Saturday, October 23, 2010

The French Disconnection

We have been disconnected from France for a long time. Right wingers have been largely responsible for that and the meme of how cowardly the French really are started long, long before they wisely took a pass on Iraq.

And that's a shame, that we've swallowed wholesale these lies about the French as mindlessly and indiscriminately as we do Freedom French fries at McDonald's. It's a shame because the youth and leftist movement of France is carrying on its fourth round of riots (this last one lasting ten days and still going strong) since Sarkozy was elected. The third round was after a rioter was killed by French police last July. The second round was in early October 2006. The first round of riots was in late 2005 or right after Sarkozy was elected.

As is typical with right wing police states such as Sarkozy's, the crackdowns resulted in several protesters losing their lives. But that's a trade-off the French seem willing to make in order to make their voices heard. And the rewards for this latest round of protests is staggering: The nation has ground to a standstill through protesters blocking major roadways, stopping oil shipments and halting production at refineries. (Note worth remembering: When the Grandpuits refinery was virtually shut down by rioters, it also grounded air traffic since they're the major supplier of fuel to De Gaulle International airport.)

When oil companies import oil to our shores through blowouts and leaks, we wind up going to work for them for substandard wages, no health care and allowing them to publish their propaganda ads even on liberal blogs who don't care where their advertising revenue comes from.

Yet, in the five years since the French began the first of what would prove to be four rounds of riots, the United States has not had one major protest that resulted in anything more damaging than the occasional arrest to tarnish one's reputation. As it is, with many reasons to take to the streets with pitchforks and torches, brushes and buckets of hot tar, ropes and shotguns, we Americans, especially we so-called liberals, tremble at the thought of a preemptive Republican charge of "class warfare" at the merest whisper of elitist corporate genocide.

The French government has proposed raising the retirement age from 60 to 62. In our own country, Republicans have somehow managed to propose with a straight face raising Social Security eligibility from 62-65 to 70. France is rioting in the streets over their retirement age getting raised a modest two years. In our country, a Republican majority would all but guarantee a nation of septugenarians working as greeters for Wal-Mart so they can at least have a shot of financing their own funerals after they drop dead in their little blue vests.

The funny thing is, France, according to the CIA Factbook, enjoys the 8th highest life expectancy on the planet at almost 81 years while the United States is a dismal 49th, or barely over 78 years (which neatly sandwiches us between Albania and Wallis/Futuna). That means, according to world actuarial tables, the French would still be able to enjoy almost 20 years of retirement while Americans can look forward, under a Republican plan, to a mere eight years (without factoring in how older workers working until well past age 62 could detrimentally have their health and life expectancy affected).

So why are the French rioting and how come our asses are conforming to the seats of our Laz-E-Boys while watching Jon and Kate and the latest Jackass movie on DVD?

And where did this meme come from that the French are nothing but cowardly, elitist Gauloise-smoking malcontents wearing berets and sipping bitter little cups of coffee in outdoor cafes while spitting even bitterer diatribes against anything smelling of the bourgeois?

The French, while historically being one of the easiest nations to conquer, nonetheless enjoy a reputation of being one of the most perennially difficult to govern. Napoleon found that out after a revolution that beheaded a king. The French obviously have never forgotten their classist roots and are always ready to light up the streets if they see their government is shortchanging them.

And it always seems to be the leftists, the Socialists and the young who are at the vanguard. In this country, with no draft, our own youth would be disconnected from more than just France were it not for the fragile tether to the world provided by Apple iPhones and Dell laptops.

Unlike France, our nation doesn't even have a actual culture as much as a ruthlessly bottom line-driven hyperactive consumerism let alone have a backbone worth straightening. And while Jon Stewart may be putting together a rally on the 30th that preaches bland temperance and civility, such a call would fall on deaf ears in the land that gave us the very symbol of our liberty.

It also ought to be mentioned that raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 in France affects the country's retirement pension plan. In this country, pensions outside the government sector have gone the way of doctors that make house calls and mail delivery twice a day.

We Americans have had so much taken away from us, from pensions to actual interest on interest-bearing accounts, that if we had the sensibilities of the French, Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue on any given day would look like downtown Baghdad in late 2006. But we are not like the French. We have been disconnected from them and the lessons they gave in vain of the value and efficacy of civil disobedience.

Instead, liberals write blog posts railing about the status quo and not progressing beyond the manifesto stage. Right wingers and tea baggers rail about the government for completely different (and invariably erroneous) reasons and congregate in anemic little mobs so they can be ridiculed by the liberals.

Mike Whitney (not to be confused with the Mike Whitney of Firedoglake) in his latest article "Thank God for France" brings up some very good points and rightly excoriates our impotent and complacent cuntry (and yes, that is deliberately misspelled). He also brings up the excellent point that force is the only language tyrannical governments understand. That is a geopolitical truism that crosses all national boundaries. We ought to retest that theory sometime. It worked pretty fucking well against the British in the 18th century (although, to play Devil's advocate, we wouldn't've stood a snowball's chance in Hell were it not for the aid of, you guessed it, the hated French).

I'd say "thank God for France", too, were it not for one painfully obvious truism: We can only thank a good influence if we take those lessons to heart. But when we choose not to heed those lessons in brutal efficacy, we only doom our wouldbe mentors to irrelevancy as well as ourselves to repeat the less palatable lessons of history.

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