Thoughts

#070 French Elections I: Overseeing The Presidential Elections.

OVERSEEING THE FRENCH ELECTIONS

Note: This article reflects my personal opinions related to French politics and the elections.

In the past months, populism has been at its best: between the Brexit in the UK and the election of Trump in the US, fear started filling minds. As the French elections were coming closer, my German landlords started expressing what they ironically coined at “German Angst”, a mix of fear and anxiety. They were startled by the high scores of Marine Lepen in the polls and started believing that France was next. I sat for hours in the kitchen, trying to explain the French election system and its differences with the American one, while they would remind of the Weimar Republic. “France cannot tilt. If France does, then the EU is done.”, the wife would tell me, telling me that we had to be “responsible” for the rest of Europe. It became difficult for me to face the topic, as I felt that she was not listening to my explanations. “What good is there studying in an Institute for Political Science if, in the end, everyone has a strong opinion about politics and your knowledge about the political system and its leverage goes down the drain?”, I wondered, a bit annoyed, frustrated and hurt that she would ignore my prognostics.

And what were my prognostics?

  • The Socialist Party was done: Manuel Valls had decided not to respect the results of the primaries and did not endorse Benoît Hamon. The latter embodied the left-side of the Socialist Party, proposing important reforms (universal income, shut down of nuclear power plants and investment in green energies, etc.), but I felt that, in a way, it was too early to make such propositions. People did not feel that his Keynesian measures would be implemented, as they required an incredible financial effort. To which we would add fight against the nuclear village, fight against neoliberal international institutions and corporations, etc. He was not on the right track to begin with, even though he was endorsed by our current superstar, the economist Thomas Piketty. So, no Socialist Party.
  • The Conservative Party (Les Républicains) was caught up in a scandal thanks to its leader, François Fillon, the herald of the Christian (anti-gay rights/anti-abortion)  community, known as the “Manif pour tous” (Demonstration for All, an obviously misleading name). So, no Républicains.
  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon: originally part of the Socialist Party, he left a few years ago to join the Front de Gauche (Leftist Front) and presented himself in 2017 as an independent candidate. Many of his ideas were closed to the Socialist Party’s and some hoped for the two candidates to join forces, in order to block the road to the right wing parties, and especially to Marine Lepen. Certainly because of a reluctance to hold the Socialist Party’s hand, he refused to accept the offer from Benoît Hamon. He ended up with a fair score, but no Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

During the first round of the elections, the candidates above were eliminated, as two other candidates arrived first and second:

  • Le Front National : the now sadly famous party led by Marine Lepen is a legacy from her (racist/sexist/antisemitic) father, Jean-Marie Lepen. She kicked her father out of the party a few years ago, as he was voicing negationist ideas. She then became the head of the party and, thanks to her oratory skills and her image (relatively young, feminine, etc.) she helped normalize her xenophobe party.
  • En Marche ! : Technically, En Marche! is not a party, but a “movement”, which refuses the label of being “leftist” or “rightist”. Its founder, Emmanuel Macron, is a young (39) man who went through the royal path to power: degree of philosophy, Sciences Po, ENA, Inspection générale des finances, Rotschild, Ministry of Economy. A brilliant citizen.

Now, since Sunday evening, my landlords’ fears are put to rest: Emmanuel Macron has been elected President, with more than 60% of the votes. If you count abstention and blank ballots, it’s more 45%, but who cares, he will be in office. We escaped the Lepen dynasty and will still enjoy 5 years of relative peace. Maybe.

What I find interesting is that by looking at newspaper covers outside of France, the world seems euphoric. France did not give up and, as John Oliver hoped, it proved itself superior to the UK and US. Nevertheless, I believe that difficulties lie ahead of us. The reason why Lepen has still gathered more than 30% is alarming: 30% of people who expressed clearly their opinion decided to vote for a lady who wants to “make France great again” by expulsing migrants, refusing to welcome refugees, denigrating freedom of religion, etc. Moreover, an important number of people decided not to vote, either by not going at all or by casting a blank ballot (16 million people). To put it simply, 1 French person out of 4 decided to not go, at all. And among those people, I believe many felt that the 2 candidates were not representing their opinion/wishes, and they did not want to cast a vote for the “less worse” (we call it “vote utile”) as they did not endorse neither candidate. One of my landlords told me it was irresponsible, as everything should be done to avoid having Marine Lepen in office. I replied, trying to stay calm: “This is a real decision they make. They are expressing a profound discontent against the current political system. It is the proof of the existence of a deep political crisis, not irresponsibility.”

