Just Above Sunset
November 6, 2005 - The Word from the Banlieues

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By Thursday November 3rd the news cycle had been drained - the administration, combating startling new polling over the previous weekend about how no one was buying their line on "honesty and integrity" and all that - it seem the Libby indictment soured people - countered with a new Supreme Court nominee Monday morning, one well-qualified but sure to enrage the Democrats, and to their left, the progressives, and to the left of them, the hard-core lefties.


Who wants Machine Gun Sam or a fellow who sees all women as mindless, irresponsible little girls?


Well, some do.

That should have changed the subject, and Tuesday morning the administration then announced a plan to deal with the threat of avian flu - a massive spending proposal. Forget the war and the CIA leak thing - we need to move on. And four hours later the senate Democrats, led by Senator Reid, shut down the whole place for a secret session to demand some action on a long-delayed report on how "intelligence" might have been manipulated to get us into the mess in Iraq. Someone was stonewalling, and all paths led back to Vice President Cheney. (See this - "When I asked Reid whether he meant to state so flatly that Cheney was personally and directly stalling the Intelligence Committee's work, he didn't pause a beat. In fact he almost stood from his chair. 'Yes. I say that without any qualification ... Circle it.'") And, wonders of wonders, they got some action. And they wiped out all the efforts by the administration to change the subject.

Wednesday we found out our government runs a worldwide chain of secret prisons where we "disappear" people and torture them, and that the Office of the Vice President is leading the charge to change the rules so we can kidnap and torture anyone we'd like, anywhere, and tell no one, not even people in our own government. We call kidnapping "extraordinary rendition" and torture "enhanced interrogation" of course - but Ford calls their new sedan, the Fusion, sporty. You can say anything you want. The Ford is still a brick on wheels. There was a whole lot of outrage about the prison and torture issue, of course. The new Ford is selling well, however.

Thursday? "Scooter" Libby was arraigned. They read the charges. He pled not guilty and was released on his own recognizance. Yawn. The Washington Post attempted a scoop - White House insiders (anonymous high-level staffers quoted extensively) were saying Karl Rove had to resign, but then the right-wing pro-Bush media buzzed with the obvious - this was all from Scott McClelland, the press secretary, who was ticked that Karl Rove had told him flat-out there was nothing going on and had him lie on national television for him. Yawn. An internal squabble of not much significance.

No big news on Thursday? More soldiers died. Wednesday night's national protest got little attention, even if people walked away from their jobs and some streets out here in Los Angeles were shut down. The World Can't Wait?


Yes, it can.

Was this big news?


President Bush last week appointed nine campaign contributors, including three longtime fund-raisers, to his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a 16-member panel of individuals from the private sector who advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of U.S. intelligence efforts. After watching the fate of Michael Brown as head of FEMA and Harriet Miers as Supreme Court nominee, you might think the president would be wary about the appearance of cronyism - especially with a critical national-security issue such as intelligence. Instead, Bush reappointed William DeWitt, an Ohio businessman who has raised more than $300,000 for the president's campaigns, for a third two-year term on the panel. Originally appointed in 2001, just a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, DeWitt, who was also a top fund-raiser for Bush's 2004 Inaugural committee, was a partner with Bush in the Texas Rangers baseball team.

Other appointees included former Commerce secretary Don Evans, a longtime Bush friend; Texas oilman Ray Hunt; Netscape founder Jim Barksdale, and former congressman and 9/11 Commission vice chairman Lee Hamilton. Like DeWitt, Evans and Hunt have also been longtime Bush fund-raisers, raising more than $100,000 apiece for the president's campaigns. Barksdale and five other appointees - incoming chairman Stephen Friedman, former Reagan adviser Arthur Culvahouse, retired admiral David Jeremiah, Martin Faga and John L. Morrison - were contributors to the president's 2004 re-election effort. …


No, that's business as usual. Who else would you want who to advise the president on the quality and effectiveness of our intelligence efforts? Experts? Friends, or at least those who hand out money, will do just fine.

Maybe the mid-week polling was big news - Bush's job approval falls to 35 percent. The only recent president lower at this point in his second term was Richard Nixon. Vice President Cheney is down nine more points since the last check, at nineteen percent.

Like it matters? These two are in for the next three years and there is not one thing anyone, anywhere, can do about it. Their supporters control both houses of congress, much of the judiciary, and got one believer in the unlimited power of the executive on the Supreme Court, soon to be followed by another. They could come as a tag team and slit your grandmother's throat, just for a giggle. What could you do about it?

