2007 presidential election here (where he was competing with four other candidates on the far left alone), more than the Communists and the party of Jose Bové combined.

What accounts for the disparity between Nader’s and Besancenot’s results? Especially when you consider that the latter’s agenda is far more radical — including, still, a redistribution of wealth — than the former’s? (Remember that where Besancenot advocates for the under-privileged and workers, Nader made his name championing the rights of… consumers.) Simply put, for all its vaunting of Democratic values, corporate-owned mainstream media and, essentially, money ensure that the U.S. remains more a duocracy than a plutocracy. Money guarantees that the campaigns of the Democrats and Republicans drown out any other voices, often with fatal results: Obama has yet to condemn Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, ludicrously maintaining an equivalence of suffering in the face of statistics that say otherwise. (At last count, 1300+ Palestinians killed by Israel, most of them civilians; 14 Israelis dead, including three civilians and four soldiers downed by ‘friendly fire’.) Nader, who has always firmly condemned Israeli excesses, in its recent invasion but also in its equally deadly 2006 invasion of Lebanon, was excluded from the official 2008 presidential debates (as were, by the way, the Green and Libertarian candidates, never mind that the latter, Bob Barr, made his name as the conservative Republican congressman who championed the impeachment of President Clinton).

Contrast this insularity with French presidential campaigns:

Any candidate who gets 500 elected officials to support him or her gets a place in the first presidential round; last time, that made for 11 candidates, ranging from Besancenot on the far left to Le Pen on the far right. (My favorite: the representative of the party of hunting, fishing, and nature.) Each candidate got 90 minutes of free television time, to be dispersed as he or she liked. There’s even a rule decreeing that the news can’t give more time to one or the other. Each also has his or her own placard among the 11 displayed in front of voting places (like schools) before the election. Result: Almost five percent for the then 33-year-old postman from Neuilly. Continuing result: In a poll conducted this fall, only the mayor of Paris ranked higher as the most visible opponent of President Sarkozy; more than 50 percent of those polled gave Besancenot that designation. Never mind that compared to Olivier Besancenot Ralph Nader is Hilary Clinton, a parallel result could never happen in the United States. Not because Americans are inherently opposed to his views — remember, having made his name as a champion of consumers, Ralph Nader is hardly a flaming radical — but because the corporate-owned and establishment-inclined media would never expose his ideas to the general public on a regular basis. To them, Nader’s become a clown. They use their mockery of him as the perennial fringe candidate to try to drown out his ideas.

Contrast the treatment accorded Besancenot. During the last municipal elections, all the main television chains included him in their round-table of commentators.

This morning on France Culture, Besancenot and party philosopher Daniel Ben-Said were the featured guests and — a real change — neither the host nor any of the regular commentators mocked him. They may not agree with his ideas, they may even be skeptical of his motives, but in France, they — we (tear, tear) — understand that real freedom means freedom of ideas, that freedom to decide *requires* exposure to all ideas, that true Democracy also means Democracy on the table of thought.

This is why I want to raise my children in France where, no matter what their ideas, they can be heard.

PS: To read more about Olivier Besancenot — I realize I’ve left out many of the details on his platform — check this NY Times article, a bit less condescending than is the norm for the Times, even if the treatment is more along the lines of ‘those-wacky-Frenchies’ than my own focus of ‘why this couldn’t happen here,’ which of course would inherently criticize the reporter’s own journal.

PPS: I take it back about ‘less condescending.’ Note the Times headline (emphasis added): “Light on the Left Guides His *Comrades* Toward France’s Mainstream.” Notwithstanding the overall fair treatment his story gives to his subject, the reporter, or maybe it was the editor, attempts to set off reader bias with the use of the word ‘comrades.’

January 24, 2009

This little piggy went to market, but the market chickened out

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 1:46 pm
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Not having let 12 below (Farenheit) weather stop me from taking my front-wheel drive out to get a haircut in Alaska in 1990, the great NYC snow blizzard of 1996 stop me from traipsing up 5th Avenue (along with at least one cross-country skier) even if it stopped all car traffic, or the great Flood of 2008 in the capital of pre-history stop me from wading out of the house in Les Eyzies to walk the 12 KM to the Le Bugue market, I was hardly going to allow the great southwestern France level orange storm of 2009 stop me from going to the old town market here in Perigueux to stock up on tourte bread, farmer’s goat cheese, duck hearts, and the brownie I’d reserved in advance to beat the rush. When I got to the market this morning, however, there wasn’t any. Not to be denied at least the exercise of my market morning constitutional along the canal (to work off the goat cheese, duck hearts, and brownie in advance), I battonned down my hood, firmly gripped my umbrella and made my way along the banks of the normally placid river Isle, which had brazenly risen to the same level as my feet, submerging tree trunks and benches. I was heartened to see a few duck couples, a couple of fellow promenaders, and the swan couple no doubt flown in from Lalinde (land of a thousand swans) that’s wintering on the Canal valiantly soldiering on and, after I nervously switched to the side of the canal without the power lines, at least one person more foolish than I, a jogger in, yes, shorts.