Among people who did not go to vote or did not cast a valid ballot, I guess we could fine many left-wing people who really believed in the social programs supported by Mélenchon and/or Hamon. They wanted a return to Keynesian policies, instead of deregulated globalization. They hoped for more state-sponsored initiatives, a better social safety net, public investments creating jobs, etc. But facing Lepen and Macron, they understood that their wishes would not be fulfilled. Lepen is promoting “national preference”, a politically correct word to talk about isolationism, while Macron is supporting more deregulation on the labor market. Both candidates have no desire to stop nuclear energy, nor to help modest families to make ends meet. Well, at least Macron did not express a will to get out of the EU. Yeah.

I personally believe that we should not express to much joy about those elections. We still need to stay focus until the end of the legislative elections, as Macron will not be able to govern without a stable majority at the Parliament. But what happens when a candidate does not belong to a party, and therefore has no clear allies in parliament? How will he organize his troops and will those be loyal? Many questions are still floating around, and we will not get an answer until June. Also, I believe that it will be important for Macron to understand that he actually gathered 43% of the votes, not 66%, meaning that he is in a delicate position. With 25% of French people who did not vote, he will have to prove that he is worthy of the task. And I do not believe that more economic deregulation, less taxes for the ones who can afford to pay them, or a more flexible labor market is the solution. French people are not like Germans, they will not quietly endure austerity, waiting for better days. Instead, they might choose to vote for Marine Lepen in five years. And then I do not believe that we will able to stop her anymore.

So, Emmanuel, good luck.

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#069

UBER: BETWEEN LIBERALISM AND PRECARIOUSNESS

When Uber appeared in France, it was a revolution. You could have a taxi ride for a lower price, no need to have cash on you and, le must, you generally had a nice driver and bottles of water. It seemed like a dream. With Uber Pool, you could have a ride for even cheaper and, sometimes, have interesting encounters. On the other side, it was said that this new way of working would allow people to get out of poverty, to find a job by self-employing themselves, to increase their monthly income, etc. But is it really the case?

These days, I wonder if I should even take a Uber ride. I think my dilemma is similar to the one concerning children working in Bangladesh. Should we stop those children from working, and therefore put an additional strain on their families’ financial difficulties, or should we let children bring a small income home, at the price of getting no proper education. Here, the dilemma is as follow: should we get on a Uber and help those drivers making a living, or should we strongly oppose this ultra-liberal, non protective, and from my point of view exploitative form of labor? The company would say they ‘only’ take 25% out of those drivers’ income. If they make 4 000 euros a month, that is still plenty of money. But it means that the company is putting aside all the running costs, pushed onto the drivers (buying a car, taking care of it, paying for insurance, parking and gas, etc.). According to Le Monde, after paying for running costs and taxes, the drivers making 4 000 euros (gross) are left with… 600 euros (net). Is that a correct income? I don’t think so.

Moreover, those drivers have almost no safety net. As they work as entrepreneurs, they are not covered by Uber in case of an accident. They cannot rely on anyone else when they are sick. This is an example of neoliberal economy pushed to a new extreme. But we are pretty much indifferent, because ‘if they did not have Uber, they would be jobless’. Many people do not understand why Uber drivers would be on strikes in France, but if you think that after working 40h a week (the legal limit for employed people in France in 35) you have 600 euros left, I think it’s understandable to see those drivers on the streets, demanding better working conditions. Especially when you see that Uber has made more than $5 billion in 2016. Uber, an amazing ‘start-up’, praised all over the world for it’s amazing growth, but built on people’s suffering. Is this right? I don’t think so.

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Thoughts

#068

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE ‘BIASED’?

Recently, I have strongly felt that many people will think that the research I do is “biased”: I am a left-wing, well-educated (almost) white girl from Europe, with a fair amount of social, cultural and economic capital. I write about a group of stigmatized people in Japan, coming from a region I did not even know before 3.11. I have a comfortable life, so it’s easy for me to go against the nuclear lobby, saying that their facilities are crap and that we should, as quickly as possible, shift for renewable energies. Yes, if electricity bills get a little more expensive, I will not suffer from it. Yes, I have enough spare time to think about what intensive agriculture does to our planet and the effects. Yes, I can take the time to think about why our societies are producing so many inequalities, spending hours the nose in books such as The Capital from Piketty. Yes, it’s easy to be critical when you have everything you need in life, when you do not need to worry about your next meal, and when you’re basically paid 3 years to write a thesis which will have no monetary value.

