Saturday, October 23, 2010

Vive les troublemakers



Have you been following the situation in France? Over a million people out in the streets protesting, out of a total population of 65 million. Consider. Could you imagine 4 and a half million Americans, all taking to the streets, over Social Security cuts? Seems unlikely. (Incidentally the news reports aren't really accurate, when they say they're protesting their retirement age going from 60 to 62, because the French generally get their full benefits at 65 years, as opposed to the proposed 67 years. They are presently eligible for retirement benefits at 60.)

At this point the AFP says it looks like the parliament will pass the so-called reform, and not heed the demonstrators, even though their cause is apparently pretty popular.

The toads in the video above are Henry Blodget and Aaron Task, and one imagines they really look at things the way they seem to, and are not simply forced to say those crazy things by their boss. When I see things like this I feel angry and discouraged, although I recognize that just because somebody is on TV or the internet and has a platform from which to announce What Americans Think doesn't mean he necessarily knows what he's mouthing off about. If anything, a case could be made that if Big Media feels compelled to go to the trouble of spinning the strikes thus, they feel there's cause to be worried that the American folk may wake from their cable television based slumber. OK, that's probably a stretch-- but who really knows how people feel about the doings in France, or if they're even registering? I dived into the comments at Yahoo, and my decidedly unscientific survey found a strong contingent that also felt that messrs. Blodget and Task were out to lunch.

Henry Blodget, "Americans Dumbfounded As French Protest Increase In Retirement Age To...62"

anonymous:
Maybe you are looking at this backwards. Maybe it is the French who look at America and shake their heads in wonder: Why aren’t Americans rioting in the streets continually? As you state, Americans work longer hours, have shorter vacations, a much higher retirement age and no high-quality national health care, and yet they are a docile as sheep and rarely protest vigorously for anything. What is wrong with Americans? Why are they so accepting of their second-tier lifestyle? Is it ignorance of how people in other developed countries live? Sure, both countries are broke at the moment, but look at the difference in quality of life between France and America. Unless you are super rich, might it not be better to be born French than American?

LK:
No, the retirement age needn't go up. Taxes do. At 35% the top tax rate for wealthy Americans is about as low as it has been in 100 years. Historically, it has been upwards of 70%. We need to stop borrowing from the rich and start taxing them instead. Don't believe Tech Ticker's propaganda.

anonymous:
We would not have such deficits and debts if the government spent our money on what they are supposed to spend it on instead of spending it on stupid $hit. How many billions have we spent looking for WMDs that aren't there? How many billions have we spent trying to stop people from smoking pot? How many billions have we spent bailing out the rich wall streeters? It is because the Axis of Weasels (wall street and washington) has squandered our money...that's why our nation is broke and everyone's retirement is gone. Perhaps we should have a French style revolution....chop, chop!

Sean:
Wow! I didn't think this crowd would be so soft on the French, but I agree completely. Americans just bend over and take it, but the French fight. Back in the '80's when agriculture was in crisis and family farms were going belly up all over, what did American farmers do?--they went off into the south 40 and killed themselves--suicide rates spiked in places like Kansas. What did the French do? They fought. Today the French have family farms and world class food and Americans have agribusiness and a 60% obesity rate. Basically, Americans see the economy as something like the weather: what can you do when it changes? Continental Europeans see it as a big machine: you've got to get your hand on the buttons.


And then there was also crap like this:

Eternal Truth:
Why is it that in just 3 short generations, we have forgotten what it means to be a human being? For all of man’s existence we have known that we would work and struggle, in one form or another, to make the best life for ourselves and our families. We didn’t rely on someone else to give us something for nothing. We reaped what we sowed (and we still do). The concept of a pension/retirement from someone else’s pocket providing us a comfortable and easy life from some arbitrary age to the day we die is a demonic construct; spawned from the hell of WWII and the Machiavellian manipulations that led up to it, compounded by the enslaving affects of the War on Poverty. We are here to live our life to the best of our ability, and leave the rest up to God – not the Gov’t.

yahoo user:
My grandfather worked until he was 83 yrs old and not because he had to. Social Security was there for him and he elected not to take it at 65. So now maybe I'll need to work until I'm 83 as well if I'm blessed with good health and a good employer. As the French say, "C'est la vie!" It is refreshing to see that the French are even lazier and feel more entitled than Americans. And I thought we were the biggest spoiled brats...


