OMIP tackles French politics and the crook that goes with it!

Published in Carbon 14 N° 21

France is having a couple of elections this spring, and by the time you read this, the presidential episode will have passed, leaving only congressional contests to be disputed in June. (Presumably, you will be reading this before June.)
Meanwhile, the world is invited to wonder how and under what guise and following what odd logic, a quasi banana republic has managed to invite itself within the exclusive confines of the European Union.
What, France a banana republic? Verily, you jest.
Jacques Chirac, the presidential title-holder running for re-election, is one of the most corrupt and incompetent heads of state you're likely to run into at any G7/G8 meeting. Granted, Boris Yeltsin was significantly better in the graft-shakedown department, and he was a vodka-guzzling master (and you gotta love that in a head of state!), but the little gospodin is gone, and with him has departed a great deal of entertainment on the diplomatic front.
When Chirac appeared on the political scene, first as agriculture minister under Pompidou then as Prime Minister for Giscard in 1974, Richard Nixon was the criminal in charge of the White House and death squad around the world, Mao was fantasizing himself as the Divinely Anointed Emperor of the People's Republic of the Middle Kingdom, Harold Wilson was replacing Ed Heath as Prime Brit, and Leonid Brezhnev had his cronies blow into his face the cigarette smoke he could no longer directly inhale.
When Chirac became mayor of Paris a bit later, disco was a new thing, Saturday Night Fever was a cultural event of significant significance and Fleetwood Mac's Rumors was the end-all and be-all of rock 'n' roll.
Yet, it goes on.
During his second stint as prime minister, Chernobyl blew up, Halley's Comet returned, the US bombed Libya, and Irangate was making headlines as Ronnie Reagan (another great intellectual power worthy of his constituency) was winding up his second, er, presidency.
Yet, Chirac rolled on! Imagine having Wilbur Mills, Spiro Agnew, or Jerry Ford running in the 2004 election, having had a full and active political career in ALL these intervening years, making speeches, appearing on TV, depositing bribe-money in the Barbados National Bank, getting elected and re-elected and re-elected! Now you can imagine Chirac!
All this to say the French got themselves a ticky-tacky sticker with staying power, a true Teflon professional with the cash register know-how,
Another parenthesis to mention a lovely little peculiarity of the French electoral system: candidates need not reside in, nor have any connections whatsoever with the city, district, state, etc. where they seek election. The French are very impressed when, and if, a major TV-star politician presents himself for election in their little neck of the wood. In other words, they can be elected for different things in different places. Case in point: for years, Chirac was Mayor of Paris AND Deputy of Correze, a rural area in central France. It's as if Michael Bloomberg was both Mayor of New York City and US representative for the 2nd Congressional District of Alabama. At the same time! And for more than two decades!!
Why elect Joe Blow, when you can have the world-famous senior Senator from Massachusetts, Teddy Kennedy himself, as Mayor of Tucumcari?
It's been truly amazing to see the litany of revelations circling around Chirac, without the slightest effect on his poll standings. It's been essentially demonstrated, if not "proven" in a strict legal sense, that Chirac and his henchmen presided over a huge shakedown system when he was mayor of Paris.
— Construction and public-works companies had to pay out big chunks of cash to be able to get City Hall contracts after fake public bids, repairing elevators in the city's huge real estate park, maintenance and refurbishing of public schools...
— Public/private service companies were filing false expense billings and charges so as to justify the disappearance of millions (whether Francs, Euros or Dollars, it's a lot of money). And of course, the disappearance only affected taxpayers; Chirac and his hoys kept a good eye on the golden ball all the time!
— A great deal of prime Parisian real estate, {if you've visited Paris before, you know there's a great deal of that. Actually, most of Paris is prime, grade AAA real estate!) went to political cronies and friends and contributors and friendly journalists and judges and to whoever needed to be made a "friend" at the moment.
— Imagine yourself a politician running for office (I know it's a cruel test of imagination, but please indulge me for a moment): would you rather be elected with a 50.001% majority, beating out your hated opponent by a mere 12 votes in a ward with 100,000 registered-voters, or would you prefer a nice Stalinian 86% return for a full-house landslide-sweep the likes of which ain't been seen before? Yeah, likewise! The professional politician's choice, and the Chirac boys could and did deliver it with the help of non-existent, voters, dead voters (same thing), people voting in several wards with or (most often) without their own knowledge. The tricks are many and beyond the ken of mortal citizens.
