Archive for the ‘France’ category

The French Message

April 24, 2017

Yesterday France held the first step in electing its next President. In the French system all candidates run in round 1 and if one candidate receives more that 50% of the votes, that person becomes President. If not there is a round 2 between the two top finishers. The results were: the top finisher Emmanuel Macron, about 24% and Marine Le Pen, about 21%. Said differently, a centrist, not aligned with either of the two major parties and a far right (formerly fringe) candidate will meet in the run-off.

Macron, is a new comer who has never held a major elected position, garnered more votes than all the other 10 candidates. Early pundit predictions say Macron should win the run-off and become France’s next President. Le Pen, however, has been attempting to steer her far right party back towards the middle and may take advantage of unexpected events over the next month.

So what should Americans take as the message from this election?

For France, jobs and border security were key concerns of the electorate. As in America, jobs are a spotty issue. For those unemployed, it is a big deal while those with jobs don’t see the urgency.

Le Pen cites globalism (France First) as the unemployment problem’s root. For Le Pen the answer is leaving the EU and enacting protectionist measures. Macron, on the other hand, sees the world as global and that France must become more competitive in order to lower unemployment.

Border security is another matter. Le Pen used this term to explicitly call for restriction on Muslims including deportation of French Muslim citizens (two passport holders) under certain situations. Le Pen also paints these mainly North African Muslim immigrants as job takers and social services sponges. Macron is relatively silent on this issue reflecting the majority of French citizens (live and let live) attitudes.

France, population-wise is a bi-modal country with one large, densely populated city (Paris) and all the rest. Paris which most tourist flock to is also the center of banking and business. The rest of France is mainly agrarian and in certain cities home for large factories (like auto and air industries).

France has a strong socialist history featuring today the 35 hour work week and a highly developed set of regulations around work rules (pay, benefits, transfer, lay-offs, and firing). In short, it is easier (and often less costly) for a French company to not hire when demand increases. Consequently, even when times are good, one should expect less hiring in France.  The French social contract is well appreciated by French citizens and proposals to change it present a large challenge.

Blaming the EU misses entirely the point and returning France to the French franc will only acerbate the economic situation (where will investment come from?) and open the door for economic policies convenient to the ruling party but ruinous to the country.

So what are the messages relevant to the US?

  • Muslim baiting is not a sure winner. North Africans and other Muslims have had a difficult time fitting into French society.  They look and act differently than the traditional French population. It is true that unemployment and economic distress are higher amongst these Muslim groups but connecting these residents to the overall French malaise is not self evident. (Hmmm, do you think undocumented US residents from Mexico have anything to do with the employment rate in the coal industry?)
  • Jobs is a complicated subject. The idea that closing borders will increase employment is a tough sell (what about exports or reprisals from other countries?). Proposals to increase specific sectors present risk to other sectors. French citizens realize this. (Hmmm, do you think rhetoric will return jobs to the coal mining industry, or tax cuts for the wealthy will translate into lower unemployment?)
  • Voters lack confidence in their legislators. The rejection of the left and right traditional national parties confirms the lack of confidence that traditional leaders can improve the overall French life. (What do Americans think of a Congress which has voted almost 50 times to repeal Obamacare and cannot agree now on what to replace Obamacare with, even though Republicans have control of both houses of Congress and the Presidency?)

One must be careful to not read too much into the French first round election results. French voters have traditionally been volatile people living amongst general apathy. At this point, the French seem to have acted prudently.

Vive La France.

Brexit Implications

March 30, 2017

Yesterday British Prime Minister Theresa May signed the official document triggering the European Union’s exit provision, Article 50. With that move Britain has begun its retreat from Europe opening the doors to an uncertain future.

From the British perspective, Brexit is about sovereignty and the ability to more effectively deal with non-British labor, (read to exclude those Britain decides it does not want). The measure passed narrowly but in a Democracy, an inch is as good as a mile.

From the EU perspective, Britain’s departure is unwelcome but not for a want for Briton in particular. The EU worries that Brexit is just the first shoe to drop and more are around the corner. Question, if the EU is so good why would countries want to get out?