Since 3.11, I took a stronger stance against nuclear power. There is no accountability, no responsibility. In France, nuclear power plants are not entirely insured because they are not insurance-material. We have old facilities that, in case of an accident, could cause the contamination of a large part of the European continent (and of course, our neighbors can’t do a thing about it). There is no public debate, because it is too controversial. The companies invest tons of money in order to market their energy as green (at least since the 90s), as they surf on the “low-carbon” wave. Local communities? Well, they are profiting from those facilities, no? They accepted to have those facilities built there and they get money from it. So… Fukushima people are kinda responsible for what happened to them… right?

I read a lot about nuclear policies and nuclear facilities these days and I realize that what I read is mainly in accordance with my opinion, meaning that those papers and books are very critical of nuclear power in general. They generally incorporate concepts of governmentality and criticize market economy. In short, they fit very well with my worldview. So… does it mean that I am biased? Surely. And therefore it becomes difficult to have a calm, constructive discussion with people who tell me that “Fukushima people kinda deserve this, since they got money from TEPCO”.

I really have difficulties understanding this “rational-choice” vision of the world. “Fukushima people were poor. They accepted the nuclear power plants (F1 and F2) because they needed the money, and therefore they accepted the risks coming with those plants.” Is it this simple?

  1. When operators decide to construct a nuclear power plant, they first look for a very poor, countryside place, because it’s easier to make the population say yes if they are desperately in need of money. I am pretty sure that they minimize talks about risks.
  2. Operators are smart; when there is resistance, they know how to break it down. If you look at the French example, you see how operators started investing a lot of money into advertisement, communication, education, etc., in order to promote a proper understanding of radiations and nuclear power in general. This is also happening in Fukushima right now, with the publications of pamphlets and books, but also the construction of “information centers” and “radiation education” (by the State) explaining to ignorant, irrational citizens why radiation is great (again). That’s how EDF and the French state succeeded in marginalizing anti-nuclear activists in the late 70s, early 80s.
  3. Operators are rich (or at least they pretend to be); they know how to handle the media. Especially in the Japanese case, you see how TEPCO has invested an enormous amount of money in advertising in newspapers. The Yomiuri, Asahi, Mainichi, they all heavily rely on money coming from the energy industry. And then you expect a “fair” coverage of what is happening?

I am fascinated by inequalities in our societies. Someone told me: “I don’t understand the argument that inequalities are the reason why nuclear plants were built there. Those people accepted the plants!” You don’t see inequalities when you have a powerful actor constructing a (very dangerous) industrial facility in a poor region which lacks resources and state support? Really? Am I really so left-wing that I start seeing exploitation and power-relations everywhere? It seems so obvious to me that having nuclear power plants in very poor and peripheral regions is a sign that we use people’s misery to our own sake. You will never see a nuclear power plant in the middle of Paris or Tokyo. And even if they tried to build one of those, you would have intellectuals, manipulating their social, economic and cultural capital, standing in the way and, most certainly, winning. Because they have the power to do so. In Tohoku, one of the poorest region of Japan, with high levels of unemployment and suicide, people are on the other side of the power-relation. “Do you prefer staying out of employment, with basically very little money and no prospect for your children, or do you prefer that we build this (kinda risky) plant in your backyard in exchange of better local facilities, better schools and giving you pocket money on top of it?” Right now, in Aomori prefecture, they are building a very high-standard school near the very controversial Rokkasho facility. It’s trade: we give your children a great education and you shut up. This is NOT a fair exchange. And I don’t even know how people can think that this can be fair.

But again, I guess I must be terribly biased. Does this make my message less legitimate?

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Newspapers, Readings

#064

JAPAN COPES WITH CALAMITY, T. GILL, B. STEGER, D.H. SLATER

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I couldn’t help writing a short article when I read this in Japan Copes With Calamity (p.12): 

(…) on 15 March Prime Minister Kan Naoto paid a dramatic visit to the headquarters of TEPCO at 5.30 am to order the company not to withdraw its workers from the stricken plant, which the company had spoken of doing to protect the workers’ lives. That would have left the crippled reactors unmanned, with fuel rods exposed and cooling water evaporating – pushing Japan towards an unimaginably bigger disaster. On the same day, the government ordered those in the 20 to 30 kilometer ring to stay indoors (shitsunai taihi). Meanwhile the US government urged its citizens to get a least 80 kilometers away from the plant and the French government even advised its nationals in Tokyo, 250 kilometers away, to evacuate. This made the Japanese government’s evacuation plan look very inadequate to many Japanese when they learned of the very different evacuation standards declared by other countries, although of course applying the American or French standards to Japanese nationals would have been a logistical nightmare, because of the incomparably larger numbers of people involved and the fact that, unlike most foreigners, they did not necessarily have anywhere else to go.

