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Saturday, 24 September 2016

Christine Boutin’s latest Twitter gaffe - lacking dignity and class

You know some people (politicians in particular) should not be allowed anywhere near a microphone. It only encourages them to utter the most absurd ideas in the mistaken belief that they’re making sense.

Similarly they should think twice - nay thrice - before allowing themselves to share the benefit of their “thoughts” on social media platforms.

Nadine Morano springs to mind. A classic example of someone who’s “good” for a soundbite although many would probably wish she were less of a buffoon.

And then there’s Christine Boutin.


Another “serial offender”.

(caricature of) Christine Boutin “La vache qui prie” - although there’s none of the “tendrement conne” in her latest Tweet (screenshot from Canal + Le Grand Journal video, February, 2016).

Yes, the ex-housing minister and founder and former president of the Christian Democratic Party, well-known for her opposition to civil partnership (for two men or two women) and same-sex marriage (and currently appealing a fine for having said that homosexuality was an “abomination”) has taken to the Twittersphere with her usual “panache”.

This time around though, there’s none of the eye-rolling “here she goes again” reaction. Rather she has committed what many consider to be a monumentally offensive gaffe.

As you might know the former French president, Jacques Chirac, has been hospitalised.

The 83-year-old reportedly has a lung infection, the most recent in a series of health scares.

His wife, Bernadette, has also been admitted, suffering from exhaustion.

A number of French politicians, including the front runners for Les Républicains primary Alain Juppé and Nicolas Sarkozy, as well as the current French president, François Hollande, have “expressed their support” for Chirac and his wife.

Enter stage right Boutin, finger-twitching presumably to announce in just three words on Twitter the death of Jacques Chirac - remembering to use the hashtag of course!

And how did she react when faced with the obvious truth that she had got it all wrong (yet again).

By defending herself in claiming that the information had come from “ a reliable source” and that she had shared it because, in her words, “I think the French are waiting for it, as shown by the buzz it has generated.”

Nothing like an apology!

And Boutin’s response was nothing like and apology.

What class.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Friday’s French music break - Cyril Mokaïesh & Bernard Lavilliers, “La loi du marché”

There’s no doubt about it. This week’s choice for Friday’s French music break is a heartfelt piece of social and political commentary (and that’s not hyperbolising) with a haunting melody and powerful lyrics that would leave only the most insensitive, indifferent.

Inspired by Stéphane Brizé’s award-winning 2015 drama “La Loi du marché” (“The Measure of a Man”) for which Vincent Lindon (deservedly) won Best Actor at last year’s Cannes film festival and a César (the French equivalent of the Oscar) in 2016, Cyril Mokaïesh’s song of the same name sees him pair up with another politically engaged artist, albeit from another generation, Bernard Lavilliers.

And the combination of Mokaïesh (31) and Lavilliers (69) is a stroke of genius.

As is the clip which accompanies the song, directed by none other than Brizé, the man who made the film.

Cyril Mokaïesh (screenshot from official video of “La loi du marché”)

Bernard Lavilliers (screenshot from official video of “La loi du marché”)

“ ‘La Loi du marché’ (the film) marks a moment in our history,” Mokaïesh said in an interview with Le Huffington Post.

“It’s about the difficulty of contemporary existence , the fierce world of work and its injustices.”

So moved was he by the “poetic nature” of the film that Mokaïesh wanted to “make his own contribution”, and in particular express the,“difficult lived of migrants and the way in which society had become dysfunctional” without neglecting structural and social issues in France of course.

You see, a world and-a-half removed from what many other artists have to offer.

“There is no song that can change the course of events,” he said.  “But there is a chance that it (a song) can reveal feelings and unite forces.”

The (overwhelmingly positive) reaction to the song on Mokaïesh’s Facebook page might well be from those who have already been converted to his music and his message. But there’s a strength in both the lyrics and performance that’s undeniable. And Brize’s video clip complements it perfectly.

Maybe there is hope that Mokaïesh’s sentiments, as idealistic as they most definitely are, might be heard by some who are not necessarily natural listeners of his music.

Anyway, here’s a triple recommendation for you.

Firstly, if you haven’t already, try to see Brizé’s film (the first clip below is the trailer): it’s touching and troubling and, needless to say, Lindon is just magnificent.

