A Beginner’s Guide to Opening an IRA
Bad Weather Likely Cause of Fatal Air Algerie Crash—French Officials
(Reuters) Poor weather was the most likely cause of the crash of an Air Algerie flight in the West African state of Mali that killed all 116 people on board, French officials said on Friday.
Jordan Shoots Down Unidentified Drone Near Syria Border
(Reuters) Jordan’s air force shot down an unidentified drone near the north-eastern border with Syria on Friday, a government spokesman said, the first such event announced by authorities since Syria’s crisis began in 2011.
Russia Bans All Ukrainian Dairy Imports
(Reuters) Russia has banned all dairy supplies from Ukraine, with Russia’s Veterinary and Phytosanitary Surveillance Service (VPSS) citing a lack of quality control, in the latest sign of worsening trade relations between the two countries.
Islamic State Tells Iraqi Women: Wear Full Veil or Face Harsh Punishment
(Reuters) Islamic State, the al-Qaeda offshoot that seized large swathes of northern Iraq last month, has warned women in the city of Mosul to wear full-face veils or risk severe punishment.
WHO Calls for Humanitarian Corridor to Evacuate Gaza Wounded
(Reuters) The World Health Organization (WHO) called on Friday for a humanitarian corridor to be set up in Gaza to allow aid workers to evacuate the wounded and bring in life-saving medicines.
Australia to Send 100 Extra Police, Troops to Ukraine: PM Abbott
(Reuters) Australia will send 100 additional police and some defense force personnel to Europe to join a planned Dutch-led international security force to secure the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 crash site, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday.
Crunch Time for Gaza Truce Talks as Death Toll Passes 800
(Reuters) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pressed regional proxies to nail down a Gaza ceasefire on Friday as the civilian death toll soared, threatening to spread Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed to the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem.
Indonesia’s Constitutional Court Ready to Take on Election Result Challenge
(Reuters) Indonesia’s top court is prepared to hear a case challenging the result of this month’s presidential election, well aware that its reputation is on the line after its top judge was jailed for corruption, his successor said.
South Korea Ferry Businessman’s Cause of Death Impossible to Decide: Agency
(Reuters) South Korea’s forensic agency said on Friday it was impossible to determine the cause of death of a businessman linked to a ferry that capsized and killed more than 300 people in April.
Venezuela Protests Arrest of Ex-Intelligence Head Wanted in U.S.
(Reuters) Venezuela’s former military intelligence chief, accused of involvement in drug trafficking by the United States, was arrested on a Caribbean island while on diplomatic business, the South American country said on Thursday.
Central American leaders convening at White House
WASHINGTON (AP)—President Barack Obama is summoning Central American leaders to the White House to discuss the influx of young immigrants from their countries to the U.S., hoping to show presidential action even as Congress remains deeply split over proposals to stem the crisis on the border.
“The young do not know enough to be prudent and therefore they attempt the impossible—and achieve it, generation after generation.”—Pearl S. Buck
By Sam McNerney, 250 Words, July 23, 2014
A few months ago, I asked Dan Pink for book recommendations. He replied with an excellent list: “6 books on the Art and Science of Sales.” The second book on Pink’s list is Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, first published in 1936. Pink writes that “Some readers might find Carnegie’s advice dated and a bit cheesy. But beneath the prose’s peppy surface lurks wisdom, one reason the book continues to sell seven full decades after its publication.”
To that end, I’ve re-posted a few passages from my favorite section of Carnegie’s book: “Six Ways to make People Like You.”
1) Become genuinely interested in other people. Alfred Adler, the famous Viennese psychologist, wrote a book entitled What Life Should Mean to You. In that book he says: “It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.” You may read scores of erudite tomes on psychology without coming across a statement more significant for you and for me.
2) Smile. You don’t feel like smiling? Then what? Two things. First, force yourself to smile. If you are alone, force yourself to whistle or hum a tune or sing. Act as if you were already happy, and that will tend to make you happy. Here is the way the philosopher William James put it: “Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”
3) Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language. When [Andrew Carnegie] was a boy back in Scotland, he got hold of a rabbit, a mother rabbit. Presto! He soon had a whole nest of little rabbits—and nothing to feed them. But he had a brilliant idea. He told the boys and girls in the neighborhood that if they would go out and pull enough clover and dandelions to feed the rabbits, he would name the bunnies in their honor.
Years later, he made millions by using the same psychology in business. For example, he wanted to sell steel rails to the Pennsylvania Railroad. J. Edgar Thomson was the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad then. So Carnegie built a huge steel mill in Pittsburgh and called it the “Edgar Thomson Steel Works.”… When the Pennsylvania Railroad needed steel rails, where do you suppose J. Edgar Thomson bought them?
4) Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. Isaac F. Marcosson, a journalist who interviewed hundreds of celebrities, declared that many people fail to make a favorable impression because they don’t listen attentively. “They have been so much concerned with what they are going to say next that they do not keep their ears open… Very important people have told me that they prefer good listeners to good talkers, but the ability to listen seems rarer than almost any other good trait.”
5) Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. Mr. Duvernoy had been trying to sell bread to a certain New York hotel. He had called on the manager every week for four years… “Then,” said Mr. Duvernoy, “after studying human relations, I resolved to change my tactics. I decided to find out what interested this man—what caught his enthusiasm. I discovered he belonged to a society of hotel executives called the Hotel Greeters of America… So when I saw him the next day, I began talking about the Greets. What a response I got. What a response!… I had said nothing about bread. But a few days later, the steward of his hotel phoned me to come over with samples and prices.”
6) Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely. The unvarnished truth is that almost all the people you meet feel themselves superior to you in some way, and a sure way to their hearts is to let them realize in some subtle way that you recognize their importance, and recognize it sincerely. Remember what Emerson said: “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn of him.”
By Amy Joyce, Washington Post, July 18, 2014
Earlier this year, I wrote about teaching empathy, and whether you are a parent who does so. The idea behind it is from Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, who runs the Making Caring Common project, aimed to help teach kids to be kind.
I know, you’d think they are or that parents are teaching that themselves, right? Not so, according to a new study released by the group.
About 80 percent of the youth in the study said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were also three times more likely to agree that “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
Weissbourd and his cohorts have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. Why is this important? Because if we want our children to be moral people, we have to, well, raise them that way.
“Children are not born simply good or bad and we should never give up on them. They need adults who will help them become caring, respectful, and responsible for their communities at every stage of their childhood,” the researchers write.
The five strategies to raise moral, caring children, according to Making Caring Common:
1. Make caring for others a priority. Why? Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied.
How? Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy. For example, before kids quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, we should ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend and encourage them to work out problems before quitting.
• Instead of saying to your kids: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.”
• Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry.
• Emphasize caring when you interact with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.
2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude. Why? It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.
How? Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job—make caring second nature and develop and hone youth’s caregiving capacities. Learning gratitude similarly involves regularly practicing it.
• Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbors and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
• Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.
• Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.
3. Expand your child’s circle of concern. Why? Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country.
How? Children need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. They also need to consider how their decisions, such as quitting a sports team or a band, can ripple out and harm various members of their communities. Especially in our more global world, children need to develop concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own.
• Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.
• Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the “caring and courage zone,” like comforting a classmate who was teased.
• Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.
4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor. Why? Children learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect. They also learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?”
How? Being a moral role model and mentor means that we need to practice honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For our children to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We also need to respect children’s thinking and listen to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.
• Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child.
• Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.
5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings. Why? Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.
How? We need to teach children that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.
Here’s a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them with her. After a while she’ll start to do it on her own so that she can express her feelings in a helpful and appropriate way.
By Kim Palmer, Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 22, 2014
Garrett Hoffman, 28, doesn’t have a yard. But he was determined to have a garden. “This is my first apartment ever with outdoor space,” said Hoffman, who grows tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, chard and herbs on his St. Paul balcony.
Hoffman’s “small but mighty” garden helps the University of Minnesota researcher and graduate student stretch his food budget, he said. “I just come out here and pick a salad, or make mojitos. It’s cheap—a package of mint at the store is $4.”
Gardening also has become his passion. “I love growing stuff,” he said. “It’s a form of creation. I’m not an artist. I write super-dense academic things. For me to be able to take seeds and create something living and growing is like art.”
The ancient art of gardening is now being embraced by a new demographic.
For decades, the typical gardener has been an older woman, while guys who gardened tended to be gray-haired grandpas. Now younger men are muscling in. “Young Guys Get Down and Dirty” was identified as a top garden trend for 2014 by the Pennsylvania-based Garden Media Group.
“We started to see the trend in 2005, when there was a slight uptick, but last year it really picked up,” said president/founder Suzi McCoy. “It’s a combination of a cultural shift and the foodie movement.”
As a group, younger men gardeners aren’t producing pretty flowers but hearty edibles—and drinkables—that they like to consume. “They’re growing vegetables they can throw on the grill, in particular hot peppers—the hotter the better,” McCoy said.
She could be describing Austin Lindstrom.
“I’m a vegetarian, big into food,” said Lindstrom, 37, who tends three vegetable gardens: his own in St. Paul, plus gardens at his mother’s and fiancée’s houses. “Tomatoes are my main thing. I try to find rare and unique varieties.”
He also grows 16 varieties of beets, hunts for wild mushrooms and maintains a website (www.growfindexplore.com) focused on gardening and foraging. Last year, he experimented with “ultra-hot peppers,” but removing the seeds proved so painful that he opted not to grow them this year. “They burned my eyes and nose. They were weapon-grade!”
These gardeners are getting the industry’s attention because they’re big spenders. Men between 18 and 34 spent $100 more on gardening last year than the average gardener, according to a survey by the National Gardening Association.
Audrey Matson, co-owner of Egg|Plant Urban Farm Supply in St. Paul has seen the shift.
“Most garden-store customers have traditionally been middle-aged women,” said Matson, who worked at other garden centers before opening Egg|Plant in 2010. “We’re seeing a lot of young guys, more than you would traditionally expect. They’re focused mostly on the edibles,” she said; “mushroom logs” are a popular purchase.
So are hops for home-brewing, which she recently added to her inventory. “Young men love brewing,” and fermentation (think homemade sauerkraut and kimchi), “which is kind of like brewing,” she said.
Growing hops for home-brew is a fast-growing garden niche nationwide, according to McCoy. “It’s the cool factor—to be able to say, ‘I grew it myself.’ To say, ‘I grew it and brewed it’ is even cooler.”
In Minneapolis’ Longfellow neighborhood, a group made up mostly of young men has transformed a formerly vacant lot into a community hops garden (www.communityhops.org). “It’s a groundbreaking project—I’m not aware of any other community garden focused exclusively on hops,” said Andrew Schmitt, 34, of St. Paul.
On a recent Sunday, members gathered at the sunny, urban plot, with its backdrop of looming grain elevators, to tend the hops—nine varieties. Hops take about three years to mature, so “there’s not going to be a ton of yield this season,” Schmitt said. Still, members are planning a fall “community brew day”—and looking forward to the beer to come.
“Fresh-hop beers are a little more bright and flavorful,” said Donovan Gruebele, 35, of St. Paul.
But the garden is about more than great-tasting beer; it’s also part of a larger lifestyle, focused on DIY and buying local.
“Home-brewing brings me great joy,” said Mark Opdahl, 31, of St. Paul, who organizes craft beer festivals for a living (www.chopliverinc.com). “I’m a fan of doing everything yourself,” including growing your own vegetables, which he does in his rented back yard.
“Indie beer culture is something our age group is into,” said Gruebele. “Craft beer is a lot of different things: community, artisanship and knowing where your beer is coming from.”
For Chris Andrejka, 29, of St. Paul, tending the hops is its own reward. “I love beer, and I love gardening,” he said. “It’s nice to get out here and get your hands in the dirt,” he added, as he tied vines to lengths of twine. “There’s a chemical reaction to touching soil; it actually makes you happy.”
Gruebele brought his baby daughter, Isla, to enjoy the garden, and often takes her to brewery taprooms, he said. “It’s different than going into a bar. Craft beer is a community. People bring their kids and don’t look at you sideways because you brought your baby.”
Men with young children in tow are also frequent visitors at Egg|Plant, said Matson. “Young dads, they’ll bring their kids into the store to see the baby chicks. It turns into a little petting zoo.”
Kids, in fact, are another factor motivating more young men to take up gardening, according to McCoy. Parental roles are shifting, with more women becoming primary breadwinners and more men choosing to stay home with the kids—and looking for activities to share with them.
“They like to get outside and get dirty,” McCoy said. This generation of young dads grew up playing video games, but now that they’re parents, they’re trading games for gardens. “They had to get a new hobby, something active, and they’re taking up gardening.”
Even young men who don’t have kids are seeking more hands-on, home-based hobbies, according to McCoy. “It’s the anti-technology shift; they want to get off the computer, unplug and do gardening, cooking, knitting, crafting and canning. We’re getting back to homely activities … men have far more interest today in what’s inside the home.”
For Hoffman, the graduate student and balcony gardener, nurturing his plants is a bit like nurturing children. “I check on them all the time, and worry about them when they look sad,” he said. “They’re my babies.”
Drake Baer, Business Insider, Jul. 23, 2014
Two little words destroy many a day’s dieting, saving, or hustling: I deserve.
As in, I ran two miles, I deserve a few scoops of ice cream.
I saved so much on those two books, I deserve a third.
I worked all day, I deserve to not wash the dishes.
Psychologists call this self-sabotaging behavior moral licensing: you give yourself permission to do something “bad” because you’ve been “good” all day.
The effects are surreptitious.
Gretchen Rubin, the author of “The Happiness Project,” says that moral licensing acts like a loophole, letting us wriggle out of establishing new habits like working out, eating healthy, or getting a side project off the ground.
“Loopholes matter, because when we try to form and keep habits, we often search for loopholes,” she says. “We look for justifications that will excuse us from keeping this particular habit in this particular situation. However, if we catch ourselves in the act of loophole-seeking, we can perhaps avoid employing the loophole, and improve our chances of keeping the habit.”
