La gauche et la droite en France

June 9, 2012

click for article/source

The photo above is from an article about the battle for control of the French parliament now that a socialist has won the presidency.  The woman on the left (ha!) is Marine Le Pen the far-right, anti-immigrant, nativist who has made a career on her papa’s (Jean Le Pen) ideas.  The man to the right is Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the left-wing candidate.

I find the slogans interesting.  Le Pen’s is, “Your only defender,” or “The Only One to Stand Up for You,” appealing to the frustrated sense of victimhood that fuels popular movements everywhere, often with a fascist tinge. It would not be out of place in a Tea Party setting.

Mélenchon’s is “Take the power.”  Can you imagine such a slogan in the US?  What I find intriguing is that it recognizes that there is power to be taken!  Here, we assume that we have it already, people-power, democracy, all that.  His slogan would amount to class-war heresy here in the US.


Through the Ceiling

August 1, 2011

I am on vacation, but I do read the newspaper, and words are failing me.  Rather, I should say, words are choking me!  I’ll just use a few  bullets and a quote, and have done with it.

  • Repeal the law that created a debt ceiling.  It’s idiotic.  Just a phony way to impose “fiscal discipline.”
  • Do we have a democracy?  Most people want a taxes on the corporations, the wealthy, and judicious spending cuts.  We got neither, and the show is being run by a bunch of radical lunatics with backing from very big money.  I’m beginning to think Troutsky is right after all.
  • I voted for Obama because I thought he could win and Hillary might not, and of course, he was far better than McCain.  I never expected much.  He has surpassed my expectations in a negative way to an amazing extent.
  • Is he a dunce, a tool of the establishment, or a technocrat robot?

Here’s some text from Paul Krugman (bad on global warming, good on politics!) in his column today on Obama’s abject surrender to the Tea Party arm of Wall Street, and part of his linked text – my emphasis:

Did the president have any alternative this time around? Yes.

First of all, he could and should have demanded an increase in the debt ceiling back in December. When asked why he didn’t, he replied that he was sure that Republicans would act responsibly. Great call. . .

Obama, at his press conference last December, announcing his surrender to the GOP on tax cuts; the questioner was Marc Ambinder:

Q Mr. President, thank you. How do these negotiations affect negotiations or talks with Republicans about raising the debt limit? Because it would seem that they have a significant amount of leverage over the White House now, going in. Was there ever any attempt by the White House to include raising the debt limit as a part of this package?

THE PRESIDENT: When you say it would seem they’ll have a significant amount of leverage over the White House, what do you mean?

Q Just in the sense that they’ll say essentially we’re not going to raise the — we’re not going to agree to it unless the White House is able to or willing to agree to significant spending cuts across the board that probably go deeper and further than what you’re willing to do. I mean, what leverage would you have –

THE PRESIDENT: Look, here’s my expectation — and I’ll take John Boehner at his word — that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen. And so I think that there will be significant discussions about the debt limit vote. That’s something that nobody ever likes to vote on. But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he’s going to have responsibilities to govern. You can’t just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower. [Oh, yes you can!!]

And so my expectation is, is that we will have tough negotiations around the budget, but that ultimately we can arrive at a position that is keeping the government open, keeping Social Security checks going out, keeping veterans services being provided, but at the same time is prudent when it comes to taxpayer dollars.


What do French workers want?

October 20, 2010

With all the coverage of the conflict in France between the unions and the government, I have heard little about what the real issues are.  Yes, the unions don’t want their members to be forced to wait until the age of 62 to get full retirement – now they retire at 60.  And yes, that would still be the lowest retirement age in Europe, so, aren’t they just damn lazy?  Surely, they must have a position to counter Sarkozy’s insistence that the state just can’t afford this anymore…

Well, apparently they do.  I found this interesting article about the conflict, and I have excerpted most of it here:

… many workers say they’re prepared to stay the course, in spite of perceptions that they are simply too lazy to accept what would still be the lowest retirement age in Europe.  Two years too many, workers say Jean-Pierre Lesouef, an electronics manager at the transportation giant Thalys, says he has already worked for 37 years and is too tired to work into his 60s.

