Archive for the ‘France’ Category

Brazen North Korean Cheek

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

Verily, it’s an unpleasant sight in general, that of Kim Jong-Un laughing it up with his lackey Army generals.

KimJongUnlaugh
It’s all the more disagreeable considering what the North Korean dictator and his hacker army have recently accomplished. You’re surely aware of what happened with SONY Picture’s upcoming movie “The Interview,” but have you seen this as well?

DNKDisclaimer
But wait: there’s more to drive Kim Jong-Un and his minions into absolute hysterics! The North Korean government has now begun to deny its involvement in the SONY Pictures hack – before, it had been deliberately vague on the subject – but has not stopped there. Here’s the statement released today by some government minister, as reported by the French 20 Minutes newssite:

Since the United States is spreading allegations without foundation and defaming us, we want to propose a joint inquiry. Without going so far as to resort to torture, as the American CIA has done, we have the means to prove that we had nothing to do with the incident.

That allusion to CIA torture was sly, no?, but the American government has simply brought that upon itself – and no, not by releasing that executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Torture Report, but by committing the torture in the first place.  “Contrary to American values” and all that . . .

Apart from this, though – it’s the OJ Defense once again! “What, me, guilty? Perish the thought! In fact, I am so innocent that I am dying to assist you in an investigation to find the true culprit!”

Now add to that some additional reporting from Le Monde of the North Korean government coupling this with threats of “grave consequences” for the US should it continue insinuating Pyongyang’s guilt. Le Monde:

[North Korea] promised Saturday to boost its nuclear capabilities in response to Washington’s hostile policy, arguing that it had become clear that the US has as its goal an invasion of North Korea under the pretext of non-respect of human rights.

That is some Grade-A chutzpah, there.

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Cuba ♥ Americans!

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

Surprise and delight prevailed in Havana following yesterday’s simultaneous announcement by both governments of the resumption of full diplomatic relations. Our man/woman (no by-line) from Le Figaro was there, as reported by the French newssite L’actualité.com.

Vague_LaHavane
Well, OK: half-surprise. It seems people there in Havana, at least, had been aware for weeks that some sort of breakthrough in US relations was coming. There is no explanation how they knew.

Further, those in the US now raging against Obama’s move are at least right in one respect: Raúl Castro’s government really wanted this:

The Revolution moves no one to dreams anymore on the Communist island. Even if the regime of Raúl Castro is not in danger, or even hard-pressed (contrary to the repeated proclamations from the Cubans in Miami), the Cuban president had been preparing for this opening to the US for a long time.

Actually, the American authorities might have been pursuing exactly the wrong strategy for all these decades:

As an old Cuban Communist Party cadre, Mirta, confided recently: “How could the American authorities have followed such a stupid policy for fifty years? If they had raised the embargo, normalized relations with Cuba, the regime would have crumbled all by itself.”

Note well that, in fact, the embargo is not raised: that’s something only Congress can do. In any case, according to this piece American culture has long ruled on Havana’s streets anyway, with “caps, glasses [meaning sun- ?] and gadgets” bearing some variation of the Stars & Stripes representing highest style. One has to wonder, though, exactly what sort of “gadgets” the Figaro reporter witnessed there, considering Cuba’s well-known reputation for being a virtual open-air museum of lovingly cared-for fifties-vintage American cars. PalmPilots, maybe? Transistor radios?

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Wishing You Many Hot Returns

Monday, December 15th, 2014

On a weekend when high EU representatives were decrying the violation of “European values” through the mass-arrests of journalists in the European continent’s southeastern corner, in Turkey, as we can read from Mathieu de Taillac in Le Figaro the very same sort of thing was happening in its southwestern corner – that is, in Spain, and therefore in what is already a member-state.

SpainAsylum
“Spain, the only land frontier between Europe and Africa, feels abandoned by an EU which is quick to give lessons.” Yes, that “land frontier” does exist, namely at Ceuta and Melilla, which are two small enclaves of Spanish sovereignty on the northern coast of the African mainland that have managed to survive there over the centuries. They are both marked off from surrounding territory by no less than three lines of barriers with surveillance cameras (as well as, if we are to believe the account in this article, “razor blades” – de lames de rasoir).

The thing is, these enclaves’ presence also means that if illegal immigrants somehow manage to get past all those barriers – and around 28,000 have accomplished that over the past ten years – then in effect they have successfully made it into Europe. According to current Spanish legislation, they have the right to request asylum and get free legal help to help the pursue that. In the meantime, they of course get to stay in “Europe” because their asylum case is being decided – it can take a long time – and who knows?, maybe they’ll ultimate get it. (more…)

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Asterix to French History

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Anyone else out there into the Asterix & Obelix cartoons? It’s true that these cartoon tales of plucky Celtic warriors beating back the Romans in ancient Gaul were originally French, but they soon went international, with the requisite translations, and now seem to rival even Peanuts as an ongoing commercial vehicle for all sorts of lucrative tie-ins.

Astrix & Obelix originally meant Goscinny & Uderzo, the story-writer and cartoonist, respectively, but all that commercial money has been smoothing the retirement only of Albert Uderzo (now 87) for the longest time, as Goscinny died back in 1977. (The latter’s Wikipedia entry states he died “during a routine stress test at his doctor’s office” – whoops!) Uderzo recently re-emerged in public for an interview on the French radio station Europe 1.

Uderzo
The highlight of that interview was when he was asked “Which politician could incarnate Asterix?” His answer:

Maybe Asterix resembles the President of the Republic. He’s a person who doesn’t attach any great importance to what people say about him and who just goes on his merry way.

Curious! Could the Europe 1 producers have succeeded in enticing to their studio a representative of the 5% or so of the French electorate which stills supports François Hollande? It’s clear that, among the vast majority of the rest, President Hollande evokes rather less flattering images, most notably those of the tabloid-photo variety of someone riding a motorscooter with a silly helmet on his head, having slipped out the Elysée palace to go meet his mistress in the neighborhood, as it apparently was his wont to do roughly a year ago.

