Nice Hero, In His Own Words

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

We’ve had Nice, then at the beginning of this week Würzburg, now München – it’s getting hard to keep track of all the public massacres these days!

Still, there remains one ray of light amidst all this gloom. And that is the hero of the Nice attack – only just over a week ago – a guy named Franck. (Just so you know: That’s a somewhat common French first name, the guy obviously wants to withold his last name to better control his privacy.) He’s the brave gentleman who was on his scooter on the Promenade des Anglais and promptly pursued the terrorist’s truck on its deadly path, and who is in fact credited with helping to slow it down so that police ultimately had an easier time shooting the driver.

Amazingly, Franck survived the episode, I believe he wasn’t even injured. The same cannot be said, however, for that scooter he was riding. As I already mentioned on Twitter, there’s now a French-based crowdfunding appeal going on, via the “Leetchi” website, to raise the funds at least to buy him a new scooter.

cagnotte

FranckEven as I write this, they’ve already raised just over €11,000 there so far. The sort of scooter they have in mind buying for him (“PIAGGIO mp3 300 LT sport ABS/ASR Black matt sport”) is listed right there. Interestingly, that same Crowdfunding page has a full picture of Franck at the top (and which I have put here): a fit, distinguished-looking gentleman with dark hair but a white beard (so aged, say, between 45 and 55). More interestingly still, that same page has Franck’s account of the incident, albeit a shortened version. But there is also a link to the full version in an “exclusive” interview piece in the local paper there, Nice-Matin.

I’m going to translate that account (from Nice-Matin) for you here starting from when the truck appears on the scene. I know, usually I’m supposed to add some clever theme or comment in blogposts like these, but not here, the point is self-evident. Accuse me of being lazy if you like, on this summer Saturday morning, but it’s quite a wild tale. (more…)

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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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American Women Are Easy

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

It’s just salacious, I know, but I just can’t leave the DSK story alone! (Part of that may be my complete lack of interest in that other current News International scandal.) I hope my readers will continue to indulge me when I bring to their attention this new piece from Jonas Legge at Belgium’s La Libre Belgique: “Three women in one weekend for DSK.”*

Which weekend was that? The one back in May that ended with his arrest in New York City for allegedly sexually assaulting the Sofitel maid. (But I don’t think that she counts as one of the three – that incident is still “alleged.”) This information comes from a friend of Anne Sinclair, DSK’s current wife, to whom he is said to confessed it.

I now yield to M. Legge’s account:

It would seem that DSK had the idea of “profiting” from one last moment of pleasure before announcing his participation in the Socialist primaries [for next year’s presidential election, which he was getting ready to fly back to France to do]. Two women were convened in the rented suite at the Sofitel. From surveillance-camera images, this information is confirmed. That same night the hotel’s receptionist supposedly refused the advances of the former IMF boss.

Wait, I’m keeping score here. If the receptionist was not concubine #3, nor the maid who went to the police, then who was? Well, at this rate that detail should turn up in public soon.

*Strangely, La Libre cites the French newsmagazine Le Point for all this information. I do prefer citing such an ultimate source above all, but in this case I could not find any mention on Le Point’s site. Maybe they’re reserving it for the (paying) print customers?

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Retirement Reform – For Some

Friday, October 29th, 2010

As various forms of unrest continue to percolate throughout France – as always, the website of Humanité, the Communist Party newspaper is probably the best place to go for news about that – the fundamental fact remains true that the retirement reform at the center of contention is becoming law regardless. Yes, word is that it has to be formally approved a couple of times by the two houses of the French legislature and then signed by President Sarkozy, but there’s no indication that there will be any hitch in that process despite any strikes and demonstrations going on in the world outside.

The result: Even as the masses out on the streets shriek NO! the government goes ahead with “Yes” – and this in a liberal democracy. Of course, things are actually not quite so clear-cut as that. All the people out demonstrating often make an impressive sight, but do they really represent the political will of the majority of France’s citizens? And even if they do: France is not a direct democracy where the people vote directly on laws – no modern society is a direct democracy – but rather a representative democracy, where according to one section of the rules of the game (somewhere; I believe it’s in Aristotle) the elected law-makers do have the right to go against the will of their constituents if they believe doing so better serves the nation. And it would seem raising the retirement age from what is financially a completely unsustainable age to one slightly less unsustainable qualifies.

Ah, but even as the Assemblée Nationale and French Senate undertake to do so, they make a mess of it. For while they were passing this retirement reform, they chose not to pass amendment 249 – that’s the one that would have subjected their own even-more-generous lawmakers’ pension system to the same conditions they were about to impose on everyone else’s!