Speaking of cultural-specific norms, is the strong correlation between wearing your religion on your sleeve and being a political reactionary strictly an American phenomenon?

Anyway, I think "Valentin" was my favorite commenter. He wrote:

Let's face it, folks! People are spoiled brats!!! They think they are entitled to breathe, eat, drink sleep, copulate/propagate, stay dry when it rains and warm when it snows, lay on the beach doing nothing and write some stupid poetry. But their most ridiculous claim is that they are entitled to live!!! They must be closet commies these people. I propose we reestablish the glorious Committee on Un-American Activities and screen all the wrong-minded folks who believe they are ENTITLED to live!!! I propose we elect to this committee our best citizens who are OUR FINANCIAL and INDUSTRIAL LEADERS!!! No one, and I mean it, NO ONE should be entitled to exist in the LAND OF THE FREE!!!! AMEN. After all we are civilized people and live in the 21st century.
(I wonder how many people may have given Valentin's comment a thumbs up thinking he was serious, or a thumbs down because they thought he was right but took it a little too far.)

I'd like to believe that the sizable contingent of people who wondered what Blodget and Task were smoking is reflective of society as a whole. Still, the French example seems to suggest that the oligarchs intend to ram this through much as the TARP bailout was rammed through the US Congress a month before the 2008 election, and Monday's popular rage became Friday's unfocused discontent.

Matthew Price, BBC News, Paris:

Will the French people finally get back what the workers want - a government that sees its main purpose as being to look after the citizens? My sense is the answer is twice, "Non". And indeed, most French know the world has changed since the days of the all-embracing welfare state.

They know the age of austerity inevitably implies an age of personal responsibility. And personal responsibility is something the Americans I have lived among for the last three years have adopted as a way of life.

I am reminded of a trip I took with a truck driver - named DuWayne - from Wisconsin. One thousand kilometres (600 miles) into an epic ride across the states, he mentioned the French lorry drivers' proclivity to strike.

"We'd never do that here," DuWayne proudly told me. "We work hard."

And it is true - they do.

One year he spent 352 days on the road, in order to pay the bills. I told him that the French strike to protect their working conditions, which were far better than anything he had ever known.

He looked at me, shocked, as if to say, "You mean the French have it better than us?"



That's part of the simulacrum of American life; most people really do believe that we have the highest standard of living, as if starkly dividing society into winners and losers makes for an aggregate "high standard", and if you're not one of the winners it's probably your fault. They know there's some unfairness built into the system, but like the commenter who said Americans look at the economy as being like the weather, they don't question it terribly much.

I still wonder, though, what people think. I trust polls less and less. More and more it seems that US society is balkanized, and it's progressively harder to make a simple categorical statement that "Americans feel that thing X is true" about anything, including the French strikes. Bloget and Task probably are right, at least about some people. But they are undoubtedly wrong about millions more.

I don't really have a tidy conclusion. I wonder if the French parliament, acting as stooges for an international overclass, will ride out the protests and France 2010 will serve as a cautionary example for ordinary people hoping to hold on to their welfare states, telling the people of the EU and the US, Japan, etc, "abandon all hope." Naturally, I hope not.


note: Price's article is titled "What would Americans think of the French strike?" but maddeningly, the usual BBC comment feature is absent, perhaps because otherwise we might actually say what we think.

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10 Comments:

At October 23, 2010 1:11 PM, Anonymous ms_xeno said...

I think a large part of our problem in the U.S., beyond the weather metaphor you mention, is the idea of our problems as those of "personal responsibility." Not mass responsibility, but "personal."

