The journalists’ visit to the Paris-based headquarters of French automaker Renault kicked off in a very French way: with an almost two-hour lunch. It was naturally not a simple affair in the company cafeteria. The meal at the nearby Cap Sequin restaurant boasted three artery-clogging courses, a bottle of white wine and a wonderful view of the Seine River followed by coffee and chocolates. At about half past two, it was finally time to get back to work, though it was somehow difficult to do so.
For decades, France’s economy has violated established laws of economics and not just because of the cholesterol-packed lunches. There’s also the fact that France is the world leader in terms of vacation days, has a nationwide 35-hour work week and allows its citizens to retire at 65, two years earlier than in Germany. On top of that, France has strict regulations regarding employee termination and a swollen public sector. Nearly 57 percent of France’s economic performance flows through state hands. That figure is about 10 percent higher than in Germany and a record level among industrialized nations.
Now France has elected François Hollande, a Socialist president whose most important pledge was “More of the same!” He has called for public-sector jobs financed with a 75 percent tax on top earners, and more time to enjoy retirement. Indeed, while Germany just boosted its retirement age to 67, its western neighbors might soon be able to leave the working world at 60 with a full pension.
Given these facts, it should come as no surprise that France is struggling with a few economic problems: major budget shortfalls, persistently low economic growth and a high youth-unemployment rate. Even more astounding, however, is just how good the French are doing despite their idiosyncratic economic model. Admittedly, per capita economic performance is 8 percent lower in France than Germany, after adjusting for differences in purchasing power. But considering that the French have been the world champions of savoir vivre for decades, while the Germans have been self-denying work horses, that 8 percent difference doesn’t really seem so big.
In other words, a country that according to established economic laws should be playing in the same league as Greece has defied the odds to keep pace with Germany. How did this happen?
Read more at Der Speigel
The West Must Not Appease Bashar al-Assad
No reasonable person, neither American nor Syrian, wishes to see the United States and its allies become deeply involved in the Syrian civil war, but for the western powers to fail to act now is tantamount to appeasement of a butcher of children. No one knows what will happen if we strike Syrian military targets; no one knows what will happen if we do not. That is not an argument. If the past is prologue, then Assad will continue to slaughter the people of Syria without discrimination. That much appears certain.
The confiscation of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal does not look like a realistic proposal on its face, because the safe transfer of massive quantities of chemical weapons in a war zone would be risky and problematic at best. How will compliance be verified when it was difficult just for UN inspectors to reach a suburb of Damascus?
The French are correct to insist upon stringent preconditions before any negotiated deal with Assad on chemical weapons. The world has tolerated this monster long enough. Every person who detests war should take a hard look at the situation in the Middle East today, and then explain to themselves how a victory for Assad, Iran and Hezbollah reduces the probability of a Middle East war, one into which the United States would be inextricably drawn by its many alliances in the region. To those who believe that opposing military action against Syria is the path of peace, I respectfully ask that they think again of the likely consequences of doing nothing.
There are indeed shades of past conflicts evoked by the images of carnage in Syria. But the deja vu being experienced is not that of Iraq–which was completely different–but of another, similar atrocity that occurred at Guernica, Spain, in 1937, of another moral failure to respond, and of the results of a flawed strategy of trying to appease a monster.
On April 26,1937, bombers and fighters of the German Luftwaffe and the Italian air force attacked the small Basque village of Guernica in northern Spain. It was an outrageous assault on an unarmed civilian population. It was the blatant mass murder of hundreds of civilians, by some accounts over a thousand were killed, men, women and children.
For America in those days, neutrality was the dominant U.S. foreign policy model, enshrined in a series of congressional acts that had been designed to further and further remove the United States from the possibility of involvement in “foreign wars.” The prevailing American sentiment then, as today in regard to atrocities being committed in Syria, was that what had happened in Guernica was not our problem. It simply didn’t involve us.
Four years later, the relevance of Guernica to the security interests of the United States became more than apparent. On December 8, 1941, in the wake of a devastating attack on American naval forces at Pearl Harbor, the United States formerly declared war on imperial Japan. Three days later, war was declared on the United States by those same German and Italian fascist regimes who had bombed Guernica only four years earlier.
Palestinian in Kafkaesque battle over family’s hotel
Borders change, Israeli officials deny responsibility and confiscate and re-confiscate the property that Ali Ayad hasn’t been allowed to set foot on since 2004.
ABU DIS, West Bank — The year Ali Ayad was born, his father broke ground on a majestic home perched on a bluff overlooking Jerusalem, with views of the Dead Sea in one direction and the golden Dome of the Rock in the other.
For all of his 59 years, Ayad’s life has revolved around the 1-acre plot. He played under the olive trees as a boy and became manager after the home was converted into the Cliff Hotel.
He met his Norwegian wife from behind the reception desk, married her in the dining room and raised two daughters amid the daily bustle of visiting tourists and diplomats.
But the idyllic life turned into what he describes as a Kafkaesque nightmare a decade ago after Israel seized control of the hotel. Using a combination of military orders and a controversial absentee-owner law, the government kicked him off the property, banned him from returning and then confiscated it as abandoned.
Israel informed Ayad, who has always been identified by Israel as a West Bank resident, that his former home was inside the Jerusalem city limits, even though for decades the municipality refused to provide public services because it said the property was in the West Bank town of Abu Dis.
