Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Is France Burning?

Americans are so thoroughly mesmerized by happenings in their own neighborhood that they have not paid much attention to what is happening in France.

Such is not my case. Aside from the fact that I lived in France for several years, I will be traveling there next month. Thus, the fact that the nation is being besieged by radical leftist forces has captured my attention.

I and many others have had occasion to praise the French president before. We know that his handling of the terrorist attack on the Bataclan theatre in November was far better than what we have seen coming out of Washington.

The French president was strong and resolute. He placed the blame where it belonged. He did not whine about Islamophobia. He sent his military to attack ISIS in Syria. Had he received any support from the Obama administration he would have invoked the NATO charter and declared the attack an act of war.

All told, the French Socialist shamed the American president. One point for him. Also worth noting is the fact that France’s large and unwieldy Muslim community offered the great majority of its votes to Hollande in the election that made him president of France. Defying your own constituents is an act of political courage.

Though Hollande rode into office on a “social justice” platform, one that seems to have echoed the advanced political economic theories of Thomas Piketty, he quickly discovered that the policies he first put in place were ineffective. In truth, municipal and legislative elections made clear that the nation disapproved. So, Hollande named a more market friendly prime minister and announced new economic policies that were more oriented toward the free markets. The new policies aim at eliminating the famed 35 hour work week and making it easier for employers to fire workers… thus making it less risky to hire them.

For a socialist to see the light and to defy some of his most zealous supporters was an act of political courage.

Now, as the economic policies are becoming law, the Hollande government is facing a violent insurrection, led by French labor unions, in particular by what is called the CGT. France has two major labor organizations, the CGT and the CFDT. The more radical CGT was, until the 1990s associated with the French Communist Party. The CFDT, with the Socialist Party.

The CGT has been showing its displeasure by trying to shut down the nation. Hollande has stood his ground. The Wall Street Journal editorialized today that the reforms were nearly Thatcherite. That is, they are a step in the right direction.

It noted that Hollande had not run on a Thatcherite platform and thus lacks the mandate for change that she had.

The Wall Street Journal reported on the events yesterday:

The standoff between President Fran├žois Hollande and unions deepened Tuesday as unions launched a new round of strikes and the French leader vowed to press on with a contentious labor bill that has fueled the unrest.

“The bill will be enforced, and the French people will judge,” Mr. Hollande said in an interview published Tuesday in daily newspaper Sud Ouest.

Mr. Hollande’s plans to overhaul rigid labor rules by giving companies greater margin to negotiate directly with their employees on pay and working conditions have riled union leaders, who say the measures circumvent their power to negotiate contracts across entire sectors. CGT, France’s largest union, has struck back with weeks of walkouts and blockades—backed by protest marches that are at times violent.

And, the CGT has tried to shut down the transportation system:

Three of the four biggest railway worker unions said they plan to join the labor action Tuesday evening, bringing to a halt about 40% of the country’s high-speed TGV trains and 60% of the slower intercity trains, according to state railway operator SNCF.

“Railway workers have every reason to mobilize to demand working conditions fit for the 21st century,” the railway branch of CGT said Tuesday.

The move by rail workers raises the stakes in a standoff that began in March with violent street protests and escalated into CGT-backed strikes that are trying to cripple the nation’s infrastructure. For the second straight week, blockades and strikes continued at oil terminals and refineries, leaving about 20% of gas stations with fuel shortages.

Adding to pressure on the government, air-traffic controllers announced a three-day strike starting Friday to demand more hirings. Their strike isn’t directly related to the labor-law changes, but it will create additional chaos for would-be travelers.

If anything is going to stop the insurrection, it is …an upcoming major soccer tournament. As long as it looks like theatre, it’s OK. Once it starts interfering with soccer and vacation, it becomes far less appealing.

The Journal continues:

Union leaders, however, are also under pressure. If the railway strikes and other blockages continue much longer, unions risk alienating swaths of the French public who want to see the popular tournament—as well as their holiday travel plans—go off without a hitch.

So far, CGT has struggled to mobilize wide support for its protests. Recent polls show the French public divided over the labor bill, while an Odoxa survey on May 26-27 found that 67% of 1,018 people surveyed had a negative opinion of CGT leader Philippe Martinez.

Pierre Gattaz, head of the Medef employers union that lobbies on behalf of France’s largest companies, said France “must do everything not to yield to blackmail, violence, intimidation and terror.”

All in all, it’s a good sign that a Socialist president can take the requisite political action to turn his nation away from economic stagnation and toward capitalism.

The Journal editorialized:

It’s a sign of the depth of France’s economic distress that even a government of the left recognizes the need for reform, and that it is pressing ahead despite the vehement opposition of its traditional political base. If a Socialist president can succeed in doing this in France, there might be hope for the rest of sclerotic Europe.