Still, it’s possible that Uderzo is indeed a Hollande fan, as he also displayed in the interview his rather low view of his countrymen. “The French don’t like success,” he declared on-air. “They envy success. They always find something so they can say that it’s no good.” And as evidence Uderzo mentioned the latest Asterix album he brought out (now on his own), Asterix Among the Picts, which in the end sold quite well in the face of mostly negative reviews.

As for drawing, he admitted “I don’t feel so much like it anymore. I have done so many [drawings]!” As I said, he’s 87 years old: he deserved to be done with all that long ago.

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Bosses’ Ras-Le-Bol

Friday, November 7th, 2014

Truly, it is the Autumn of Discontent in Europe. That’s why that phrase up in the headline might be a handy one to learn. It’s French of course: ras-le-bol, or “enough” as in “I/We’ve had enough!” People are unhappy with their governments and are taking to the streets. Just yesterday marchers representing Belgian unions flooded through downtown Brussels, while a minority topped off the day by setting fire to cars and skirmishing with the police. Such demonstrations are set to continue there today, while the Antwerp dockworkers and their local labor brethren are set to do the same there on November 24th.

Now that we’re talking about protesting crowds flooding the streets, the French surely cannot be far behind. Things are not going very well there economically either, and sure enough:

RasLeBol
Even if you don’t know French, you can make out the word décembre there: they’re going to hold their fire until December. But wait: the next words after that are le patronat, and that means “bosses,” not “workers.” (And indeed, that fat-cat in the suit there does not look very proletarian.)

But things are going bad for these guys, too, at least according to the vice-president of one large (French) employers’ organization (Medef), Geoffroy Roux:

One SME boss kills himself every two days, the treasuries are bone-dry, business bankruptcies are up and the government adds practically every day a little tax here, a measure increasing complexity there, so there is really a sense of “Enough!” [ras-le-bol!].

The plan is for things to truly go down on 1 December, when most of the various French employers’ associations are calling upon small business-owners to “hit the streets,” both in Paris and in Toulouse. But really: can it be true that French bosses will display their anger with the same sort of mass demonstrations (with occasional violence) that working-class organizations use?

That M. Roux I previously quoted declared in a TV interview that, yes, “some will perhaps hit the streets” on 1 December, but that there will also be meetings and témoignages, which literally translates as “testimonials.”

There’s another way these business organizations will mobilize to get what they want, too. M. Roux does not include it in his list, but the Le Monde writer (uncredited) does give it a mention: stepping up their institutional lobbying.

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Why Can’t They Eat Cake?

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

You might be aware of the sensational book recently published (SEP 4) in France, written by Valérie Trierweiler. She is the former “First Lady” – except that she and French President François Hollande weren’t married, he has never been married – who was rather unceremoniously booted out last January after Hollande took a fancy to a younger, blonde actress and started departing the Elysée Palace on the sly – and on a scooter – for their assignations. Trierweiler has now shown how she had plenty of dirt to dish on her presidential ex-lover, and the French political scene is still recoiling in shock from her revelations.

But it has been one of those in particular that has struck a special chord among the public. In her words (my translation, as usual):

He [Hollande] has presented himself as the man who doesn’t like the rich. In reality, the president doesn’t like the poor. He may be a man of the Left, but in private he refers to the “toothless ones” [les sans-dents], very proud of his sense of humor.

Lord knows what particular train of thought led Hollande to come up with this particular expression. But perhaps it has a certain historical element: there was a similar term during the French Revolution for the uneducated masses – the rabble, if you like – who made up the vast majority of both the revolutionary mobs and of the French national armies which would go on to conquer most of Europe. That was sans-culottes, or those without culottes which were the sort of silken “knee-breeches” worn in that period by middle-class men and above.

Naturally, Hollande never intended this particular pet phrase of his to get out to the public. But now it has anyway, all thanks to the woman he spurned, and you can bet he is mortified about it. All the more since the phrase has in turn been taken up by that widespread – and growing – segment of the population that has grown tired of both this president and his policies. As we see here:

SansDents
“The Toothless: That’s Now!” it reads at the bottom there. And you’ll notice that the attractive lady at the forefront also seems to be wearing a red revolutionary’s cap from those heady days back at the end of the 18th century when the French aristocracy was being systematically beheaded. You have to hope that that seeming void inside her mouth – although necessary to make the point – was only Photoshopped. (more…)

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Le Pen Fever – It’s Catching!

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014

So what’s your prescription, Doctor? But wait: this is an age-old politician speaking here, and a former French Legionnaire, but not any man of medicine:

LePen

Jean-Marie Le Pen, honorary president of the Front national (FN) and candidate in the European elections for the Southeast district, has some radical ideas for countering “the demographic explosion.” Radical, or infectious: “Monseigneur Ebola can take care of that in three months” is what he let loose with during a discussion on Tuesday, 20 May, before giving a speech [in Marseille].

Nasty! Hey, let’s just let some judiciously-applied epidemics take care of all those immigrants whom we don’t want in France! And the old goat is actually standing as a candidate in the upcoming French MEP election!

Still, I think that the key aspect of this Le Monde piece is that, during these Marseille campaign appearances, Le Pen was accompanied at the podium by his daughter, Marine Le Pen – who happens to head the FN these days, who is running for re-election to her own seat in the European Parliament and who – most importantly – did nothing to disavow her father’s statements!

Let’s face it: Jean-Marie himself is 86, and I’m told people run a higher risk of getting rather dotty at such an age. He’s been kicked upstairs to an “honorary” position at the FN, so that it’s clear he has no policy-making role there anymore. Now yes, the party did put him up as a candidate for an MEP seat, but nonetheless it’s easy to imagine how, with a little political finesse, the organization could dismiss and separate itself from these wild Ebola exclamations.

