dimanche 21 février 2010

Bill Clinton: The French Years

By Patrick Weil
Published: January 10, 2001

PARIS— Dear President Clinton:

As you prepare to move out of the White House, you are no doubt wondering what you will do next. Perhaps you assume that your time as a president has come to an end, that you must now move on to other, less attractive, alternatives. I have good news for you: You may have the opportunity to be president of France.

Under Section 5 of Article 21-19 of the French civil code, citizens of states or territories over which France has ever exercised sovereignty or extended a mandate or protectorate may apply immediately for naturalization, without the normal five-year residency requirement.

Arkansas, where you were born, was once part of French Louisiana. And as a naturalized French citizen, you would have the same full rights as all other French citizens. That includes running for the presidency.


Of course, to become a citizen, you must fulfill a few legal requirements. You will need an official residence in France. (Paris is probably less expensive than Chappaqua.) And you will need to speak French. (Pas de probleme: Political French is filled with words that are familiar to you. ''Election.'' ''Globalisation.'' ''Recession.'') But you will be happy to know that France will not require you to renounce your American citizenship.

Mr. President, if elected, you would find the French presidency affords many advantages. Should you have a majority in the Parliament, you would enjoy much more power than as an American president. Should your opposition win a majority in the Parliament and make your life difficult, you would not have to tolerate it for long. At a time of your choosing, you could dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections. I bet you would have liked to do that with the last United States Congress. And you could be reelected every five years without end. There are no term limits for the French presidency.

You should know that as head of the French state, you would be required, now and again, to utter rather harsh words about America. The United States is a close ally of France and Europe, but also the main economic rival. Like most politicians, however, you will not have to mean what you say. You need only appear to be standing up to the Americans.

There remains only one problem: You will have to apply soon. The time-lag for processing a naturalization application is almost as long in France as it is in the United States. Of course, the French naturalization service could choose to honor you with an expedited processing of your application -- just as they do with top soccer players or other athletes before important international championships.

If you do end up facing delays, I suggest you remind French officials of the words of Marcel Prelot, the French senator who introduced the law that now enables you to become France's next president: ''I pray that the Senate make a generous gesture, that it tell those who come from a land which was once French, that France their mother considers them as having been her children, and that at the instant they want to return to the fold, they will be entirely welcome.''

President Clinton, welcome to Paris!

Patrick Weil is a senior research fellow at the French National Center for Scientific Research, University of Paris 1-Sorbonne.


vendredi 12 février 2010

Pardon my French! But we need it

By Michele Mallory

I was mistaken for a French woman once. I was on a scholarship in Normandy studying the Second World War, and some friends and I had taken a weekend jaunt down to the wine country of the Loire Valley.

After a long day touring, I decided to run into a cave de dégustation (a wine cellar) on my own to purchase some wine to take home to my parents. After some polite conversation, the viticulteur (wine maker) asked me what region I was from. Region?

"Non, non, je suis américaine," I said. The temperature in the cave dropped five degrees in an instant. Ah, the French and their love of Americans.

Still, as a lifelong Francophile, I was much chagrined to hear the news that my alma mater is "phasing out" French as a foreign language offering to make room for Mandarin Chinese.

From a purely economic perspective, I suppose I understand.

Mandarin Chinese has about 800 million native speakers, with French falling far behind with only 90 million. I understand the need to change with the times; to teach marketable skills. After all, parents who fork over $15,000 for tuition each year need to get their money's worth. But, to quote my epicurean mother-in-law, "how will they ever learn to read a menu?"

French is so tied to the English language that by not studying it, these next generations will miss out on one of the building blocks that make us who we are as Americans.

Does the Battle of Hastings in 1066 ring any bells? When William the Duke of Normandy conquered England, our language changed forever. Without this infusion of the French, and thereby Latin, language into our own, we'd sound almost German right about now.

Studying French allows us to truly understand words like "fraternity," "equality" and "liberty." Or more useful to our American plight these days, "mortgage" (mort = death, gage = pledge).

I'm curious to see how the Mandarin will take off. For one, there is absolutely no common etymology between Chinese and English. Get out those flashcards! Also, Mandarin is a language of intonation. The French student's struggle with pronouncing nasal vowels pales against the Mandarin student's struggle to convey the difference between the spoken ma (mother), má (hemp), ma (horse) and mà (scold). Good luck with that. I'll stick with my pain au chocolat, s'il vous plaît.