PS: In all seriousness: The BBC is reporting that the roof of a building where some children out for a sporting competition had taken refuge from this storm which is equally buffeting the north of Spain has just collapsed, killing many of the children.

January 23, 2009

The Revolution will not be Radio-ized

So there they were on the antennae of the state-owned France Culture radio tonight, a politician from the Opposition Left and a politician from the Majority Right debating a law proposed by the government of the Right that would limit the time of parliamentary debate on the other laws the government proposed. I was just thinking how surreal this was — how out of touch they both seemed with the daily concerns of the general populace in this time of high unemployment and low purchase power and overall insecurity, when suddenly a young man seized the mike at the live remote broadcast from the Centre Pompidou and started to talk about a real issue: The detention of a ‘sans-papier’ at one of the infamous centres de retention. Of course neither the representative of the Right who believes that 250,000 amendments per parliamentary session is a bit much, nor the representative of the Left protesting the nerve of the representative of the Right to try to limit his party to 250,000 amendments were going to defend the right of the young man to speak for one minute, let alone the hosts of the program who had decided to give over 45 minutes of primetime to this very insider debate, so the member of the public had just enough time to say “I’m going to read a little tract” before his mike was cut off and the hosts on location sent it back to the studio where an automated voice apologized for the perturbation, calm space music started playing, and a studio presenter promised that we’d soon rejoin the crew at the Pompidou for the live broadcast. “We await the return to calm.” When it eventually did, the host on location complained that these little interruptions have been taking place more or less every Friday, when the show is broadcast live from this national modern art museum, and it was commencing to ‘ennerve’ him. It’s one thing to debate in front of the public about debating rules among their political representatives; quite another to debate *with them.*

January 22, 2009

Memo to Obama: Lift the roquefort sur-tax

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 8:10 am
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Dear Mr. President,

I write you from the southwest of France, known for Bordeaux wine, foie gras, and roquefort cheese.

Mr. President, I know you must have a lot on your Un-Do list to clean up the mess that Mr. Bush left you, including telling Israel it will no longer have a green light to wreak death and destruction and experimental weapons on Arabs even if it names its operation after a Jewish children’s game, saving the planet after Bush tried to redact its endangerment, closing Gitmo, restoring the Constitution, protecting it from further erosion by a line-flubbing chief justice who almost gummed up your swearing in, getting the national kitty back from the free-loaders Bush tried to give it to, and finding out what was in those boxes Cheney was trying to steal away with before oh-so-divine providence intervened, but when you have finished with all these redresses, I would like to ask you to consider reversing the 300 percent roquefort tax the Bushies installed as they were heading out the door in retaliation for the Frenchies refusing to accept hormone-pumped beef.

That’s right, Mr. President. I know this makes about as much sense as the grammar in that note Mr. Bush left you, but apparently, because France refuses to subject its citizens to American mystery meat, about the most dubious agriculture product this side of lettuce that the U.S. produces, the U.S. has decided to in effect deprive the very middle class whose standard of living you’ve sworn to restore of one of the most delicious luxury gourmet products France exports. Because that will be one of the two dire effects of this sur-tax, to put roquefort cheese out of the reach of ordinary Americans. The other is that the tax will impose yet one more hardship on French shepherds, at a time when you’ve also sworn to rebuild the U.S.’s tattered relationships abroad.

January 20, 2009

Yes he is

Well, it may be a transformational moment for the U.S. of A. today but the France Culture radio guest analyzing it this morning fell right into the old French race trap.

Everything was going well until, fielding a question from the program’s token female commentator about the role of Michelle Robinson Obama Princeton ’83 or ’85 (comme moi), Bernard Manin said that one thing she brings him is that she’s African-American. “He’s not.” Come again? (tr.: Comment ça?) Supposedly, Mr. Marin teaches at New York University, but I guess he makes his race calls from his white French prejudices. Refresher to the professor: Obama’s father was African. He was born in America. Et voila: He’s African-American.

The professor did accurately if unwittingly respond to another reflected question that the election of the first AFRICAN-AMERICAN president has posed to France: Could it happen here? Not as long as those of Arab or African descendance — no matter how many generations they’ve been here in France — are STILL referred to as Arabs, Maghrebians, Africans, and Blacks, and not just simply French.

