France Insider/Paul Ben-Itzak

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.’

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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.

November 17, 2008

‘A shave and a haircut and close Gitmo while you’re at it’; and, the BBC’s Man Bites Dog Story

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 11:49 am
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Last night on the American television news show 60 Minutes, President-elect Obama announced he’d be closing the hors de loi Guantanimo Bay Prison Base plus pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq by the end of 2010. As an American living abroad, which of the following news sources do you think I learned of this this morning?:

A) New York Times
B) BBC
C) France Culture Radio’s 15-minute news broadcast

Of course it was C, and, as far as mainstream media culpability in the Gitmo atrocity, there’s the rub.

When I finally found today’s Times’s coverage of the appearance, it was buried in a blog column called the Caucus which spent more time (a couple of sentences) on the president-elect’s bemoaning that he would now have to order out for a barber than on his decision to close the institution that’s probably been the biggest embarassment to America (and Americans) abroad over the last eight years of anything the Bush Administration has perpetrated in our name (to say nothing of its violations of international and American law and their tactile effect on the detainees). (No mention in the Times story.) More than just bad journalism, it’s this kind of mainstream U.S. media lack of attention that has enabled the Bushies to get away with this for the last seven years. Out of site, off mainstream media radar, out of the public mind.

The BBC was hardly better; no, 0 mention of Guantanimo in its segment on Obama’s 60 Minutes gig but healthy time to Michelle Obama’s update on the puppy situation. Personally, I — and many Americans and others abroad who care about the United States — am more concerned about detainees being treated worse than dogs than puppies in the White House.

November 6, 2008

Original Sins

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 6:38 pm
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The grand debate topic tonight on radio France Culture’s originally named “From 6 to 8” news program was how to explain the Obama-mania in the French suburbs. (Quick refresher course: Economically speaking, the suburbs here are more poverty-class than middle class, the racial mix more colorful than typically are what we know as suburbs in the United States.) One of the guests decided to try to answer the question by explaining that in the United States, when you ask someone where they’re from, you mean “What state are you from?”; in France, “Where are you from?” really means “What country are you from?” *Even if you were born in France* — and thus you’re French — what it REALLY really means is “What race are you?” (Only, since they deported the Jews it’s not permitted to actually phrase the quesiton that way.) “But if we can return to what’s supposed to our topic tonight,” said the host, not realizing that it was precisely this question — what pulls young French people of color to Obama’s story and his election — that her guest was addressing. No matter where his parents were born, no matter the color of his skin, there was no question in the minds of tens of millions of Americans where Obama was from: the country in which he was born. The young French suburbans of color here just want to be regarded the same way. Not — to be explicit — as “Arabs” but as French.

PS They’ve evidently got a long way to go. Another guest insisted that if a young French person of Arab descent doesn’t get a job he’s interviewed for, it’s not because of the color of his skin but because he didn’t prepare for the interview or showed up in tennis shoes. (A typical racist subterfuge, by the way.) There are none so blind as those who will not see.

June 17, 2008

It’s a black thing

Filed under: Uncategorized — franceblogger @ 4:15 pm
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Is Michael Kimmelman, a culture writer for the New York Times who now dabbles in understanding France, reading the same French newspapers I am? For that matter, is he even reading the same Le Monde I am? In an otherwise okay article in today’s Times looking at how the nomination of Barack Obama has inspired blacks in France, Kimmelman writes, incredibly, “Even seeing the word ‘noir’ (“black”) in a French newspaper was an occasion for surprise until recently.” Uh, sorry Mike but — I think not! Where it concerns an American — artist, politician, soldier — if he or she is black or for that matter, anything but white, that racial qualifier is required before “American” during any citation in any media. I first remarked on this habit — remarked on it because of the hypocrisy in a country that officially professes to be race-blind — about five years ago in a Le Monde dispatch from Iraq in which American soldiers gave their view. ONLY the one who was black was identfied as such, i.e., ‘Une Sgt. noir.’ And I continued to see it elsewhere. Carlos Santana was not simply a rock musician but a rock musician ‘d’origine Mexicain.’ Now, what would be an interesting topic for Mike to pursue is the difference between the regard many French people d’origine blanc have towards blacks from the United States — who are revered — and blacks of African origine, whether they’re French citizens or not, who are often disdained. (Although I should note that this has improved over recent years.) My own theory for this is that, in addition to genuine appreciation for aspects of American culture d’origine black — notably Jazz — they’re also attracted to the oppression part of the Black American story because it’s yet another opportunity to criticize American society or better, to one-up it because of course in France, everyone’s created equal. The still larger context is that 60 years after — I hate to keep bringing it up, but it persists — France is still processing its own role (or if you prefer, the role of the Vichy government in the name of France) in actively identifying its Jews and ‘foreign Jews’ so the Germans could cart ’em away. To compensate for its lingering guilt, official France and many French insist that except for of course illegal aliens, we’re all French. It’s a noble goal but if it serves to paper over a nagging racial hyper-awareness, does it really have the traction to heal the wound? What I — and many Americans as well as French — loved about Obama’s race speech is that *he acknowledged* our racial problems. We know we’re not there yet. If France wants to get there too — and I believe it genuinely does — the first step is to recognize that it has not yet arrived.

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