And about that Franco-American hatred; it makes a good joke, but it's far from true. Anyone who loves to say that the French hate Americans has never been to Normandy.

Visit the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach of D-Day. Go now before our greatest generation is no more. You will see nothing but thankfulness, honor and sincere tribute paid to the Americans who died for that country.

And the conversation with the viticulteur I mentioned earlier? It turned out, his response to my being American was halting, but out of shock, not disrespect, that an American had taken the time to learn the French language so well. He asked me to stay and have a glass of wine with him, as my friends in the car honked for me to hurry up. Rude Americans. Vive la France!

Michele Mallory lives in East Memphis and is a wife and mother to two boys. She has a degree in communications from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with French as a second major. She teaches French at East High School.


"France is one of those golden places in the American consciousness"


Bindi Dupouy, an Australian living in Paris, and her French husband, just had their first child, a son born in the country.

Dupouy, a 28-year-old lawyer, got almost five months paid maternity leave from her company for the birth. She can take another seven months off beyond that -- a year total -- unpaid, if she wants, with her job guaranteed under French law.

When her son Louis was born, healthy and by way of a normal delivery, she got to stay in her local French hospital, around the corner from where she lives, for five full days, to rest.

Welcome to France, voted the best place in the world to live for the fifth year in a row by International Living magazine, which has been analyzing data and publishing its annual Quality of Life Index for 30 years.

One of the reasons France keeps winning the ranking is its world-class health care system, which Dupouy just experienced first-hand.

"They treat expecting mums like treasures here," Dupouy told CNN from her Paris apartment. "They take really good care of you. The health care system is just amazing." She said she wouldn't have gotten the same maternity leave -- or care -- back home in Australia.

At her job, Dupouy also gets seven weeks paid vacation a year, although it's her first job as an attorney since graduating with a law degree in Australia. She doesn't think twice about taking the Metro across town -- for just $1.37 a ride -- to visit a friend. Or she picks up a rental bike at one of the many computerized bike hire racks in town to get around.

France scores high marks across the board in the survey, which is done every January, from health care (100 points) to infrastructure (92 points) to safety and risk (100 points).

"No surprise," said the magazine in its report. "Its (France's) tiresome bureaucracy and high taxes are outweighed by an unsurpassable quality of life, including the world's best health care."

"The bread, the cheese, the wine," Dan Prescher, special projects editor at the magazine, told CNN, when asked why France just keeps on winning year after year. "That weighs pretty heavily in quality of life."

Prescher admitted the magazine had an "American bias" since the vast majority of its subscribers are Americans spending in U.S. dollars. "France is one of those golden places in the American consciousness," he said.

The annual index ranks 194 countries and comprises nine categories: Cost of Living, Culture and Leisure, Economy, Environment, Freedom, Health, Infrastructure, Safety and Risk and Climate. The Index analyzes data from several official sources, including government web sites, the World Health Organization, and several media sources.

Following France in the top ten are Australia, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, Luxembourg, the U.S., Belgium, Canada and Italy, in that order.

"France always nets high scores in most categories," the magazine said. "But you don't need number-crunchers to tell you its 'bon vivant' lifestyle is special. It's impossible to enumerate the joy of lingering for hours over dinner and a bottle of red wine in a Parisian brasserie. Or strolling beside the Seine on a spring morning, poking through the book vendors' wares."

Other European countries slipped a little in the magazine's rankings this year, with the exception of France and Germany. Britain dropped to 25th place from last year's ranking of 20.

Variety is also seen as a major factor in France's appeal, with the survey noting that "romantic Paris offers the best of everything, but services don't fall away in Alsace's wine villages, in wild and lovely Corsica, in lavender-scented Provence."

The United States dropped from third to seventh place in this year's rankings, largely because of the grinding economic crisis last year. "Sustaining the American dream has escalated out of the reach of many," the magazine said.

"The depression hit the United States and Great Britain hard," Prescher told CNN. "That weighs down the ratings."

Of course, France too has its problems. The country suffers from high youth unemployment, particularly among the disaffected young people who live in its equivalent of the projects, known as les banlieues.

Late last year, the French government opened a national discussion about national identity, which has evolved into debates over whether immigrants, and particularly Muslim immigrants, are French enough. The country has the highest Muslim population of any European country, with an estimated six million living in the country.