Thus the power of knowing what moral licensing is: if you know that you’re licensing yourself to act the fool, then you might refrain from doing so.
By John Aziz, The Week, July 23, 2014
Britain has made a bold move: starting in 2015, internet pirates will no longer be prosecuted for their file-sharing. Persistent file-sharers will receive warning letters, but according to The Independent “no further action will be taken.” (While the government isn’t calling it decriminalization, that is effectively what it is.) In the long run, this is the only sensible option.
A full 46 percent of Americans are copyright pirates, according to a 2012 study by The American Assembly at Columbia University, which means they copy content from CDs and DVDs or illicitly download media, including movies, music, games, and software, from peer-to-peer sources such as BitTorrent. That figure jumps to 70 percent among young Americans aged 18 to 29.
And copyright holders can sue them for a lot of money. They can seek statutory damages of up to $150,000 per copyright infringement. In 2013, the Supreme Court upheld a verdict that saw 37-year-old Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a Minnesotan mother of four, pay record labels $222,000 for downloading and sharing two dozen copyrighted songs on the now-defunct file-sharing network KaZaA.
However, beyond a few headline-making cases in which some unlucky individuals have been singled out for punishment, the law remains mostly unenforced.
Now, that doesn’t mean that piracy isn’t an economic problem. It very definitely is. Not every instance of piracy necessarily means a lost sale for entertainment or software firms, but since the first big peer-to-peer file-sharing website Napster emerged in 1999, music sales in the U.S. have dropped 53 percent, from $14.6 billion then to $7.0 billion in 2013.
But piracy is a fact of life. How can you police away something that 70 percent of young Americans do? The digital technological revolution has just made it too easy. The cost of copying and sharing entertainment is practically nothing (unless you’re one of the tiny minority who are caught and fined). Digital files can be replicated endlessly and spread seamlessly. And trying to take down websites or file-sharing services that are violating copyright is a complicated and endless task.
The entertainment industry in recent years seems to have moved on to another, smarter proposition. If you can’t eliminate the pirates, offer a service that is better quality, more reliable, and more accessible. Internet piracy is a messy game—files are often incorrectly labeled, sound quality can be poor, download speeds can be unreliable, and those who choose to pirate risk downloading spyware and malware. Services like Spotify, iTunes, Rdio, Beats Music, Netflix, Hulu, Sony, and Amazon are offering shed-loads of high-quality, legal entertainment for a reasonable price that—importantly—goes to compensate the creators. These services are already making big inroads, and piracy is falling as a result.
Times have changed. Time for the justice system to catch up.
By Jason Samenow, Washington Post, July 23, 2014
On July 23, 2012, the sun unleashed two massive clouds of plasma that barely missed a catastrophic encounter with the Earth’s atmosphere. These plasma clouds, known as coronal mass ejections (CMEs), comprised a solar storm thought to be the most powerful in at least 150 years.
“If it had hit, we would still be picking up the pieces,” physicist Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado tells NASA.
Fortunately, the blast site of the CMEs was not directed at Earth. Had this event occurred a week earlier when the point of eruption was Earth-facing, a potentially disastrous outcome would have unfolded.
“I have come away from our recent studies more convinced than ever that Earth and its inhabitants were incredibly fortunate that the 2012 eruption happened when it did,” Baker tells NASA. “If the eruption had occurred only one week earlier, Earth would have been in the line of fire.”
A CME double whammy of this potency striking Earth would likely cripple satellite communications and could severely damage the power grid. NASA offers this sobering assessment:
Analysts believe that a direct hit … could cause widespread power blackouts, disabling everything that plugs into a wall socket. Most people wouldn’t even be able to flush their toilet because urban water supplies largely rely on electric pumps.
According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.
CWG’s Steve Tracton put it this way in his frightening overview of the risks of a severe solar storm: “The consequences could be devastating for commerce, transportation, agriculture and food stocks, fuel and water supplies, human health and medical facilities, national security, and daily life in general.”
Solar physicists compare the 2012 storm to the so-called Carrington solar storm of September 1859, named after English astronomer Richard Carrington who documented the event.
“In my view the July 2012 storm was in all respects at least as strong as the 1859 Carrington event,” Baker tells NASA. “The only difference is, it missed.”
During the Carrington event, the northern lights were seen as far south as Cuba and Hawaii according to historical accounts. The solar eruption “caused global telegraph lines to spark, setting fire to some telegraph offices,” NASA notes.
NASA says the July 2012 storm was particularly intense because a CME had traveled along the same path just days before the July 23 double whammy—clearing the way for maximum effect, like a snowplow.
“This double-CME traveled through a region of space that had been cleared out by yet another CME four days earlier,” NASA says. “ As a result, the storm clouds were not decelerated as much as usual by their transit through the interplanetary medium.”
Perhaps the scariest finding reported in the article is this: There is a 12 percent chance of a Carrington-type event on Earth in the next 10 years according to Pete Riley of Predictive Science Inc.
“Initially, I was quite surprised that the odds were so high, but the statistics appear to be correct,” Riley tells NASA. “It is a sobering figure.”
It’s even more sobering when considering the conclusion of Steve Tracton’s 2013 article: Are we ready yet for potentially disastrous impacts of space weather? Tracton’s answer: “an unequivocal, if not surprising, no!”
Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, July 23, 2014
We may now have a new “most unread best seller of all time.”
Data from Amazon Kindles suggests that that honor may go to Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which reached No. 1 on the best-seller list this year. Jordan Ellenberg, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that Piketty’s book seems to eclipse its rivals in losing readers: All five of the passages that readers on Kindle have highlighted most are in the first 26 pages of a tome that runs 685 pages.
The rush to purchase Piketty’s book suggested that Americans must have wanted to understand inequality. The apparent rush to put it down suggests that, well, we’re human.
So let me satisfy this demand with my own “Idiot’s Guide to Inequality.” Here are five points:
First, economic inequality has worsened significantly in the United States and some other countries. The richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. Oxfam estimates that the richest 85 people in the world own half of all wealth.
The situation might be tolerable if a rising tide were lifting all boats. But it’s lifting mostly the yachts. In 2010, 93 percent of the additional income created in America went to the top 1 percent.
Second, inequality in America is destabilizing. Some inequality is essential to create incentives, but we seem to have reached the point where inequality actually becomes an impediment to economic growth.
Certainly, the nation grew more quickly in periods when we were more equal, including in the golden decades after World War II when growth was strong and inequality actually diminished. Likewise, a major research paper from the International Monetary Fund in April found that more equitable societies tend to enjoy more rapid economic growth.
Indeed, even Lloyd Blankfein, the chief executive of Goldman Sachs, warns that “too much … has gone to too few” and that inequality in America is now “very destabilizing.”
Inequality causes problems by creating fissures in societies, leaving those at the bottom feeling marginalized or disenfranchised. That has been a classic problem in “banana republic” countries in Latin America, and the United States now has a Gini coefficient (a standard measure of inequality) approaching some traditionally poor and dysfunctional Latin countries.