January 6, 2009

The Times lies, Hamas and Gitai miss golden opportunities, Zionist negationists and why for Israel it’s not a humanitarian crisis; Obama passes the buck

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 10:57 pm
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I really didn’t want to return to this topic for fear my reader(s) might justly protest, “What does this have to do with France?” In fact, if this journal is about anything, it’s about the perspective of an American living in France and, well, let’s start by explaining why on the question of Israel’s war crimes, that might be different than that of an American living in America.

Now, an American who relies on the New York Times might be forgiven for believing that the 30-40 PEOPLE taking refuge in a clearly marked UNITED NATIONS facility were killed by accident. “Israeli Strike Hits Refugees Near a U.N. School in Gaza,” read the headline in the Times. Contrast this with the head in the French daily Rue89, which heralded its story from Reuters via Yahoo France, “Many tens dead in the bombardment of a UN school in Gaza.” In interviews today on the BBC, UN officials on the ground said they had clearly given Israel a list of their facilities, ncluding this one (and another where Israel killed three civilians earlier). But that’s not the best. Never mind that Reuters was there and filmed the scene — “a vision from a nightmare: bodies, shoes and torn clothes strewn about the floor, in tides of blood” — and never mind that the tallies of 30 and 42 came from, respectively, the UN and Palestinian doctors, the Times report had the cupidity to add, “The number of those killed at the United Nations school could not be immediately independently confirmed.” Well – Duh! That’s because Israel isn’t letting international reporters into Gaza! This is what we call Zionist negationism in real time. (Q: Why does the U.N. say there is a humanitarian crisis, while Israel says there’s not? Because they’re not human! They’re Arabs. Did Barack Obama make the same cynical equation when the best response he could come up with was to say, “the loss of civilian life in Gaza and in Israel is a source of deep concern for me”? At last count, that would be 5 Israelis and 630 Palestinians. Obama did add, said the Times, his new bromide that the US has one president at a time (er, unless it comes to money. I mean dead children are one thing, money another. How’s that for moral values!?) But now, Obama will defer to our war criminal of a president to comment or not on Israeli war crimes.

PS 1: Unfortunately, Hamas isn’t helping those of us who would defuse Israel’s propaganda. I’d been telling those who say Hamas is to blame because of the rocket attacks that Hamas was ready to renew the cease-fire if Israel just ended the blockade, but yesterday on the BBC, a Hamas rep. said that besides that, the Occupation would have to end for them to stop firing rockets. Way to shoot yourself and your people in the foot, Hamas!

PS 2: On the Israeli side, filmmaker Amos Gitai did not do much better. Asked to comment on the current events during a brief appearance on France Culture radio Tuesday morning to discuss his 2007 film related to the deportation and the Holocaust, the best he could do was bemoan the ‘bloody’ cycle of violence. And another Israeli supposed liberal loses the moral ground.

January 5, 2009

Not in our name; speak softly and don’t carry a stick (unless you’re a Nobel Peace Prize winner, then you can beat ’em over the head with it)

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 9:34 am

Yesterday, as Israel was busy killing more Palestinian children and ambulance drivers in Gaza, not to mention dropping illegal white phosphorus shells on the densely populated area, a so-called ‘umbrella group’ for a few self-appointed ‘French Jewish groups’ held a demonstration in Paris in which 4,000 people, including one shameless head rabbi, manifested their unqualified support for the non-Jewish Values state. (Is what the Israeli historian Ilan Papa recently called ‘righteous vengeance’ a ‘Jewish’ value?) Once again — once again — these organizations have confounded defending Jewish identity, and Jews in France, with defending a a state that uses an increasingly wobbly claim to being Jewish to justify what another leading Jewish American recently justly termed massive violations of international humanitarian law. And not just in his name, but in the name of the United Nations, for whom Richard Falk is special rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Territories.

“The Israeli airstrikes on the Gaza Strip represent severe and massive violations of international humanitarian law as defined in the Geneva Conventions,” Falk said in a December 27 statement published December 29 in The Nation, “both in regard to the obligations of an Occupying Power and in the requirements of the laws of war. Those violations include… (c)ollective punishment, (t)argeting civilians…, (and) (d)isproportionate military response:”

“Earlier Israeli actions, ” Falk went on, “specifically the complete sealing off of entry and exit to and from the Gaza Strip, have led to severe shortages of medicine and fuel (as well as food), resulting in the inability of ambulances to respond to the injured, the inability of hospitals to adequately provide medicine or necessary equipment for the injured, and the inability of Gaza’s besieged doctors and other medical workers to sufficiently treat the victims. Certainly the rocket attacks against civilian targets in Israel are unlawful. But that illegality does not give rise to any Israeli right, neither as the Occupying Power nor as a sovereign state, to violate international humanitarian law and commit war crimes or crimes against humanity in its response. I note that Israel’s escalating military assaults have not made Israeli civilians safer; to the contrary, the one Israeli killed today after the upsurge of Israeli violence is the first in over a year. Israel has also ignored recent Hamas diplomatic initiatives to re-establish the truce or ceasefire since its expiration on December 26.”