Secondly, take a listen to (and a look at) Mokaïesh and Lavilliers’ joint “contribution” (the second clip below).

And finally, read the lyrics (in French). “Real” poetry.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

François Hollande named “Statesman of the year”


Say what?

That’s surely the only way to react to the news that the French president, François Hollande, has been honoured as International Statesman of the Year.

The prize, which is awarded by the New York-based interfaith Appeal of Conscience foundation recognises “individuals who support peace, prosperity, liberty and promote tolerance, human dignity and human rights, both in their own countries and internationally through cooperation with other leaders”.

François Hollande (screenshot from Le Monde/Reuters video of acceptance speech)

Right, that’s the news angle, and maybe the international community knows something the French don’t. But does Hollande really merit the award?

After all poll after (endless) poll in this country only emphasises Hollande’s unpopularity with the electorate at home and the frustration there has been with his seemingly trademark “waffling” approach to governing.

As Hollande’s five years near their end, what have been the highlights of his term in office?

In no particular order:

Julie Gayet and the scooter.
The ceremonious (and acrimonious) dumping of not-quite first lady Valérie Trierweiler
Ace government appointments such as Jérôme Cahuzac (the minister of economy, charged with fighting tax fraud who…well, you can probably guess the rest) and Thomas Thévenoud (the trade minister who “forgot” to pay his tax bill…for three years)
Electorally courting the Greens, including them in government and then seeing the “principled” Cécile Duflot flounce out of office.
Facing the wrath of so-called Frondeurs of his own party, abandoning Socialist party principles but refusing to endorse completely those of Social democracy.
Being (and this takes some doing) abandoned by government ministers on the left of his party - Arnaud Montebourg, Benoît Hamon and Aurélie Filippetti and those on the right - Emmanuel Macron (all right, so Manuel Valls has stuck the course, but most political commentators would argue that he has his own agenda).
Telling the French endlessly that unemployment would drop and staking his future on it.
Making administration easier (huh?), reducing the number of regions (at what price?), shifting a dollop of the state’s tax burden to those very same regions.
Oh yes - same sex marriage.

On the whole, a pretty grim and disappointing track record - domestically speaking.

So, to abroad - foreign policy; an area in which every French president stamps his authority.

Just a sampling.

French intervention in Mali and Syria, the battle against Daesch, the handling of refugees in Europe…the list could go on…have, and let’s be brutally honest about it, hardly been resounding triumphs in French foreign policy and ergo for Hollande.

And that term “Statesmanship”.

Take a look around the Net and you’ll come up with several key elements (and, as in all matters of this nature, there is no one clear definition, so the meaning of the term is open to some degree of interpretation) that are embodied in being a statesman.

Having a bedrock of principles, a moral compass, a vision. And an ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision.”

Hollande? Really?

Or how about this?

"A person who is skilled in the management of public or national affairs." or, in determining the difference between a politician and a statesman, “A politician works with details. A statesman works with ideas.”


And this?

“A person who is experienced in the art of government or versed in the administration of government affairs” and “A person who exhibits great wisdom and ability in directing the affairs of a government or in dealing with important public issues.”

Double ditto.

Now, while Hollande might score (just) on some of these points, he clearly misses big time on many.

Certainly he has had to deal with the terrorist attacks in France during his time in office. And few could argue that he has led the nation’s mourning with exceptional dignity.

But that in itself cannot warrant the award of International statesman of the year.

And maybe Hollande recognised that fact in his acceptance speech on Monday, realising that the award was not for just one man, but for a nation.

“It honours France,” he said. An inspiring France which defends  liberty, democracy and human rights everywhere.”

And referring to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,  he continued, “ On that day we were all American. Today we are all French.”

Monday, 19 September 2016

Cough up motorists - French motorways need more money

That’s more or less the message the French government sent out this past weekend.

Now, let’s get this straight.

On the whole, drivers have to pay to use motorways in France (the main exception is in Brittany). That’s right, the network of autoroutes consist, for the most part, of toll roads.

And they’re operated and maintained by a number of private companies: the largest being Vinci, which controls around 4,380 kms of motorway.