Third, disparities reflect not just the invisible hand of the market but also manipulation of markets. Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, wrote a terrific book two years ago, “The Price of Inequality,” which is a shorter and easier read than Piketty’s book. In it, he notes: “Much of America’s inequality is the result of market distortions, with incentives directed not at creating new wealth but at taking it from others.”
For example, financiers are wealthy partly because they’re highly educated and hardworking—and also because they’ve successfully lobbied for the carried interest tax loophole that lets their pay be taxed at much lower rates than other people’s.
Likewise, if you’re a pharmaceutical executive, one way to create profits is to generate new products. Another is to lobby Congress to bar the government’s Medicare program from bargaining for drug prices. That amounts to a $50 billion annual gift to pharmaceutical companies.
Fourth, inequality doesn’t necessarily even benefit the rich as much as we think. At some point, extra incomes don’t go to sate desires but to attempt to buy status through “positional goods”—like the hottest car on the block.
The problem is that there can only be one hottest car on the block. So the lawyer who buys a Porsche is foiled by the C.E.O. who buys a Ferrari, who in turn is foiled by the hedge fund manager who buys a Lamborghini. This arms race leaves these desires unsated; there’s still only one at the top of the heap.
Fifth, progressives probably talk too much about “inequality” and not enough about “opportunity.” Some voters are turned off by tirades about inequality because they say it connotes envy of the rich; there is more consensus on bringing everyone to the same starting line.
Unfortunately, equal opportunity is now a mirage. Indeed, researchers find that there is less economic mobility in America than in class-conscious Europe.
We know some of the tools, including job incentives and better schools, that can reduce this opportunity gap. But the United States is one of the few advanced countries that spends less educating the average poor child than the average rich one. As an escalator of mobility, the American education system is broken.
There’s still a great deal we don’t understand about inequality. But whether or not you read Piketty, there’s one overwhelming lesson you should be aware of: Inequality and lack of opportunity today constitute a national infirmity and vulnerability.
By Michael Paulson, NY Times, July 23, 2014
After protesters shouting “Go home” turned back busloads of immigrant mothers and children in Murrieta, Calif., a furious Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, sat down at his notepad and drafted a blog post detailing his shame at the episode, writing, “It was un-American; it was unbiblical; it was inhumane.”
When the governor of Iowa, Terry E. Branstad, said he did not want the migrants in his state, declaring, “We can’t accept every child in the world who has problems,” clergy members in Des Moines held a prayer vigil at a United Methodist Church to demonstrate their desire to make room for the refugees.
The United States’ response to the arrival of tens of thousands of migrant children, many of them fleeing violence and exploitation in Central America, has been symbolized by an angry pushback from citizens and local officials who have channeled their outrage over illegal immigration into opposition to proposed shelter sites. But around the nation, an array of religious leaders are trying to mobilize support for the children, saying the nation can and should welcome them.
“We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,” said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help. He said that in his own congregation, some were comparing the flow of immigrant children to the Kindertransport, a rescue mission in the late 1930s that sent Jewish children from Nazi Germany to Britain for safekeeping.
“The question for us is: How do we want to be remembered, as yelling and screaming to go back, or as using the teachings of our traditions to have compassion and love and grace for the lives of God’s children?” Rabbi Knight said.
The backlash to the backlash is broad, from Unitarian Universalists and Quakers to evangelical Protestants. Among the most agitated are Catholic bishops, and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, whose adherents tend to lean right.
“This is a crisis, and not simply a political crisis, but a moral one,” said Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. On Tuesday, Mr. Moore led a delegation of Southern Baptist officials to visit refugee children at detention centers in San Antonio and McAllen, Tex. In an interview after the visit, Mr. Moore said that “the anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting” and added: “The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”
“We have to put our money where our mouth is in this country,” said Kevin Appleby, the director of migration policy for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “We tell other countries to protect human rights and accept refugees, but when we get a crisis on our border, we don’t know how to respond.”
Republicans have rejected calls by Democrats for $2.7 billion in funds to respond to the crisis, demanding changes in immigration law to make it easier to send children back to Central America. And while President Obama says he is open to some changes, many Democrats have opposed them, and Congress is now deadlocked.
Various religious groups are trying to assist the migrants directly by offering food, shelter and legal services. The Episcopal Church is providing hygiene and nutrition packets; the United Methodist Church is offering showers and clothing; the United Church of Christ has started a nationwide fund-raising appeal. Catholic Charities U.S.A. has opened seven “welcome centers” along the border.
Attitudes among evangelicals are changing, particularly at the leadership level, according to the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference.
“I remember when my fellow evangelicals said, ‘Deport them all, they’re here illegally, end of story,’ but the leadership now supports immigration reform,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “There’s still angst in the pews, but if they listen more to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John than to Rush Limbaugh, they’ll act with compassion towards these children.”
Some political leaders have cited religious or moral arguments in offering support for the migrants. On Friday, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts tearfully cited the Bible and declared, “I don’t know what good there is in faith if we can’t, and won’t, turn to it in moments of human need,” as he suggested that migrant children could be temporarily housed at military bases in his state.
By Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post, July 23, 2014
On Tuesday FiveThirtyEight released the results of a poll of Americans’ opinions on the “Star Wars” universe. Not surprisingly, Jar Jar Binks is the most reviled character in the series. As Walt Hickey notes, the Gungan from Naboo posted lower favorability numbers than Emperor Palpatine, “the actual personification of evil in the galaxy.”
On the other hand, with a net favorability of -8, Jar Jar is considerably more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently enjoys a net favorability rating of -65. In fact, the last time congressional net favorability was above that was February 2005. Incidentally this was just before the release date of “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” which marked Jar Jar’s last appearance on the big screen.
But picking on Congress’ unpopularity is a bit like beating a dead tauntaun. After all, the legislative branch has been less popular than lice, brussels sprouts and Nickelback for some time now. What if we compared the favorability of 2016 presidential hopefuls and other political leaders with that of “Star Wars” characters?
Hillary Clinton currently has the highest net favorability of any 2016 White House contender. But to put her 19 percent favorable rating in context, she’s tied with Boba Fett, the bounty hunter who froze Harrison Ford in carbonite.
None of the 2016 hopefuls is polling higher than Darth Vader. You’ll recall that Vader chopped off his son’s arm and blew up an entire planet, but evidently in the eyes of the American public these are minor sins compared to Benghazi, Bridgegate and Gov. Rick Perry’s hipster glasses. These numbers suggest that if “Star Wars” were real and Darth Vader decided to enter the 2016 presidential race, he’d be the immediate front-runner.
Meanwhile President Obama is polling just two favorability points below Emperor Palpatine, Lord of the Sith. Make of that what you will.
Michael Paarlberg, The Guardian, 23 July 2014
Visiting El Salvador over the past year, it was hard not to think the country’s number-one job is standing around outside with a gun. In the region from which child migrants are fleeing to the US, personal security is largely a question of what you can afford to pay. El Salvador has, by one estimate, 25,000 private guards in a country with 20,000 police officers. In Honduras, which boasts the highest murder rate in the world and has seen the largest exodus of young people to the American border this year, guards outnumber cops five to one.
