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CounterPunch Diary

As the Mutiny Spreads, It’s Clear: Europeans Have Had Enough!

by ALEXANDER COCKBURN

Watch Europe tip left and right as voters rise in fury against the austerity menu that’s been bringing them to utter ruin. In Holland, the right-wing Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders brought down the governing coalition on Monday bellowing his defiance for the  “Diktats from Brussels”, and asserting that “We must be master of our own house.” Labour and Christian Democrats, Holland’s major parties, are crumbling.

Almost certainly doomed is France’s Nicolas Sarkozy, with François Hollande poised to win in the second round, but Marine Le Pen’s fiery, anti-banker populism has reaped her deserved rewards. As Ambrose Evans’Pritchard writes in the Daily Telegraph:

“Elected governments have already been swept away – or replaced by EU technocrats without a vote, indeed to prevent a vote – in every eurozone state where unemployment has reached double-digits: Spain (23.6 per cent), Greece (21 per cent), Portugal (15 per cent), Ireland (14.7 per cent) and Slovakia (14 per cent).The political carnage has been striking. Ireland’s Fianna Fail, creator of the Irish free state, has lost every seat in Dublin. Greece’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) – torch-bearers of Greek democracy since the Colonels – has fallen to 14 per cent  in the polls and faces ruin next month.

“The results are in: the hard-Left and hard-Right are on the rampage across Euroland…. France’s Marine Le Pen presents herself as a latterday Jeanne d’Arc, openly comparing France’s pro-EU camp with the Burgundians who plotted ‘English Annexation’ in the 1430s – or indeed ‘Les Collabos’ who bought peace after 1940. ‘Let us break the chains of the French people. Bring on the French Spring,’ she tells Front National rallies.

“The mood feels different from past episodes of irritation with EU aggrandisement, whether the ‘No’ votes against the European Constitution in 2005 or the Irish ‘No’ to Lisbon and Nice, or the Scandinavian ‘Nej’ votes against the euro. Mme Le Pen has gone to the heart of the matter, asserting that monetary union cannot be fudged, that it is incompatible with the French nation state. She has won 18 per cent  of the vote campaigning to pull France out of the euro and smash the whole project. Unlike her father – who never seriously expected to be president – she has a realistic chance of peeling off enough Gaulliste votes to emerge as paramount leader of the French Right.”

What will Chancellor Angela Merkel do as the pan-European mutiny against austerity rises?   With her ally Sarkozy in all likelihood soon gone, it’s Germany that’s looking isolated.  Will François Hollande be up to the task of forcing a change of step for Europe, and Keynesian reflation? I wish I had confidence in the man, but I don’t. Another limp social democrat with the muscle of a three-day old hake.  Marine le Pen has the fire, no doubt about that. After her excellent report on the first round elections in France, a reader wrote to Diana , commending most of her analysis, then complaining:

“I certainly don’t agree with [Diana Johnstone’s] take on Marine Le Pen.  The right-wing candidate has not changed her spots and remains as much of a racist as her Algerian-torturer father.  It has been bad enough with Sarko; let us not have to suffer another fascistic right-wing government in Europe.”

Diana responded:

 “Since Hollande seems most likely to win the election, there is no sign of ‘another fascistic right-wing government’ in France – unless Sarkozy achieves an upset by his current effort to win votes from Marine Le Pen’s followers by a more anti-immigrant discourse.

“What do you mean by ‘fascistic’?  Historically, ‘fascism’ is both an ideology and a practice, the practice including the use of violent militias to intimidate citizens and win power.  There is no sign of that in France. Mere hostility to immigration is rampant in the United States, but this is not usually considered ‘fascism’.

“Torturing Algerians was terrible, but surely no worsethan US torture of Iraqis or Afghans – and those who tortured Algerians believed they were defending part of their own country, ‘Algérie Française’, an excuse which Americans do not have.  That particular ‘racism’ is the mental attitude that accompanies a colonial war.  The Algerian war is over, and Marine Le Pen has nothing to do with it.”