This being France, of course, the motorways are actually owned by the state and the companies run them along concessionary lines…making a healthy profit along the way, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth their while as private companies are not in business for altruistic or philanthropic reasons.

But when it comes for repairs or upgrades to be made, who do you think coughs up?

The state? Ha ha. It wants to cut back on spending as much as possible.

Those private companies? Not on your proverbial “nelly” as that would eat into their profits and shareholder dividends. And besides, they’ve apparently already invested heavily.

So who’s left?

Think about it - the answer, if you’re reading this and have ever been behind the wheel of a car - is looking right at the screen.

Yep - drivers!

At the weekend the junior minister in charge of transport minister, Alain Vidalies (who? you might well ask) announced that, to finance the necessary roadworks on 30 stretches of motorway dotted up and down the country, the government was going to call on local authorities to foot part of the bill.

Alain Vidalies (screenshot Europe 1 radio interview, June 2016)

And the rest…the rest…will be met by the motorist as the toll charges are set to increase from 0.3% and 0.4% annually during the period 2018-2020.

Great timing - and handy for whichever government might be in power at the time to enforce.

Yes, there might well be good economic arguments for the price hike (and passing it on the consumer or motorist) such as the likely increase in employment building works will necessarily provide, and the government wanted to avoid getting into lengthy and protracted negotiations with the companies that “run” the motorways.

But the timing is pretty crass and, what’s hidden behind what seems at first a reasonable increase, is the fact that it will be in addition to whatever rise in toll prices there might be over the same time period. In other words, it’s an hike on hike yet to be agreed.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

SNCF’s catchy little renaming of Paris-Bercy railway station

There's a lot to be said for getting the name right, isn't there? Especially when you’re promoting a product or a service.

The simpler, catchier and more relevant the better.

Bearing that in mind and with a magic wave of its wand, SNCF (Société nationale des chemins de fer français - France’s state-owned railway company) - and of course not succumbing to the implicit political pressure “state-owned” might suggest - has renamed one of its main Paris stations.

On Tuesday, Paris-Bercy - based in the area of the Paris of the same name - officially became…wait for it…”Paris- Bercy- Bourgogne - Pays d’Auvergne”.

Paris- Bercy- Bourgogne - Pays d’Auvergne (screenshot from France3 report)

Snappy, isn’t it?

Precise and to the point and not at all an unnecessary mouthful.

Apparently it took several (well-used) (wo)man hours of meetings to come up with a compromise that would satisfy elected politicians of both Bourgogne (or Burgundy in English)  a  former administrative region of east-central France which is now part of the new Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region and Auvergne, another former administrative region which is now part of the larger Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes (the number of metropolitan regions in France was reduced to 13 as part of a cost-cutting and efficiency exercise aimed at making local government and administration  simpler, yadda yadda yadda)

On hand at the inauguration ceremony to soak up some of the political glory (????) was the president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, Laurent Wauquiez, He was only too keen to emphasise how the name change a) would reflect the area of France the railway station actually serves and b) would be a window to the world for tourists (honestly, even if there’s some truth in the declaration, only a politician would have the gall to say so).

Laurent Wauquiez (screenshot from France3 report)

“At last there’s a railway station in Paris that carries the name Auvergne,” he said in a television interview. “It’s really going to be a super way to promote our region.”

Similarly over the moon  was Marie-Guite Dufay, president of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.

“It could increase travellers’ knowledge of our regions as a tourist destination,” she said enthusiastically.

“There could be demonstrations (at the station) of our regional products by people from the area,” she added, perhaps forgetting that…well…”Paris- Bercy- Bourgogne - Pays d’Auvergne” (what a mouthful) is just a railway station and nothing more; a point of departure and arrival et basta.

Marie-Guite Dufay (screenshot from France3 report)

Still, politicians love “over-egging pudding” whenever they get the chance.

Surely all that passengers passing through the railway station (and adjoining bus terminus) really care about is that the trains are on time and that SNCF can provide a reasonable service that isn’t too costly.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Friday’s French music break - Claudio Capéo, “Un homme debout”

There is life after “The Voice : La Plus Belle Voix” even if a) you don’t win it and b) by your own admission you’re far from having the talent to match those who have really been blessed with vocal cords that actually merit the moniker.

