Dump Trump

And there I was believing that no U.S. administration could possibly be worse than that vile Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Rove-Bush crowd.

Wrong!

The damage, not to mention the sheer stupidity, of Trump’s discriminatory immigration ban has sparked global backlash. Americans should worry about the potential harm this may bring to American interests – and to Americans themselves – at home and abroad.

“This ban is playing directly into the hands of ISIS,” says Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency. “It will not make our country safer, but rather less safe.”

Trump. He needs to be dumped quick. Can a president be impeached for just being an asshole?

Look at the damage he’s done so far, in as little time as a week. Now imagine four years…

Listen to Morell talk about the risks of this absurd travel ban –

https://charlierose.com/videos/29776

 

Paris opera house

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Last night my office colleagues and I were treated to an outing (by our employer): a guided tour of the opera house and a cocktail party afterwards. We’re not quite sure why this outing was planned (last fling before the bust-up?) because we had been led to believe that the company was broke. 

We were over one hundred people, but broken up into small groups. While recounting stories and legends along the way, Delphine, our tour guide, shepherded my small group around the building. This service is available to everyone and I highly recommend it. Above is the magnificient ceiling painted by Marc Chagall in 1964. (For those who don’t know, there’s a stunning museum, the MUSÉE NATIONAL MARC CHAGALLin Nice, France. A must-see.)

As I sat in the plush red velvet seat, my head craned upwards to gaze at the ceiling, the thought that ran through my head was this: I cannot imagine my life without art and beauty in it.

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If anyone has watched the movie, The Phantom of the Opera (I don’t know which version, there were many), this is the box that was in the film.

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Here we are backstage (this was the most exciting part). We were surprised to learn that the floor slopes downwards.

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In this photo below you can see the vista of the avenue de l’Opéra from the window, Delphine telling us a story, and the bust of Charles Garnier, the architect who built “Le Palais Garnier” in 1874.

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After the two-hour tour, we all trooped down the avenue de l’Opéra in the cold night to Drouant restaurant where flutes of champagne and hors d’oeuvres awaited us. Every year the famous literary prize, the Prix Goncourt, takes place in this Michelin 3-star dining establishment.

Restaurant recommendation: looking for a superlative meal in an elegant restaurant in the center of Paris? The Drouant. The champagne, wine and food that I consumed was of the highest quality.

Below are just a few of my lovely colleagues. Only one of them is French. I really like working in an international context and environment.

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PenelopeGate and other French scandals

It’s almost as if they can’t help themselves.

Here in France, we watch – in the beginning stupefied, now utterly cynical – as one politician after the next either lies, cheats, steals, has sex with someone, assaults a chambermaid in a New York hotel, runs a prostitution ring, or stashes millions in a Swiss bank account. You name it, they’ve done it. Whatever they do, it runs against the Ten Commandments. And I only mention the Ten Commandments because these people present themselves as upright, moral, irreproachable model citizens.

It’s all a lie.

Before I mention yesterday’s scandal, here’s the political scandal that broke today:

François FILLON, ex-prime minister to President Sarkozy and running on the Christian (Catholic) platform to be the next president of France, allegedly paid his British wife, Penelope, an extremely generous salary from public funds (€500,000 over a period of 8 years!) Until now, no-one had ever heard of her. Today, media everywhere is blaring WHO IS PENELOPE???

She must be cowering in the cowshed of their country manor.

What work did she do to earn a salary of around €7,000 a month between the late 1990s and early 2010?

Here they are, looking like irreproachable model citizens.

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Here’s what today’s The Guardian says –

France’s financial prosecutor has opened a preliminary investigation into the possible misuse of public funds by the rightwing presidential candidate François Fillon and his British wife. A newspaper alleges that she has been paid about €500,000 in eight years from parliamentary funds for what it claims could be a fake job.

The issue is potentially deeply damaging for Fillon, who has not only styled himself as squeaky clean and immune to the sleaze allegations of French politics, but who has also campaigned on an austerity platform to cut wasteful public spending and axe 500,000 civil servant jobs.

Despite 35 years in politics, including five years as prime minister, Fillon has presented himself in the presidential race as an anti-system candidate and an honest, austere and “irreproachable” antidote to years of corruption scandals on the French right.