“Greater Than Expected Death” 

Years ago,  I wrote a column in the Nation delving through the various estimates of how many had died in Stalin’s  1930s purges. The numbers, awful at any level,  had ballooned into total fantasy most zealously  promoted by Robert Conquest, a nutty  cold warrior and former British intelligence officer.  I think I settled on a figure of some five or six million, which seemed dire enough and was swiftly savaged as little better than an epigone of Beria.

Much of the argument, I remember, revolved around the demographic concept of “greater than expected death.” The available census figures in the Soviet Union in the 1930s were not particularly sturdy, in presumed contrast to the reorts these days of the US Bureau of the Census, So I remain completely astounded by the fact that half a million more Americans than usual on current demographic trends can die and there’s no public commotion or curiosity.

I’m referring to the story by Ron Unz we ran last week, comparing drug scandals, Melamine  in China and Vioxx the United States.

To remind readers:

In  September 2004, Merck, one of America’s largest pharmaceutical companies, issued a sudden recall of Vioxx, its anti-pain medication widely used to treat arthritis-related ailments.

There was a fair amount of news coverage after the recall, but pretty slim considering the alleged 55,000 death toll. A big class-action lawsuit dragged its way through the courts for years, eventually being settled for $4.85 billion in 2007.

Senior FDA officials apologised for their lack of effective oversight and promised to do better in the future. The Vioxx scandal began to sink into the vast marsh of semi-forgotten international pharmaceutical scandals.

The year after Vioxx was pulled from the market, the New York Times and other media outlets ran minor news items, usually down column, noting that American death rates had undergone a striking and completely unexpected decline.

Typical was the headline on a short article that ran in the 19 April 2005 edition of USA Today: ‘USA Records Largest Drop in Annual Deaths in at Least 60 Years.’ During that one year, American deaths fell by 50,000 despite the growth in both the size and the age of the nation’s population. Government health experts were quoted as being greatly “surprised” and “scratching [their] heads” over this strange anomaly, which was led by a sharp drop in fatal heart attacks.

For his Melamine/Vioxx comparison, Unz went back to those 2005 stories. Quick scrutiny of the most recent 15 years worth of national mortality data provided on the US Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website offered Unz some useful clues.

“We find the largest rise in American mortality rates occurred in 1999, the year Vioxx was introduced, while the largest drop occurred in 2004, the year it was withdrawn,” says Unz. “Vioxx was almost entirely marketed to the elderly, and these substantial changes in the national death-rate were completely concentrated within the 65-plus population.

“The FDA studies had proven that use of Vioxx led to deaths from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes, and these were exactly the factors driving the changes in national mortality rates.”

“Patterns of cause and effect cannot easily be proven,” Unz continues. “But if we hypothesise a direct connection between the recall of a class of very popular drugs proven to cause fatal heart attacks and other deadly illnesses with an immediate drop in the national rate of fatal heart attacks and other deadly illnesses, then the statistical implications are quite serious.”

Unz makes the point that the users of Vioxx were almost all elderly, and it was not possible to determine whether a particular victim’s heart attack had been caused by Vioxx or other factors. But he concludes: “Perhaps 500,000 or more premature American deaths may have resulted from Vioxx [my italics], a figure substantially larger than the 3,468 deaths of named individuals acknowledged by Merck during the settlement of its lawsuit. And almost no one among our political or media elites seems to know or care about this possibility.”

I remarked to Unz that it seemed truly incredible that a greater than expected death rate of this dimension should scarcely have caused a ripple.

“I’m just as astonished,” he said. “One might conjecture that the mainstream media and the government officials were all bribed or intimidated by Merck’s lawyers, lobbyists, and advertising budget into averting their eyes or holding their tongues. But from 2004 onwards, huge numbers of America’s toughest trial lawyers were suing Merck for billions based on Vioxx casualties – didn’t they notice the dramatic drop in the national death rate? “

“The inescapable conclusion is that in today’s world and in the opinion of our own media, American lives are quite cheap, unlike those in China.”

