France Gets Rewired

photo: cafe du commerce

The 'Commerce' is a popular, low-priced restaurant.

The 'Morning-After' Pill Goes To School

Paris:- Sunday, 9. January 2000:- The week began with more than 400,000 households in France without electricity, and with about 400,000 having no telephone service.

At this weekend, two weeks after the first storm, only 50,000 households are still without power and another 100,000 are without phones. Also this weekend, two areas still do not have drinking water, affecting 1150 households.

Two departments, Limoges still lacking power and Brive still lacking fresh water to some households, werephoto: metro emile zola also the longest without mainline train operations. These departments are two of five to the southeast of Bordeaux that may have been hardest hit.

Put another way, these adjacent departments are taking the longest to be put back to normal, after suffering a one-two punch of wind and floods. At the height of the crises, 3.7 million households were without power throughout France.

Winter-grey streets, dimly-lit and warm métro.

Heavy oil is still leaking from the wreck of the Erika and landing on French beaches from south Finistère, to Morbihan and the Vendée. The harvest of oysters at La Bemerie-en-Retz and Les Moutiers-en-Retz has been halted because of the pollution.

To clean the beaches, volunteers were called for and they showed by the busload. Each attempt to mechanize the effort has come up short, so the most effective method to date is to do it by hand. TV images shows black messes that look like ugly, silly-glue.

Politicos At the Front

When the storms struck, most leading politicians were on holidays; some outside France. The Minister for the Environment, Dominique Voynet, showed up first, to inspect threatened beaches.

For taking five days to get from the Indian Ocean, she was somewhat criticized. As a government minister, she was in constant telephone contact with her ministry - but could not do more 'on the spot' than she was already doing.

At the time, I wondered about the whereabouts of the Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and France's President, Jacques Chirac. Without a great deal of criticism, they showed up later and are now all over the place.

Meanwhile, Le Parisien published poll results, that show the Prime Minister with a global positive approval rating of 64 percent, with 80 percent of those polled thinking he is competent.

All recent polls of this type have shown the Prime Minister in a nearly equal position with the president, and this is probably unchanged.

However, where the oil spill is concerned, a majority think its containment has been poorly managed by the government.

Day after day, TV-news has relentlessly reported failure after failure to contain the spill, and its advance to French beaches has been slow, steady and unstoppable.

There was a fleet of ships that tried to capture the Erika in some way. There has been countless attempts tophoto: les 3 as tavern pump the sludge directly out of the sea. Barricades were put in place and the storms blew them askew. Armies of civil servants and volunteers are doing all they can - but it appears to be an unavoidable disaster.

Transplanted Nevada gambling joint is actually a Paris café.

To show that this is a 'can't win' situation, Gabriel Cohn-Bendit criticized the Green Party's Environment Minister in Libération, saying that she succeeded in transforming an ecological catastrophe into a political one for the party.

Worse though, was the failure to show up at all, of his brother, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. Then the hardline leftist went on to praise the Prime Minister and the Ministers for transport and fishing.

Which means, if a politician, they have to show their faces at disaster scenes - regardless of what they actually do at them. Gabriel Cohn-Bendit knows his hardball politics.

France Adds Up the Bill

Last Tuesday Le Parisien did its sums and presented 'l'addition' under the headline, "75 Milliards !" This is about 11.5 billion dollars and Le Parisien says it is a historical record. Later in the week Le Monde did its sums too and arrived at a total of about 45 billion francs.

And this is without calculating losses to companies and individuals - of lost production, lost sales, lost revenues and lost wages.

The umbrella re-insurance groups think their bill will be 25 billion francs; but the state isn't insured for its roads wrecked, monuments damaged and forests flattened.

Despite having to pay out a heavy nut, the insurance companies see a great opportunity to raise their premiums - and for decades to come. They always fail to remember premiums already paid, for past decades.

The finance ministry can't put a figure on what the taxpayer will end up paying. It merely suggests that repairing the damage will not be unfavorable for the economy. The Paris Bourse took off early in the week, with heavy buying seen for the building materials concerns.

This sounds kind of rosy but it is not seen this way by individual farmers who have seen years-worth of work blown away in a few hours. Householders who have had all their personal belongings destroyed by water and mud, will not receive any compensation for sentimental values.

Residents who saw 2000 arrive without power, light, heat, or TV will not be compensated. All the volunteers who spent their holidays picking up oily sludge off public beaches for everyone's benefit, will not be compensated. No insurance is going restore the 88 lives lost.

Le Parisien says the bill will be divided between the state and the insurance companies, and perhaps, by residents. Le Parisien, as 'popular' as is tries to be, cannot figure out that taxpayers and residents pay for everything - always.

In the four-page 'who pays the bill' feature, I cannot find out how Le Parisien arrived at the idea that the amount of damage inflicted on France is an historical record.

Storm Profiteers

In France this week, if you have the only chainsaw in town then you have a golden future for as long as it lasts. For one resident in Yvelines, having two cedars cut into logs in a little less than two hours cost 4850 francs.

He was left with them, plus the stump with the roots still in the ground. Wanting total removal, he was told that the contractr had 'more interesting things to do' - unless the hapless homeowner wanted to pay another 4850 francs to have the job completed.

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