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French press review 10 March 2011


Communist newspaper l'Humanité and business daily Les Echos both have the same front-page story about French company profits in 2010, but they don't deal with the facts in quite the same way.


The Les Echos headline could not be more straightforward. It reads: "The top 40 French companies doubled their profits in 2010." With 83 billion euros in profits, the leading lights on the Paris stock exchange are making the sort of money they used to churn out in the pre-crisis days of 2006 or 2007 - which is very good news for shareholders.

The communists are having none of it. L'Humanité's headline calls the top companies "robbers", saying they have made their profits at the expense of job losses, wage cuts, and by undermining real economic growth. The trade union's fifth-placed profit maker, the national gas company, say the spare money should be used to reduce the price of gas by 8% and increase the salaries of the group's 200,000 employees by 10%. This could be achieved with just one-quarter of the money, which the gas company will pay to its shareholders this year.

There are French presidents a-plenty on the front page of Le Monde.

The current one, Nicolas Sarkozy, is struggling according to the centrist paper. His freefall in the opinion polls, despite television apperarances, plus a new, serious image and several cabinet reshuffles, means that Sarkozy may be dumped as a candidate by his own party.

He is now trying to claw his way back up the political mountainside by trying to boost consumer spending power, control house prices and make the tax system at least look a bit fairer to the less well-off.

Then there's former French president Jacques Chirac, who earlier this week managed, once again, to slip through the greasy fingers of the French judicial system.

Jacques is suspected of having diverted public funds when he was mayor of Paris, creating an army of non-existent civic employees whose very real salaries went into the coffers of Chirac's RPR party and helped finance his election campaigns. The alleged misdeeds date back to the 1980s and the broad facts are already very well known, since several other public figures - like current Foreign Minister, Alain Juppé - have already been tried and punished for their part in the affair.

But Jacques has managed to stay ahead of the game for more than twenty years now, and looks good for permanent impunity. It's all legal, says Le Monde, but that doesn't make it right. And the whole affair will just help to convince the disadvantaged that the gap between rulers and the ruled is real and ever-widening.
Our old friend Donald Rumsfeld is back in the news. You remember, the guy who was George Bush's Defence Secretary back in the days when the world needed saving from Saddam Hussein and all those weapons of mass destruction?

Well, not to be out-done by his former boss, the Bushman, whose 700-page biography is currently being used to torture suspected terrorists. Rumsfeld has published his own memoir, 816 pages, plus an internet site where you can read the great man's memos to his staff, his instructions to the guy who irons his shirts and his shopping list at Wal-Mart. That's what some people would consider a real weapon of mass destruction!

The book is called "Unknown Unknowns", a reference to one of Rumsfeld's most famous press conferences in which he explained that, in any given situation, there are things that decision-makers know, things they don't know, and crucially, things they don't know that they don't know.

On Saddam's non-existent weapons, Rumsfeld says the United States did not lie but that the administration simply made a mistake. This will come as small consolation to those who lost their lives in Iraq as a result.

The debate sparked by the ever-growing popularity of the extreme-right National Front party here in France has inspired a reaction from the former Justice Minister, Robert Badinter.

He was on a sister radio station earlier this week lamenting the way in which France's six million Muslims have been "stigmatised, isolated" by the empty debate on national identity. Badinter says that the fears and stupidity being manipulated by the current government in its efforts to reassure decent middle-class French citizens are simply and massively contributing to the rise and rise of Marine Le Pen and her xenophobic followers. He repeats the phrase of an un-named public figure who recently spoke of "French citizens of Muslim origin," saying it reminds him of similar expressions used for French Jews in the 1940s, and pointing out that confusing religious affiliation with national origin is dangerous nonsense.

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