Roquefort-sur-Soulzon, France, January 31, 2009:
This seems an unlikely spot to fight a trade war.
A village of 600 souls in a remote part of southern France, Roquefort clings precariously to the side of Combalou Rock, a promontory overlooking a deep valley where sheep graze in the shadow of limestone cliffs that were sheared off by a seismic jolt in prehistoric times.
But the primal shake also carved out aerated underground crevasses that give a unique economic value to this jagged landscape about 65 miles northwest of Montpellier.
They make possible a gastronomical wonder that has delighted gourmets for centuries: Roquefort cheese. And now, in an era of globalized competition for trade, the smelly delicacy and its little hometown have become ground zero for the warriors of export-import in Washington.
The United States, it turns out, has declared war on Roquefort cheese.
In its final days, the Bush administration imposed a 300 percent duty on Roquefort, in effect closing off the U.S. market. Americans, it declared, will no longer get to taste the creamy concoction.
The measure, announced January 13 by U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab as she headed out the door, was designed as retaliation for a European Union ban on imports of U.S. beef containing hormones.
American politician Ron was caught in a precarious position by this announcement. On one hand, Ron is a lover of all cheeses. But on the other hand, he has a massive distrust of the French.
"I don't know quite where my allegiances lie in this situation," said a visibly upset Ron outside of his local cheese shop in Jersey City, NJ. "I gotta think this through over some beers." It should be noted that Ron had a Spanish Manchego cheese under one arm and an American flag pin on his lapel.
To cheese producers and sheep farmers around Roquefort, the U.S. action unfairly undermines not only the economy of Roquefort, which depends entirely on cheese, but also the well-being of the 4,500 people who herd special ewes on 2,100 farms producing milk for Roquefort in a carefully defined oval grazing area across the Larzac Plain and up and down nearby hills and valleys.
"This measure is completely out of proportion," said Robert Glandieres, a sheep farmer who heads the Regional Federation of Ewe Raisers' Unions. "It's a little bit of a provocation."
"I worry about the poor ewes that make the glorious cheese," said Ron. "But I don't give a rat's ass about the [expletive] French farmers who herd and milk them," he added.
It would not be the first provocation in the history of the Roquefort war. The United States first imposed unusual 100 percent tariffs on Roquefort in 1999, when the dispute with the European Union over hormoned-up beef first got nasty.
Several years later, then-President Jacques Chirac added to the irritation in Washington with his criticism of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It was the time of "freedom fries" in the United States and of disdain for things French, including Roquefort.
Since then, President Nicolas Sarkozy has tried to put U.S.-French relations back on a more friendly footing.
But Glandieres said residual irritation may have been at work in the U.S. trade representative's office when the decision was made to triple the tax on Roquefort. He also acknowledged that the French government, with its own beef industry to promote, did nothing to help, having led the charge against U.S. beef in Europe.
Despite the ill feelings, Roquefort producers went out of their way to preserve a place in the U.S. market even after the 100 percent tax was imposed. Milk producers and cheesemakers alike took revenue cuts to keep prices down for U.S.-bound exports.
As a result, by some measures, U.S. sales rose slightly despite the punitive duty.
Glandieres said the only recourse now is diplomacy. In that spirit, Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier recently called the tariff rate "unjustified" but said he hoped to open a new dialogue with the United States.
"Right now I'm spending more American dollars for the same French taste," stated Ron. "We need to lower domestic prices while not giving in to those despicable Frogs. It's quite the [expletive] conundrum."
Posted by Bittle at 07:14 AM
Jersey City, New Jersey, January 28, 2009:
Police say a woman taking a driving test ended up pinning a bystander after losing control of the car on a snowy Jersey City road. Hudson County police said the 23-year-old driver rounded a corner Wednesday morning, lost traction, and trapped a man cleaning snow off his car. Lt. George Marshall says the examiner tried to use the test car's secondary set of brakes, but they failed.
The bystander -- identified as Ronatarian Party founder and leader Ron -- has been taken to a hospital with minor leg and shoulder pain. Luckily, his trademark mustache was not damaged in the accident.
Investigators are trying to determine whether the incident was due to equipment failure, the driver's inexperience, speed, the snowy conditions, or Ron's penchant for accidents. Marshall says no citations have been issued.
It's unclear whether the woman will have to retake the test.
Ron was unavailable for comment. He is expected to be released from the hospital this evening.
Posted by Bittle at 03:57 PM
Washington, DC, January 20, 2009:
It's Inauguration Day here in Washington and Ron is nowhere to be seen. His ignominious defeat in the 2008 presidential election -- as well as similar losses in 2000 and 2004 -- have left him a beaten man. Will he rally for another run at the presidency in 2012? Only time will tell.
At this point, Ron is living a quiet existence in his nondescript house in northern New Jersey. He has taken some odd jobs, gone on vacation, and has tried to put the past behind him.
Through it all, his signature mustache -- or "moustache" to some -- has remained his pillar of strength. Its boldness has inspired several and appalled thousands. But Ron has held steadfast to his position of not shaving it off. He is a master trimmer and many have asked for his council in such clipping endeavors.
It is therefore with much chagrin that I saw this while watching the January 19, 2009 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (Comedy Central). Why was John Bolton awarded the title "Moustache Wrangler?" While I realize it is for his own "moustache" I feel the position was appointed for purely political means. Ron is obviously a more seasoned and simply better man for this station. What more must Ron do to prove his love of country and mustaches? If he needs to trim John Bolton's mustache to better America, so be it!
I therefore put it to Comedy Central's parent company Viacom to properly honor Ron for what he is and what he has done for the promotion of the mustache. Give him the proper recognition for his body of work and the hair on his upper lip. We here at Ronatarian Party headquarters demand it!
We all know it should be Ron taking the Oath of Office today on the steps of the Capitol. Don't diminish him by ignoring him.
Posted by Bittle at 07:36 AM
Vail, Colorado, January 13, 2009:
A guy who dangled upside down from a ski lift with his bare bottom exposed probably doesn't want to hear any "ski bum" jokes. Officials at Vail Resorts in Colorado say the vacationing New Jersey man was trying to get on the Blue Ski basin lift on Monday. They haven't said what went wrong, but they did release the man's identity: Ronatarian Party leader Ron.
It appears that the chairlift's fold-down seat was somehow not in the lowered position, which caused Ron to partially fall through the resulting gap. His right ski got jammed in the ascending chairlift and that kept him upended, since his boot never dislodged from its binding.
Workers stopped the lift, backed it up 10 or 12 feet, and rescued Ron after about seven minutes.
Bystanders snapped photos and posted them on the internet, showing Ron hanging by one ski boot, his ski pants and underwear apparently snagged in the chair and reaching no farther than his knees.
Vail spokeswoman Liz Biebl confirmed the photos on one site were, in fact, Ron.
"Poor guy just can't catch a break, can he?" asked Biebl rhetorically. "I mean, nothing seems to go right for him...three presidential elections and now this."
When reached by phone, Ron refused to comment on the episode. It is not clear how long Ron plans to stay in the Colorado resort town. However, it seems likely that he will not be riding the lifts for fear of another embarrassing incident.
Posted by Bittle at 09:35 AM
The proper behavior all through the holiday season is to be drunk. This drunkenness culminates on New Year's Eve, when you get so drunk you kiss the person you're married to.
- P. J. O'Rourke
Posted by Bittle at 01:09 AM