As I said, this takes great political courage. It takes courage to stop pandering to one’s constituents and to stop making promises that cannot be kept. One imagines that the next step will be reforming the French social security system and cutting down the generous pensions that are offered to government workers who retire young.

These big government programs are enormously popular with American liberals and socialists, but they have just about bankrupted France and have produced chronic economic stagnation.

11 comments:

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The contrast between Hollande and Obama comes down to values over ideology. Hollande is French in every way. Obama does not act like an American. Obama seeks to be like a Western social democracy. Hollande is doing what it takes to defend Western values. Hollande was raised Catholic, and today claims to be an atheist. Obama was raised Muslim, and followed Jeremiah Wright. The French have always done what's best for France. Obama embraces our enemies and marginalizes our allies. The two could not be more different. Enjoy your trip, Stuart!

Ares Olympus said...

No "Burning" in the blog except the title?

IAC, sounds like we have a different definition of what "acting like an American" looks like. We have a big and diverse country. Maybe Minnesotans also are not American enough for you?

Maybe Clinton or Trump are American enough? Clinton will carry on the Neoliberalism tradition of her husband and Ronald Reagan, while Trump would carry on... I'm not sure what, flavor of the day FDR-like fascism?

I saw an interesting short quote from the Dalai Lama, someone the Left might listen to, and he's worried about too many refugees going to Germany and Europe.
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/05/31/the-dalai-lama-says-too-many-refugees-are-going-to-germany/
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Speaking to German reporters in the de facto capital of Tibet's exiled government, the Dalai Lama apparently said that "too many" refugees are seeking asylum in Europe.

"Europe, for example Germany, cannot become an Arab country," he said with a laugh, according to AFP, which quoted from an interview the spiritual leader gave to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German newspaper. "Germany is Germany. There are so many that in practice it becomes difficult."

"When we look into the face of every single refugee, especially the children and women, we can feel their suffering," he said. "The goal should be that they return and help rebuild their countries."
-------

A slightly different situation, but the Dalai Lama recognizes cultural differences are important and had to face a "forced" relocation of Chinese into Tibet to try to replace their culture with a Chinese one.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sinicization_of_Tibet

You could almost imagine radical Muslims intentionally supporting violence in Syria and the like, as a force to export Muslim culture to expand into Europe, if "paranoid" thoughts like that are useful for ending German's guilt over WWII and setting some limits on their "compassion".

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @June 1, 2016 at 6:58 AM:

You are correct, America is a diverse country. I know Minnesota has a sizable Somali population brought there as refugees. Strikes me there have been notable issues with some Somalis assenting to American values, creating problems. here is ISIS infiltration within that community. That goes beyond immutable characteristics and/or good ol' fashioned American racism. I'm sure I sound ignorant, at least to your taste. In Detroit, we have a lot of problems with integrating the Muslim population, while the Chaldean Christian population is grateful to be here because they wanted to get out of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. To my mind, it's whether you actually want to be here, and whether you had a choice in where you ended up. This is one of the challenges with refugee status and relocation.

The circumstances of refugees seems akin to the medical patient's relationship with pain: they just want the pain to go away. We can provide material assistance, but once the situation is "stabilized," what do we have? What do the refugees want? We should ask: "Do you want to be here, in the USA? Why?" I'm not hearing that's a consideration with the Syrian refugees... they just want to be somewhere else, and Western nations are being told they have to take them. To this point, your quote from the Dalai Lama, he has excellent insight. I suggest we not react to suffering, that we resist the desire to just make it go away. We ought ask the refugee what they want for themselves. They may not want to come to America and be American. Maybe they want to stay in a "nicer" Syria. That is a serious problem. That's why I ask: Where is the Muslim world in all this?

Americans assent to American values. Most important is that America is a distinct civilization, with a distinct charter and popular composition. Being an American means you assent to these values, specifically as outlined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Interpretations will vary, but we recognize our nation's charter is unique. We believe in limited government, individual rights, personal liberty and E Pluribus Unum. If that's no longer the case, or it sounds quaint and dated, then I think we have to consider who we are becoming and whether we have a national identity with any unifying gravity.

Obama has continuously demonstrated that his values are not American values. He ran twice as a presidential candidate with a campaign strategy based on opposition to his political opponents, not a candid declaration of his positions. We had "Hope & Change." To what? "We are the people we've been waiting for..." To create what outcome? In 2009, Americans wanted jobs, and he was a champion of universal healthcare. Obama panders to victimology and identity politics. No need to list the instances here... on the international stage, the "Apology Tour" has been more than enough. Obama is a democratic socialist, of the European variety. He doesn't like our Constitution; indeed, he has demonstrated scant understanding of the Separation of Powers. No one from his past knows who he is. He was never vetted. He has achieved nothing of value on his own, and he has released no information about his merits to gain the positions he has had. His greatest influences hated this country. I would've taken Hillary over Obama any day of the week.