But for the most part, French people enjoy a good lifestyle. International Living says that during their large chunk of leisure time, the French enjoy visiting the country's many beaches and Alpine ski resorts.

Dupouy -- like more famous expats Ernest Hemingway and Julia Child before her -- agrees.

She and her husband vacation every year at the seaside near Bordeaux, in the southwest corner of France, where her husband's family has a home. They also go skiing in the Alps during the winter.

She says that even if she and her husband decide to leave France for awhile during their lives, they'll always come back -- every year, probably.

"The culture, the food, the family, it's all just really nice here," said Dupouy.

mercredi 10 février 2010

Where are 1% of American adults?"

by Shaker Anitanola

That was one of Stephen Fry's questions in a recent episode of the BBC's long running comedy show QI.* The answer, of course, is jail.

Five percent of the world's population is American; twenty-five percent of the world's prisoners are American. The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any country in the history of the world.

The rate is three times that of Iran, six times that of China. More than one in a hundred adults in the United States is in prison. One in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is in prison.
The QI researchers are no mere wiki-wanderers and I do not question their skills; indeed even a cursory google produces shocking information. For example, there has been an explosion of the prison population since 1980. The percentage of the adult population in the penal system—in prison, on parole or probation—is 3.2%. The Sentencing Project shows racial disparity in incarceration rates throughout the United States.

What followed makes me wonder about taking pride in things "Made in the USA." I know our society is not post-racial but I must now wonder if we are actually even post-slavery. QI's answer continued:

It is illegal to bring into the United States any goods produced by forced labor or by prisoners, yet American prisoners make 100% of the military helmets, ammunition belts, bulletproof vests, ID tags as well some other items used by the US military. Although a prisoner is not technically forced to work, solitary confinement is the punishment for refusal. They also make 93% of domestically produced paints, 36% of home appliances and 21% of office furniture.
Those are manufacturing jobs. We're told that it helps our economy to outsource many jobs, even if it feels painful to those workers who are affected, but I can't recall being told about penal labor in relation to our economy.


* Unfortunately, QI is not available on BBC America but you can search YouTube for QI Series G Episode 11 Gifts. See part 3.




mercredi 3 février 2010

La France, bouc émissaire de la guerre en Irak

Quelques semaines avant l'invasion de l'Irak, la stratégie des gouvernements américain et britannique était de "faire porter le chapeau aux Français". Entendue par la commission d'enquête britannique sur la guerre en Irak, l'ex-ministre du Développement international, Clare Short, a précisé que Downing Street avait déformé intentionnellement un discours prononcé par le président français de l'époque, Jacques Chirac. Le but ? Donner l'impression que la France n'aurait jamais soutenu une intervention militaire et aurait utilisé son veto pour s'opposer à une seconde résolution de l'ONU. "De mon point de vue, c'était un mensonge – un mensonge délibéré", a-t-elle ajouté, rapporte The Times. Selon elle, Tony Blair aurait également choisi d'ignorer les recommandations de l'ambassadeur de France, qui suggérait au Premier ministre britannique d'avoir une conversation téléphonique avec Jacques Chirac.

Courrier Intl'

mardi 2 février 2010

Obama boude l'Europe


La Maison-Blanche a annoncé lundi que le président américain n'avait pas l'intention de se rendre au sommet bilatéral programmé les 24 et 25 mai à Madrid. Loin d'être anodine, cette décision pourrait même avoir pour conséquence l'annulation pure et simple de la réunion qui se tient une fois par an et au plus haut niveau. C'est un camouflet pour le chef du gouvernement espagnol José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, qui avait fait de ce sommet une priorité de sa présidence de l'UE. Selon des sources à Madrid, la rencontre serait reportée au deuxième semestre de cette année.

Officiellement, la présidence américaine évoque des "problèmes de calendrier" pour justifier l'absence de Barack Obama. Mais en réalité, cette décision vient renforcer les craintes des dirigeants européens, qui s'inquiètent d'un début de marginalisation de la relation transatlantique par rapport à celle que veulent forger les Etats-Unis avec toute la zone Asie-pacifique. Et alors même que Barack Obama se recentre sur ses priorités intérieures. L'absence du président américain à Berlin en novembre dernier aux commémorations des 20 ans de la chute du Mur, n'était déjà pas passée inaperçue dans l'UE. Pas plus que son peu d'intérêt apparent pour le précédent sommet UE/Etats-Unis le même mois à Washington : Barack Obama n'y était resté qu'une heure et demie avant de s'excuser.