Pretty outrageous, no? (Then again, the US Congress also almost routinely exempts itself from the laws it passes for the rest of the country.) I heard about this little bit of chicanery in the first place from an editorial in today’s Le Monde: You’re making me take to the streets – me, a moderate! It’s written by one Gregory Kapustin, who calls himself an “entrepreneur” and “former moderate.” (Check out his public LinkedIn page!) His message is basically expressed in his title; the actual article fills in the details about how, yes, he understands why pensions must be reformed, and he wishes the French nation would grow up and face the real world of globalization – but really, in exempting themselves the legislators have simply gone too far with their cynicism and he’ll be off to join the nearest street-demonstration. (With gasoline, bottle, and rag-stuffing in hand? He doesn’t say; he still seems to be too much of a professional dude to go that far.)

One can gain a similar feel for what he is fed up with from another article, from Le Point: Sarkozy will take some time to reflect on the situation after retirement reform. The lede:

Nicolas Sarkozy declared on Friday that he will announce when “the time is ripe” for initiatives in response to the French people’s worries and that he first intends to “take some time” to reflect on them.

As becomes clear as the article goes on, however, don’t expect him to start that thinking anytime soon, he’s a busy man. The Chinese president will be visiting Paris soon, then it’s off to Seoul for the G20 summit. Sarkozy made it clear that, when it comes to addressing the concerns of his countrymen he won’t “confuse speed with haste” but will take “time to reflect serenely, calmly, profoundly.” Hey – merci bien, monsieur le président! I bet your own pension is rather more generous than that of the man-on-the-street as well!

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Tide Gradually Turning Against Roman Polanski in France

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

After French/Polish director Roman Polanski’s arrest last Saturday night as he was trying to enter Switzerland to attend the Zurich Film Festival where he would accept an award, the first public reactions from his countries of citizenship expressed outrage. More substantively, both the French and Polish foreign ministers issued a joint appeal to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to intervene, which she declined to do.

Now almost a week after the fact, however, attitudes seem to be changing about the case, to Polanski’s detriment. Jan Cienski of the Global Post has a pretty good summary of how that is occuring in Poland, while Doreen Carvajal and Michael Cieply of the New York Times posit the same development in France. (The NYT editors themselves take up the attitude to the case that seems to prevail throughout the American continent: Polanski must be returned to the US to face justice.)

A trip through the on-line French press does turn up indications that the tide has turned against the Oscar-winning director. (more…)

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Tsunami Rogue’s Gallery

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Once again Asia/Oceania has been hit by a devastating tsunami, or killer tidal-wave series. This time it was Samoa and American Samoa that were afflicted (as well as other neighboring islands, such as Tonga), and it looks like no one was able to be warned in time about what was coming from the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii.

It’s all very bad, but at least the devastation wasn’t as widespread as at the time of the last big tsunami emergency, that one that hit India, Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, and Indonesia shortly after Christmas back in 2004, right? Actually, there have been a number of other tsunamis since then, and a helpful article from the French newsmagazine Le Point provides a handy list (and reveals the interesting fact – interesting to me, anyway – that the French term for this disastrous phenomenon is raz-de-marée, which they also use for “landslide” in the political sense):

  • Indonesia, 17 July 2006: An undersea earthquake creates a tsunami that hits the southern coast of Java and kills 654.
  • Samoa (again!), 28 September 2006: Only a “light tsunami” this time, no word of any casualties.
  • Russia, Japan, and USA, 15 November 2006: An underwater earthquake among the Kuril Islands (northeast of Japan, administered by Russia) causes a tsunami that hits the northernmost major Japanese island of Hokkaido. It’s a weak one, though, although apparently at the same time strong enough to go clear across the Pacific to cause some seaside damage at Crescent City, CA (just under the Oregon border).
  • Solomon Islands, 2 April 2007: Three coastal villages devastated, 52 people killed when a tsunami hits the westernmost of the Solomon Islands.
  • Japan, 11 August 2009 (just last month!): A tsunami hits “the center of Japan,” so presumably the main island of Honshu, but it’s a light one and only a few people are lightly hurt.

And then there’s yesterday’s serious incident around Samoa. I suppose the lesson is that, if you live anywhere near Southeast Asia (even in Crescent City, CA), you had better stay tuned in on-line to that Pacific Tsunami Warning Center website, but still keep your surfboard handy and/or your running-shoes on your feet for when the waves turn out to move faster than the warning.