So, the FRENCH government asked its citizens to evacuate from Tokyo, 250 kilometers away from Fukushima Daiichi? Now, I’m curious to know what will happen when an accident happens on its own territory. Will you ask people living as far as 250 kilometers away from Fessenheim to evacuate? Or will you try to minimize the number of evacuees and to control risk perception to avoid having the whole EUROPE freaking out? I really wonder. Of course, I understand that you want to avoid having your nationals risk their health when they’re abroad, but then you should apply the same logic at home instead of being a hypocrite. I want to believe that they are looking at what is happening in Japan to avoid repeating the same mistakes but positive thinking doesn’t really help in here.

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#028

L’ISLAM EN FRANCE VU PAR LES RUSSES
Le Figaro TV, 27.01.2015

Your country may have a different image then the one you have once you go abroad. We felt this strongly after the attack on Charlie Hebdo. I watched, half laughing, half annoyed, Fox News reporting on Islam in France. Frankly, when the journalist said that Paris made him think of Iraq or Afghanistan, I did not know what to think, especially when I saw the map of Paris supposedly representing “no-go zones” in the French capital. So, what you say is that Poissonnière is a Muslim neighborhood? You do no need much research (if you know a little about Europe) to realize that in our cities, downtown neighborhoods are becoming more and more expensive, meaning that poor people are being dragged out of Paris intra muros, and live in suburbs (les banlieues, as he says). But again, les banlieues also comprised really rich suburbs, like Neuilly, where you would rarely see a not white person. It is also true that in some neighborhoods, the police and firemen are not welcomed. And it was the case during 2005 riots (the images they use are from 2005, not from 2015!). Anyway, to say, Fox News’s journalist eventually had to apologize, after French people sent complains about this really badly done report.

But now, there is much funnier. Russian TV is also reporting on France, Islam and terrorism. For some reason, they try to make Russian people believe that France has been overtaken by Muslim people and that Paris is becoming a huge Muslim community. Hey guys, are you really journalists? I’m not sure about that… I understand that showing big figures is always better and helps selling information. But here, it is not even playing on real figures and making them say what you want to, it’s simply lying. And that is… meh…

France is welcoming a great number of Muslim people. It is not a reason to fear them. In many neighborhoods, people cohabit peacefully. France has a long colonial history (not that we should be proud of it, but…) which created special links with certain Muslim countries. Some other countries do not have such a past. For Russia, is more about stepping on (or being friend with, I don’t know how to say that) Slavic neighbors. A chacun son truc. I am getting sick of this discourse trying to make people fear Islam. If some Muslim people are extremists, it is also the case with Christian people or Jewish people. I think it is really time to stop stigmatizing one population because of a few crazy bastards. Let’s be smarter than that.

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Listening to: Davichi – 또 운다 또 (Cry Again)

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#006

CLASSEMENT PISA : RIEN NE VA PLUS À L’ÉCOLE
Maryline Baumard, Le Monde, 14.12.03

Apparently, France has dropped again in the PISA ranking. Seriously, it is not a big deal. We lost 2 spots, while Asia just took over the 7 first ones. It is much more interesting to look into the social implications hidden behind the numbers. France has a some serious problems:
1/ The quality of education varies a lot, depending on where you live. Therefore, the results are also extremely different. It is better to go to a posh high-school in Paris 6ème if you want to get into Sciences Po Paris, no doubt.
2/ France has a very elitist and socially reproductive education system. The ones that have an important social, economic and cultural capital generally succeed while the less favored do not have the same chances of succeeding.
3/ French students suffer from stress and anxiety, in a meritocratic system that ostracized less talented kids.

But what is also extremely interesting is to read people’s comment. Especially on newspapers that you would normally not read. I was looking at comments on Le Figaro (why did I do that to myself?) and got horrified. How racist are people? Really? Our ranking got worse because of all those bloody illiterate immigrants, who also steal our jobs (tell me how they do that, if they can’t even read…) and make us feel that France is not France anymore. I know that it is much easier to find a scapegoat and to avoid looking at the reality. But this makes me nauseating. Just disgusting. Also, I am pretty impressed by how bad is the grammar of some of the people posting about education. Just saying.

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Listening to: Block B – HER

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