CounterPunch is a lifeboat of sanity in today’s turbulent political seas. Please make a tax-deductible donation and help us continue to fight Trump and his enablers on both sides of the aisle. Every dollar counts!
Three years ago this month, people in poor French neighborhoods rioted for 21 days, burning cars and destroying property. The violence in those areas – known to the French as ‘Banlieues’, with large immigrant populations packed into concrete high-rise buildings and youth unemployment of about 40 percent, caused damage estimated at 150 million Dollars. Approximately 10,000 autos alone were ‘torched’.
In November 2007 rioters in Villiers-le-Bel, north of Paris, went on a rampage for a few nights, this time with guns. ‘Things are much more violent than in 2005,’ Patrick Ribeiro, head of the Synergie Officiers police union, said at the time. ‘The youths are shooting at us with handguns and hunting rifles.’
Last month Jean-Luc Besson’s movie-production company, Europacorp SA, was forced to cancel filming of “From Paris With Love” starring John Travolta, in the Paris suburb of Montfermeil, after youths torched its autos and threatened the crew, despite the company having offered employment as extras to over 100 locals .
Nicolas Sarkozy, the President of France, or ‘Sarko’ as he is known, has just failed in a legal attempt to have sales of a Voodoo Doll depicting him, carrying some of his quotes as would put likes of Dick Cheney to shame, stopped.
Amongst other of ‘Sarko’s bon mots contained thereon:
‘get lost, you pathetic arsehole’
as said to poor French Citizen who refused to shake his hand at Agricultural show.
The subject of this small article is a particular aspect of the times in which we live. The defining aspect of our times even.
It is not in the primary instance ‘that one’ of the decline of political vernacular as mirroring tension or the widening gaps between the haves and have nots in Society – though I have to admit it was as ‘news’ to me that France has poverty to rival that found in the black ghettos of American Metropolis, where in Harlem for example, it can be that the average life expectancy of a 35-year-old black man is lower than that of the average male citizen of Bangladesh at the same stage in life.
The subject here is the burning issue of the times, albeit on back burner as yet (?); the French phrase being as between ‘Liberalisme’ and ‘Dirigisme’ – or between ‘Free Market’ and ‘State Intervention’.
Or indeed, as put by American true and proper: Between mere monetary profits and social values more noble.
One of the ‘benefits’ of this financial meltdown, if anything good can come from such, and unfortunately we ain’t seen nothing yet; is that a lot of people ‘all sides’ are going to have to think long and hard about so many of the things as have come to be taken for granted, the so called ‘free market’ being one. Foremost in mind here is the manipulation of the rugged spirit of individualism which has been purveyed as ‘pap for the swallowing’ in the Land of the Free and home of the Brave.
One says ‘pap’ because the moment the chips were down for the serious money, the State was called upon to intervene; form of ‘bailout’ for the wealthy, to exhortation tearful, indeed on bended knee…
The ruggedness of individualism only extends so far it would appear, and certainly not such as to embrace body Corporate, form of private finance.
No such ‘bailout’ for the poor, for the ordinary, hard working and honest Citizen.
That would be ‘Socialism’, something completely contrary to the American Way.
As to the growing body of the poor American Citizen?
– ‘qu’ils mangent de la brioche.’
‘Let them eat cake’ as Marie Antoinette might have said?
One of the ways thought can be provoked about society under Financial Meltdown is contemplation of the proposition that Democracy can only really exist within certain margins concerning the distribution of wealth; as measured by Gini Coefficient.
‘Really existing’ meaning out with the intermediary determining of such as ‘black box’, within which contained ‘non reality’ such sense.
What scared me witless recently, not to be uncouth and say ‘shitless’, was to look at a topographical representation of the society outlined in Orwell’s 1984, delineating the small proportion of ‘inner party’ as ‘2%’ – and thinking of the ‘trickle down’ theory of economics deployed as rationale for tax cuts in the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, and the small proportion of society those tax cuts benefited directly as approximating same by way of percentage, now such chicken coming home to roost.
The words ‘Inner Party’, coming in fear and resoundingly so, to mind.
Truth is, this burning question of our times concerning ‘Free Market or State intervention’? is not new; it has been around before for America with such piercing, shrill scream as is realised currently; in 1933 as was to be precise.
‘plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose’ as the French could say – or indeed as banking institutions JP Morgan and Bank of America could have said in 1933, to more contemporary reference having consolidated control over US Banking unprecedented this meltdown:
‘We’ll be back..’
Thence of Brecht and of ‘bastard’ in quote indeed.
Roosevelt only went so far along the lines of ‘Dirigisme’, or State Intervention – and we are indebted to likes of Smedley Butler for contribution indicating as to why, and to the fact that POTUS 32 survived an assassination attempt.
America is currently rejoicing in the fact that it is to have a new President, and a large part of this rejoice in the anticipation probably founded in no small measure on the fact that ‘any President has to be better than George W Bush’.
