Hollande Tries to Kickstart His Presidency Like the Scooter He Rides to His Trysts

He's the most unpopular French president in modern memory. He's struggled to jumpstart his country's sluggish economy. And on Tuesday French President Francois Hollande faced an assembled 500 journalists to present his plan for how to bring France -- and his presidency -- out of the doldrums.

Too bad no one found those plans particularly interesting. Last week, the magazine Closer published photographs of the French president entering an apartment belonging to the 41-year-old actress Julie Gayet. It's resulted in a firestorm in France and has had severe repercussions for Hollande -- both personal and political. Hollande's long-time partner, Valerie Trierweiler, who in that capacity serves as France's first lady, has been hospitalized with what has been called a "a severe case of blues." So when Hollande faced the cameras on Tuesday in a highly anticipated press conference, his plans for economic reform weren't exactly at the top of the agenda.

After a 20 minute address in which Hollande laid out his plan to improve France's business climate, Alain Barluet, the head of the Presidential Press Association, confronted Hollande with the question France's chattering classes have been abuzz with: Is Valerie Trierweiler still France's first lady?

"Everyone goes through difficult times in their personal lives. That is the case for us now. It is a painful moment," Hollande said. "But I have one principle, that this private affair be treated as private. This is not the time and place to comment."

With that flourish, Hollande managed to largely dismiss the issue. A few journalists returned to the issue over the course of the press conference, but in the tradition of French journalism, which has typically treated the private lives of their leaders as off-limits, the question of the president's juicy affair with a gorgeous, younger actress remained largely untouched. Imagine a scene like that among the Washington press corps had it emerged that Barack had been stepping out on Michelle.

So far, Hollande has been able to hide behind the expectation of privacy typically afforded to French presidents, but the scandal has at the very least recalibrated expectations of the man. Once he was just a rotund socialist with a reputation for being rather boring; now, he's seducing remarkably beautiful women who surely could do without the scandal of sleeping with the French president. (He does have the advantage, however, of sending his security detail to pick up croissants. Surely a winning move.)

More importantly, the scandal threatens to overshadow Hollande's efforts to reinvent his presidency. France, the eurozone's second-largest economy, has struggled to regain its footing in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and Hollande has so far proved powerless at addressing the economy's most pressing issues, most notably its 12 percent unemployment rate.

The economic program proposed by Hollande is arguably more shocking than the fact that he has been riding a scooter to late night trysts. Hollande now wants to cut payroll taxes for French companies by as much as 30 billion euros and require companies to foot a smaller portion of the bill for France's generous social services. Those proposals would shave some 5.4 percent off French employers' costs. In return, Hollande expects employers to pledge that they will begin hiring more aggressively. It's a scheme Hollande is marketing as a "responsibility pact."

All in all, it's a humiliating climb down for France's socialist prime minister. The package of economic reforms represents a turn toward the right for Hollande, and the left is unlikely to appreciate that development. Tuesday's press conference was riddled with questions over what brand of socialism the president proclaims to practice.

Shunned by the left for abandoning their principles, rejected by his people for failing to stimulate the economy, and ridiculed in the press for getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Hollande is now a man in desperate need of good news. To make matters worse, Hollande has a hard deadline for resolving his family troubles. Early next month he will travel to Washington for a dinner date with the American first couple.

Presumably, he will need someone to accompany him.

(And if you haven't gotten enough of Hollande's sex life, here's an online game in which you can guide a scooter-borne Hollande to his lover's apartment.)



Chechen President Hands Out $1,000 to Children Named Mohammed

If you're broke, Chechen, and happened to give birth on Monday, you're in luck.

Well, at least as long as you named your newborn baby after Mohammed (or one of his close associates). Monday was the Prophet Mohammed's birthday in the Sunni tradition, and Chechnya's strongman president, Ramzan Kadyrov, decided to mark the occasion by awarding newborns named after the Prophet Mohammed with $1,000 each. Lest Chechnya be filled only with baby Mohammeds, the offer also applied to children named after any of the prophet's wives, children, or 10 companions to whom he promised paradise. So far, the government has dished out $126,000. Kadyrov announced the initiative in an Instagram post on Monday, writing that his mother's privately-sponsored charity would be giving out the money. In his Instagram post, Kadyrov wrote that Chechnya's minister of health had reported that 78 boys and 48 girls had been born on Monday -- most of them named Mohammed or Fatima.

The Chechen government, which oversees a region grappling with poverty and an unemployment rate as high as 80 percent, has been accused of misspending money before. One such project, one of the largest mosques in Russia, was built in the Chechen capital of Grozny and came with a $20 million price tag. It was also named after Kadyrov's father.

Kadyrov's Instagram account has been the public's primary glimpse into the bizarre life of Chechnya's mercurial president. He's previously posted photos of himself cradling a kitten, riding a golden statue of a stag, and getting his teeth checked at the dentist. He has reportedly even hired a particularly dedicated Instagram follower to oversee "cooperation between the republic's government and civil society." Of course, Kadyrov's obvious interest in social media is particularly amusing given the man's checkered past. In a New York Times profile in which he was called an "unpredictable warlord," he clapped his hands in front of him as if catching a fly when asked about a rival. "Shamil Basayev," he said. "My dream is to kill him."

Picture from Ramzan Kadyrov's Instagram