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Rogue Missiles and a Fake Hijacking

Saturday, September 5th, 2009

Today we go from yesterday’s discussion of the implications of the melting ice in the Arctic Sea to . . . the Arctic Sea. But hold on: the “Arctic Sea” I’m talking about this time is not the geographical area, but rather the freighter (Maltese-registered; Russian crew) which has recently been at the center of a bizarre tale, having been hijacked just off Sweden on July 24 and which then proceeded seemingly to traverse the English Channel (one of the more-crowded stretches of water in the world) undetected, only to finally be found and captured by Russian warships weeks later in the Atlantic, near the Cape Verde Islands off the West African coast. If needed, you can refresh your memory from this Reuters report, and you might also consider an additional Associated Press report about a “Russian maritime expert,” now having fled Russia for fear of his life, who raised the possibility that the ship’s cargo could very well have included things a bit more interesting than just the Finnish wood listed on the manifest – like maybe weapons, for example. (more…)

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Countering Threats to the President

Saturday, August 8th, 2009

It’s fascinating and horrifying at the same time to read the recent news reports about the violent, intimidating turn the debate in the US over health care reform has taken. But that is not going to be the subject of this particular post per se, mainly because I have not picked up any European coverage of the same – yet, I’m sure. Arthur Touchot of Le Figaro instead gives us a bit of this flavor with a brief piece: Obama receives thirty death-threats daily. Touchot here draws mainly upon a book brought out just this month by Ronald Kessler entitled In the President’s Secret Service: Behind the Scenes with Agents in the Line of Fire and the Presidents They Protect. (Kessler is a former New York Times and Washington Post reporter who has written a number of other books such as The CIA at War – and in 2006 Laura Bush: An Intimate Portrait of the First Lady, which I confess does hurt his credibility with me a tiny bit. But he’s clearly a James Bond fan.)

Yes, as Kessler reports in his new book for which he interviewed scads of Secret Service operatives, Barack Obama is on the receiving-end of about 30 death-threats per day, as opposed to the “only” nine per day that George W. Bush enjoyed. (Now, America is a country of some 300 million, but still . . . perhaps that is a tad much?) The main thrust of his message, as reported by Touchot, is fairly predictable: in these days of government cut-backs, the Secret Service also considers itself to be rather alarmingly starved of resources to be able to respond appropriately to this level of threat against the President’s person. They have only half the level of personnel that they consider necessary, and too often those agents who are on the job have to forego training in order to go investigate and/or guard against various new hazards. If they complain, then they are apparently met with a Marine-type, hoo-ha attitude from their superiors: “You can get it done, and with the resources you have, because you are a Secret Service Agent!” You are Clint Eastwood!

Touchot passes on something else that also isn’t very surprising, namely that Obama has stayed cool in the face of these threats, both on the campaign trail and as president. He then unfortunately feels the need to pad out his piece by reciting the Secret Service code-names for Obama and his brood: the President is “Renegade,” Michelle is “Renaissance,” and on down. Isn’t it obvious that, once revealed like this (and we all know that they were made public long ago), these “code-names” rather lose any functionality they ever had as tools to keep anyone eavesdropping on the Secret Service from knowing who they’re talking about? It’s clear that there must be some other reason for them, and for their repeated revelation, probably having to do with PR and Americans’ love for spy-thrillers and all appurtenances thereto. If the Ph.D. thesis about this phenomenon from some sociology student has not yet been written, I’m sure it will be forthcoming soon.

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Pill-Popping Flu Invulnerability

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Any residence of Texas knows about “The Valley,” even if he or she doesn’t happen to live there. Not really a valley it all, it’s that area down along the Rio Grande that constitutes the border there between the US and Mexico, a handy place for new Mexican immigrants to the US (legal or otherwise) to get their start, but otherwise producing little of note for the world other than folk singer Kris Kristofferson and legends from the Streets of Laredo.

Now The Valley has produced something else, something that has caught the attention of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO): a new strain of swine flu that is resistant to the main drug the world is relying on to counter its effects, Tamiflu. Reports about this come both from France’s Le Point and (perhaps somewhat strangely) Denmark’s leading business newspaper, Børsen, which cite PAHO spokeswoman Maria Teresa Cerqueira, attending a swine flu conference currently happening in La Jolla, California.

