As some of you old timers may recall, the Lupins, then in their mid-50ies, moved from LA to a small village in the South of France in 2005. (This is to provide context.) While enjoying my breakfast (bread and cheese, local grape juice, tea with and honey) I read the local / regional paper (L'INDEPENDANT), and occasionally I share some of my musings here when I think a small story highlights the contrasts between France and the United States.
Today, I came across two such stories which I thought were worth a diary.
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STORY #1: WITH A WHIMPER, NOT A BANG.
On the economic page -- yes, there's only one page, and half of is stock market quotes -- five small articles. The two lead pieces are about the Slovaks' contribution (or not) to the European Support Fund, and -- surprise! -- "US SENATE REJECTS OBAMA'S JOB BILLS". It's mostly factual, probably taken from a wire, and mentions all Republicans plus two Democrats voted against, despite the President's vigorous campaign.
Then there's a slightly smaller article about the UK's dismal economic results and two even smaller articles, one about French nuclear engineer company Areva getting a billion euro contract in Brazil ("Hey, do we build anything anymore?" I think, reading it, "or are the Chinese building stuff for us?") and, finally, and this is the point of the story: "INCREASE ON EXCEPTIONAL TAX ON HIGH INCOMES."
Fifteen lines, 1-1/2 inches to report blithely that the UMP -- President Sarkozy's reigning party -- in other words THE RIGHT !!! -- put into effect a new special tax of 3% on incomes between 250K and 500K euros and 4% above 500K euros. The article claims the tax will bring an additional 410 million euros, and the number of taxpayers impacted will go up (from the previous tax on high incomes) from 7000 to 25,000 households.
I don't recall seeing any brouhaha about this, no inane drivel on TV about class warfare, no moronic protests to support the Rich. This is not the LEFT which is doing this; it is the RIGHT; and it's not even deemed controversial.
There may be more to it than that, but I found myself pretty stunned, and thinking, "this is what sane politicians do," and despite the macroeconomic doomsday bullshit one reads in the English papers, "the French will be all right."
STORY #2: THE FAUX PINOT SCANDAL
That one is the partial culmination of an important local legal battle that's not over yet, since the Parties are taking it to the French Supreme Court next -- the Appellate Court's Decision made the Page 1 headlines in today's paper -- but I thought it was interesting enough to report it.
In order to summarize the case in a simple, yet entertaining fashion, I will take the liberty of creating a small script:
ACT 1 - THE SOUTH OF FRANCE - THE PINOT REGION OF LANGUEDOC - SOON AFTER THE RELEASE OF THE MOVIE "SIDEWAYS" IN AMERICA.
Enter GALLO and CONSTELLATION (G & C) stage right.
G & C - Good morning, Mr. French Wine Grower.
FRENCH WINE GROWER (FWG) - Good morning, Messieurs. What can I do for you?
G & C - Since "Sideways", Americans have discovered a taste for Pinot.
FWG - This is good news indeed.
G & C - We're here to buy Pinot. Lots of it.
FWG - This is even better news.
G & C - We want a gazillion barrels, but are only prepared to pay two cubits per barrel.
FWG - But Messieurs, our entire region only produces a quarter of a gazillion, and our production costs are at least three cubits a barrel.
G & C - If you don't find a way to accommodate us, we'll find an Algerian Wine Grower who will, and you will have lost all those cubits.
FWG (wringing its hands) - But Messieurs what can I do...
G & C (winking) - Perhaps you can find a way to provide us with another decent wine which we could sell in America under a Pinot label, hypothetically, of course.
FWG - Mon Dieu, what to? What to do?...
ACT 2 - THE OFFICES OF FWG, A FEW YEARS LATER.
Enter FRENCH BUREAUCRAT.
BUREAUCRAT - Monsieur Wine Grower, I am here to inspect your books.
FWG - You must be mistaken, Monsieur, this is a cheese factory.
BUREAUCRAT - Do not mock me, Monsieur, or I will return with the Gendarmes.
FWG (sighing) - Very well. Follow me. The books are here.
BUREAUCRAT (after looking at the books) - But Monsieur, what do I see? You are selling four times more Pinot than the entire region produced. This is fraud!
FWG (wringing its hands) - Please, Monsieur, the client knows everything. The wine is excellent for the price. It has been tasted by professionals; no one has complained; not one single complaint!
BUREAUCRAT - But is not Pinot, is it?
FWG (resigned) - It is not.
BUREAUCRAT (blowing in a whistle) - Therefore it IS fraud. You are under arrest!
The GENDARMES arrive and take FWG away.
ACT V3 - THE APPELLATE COURT IN MONTPELLIER, TODAY.
LAWYER FOR THE DEFENDANT - But how could this be fraud when the alleged victim was not only aware of what it bought, but in fact encouraged my clients to do exactly what they did; and further has received no complaint about the quality of the product sold.
PROSECUTOR - It is fraud because you stated in your invoices and export documents that you sold Pinot and it was not.
CHIEF JUDGE - We affirm the decision of the Lower Court. All the defendants are condemned to sentences of between 3 and 9 months of suspended jail time plus fines ranging from 5000 euros to 30000 euros and 150,000 euros for the lead defendant.
LAWYER FOR THE DEFENDANT - We shall appeal!
To be continued.
What I take from this is that the rapacious and unethical nature of American businesses have once again contaminated and possibly destroyed local lives, just as Goldman Sachs had its grubby fingers right in the midst of the Greek financial crisis, Monsanto keeps using its political clout and money to force its GM crops on European farmers despite studies that have found evidence of health hazards (link), or Global Warming deniers funded by US money come here to obfuscate the issues.
Yes, it is true that our wine growers should not have yielded to the siren songs of Gallo and Constellation, and should not have committed fraud (technically) and instead they should have let Gallo and Constellation buy their wine in Algeria. So I think the French Court is right. Karma is a bitch.
But then again Gallo and Constellation could have bought real Pinot, at a fair price, and not swindled their own customers just to make more money, ruining a few French lives in the process. Don't tell me we come across as the "good guys" in this instance. Indeed the conspicuous absence of both Gallo and Constellation was noted in the court proceedings, but since it is not the French Court's job to protect the US consumers, that matter will have to be settled in California or somewhere else in the US.
The morale is this: no ethics, no conscience, no respect for the growers or the consumers. This sucks.