Nouvelle ère

L'UE est aussi sortie traumatisée de la conférence sur le climat de Copenhague en décembre, où le président américain a préféré négocier directement avec la Chine et l'Inde un accord a minima. Barack Obama a manifestement du mal à s'y retrouver face à la multitude de représentants de l'Union européenne à chaque rencontre. Il l'avait laissé transparaître lors d'un sommet UE-USA à Prague en avril 2009, et les nouvelles institutions du traité de Lisbonne ne risquent pas de simplifier la situation. L'UE se retrouve en effet avec un président permanent, Herman Van Rompuy, la présidence tournante changeant tous les six mois, sa chef de la diplomatie, Catherine Ashton et le président de la Commission européenne.

Un peu plus d'un an après l'obamania qui avait déferlé sur une Europe soulagée du départ de George W. Bush et séduite par l'avènement d'un partisan d'une diplomatie multilatérale, les tensions sont palpables. Les Etats-Unis sont déçus du peu d'engouement des pays européens pour envoyer des troupes supplémentaires en Afghanistan ou accueillir des détenus de Guantanamo. En Europe, les pays de l'Est proches de la Russie ont été échaudés par l'abandon du projet initial de bouclier antimissile, qu'ils ont perçu comme une volonté de faire du rapprochement entre Washington et Moscou une priorité à leurs dépens. L'UE dans son ensemble assiste à un changement d'ère.

lundi 1 février 2010

La hargne de Sarkozy envers Obama

Le président français ne manque plus une occasion de critiquer son homologue américain, même en plein Conseil des ministres. Une attitude jugée «malsaine» et «infantile» par certains observateurs

C’est plus fort que lui: quand on lui parle de ses échecs, Nicolas Sarkozy renvoie vers ceux de Barack Obama. Interrogé, lundi dernier sur TF1, sur sa méthode consistant à multiplier les réformes tous azimuts, il a répondu par une pique cinglante: «J’ai vu que M. Obama, pour lequel j’ai de l’estime et même de l’amitié, [a tout misé sur sa réforme de la santé]. Je n’ai pas vu que ça rendait les choses plus simples.»

Le président français n’en est pas à son coup d’essai. Début novembre, il avait déjà énoncé cet argument devant quelques journalistes – mieux vaut faire beaucoup de réformes qu’une seule –, assorti d’un commentaire peu amène: «Obama est au pouvoir depuis un an et il a déjà perdu trois élections partielles. Moi, j’ai gagné deux législatives et les européennes. Qu’est-ce qu’on aurait dit si j’avais perdu?» Loin d’être anecdotique, la mauvaise humeur envers son homologue américain est devenue quasiment structurelle chez Nicolas Sarkozy. «Chaque fois qu’il peut le critiquer, il le fait, que ce soit en Conseil des ministres ou devant des visiteurs», indique, sous le couvert de l’anonymat, un bon connaisseur de la diplomatie française.

«Il n’arrive pas à avoir des rapports normaux avec Obama, ajoute cette source. Il dit toujours: «Si j’avais fait la même chose que lui, qu’est-ce qu’on m’aurait dit?» C’est une relation malsaine. On a l’impression qu’il tire prétexte des difficultés d’Obama à chaque fois qu’il peut. Son comportement est infantile, indigne d’un président.»


Pourquoi tant de hargne?

Les spécialistes situent l’origine du problème au voyage éclair de Barack Obama en France, en juin 2009. Lors de son séjour à Paris, il avait évité toute rencontre avec Nicolas Sarkozy, alors que ce dernier brûlait de s’afficher à ses côtés. «Il avait fait dire clairement qu’il ne voulait pas de contact avec lui, rappelle l’observateur cité plus haut. Ça n’est jamais arrivé dans toute l’histoire de la Ve République.»

L’adulation de la gauche bobo pour Barack Obama, ou ses comparaisons désobligeantes entre son physique et celui du président français, n’ont rien fait pour arranger les choses. Les déboires récents de l’hôte de la Maison-Blanche – défaite dans le Massachusetts, baisse de popularité – risquent de conforter Nicolas Sarkozy dans son attitude, lui qui pense avoir vu ses faiblesses plus tôt et mieux que les autres.