Maybe they will still do so; the incident happened yesterday, there’s probably still time. But certainly not if they wait until the French start voting on Sunday. In the meantime, the rest of us can only tip our hats in gratitude at the old codger for a timely reminder, just before the elections, of the essence of those various far-right parties from all over Europe who will be trying to get their candidates into the European Parliament in the coming days.

(Thanks to @ajboekestijn, on whose feed – rather than that of @lemondefr – I first caught notice of this.)

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Jobs for the Cavaliere

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

What a handsome, if somewhat aged gentlemen! Is there something he can do for you?

Cavaliere
As you can see, this is Silvio Berlusconi, better known in Italian circles (and beyond) as Il Cavaliere, the Knight.* Let me be clear, when I write that he “can do” things for you, I do not mean in the manner of a Mafia don, or even a leading Italian politician.

Berlusconi’s current job-title is better described as “convicted criminal,” convicted for fiscal fraud in connection with his media and broadcast company Mediaset. Verily did he struggle long and hard to avoid this fate – aided considerably by his repeated tenure as the Italian premier, which made him temporarily invulnerable to prosecution as well as even able to change the laws in order to protect himself – but the dreaded day finally came.

But by that time he was already in his late seventies, so he caught some breaks. He was originally sentenced to four years in prison, but it’s clear that was never more than for show. That was soon reduced to just one year, and to community service rather than any time behind bars.

So that is just it: what will be that community service?

In September 2013 the Cavaliere repeated that he would not submit to carrying out community service “like some common criminal who needs re-education,” but he finally accepted this option, that notably permits him to benefit from a further reduction of his sentence by three months [from the one year] in case of good behavior. Shelter for the homeless, retirement home, where will he carry out his community works?

That is just what a Milan court will start to decide today. There had been wild speculation that Berlusconi could find himself “cleaning the toilets at the main train station,” but it seems at least that is unlikely. Still, it’s sure to be spectacular in some way: working in a drug addict treatment center, at a retirement home and the like are real possibilities. That Milan court’s task is complicated extremely by considerations of personal security for Mr. Berlusconi and, of course, by the tremendous press interest that will ensue no matter what he finds himself doing.

One thing he won’t be doing, at least, is opening his mouth in any way: no speeches, no public statements are allowed under terms of his sentence. Then again, another option for him to “serve” his sentence is, in effect, house arrest. About that, this piece declares that “this scenario remains very improbable and concerns above all persons who are judged to be ‘dangerous.'” I sadly predict that is what the Milan judges will go for, turning that criterion on its head by citing the possible “danger” to Berlusconi himself if he actually has to carry out his community service in public.

* And as you perhaps can also see, this is a piece out of the French Huffington Post. There’s little doubt there is coverage of the issue out of the Italian edition as well, but I found this one expressed the dilemma best.

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Obama: Funny – Or Dead?

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

President Obama just recently broke new ground in appearing on “Funny or Die’s” interview show “Between Two Ferns,” and extensive speculation in the domestic press duly followed as to whether that had really turned out to be such a good idea. That domestic press, however, does not exhaust the supply of available observers; many foreign news outlets can be counted upon to be interested in this sort of thing involving the American president as well.

Among these is Lorraine Millot, Washington correspondent of the French newspaper Libération, and she offered her observations on Obama’s encounter with comedian-interviewer Zach Galifianakis in her “Great America” blog, in an entry rather unimaginatively entitled Mr. Obama, what’s it like to be the last black president? (That was one of Galifianakis’ more notorious questions, you see, if you hadn’t heard already.)

No doubt as penance for the failed launching of his health reforms, the American President consented – unwillingly, as one can see on the video – to be interviewed by the rather unsavory comic Zach Galifianakis. The American President was bullied (with repeated “Hush!” from the very beginning), called a nerd and grilled about dispatching his “ambassador,” basketball-player Dennis Rodman to . . . “North Ikea.” Twice the humorist touched on the topic of racism. The annoyance was visible on Obama’s features, but the president took it all and got in some good come-backs.

So maybe not such a good idea, from the French perspective. More like an ordeal. Of course, Obama wasn’t doing this for nothing: he wanted to get out the message, especially to young people, to sign up for Obamacare before the oncoming March 31 deadline. At one point he remarked to Galifianakis “I wouldn’t be here with you if I didn’t have something to push” – saying this in the same “disagreeable tone,” Millot notes, as that generally wielded by his interviewer.

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Tokyo Sex Strike

Saturday, February 8th, 2014

Those of you out there with a classical education will be familiar with Aristophanes’ play Lysistrata and its unique plot-device: the Lysistrata character is a sort of FEMEN warrior 2,300-years-before-the-fact, who persuades the woman of Greece to withold sex from their husbands until they agree to end the Peloponnesian War.

It’s good for a lot of laughs, and casts interesting light on the state of Athenian society in Aristophanes’ time. But surely you’d think such a trick is irrelevant in this modern age?

Time to think again, for it is quite current, and from an unlikely source.

TokyoSexStrike
Yes, it’s the women of Tokyo who are hot and bothered, but mostly in the political sense, and who are reaching back to Ancient Greek literature to try to push through a political objective. It’s a simple one, really: there’s a guy running in the elections for Tokyo governor tomorrow (9 February 2014) that they really don’t want to see win. He is Yoichi Masuzoe, a prominent politician in Japan since 2001 – in fact, a former government minister – and a scientist before that. Among his “scientific” observations was this one from back in 1989:

Females are not normal when they are having a period. One really cannot [when that is the case] let them make crucial decisions for the country, like for example whether to declare war or not.

(more…)

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Massacre of Innocents

Friday, January 31st, 2014

You poor, sweet darlings . . . Let that be a lesson, never get mixed up with the big-time boys!

Libya_Goldman
We’re talking here about the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), ready to go to court in London against Goldman Sachs, accusing it of taking on the LIA as a client, only to turn around and hoodwink it in a derivatives deal.

According to the Fund, which controls $60 billion, the bank is said to have “profited in an abusive manner from the LIA’s weakness” and to have pushed it to enter into nine derivatives transactions, with among others Citigroup, EdF [= Électricité de France], Santander and ENI [the Italian state petroleum company], with the goal of obtaining “substantial profit margins” from a total value of one billion dollars . . .