Well, Thursday in the new issue of The Nation there was their cover story. They are proposing impeachment. The idea is the president has clearly violated "Title 18, United States Code, Section 371, which prohibits conspiracies to defraud the United States." The suggestion is that there was a "conspiracy" to convince Americans to support the war in Iraq by using a "PR blitz" that manipulated data to connect Iraq to 9/11 and to claim that Saddam Hussein had or had sought weapons of mass destruction. "As if picking peanuts out of a Cracker Jack box, they plucked favorable tidbits from reports previously rejected as unreliable, presented them as certainties and then used these 'facts' to make their case."

Yeah, so? If the folks in the White House even know of this article they're laughing their asses off. The people spoke in the 2004 elections. When you're holding four aces you know what a bluff looks like. And you don't really need your grandmother around, really, do you?

Ah well.

The real news was overseas.

Yes, in the UK one of Blair's main men had to resign and Blair was forced to back down his terrorism laws. He doesn't have Bush's mandate from the people, it would seem. Actually, he doesn't have the luxury of not facing consequences but once every four years. Our system is a bit less "interactive" of course.

In Germany, their new Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, lauded by the right in America, is barely in charge after quite a mess of a close election. But this will be worked out.

The hot news was from France.

To set the scene, from the Associated Press, October 28 - Do artists have to be miserable to produce great art? A new exhibition in France suggests that a little inner darkness helps


"Melancholy - Genius and Insanity in the Western World," which has visitors lining up around the block at Paris' Grand Palais, is anything but depressing.

"Long Live Melancholy!" one highbrow French magazine raved in its review.

The dazzlingly extensive look at art from antiquity to the 21st century shows how troubled thoughts have inspired great painters, sculptors, philosophers and writers.

"Melancholy is not only negative," curator Gerard Regnier said in an interview. "On the contrary, it was a positive energy that gave strength and genius to great artists throughout Western civilization."

Among them: Picasso, Rodin, van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Edward Hopper, Goya, Delacroix, William Blake. Nearly 300 works are on display, including masterpieces on rare loan from dozens of museums and collectors. ...


Ah yes, the world is sometimes too much, and you can make great art from that. (Note - recent photos of the Grand Palais in these pages here and here, and the official site of Les Galeries nationales du Grand Palais should you wish to drop by. Also see this, an extensive discussion of the whole business of depression and "genius" centering on the new book on Abraham Lincoln's "melancholia" - probably clinical depression - and another book on our "persistent romanticizing of depression.")

Be that as it may, there was much to be depressed about in Paris this week, or more precisely in the northeast banlieues - the outlying districts tourists never visit.

As of late Thursday:

Paris rioting enters second week - BBC News
French government defiant against rioters - DeHavilland, UK
Paris-Area Riots Spread to 20 Towns - New York Newsday
Riots erupt again in Paris suburbs, 50 cars torched - Reuters
Deep roots of Paris riots - ABC News

Deep roots?


See this from Patrice de Beer –


A week after the riots in the Lozells area of Birmingham, England, between people of African-Caribbean descent and those of Asian origin [see Mick McCahill in these pages here - AMP], the northeast Paris banlieues (suburbs) of Clichy-sous-Bois and Montfermeil exploded in violent confrontation between police and black and Beurs (north African) youths. There have been clashes for six nights in a row - extending on the night of 1-2 November to the suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois. They involve the stoning of police vans, the burning of dozens of cars, attacks on firemen, and the vandalising of a police station, a post office, and a city hall. The disturbances have gone as far as a bullet being fired at a police van and a tear-gas canister being thrown at a local mosque during evening prayers - in the midst of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan.

As in Birmingham, rumour was at the heart of the unfolding events. On 27 October, two teenagers - Ziad Benna and Bouna Traore, sons of working-class African Muslim immigrants - were electrocuted while hiding in an electric substation. The circumstances of the incident are contested; it was quickly alleged - though by politicians rather than police, who strenuously deny the claim - that they had tried to escape a police check.

This is not the first racial riot - and it certainly won't be the last - in the suburban ghettoes of France or other European countries. Youth violence, and more particularly violence in immigrant communities - legal or illegal, involving French citizens or not - has been here for a long time, and seems here to stay. Nicolas Sarkozy, the French interior minister and candidate to succeed president Jacques Chirac at the Elysée palace in 2007 - the two men hate each other despite belonging to the same UMP party - has adopted a repressive, law-and-order, zero-tolerance strategy towards the banlieues.