Until now, Penelope Fillon has been regarded as never having played a key role in her husband’s political life and has described her main occupation as raising their five children. After her husband became prime minister in 2007, she told The Sunday Telegraph that she preferred being at the couple’s 12th-century chateau near Le Mans, western France, with her five children and five horses than in Paris. She said of the city: “I’m just a country peasant, this is not my natural habitat.”

Yesterday’s scandal was this – Claude Guéant, former Chief of Staff to Nicolas Sarkozy and also Minister of the Interior was sentenced to one year in prison for awarding himself envelopes of cash from police funds; in other words, misappropriation of public funds. Guéant later rose to become interior minister from 2011 to 2012, in charge of France’s policing and security. The judges found that Guéant was the instigator of the scheme and that his actions contravened “republican values”. The court said he had obtained the funds with the sole aim of “personal enrichment”.

Here he is, looking like a morally upright (somewhat constipated) model citizen.

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And last month’s scandal was Christine Lagarde, managing director of the Washington-based IMF (International Monetary Fund), who took over from disgraced DSK (Dominique Strauss-Kahn). Lagarde is accused of criminal negligence while failing to prevent a massive government payout (a €403 million arbitration deal) to a corruption-tainted business tycoon, Bernard Tapie. At the time she was France’s finance minister.

Christine Madeleine Odette Lagarde started her career as an anti-trust and labor lawyer at the international law firm, Baker & McKenzie. Here she is, looking like a morally upright (very stylish) model citizen.

Looks can be deceiving, can’t they?

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how did Trump happen?

How did this happen? How did this man who, among other things, hounded and harassed President Obama to produce his birth certificate, but in turn refuses to reveal his own tax returns – become President?

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There are many reasons for Trump’s triumph. And they’re not complicated or obscure; they’re real simple. Here are a few –

JUST PLAIN ANGER – a fed up and angry electorate. Why?

Many Americans are economically worse off than they were a quarter-century ago. The median income of full-time male employees is lower than it was 42 years ago, and it is increasingly difficult for those with limited education to get a full-time job that pays decent wages.

Trump was supported by voters angry at a clannish, Ivory Tower Washington, angry at various elites, the media and political correctness — so angry that all they cared about was shattering the system. Nothing else mattered — not the issues, not the candidate’s qualifications, not even his moral character. In other words, there’s a lot of anger out there.

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anti-Trump protest march in Paris

Trump struck a chord with voters anxious about the changing racial and religious demographics of the country — anxieties that in some cases crossed the line into bigotry. These voters were drawn to him because they believed that somehow he would restore an America (that no longer exists) – WE WILL MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

Yup. They bought that slogan – hook, line and sinker.

INCOME INEQUALITY

Bernie Sanders was right when he kept saying, over and over, like a mantra “It is not moral, it is not acceptable, and it is not sustainable that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent.”

Real (inflation-adjusted) wages at the bottom of the income distribution are roughly where they were 60 years ago. So it was no surprise that Trump found a large, receptive audience when he said the state of the economy was rotten. But Trump is wrong both about the diagnosis and the prescription. The US economy as a whole has done well for the last six decades: GDP has increased nearly six-fold. But the fruits of that growth have gone to a relatively few at the top – people like Trump, owing partly to massive tax cuts that he will extend and deepen.

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LOSS OF TRUST IN GOVERNMENT

Reforms that political leaders promised would ensure prosperity for all – such as trade and financial liberalization – have not delivered. Far from it. And those whose standard of living has stagnated or declined have reached a simple conclusion: America’s political leaders either didn’t know what they were talking about or were lying (or both).

Trump wants to blame all of America’s problems on trade and immigration. He’s wrong. The US would have faced deindustrialization even without freer trade: global employment in manufacturing has been declining, with productivity gains exceeding demand growth.

Where the trade agreements failed, it was not because the US was outsmarted by its trading partners; it was because the US trade agenda was shaped by corporate interests. America’s companies have done well, very well indeed. But where are the shared benefits/profits? In the pockets of the ultra-rich corporate executives and shareholders; the 1% that Bernie Sanders kept harping about.

Many Americans feel buffeted by forces outside their control, leading to outcomes that are distinctly unfair. Long-standing assumptions – that America is a land of opportunity and that each generation will be better off than the last – have been called into question. The global financial crisis of 2007-2008 may have represented a turning point for many voters: their government (we’re talking Obama here) saved the rich bankers who had brought the US to the brink of ruin, while seemingly doing almost nothing for the millions of ordinary Americans who lost their jobs and homes. The system not only produced unfair results, but seemed rigged to do so.