Due to the [economic] crisis, these transactions “lost almost all of their value” and expired in 2011, but the Fund estimates that Goldman Sachs nonetheless succeeded in obtaining a profit [i.e. for itself] of 350 million dollars.

What can one say here? For one thing, this case is being put forward for actions dating back to 2006, i.e. back when Qaddafi was Libya’s dictator, and I doubt there is anyone left ready to shed too many tears for his sake. What’s more, it seems Goldman plied the key Libyan decision-makers with expensive gifts, including luxury visits to Monaco.

Still, this sort of account cannot but reinforce the impression that Goldman operates on some variation of Groucho Marx’s old saw “I wouldn’t want to be part of any club that would accept me as a member,” only here it is “Anyone who would willingly be our customer must be rather stupid, so let’s take them to the cleaners!” Don’t take my word for that impression: that is exactly what has inspired so much resistance to Goldman’s current proposal that it purchase an ownership share in Denmark’s national energy company.

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Yes We Vati-CAN!

Wednesday, January 29th, 2014

In the immortal words of English hip hop artist Mike Skinner (better known as The Streets):

I think you are really fit
You’re fit – But my gosh don’t you know it

Sorry, but that’s just what first came to my (highly cultured, don’t worry) mind when I first saw the below, thanks to re-tweeting by Le Figaro:

Superpope
His papacy is not even one year old (that will occur on 13 March), but already Pope Francis has been flying high in the world’s esteem. And while I won’t go so far as to accuse Vatican officials of leaving their confines in the Holy See to find some local graffiti artists to plant that particular illustration on a local wall, it’s probably safe to say that the Pope and his officials have reason to be satisfied with their efforts so far to put this new Pope’s personal stamp on the office.

Another reflection of this – and going further with the Le Figaro connection – is the piece published today in that newspaper, “Pope Francis is more popular than Obama in the Internet.” Now, how are you supposed to decide who is more popular than whom on the Internet? Apparently it’s a function of how often people search for your name on Google and how often you are mentioned on the Web overall. The Pope ranks high in those two metrics (1.7 million and 49 million, respectively), although he does not top all individual markets. In Italy, where he lives, there are more Google searches for Silvio Berlusconi; in Argentina, where he is from, there are more (surprisingly) for the Italian comedian and anti-Establishment politician Beppe Grillo. And among world youth, His Holiness must take a back seat when it comes to these metrics to One Direction and Justin Bieber.

Then again, why is this subject even coming up? Examining the Figaro article closely, it’s clear that it has been touched off by a recent report on Pope Francis’ popularity from the Aleteia news service, which bills itself as “The news of the world from a Catholic perspective”!

That must give one pause. Look, it’s true that His Holiness made it to the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, and that’s not nothing (although it’s less than it was). Still, remember that he has people working to make such things happen for him; remember also that when, say, HTC is suddenly the mobile telephone everyone is talking about, that fact stems from more than just that particular product’s qualities. But my gosh don’t you know it . . .

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Oiling the Chinese Bureaucracy

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Granted, this is not something particularly calculated to arouse your sympathy, but Le Monde tells us today how the famed French hard alcohol company Rémy Cointreau – the result of a merger in the early 1990s between Rémy Martin and Cointreau – has fallen on hard times.

RemyC
Sales down 18.9% in IVQ 2013, down a total of 12.3% over the last three quarters of last year.

What seems to be driving most of this is a notable collapse in sales of the firm’s flagship Rémy Martin cognac: down 21% in that same April-to-December period. But it’s the hint as to why this is happening – contained in a link embedded within this article to another piece behind the Le Monde paywall – that is interesting. For sales are collapsing above all in China, where it seems a bottle of Rémy Martin is almost standard currency when it comes to “convincing” a local official to take some action in your favor. In other words, Rémy Cointreau is facing collateral damage from the People’s Republic’s current anti-corruption drive!

Look, don’t they teach these things at INSEAD, say? One must diversify one’s worldwide clientele of corrupt officialdoms! After all, there are so many to choose from!

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Is Albert II Up To His Old Beatrix?

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

So another Head of State departs (after Egypt’s, I mean), but not in quite as controversial circumstances.

AlbertII_Beatrix

Albert II will abdicate in favor of his son, Philippe, on 21 July, which happens to be the Belgian National Day. This was no surprise to faithful @EuroSavant Twitter-feed followers, since I had flagged in that forum some months ago the rumors that had emerged that this sort of thing would happen.

And yes, that particular tweet above has to begin by specifying “Belgique,” because it’s from the French media, not the Belgian, but I wanted to give props to Le Point for their accompanying story-behind-the-story piece, namely WHY the Belgian King is abdicating.

For this is unprecedent, it’s the first time a King of Belgium has voluntary stepped down. (Not that Belgian monarchs go back that far in history – only back to, yes, 21 July 1831 – and indeed one had to vacate the throne involuntarily for misbehaving during World War II.) But it’s not so novel a thing to do just north over the border in the Netherlands, as the last three monarchs (all queens) have in fact relinquished their crowns prior to their deaths, the latest famously being Queen Beatrix just this past April 30, which indeed was the Netherlands’ National Day, Queen’s Day. (more…)

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Begging the Spying Question?

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

The editors of Le Monde seem to have received advanced word on the content of President Obama’s big speech in Berlin later today. Let’s hope they’re wrong.

LeMonde_ObamaBerlin

“Obama will propose a reduction of the American and Russian nuclear arsenals.” Good news, right?

Well yes – but that’s really not the subject his audience is going to be interested in! You just might have heard of recent revelations of programs with names like “Prism” which involved massive spying by US authorities on the telephone and electronic communications of, basically, everyone, certainly including German citizens. As NYT columnist Roger Cohen quite clearly pointed out on Monday (“Obama’s German Storm”), due to their past the Germans are particularly sensitive about such abuses. They will certainly want to hear what Obama is going to do about this, and likely not about the latest warhead-number that will result if the President can get his way with whatever measure he wants to propose.