“I’ve had enough,” he says. “When you’re at my age and you’ve worked as long as I have, you see if you want to work another two years.”

Some experts say complaints like Mr. Lesouef’s go a long way toward explaining why the proposal to add an extra two years to French working life has caused so much upset.  Annual studies for the European Commission looking at attitudes toward work show the French, along with the Italians and the Spanish, are among the unhappiest workers on the continent.

Henri Sterdyniak, an economist at the Paris-based Centre for Economic Research, blames a hierarchical work structure within French companies that rarely allows room for professional development or promotions. Performance reviews are rare and negotiations on working conditions or career paths practically are scarce.

“The French model dictates that if you have a certain diploma you will have a certain career, and if you don’t you will never climb the ladder,” he says. “The worker at the bottom feels like he is constantly squeezed and never consulted. By the end of his career he is exhausted and uninterested, so it’s no wonder he wants to leave.”

Worker satisfaction has also dropped since the 37-hour workweek was introduced, because most people are forced to do the same tasks but in less time, Mr. Sterdyniak says.

Workers like Daniel Quittot, an air conditioning technician, say they’re concerned they will be forced out of their jobs and unable to find new work well before they turn 62. “I’m afraid that if the retirement age goes up, I’ll have two extra years on unemployment and in the end I won’t have worked long enough to collect my full pension,” he says.

Sterdyniak says Mr. Quittot has legitimate fears. Surveys show that unemployment among French workers over 55 rose dramatically when the retirement age was reduced to 60 from 65 in 1983 and is now among the highest in Europe. Although many want to work up to age 60, French employees are on average forced out of their jobs at 58.

“There is a real problem of age discrimination right now in France,” says Sterdyniak. “Unless that changes with the pension reform, we are going to create a whole new problem of unemployment.”


The knock against democracy

January 24, 2010

Since the time of the ancient Greeks, one of the main criticisms of democracy has been that it is nothing more than rule by mob.  Our Founding Fathers pretty much agreed:

In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever character composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.

Madison – Federalist Papers No. 55

Let’s face it – it’s true!  But the argument for democracy is clinched by this wise statement from Winston Churchill:

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.

This truth seems to be lost on President Obama.  He and the Democratic party should be riding this wave of popular rage and anxiety, but instead, they are becoming its target.


Foxy Lady

July 5, 2008

This is a late 18th century print by Rowlandson called “Reynard put to his shifts.”  It is from my personal collection, and is one of my favorites because of the dense knot of allusions, mythological, sexual, political, and satirical that it contains.  Just what is it about?

“Reynard” is the French word for fox, and it is sometimes used in English fables (in the land of fox hunting) as the name as an animal character.  The Fox referred to here is Charles James Fox , Whig opponent of the Tories.  James Gillray lampooned him often and viciously, partly because Gillray was, for a while, in the pay of the Tory party.  (Though he didn’t spare James Pitt, the Tory leader, either.)  Here is a detail of a Gillray satire of Mr. Fox  that shows him assassinating British liberty in the costume of a French sans culotte revolutionary.  (He was, for a time, a supporter of that revolution, and Gillray pilloried him as an unpatriotic sympathizer with Napoleon long after the Revolution had devoured its children.)  In my print, Mr. Fox is, of course, shown as a fox chased by some vicious hounds that bark out the names of legislative bills he supported.  A fashionably dressed woman  calls out to him, “My dear fox, get into cover,”  inviting him to run and hide beneath her skirts.  The sexual innuendo is indirect, but clear.  What is going on?