Continued below...

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Continued from above...

Hollande does not have this problem, and is willing to defend his own civilization. If America is attacked again, will Obama defend our nation, or seek to understand and calm our enemies? I suspect the latter, and that's scary. Hollande isn't taking that approach. He knows the threat to France is existential. Obama sees these problems as academic and data-driven, admonishing us that we have to "honor our values," based on his interpretations... what he says American values are! Interesting that so many Americans have no idea what "values" he's speaking of. He's aloof to the nation he leads. Hollande is not. Obama talks of the "arc of history," but he seems to have a very narrow understanding of American history -- that of a sinful, deeply flawed nation deserving contempt, not exceptionalism. Hollande knows France, French history, and French culture, and it's integration with the legacy of Western Christendom and the liberal intellectual tradition. With that compass, leadership is easier because you know where you're going, and a nation will follow.

priss rules said...

Things get complicated because French labor laws(that make firing people difficult) favors French Nationals, the white Europeans.

If you run a company and must hire someone who'll stick around for a long spell, you will likely go with a known quantity. So, French companies have favored white workers.

But if you can easily hire and fire, you might try out non-whites such as Africans and Muslims. This undercuts white French labor.

So, the rage is a mix of French nationalist sentiments and leftist ideology.

I wouldn't mind easing French labor laws IF France were mostly white. But with its non-white population growing so fast, laws such as these are the only protection that native workers have.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Actually, my apologies. I realize I'm not getting to the core point in all of this...

What doe Valerie Jarrett think?

After all, what Valerie Jarrett thinks is all that matters.

Who doesn't know that? Ask them.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: Obama has continuously demonstrated that his values are not American values. He ran twice as a presidential candidate with a campaign strategy based on opposition to his political opponents, not a candid declaration of his positions. We had "Hope & Change." To what? "We are the people we've been waiting for..." To create what outcome? In 2009, Americans wanted jobs, and he was a champion of universal healthcare.

If only Obama had supported universal healthcare over basically subsidizing low-income health insurance plans, you might have a point. Perhaps someday America will rejoin the rest of the world and not tie our health insurance to our employers, and people won't have to stay in jobs they hate just for the benefits, and employers won't have the overhead costs of providing healthcare to their employees.

France may be "burning" as Stuart sees, but Obama thinks America is great already.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JqV58ZH7P94 PBS: What Obama thinks when he hears, 'Let's make America great again'
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President Obama said: "Despite all the challenges that we face right now, if you had the choice to be born in any one period of time in our history, and you didn't know ahead of time if you were going to be rich or poor, black or white, male or female. You just had to guess on what moment do you have a best chance of succeeding, it'd actually be now."
-------

That doesn't sound like victimology or race politics. It sounds like a call for the American dream. I'm more skeptical than our president about the upside of our challenges, but at least I'm sure working hard and making wise choices makes a difference for individuals.

IAC: I know Minnesota has a sizable Somali population brought there as refugees. Strikes me there have been notable issues with some Somalis assenting to American values, creating problems. here is ISIS infiltration within that community.

Indeed, there is a current court cases of Somali youth who were inspired by the ISIS recruitment propaganda.
http://www.mprnews.org/story/2016/05/06/isis-trial-minnesota-faq
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The FBI has arrested nine young Minnesota men since 2014 for allegedly plotting to join the terror group ISIS in Syria.

Six — Abdullahi Yusuf, Zacharia Abdurahman, Hanad Musse, Abdirizak Warsame, Adnan Farah and Hamza Ahmed — have pleaded guilty to conspiring to travel to Syria to join ISIS.

They told Judge Michael Davis that ISIS propaganda videos and social media inspired them to seek out the group to join up. Most were in their teens when they got caught up in ISIS' sophisticated social media campaign to recruit new followers.
-----

So we learn young men don't always make the best choices. But the other thing we learn is those who make mistakes in their youth also have firsthand understanding how young men get pulled astray, whether in drugs or crime or dreams of becoming holy warriors, and some of these young men may yet change paths and become community leaders and help the next generation of refugees or immigrants avoid the same mistakes.

Minneapolis's Congressman Keith Ellison is Muslim himself, and the first Muslim elected to congress, although he was born into a Catholic family. Converting to Islam does seem strange to me, and I admit it looks more like a reaction against white Christianity which contains historic oppressive elements like the KKK. Still its good to me that we live in a land with freedom of religion, and we need leaders who can defend Islam's more peaceful expressions against the Islamic fundamentalists who want their interpretations alone to be the word of God.