I know that preparation for such major speeches requires long lead-times, but nonetheless if his big Brandenburg Gate speech this evening does turn out to deal solely with nuclear armament matters, it will be the sorriest attempt at mass attention-diversion we will have seen for a long, long time. And you can bet it will not work on the Germans. I hope to be able to offer some after-the-fact coverage from the German press along those lines in this forum.

But so OK: Nukes

Still, for the sake of exercise let us take these reports at their word and consider the issue of nuclear arms reductions. The Le Monde article specifically declares that Obama’s proposal will include US “tactical” nuclear weapons still stored in Europe, where many are wondering why – given the current geopolitical situation there – they were not removed a long time ago. (more…)

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Hey Mate, Just Es-Car-Go!

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

Certainly you’ve heard of french fries, but how about French leave (i.e. without permission, such as from the army) or French tickler (look it up)? Courtesy of Le Monde, we find that there’s a new concept of “French shopping” arising Down Under.

En Australie, le consul français a honte de ses touristes http://t.co/ozSrjNChY4

@lemondefr

Le Monde


“In Australia, the French consul is ashamed of his tourists.” So much so that this consul-general has issued an open letter pleading for better behavior, now that “French shopping” has become a by-word there for shoplifting. (Actually, the letter addresses French citizens residing permanently, asking them to set any visitors from the Home Country straight.)

The problem is a wave of French backpackers visiting Australia – 22,000 there at last count – many of whom don’t know how to behave themselves. While they are mostly there taking advantage of a one-year combined tourist/work visa that allows them to seek employment even as they explore the country, they’re also cultivating a reputation for drunken, loud behavior and, yes, petty pilfering. The low-light so far was the French guy who in January (the height of summer down there) apparently did something nasty to the Cenotaph memorial in Sydney honoring Australian war dead.

There is of course coverage of this new French plague in the Aussie papers themselves. For example, in his treatment in the Sidney Morning Herald writer Robert Upe brings forth the phrase “French nickers” – without any initial “k,” so don’t get too excited or yours in a twist, “to nick” is Commonwealth English for “to steal” (cf. US “to swipe”).

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Keep Hands Off Merchandise!

Monday, March 11th, 2013

He’s a controversial figure. He has made many a wacky pronouncement in the past. He’s the lightning-rod for most of the opprobrium that currently heads Iran’s way over its alleged plan to gain a nuclear weapons capability – even though, as most commentators seem to miss, he holds quite limited power himself, even as President of the Islamic Republic.

Still, one of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s tasks in that capacity is representing Iran at public events outside the country, including most recently the funeral of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. You could well imagine that that was an occasion at which the Iranian president truly wanted to be present – not a happy one, to be sure, but one celebrating the life of another political leader with whom he often made common cause in an anti-American capacity.

So he was there, alright. But he got into trouble:

Aux funérailles de Chavez, Ahmadinejad choque les conservateurs iraniens http://t.co/FHClQpUWkh

@lemondefr

Le Monde


What trouble? After all, all you can see by way of illustration if you click through to the Le Monde “Big Browser Blog” article is Mahmoud tearfully consoling some lady (who turns out to be Hugo Chávez’ mother).

But that’s just it – you don’t touch women in public if you’re a good Muslim! Indeed, some devout Muslim functionaries in the Netherlands (for example) even refuse to shake women’s hands, which can lead to awkward problems when they are supposed to meet with female cabinet ministers. So Ahmadinejad has gotten considerable push-back about this from back home, including angry denunciations from a couple members of the Iranian parliament, one of whom accused the President of “losing control” at the funeral.

The only response so far from the Ahmadinejad side is from his spokesman, who denies that the President embraced Chávez’ mother. I guess it all depends on your definition – calling Bill Clinton!

BTW to give credit where it is due, this Le Monde piece specifically credits a Le Huffington Post* article as its source. Yes, Arianna has expanded her empire there, but also to the UK (no-brainer), Italy, and Spain! Sharp-eyed EuroSavant fans will have noticed by now how I have incorporated pieces from those sources (but not the UK) into my Twitter-stream. Anyway, it says on its site that Le Huffington Post works “in association with the Le Monde Group,” so that sort of borrowing is perfectly alright.

* Special note for francophones and francophiles: Who knew that the “h” in “Huffington” would be aspirated?

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Bowie is Back!

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Yes, that’s the news today from France’s Le Figaro, which announces a new Bowie album, to be titled Where Are We Now?:

David Bowie revient avec un nouvel album pour mars http://t.co/wM9MtVtQ

@Le_Figaro

Le Figaro


Where indeed? Readers can click through to the article itself to ponder that question as it pertains to Ziggy Stardust himself, as the piece is topped by a revealing screen-shot of the maestro today at age 66. Other than that, there are only two further remarks that I think pertain:

  • You see in the tweet, and at places in the article itself, mention of mars, but that has nothing to do with Bowie’s past obsession with the Red Planet or the spiders that might issue therefrom; it’s simply the French word for the month of March, which is when the new album is due out.
  • What’s he doing coming out with an album (his first in ten years) anyway? There’s a persuasive argument that music albums are but things of the past.

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Gérard Among The Crazies

Monday, January 7th, 2013

You might have heard about the recent kerfluffle involving the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated (for Cyrano de Bergerac) French actor Gérard Depardieu. French President François Hollande recently carried out his pledge to increase the top marginal income tax rate in his country to75%, and Depardieu has become the point-man for resistance to that among the French wealthy. He has written vituperative public letters to the president, for example; but he has also asked for and received Russian citizenship (where income taxes are at only 13%, for everyone). He’s apparently good friends with Vladimir Putin, according to the French weekly L’Express (and numerous other publications):

Quand Gérard Depardieu fait la com’ de Vladimir Poutine http://t.co/5rWqHj33

@LEXPRESS

LEXPRESS


Yes, good buddies they are, интимные приятели . . . if you click through there to the article you can see a nice photo of the two men embarking on a bear-hug. “Did you see my latest film?” Gérard asks Vladimir, “I sent it to you.” (Depardieu’s latest project was a franco-russian co-production on the life of Rasputin, in which he took up the title role.) And Brigitte Bardot is threatening to follow him to Russia, although over a dispute involving two sick elephants (I kid you not! Click thru!) rather than taxes.