“Besides,” says Unz laughing, “it shows the stupidity of our political leaders that they didn’t seize upon this great opportunity.  They should have just renamed Vioxx the ‘Save Social Security Drug,’ and distributed it free in very large doses to everyone, starting on their 65th birthday.  Maybe they should have even made it mandatory, three times per day. At sufficiently large levels of national consumption, Vioxx could have almost singlehandedly eliminated all our serious budget deficit problems. ‘Vioxx—The Miracle Anti-Deficit Drug.’”

Tumbril Time!

A  tumbril (n.)   a dung cart used for carrying manure, now associated with the transport of prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Alex,

During last week’s tumbril break, while the blade was re-sharpened and the cart wheels greased, Fouquier-Tinville’s agents – ever vigilant – fingered another enemy of the revolution, an expression that has managed to evade tribunal scrutiny and a well-deserved turn in the tumbril: “the new normal.”

“The new normal” is the new vexing news-speak for matters that are rotten.  Mark how “the new normal” only refers to degeneration and deterioration – political, economic, social, cultural, environmental, and so on.

That our kids are graduating from college with no job prospects and debts approaching a home mortgage is the new normal.

That millions of skilled factory workers and tradespeople can only find work flipping burgers or emptying bedpans in nursing homes is the new normal.

That the NSA now vacuums up and stores all of our electronic communications is the new normal.

That grannies and toddlers are ‘groped or scoped’ at airports is the new normal.

That our legal system has become two-tiered – no accountability for political and economic elites while the rest of us face strip searches and isolation cells for petty  infractions  -  is the new normal.

Perhaps I missed one, but I can’t recall any usage of “the new normal”  in reference to a situation that is better now than it was a decade or a generation ago – unless it was used in a corporate board room.

Those unctuous NPR newscasters and mainstream writers who like to use the term think they are being savvy. Actually, they are wittingly or unwittingly spreading establishment propaganda like crap off the back of a tumbril. “The new normal” implies the citizenry must passively accept and become adjusted to whatever unfavorable or oppressive conditions our dominant institutions (plus market forces) have created.

If I may reword a statement by the late philosopher and teacher J. Krishnamurti: “There’s nothing ‘normal’ about being well adjusted to a sick society.”

Off with it! Best regards, Bill Allen , Philo, CA.

Bill, your denunciation carries  no small measure of the passion of the great Maximilien. The “new normal” has trundled on its last journey to the Place de la Revolution, shoulder to shoulder with “nuanced,”  a wormy little term that has crept into popular usage in the press in recent months. Its function seems to be one of flattery by the writer for sentiments which, if set forth in straightforward English, would excited derision, as in “In his nuanced arguments for reforms in Social Security and Medicare…”

Two weeks ago I wrote here, “Fouquier-Tinville is preparing for a major trial, having announced the arrest and incarceration in the Conciergerie of ‘telling truth to powera hugely annoying phrase, simultaneously exaggerating the courage required to tell the truth  and underestimating power’s own resourcefulness in adjusting truth to its own requirements….”

The preparations continue, but I must apologize. Of course the repellent phrase is “speaking truth to power.”

Stealing Tips in NYC

A couple of weeks ago, in a Diary speculating on the possible  end of  high-end gastro-frenzy, I cited a recent story in The Guardian by Moira Herbst  talking about restaurant owners and managers bilking waiters out of tip income rightfully theirs. Among  Herbst’s examples  “three  Manhattan bartenders accuse the owners of downtown wine/tapas spots Bar Veloce and Bar Carrera of skimming up to 30% of their tips, along with failing to pay proper wages and overtime.”