Such is the artist featured in this week’s Friday French music break; Claudio Capéo with his breakthrough single “Un homme debout”.

Claudio Capéo (screenshot from “Un homme debout” official video)

Capéo (real name, Claudio Ruccolo) appeared in the most recent season of “The Voice” (Won by? Won by? - Do you remember? Do you even care?*), made it through the blind auditions, only to be knocked out in the first round of “les battles”.

Don’t worry if you’re not familiar with the format. It’s enough to know that Capéo didn’t get very far but, as he says in his own words, he wasn’t at all surprised.

“I found it incredible that I was chosen to take part,” he said in an interview on BFM TV. “Just look at what I look like...and I even haven’t taken singing lessons.”

The 31-year-old, who had been playing in the Paris métro for several years, simply took part in the programme to get some professional advice and also (perhaps) some exposure.

And it paid off as his latest single, “Un homme debout” has become one of the surprise summer hits here in France and his latest album (his third)  imaginatively entitled “Claudio Capéo” held the number one spot for five weeks and turned platinum.

Plus he has a series of concerts lined up in towns and cities throughout France in October, November and December, including one date at La Cigale in Paris.

Not bad going for someone whose gravelly voice is (and let’s be upfront about it) not really among the best, but who, along with his cherished accordion (which he has apparently been playing since the age of five) certainly seems to have captured the attention of many French.

* Slimane Nebchi for those who have been racking their brains…and for those who haven’t)

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Donald Trump renews his France bashing line

Not content with alienating many groups at home, US presidential candidate, Donald Trump, has turned his attention to foreign affairs (again) and in particular France (again).

Donald Trump (screenshot from Fox News video)

“France is no longer France” he said at a campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina on Tuesday.

“I have friends who go to France every year. They love it,” he told the audience.

“I say, How do you like it this year? They say, we don’t go to France anymore. France in no longer France.”

(The first video below is silent...which, for many, might well be the best way to listen to Trump)

Wow. That’s an astute and shrewd analysis.

And one that Trump has made before. Yes, he’s a repeat “offender” of French feelings. Evidence that he has a complete understanding of a country he clearly knows and appreciates so well.

Back in July, after a terror attack in Nice on Bastille day left 87 people dead and the killing of a French priest, Father Jacques Hamel, 10 days later in a suburb of the north-western city of Rouen, Trump came up with his perceptive and incisive analysis that “France is no longer France.”

His source - an unnamed “friend” who apparently wouldn’t go to France because…yes, you’ve guessed it…”France is no longer France.

Interesting,  isn’t it, (not really) that within the course of a few weeks the singular friend has become plural…and even though they apparently no longer set foot in France, they are knowledgeable enough to proclaim that, “France is no longer France”.

So, M. Trump (and friend/friends) if “France is no longer France” what is it?

Let’s have the benefit of your undoubted wisdom. It’s bound to be enlightening…if not completely skewed.

And in the meantime, perhaps you could take a look at this piece in "Le Monde" (just FYI, that’s a French daily newspaper) by journalist Olivier Ravanello.

It’s short and to the point and suggests that when you’re French bashing so "eloquently", you’re actually talking about your own country.

Take a read - do.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Why Nicolas Sarkozy should withdraw from the presidential primary race

Even though Nicolas Sarkozy is popular with a sizeable chunk of the centre-right Les Républicains (LR) party faithful, the French in general could probably come up with a fair number of reasons why he shouldn’t take part in the primary to choose next year’s presidential candidate.

After all, Sarkozy’s popularity in those ubiquitous opinion polls might have risen since he officially launched his campaign, but he still has some ground to make up on his main rival, Alain Juppé.

Nicolas Sarkozy (screenshot Euronews “Zapping” August 2016)

More importantly, no matter how sceptical you might be about the veracity of opinion polls, a whopping 79 per cent of the French don’t want to see Sarkozy at the Elysée palace.

Not surprising really as he has already had the job once.

And, in spite of all his pugnacity, Sarkozy proved he really wasn’t up to achieving much on political, economic and social fronts, while reducing the role of president to that of an often ill-mannered (“Casse-toi alors, pauv' con !”) impetuous caricature.