The rhetoric is as polarising as it is simple: it threatens evildoers ("them") with jail sentences if they dare threaten the law-abiding citizens ("us"). Until now, this hyper-mediatic policy has paid off, helping make "Sarko" - himself the son of an Hungarian immigrant - one of the most popular politicians in France.


Well, with going into the details of the Union pour un Movement Populaire (UMP) or the history of Nicolas Sarkozy, note this:


It seems more obvious than ever that violence attracts more violence, and that it becomes a vicious circle where violent police repression of local riots nurtures even more violence and in turn even more repression. It is true that, in the banlieues as in the more affluent inner cities, people fear petty crime, drug peddling, and carjacking by jobless youngsters. But nor do they like being fingered by police and politicians as potential criminals because of their appearance or creed. The only Beur member of government, Azouz Begag, "minister for social promotion and equality of opportunity", criticised Sarko for his provocative words: "You must not call youngsters 'scum', tell them that you're going to hit them hard. You must try to appease the situation," he said, adding "I use the verb 'clean up' for my shoes or my car, not for neighbourhoods".

Repression has shown its limits. Not that it is useless or harmful, as any government has to protect its citizens against crime. But a repressive policy cannot compensate for racial and social integration, nor offer an answer to discrimination, the housing problems of ghettoised suburbs and (above all) to the unemployment which hits the immigrant population even harder than the majority of job-seekers. Histrionic posturing to attract voters in pre-electoral times can cause more harm than good especially when the very social structure of France is at stake.


You have to love that turn of phrase - "histrionic posturing to attract voters in pre-electoral times."


Hey! That's how we found ourselves in Iraq, with our kids dying.


Nicolas Sarkozy. George Bush. Whatever.

As for "histrionic posturing" one might check out this


Paris is reaping what it's sown, and if we don't heed the warnings (as if the murder of thousands and destruction of two buildings in New York City weren't enough), we can expect the same.

Lax immigration policies, prostration to the god of multiculturalism, and the refusal to fight fire with fire are three reasons why Muslim "youths" in Paris are rioting in the streets.

As I see it, the religion of Islam is inherently incompatible with the concept of individual liberty, a crucial component of western countries. It's no accident that a culture like the West and a nation like the United States were envisioned and created by people who were either Christians and/or biblically literate and/or respected the Christian tradition. In countries under Islamic law, there's no such idea as "individual liberty." You're either a Muslim or in danger of having your throat sliced open.

A growing problem in the West is not only our insane, suicidal embrace of "multiculturalism," but an inability to recognize that Islam is an enemy intent on destroying freedom wherever it exists. Those Muslim rioters in Paris, angry about being unemployed or whatever their excuse, need to be crushed.


Yeah, this particular commentator wants you to know these godless maniacs are coming to get all Christians, and we have to crush them.

What about someone who is there?

Well, there's "Our Man in Paris," Ric Erickson, editor of MetropoleParis.

He's there. 


He says this –


"This headline makes me sick: French youths riot for seventh night running. French youths? They make it sound so generic and ordinary, as if a bunch of rowdy, drunk teenagers decided to throw rocks at cars. These are radical Muslims, foreign invaders, destroying property and injuring people who graciously allowed them into their country in the first place!

- These are kids.
- They were born in France; therefore they are French.
- Only two of them have been killed. Hiding from the police.
- No police have been killed.
- There have been dozens of arrests. Some kids are already in jail.
- Religious leaders are trying to stop it. Older brothers have been trying to stop it. Some question why political leaders don't seem to be trying too hard to stop it.
- Some of the kids, obviously, are Muslim. Others are Christians. Some are black.

"Lax immigration policies, prostration to the god of multiculturalism, and the refusal to fight fire with fire are three reasons why Muslim 'youths' in Paris are rioting in the streets.

– Nutbush ! There are NO riots in Paris.

Actually there aren't any riots. Sarkozy called the kids 'rabble' or 'riffraff' - and said he would 'cut out the gangrene.' This was at Argenteuil, Tuesday a week ago. Then two kids who thought they were being chased by the police - confirmed by witnesses - escaped by electrocuting themselves. Their friends became annoyed and fought with the CRS for a few nights. Then, since Sarkozy isn't saying he's sorry, other kids in other suburbs have decided to fry their neighbors' cars, plus buses, schools and police stations.