This has elicited the following letter from Thomas Crowley and the staffs of these three bars:

“In regard to your 13 April post: we enjoyed the piece, but we weren’t so pleased to have been lumped in with the other restaurants involved in wage disputes. Of course, we take even greater exception to Moira Herbst who, in ‘Wages in restaurants: the real bread-and-butter issue’, mentions the lawsuit that three (disgruntled, mind you) former employees have filed against the owner of Veloce, Frederick Twomey, citing it as a possible (she was just careful enough with her wording) example of anger at the exploitation of restaurant workers. But our situation is quite different than the other cited wage disputes, for which there have been settlements: not only has there not been a ruling, settlement or confirmation of these allegations, but at least one of the three former employees making the claims is in some deep legal trouble himself, for libel, defamation and tortious business interference, among a host of other things — a detail that went conspicuously unaddressed in her piece.

“There is a good reason that for Bar Veloce — a New York City wine bar with a 12 year history and multiple locations — only three former employees have assembled to make such claims: it is a shakedown — extortion, pure and simple. Anyone and everyone on staff will confirm that in every regard, Veloce’s business practices are strictly above board. Then again, Ms. Herbst did not seek to solicit a statement from anyone on staff. Even a few minutes of additional research would have revealed that there is more to this particular dispute than the others named in the piece. To equate these suits, and to neglect to address the lawsuits against the ex-employees — who do not represent anyone else on staff presently or formerly — was a tad irresponsible and lazy, we believe.

Sincerely, The Staff of Bar Veloce East Village, Bar Veloce Chelsea, and Bar Carrera, New York, NY.”

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This is a particularly rich issue, starting with Romney and the Mormons, by a former Mormon. Sasan Fayazmanesh dissects Obama’s deadly dance around Armageddon in Iran, his “aggressive diplomacy”. Has it worked? Fayazmanesh: “The policy has managed to unite the Europeans behind the U.S.-imposed ”crippling” sanctions, which are destabilizing the Iranian economy and creating much hardship for the people of Iran.” Have the sanctions resulted in a complete collapse of the Iranian economy? Not yet. “In order to launch a successful strike, the economic conditions in Iran must become as dismal as in Iraq before it was invaded.”

Also:  The war on Gilad Atzmon… can one Jewish sax player be that bad? We asked Jean Bricmont to give us an answer:

“Gilad Atzmon is ‘anti-Semitic,’ he is ‘bad for the Palestinian cause,’ he may even ‘work for Israel.’ I must have a contrarian turn of mind, because that kind of talk never stopped me from regularly reading his blog (quite the opposite) with a mixture of fascination and amusement. It struck me that an Israeli Jew living in the U.K., a voluntary exile, who is accused of anti-Semitism, among others by pro-Palestinian Jews and Palestinian militants, and whose conferences draw protesting demonstrations from ‘anti-racist’ organizations, was at the very least an interesting curiosity….Atzmon’s themes, the politics of identity and memory, are at the very heart of our contemporary social debates. It ought to be possible to listen to a truly politically incorrect viewpoint on these issues, that of someone who defines himself as a ‘proud self-hating Jew.’”

Now subscribe and read on.

And also in this edition, the third of JoAnn Wypijewski’s wonderful  reports from the road: “The anatomy of hopelessness: Scenes from a West Virginia Middle School.” 

And lastly, hurry, hurry, hurry to buy your Dogs Against Romney buttons, as featured top right on our home page. Owner’s love and pride compel me to reveal that the whiskered visage on the button  is Jasper, prominent  and honored resident of the Cockburn home. Current best guess at the 75 lb Jasper’s genetic background is some sort of an Irish wolfhound/collie mix. I once sent off some of his saliva for a DNA test, and when Jasper espied “possible Boston terrier” in his supposed quarterings he sulked for weeks, though I have to say that business manager Becky Grant’s dog is a Boston terrier with somewhat kindred black and white markings, though of course fighting at a much lighter weight.

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Alexander Cockburn can be reached at alexandercockburn@asis.com