Wealthy Salvadorans can retreat to residential compounds that resemble a militarized version of a Palm Beach retirement community, complete with golf carts. Behind high walls and even higher voltage wires, one economist gushed to me: “This place has everything—we never have to go outside!” For the rest, those who stay and those who get sent back, gangland drama is a fact of life.
For Americans behind our own wall, there is a sense of bewilderment. We wonder why these young people are showing up at our borders, if they are enticed by some false promise of amnesty. And then we send them back.
But child migrants escaping north are not so irrational, and the current wave is neither new nor terribly mystifying. The factors that push and pull them—extreme violence, extortion, forced gang recruitment and a desire to reunite with family—are rooted in the United States’s heavy hand in the region.
Central America didn’t always have a gang epidemic. That was exported there by us. And the current immigration crisis is as much a United States legacy as it has become a local tragedy—a consequence of US-financed civil wars from the 1980s that sparked the first migration wave, and of US policies toward those migrants after they arrived.
Both major gangs now plaguing the region originated in Los Angeles. The gang that became MS-13 was originally an informal collection of teenage civil war refugees and metal-heads who borrowed their devil-horns hand sign from Judas Priest. Their onetime ally-turned-rival, Mara 18, traces back to the 1940s but shared with the newer gang an open-door membership for Central Americans that put them both at odds with the area’s more established, exclusively Mexican gangs. When those gangs began to terrorize the new immigrants, MS-13 and Mara 18 fought back. Only later would they spread to the countries which their parents had left, through deportations, and contribute to today’s migration wave.
In time, MS-13 and Mara 18 came to surpass their oppressors, thanks in part to a citywide police sweep that preceded the 1984 LA Summer Olympics, busting up the known Angeleno gangs but overlooking the new Central American rivals—and also their propensity for violence, notoriously favoring machetes for attacks.
These street battles would have been of little concern to most Americans were it not for President Clinton and his desire to triangulate Republicans on crime. In 1996, he signed a law that ratcheted up deportations of immigrants with criminal records—including those with citizenship—by making things like drunk driving and petty theft deportable offenses.
Shipping off undesirable immigrants proved enormously popular among Democrats and Republicans alike, and mass deportations continued apace under Presidents Bush and Obama—overwhelmingly to Mexico and Central America. According to Homeland Security data, annual criminal deportations to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala have since jumped more than five-fold, from 1,987 in 1995 to 106,420 in 2013. Add the non-criminal deportation boom that will explode this year should Obama get the expedited deportation authority he’s currently seeking, and you’ll have the makings of yet another migration crisis just down the road.
Of course, deporting hundreds of thousands of criminals has been far less popular in the countries to which deportees are sent “home”—to a place many left as toddlers and do not remember. Mostly unemployable, some speaking little to no Spanish, many reconstituted their maras in countries ill-prepared to deal with them, still in the midst of postwar reconstruction, with underequipped and easily corruptible police in only nominal control of public safety.
It’s a cycle: With each planeload of deportees, the gangs grew stronger, expanding their activities and recruiting younger members by force—taking a page from the armies Washington had backed a generation earlier—and it is precisely those children they target who await processing in our border detention facilities today.
Once again, migrants fleeing a conflict zone we helped create are showing up at our doorstep, and our solution, once again, is to send them back. Basic humanity dictates that we consider the plight that brought them here, and that we prioritize family reunification. So, too, does the law—one which Congressional Republicans, who routinely charge Obama with not enforcing immigration law, are now clamoring for him to ignore, and Obama remains just as eager to oblige them.
During El Salvador’s recent presidential elections, the opposition party posted billboards in regions from which the largest number of migrants are leaving. Under pictures of Salvadoran families in DC, California and New York read lines like I WANT TO RETURN TO A COUNTRY FREE OF GANGS. It’s an ambition unlikely to be realized as long as the US believes we can deport our problems away, because eventually, those problems tend to come back to haunt us.
Linette Lopez, Business Insider, Jul. 22, 2014
Argentina had one card left to play in its battle against hedge fund creditors, and it just lost.
Judge Thomas Griesa said that a New York Court would not grant Argentina a stay on payment to bondholders as it attempts to negotiate the payment of over $1.3 billion worth of bonds owed to a group of hedge fund creditors referred to collectively as NML.
Now The Republic has until July 30 to either pay all its bondholders including NML, negotiate with NML to the creditors’ satisfaction, or default on its debt.
“We are prepared to do as the Judge asked and meet continuously with Argentina and the Special Master to resolve this dispute,” said an NML representative. “We are confident this matter could be resolved quickly if Argentina would join us in settlement discussions.”
But The Republic hasn’t, and, unless that intransigence was simply an attempt to force the stay, it is not unforeseeable that it won’t.
In that case, the country will default on its debt, sending its population into another nightmare of inflation and ruin.
This case is a throw back to The Republic’s last awful episode in 2001, when NML, led by Elliott Management’s Paul Singer, picked up these bonds on the cheap. Since then, NML refused to take haircut on the debt like over 90% of bondholders. The holdouts want 100 cents on the dollar.
To Argentina, that makes NML “vultures.” That’s why The Republic refused to pay up, appealing its case all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court and eventually losing this year.
Argentina says that it cannot pay the “vulture funds” because that would trigger a clause in its bond contract—The RUFO or, Rights Upon Future Offers Clause. Essentially it says that if Argentina voluntarily negotiates better terms with some bondholders, all bondholders are entitled to those terms.
The country says that if RUFO is triggered it could have to pay out as much as $15 billion. However, RUFO expires on Jan. 1, 2015. That could be why Argentina was stalling.
But now that’s over.
In 2015—whether Argentina pays or not—President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner and her administration will be gone. All the alternatives are more market friendly. It’s one of the reasons why hedge fund managers like Mike Novogratz of Fortress Investments and Dan Loeb of Third Point Partners have said they’re ready to invest once Argentina hits bottom.
But some believe those investors may not be enough in the event of another default.
“Part of the problem is that they’re not completely out from underneath the first time they did it [default] … there’s a lot of countries that won’t trade with them, a lot of countries that won’t lend to them,” said David Fernández, a lawyer at Buchanan, Ingersoll & Rooney. “If they cross the default line and they go there [this time] it doesn’t matter if 2015 happens … there won’t be any liquidity for them.”
So it may not matter if there’s a new regime in place in 2015 if the country decides to go down that road. And as that happens, regular Argentines will suffer slowly, like last time, as the economy slowly inflates itself into ruin.
As Zaldua told Business Insider once upon a time, “the disaster window is always open in Argentina.”
By Alexander Smoltczyk, Der Spiegel, July 23, 2014
The TV images of the Tour de France show an idyllic country, but behind the gloss is a nation where fears of decline are prompting people to vote for the far right. A trip along the route of the world’s most famous cycling race reveals the deep uncertainty ailing the French.
There is a new word in the French language: La mannschaft. It’s the term used to define everything that is enviable on the opposite bank of the Rhine River—in other words, Germany’s success.