Let’s stop there, because this is a critical point that has been effectively censored from the mainstream U.S. media and has trouble geting an airing even here in France. In fact, Hamas proposed to renew the truce… if Israel would lift the blockade of food, oil, medical supplies and other essential goods that it’s imposed on Gaza’s residents for the better part of six months and of the last two years. Israel refused.

Speaking on France Culture’s morning program today, Quay d’Orsay spokesman Eric Chevalier took care to bring up the Hamas rocket attacks and repeated the myth of Hamas’s point blank refusal to renew the truce, but did not even mention the blockade until the end of the program, when he was forced to by commentator Mark Kravitz, who not only brought it up but accused the EU of silence in the face of it. That the word ‘blockade’ hadn’t crossed his lips for 90 minutes didn’t prevent Chevalier from taking umbrage at Kravitz’s use of the word ‘silence.’ Mais non! said he. The EU has frequently issued discourses and proclamations expressing concern about the blockade. (Try to feed your family or operate on a sick person with a ‘discourse.’)

But this was not the most astounding statement Chevalier issued on behalf of the fabled French diplomacy. ‘Pressuring’ Israel was out of the question’, the most effective means of changing its policy would be to ‘convince it,’ an effort at which the EU could be ‘very effective.’

Picture if you will a Palestinian mother wailing at the loss of those three children killed by Israeli tank fire yesterday, and at her side a French diplomat whose only consolation is to tell her, “Ne vous inquiete pas madame, on va faire le maximum pour convaincre Israel d’arrete.’ Si il le plait.

PS: Speaking of convincing, if anyone’s ever presented a good argument that the Nobel Peace Prize should be retractable, it must be Shimon Peres, who once shared it with the late Yitzak Rabin and the late Yassir Arafat. According to today’s editions of the British-based Guardian newspaper, “Peres, the Israeli president, said Israel would not accept a ceasefire. ‘Hamas needs a real and serious lesson. They are now getting it,’ he told a US television network. ‘We shall not accept the idea that Hamas will continue to fire and we shall declare a ceasefire. It does not make any sense.'” Does it make any sense that this man should retain his Nobel Peace Prize?

January 2, 2009

J’accuse! ;) (kidding! Don’t sue me!)

If Philippe Val can call on Voltaire to indict those who (unsuccessfully) sued his mag Charlie Hebdo for his re-publication of the infamous caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed — he’s now published a book called, “Return, Voltaire, they’ve gone crazy,” (which I’ve not read) — then I can reference Zola on the Dreyfus Affair to call attention to Val’s ludicrous statement on France Culture last night that there’s no contradiction between on the one hand, publishing these cartoons which he knew would offend Muslims and on the other hand firing the humorist Siné for refusing to apologize for a commentary Val had already published and which was later attacked as being anti-Semitic. According to Val, the Siné commentary, in which the veteran cartoonist says (among other things, and as it turned out, erroneously) that Jean Sarkozy, ambitious scion of the president, is marrying a Jewish business heiress and thus moving up in the world, invokes racial hatred; whereas the caricatures of the Prophet, including one where a dark-skinned obviously Arab character wears a bomb as a turban, are in Val’s view part of a noble ideological combat. As the French say, Hmm. (For a great breakdown of the Siné controversy, which not only reprints the commentary in question but Siné’s eloquent defense and the cartoon defenses of some of his colleagues, check this article on Rue 89.)

Apparently the Voltaire parallel comes in because the great French writer and philosopher was, like Val, brought to court for practicing freedom of speech, or something like that.

Val obviously knows Voltaire better than I do, but I can’t help but think the comparison ludicrous when I recall Voltaire’s post-humous celebration of the Chevalier de la Barre. This was a young man of 19 who had the temerity to not remove his hat and chant insolent ditties at a passing parade of nobles in the late 18th century, about 20 years before the Revolution, thus becoming its harbinger. For the ditties, the authorities chopped off his tongue; for refusing to take off his hat, they releived him of his hands. Then they burned him at the stake. (Later, in typical French fashion, they put up a statue in his memory. You can see it in Montmartre right below the Sacre Coeur.) What’s my point? The kind of freedom of speech Voltaire would defend would seem to be more the type that thumbs its nose at authority — *thus taking a mortal risk* — than the kind of anti-Muslim piling on (in fact regardless of intention) in which Val indulged himself.

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