The French-American Foundation Weekly Brief

The French-American Foundation Weekly Brief


Following major political setbacks at home, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made his first visit to the White House in more than a year on Tuesday, March 30. The two leaders discussed sanctions against Iran, and sat down on Tuesday night for dinner with their wives and interpreters. Other topics discussed included the financial regulatory overhaul and Middle East peace talks. The visit was described as “chummy” by Reuters, following earlier speculations that relations had cooled between the two leaders. On the subject of Iran, Obama said he and Sarkozy are “inseparable”, according to the Associated Press.

On Wednesday, March 31, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde attended a German cabinet meeting in Berlin, joining in discussions on a new bailout fund for banks.  Both France and Germany said bank levies should be imposed internationally to ensure an even playing field and more fairness for all parties; the countries also called for national bank restructuring rules to be embedded within a European framework. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble will attend the French cabinet meeting in Paris next week.

French oil giant Total SA lost its appeal on Tuesday, March 30, to overturn the 2008 ruling that faulted the company  for maritime pollution and ordered it to pay a € 375,000 ($505,000) fine, following the 1999 oil spill off the coast of Brittany. According to Business Week, in France’s worst ever such disaster, the tanker Erika split in two due to severe rust damage, spewing its content along the coastline. The Italian company that inspected the vessel, the ship’s Italian owner and the head of the Italian company that operated the Erika, also had their convictions upheld.

A new study released by the French-American Foundation and Sciences-Po in Paris offers the first conclusive evidence that there is religious discrimination in the French labor market. In a report  entitled “Les Français musulmans sont-ils discriminés dans leur propre pays? Une étude expérimentale sur le marché du travail, “ researchers led by Stanford Professor David Laitin successfully isolate religion as the source of anti-Muslim discrimination in France from discrimination that may be caused by a “country effect” related to the North African origins of most French Muslims. Laitin explained in an op-ed published in the International Herald Tribune that the results clearly reveal that anti-Muslim discrimination in at least “one sector of the white-collar French labor market” is clearly holding back Muslim economic success in France.

United States

President Barack Obama unannounced visit. During the trip, Obama pressed Afghan leader Hamid Karzai on issues of corruption within his government.  There have been greater tensions between the United States and Afghanistan, following this past summer’s disputed election, which according to the New York Times, observers say were plagued by fraud. The president also took the opportunity to rally U.S. troops at Bagram air base and to thank them for their service.  Earlier this year, Obama pledged an additional 30,000 soldiers to Afghanistan.

President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday, March 31, plans to ease a ban on off shore drilling. The news was attacked by Republicans as not going far enough and by environmentalists as going too far. Under the proposal, limited drilling for oil and gas will be allowed off the coast of Virginia, with a possible expansion to other Atlantic sites. Some plans for drilling in Alaska would be canceled, with one still going forward. According to the New York Times, the president said the proposal “would balance the need to produce more domestic energy while protecting natural resources.” However, Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club contends the move will only harm eco-systems, while doing nothing to lower gasoline prices.

On Tuesday, March 30, nine members of a rightwing Christian militia were charged with planning to kill police officers and to wage war against the United States government. Eight members of the Michigan based-militia were arrested in raids Saturday with a ninth apprehended on Tuesday. According to the New York Times, the Justice Department alleges the group, named Hutaree, hoped the killings of police officers would inspire an uprising across the country, which would topple the government. In a statement on their website, the Hutaree claim that they are preparing to defend themselves against the antichrist, as prophesied in the book of Revelations.

The New York Times reported on Wednesday, March 31, that more than two months after Haiti was rocked by an earthquake, at least 30 Haitian refugees remain locked up in U.S. detention centers. None have criminal histories, but when they landed in the U.S. without visas, they were taken into custody by immigration authorities and held for deportation.  However, deportations to Haiti have been suspended indefinitely since the earthquake. Following an inquiry by the New York Times,a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement said detainees were “being processed for release.”

On Wednesday, March 31, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that the National Security Agency (NSA) acted illegally when it eavesdropped on the phone conversations of two American lawyers and an Islamic charity. The Bush Administration secretly authorized the surveillance program shortly after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The program, which lasted until 2007, allowed NSA officials to bypass the courts and to intercept electronic communications thought to be connected to terrorist organizations. U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker said in the ruling that the plaintiffs are entitled to damages.The Justice Department responded that it is studying the ruling and has made no decision on whether to appeal.

Scott Roeder was sentenced to life in prison on Thursday, April 1, for the slaying of Dr. George Tiller. Tiller, one of the few doctors in the United States to perform late-term abortions, was gunned down by the radical anti-abortion activist in the foyer of a Wichita church last May. Roeder, who admitted his guilt, was convicted of murder in January 2010.