Granted, this same Tamiflu-resistant strain has already been spotted in Denmark, Japan, Hong Kong, and even once before in North America, namely in Canada. But how did it come about? Cerqueira: “In the USA Tamiflu is sold by prescription, but in Mexico and Canada they sell it over-the-counter and take it at the first sneeze. And now that it is really needed, it doesn’t work anymore.” In other words, if you grant the assumption that the swine flu we can expect in the autumn is likely to be deadlier than what we’ve encountered so far (although, to be fair, the past strain did kill 353 persons in the USA and 143 in Mexico, among others), then pill-popping Mexicans and Canadians have exhausted the world’s Tamiflu firepower on the earlier, safer version – which reportedly merely caused symptoms comparable to any common, garden-variety flu – and thus have left everyone vulnerable to the more dangerous strain.

There’s perhaps a glimmer of hope in the Le Point piece, namely that one patient found to have the Tamiflu-resistant virus was able to be cured with another drug, “Zanamivir,” made by GlaxoSmithKline. So maybe there’s still an alternative cure available – until the virus in short order develops resistance to that!

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One-Stop Death Shop Convenience

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Goodness, it seems one 54-year-old male resident of Mérignac, a town to the southwest of Limoges in the French Dordogne, recently set off in his car on a rather dastardly mission. He headed for a village about 50 km away called Valeuil, with the intention of stealing whatever he could find of value from the local cemetery there. We can deduce his intentions by the fact that he had a ladder, a hammer, and a chisel in his possession. And we can deduce that he had a ladder, a hammer, and a chisel because those were found right next to his stiff body laid out in the very cemetery he had intended to loot, as Le Point tells in a brief article entitled He dies of a heart-attack . . . in the middle of pillaging a cemetery.

Perhaps his mistake was that he visited the cemetery in broad summer daylight; he apparently figured that it was such a small town that no one would notice him anyway, but he didn’t take into account the effects of the heat. Truly, the shoplifter unexpectedly became a customer, so to speak – I wonder whether somewhere in the afterlife he immediately ran into those whose graves he had despoiled or had intended to despoil.

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Let Them Eat Yacht

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Memo to Secretary of State Clinton: If you consider your squabble with the North Korean authorities as still unresolved and are just waiting to launch a new salvo, I’m glad to provide you with some more ammunition. According to a new report in the French weekly Le Point, you could accuse them of shelling out government funds for luxury yachts from abroad while their people starve back home. Italian authorities back on May 28 seized two luxury yachts with a combined value of €12.5 million, under construction at Viareggio on the coast of Tuscany. This was at the request of Austrian prosecutors in Vienna, as the order for these, along with several cars, had been placed by an Austrian national who thereupon transferred title to them all to a Chinese company suspected as acting as a front for the North Korean government. Naturally, the shipment of any sort of luxury goods to North Korea is prohibited, specifically by UN Security Council resolution 1718 of October, 2006, passed in the wake of that country’s first nuclear test.

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Rent-A-Homework

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

devoirsThe French newsmagazine Le Point today has some bad news for those French students who were looking forward to some extra time out in the bracing springtime air, away from the books: the site faismesdevoirs.fr announced yesterday that it was shutting down – one whole day after it first opened! The clue to what this site was supposed to do is in its very name: fais mes devoirs is French for “do my assignments,” and indeed this was a site set up to take care of the homework of lycéens et collégiens, thus high-school and university students, in exchange for payment of between €5 and €30. (Presumably per assignment; you also get a handy idea of the helpful attitude of this site from the tag-line on its logo, which translates to “You won’t get there . . . we are [already] there!”)

But no, Le Point reports that “the site had provoked criticism from the national Ministry of Education, teachers unions, and parents.” (I wonder why? Come on people, one doesn’t become a successful businessperson and get to own a McMansion without knowing how to delegate!) And then it basically passes on to readers the apologetic message now to be found on the faismesdevoirs.fr website, which we of course can just go inspect for ourselves. Posted at 18.00 hours yesterday evening (Fri., 6 MAR 2009), the brief note from a “Stéphane,” labeled as the “founder of faismesdevoirs.fr, is curious in its own right. The original idea of his team of collaborators was a noble one: “to make available an innovative pedagogical tool to Internautes.” (That’s a remarkable French term, perhaps cognate to “astronaut,” referring simply to “people who use the Internet.”) But then at some point – Stéphane does not specify when or how – they realized that “the site runs counter to our own values,” since it “can contribute nothing” to efforts to make “future generations better than present generations” (which, for example, think up schemes for things like earning money by doing students’ homework for them – Stéphane does not write that, that’s my own contribution). And then this: “New technologies should serve to better us and not to assist us.”