Citizens of America turned out in droves to vote Election 2008 – so I guess you can say something positive about that which POTUS 43 ‘gifted’ – unlike the gift of ‘President’ Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who clings to power regardless of such droves of Citizen as turned out – to be turned over by the ‘Democratic process’.
However, the reality is that when it comes to ‘money talking’ language of free market, America is now facing a future where never has so much been in the hands of so few – while needed by so many. This does not bode well for the future of American Democracy -unless Barack Obama as POTUS 44 can do as Roosevelt and implement greater State Control?
When such as money is the sole delineating and determining factor, it is very difficult to ‘prise’ control in a situation where few have it in greater proportional share than ever before?
‘From their dead fingers’ as it were being apposite in terms of the ‘resistance’ liable to be encountered?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew a thing or two about such matters, and was careful to tread a fine line over such as he invoked Presidential by way of the State stepping in to take over, and starting to represent the interests of the many over the few, way of Democracy realised – to collective sigh of ‘at last’ amongst Citizen. The defining issue facing Barack Obama is just this challenge reborn.
You cannot campaign on a basis of offering hope midst of crisis without being held to it – and pivotal to such hope is that things are going to improve for the ordinary Citizen.
America is tired of the interests of the Free Market being held aloft at the expense of Citizen, not the least in the sufferance it has brought, and continues to bring. ‘Trickle down economics’ is dead, as also, with the Paulson Bailout, is the ‘Free Market’ – such unrestrained ideology as being ‘laissez faire’- and ‘passé’ as the French say.
So what does that leave as choice, to help get America working again, to get a resurgent Main Street, which is really beginning to suffer at the hands of the grip of Wall Street?
I sincerely hope that Barack Obama proves doubters wrong in finding parallel solution to that same problem as faced by FDR all those years ago. Hope herein that he is able to further Democracy in America by making it more representative of the interests of the ordinary Citizen, not just in words as empty promise, but by deed, in real terms such as the quality of life experienced everyday for ‘Joe Six Pack’. Hope that the fact we have just witnessed the most expensive political campaign in history, as financed in large part by Wall Street, does not mean the ‘wisdom’ of Lone Star State in ‘gotta dance with them as brung ya’ being realised; does not mean parallel for America of Tony Blair, ex Prime Minister of the UK, who is now in the employ of JP Morgan, making speeches on the ‘tired old whore’ circuit to personal ‘reward’. Tony could talk a good game for sure, but the reality experienced by ordinary Citizen was little different than under free market ideology; or ‘no such thing as Society’ rhetoric of Margaret Thatcher -now there was an ‘individual’ who could hate, without need for sweetening lie political, or further twist such knife as held by Tony, way of saying one thing while doing complete opposite.
I hope that Barack Obama is no George W Bush in face of ‘big money’ when it comes to representing the Citizen who shared the hope in caste of vote. Hope that the tears of joy such as of Jesse Jackson do not turn unto tears of sadness, hope that Martin Luther King will find his genius words of humanity concerning ‘Dream’ ring true, hope that Democracy will prevail over Fascism, and hope that things will get better for the ordinary Citizen in America.
Barack Obama’s finest hour – or America’s worst, beckons.
Lest trouble as of in the Banlieues be as small time, political vernacular degenerate further, 1984 seem as pipe dream – and Democracy die as American dream turns unto nightmare.
That sure is a lot of hope to be on the shoulders of one President.
How wonderful it will be if Barack Obama can ‘stiff the money in dancing with the Citizen as them as really brung’, transcending thereby the cauldron of corruption, and make life as pursuit of happiness and in liberty the reality, rather than woe begotten ideal, for the Citizen of America in the greatest Democracy in the World ever seen thereby?
How wonderful that he could avoid ‘j’accuse’ as avoided ‘black box’ unreality.
That Harlem may be no more as Bangladesh, and trouble in such as Banlieues a thing of the past as distant geographic, yet closer in the solicitation of upward change, way of learning.
In a lesson taught World by America, this coming President elect, as how things can be brought to be by such as man in faith, and concerning ‘temple’.
In closing, some words from Franklin Delano Roosevelt, such as did indeed realise hope, and concerning way things are as they are, stated in 1933 Inauguration address – though they could just as well be said today, such the profundity – and joyous be the marvel that Barack Obama may find his own seam of such wisdom in form of re-iteration; his own words and actions found Presidential accordant:
‘Primarily this is because rulers of the exchange of mankind’s goods have failed through their own stubbornness and their own incompetence, have admitted their failure, and have abdicated. Practices of the unscrupulous money changers stand indicted in the court of public opinion, rejected by the hearts and minds of men. True they have tried, but their efforts have been cast in the pattern of an outworn tradition. Faced by failure of credit they have proposed only the lending of more money. Stripped of the lure of profit by which to induce our people to follow their false leadership, they have resorted to exhortations, pleading tearfully for restored confidence….The money changers have fled from their high seats in the temple of our civilization. We may now restore that temple to the ancient truths. The measure of the restoration lies in the extent to which we apply social values more noble than mere monetary profit.’
STEPHEN MARTIN can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org