In 1784, the year this print was made, two unusual things happened in British politics:  Mr. Fox had to actually compete for his seat in parliament – usually a seat once gained, was totally safe; and Mrs. Georgiana Cavendish, an educated, brilliant, cultured, and tremendously wealthy noblewoman (shown here in a portrait by Gainsborough – she was famously addicted to gambling) who was a distant cousin, friend and supporter of Fox, went out on the hustings to drum up support for him.  (He won in the end.)  Never mind the Age of Enlightenment, this was not women’s work, and she was ridiculed and lampooned for it.

Rowlandson himself, did several satires of her political canvassing, including these two, which show Mrs. Cavendish suckling foxes at her breast, and buying votes by selling kisses.  Other less subtle prints show her groping tradesmen, not just kissing them, or playing with voters on a see-saw balanced on a penis fulcrum.


There is an additional association:  the theme of “Reynard put to his shifts,” i.e., the hunted fox at his wits end, was a common theme in popular culture of the day.  Here is an image by Carrington Bowles (1779) that shows one representation of the story with some commentary:

Reynard’s Last Shift may be read satirically as a comment on the upper-class hunters’ callous indifference to the disruption their sport brings down upon a peasant family. But we know as well that the image takes place within a narrative that here begins to yield other possibilities, among them the lascivious joke of the huntsman grabbing tail, highlighted by his reach between the legs of the alarmed woman. There is also the problem of the two genteel bystanders, woman and man, whose amused nonchalance is so striking. Is this cruel indifference or is it just possible that the young man’s gesture and her gaze indicate that they share our lascivious joke, setting up a complicity with the viewer? And indeed who are we as the imagined viewer? Possibly our 18th Century counterparts—the purchasers for a print like this—would be more of the “middling sort” who would see themselves as neither gentry or peasant, but there were always openings for alignment one way or the other. It could be that part of what made “jokes” like this so resilient in the period was a fluidity of the social structure in which the boundaries were unstable, even while readily recognizable within the visual delineation the prints suggested through such markers as dress.
from Clark University

This sort of close and entertaining analysis of satirical prints from this period of English history is found in abundance in Vic Gatrell’s fabulous book, City of Laughter:  Sex and Satire in Eighteenth-Century London.

In this image, Georgiana is given a sort of [mock] heroic aspect, standing tall and firm, while fox cowers beneath her skirts.  The dangers to Fox’s political personna are apparent – Karl Rove is not an original thinker.  My sense also is that Rowlandson here is alluding ironically to the myth of Actaeon, with which he was certainly familiar, as would any man of his standing, all of whom were educated on the classics.  That unfortunate man, Actaeon, loved nothing so much as hunting stags with his hounds, but one day he accidentally happened on the goddess Diana naked at her bath.  She splashed and cursed him, he metamorphosed into a stag, and his own beloved hunting dogs pursued himand tore him to pieces.  He couldn’t even form words to call to them to stop.  Here, the goddess is his protector, simultaneously saving him, and by implication, emasculating him, I think.


Just Say No to Rudy

November 14, 2007

norudy.png

I cannot understand the attraction of this man for the electorate, no, not on any level. Just to highlight one aspect of his miserable career as mayor of NYC, America’s Mayor, as he likes to call himself, I quote in full this excellent letter to the New York Times from today. The emphasis is added by me.

To the Editor:

Many thanks to Frank Rich for reminding people that after 9/11 Rudolph W. Giuliani tried to destroy democracy in New York City by urging that our elections be postponed so that he could overstay his term. In my experience, many people here have forgotten this shameful attempt at a power grab.

Whenever Mr. Giuliani the candidate says that “they” attacked us because they hate our freedoms and our rights, people should be reminded that his first response to this hatred was to try to strip away our most precious right: the right to vote.

The rest of America needs to know that the person they call “America’s mayor” desperately tried to become “New York’s autocrat.” Mayor Giuliani responded to an emergency by attacking the right of the people to vote. How would a President Giuliani react to an emergency?

Eliot Camaren

New York, Nov. 11, 2007


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