A curious postulate, that, Stéphane. So in science class it’s back to the slide rule? Or not even that? What about fingers? Frankly, this farewell note reminds me of the sort of defendants’ statements issued out of those Chinese “reeducation camps” of the 1960s, or the Communist show-trials of the 1930s and 1950s. Just how closely does that French Ministry of Education work together with, say, French military intelligence and their “special” interrogation methods?

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Four French Election Lessons

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

The excitement is mounting . . . in less than a day we should all know who the 44th President of the USA will be! That is, unless we come up against another vote-counting disaster such as occurred in the state of Florida back in 2000, Patrick Sabatier reminds us in his article for the French news-magazine Le Point: The four lessons of an historic campaign. Thanks for that, M. Sabatier, and unfortunately what you foresee could well come true, what with the unprecedented flood of voters expected to show up at the polls today, even after the similar throngs that flocked to the early-voting sites opened by some (but by no means all) states.

If we do get some sort of definitive result out of the day’s proceedings, Sabatier points out that it can only turn out one way, if you pay attention to the pollsters and other experts, namely a victory for Barack Obama. So why not go ahead and offer “four lessons” out of the American electoral campaign, as seen from a French perspective? Although, that said, Sabatier at the same time does take care to factor the possibility of a surprise McCain victory into his conclusions. (more…)

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Does Europe Find Sarah Palin Bewitching?

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

The impact of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s recent interview with CBS’ Katie Couric – widely considered to have been a disaster, even within GOP ranks – seems not yet to have been felt over on this side of the Atlantic. (Or – who knows? – perhaps some of those answers she gave that were judged incoherent at the time actually do make some sense when translated into other languages.) Rather, judging from the weight of press coverage, the media over here is fascinated instead with the YouTube video recently unearthed showing her in 2005 at the church she attended, Wasilla Assembly of God, standing by the pulpit to be blessed against “witchcraft” by a visiting Kenyan pastor named Thomas Muthee – a few months before she went on to win the Alaska governorship.

Black magic will not threaten Mrs. Palin is the headline of the leading Polish daily Rzeczpospolita (no byline given) (more…)

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The Speech: From Berlin to Denver

Friday, August 29th, 2008

He came out to the podium, he gazed out upon the 80,000 upturned faces aglow – and then last night Senator Barack Obama laid out his vision for his presidential campaign and for the presidency presumably to follow.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying here to push any Republican-inspired “Messiah” or “Moses-parting-the-seas” irony to cast last evening’s events in a disparaging light. Indeed, it was an impressive spectacle – complete with letter-perfect weather! – that itself rightly dominated the news-cycle and to which reactions still dominate that news-cycle this morning.

The same is not quite true in Europe, which has plenty else to talk about today, but Barack Obama’s speech has still gotten plenty of attention even now (i.e. as your EuroSavant writes this), less than 12 hours after it was delivered. Let’s again start with reactions from those who were vouchsafed their own up-close look at the Senator’s speechifying, last July in Berlin, namely the Germans. (more…)

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Coming: A New Cuban Missile Crisis?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

“Is history about to repeat itself?” asks Clément Daniez of the French newsmagazine Le Point in his article published on-line today, Russians and Americans Replay the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vladimiar Putin has already explicitly spoken of such a thing: last October (2007) he warned that Washington’s plan to set up an anti-missile shield in Europe, with the radar in the Czech Republic and the interceptor missiles themselves in Poland, was setting the stage for a similar sort of serious confrontation between the two world powers as occurred in October, 1962. Of course, in the meantime the Bush administration has gone ahead anyway, as Condoleezza Rice was in Prague on July 8 to sign the agreement with the Czech government for setting up the radar. (more…)

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Kerry-Amour in France

Tuesday, March 9th, 2004

Me, too! Me, too! So Europe is Kerry country, not least because the Democratic presidential candidate is fluent in French and can produce phrases in other European languages, reports the Economist. (Subscription required; or you can get the same message from this Washington Post survey of a ragged potpourri of English-language newspapers from around the world – from Manila, Hong Kong, Edinburgh, southern India, and the like.) Sounds like a good bandwagon for EuroSavant to hop onto, say with a look at the French press to see whether the Fifth Republic really loves the Democratic Party’s candidate as much as is claimed. (more…)

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“Iraq Withdrawal Syndrome”?

Monday, April 21st, 2003

The Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz claims to see “signs of Iraq withdrawal syndrome” among the American media. How does this play on the other side of the Atlantic – say, in France? (more…)

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