A week ago Monday, on Bastille Day, newspapers across France sighed that it wouldn’t hurt if the country were a bit more like la mannschaft. Instead, unemployment is twice as high as it is in Germany, growth and investments have fallen far and former President Nicolas Sarkozy was recently detained for questioning by police at dawn. La mannschaft is the polar opposite of the other word currently in fashion in France: le malaise. A deep gloom appears to have taken hold in France. A recent survey showed that two-thirds of the French are “pessimistic” about their country’s future.
“Viewed from the outside, France under François Hollande is like Cuba, only without the sun but with the extreme right,” the newsweekly Le Point recently wrote. The country is “impoverished, over-indebted, divided, humbled and humiliated and finds itself in a pre-revolutionary situation in which anything seems possible.”
Something is adrift in France. Rarely has the public mood been this miserable and the sullenness as omnipresent as it has been this summer. A president currently resides in Elysée Palace who was mercilessly booed during the July 14th military parade. It doesn’t seem possible for Hollande to get any less popular, and yet his popularity continues to fall from one low to the next.
But at least the country still has the Tour de France, the grand race that circles the country and serves as a prelude to the summer holiday season. Each year, it provides a long beloved view of a different, rural and idealized France—one where local firehouses still host annual dances, where there’s a memorial to those lost in the wars in front of every city hall and where the people know where they belong. But do they really?
This reporter recently traveled across France to take the country’s pulse with the people on the ground. The route followed stayed true to the course of the 2014 Tour de France, taking in cities, towns and villages, and sought to observe signs of the crisis, decline, collective depression and other specters that are haunting Germany’s most important neighbor.
Lille (km 710). The first stage of the tour to take place in France (the first three are in Britain this year) ends at the periphery of Lille in Pierre Mauroy Stadium, a sparkling arena of glass, steel and concrete. The only person in sight is a guard. Lille is one of the few success stories in a French Socialism that is otherwise in a state of crisis. Local Mayor Martine Aubry even managed to get re-elected recently. The politician is the anchor of the Socialist Party’s left wing. In contrast to the president, she is cherished by the party base. Aubry also happens to be the daughter of former European Commission President Jacques Delors, the father of currency union.
Although Lille has profited from Europe, Joël Leclerc has not. “Lille is for the rich,” he says, noting that he doesn’t even buy his coffee here. Leclerc is the sole security guard standing in front of Pierre Mauroy Stadium. He’s the son of a miner and has a crew cut, as is common among members of the French Foreign Legion. He says he raised his children with a “good kick in the ass.” Unlike Lille, he says the village of Avion where he lives isn’t home to any “vermin,” the highly disparaging term used by Sarkozy to describe the children of immigrants who rampaged through the streets of Paris’ suburbs in 2005.
“We still have values here in the village,” Leclerc says. He’s the archetypical supporter of Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right Front National party. Leclerc says he once had aspirations to become a member of the police force, but that he wasn’t able to. “My father threw lumps of coal during the 1968 strikes at the CRS, the special police,” he explains. “That’s what people here in the village do. Avion has been communist for 200 years. People call it Little Russia. Me? Of course I’m a communist. A simple worker.”
Leclerc remains loyal to the communists for the same reason that most of his colleagues have since begun voting for Front National—out of tradition, patriotism and the desire for order. He says his father once lived in Poland, somewhere near Katowice, but, no, he didn’t work in the mines there. The place had a different name. He had to stay there for three years. Then, without any special emphasis, he says the name: “Auschwitz.”
Arras (km 865.5). Back when the Tour de France was created, French unity was anything but a given. It was a time when Bretonnians, Occitans and Alsatians, but also monarchists and Catholics all seemed to have problems with the words that are today posted on every town hall: “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” liberty, equality and fraternity.
The race was intended to be a celebration of the country’s beauty. People used the landscape as a stage to celebrate their country. It was a chance for “La France profonde”—deep France, the real France far away from Paris—to shine. It was all about the periphery of the country, the Café du Commerce that seemed to be located in every town or faded posters advertising aperitifs like Dubonnet.
Essentially, it is this France where much of the current discontent is coming from. “Revolution is stewing at the edge of France, away from the major cities,” French social geographer Christophe Guilluy recently wrote. These areas are home to 60 percent of the French population and 80 percent of those who might be described as the “little man”: laborers, pensioners, the middle class—people who in general harbor the strongest fears of decline. It is here that voter turnout was poor during the communal elections in March. And it is here where Le Pen did particularly well.
Somme is a countryside filled with former mines and battlefields. There are flat fields and sugar beets for as far as the eye can see. The French revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre was born and raised here before going to Paris to help the virtuous rise to power, using the guillotine where necessary.
Raffi Ashkar holds a pair of scissors in his right hand. He runs a shoe repair and key making shop in Rue Robespierre across the street from the former Jacobin’s home. Ashkar says every era needs a revolution. The question is what kind of revolution? Ashkar, who is of Lebanese origin, is every bit a member of the middle class, or Third Estate as the French called it during the revolution of the late 1700s.
“I understand the French,” he says. “There are no values any more. Family and friendship? Each is out for his or her self. Everyone is egotistical. That’s why many vote for Le Pen—out of sheer hopelessness.”
Valmy (km 1,160). Stacks of books at a local bookstore in Valmy are dedicated to a new genre in French literature: the downfall. It includes titles like “Reinventing France,” “France, a Peculiar Bankruptcy,” “If We Only Wanted To, “When France Wakes Up,” “A Dangerous Game in the Elysée,” “Fellow French, Are You Ready for the Next Revolution?” “France, A Challenge, “ and many, many more.
Around two dozen such titles were published last month alone. They always seem to have the same central message as well—that things can’t continue as they are and that France is in decline. It seems like the term “déclinisme” has already emerged as its own school of thought.
The Tour de France detours here around the industrial wastelands and decommissioned blast furnaces of northern Lorraine. Instead, on the route between Reims and Verdun, you see a windmill set on a hill surrounded by canons and heroic statues. This is the site of the birth of the nation. The fact that the cannons placed are emblazoned with “Made in Manchester”—and that it was German writer and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe who retroactively identified the Battle of Valmy as an historical turning point—doesn’t detract from the place’s symbolism.
During the Cannonade of Valmy in September 1792, the Revolutionary Army halted a Prussian army that had rushed to the aid of the French monarchy. It marked the first time that the French chanted “Vive la nation!” The notion of the nation, as the central point of reference for all French, had replaced that of God and the king. They persevered as well, using team spirit akin to that of la mannschaft.
The term “nation” has been invoked here incessantly ever since—mostly, unfortunately, to animate the people to charge into bayonettes, grenades, mustard gas and all manner of projectiles. After leaving Valmy, the Tour de France route passes through the battlefields of the last century, those of World War I and II.
Flirey/Pont-à-Mousson (km 1,271). The name Pont-à-Mousson can be found everywhere you go in France, be it French Guiana, Martinique or any of the overseas departments. The name of the city appears on French-made manhole covers. The city’s main industry is iron casting. Going by the dense smoke billowing out of the blast furnace on Rue nationale, it might come as a surprise to some that the country is in the midst of a crisis. The stockpile behind the plant is filled with pipes—”for the time being,” says Gérard Rothermel, sitting beneath a chestnut tree on a cast-iron bench that, ironically, was made in Spain.