Usually there's a small wave of this at Halloween, and at New Years in Strasbourg. For some reason the government think things will quiet down if it plays hard. They have a transport strike in Marseille they can't get settled too. Some troops in Côte d'Ivoire bumped off a guy down there and it's causing another stink.


Okay. That's from the scene.

Who do you trust on this - the American conservative pundit about the wave of maniacs coming to crush us all, or do you trust someone on the scene?

I would guess "histrionic posturing" gets more play than observation of the facts in context.

In any event, what's playing out in France at the moment seems a variation on themes over here. And Sarkozy is showing is what we can expect as we follow the Bush-Cheney model for dealing with this sorry world. The conservative pundit, La Shawn Barber, has the warning backwards.



An interesting note from Canada –


Was reading about the continuing riots around Paris and came across this little oddity...

"Jean-Louis Borloo, minister for social cohesion, said officials need to react "firmly" to the unrest but that France also must acknowledge its failure to deal with decades of simmering anger in the impoverished suburbs of Paris."

So just what the heck is a "minister for social cohesion?"
The government has been spending untold billions on promoting this "multiculturalism" thing for decades here in Canada, but we don't have a "minister for social cohesion."

Sounds more like a euphemism for Minister of Propaganda or something. Or maybe just a guy dressed up in a fuzzy purple suit acting like all is hunky-dory and that we should all hug each other today?


Well, that called for some research.

Jean-Louis Borloo
Minister For Employment, Social Cohesion and Housing

See also Time Magazine, International Edition, Sunday, April 04, 2004, with this


Jean-Louis Borloo has made a career of tackling lost causes. As a Parisian lawyer he rescued failing businesses. In 1988 he revived a bankrupt soccer team. And as mayor of Valenciennes from 1989 to 2002, he resurrected the moribund former steel town by revamping neighborhoods, attracting a Toyota factory, building a theater, and planning a regional tram whose first rail will be laid this week. Can this miracle worker save France's embattled conservative government after the party's rout in last month's regional elections?

It was evidently with that hope in mind that President Jacques Chirac plucked Jean-Louis Borloo, who turns 53 this week, from a junior minister post to head a new "superministry" for employment, labor and social cohesion in a revamped government. Chirac is hoping the wild-haired, straight-talking populist will serve as a bulwark against voter anger over Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin's belt tightening, and his failure to generate jobs or mend the social fracture between the country's affluent classes and its disgruntled masses. Voters put the opposition Socialists in charge of 20 of France's 21 mainland regions, up from 8 in 1998. "France has clearly expressed a demand for a more social approach," says Pascal Perrineau, director of the Center for the Study of French Political Life at Sciences Po in Paris. "Borloo is the response."

Raffarin dutifully resigned after the right's rout at the polls, but Chirac opted to renominate him and install Nicolas Sarkozy, the most ambitious figure on the French right, as Economics, Finance and Industry Minister. Except for Borloo, a politically unclassifiable figure with no standing in the ruling party, Chirac was largely content to reshuffle loyal followers. Dominique de Villepin moves to the Interior Ministry from foreign affairs, where he has been replaced by European Commissioner Michel Barnier.

The very sameness in the Cabinet puts the incandescent Borloo center stage, but it could also hamper him. Sarkozy, burdened with a huge budget deficit, is unlikely to allow him the renewal projects that won him praise in Valenciennes. "Borloo is a good guy, and he knows his subject," says Dominique Strauss-Kahn, a former Socialist Finance Minister. "But he won't be setting the agenda like he did in Valenciennes." Even for a miracle worker, reviving the popularity of Chirac's government is a tall order.


And this from Ric Erickson in Paris –


Heard on radio France-Info this morning - Borloo saying something like, either twenty billion euros - to be spent, or has been spent - on housing in past 30 years, and 'what have we got for it?' Odd - no mention of this on tonight's TV-news. Remember France's number two most 'famous?' That was Abbé Pierre [See this - AMP], the now old dude who has been agitating for better housing since... 1947. He's still around, still agitating, but from a wheelchair because he's 92 or something.

Borloo is minister for public housing. There are riots in some public housing because 'social cohesion' has lost its glue. Borloo is from up north someplace, like Lille, and one would think he is a socialist instead of an UMP or UDF. Borloo is perhaps a technician, but he is fairly popular because he doesn't act too much like a politician, unlike another minister, who has 'persisted' with his less than useful comments.


Small world.


Sounds much like the United States.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
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