In forming the EU, member countries traded some sovereignty for a large common market where trading rules were fixed and not subject to populous tariffs or other whims. Regrettably, the EU also formed a parliament and a wide range of bureaucratic branches fully committed to establishing regulation on all facets of commerce and life in general. Critics see the EU and its Directorates as needless expense supporting a gigantic jobs program.

One of the more troublesome outcomes has been how the EU deals with immigrants. Any immigrant who gains access to a EU member State, for example refugees fleeing war in central Africa, once these immigrants set foot in a member State, they are free to travel to any other State seeking work. And of course, while seeking work, the immigrants are qualified to receive welfare support. IMO, the EU’s inability to deal with this one issue, more than any other, tipped the British vote to leave the EU.

Reports indicate that France may want to follow Briton. France’s reasons center on right wing politics. Life will be better if France calls the shots, the right claims.

The danger embedded in Brexit requires one to check history and see what happened when there was less dependance among European Countries. World War I and II, and all the other wars leading up to world wars should be a sobering reflection. Remember, European Countries have both a long history and a sharp memory.

In addition, these countries are, in comparison to the US, relatively ethnically pure (not much diversity).  Germany tend to be german, France tends to be french, etc. (Ironically, this homogeneity is want makes Italy or Spain or France etc so nice to visit.)

Following World War II the western world was fortunate to have leaders who knew the old world order had to be changed. Within Europe, a series of government agreements, for example the EU (European Government and flag), the Euro (European wide common currency), and NATO (European wide military alliance which include the US). These agreements provided enough grit that the nationalistic urges to settle differences between members would give way to more rational solutions.

The EU common market represent one of the top three markets in the world. Within world currencies, the Euro is often viewed as second only to the US dollar. And visiting Europe with its advanced transportation network (and trouble free border crossing) is a preferred vacation destination. Brexit is a short sighted and most likely unwise move by Britain.

With the rise of China (wealth and military strength), the implosion of the Middle East, the economic stagnation of Japan, and nuclear uncertainty of Pakistan, India, and North Korea, world order is under pressure. Britain by itself provides no reassurance that the British can wield diplomatic or economic strength useful in hammering out a functioning world order better than Britain being an EU member in good standing. The odds are that Briton is on a slide to obscurity (nice place to visit, but….).

Brexit could not have come at a worse time given the naivety of the incoming Trump Administration. Can a “one off deal making” mentality summon up the strategic vision necessary to guide other countries towards a peaceful world order?

Foreign Policy

April 2, 2016

This year’s GOP Presidential primary campaigns have begrudgingly included discussion of America’s foreign policy. Republicans, long advertised as “strong on defense”, claim foreign policy as their strong suit. In this year’s Presidential race, you could have fooled me.

Think about the world around us.

  • China, which has grown at an almost unimaginable double digit pace for over ten years, still clings to the notion that Asia belongs to China regardless of what international law may say. Fully nuclear capable, China remembers Japan’s war atrocities, coverts Taiwan’s return to China, and does not forget the years of colonial occupation at the hands of the West.
  • Japan has a split personality, part imperial and partial to the Samaria way of life, the other part worried about the devastation of WWII and not wanting a repeat, both of these personalities comfortable with isolationism.
  • Russia remains much the same country as depicted in “Katherine the Great” always worried about clandestine thoughts supposedly held by neighboring countries. Fully nuclear capable, Russia and its authoritative leaders simply do not think like Americans.
  • Europe is not one country but a composition of many. The big players are Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy and Spain and all are focused on increasing material wealth without giving up any cultural riches regardless of what hazards loom outside Europe’s borders. Europeans have known war like no one else.Advertised as America’s ally (under NATO), European Countries prefer focusing on their own country’s social problems than global conditions.
  • India, Pakistan, and most of Southeast Asia possess heavy loads to carry just to feed their people and, if possible keep up with their third world development. From time to time, these countries become victim of religious intolerance and in the case of India and Pakistan look at each other as the worst of enemies.
  • Africa and South America are lands of the rich and very poor. At this point, the countries making up Africa and South America are only capable of civil or regional wars. These countries posses abundant mineral resources and the potential for attractive trading alliances, yet somehow seem unable to reach the modern world.
  • Middle East and Israel are geographically commingled. Both struggle with the allure of modernity and both cling to views based upon ancient history. While Israel appears as modern as any country in the world to a traveler, its views that certain lands belong to Israel because “god” said so is not much different than China’s claim to Southeast Asia or Russia to Eastern Europe. Muslim Middle East countries have varying degrees of modern world attributes but are internally at war with a paralyzing view based upon life as it were 1000 years ago.