I see it where I work all the time. I temp for a company that's closing down its local op to move south next spring. The workers are nice to one another. They tip each other off about job opportunities and places to buy cheap groceries and the like. But even that kind of routine sharing is meant to be at the impetus of one low-paid serf who likes another low-paid serf. Even if it doesn't pan out, we keep our chins up! There's always hope, right? So long as that person hasn't given up, I shouldn't, either, right?

That anyone can or should work collectively at the next level to get what they deserve just never comes into the equation. Consolation is good, but confrontation is unheard of.

 
At October 23, 2010 7:41 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

hi ms xeno,
I hope your work situation works out OK.

As far as your point re "personal responsibility", undoubtedly that's true, but it's difficult for me to see where the ethos of personal responsibility ends and Reaganism begins, because conservatism has been beating that drum for several decades now.

For me one of the failures of mainstream liberalism is that it has responded in a piecemeal fashion to the challenge of Reaganism, a la "better management" of Reaganite and neoliberal policies, instead of tackling them head on, squarely repudiating them, and articulating an alternative vision. In Obama's case I think he actually believes in Reaganism, which if I'm correct is pretty ironic considering how he's supposed to be a socialist.

 
At October 23, 2010 9:21 PM, Blogger JM said...

Sheeple, really?

 
At October 24, 2010 5:08 AM, Blogger Mimi said...

It's infuriating to witness these two smug, pompus "commentators" talk about the greedy public and suggest that all these old people are ruining the country--the world, in fact, considering France--and so on and boringly on. Why don't they throw in a mention of the unbelievably bloated and out of control military spending, with more, much more to come? No, the idea here is to pit generation against generation--look at that old lady living high off the hog when the kiddies are starving! What a crock.

 
At October 24, 2010 7:55 AM, Anonymous Beyond the Pwoggiedome said...

Great post.

Americans suffer from the Protestant Work Ethic and with it a subservient attitude to authority. It's all wrapped up in fundamentalist religion. You don't see that in the French because they've rejected, for the most part, organized religion.

If you look at the labor unrest in the late 19th/early 20th century it was spearheaded mostly by European immigrants. For example, the anarchist movement was mainly an immigrant phenomenon. Without that European influence--which we don't have today--Americans default to a subservient role which the Puritans laid out so long ago.

 
At October 24, 2010 8:48 AM, Anonymous ms_xeno said...

Thanks, JV. I have someplace to go if we lose our home, which is a distinct possibility in '11. Sadly, that makes me more privileged than a whole lot of other people around here.

Yeah. Reagan. I wouldn't be surprised if a sizable number of my cohorts were fans of the Great Communicator. But we don't talk about politics in those terms very much, so it's hard to say for sure.

 
At October 24, 2010 11:24 AM, Blogger Mr Lonely said...

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At October 24, 2010 11:31 AM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Yeah, I know, "Sheeple" also makes me cringe JM, but I wanted to represent the quotes accurately. That one was otherwise interesting.

 
At October 24, 2010 6:04 PM, Blogger Jonathan Versen said...

Actually JM,
I thought about it and the comment that uses "sheeple" without a sense of irony isn't really necessary; the other four are enough.

 
At October 25, 2010 6:08 PM, Anonymous Mr. Hill said...

The relatively few Americans who reject state propaganda understand the risks and limitations of street protest. Laws are created and enforced for the benefit of institutions, not citizens.

It is doubtful the French perceive their nation, first and foremost, as a national security state. American dissidents, with good reason, do.

Federal, state & local governments are all highly antagonistic toward the cowed U.S. public, and anything which even threatens to interfere with the flow of commerce comes with a pending terrorism indictment.

The bad guys won. Fascism is the last ideology standing in the U.S., and this has been true for some time. The game is not in play.

The good news is that Fascism, like the oligarchical economy it serves, is unsustainable.

The bad news is, well, self-evident.

 

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