— As Mayor of Paris Chirac used City employees and equipment to set-up Christmas lights and a manger in his congressional district 300 miles away, and run and fund local political offices there. It went on for years, all at Paris taxpayers' expense!
— As you can imagine, all of these shenanigans are in fact illegal, and have been investigated for years. And they still are as I type and you read this. Yet, to top it off, it's been amply demonstrated that the main investigative magistrate ("juge d'instruction," it's called here), one Eric Alphen, was continuously intimidated and threatened, with all possible obstacles put in the path of his investigations. A huge conspiracy involving several very official police agencies was set-up to bribe the magistrate's father-in-law with a suitcase full of cash so as to discredit him. In a famous instance, the police officers legally assigned to the case to assist him and execute his search warrants refused to do their duties and obey his legally binding orders, and consistently reported to their politically-appointed superiors each and every development in the investigation so that future targets of search-warrants could be warned in advance and "clean house."
Can you say South Philly? Can you say, "Bush in Florida?" Can you say banana republic? Knew you could! And you can now say: Chirac in Paris!
It went on and on and on, the wheels kept on turning, and the cash kept on flowing, and flowing, and flowing.
The false billing, fake charges for non-existent work (not) done by friendly contractors, the embezzling and hijacking of public monies... all that was nothing new and certainly not a monopoly of Chirac and his party, but in case of most other politicians no personal enrichment was involved, it was all done to finance electoral campaigns and feed the party's maw. Not so with Chirac: literally dozens of non-official personal trips to Japan and the US (via Concorde), numerous personal vacations with the family and friendly journalists at highly expensive palatial hotels in exotic locations (Mauritius Islands), personal grocery bills for him and his wife upward of a thousand dollars every day for years, with no bills or justification (and in many cases grossly manufactured fakes). All paid in cash from brimming suitcases.
This has been going on for years without a pip from the commercial media, and with police and the judiciary either unwilling to investigate or being browbeaten into submission. All this with final approval from the "Constitutional Council" (kind of a French Supreme Court) who ruled that a sitting President could only be indicted for high treason by a special court sitting for that occasion. Nothing else. Were the President to assassinate someone in full daylight in front of witnesses and TV cameras, he would be prosecuted for murder only AFTER leaving office. And if he got re-elected, that would be another five years before getting to see a judge.
Nice job, wouldn't you say?
Now, of course, it becomes obvious that Chirac needs to remain president to avoid any form of prosecution, hence his eagerness to be re-elected at all cost and with any and all promises to the electorate: more public services, more schools and cops, a raise for everybody, and a 30% cut in income taxes while maintaining budgetary balance and European Union public debt requirements.
You, or any private interest or lobby, want something? Anything? Chirac promises it. "Just vote for me and I'll do it!" Hey, I could do that too and run a country that way, if that's all it takes. The amazing thing is that it's working for Chirac. Or at least, it's not ruling him out. He is either tied with or ahead of his principal opponent, "socialist" (in name only) Lionel Jospin (a French Al Gore, except duller), in public opinion polls. Now of course, opinion polls are scientific nonsense. It is impossible to gauge a country's electoral results, or opinion about anything, out of a thousand-unit sample. Ask your statistician. But the media, whose great maw gulps polls of all kind by the ton, continued to dish them out and pretend it's all credible and a "precise snapshot of public opinion at a given time." May the farce be with your Gallup!
Chirac's continued survival and actual chance at re-election has proven to be stunning and impossible to believe for members of the foreign press corp, especially those coming from Scandinavian and Anglo-Saxon countries. Whether the allegations are true or not (and believe me, they are!), the mere suspicion would be enough to eliminate any given politician from running for office, or even of continuing to have a political life!
But not in France, and not with Chirac! You see, France is an ancient country, the oldest in Europe in fact, and the rot is deeply set. It's almost as if the French miss their King, and are happy to elect any regalian-looking professional, if he ''tawks" good with expensive words and a fine flourish. It will take a political earthquake, a social upheaval of great magnitude, a revolution and attendant bloodbath to cure those ills. Maybe.
PS: And it'll be Chirac, in all likelihood. This evening of April 21, 2002, at 9:30PM as I type this, first round results have Chirac the crook going against Jean-Marie Le Pen the neo fascist.

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