So tell me again me again why nuclear proliferation is a good idea, why a religious test is applicable to refugee resettlement, why trade tariffs and embargo are helpful, and why any direct military involvement in foreign lands can unilaterally reduce world tensions?

Tell me why the red meat of political speeches make any sense at all?

Tell me why the 7/24 news media not only tolerates but at times encourages politicians to make unsubstantiated policy proposal and not call them on it? Tell me, given the GOP 2016  monopoly of simplistic foreign policy views why it is ok to block Supreme Court nominations, revert to health care coverage which covers less people, or seek religious freedom protections which promulgates discrimination and unequal treatment under the law?

There is assuredly no way any candidate can get it right on all the issues, domestically or in foreign affairs. The world is too complicated and nuanced. On the other hand, naive and half baked ideas, populous based, send the wrong message to other countries and to voters.

This complex world we live in has traded world wars for regional wars for the past 60 years. Americans need to recognize that the appeal of Ted Cruz, Donald Trump, and Bernie Sanders are based upon disenfranchised segments of our population whose wants and needs reflect domestic conditions only. Satisfying these domestic wants, however, could upset world order without anyone suspecting it happening. Such an outcome could be devastating.

Electing a President is more than a beauty contest, a fancy slogan, or the person with the most money. Electing a President might begin with selecting someone as thoughtful, as sincere, and as inquisitive as Barack Obama

Brussels’ Message

March 23, 2016

Terrorists have performed once more the unthinkable. Suicide bombings were carried out at the Brussels International Airport and at one stop in the Brussels Subway system. Reports list as many as 35 fatalities. Innocent people with no known argument with the attackers. Why do people do this, and what can be done to stop this happening again?

I know Brussels. I never lived in Brussels (unless Sofitel rooms count). I did live nearby in Germany and traveled many times through out Belgium and in particular Brussels for business and for pleasure. By American standards, Brussels and most of Belgium are easy places to visit. Almost everyone speaks english as a second language. The pace of life is very pleasant. Brussels and the Grand Place district are full of tourists, shops, and wonderful places to eat.

The airport is smallish (compared to Amsterdam, Frankfurt, or Charle DeGaulle. It was formerly the home of Sebena Airlines (Belgium National Carrier). Sebena offered some of the poorest customer service in Europe and Belgians never seemed to mind. Maybe that was due to a quirk in the population’s personality. Belgians don’t make trouble for others.

Belgium’s official language is not one but two. Roughly, the north speaks Flemish (Dutch) and the south (Walloons) speak french. Belgium has a split political make up too. National budget expenditures are split roughly 50-50 so if new road is built in the south, then one is also built in the north whether they are needed or not.

The Belgians are outwardly hospitable people. With its central location, Brussels has been selected as the seat of the European Parliament and home for many of the European Commission agencies. Symbolically, Brussels could be seen as the capital of Europe.

Again, why do people do this?

The perpetrators of the recent Paris attacks and the prime suspects in these bombings are Muslims of North African ancestry. One might see this incident as unintended by-product of European colonial days. The civil wars in North Africa generated a lot of refugees, some who held dual citizenship resulted in a lot of North African muslims relocating to Europe. Now their children, a second generation, call Belgium home but have not assimilated very much at all. They stand on the outside while living inside.

What goes on inside their heads is a bit of a mystery. Rationally committing mass murder makes no sense and makes even less sense if it requires someone to lose their own life in the process.  And making this sacrifice based upon the fairy tale that life will be much better in “paradise” is total lunacy. So we must conclude that these acts are not rational ones.

If history is good for anything, it must remind us that these Muslim terrorists do not have an exclusive hold on irrational acts. You can read that just about all other religions, races, and ethnic groups have committed one atrocity after another, on yes, some outside group. Outrageous acts against others is not the exclusive domain of Islam.

My guess is that these Brussels terrorists decided to explode their bombs so that “others” were killed or maimed. “Others” were people whom they did not know. “Others” were everyone not part of their close circle of friends and associates. “Others” were people who did not count.