Then there’s his programme (as outlined in his latest bestseller “Tout pour la France”) - an almost knee-jerk reaction to the increase in support over the past years for the far right Front National by proposing policies that would move LR further to the right and taking a hard line on identity, immigration and security.

But most importantly there’s the so-called Bygmalion affair - when Sarkozy’s party, then known as Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) allegedly “connived with a friendly PR company (Bygmalion) to hide the true cost of his 2012 presidential election campaign” and thereby breaking the limits allowed on campaign spending.

On Monday, the French prosecutor's office recommended that Sarkozy should stand trial for breaching campaign spending limits.

“A crude political manoeuvre”, claimed Sarkozy supporters and in particular his lawyer, Thierry Herzog; the inference being that the judicial system bowed to pressure from the Elysée palace.

And the timing - coming as it did on the opening day of the trial of Jérôme Cahuzac (remember, the former budget minister in charge of cracking down on tax evasion who was forced to resign in April 2013 after he admitted he had held  a secret foreign bank account for about 20 years) was too much of a coincidence and simply evidence that the government (read, the French president, François Hollande) was “using the French justice system to divert attention (from the opening of the trial).

Yes, well. There might well be some credibility on both counts as few would maintain that politicians are the most ethical of creatures.

But, here’s the crux of the matter. It’s not really important whether Sarkozy - as he claims - knew nothing about the false accounting and overspending, the fact remains that he was the beneficiary.

“That’s why he should withdraw,” said Christophe Barbier, managing editor of the weekly news magazine “L’Express” on his morning slot on BFM TV.

“He was maybe unaware of what was happening,” said Barbier. “But he was the one who benefitted (from the incredible overspending and false accounting) politically and electorally. And that’s the reason he should withdraw,” he repeated, “If only for reasons of humility.”

Yes. Well. Hardly one of Sarkozy’s main attributes.

Monday, 5 September 2016

“Elegance personified” - Gianluigi Buffon drowns out booing fans at Italy-France friendly

Many might (rightly) maintain that the so-called “beautiful game” ain’t exactly what it used to be.

Big bucks and “state of the art” hairdos (or “hairdon'ts) seem to count as much as on-the-pitch skills for the elite that make it to the top of the game.

And let’s not take a nightmare trip down memory lane to the “Knysna affair” at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when the French national side threw a collective tantrum and refused to train.

It surely marked an all-time low in (French) football.

But there are exceptions of course. And perhaps it should come as no surprise that the man who recently showed such outstanding behaviour should be an Italian.

After all, it’s a country in which football is revered - even among those who don’t really follow the game.

Look at the recent Euro 2016 (held in France) when every Italian man, woman and child (enough hyperbole?) seemed to follow the fortunes of Gli Azzuri until they were knocked out at the quarterfinal stage.

Anyway, back to that man, Italy’s goalkeeper and captain and (more hyperbole perhaps - but just ask an Italian) legend, 38-year-old Gianluigi Buffon.

Gianluigi Buffon (screenshot from Rahim Abdullaev’s YouTube video)

“An example to what we should be seeing on the pitch”, said Fifa president Gianni Infantino after a friendly played on September 1 in the Italian city of Bari between the hosts and France (a game which Italy were to lose 1-3)

But what exactly had Buffon done to earn such plaudits - not only from Infantino but much of a soccer mad world.

Quite simply he had single-handedly led the response to counter booing that occurred from a small section of the crowd at the Stadio San Nicola while the French national anthem was being played before the match began.

Buffon reacted immediately, applauding La Marseillaise throughout, followed by his teammates and, it has to be said - a vast majority of those in the stadium.

Such class Monsieu Buffon!

Friday, 2 September 2016

Friday’s French music break - Måns Zelmerlöw, “Should've gone home (Je ne suis qu’un homme) "

If you’ve been following Friday’s French music break for a while now, you might have noticed the trend for some featured artists to sing only in English…or a sometimes approximate version thereof.

Conversely, there are also several non-native French speakers who choose to re-record tracks they've originally sung in another language specifically for release in francophone countries.

Josef Salvat did it with “Open season” for example.

And so did Mika - although, with “Elle m’a dit”,  he went the whole hog and released a song he had never previously recorded in English.