Rothermel then starts to rant. “The six-meter pipes are now being made in Germany.” He’s spent his entire career pouring iron covers. “Earlier, we used to whistle on our way to the factory. The only thing people think about today is the competition. Leftist politicians lied to us and the right did as well.”
Rothermel rails against taxes, but also says he thinks retirement at the age of 56 should be perfectly normal. He says he doesn’t like people who just hang around doing nothing or those who take advantage of the welfare state, even though he himself is reliant on the system, receiving government-subsidized social housing and also health care benefits. “French sociologists have a term for people unable to cope with the changes that have been wrought on France: “Petit blanc,” or “little whites”. Words that were once closely associated with the country—like education, president, army, nation or labor—have become empty.
Mulhouse (km 1,622). Liberal intellectual Guy Sorman says France is the sick man of Europe these days. “The state is sick, the economy is sick, its education is sick and it is sick from an excessively glorified past that won’t go away,” he says.
Nation, Verdun, Valmy, the Tour de France and the national football team—none of it seems strong enough anymore to hold the French together. Many are no longer able to identify with the requisite rituals, dogmas, hymns, creeds and even street names. Still, the country has some great principles, ones that are universal and known to everyone. And what could be wrong with a country that has so many streets with the word “freedom” in their names? The problem is that these terms no longer seem to have much meaning for many people, who no longer feel at home in their own country. So what terms could be used instead?
The final stretch of the stage passes through the Rue de la Marseillaise and goes by a spot where Samir Ayed spends a good deal of his time, the Paradise café and bar, a lively meeting place that seems to be a magnet for the very Arab and African immigrant children who populate the nightmares of many in France.
“Liberté, egalité and fraternité?” he asks. “That has never been my experience. Listen to what I have to say to you.” He goes on to claim that the only freedom is that of financial flows, the only equality are EU standards and norms and the sole sense of brotherhood is unbridled globalism. That’s not exactly what Samir said, but it’s a distillation of the phrases, theories, truths and false truths one hears when he speaks. “The French are pansies,” he says. “They’re allowing their country to be taken away from them—by the EU, by the Chinese and by those who are really pulling the strings. Do you understand?”
Samir and his buddies, who come from Morocco, Algeria and Turkey, are angry because France doesn’t accept them and because they feel the country is going to the dogs.
Yzeron (km 2,104.5). Here in the countryside, no suffering is visible. Instead, a disquieting quiet becomes noticeable. Many houses have their shutters closed up tight and there are lots of “For Sale” signs. At 6 p.m. on a recent evening, the only person to be seen was a pensioner trimming her hedge. In the local paper, the list of recent deaths is three times as long as the birth register. France’s relatively high birth rate is invisible here.
The Tour has managed to make its way through the Alps and now balances on the Massif Central above the Rhône River and Lyon, flying past Au Petit Rapporteur, where Josiane and Jean-Pierre Lambert have been cooking for locals for 19 years. The daily special costs €12 and is produced using local ingredients, such as veal, goat cheese, Andouillette sausage and berries.
An estimated 70 percent of all restaurants in France use frozen ingredients, the New York Times recently reported—a sign that the country’s cuisine is also in freefall. Jean-Pierre Lambert says: “The main thing is that it tastes good.” And perhaps, he adds, the Americans also share some of the blame for what is served up in Paris.
The Lamberts are a like a phenomenon of Quantum physics, only there when you look—for the brief moment when the peloton speeds past. Afterwards, it disappears back into its parallel universe.
A quarter of all French live in one of the 31,590 communities that have a population of less than 2,000. To a greater degree than in Germany, these people are dependent on what they refer to as “terroir,” the specifics of the place where they live. And they are noticing that something is threatening that existence.
The digital revolution is “a new space,” a non-space that has eliminated distance, Michel Serres, the French philosopher, at the Sorbonne in late January. This revolution is not a French one, the British columnist Roger Cohen added, continuing the thought. “It is, in fact, an anti-French revolution. It challenges fundamental French values, the French sense of self and the French attachment to the state.”
Perhaps that is what is causing the grumbling and complaining along the route of the Tour. People are living next to each other, but not with one-another, they are eying each other with mistrust yet complaining about the coldness between people at the same time. “We used to whistle on the way to work.” And throw chunks of coal at the CRS.
Saint-Rémy-de Provence (km 3,038). Stéphane Paillard trades in vineyards like others do in wine. Bordeaux, Rhône, Burgundy, Provence: He has châteauxs for all tastes and proclivities, starting at €3 million. If you want to spent your retirement walled off from the present in a 17th century property with olive orchards and grape-bedecked hillsides, Paillard is your man.
Elderly Americans stroll past the shop windows, marveling at the Van Gogh-esque colors, the soft light and the sycamores. Saint-Rémy is vintage France, some might call it hardcore. “Some of the largest fortunes on the planet can be found here in the Alpilles,” Paillard says, referring to the range of low mountains cutting through the Provence. Americans, in particular, are enamored of the region.
Paillard’s trade in vineyards is doing well as a result. But, he says, “in recent years I have noticed a certain reserve among international clients when it comes to investments in France. The government. You know.” Luckily, wine is an exception, he says. “The euro might not last, but wine will.”
Still, Paillard has also noticed change even in the paradise of Provence, small things mostly. Large stone blocks, for example, have been placed in front of an electronics shop to prevent thieves from driving through the show window. At a bakery, customers are asked to pay using a machine due to security concerns. And fear.
“It is the most insecurity I’ve seen here in the last 20 or 30 years,” Paillard says. “Even in my line of work, you see copycats, tricksters and cheapskates.” He blames the Internet in addition to the government.
Beaucaire (km 3,056). By the time the town’s new mayor took office in March, the route of the Tour had already been determined. It would have been difficult to drop Beaucaire from the course. It is one of the towns with over 10,000 residents where the Front National won in spring municipal elections.
Seven file folders are stacked on a chair in the new mayor’s office. “Inside, are 200 applications for a job in city hall,” says Julien Sanchez. Thirty years old, Sanchez had been Marine Le Pen’s spokesperson before winning the Beaucaire vote in March. He says the old system of cronyism and unshakable faith in the state is being thrown out. He is a gentle radical; the picture of President Hollande has been allowed to remain.
“I’m not from here, I come from Paris. I said that there wouldn’t be any more subsidies for bullfighting,” he says, referring to the town’s summer bullfighting festivals. “Going by standard criteria, I never should have been elected. But it turned out to be an advantage not to be a part of the sleaze here.”
The old Socialist mayor, Sanchez says, left the town with millions in debt. But one key reason for the Front National’s victory in the town was the fact that mainstream parties split the vote, allowing the radicals to come out on top.
