US spying allegations and taxi revolt over ‘uberisation’ add fuel to French heatwave

Monica Lewinsky steps out of exile at Cannes festival to tackle cyberbullies

 Monica Lewinsky: “It’s nice to see the 41-year-old move out of her self-imposed exile, looking lovely, acting graciously and speaking out for a good cause.”  Photograph: James Duncan Davidson/Reuters

Monica Lewinsky: “It’s nice to see the 41-year-old move out of her self-imposed exile, looking lovely, acting graciously and speaking out for a good cause.” Photograph: James Duncan Davidson/Reuters

 

The turquoise tranquillity of the Côte d’Azur was rocked a couple of times during the Cannes Lions Festival, the advertising world’s rosé-soaked answer to the Cannes Film Festival.

Al Gore snubbed Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky, who was giving a speech for Ogilvy & Mather about how she became “patient zero” in the cyberbullying epidemic, was slated to sit in a VIP box with the former vice-president, who got an award for being a good brand.

But her invite got yanked. The contretemps was a reminder that Gore’s prissy attitude toward l’affaire Monica helped cost him the election, because he was so angry at Bill Clinton that he leashed the Big Dog, curtailing the president’s campaigning, even in the south.

Monica’s main bullies were not of the cyber variety. They were flesh and blood, a raffish president and feminist first lady who are now vying to be a feminist president and raffish first lad. They were the ones who tried to paint her as a “narcissistic looney toon”, as Hillary put it to her friend Diane Blair.

Sidney Blumenthal, Hillary’s Doberman and email correspondent, led the sliming of Monica as a fantasist and stalker. Hillary’s friends do not regard Monica as a victim, but a predator. They think she let herself in for trouble when she took up with a married president who was a magnet for right-wing bullies.

Yet, as Hillary’s advisers said, being the victim of the Monica mess gave Hillary the impetus, and public goodwill, to start her own political rise.

In her speech at Cannes, Monica did say it hurt to be called “That Woman”. But other than that reference to Bill Clinton, she sticks to anonymous cyberbullies, which may be prudent, with Hillary out on the trail. And even if it’s a dodge, it’s nice to see the 41-year-old move out of her self-imposed exile, looking lovely, acting graciously and speaking out for a good cause.

The other Riviera ruckus came when the “influencers” tried to get out of town while French taxi drivers were striking, blocking airports, burning tyres, smashing windows and harassing Uber drivers. They were protesting competition from the cheapest and least regulated Uber service, UberPop, which is illegal in France. (Two Uber executives were indicted there last week.)

In Cannes, the Uber app also included helicopters, so well-heeled media barons, fearing No Exit, began summoning choppers to go to the airport, with surge pricing at €800.

France has been going through a heatwave and a rough time. Headlines railed about Espionnage Américain, the news the US has spied on three French presidents. The Greek debt crisis threatens to erode the European dream. An Islamic State fanatic at an American-owned factory in Lyon killed his French boss and displayed his head on the gate, as Islamic State terrorists also hit Tunisia and Kuwait.

It was a chilling echo of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. As America unwinds the Patriot Act, the French have been putting sweeping Big Brother security measures in place, legalising phone tapping and email interception.

Although strikes come and go here, the violence of the Uber brawl seemed to shock even the French. While commentators deplored the thuggery of some cab drivers, they deplored L’uberisation even more. “The uberisation of the economy is a godless and lawless development model,” wrote Jean-Michel Bouguereau in La République des Pyrénées.

Yves Thréard in Le Figaro warned that “the invasion of the digital economy” risked loosening the screws of the French economic model, with its emphasis on workers’ rights and social protection, “one by one”. Yves Dusart in the newspaper L’Est Républicain, summed up, “The French model, snug in its padded jewellery box, is cracking.”

What startled France, a country where the customer is always wrong, was the revolt of the taxi rider. For the last half-year, many have turned away from cabs, loving the convenience of Uber and the way the drivers would open doors and not have the meter prematurely racking up the tab.

The French were stunned to learn that the fifth floor of the US embassy, a few doors from the Élysée Palace, was a trompe l’oeil design hiding what they call the “big ears” of eavesdropping equipment pointed at François Hollande (and his actress girlfriend, Julie Gayet, who is stealthily hanging out at the Élysée).

“It’s a little bit like an invited guest whom you’ve surprised looking into the bedroom through a keyhole,” huffed Laurent Joffrin in a signed editorial in Libération, concluding the only way to deal with this “stain” by a “condescending ally” was to give asylum to “the courageous whistle-blower” Edward Snowden.

French officials, pleased with the successful collaboration of the French and the US against jihadists in Africa, Libya, Mali and Syria, were more inclined to treat the wiretapping as an old story. (Although Libération denounced that as hypocritical.) – (New York Times service)

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