The way of peace in the world certainly sometimes requires controlling, fighting and killing, but we can't let those who deny the possibility of coexistence to win based on their own bad behavior.

Maybe someday some of the boldest Minneapolis Somalis will prosper here and still decide to go back to their homeland, but to help those who resist the ISIS mind-virus.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @June 2, 2016 at 8:03 AM:

"If only Obama had supported universal healthcare over basically subsidizing low-income health insurance plans, you might have a point. Perhaps someday America will rejoin the rest of the world and not tie our health insurance to our employers, and people won't have to stay in jobs they hate just for the benefits, and employers won't have the overhead costs of providing healthcare to their employees."

That's right... issues, challenges and concerns about/over healthcare will just magically vanish when we go to single payer. Just like how it's worked out for all those other social democracies that have single payer in place.

Thanks for clearing that up for me. You never actually touched on my point about jobs. Generating wealth is not magic.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC: You never actually touched on my point about jobs. Generating wealth is not magic.

Tell that to Donald Trump. Everything is magic to him - he spends 5 seconds in front of an audience and instantly knows the answer to every problem. Every problem happens because someone else is cheating you, cheating the system, and all you gotta do is put your foot down and demand what's yours, and problems are solved.

Incidentally on jobs the official unemployment rate peaked at 10.0% in October 2009, 10 months into Obama's term, and has steadily declined for 8 years, down to 5.0% the same rate as April 2008, although its hard to tell if Obama has just been lucky. George W might have thought he was lucky also in Spring 2008, with all the "economic indicators" looking good then too.
http://data.bls.gov/timeseries/LNS14000000

Wealth is an interesting idea, but somewhat imaginary these day. Modern wealth is "generated" by asset values, and since the most wealthy have most of the assets, they most benefit by bubble economics, at least if they can find a way to sell before the next bust, and so many must be sitting on a lot of cash right now, ready for the good deals after the next bust.

This shows household net wealth peaked in 2008 at 70 trillion, and now sits about 85 trillion. Of course most of this is "imaginary" because if everyone tries selling at the same time, the market values crash.
https://www.federalreserve.gov/econresdata/notes/feds-notes/2015/us-net-wealth-in-the-financial-accounts-of-the-united-states-20151008.html

So we live in a world that has to keep up the illusion that the current bubble isn't a bubble, and as long as we can do that, as long as we can ignore the nonexistent interest rates on savings, we can pretend all the promises to the future will be honored.

It won't, and when people's theoretical pensions disappear in a panic sell wave that never recovers, things may be burning in America too.

Issues like this scare me 1 million times more than Junior varsity team bullies and their social media accounts. But ISIS can be a good scapegoat to blame on all our problems, or the Mexicans, or the Chinese, or BLM or whatever.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Ares Olympus @June 2, 2016 at 4:24 PM:

If you believe the true unemployment rate is 5.0%, I've got a bridge to sell you... a Bridge to Nowhere. How we have that low an unemployment rate with this low of labor force participation is something economists will have to unpack in the next (Republican) administration, when we can see the numbers as they are.

Ares Olympus said...

IAC, I agree the Labor Force Participation Rate is important, but if Trump is going to reverse this 50 year decline trend for men, he's going to have to do something dramatic.

https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/LNS11300001 Men
https://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/LNS11300002 Women

Perhaps its modern social safety nets allow more people to not work, or not work full time, so taking away people's disability SSI so they can survive below poverty, that might push the millions of 50,60-somethings back into the McDonalds fastfood and Walmart greeter jobs.

Anyway, I'll trust the unemployment rate itself is a fair measure, but it's primary purpose is to help the Federal reserve and its dual mandate to keep unemployment and inflation low.

If we changed the definition of unemployment to satisfy you, we'd have to say the federal reverse has to go to negative interest rates to steal everyone's savings and force every back into the labor market.

The most bizarre thing about our modern economic system is it seems like no amount of money printing (or debt creation) can seem to bump core inflation up, so my best guess is the system is now set up so the rich earn all the surplus money and don't spend it. Or the other explanation is globalization, which allows us to export jobs, and import cheaper products.

Of course no one knows how the health care and college tuition inflation bubbles will pop. And hospitals and universities are in general over-indebted like everyone else, so when their ability to pass on costs to patients and students ends, we'll have massive institutional bankruptcies.

We're on a "Grow or die" trajectory no matter who controls congress or the White House. And more debt is the only cure. Muslims don't have to destroy us. They just have to wait until we destroy ourselves using trillions of dollars to defeat boxcutters.