Beaucaire is a town of limestone and sharp shadows. A dike protects it when the Rhône periodically bursts its banks while the walls and citadel shield it from the mistral, the cold winter wind. The town is largely segregated, with immigrants in the city center and those born in France on the outskirts. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, the poor, rejected people from Maghreb. And the native-born French in their single-family homes. The same old story. But that’s rubbish,” says Sylvestre Balit.
Balit says that he should know; his own father is from Algeria. The French who lived in Algeria in colonial times and then lost their homes once the country was granted independence were among the first to vote for the Front National. Today, by contrast, the party is an option for everybody who is angry and afraid.
“This country is a toilet and the Socialists have shoved my arm into it up to here,” Balit says, tapping on his shoulder. “They hand out jobs to Arabs and to other Socialists. That isn’t racism, my friend. That is EX-PER-I-ENCE. Humanism is a great idea and all, but it needs rules. Otherwise, you get the jungle.”
Sylvestre Balit, 54, is a former paratrooper. His girlfriend gets up at 4 a.m., six days a week, for her job in a supermarket. She is a real French “heroine,” he says. He spends much of his time in the café waiting for better times. “I spoke with two former comrades of mine,” he says, lowering his voice. “In two regiments, they are currently talking about a putsch. C’est fini la France.” France is finished.
Col du Tourmalet (km 3,213.5). At an altitude of 2,215 meters (7,270 feet), the Col du Tourmalet is the second highest point on the Tour de France, yet by far the most legendary. And surprisingly, there is no Tricolore flying at its peak. There is, however, a herd of sheep grazing just above the road as it crosses the pass. The fur of some of the animals has been sprayed blue, others red, while still others have been left white. Quite a few of them are black and a large portion of the herd bears a circle A on their haunches.
No, the A doesn’t stand for anarchy. Rather, it is a reference to his last name, says Eric Abadie, whose sheep they are. Abadie is actually wearing a beret. “Why a French flag isn’t flying here? I’ll tell you. No garbage service, no Tricolore. They have forgotten about us up here.”
Perhaps it is the pure mountain air, but otherwise Abadie has a pleasingly laid-back attitude to the world and, in particular, to his country. “I have seen all of them ride by here: Armstrong, Ullrich, Pantani, Jalabert. First they were kings, and then frauds. That’s how it is everywhere. I can understand why everyone is now attacking our politicians. But we don’t have any others.”
Eymet (km 3,433). The landscape of southwestern France, leading up to the Pyrenees foothills, is peacefully empty, the population so sparse that it feels like one is traveling through northern Canada. One can see expensively renovated farmhouses and sprawling retirement homes—along with decaying walls covered in vegetation with cars up on blocks out front. Many of the villages seem to survive only on people trying to get away from it all.
“It’s less stressful here,” says Tracey Griffin. She is from Warwickshire and works behind the bar of the Café de Paris. With several flights a day to the British Midlands, starting at €40 one-way, tourism from the UK is substantial and, with many permanent residents as well, Eymet has come to distantly resemble Stratford-upon-Avon. Without the British, the town would be dead.
There is an English newspaper, called The Bugle, and a cricket team, known as the Dorking Dads. Tracey Griffin likes it here, citing the food and the people, and has improved her French. “No, the main square isn’t British,” she says. “That’s where the New Zealanders are.”
The town of Eymet is symptomatic. Peugeot is partly owned by Chinese investors, Renault is almost more Romanian and Japanese than it is French, the cement concern Lafarge is moving to Switzerland and Alstom’s energy division was just sold to General Electric.
In the last 20 years, French industry has lost more than a million jobs and soon, tourism will contribute half as much to the country’s economy as the entire manufacturing sector. An economic paper recently asked: “And what if France becomes the world’s amusement park?” It perhaps isn’t that far off: Last year, some 90 million tourists made their way to France, the Sick Man of Europe.
Evry (km 3,523). Manuel Valls was the mayor of Evry for 11 years, but now has his sights set on moving into the Elysée Palace, the presidential residence not far from the Champs-Elysées—where the Tour de France finishes. That, at least, is the gossip. In March, François Hollande had to promote his rival from the Interior Ministry, where he gained a reputation for steeliness, to his current position as prime minister.
Valls wants to lead France out of its depression with decisive reforms. Evry was his training ground.
Evry was one of the new cities of the future surrounding Paris, a model of statist urbanism. There are no smoldering cars here, the trash cans are emptied regularly and there are signs everywhere: “Human Rights Square,” “Citizens’ Street,” “Transport Assistance for the Elderly,” and even one kindly noting that “You Are Entering a Zone Under Video Surveillance.” It is as though the city is constantly whispering in your ear.
Evry has an ice-skating rink, schools, psychiatric services and a military recruitment office—”We actually have everything we need.” And yet Nelle Basse is missing something nonetheless. She is 33-years-old and works as a hair stylist in the mega-shopping center that serves as Evry’s downtown. Her husband speaks six languages, but has been unable to find a better job than as an Air France steward. Both want to move to Senegal, where they are originally from.
“The concierge in my building doesn’t like blacks. Yet she isn’t French either,” Basse says. “When we go visit my husband’s family in the countryside, they all want to touch my skin. That’s how it is.”
In France, every immigrant can become a citizen if he or she accepts the values and culture of the République Français. But that means little to Basse. “Republic? That is just a word, totally empty,” she says. “In the 15 years I have been living here, I haven’t made any friends. I greet the neighbors, but that’s it. Everyone keeps to themselves in the housing complex—the Congolese, the Arabs, those from Mali, everyone. People are so stressed out. Everyone feels safe, but so alone.”
Champs-Elysées, Paris (km 3,660.5). At 1 a.m., a conspicuously elegant man is rifling through newly published non-fiction at Publicis Drugstore, the 24-hour mecca of luxury retail. “What a great country, where you can write about what a complete idiot the president is,” the man says, holding up the book he is referring to.
Born in Belgium, Philippe Jean Crijns knows the Sarkozys and works in the cosmetics industry. His address is Avenue des Champs-Elysées 25, a palace that once belonged to the Marquise de Païva, the 19th century courtesan who married a relative of Otto von Bismarck. “In France, you don’t get elected president because the people want you, but because they want to get rid of someone else,” Crijns says.
Crijns points to a book that predicts a new revolution; the boulevard outside is packed with tourists. “Everyone loves France,” he says, “except the French.”
The next morning, a national holiday, Crijns stands on the balcony of the Païva Palace and watches the parade passing by below. Standing in one car, the president looks small, sandwiched as he is between military leaders, and he is followed by boos and whistling as he drives past. He wanted to be a “normal president,” but the people didn’t want normality. They want an exceptional president that is worthy of the populace. They want everything to get better and to stay the same.
“There are no crises,” says Crijns, “only changes. Nowhere else is there as much history as there is in France. Every step is painful. C’est évident.” It’s obvious.
On July 27, the Tour, as usual, will end with several laps around the Arc de Triomphe after passing by the Elysée Palace and the Place de la Concorde, home to a statue of a woman in front of which a king was beheaded in the winter of 1793. The event opened a wound that the country has never quite recovered from. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so passionate in its scorn of the normal citizen at the helm.