THE OUTCOME

Trump’s proposed policies will make a bad situation much worse. Surely, another dose of trickle-down economics of the kind he promises, with tax cuts aimed almost entirely at rich Americans and corporations, will produce results no better than the last time they were tried.

Launching a trade war with China, Mexico, and other US trading partners, as Trump promises, will make all Americans poorer and create new impediments to the global cooperation needed to address critical global problems like the Islamic State, global terrorism, and climate change. Using money that could be invested in technology, education, or infrastructure to build a wall between the US and Mexico is a twofer in terms of wasting resources.

https://www.project-syndicate.org/

The Heartbreak Kid

This movie is, hands down, one of the funniest of its decade. Watch it if you want to laugh out loud. Jewish newlywed, played magnificently by a young Charles Grodin, drives to Miami from New York on his honeymoon. By the time he and his new wife reach South Carolina, he believes he has made a terrible mistake.

When he meets Cybill Shepherd, blonde shiksa goddess, on the beach his life gets complicated. 

Another thing I love about this film is the era. Did we really dress like that? Yes, we did. I miss that decade, I really do; for more reasons that you can imagine. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling awfully nostalgic these days…

Kamel Daoud

“L’islamisme est le nouveau totalitarisme de notre siècle donc il pèse par la peur, par l’oppression, par la violence, par le meurtre.”

“Islamism is the new totalitarianism of our century. It weighs by fear, by oppression, by violence, by murder.”

When Daoud speaks, people listen. He is a courageous man. Why? Because from his home in Oran, Algeria, this outspoken intellectual, journalist and novelist dares to openly criticize Islam.

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Born in 1970 in Mostaganem, Algeria, Daoud won the French literary Goncourt prize for his first novel as well as a raft of other prestigious (French) prizes. In November 2015, The New York Times featured an op-ed opinion piece by Daoud titled “Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It” in both English and French.

But the most compelling op-ed piece, published again by The New York Times in February 2016 and following the sexual attacks on European women by Arab men on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany, is his article entitled “The Sexual Misery of the Arab World“. It was published simultaneously with Le Monde newspaper in three languages: English, French, and Arabic.

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According to writer Kamel Daoud, the welcome of refugees forces us to admit that giving them papers does not suffice in curing them of the profound sexism that rages in the arabo-Muslim world.

In August 2016 another important article came out: Paradise, the new Muslim utopia.

All this makes for highly educative and informative reading. Thank the universe for original and free thinkers like Kamel Daoud!! (I say “universe” because I am a pantheist who does not believe in a distinct personal god. Although the term pantheism was not coined until after his death, Spinoza is regarded as its most celebrated advocate. His work, Ethics, was the major source from which Western pantheism spread. Food for thought as a future blog post!)

crème de cassis, France’s favorite liqueur

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6 pm is officially apéritif hour here in France. In anticipation, and as a reward for my weekend labor, I purchased a bottle of crème de cassis yesterday. Crème de cassis is a sweet, red liqueur made from blackcurrents. Nearly 16 million litres of the stuff is produced annually in the Burgundy region of France. Traditionally, you pour a small amount into a glass of white wine to make a favorite cocktail called kir. The first time I did this, decades ago, I was unaware of the high alcohol content of crème de cassis (18%). With a friend, I poured, giggled and guzzled my way through an entire bottle of wine, copiously fueled with cassis, then promptly passed out. 

I like to pour cassis into a glass of chilled crémant. From only 5 to 7 euros a bottle, as opposed to 33 euros for a good bottle of champagne, it makes a delicious apéritif with a splash of that blackcurrant (or raspberry) liqueur thrown in. When the wine is sparkling, or if it’s champagne, then the cocktail is called a kir royale.

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Under AOC regulations (Appellation d’origine contrôlée), all sparkling wines using the champagne method – but produced outside of the Champagne region – are forbidden to use the appellation “champagne.”

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Sparkling wines called crémant are so named because their lower carbon dioxide levels give them a creamy rather than fizzy mouth-feel. In France, there are seven appellations for crémant (an appellation is a protected geographical region):

  • Crémant d’Alsace
  • Crémant de Bordeaux
  • Crémant de Bourgogne
  • Crémant de Die
  • Crémant du Jura
  • Crémant de Limoux
  • Crémant de Loire