Watching Riots from the Yacht

May 8, 2007

While rioting continues in France over the election results, Nicolas Sarkozy is resting in style.

Sarkozy himself was on a yacht in the Mediterranean on Tuesday, taking time to relax before he takes over from Jacques Chirac on May 16.

Critics on the left assailed him for his high-budget retreat — the yacht belongs to prominent magnate Vincent Bollore and was outfitted with huge plasma TVs and a jacuzzi.

Who is Vincent Bollore? He’s an “industrialist, corporate raider and businessman,” who owns a large stake in a few media companies. I don’t know the French law in this area, but the fact that Sarkozy is hanging out on Bollore’s glitzy yacht reeks of corruption. Even if it’s legal, it’s not the best post-campaign retreat in terms of symbolism either.

This story makes the ties sound less clear-cut.

Sarkozy was with his family on a luxury yacht off the Mediterranean island of Malta on Tuesday on a brief holiday as he plots his cabinet line-up and strategy ahead of June parliamentary polls. He flew there on a private jet on Monday.

A Sarkozy aide could not confirm reports the jet and yacht had been lent by media mogul Vincent Bollore. Critics attacked the incoming president in the run-up to Sunday’s poll win over his close ties to France’s media barons.

I found some more links on Sarkozy-Bollore, but they were in French so I couldn’t unravel this any further. It sounds like the French may have a Silvio Berlusconi-esque situation on their hands here.

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Hey, it’s Enrico Palazzo!

May 4, 2007

smiling queen

A wise man once said “No matter how silly the idea of having a queen may seem to us, as Americans we must be gracious and considerate hosts.”
I wonder what the conversation was like between these two?

Queen with Cheney


Friedman Forgets Clinton’s Popularity Abroad

April 18, 2007

Tom Friedman’s Wednesday column says an advantage of Obama as president is that people in Kenya really like him.

Yes, Mr. Obama’s father was Kenyan, but nevertheless, that poster and those pictures got me thinking: when was the last time you saw a U.S. president or politician being held up as a role model abroad? It’s been awhile. And that got me thinking about Mr. Obama. It seems to me that the strongest case one could make for an Obama presidency right now is rarely articulated: it is his potential to repair the broken relationship between America and the world.

To Friedman’s “when was the last time?” query, here is my answer.

Clinton Africa poster

I don’t know if he was held up as a “role model” exactly, but Bill Clinton was pretty popular overseas. Here’s an account of one of the stops during Clinton’s 1998 Africa trip:

President Clinton began a six-nation tour of Africa on Monday with a brief stop in Ghana, speaking to a wildly enthusiastic crowd on the benefits of democracy, trade and justice — and taking a side-swipe at military rule in Nigeria.

On his way to Independence Square, Clinton was cheered in the muggy streets of the capital by scores of school children wearing orange and brown school uniforms and waving American and Ghanaian flags. Ten of thousands of citizens crowded the route.

Accra was festooned with cheerful banners reading, “Akwaaba, Bill Clinton,” welcoming the president. Billboards showed painted photographs of Clinton and Rawlings shaking hands.

The foreign affection for Clinton persists in his post-presidency as well. In 2005 the Washington Post reported that Clinton dreams of being the UN Secretary-General some day, and Europeans sounded supportive of the idea.

In the United States, the debate over Bush’s approach to the world and Clinton’s — between force and persuasion — remains unsettled. But it seems apparent which approach is more winning abroad. While Bush has generated deep suspicion, especially in Western Europe, Clinton is highly popular, European commentators said.

Europeans who chafe at Bush respond to Clinton’s “inclusive, soft-toned way of communicating with the world, and especially with Europeans,” said Arnout Brouwers, a prominent Dutch editor who has studied American politics in Washington with the German Marshall Fund. “His personal history, his charms, even his personal failings, helped people identify with him as ‘one of us.’ ”

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl, a friend of Clinton’s, agreed. “The reason Bill Clinton is popular in Europe is very simple: He just is. He is a man of great charisma,” Kohl said in a brief interview after a meeting with Bush in Washington.

Asked about Clinton’s dream of heading the United Nations, Kohl said: “I do not know if Bill wishes to go to the United Nations. If he wants, I would support him.”

This is all to say that holding up Barack Obama — whom I generally like — as some sort of aberration in this regard seems wrong to me. Whether Hillary could get the benefit of the doubt from foreign leaders on account of residual good will from her husband’s presidency might be a more interesting question.


Why is the future so gloomy in Britain?

March 29, 2007

I see that 28 Weeks Later is arriving in US theaters on May 11, which fits with a trend that may exist only in my mind. Why do these movies with dystopian visions of the future always seem to take place in Britain? There must be futuristic US movies like this too, but this will make three prominent ones in the last three years, coming after V for Vendetta and Children of Men. Are the British just melancholy and pessimistic about the future? Is Britain’s landlocked geography an easier setting in which to tell this kind of story? Are European filmmakers more willing to tackle the serious political issues that come along with this kind of a film? Or am I crazy?

28 weeks later poster

I found 28 Days Later decent, though heavy-handed in parts. For example, the scene where the soldiers showed that they were keeping the infected black guy out in the yard on a chain — what could the message about race relations have been there? This time around, from what I read, the movie will focus on US army efforts to repopulate Britain that go awry. That should obviously afford a chance to make a statement about US military actions abroad, and I hope there’s some more subtlety in the sequel (it’s from the same producers but a different director). Here’s the trailer.


Negotiating with Terrorists

March 22, 2007

Italy had five Taliban prisoners released in order to free a kidnapped journalist in Afghanistan. US and UK officials have criticized the move, though they didn’t prevent it, obviously. The standard logic behind such criticism is that negotiating with terrorists is a bad idea. Beyond the harm of having five bad guys back out in the world to do ill, the larger concern seems to be that this sends a message to other terrorist groups that will encourage further acts of kidnapping.

I wonder if there’s any evidence to support the US/UK line on this rather than the Italian position. Do terrorist acts really increase in the wake of such negotiations? It’s not like a terrorist organization is going to spend its resources on community service but then sees that kidnapping might be fruitful and decides to do that instead. Rather, terrorists have limited resources, and if they don’t pursue kidnappings they will probably just focus their time and energy on car bombings and things like that. I don’t see why there’s much of an increase in the overall badness in the world.

It’s always seemed questionable to me not to take simple steps that would save a hostage’s life based on speculation about how others will interpret the event and act in the future. Israel took a similarly hard line last summer in refusing to engage in prisoner exchange with Hezbollah, leading to a war that caused massive destruction in Lebanon and actually heightened the political clout of Hezbollah in the Middle East. We can’t predict future consequences, so why not save hostages whenever we can and redouble our efforts to eradicate terrorist groups by standard means?