Eye on France: A letter from the president

Some of today's French front pages on the presidential letter
Some of today's French front pages on the presidential letter Fotomontagem RFI

Emmanuel Macron’s promised letter to the nation finally arrived yesterday. Not many people will have had the time or the energy to read the document yet, but the political opposition is already into it like a dog with a rag.


“Weak,” “long, “predictable” are some of the terms used to describe the presidential missive, supposed to set out the themes due to be haggled over in the great national debate, which officially starts tomorrow.

The left wing is the most sharply critical, with Socialist Party chief, Olivier Faure, saying you can’t invite the French people to a debate while refusing to allow discussion of certain topics, like wealth tax. The agenda should be decided by the people.

That’s roughly Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s opinion too, though the hard-left leader is not a man to use one word where ten would do. “The grand debate is a major diversion,” says the boss of the France Unbowed party. It’s more of what we had at the time of the presidential election, says Jean-Luc, adding that the outcome has already been decided by the government.

The communists are annoyed that the president failed to say anything about spending power, and made no mention of financial fraud, tax evasion and the rapid takeover of the French economy by international financial institutions.

Right-wing Le Figaro welcomes the letter as a positive gesture towards resolving a national crisis, but warns that we’re not out of the wood yet.

“The presidential letter is a vote in favour of rational debate,” says Le Figaro. Before asking if “at a time when indignation is the only tone of expression allowed, there is any place left for reason?”

Japanese pensioners take refuge behind bars

Le Monde reports that more and more Japanese old people are getting themselves arrested. According to the centrist daily, they find that a life behind bars is preferable to being free, poor and alone.

And Japan holds the world record for longevity, meaning the problem is not likely to go away soon.

Following the post-war collapse of the traditional family where three generations used share the same roof, six million older Japanese now live and die completely alone. Unless they can get arrested.

Shop-lifting is the preferred crime . . . for repeat offenders, you can be sent to jail for two years. And that means 24 months’ of central heating, food and a health service.

Last year’s crime statistics are significant: 21 percent of those arrested in 2018 were over the age of 65. In the year 2000, pensioner criminals represented only 6 percent of the Japanese prison population.

But older prisoners pose special problems. Many are deaf and fail to respond to orders; some are senile, incontinent, need help to get dressed or to feed themselves. That means more work for the warders. Some prisons have had to create special wings, sort of retirement homes in which the state is obliged to take care of those who have been failed by the pension system.

Widowed women are the worst affected. Because they don’t have enough to live on once the husband dies. One 78-year-old tells Le Monde that prison is “an oasis. I’m not free, but I don’t have to worry about anything. I can chat with the other prisoners. I eat three times each day.” Then she continues: “My daughter visits me once a month. She says I’m pathetic. She’s probably right.”

Carole Ghosn denounces Japanese jail system

Which brings me to Carlos Ghosn, the sacked former boss of the Nissan-Renault motor empire, currently himself in a Japanese jail on suspicion of financial fraud.

Carlos Ghosn is 64-years-old and unlikely to have any ordinary pension problems, but his wife has written to the organisation Human Rights Watch to complain about the difficult conditions under which her husband is being held.

We know that the Franco-Brazilian-Lebanese super-boss is losing weight on the three bowls of rice which Japanese prisoners receive as their daily ration. That he has a cell to himself, equipped with a western-style bed.

But Carole Ghosn in her letter says the lights are left on all the time, day and night, and that her husband is not allowed to take necessary medication on a daily basis. She claims that the prisoner is questioned, intimidated, verbally abused by prosecutors for several hours every day. His only visitors have been lawyers and embassy staff.

She asks Human Rights Watch to use her husband’s case to draw attention to the draconian Japanese system of incarceration and questioning.

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