Business and Economy

Representatives of Altria Group Inc., Lorillard Inc. and Reynolds American Inc. defended their tobacco products on Wednesday, March 31, before a Food and Drug Administration panel arguing that the minty additive put in menthol cigarettes does not make their products more alluring and addictive. The panel is attempting to determine how to regulate menthol cigarettes, which according to the Wall Street Journal, account for approximately one-third of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market. The main question being debated is whether menthol cigarettes are different from traditional cigarettes, and, if so, should menthol be banned as other tobacco flavorings already are.

On Tuesday, March 30, the New York Times reported that Yahoo has aggressively begun hiring more traditional and online journalists, in an effort to increase its original news content and profit margin. The web company has even opened a bureau in Washington DC at a time when most major American news outlets are shutting down their own bureaus. Yahoo is already the most visited news site on the Internet.

On Saturday, March 27, sports drink-maker Gatorade announced that it will end its partnership with professional golfer Tiger Woods. The news comes after the sex scandal-plagued athlete recently made a public apology and announced his return to professional golf. A spokeswoman for Gatorade was quoted by the BBC saying, “We no longer see a role for Tiger in our marketing efforts and have ended our relationship… We wish him all the best.” 

To mark April Fool’s day, on Thursday, April 1, Internet giant Google changed its name to Topeka, to honor the Kansas city that had changed its name to Google for the month of March. According to a release on Google’s site, “Early last month the mayor of Topeka, Kansas stunned the world by announcing that his city was changing its name to Google. We’ve been wondering ever since how best to honor that moving gesture. Today we are pleased to announce that as of 1AM (Central Daylight Time) April 1st, Google has officially changed our name to Topeka.” Topeka, Kansas made the temporary change in a bid to land Google’s experimental ultra-high-speed broadband project. In past April Fool’s jokes, Google had claimed it will print and send emails via the U.S. Postal Service and that it would sell a beverage called “Google Gulp” which would optimize one’s use of the search engine.

On Wednesday, March 31, French President Nicolas Sarkozy made clear to his fellow Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) members that his tax shield is off limits. In 2007, Sarkozy capped taxes for individuals at a maximum rate of 50% of incomes. The shield has long been criticized by members of the left, but it is believed that last month’s election losses have inspired the UMP to also question the value of the tax scheme.


At least 39 people were killed and more than sixty injured in two suicide attacks on the Moscow Metro, on Monday, March 29. On Wednesday, Chechen rebels claimed responsibility, according to CNN. As authorities continue to look for more suspects, the Russian republic of Dagestan was also rocked Wednesday with two more attacks, this time killing 12 people and injuring at least 24, including some police officers. The north Caucus region has been the site of fighting between Muslim separatists and the Russian state for over two centuries.

On Wednesday, March 31, Serbia’s parliament passed a resolution apologizing for the 1995 execution of thousands of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. According to the BBC, this was the largest mass killing in Europe since World War II. The move, passed with a majority of two, acknowledged Serbia should have done more to prevent the killings, which were carried out by Bosnian Serb forces. The BBC reports that Serbia remains heavily divided on the issue, with many feeling it is unfair to place blame only on Serbs without also noting crimes by Bosnians and Croatians during the war.

The United States and European Union pledged more than $2 billion in aid to Haiti, at a UN aid conference, Wednesday, March 31. The funds are to go towards a $4 billion project proposed by the Haitian government to rebuild infrastructure over the next 18 months.  The initiative which was developed by Haitian urban planners, calls for a radical transformation of the island from one dominated by a single metropolis, to a country with many smaller cities. According to the New York Times, the hope is to spread population centers away from areas at risk from future earthquakes.

On Tuesday, March 30, it was announced that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party and its Northern League ally won 6 out of 13 regions being contested in local elections. Four of the regions were won from the center-left opposition, which now controls seven districts, down from 11. The Northern League (NL) has come under fire for its anti-immigration policies. NL leader Umberto Bossi, was quoted in the BBC stating, “The left no longer exists in the north.” While only a regional vote, according to the New York Times, the results were widely seen as a test of Berlusconi’s popularity two years into his five-year term.

On Wednesday, March 31, a Belgian parliamentary committee voted unanimously to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil or burqa. The issue will be voted on by the full Parliament in late April. Under the proposed law, those who violate the ban can face fines of €15 to €25 or even one to seven days in jail. If enacted, the law will make Belgium the first European country to impose such a restriction. Currently France and the Canadian province of Quebec are considering less comprehensive versions of the ban.



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