There remains plenty of future terrorist living in European countries, who live there but are not part of the national social fabric. For them, everyone else looks like “others”. These latent terrorists just sit there waiting for something or someone to turn them loose in order to kill the “others”

Brussels’ message reminds us of the power of assimilation and the dangers that lurk in the hands of those “outsiders”.

A Suspension Of Common Sense

November 19, 2015

The blood bath that took place in Paris last Friday truly would qualify for the moniker of “a suspension of common sense”. What possibly could the terrorists have thought was achievable by their suicidal acts?

There is no way the Western world will walk away from Iraq-Syria-Lebanon and cede the land to a radical Islamic regime bent on using theology to accumulate personal wealth for its leaders. They will not be satisfied with a little, they will want it all.

There is no way “Shiite” Iran will allow it either. And even “Sunni” Saudi Arabia cannot condone ISIS behavior. In short, sooner or later, ISIS and its current group of leaders, just like Osama ben Laden or Mullah Mohamed will cease to lead and in all likelihood be followed by other opportunists.

Money has a funny way of bending the minds of otherwise sane people.

But Paris isn’t the only place where there appears to be a suspension of common sense. Look no further than Washington DC and the GOP Presidential primary candidates.

The GOP has seized upon the vanishingly small risk associated with accepting Syrian refugees and in just days have build it into a do or die issue with President Obama. Governors (all but one Republican) have pompously announced they will not accept any Syrian refugees. House Republicans are now rushing new legislation through Congress to codify what would qualify as a fully “vetted” refugee. A procedure which no requires 18-24 months would become prohibitively long. Hmmm.

These are the same people who claim while beating their breasts that America is an exceptional country. Hmmm.

Occasionally, there will be a documentary about the internment of American citizens of Japanese decent during World War II. The move, which was clearly unconstitutional, stands as a stain on America and separates the US from Nazi Germany only in that the Government never intended to exterminate Japanese citizens.

By labeling Syrian refugees potential terrorists, the GOP is reaching back to the World War II xenophobia which took hold of the American spirit. Instead of exceptional, American now looks vulnerable and frightened.

Apparently the GOP doesn’t care and sees fanning these flames as a sure way to garner votes. Hmmm.

Old Europe Visits Texas

November 10, 2007

Chancellorin Angela Merkel, the elected leader of Germany, is visiting Crawford this weekend.  She must lead a dull life to want to visit Crawford and she must be smoking something to want to spend time with George.  But none the less she is there.

The Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung reported her visit in the context of all the other European leaders who have visited before.  There is no shortage of subjects of mutual importance such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Russia, but the recent visit a French President Nickolas Sarkozy may be the underlying reason.  If Mr. Freedom Fries wants to visit the US and snuggle up to George and Dick, then the leadership of Europe may be up for grabs.  Merkel is a shrewd politician and despite the odor in Crawford may see the symbolism of a “one up” visit to Crawford as a way of telling Sarkozy that Germany is still more important (Sarkozy only made it to Washington, DC).

I can image the following short conversation between George and Angela.

Angela:  How’s it going George, those poll numbers don’t look so good.

George: Ya, there lower than whale poop.  I gave Dick and Rummy a little too much rope and they proceeded to mess things up big time.  Now mind you all our political friends have done just fine with the war spoils and the big tax reductions we gave them, ha ,ha, ha. 

Angela:  So you think Iraq was a mistake ?  You aren’t planning to say that publically are you?

George:  Heck no.  But I can tell you that and maybe together we can figure out how we can help each other.  You know, how I could help you get another term, and maybe how you could throw Germany’s support to some of the initiatives I have going in the Middle East.

Angela:  But George, do you have a overall plan?  How does America policy fit Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Israel, the Palestians, Turkey, Russia , China, Cuba and Venezuela.  Are any of these tied together?

George:  Angela, don’t go getting technical on me.  This is a very complicated world and things sometimes just happen.  Dick and Condi are working hard on this.  They are doing a heck of a job.

Angela:  I see.  Well maybe in a few months you can visit Germany and we can eat bratwurst in Berlin.  I could show you where the wall once stood and you can make a speech and have your picture taken.

Mercifully this will be an over night Crawford visit and Angela will be able to move on.