Read more at the Los Angeles Times.
Red Lines Matter – NYTimes.com
BERLIN — Europe knows, and this city in particular, about the importance of American “red lines.” West Berlin, caught for more than four decades 100 miles within the Soviet occupation zone, survived on the credibility of the U.S. commitment to it, demonstrated by the Allied airlift in response to the Soviet blockade of 1948.
A shattered Europe became whole, free and prosperous under the shield of U.S. credibility. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty spelled out that an armed attack against one member “shall be considered an attack against them all.” This was believable enough to deter a Soviet attack on Western Europe.
American credibility in Asia has played a substantial part in the rapid but peaceful rise of China, a power shift of a kind that has seldom, if ever, occurred in world history without major conflict. China believes in the U.S. defense commitment to Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Australia and New Zealand. America has been the offsetting power allaying the tensions of China’s emergence.
It is the credibility of the United States as a European and Asian and Middle Eastern power that underwrites global security.
Read more at The New York Times.
Air War in Kosovo Seen as Precedent in Possible Response to Syria Chemical Attack – NYTimes.com
WASHINGTON — As President Obama weighs options for responding to a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria, his national security aides are studying the NATO air war in Kosovo as a possible blueprint for acting without a mandate from the United Nations.
With Russia still likely to veto any military action in the Security Council, the president appears to be wrestling with whether to bypass the United Nations, although he warned that doing so would require a robust international coalition and legal justification.
“If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work?” Mr. Obama said on Friday to CNN, in his first public comments after the deadly attack on Wednesday.
Mr. Obama described the attack as “clearly a big event of grave concern” and acknowledged that the United States had limited time to respond. But he said United Nations investigators needed to determine whether chemical weapons had been used.
Kosovo is an obvious precedent for Mr. Obama because, as in Syria, civilians were killed and Russia had longstanding ties to the government authorities accused of the abuses. In 1999, President Bill Clinton used the endorsement of NATO and the rationale of protecting a vulnerable population to justify 78 days of airstrikes.
Read more at The New York Times.
Rick Perry Quietly Lobbies The White House For $100 Million In Obamacare Funding | ThinkProgress
Politico reported Tuesday evening that Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s (R) administration is in negotiations with the Obama White House to accept about $100 million in federal money to implement an Obamacare Medicaid program to help elderly and disabled Americans.
Perry has been a heated opponent of the health law. He refused to accept $100 billion in federal funding to expand Texas’ Medicaid program under Obamacare, which could have helped 1.5 million poor Texans afford basic health benefits. As recently as April, Perry essentially called the expansion a joke. “Seems to me April Fool’s Day is the perfect day to discuss something as foolish as Medicaid expansion, and to remind everyone that Texas will not be held hostage by the Obama administration’s attempt to force us into the fool’s errand of adding more than a million Texans to a broken system,” said Perry.
Now, Perry is seeking federal dollars for Texas’ Medicaid program anyway.
Read more at ThinkProgress
5 Terrifying Statements in the Leaked Climate Report | Mother Jones
Climate Desk has obtained a leaked copy of the draft Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 Summary for Policymakers report, which other media outlets are also reporting on. The document is dated June 7, 2013. We recognize, as we’ve previously reported, that this document is not final, and is in fact certain to change.
Most media outlets are focusing on the document’s conclusion that it is now “extremely likely”—or, 95 percent certain—that humans are behind much of the global warming seen over the last six decades. But there is much more of note about the document—for instance, the way it doesn’t hold back. It says, very bluntly, just how bad global warming is going to be. It gives a sense of irreversibility, of scale…and, of direness.
In particular, here are five “holy crap” statements from the new draft report:
We’re on course to change the planet in a way “unprecedented in hundreds to thousands of years.” This is a general statement in the draft report about the consequences of continued greenhouse gas emissions “at or above current rates.” Unprecedented changes will sweep across planetary systems, ranging from sea level to the acidification of the ocean.
Read more at Mother Jones.
Did Racial Profiling Put an Unarmed Black Man in Jail in North Carolina? — The Nation
Activists in Durham, North Carolina, have come together in support of Carlos Riley Jr. and against the racial policing they believe has put him behind bars.
Carlos Riley Jr. was alone, black and unarmed when he was pulled over by a Durham, North Carolina police officer on the cold morning of December 18, 2012. In the altercation that followed the stop, Riley was badly beaten, the officer was shot in the leg and his gun went missing. More than seven months later, Carlos Riley Jr. sits in jail under $1 million bond, still waiting to face federal and state charges. He has spent Christmas, the New Year and most recently his twenty-second birthday behind bars. The cop who pulled his gun during the traffic stop hasn’t spent a day off the job.
At around ten in the morning on December 18, 2012, Carlos Riley Jr. was stopped for an alleged traffic violation by officer Kelly Stewart, who was wearing civilian clothes and driving an unmarked car. Riley maintains that the officer grabbed him through his open window after demanding to see registration, putting him in a chokehold and threatening to kill him. Riley says Stewart then shot himself in the leg as he drew his gun, an event with plenty of precedent among such encounters. Fearing for his life, Riley says he pulled the gun away from the officer and fled, tossing the weapon and turning himself over to the authorities within hours.
Read more at The Nation