But here’s the punchline to all this, beyond the patronized pachyderms, which I provide as a public service to those (very few) of you who have not already figured it out for yourselves. Russia may impose only a 13% tax-rate, but it’s really not a very nice place to go and live; Depardieu’s praise of the state of democracy there, which formed part of his open letters, only shows how ignorant he is, for Russia has no rule of law and the rich there stay that way only through Vladimir Putin’s good graces (as shown by the counter-example of former oil company CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky).

There’s yet another L’Express article of note here, entitled Russia: Depardieu among the crazies? For the spot in Russia Depardieu has picked out for himself – should he really want to spend time there – is said to be the southern Moscow suburb of Белые Столбы (“White Posts”). But as journalist Alla Chevelkina (note the name) points out, Depardieu apparently is unaware that Russia’s most famous mental institution – which in the bad old days also housed numerous Russian dissidents as part of the Soviet regime’s employment of psychiatry as a weapon against such “troublemakers” – is in the same neighborhood and shares the “White Posts” name. Or that Russians use the expression “gone to the White Posts” to denote someone who has been packed away to the crazy-house.

UPDATE: And now the newspaper Libération tells us that Depardieu was greeted as a hero upon his arrival in Russia, and offered a house and the post of Minister of Culture! The thing is, all of those have to do with the Russian Republic of Mordovia, some who’s-ever-heard-of-it place apparently located somewhere to the east of the former Stalingrad.

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From France to Romney: Gotcha!

Thursday, September 27th, 2012

Word on the ‘Nets is that that infamous “47%” video might well have been the coup de grâce that will ultimately ensure that Mitt Romney loses the 2012 presidential race. However, it never rains, but it pours: now another embarrassing Romney video has surfaced, and France’s Le Monde is all over it:

Une nouvelle vidéo embarrassante pour Romney http://t.co/TN2jw7ts

@lemondefr

Le Monde


This one shows Romney back in 1985, addressing employees of Bain & Co. at the time of the creation of Bain Capital, the Bain “private equity” subsidiary of which Romney was placed in charge.

Hopefully you’re curious, and you can simply click through to be able to check out this 1:21-minute-long clip yourself – helpfully, with a full English (not French) transcription appearing simultaneously along the bottom. (more…)

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“Nightmare” Games?

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Here at €S we greeted the oncoming prospect of the London 2012 Olympic Games with an examination of whether it really makes sense economically for a city to host them, which came to the daring conclusion: “It depends.” Now they are over – do we have any preliminary verdict?

Well, there is one from Michel de Poncins of the French on-line commentary site Contretemps, and it is grim:

Les JO de Londres : vers la ruine ? La cérémonie de clôture des JO de Londres a mis dimanche un terme aux fest… http://t.co/OeA9SNfA

@Contrepoints

Contrepoints


Vers la ruine? – “towards ruin?” De Poncins asks, and his lede is no more cheery:

The closing ceremony of the London Olympic Games on Sunday put an end to the festivities. Now it’s the hour of drawing up the balance. Were these Games once more a financial catastrophe?

After all, let’s remember that Montréal was still paying for staging the 1976 Summer Games some thirty years later, while the 2004 Games undoubtedly accelerated Greece’s slide into sovereign bankruptcy.

So what about London? First of all, there is Games’ official price-tag: €11 billion. That in itself, claims De Poncins, came in at four times what it originally was supposed to cost. In a sense, though, that doesn’t really matter – because even that €11 billion hardly covers the true cost, which is not really calculable but must be supplemented by “an unknown quantity of adjacent expenses.” Besides, ordinary tourist traffic for the hotels was noticeably lower in London during the Games, and a price must also be added for all the inconvenience they caused to simply getting around the city, during the Games themselves but also during all the construction leading up to them.

Clearly, what we have here is what you could term an “Olympics Scrooge”: De Poncin’s focus is solely on the money-costs, whose extent he claims is unknowable, even while he ignores the less tangible but still potentially substantial benefits that can be accrued from the Olympics of boosting a given city’s image. As we saw in our previous treatment, that certainly was the case for Barcelona in 1992 and even for Munich in 1972 to some degree, despite the massacre of the Israeli athletes. There’s no reason to think a similar effect was missing here; the Games themselves seemed to have been run very well, and press accounts describe even a sort of euphoria eventually taking hold among Londoners over what was going on.

So this isn’t meant to be your most-unbiased accounting of whether the 2012 Games gave to London more than they demanded. Indeed, M. de Poncin has a particular axe to grind: He focuses on costs because he is against governmental spending on the Olympics – or on sport in general – in any form! Olympics lead to unemployment, don’t you know: the greater government spending involved must be supported by higher taxes, which depress the economy, throwing people out of work, etc.

That’s where they are coming from on this Contretemps site. And you can tell, because they now have a second article up on the London Olympics – “A celebration of the virtues of competition.” Lede:

The economy functions in the same way as an Olympic competition. Rivalry tends to make everyone better. And no enterprise or no country can maintain an advantage indefinitely.

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Tax-Exile Hell

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

You know, it can be a tough life when you happen to have a lot of money at your disposal. Just ask Mitt Romney. Or nose around a bit in Geneva:

#Economie – Des fortunes de France vivraient l’enfer à Genève: Un reportage sur les exilés fiscaux français clou… http://t.co/9Fgmrp4d

@news_suisse

News Suisse


A little background: The new French Socialist government of François Hollande (dominating both the executive and the legislature) made it clear both pre- and post-election that it intends to substantially raise taxes on the rich. As a result, many of those rich are upping stakes and leaving, often just across the border to more tax-friendly but still francophone climes in Belgium or Switzerland, where they can escape French taxes if they live there for at least 183 days in the year.