Joining the club is Swedish pop singer and TV presenter Måns Zelmerlöw with his plaintive (good word that) but catchy “Should've gone home (Je ne suis qu’un homme) “

Måns Zelmerlöw - screenshot from video of “Should've Gone Home (Je ne suis qu’un homme"

Actually on first hearing the song, you might well think it’s Salvat again as it has the same sort of feel to it.

Now, Eurovision fans among you (and there are a fair number scattered around the globe) will probably recognise the name, because Zelmerlöw won the whole shebang for his country back in 2015 and was one of the co-hosts at this year’s show.

Originally released in August 2015 and taken from his sixth studio album “Perfectly damaged”, the French version of “Should've gone home (Je ne suis qu’un homme)” keeps the original melancholic (OK so let’s not exaggerate too much) chorus cry.

But most the verses have been translated - courtesy apparently of singer-songwriter Doriand (Laurent Lescarret) who has done the same for the likes of Mika, Julien Doré and Camélia Jordan.

Anyway, “Should've gone home (Je ne suis qu’un homme) “ isn’t that bad, and neither is Zelmerlöw’s French as the audience at a one-off performance at la Maroquinerie in Paris in October 2015 was able to hear he performed  Gilbert Bècaud’s French standard “Et maintenant”.

Et maintenant

So take a listen.

And just in case there are any Swedish readers out there - Ha en bra helg

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Has Emmanuel Macron really “betrayed” François Hollande?

How does the (perhaps somewhat sexist) saying go? “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”? ( an interpretation  based on a quotation from English Restoration period poet and playwright William Congreve’s “The Mourning Bride”).

Well, how about when it’s applied to a president, seemingly “betrayed” by one of his closest advisers and former (if the word is not too strong) “acolyte”.

Yes, you’ve guessed it - if not at least from the title.

The man (or men) in question is the French president, François Hollande, and his, now, former minister of Economy, Emmanuel Macron.

“Shocked” and “betrayed” is apparently how Hollande feels.

“If anyone believes they can go it alone and implement policies by themselves, they’re wrong,” he said on Wednesday to several hundred leaders of associations - an allusion to Macron’s resignation, without mentioning him by name, as well as his lacking a party machinery to back him.

And those words (at least the “betrayal” part, because let’s face it, Macron’s decision hardly took anyone by surprise) have been echoed by others in the Socialist party as the both the president and his government ministers try “ostrich-in-sand” style to ignore the reality and get on with surviving their final months before next year’s elections.

But was it really a "betrayal" or sign of disloyalty?

Sure, Macron had been an adviser to Hollande at the Elysée palace before landing (being given) his ministerial portfolio in August 2014 (replacing Arnaud Montebourg), but he has hardly made a secret of his ambitions.

In April this year he launched his own movement En Marche “which was neither of the right nor the left. Open to anyone from any political party” -  widely interpreted as a testing ground for a potential presidential bid in 2017.

And although a member of a (supposedly) leftwing government, Macron has always maintained he would be prepared to work with those from the right who share his values.

Indeed just weeks before his resignation, Macron admitted that he “wasn’t a Socialist”, totally in keeping with his repeated attacks on subjects dear to the party’s faithful such as the 35-hour working week.

No, 38-year-old Macron has never held elected office and doesn’t have a party machinery behind him. And that might hurt him - or at least make it difficult - should he decide to take a shot at next year’s presidential election

And yes, Hollande gave him his break and has “tolerated” his outspokenness and inability to play the collective solidarity game that is so “treasured” (if only in name) among French politicians.

But that’s the point.

French (any) politics is also about individuals full of ambition, not only for serving their country (which is what they want the electorate to believe and in true Méthode Coué come to believe themselves by repeating it endlessly) but also for their own self glory.

And it’s not “betrayal” if you realise that the man you once advised is no longer listening (or perhaps never was) and is refusing to see merit in your arguments.

You might not like what Macron stands for (pro-business, too removed from traditional leftwing politics, anti public sector and too reformist) but you have to respect that his decision to resign is one based on total and utter common sense and is a move that could (unlikely but nonetheless possibly) shake up France’s jaded political landscape.

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