Trouble is, it’s not that simple, at least when it comes to Geneva, where for all their money these tax-exiles have to deal with substantial culture-shock. That @news_suisse tweet links to a piece in Geneva’s own Tribune de Genève by Dino Auciello, about how his own venerable hometown is somehow just so uncomfortable and, well, boring for these wealthy wanderers. It’s not difficult to detect Auciello’s thick irony just below the surface, as in his lede:

Poor French fiscal exiles! Those who flee from ever more oppressive fiscal authorities, now the promised land of Geneva reveals itself to them as a veritable hell.

Things are so humdrum there, he reports, that “aside from golf and adultery, distractions are rare.” (more…)

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Get With the Twitter Program!

Monday, July 16th, 2012

From all the talk in recent years about Social Media, you would think media outlets (especially) would be quicker to use them.

Case in point:

Japan ambassador returns to Beijing amid territorial spat http://t.co/b6rSwGyl

@Reuters

Reuters Top News


“Territorial spat”: so now you have all sorts of fuss & bother about supposed rising tension on either side of the East China Sea, even though the Reuters article quotes the Japanese Foreign Minister denying that the temporary recall had anything to do with any disputed waters.

And well he might deny that:

LeMonde Unbearable tragedy: National mourning in #Japan as 1st #panda born there in 24yrs (@ #Tokyo zoo) dies http://t.co/bq5d6bdl

@EuroSavant

EuroSavant


As should be obvious, the ambassador had to return to receive detailed information and instructions for complaining to the Chinese about that mother panda they had provided to the Tokyo Zoo – clearly unable to produce a live offspring!

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Executive Internet Power-Grab?

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Why haven’t we heard more about this?

Obama signe un décret controversé sur le contrôle d’Internet en cas de catastrophe http://t.co/k77uRyZy

@lemondefr

Le Monde


French words often are in similar form to their English counterparts, so you probably can make out the meaning here: this has to do with retaining control of the Internet in the event of some “catastrophe.” Specifically, President Obama signed a new Executive Order on the subject, back on July 10.

The Order is labeled “controversial” in that tweet, but I became aware of it in the first place only from that source and have not been able to find much additional discussion elsewhere. The President basically reshuffled the responsibilities assigned to various federal agencies should either some natural disaster or national security menace arise that threatens US communications. Such criticism as there is has focused on the Order’s section 5.2, which seems to give the Secretary of Homeland Security the power to seize and control private communications networks, e.g. the Internet.

This Le Monde article does provide a link to the tech-site The Verge, which was one media source that did mention this new Executive Order and critique it; you can go there for further explanation in English.

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Egypt’s Political Trench Warfare

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Most of Europe lately has been preoccupied with happenings in Spain and in Greece. In the meantime, however, there have been ominous developments in Egypt, where not only has the second round of the presidential election been concluded (official results have yet to be announced), but where the existing legislature has been dissolved by the High Constitutional Court – an action doubly strange due to Egypt not really having any constitution, other than that under which the deposed Hosni Mubarak ruled for all those decades.

What does it all mean? The French daily Libération tries to provide an answer:

Egypte : «Une bataille de tranchées entre l’armée et les Frères musulmans» http://t.co/F4jFUewU

@liberation_info

Libération


This piece is essentially a brief interview, by writer Cordélia Bonal, of Egypt expert Tewfik Aclimandos of the Collège de France. Some highlights:

  • The Egyptian military might have moved too soon. It can be presumed that they were behind the Constitutional Court’s ruling, with the motivation of preventing a situation in which the Muslim Brotherhood would dominate the legislature and the presidency at the same time. Yet the presidency has not necessarily fallen within their grasp; the military/old regime candidate for the position, Ahmad Shafiq, seems to have done very well in the second round and might even have won (despite premature claims of victory by the Brotherhood – anyway, we will soon see).
  • Thus the military might have overreached. In any case, it clearly is not willing to go off quietly into the night. In addition to engineering the dissolution of the legilature, it has explicitly given itself a veto over any future constitution, and it has set up a Council of National Defense, composed (naturally) overwhelmingly of military officials. This organ offers a potential base for future military rule, or at least continued dominance over national politics by officials who were largely in place under Mubarak.
  • Whatever might happen, Egypt finds itself in a difficult situation, “between two profound authoritarianisms” (i.e. military on one side, Muslim Brotherhood on the other, which currently polls show enjoys only 25% support). That doesn’t mean the revolution is over, “it is still in people’s heads.” There just seems to be a long way still to go.

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18-Month-Old Girl: Face of Terror?

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

OK America, you’ve had your fun with your TSA airport follies for far too long now. Where to begin? You’ve repeatedly humiliated a major Southwest Asia movie star when he has visited, just because of his last name. You’ve had your “anomalies in the crotch area.” Etcetera.

But now it’s no longer just a matter of fun-and-games for a domestic audience:

Une fillette de 18 mois débarquée d’un avion pour soupçons de terrorisme http://t.co/b97wKeTw

@lemondefr

Le Monde


Now it’s Le Monde: A little girl of 18 months taken from airplane on suspicion of terrorism. It’s another made-in-USA incident, occurring at the Fort Lauderdale airport. Apparently airport authorities claimed the little girl was on the “No-Fly” list. It should further be no surprise that her parents are of Middle Eastern origin, that the wife wears a veil in public.

Go ahead, check it out, for there’s also a nice video embedded in that report, giving the local news broadcast on the incident (so in English). But again, this is a report in the “Big Browser” blog of the leading French newspaper Le Monde. When will you realise that this is leaking out to the foreign press now, making America a laughing-stock? When will you get embarrassed enough and stop all this “security theater” already?

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Financial Exhaustion in Sight

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

The Arab Spring of 2011, as we all know, is still with us as there is some blatant unfinished business. Some may take the opportunity here to bring up Bahrain, or even Jordan or Morocco, but I’m referring instead to the country now catching the vast majority of the world’s attention. That was supercharged yesterday with the reported deaths there of an American and a French journalist, so I mean Syria, of course, where anti-government agitation has now been going on at least since last March, and where the government apparently is now carrying out its ambition to blast one of its major cities, Homs, to the ground.

Governments everywhere gnash their teeth in reaction, asking what can be done in the face of Russia’s and China’s refusal to allow the passage of any UN Security Council Resolution which, under international law, is necessary for any active intervention. Still, there is some good news, brought to us today in Le Monde:

Au bord de l’asphyxie financière, le régime syrien poursuit la répression http://t.co/wBFsN8LD

@lemondefr

Le Monde


L’asphyxie financière: financial asphyxiation – it seems that at least the economic sanctions that Europe, America, and the Arab League imposed on the Damascus regime some time back are finally starting to have an affect. Simply put, Syria is being starved of foreign exchange, since it can hardly earn any – no one will buy its oil. There are maybe “three or four months” worth of foreign currency left, is what is now estimated within diplomatic circles. After that, the Syrian pound “will crumble”; even if they can find importers for what they need in the midst of all the official sanctions, they’ll have nothing to pay them with.

Of course, this will likely make life equally uncomfortable for the rebels as well as the Syrian government. But perhaps of greater relevance is the question whether those rebels can hold out another three or four months.

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Quick! Emergency Marriage!

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

Governments are falling all around Europe: Greece, Italy – and next, after national elections happening tomorrow, the Spanish government. True, the current Prime Minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero has had enough and won’t be standing for re-election himself, but polls show a crushing defeat is in store for his successor at the head of Spain’s Socialist Party, Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba. What else do you expect, with > 20% unemployment, shaky banks and a government imposing more and more austerity even as it flirts with default anyway?

The next Prime Minister will surely be the leader of Spain’s other major party, the right-wing Partido Popular (commonly translated as “People’s Party”), Mariano Rajoy, to the point that Rajoy has already started issuing messages (e.g. “Give us a break!”) meant for the European financial establishment. But there’s another area of policy (among many, admittedly) where he has held strict radio silence:

Espagne : mariages gays express sur le Web avant les élections http://t.co/FMHPonil

@lemondefr

Le Monde


That’s right: Strict old, conservative Spain actually turned out to be rather progressive back in 2005, when it approved homosexual marriage. (Actually, not only that, but also gay couple adoption and inheritance rights to same-sex partners.) But that was when the Socialists were in power. Would the conservative People’s Party – especially if it comes in with the expected landslide – repeal that? After all, at the time they did vote against the 2005 laws pretty much en bloc.

As this article from Le Monde shows, many thousands of Spanish gays are not willing to take that chance. So it turns out that this very weekend is an especially festive and happy one there on the Iberian Peninsula as the number of marriages is WAY above normal. Well OK: maybe rather “festive” and “happy,” considering the constrained circumstances – but in all cases certainly “gay.”

“But how can Spain’s marriage infrastructure handle this rat-through-the-python bulge in demand”? you might be asking. (OK, maybe you wouldn’t particularly use “marriage infrastructure.”) One thing that is helping a lot is a high-tech innovation from the small Andalusian village of Jun, near Granada, whose mayor, José Antonio Rodriguez, has set up a system for marrying people on-line. It only takes five days; you don’t actually have to visit there; and apparently you’ll be completely, legally married afterwards. Rodriguez says that, whereas Jun had only eleven same-sex marriages in all of 2010, it now does fifty per week.

Who knows? Maybe that same sort of solution is for you – IF you share that particular sexual preference, have arranged a willing partner to join you in conjugal bliss, and know at least a little bit of Spanish. You can follow Mayor Rodriguez on Twitter at @alcaldejun (38,180 followers when last I looked!).

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If With Peace You Don’t Succeed . . .

Friday, November 18th, 2011

Subtly, but surely, an important milestone has been reached in the eight-month uprising in Syria, as Marie Simon writes in an interesting new article in the French newsmagazine L’Express:

Jour après jour, la Syrie semble glisser vers la guerre civile http://t.co/LoWegPXI via @

@Monde_LEXPRESS

Marie Simon


The lede:

Part of the opposition is resigned to letting the weapons talk to gain the fall of Bashar Al-Assad’s regime, in the absence of any international intervention. The latest actions of the new “Free Syrian Army” trouble the international community.

(more…)

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Russian Lapdog Leaving Lap

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

BACK in the USSR! We’ve already been treated recently to some prime Soviet nostalgia, in the form of the Yulia Timoshenko show-trial in the Ukraine. Now from Le Monde we see how that’s been joined by the lock-step Kremlin solidarity of old: current Russian president Dmitri Medvedev has endorsed his own replacement by Vladimir Putin.

Many commentators – rightly, and including the Le Monde editorial board itself – had seen Putin’s end-of-September announcement that he would run for (and therefore win) re-instatement as president in 2012 as taking Russian political development back to the Brezhnev era, if not even back to the time of the Czars. Not so, said Medvedev yesterday on Russian television – it is “something else . . . a means to resolve the challenges we have set for ourselves.” So he’s fine with missing out on the chance to “run” for the second presidential term he himself is entitled to under the Russian constitution.

On the other hand – surprise! – he’s not happy with the current state of Russian government:

I’ve been a lawyer, and I thought that I knew very well how the state apparatus works. I was mistaken, things are much more difficult and in a certain way more frightening. That’s why we must think about how to change the system of managing the State.

Aha, so there at least is a note of dissension! But note that this comes after he admits that he has only around one year left as president, and hasn’t even indicated what political function – if any – he will fulfill after that. Medvedev’s term in office has been chock-full of ambitious pronouncements like this – that Russia must be more investment-friendly, more subject to the rule of law, etc. – that came to nothing. This is certainly just one more.

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