Tuesday, May 8, 2012

French elections—lots of hope but not much change?

For many years now, I have speculated on the nature of "the Talk."  Since the beginning of the rule of the banksters in say 1980, there has been this astonishing disconnect between what a politician says to get elected and what he or she actually proposes for governance.  I just have to assume that somewhere between election night and the inauguration, the big boys come in and explain reality in a meeting I now just call "the Talk."

I was still naive enough to be shocked in 1992 when I realized that Bill Clinton had no intention whatsoever of making good on the promises he made when his campaign was guided by the slogan "it's the economy, stupid!"  James Carvelle, the man who supposedly came up with that slogan was so astonished by the naked power of the banksters he soon was quoted as saying, "When I come back, I want to come back as the bond market."

But nothing even comes close to "the Talk" that must have been delivered to Nelson Mandela.  As he was about to take office, he was obviously informed that whatever promises he had made to his supporters who had literally risked their lives opposing Apartheid, he was instead to use the resources of his government to pay off the debts of those who had kept him in prison for years.  And so the man who stood up against Apartheid and the brutal South African police caved to a bunch of bond-holders.  He probably wants to come back as the bond market too.

So now we see that François Hollande is being subjected to a version of "the Talk."  This time it is in public—there is nothing back-room about it.  I find it especially amusing that even though the hammer will come down on him if he tries to introduce his economic ideas, he will be allowed to introduce legislation that expands gay rights.  I also love this essay because it explains what the heck the Europeans are up to when they trash "populism."  This has long confused me because I know so much about the historical Populists and have been driven to protest the misuse of the term.  The Euros are claiming that populism is bad because it is a precursor to fascism.  In historical terms, they are utterly wrong but at least I now know what they are talking about.

François Hollande Squeaks In

The French Chose a New “President”; Will the Eurocrats Let Him Do Anything?


The choice of François Hollande over Nicolas Sarkozy was an extreme case of the lesser of two evils. Seldom has a winning candidate inspired so little enthusiasm. Considering how unpopular Sarkozy was, according to polls, the final vote of 51.6% for Hollande to 48.4% for Sarkozy was surprisingly close. Voting for the bland and inoffensive Hollande was finally the only way to get rid of the agitated Sarkozy, aggressively pretending to be President of France.

There is no more real President of France. The leader who is elected to occupy the Elysée Palace no longer lays down the policy direction to be taken by the nation. That role has been largely taken over by the European Union Commission in Brussels.

With his modest manner, François Hollande is more suitable to be non-President of France. Not that it promises to be an easy job. The financial powers that run the world are pushing him to break the news to the French that they can no longer have the policies they want, but only the policies dictated by “the markets”.

In fact, the French are already aware of this. Exactly what it entails and how people react remain to be seen.

Like all 27 EU member states, and especially the 17 who have adopted the euro as their common currency, France is now under what European Commission chairman Jose Manuel Barroso calls “the new European system of governance”. This is comparable to what happens when an individual is judged to be incapable of managing her affairs and is made a ward of a legal guardian or of the state. Little by little, the EU Commission is taking on the role of legal guardian of the economic affairs of the member states.

Last year, in response to the deepening crises in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, the EU adopted draconian measures requiring member states to decrease their budget deficits and public debt; if they fail to do so, they can be punished by huge fines: a measure that could be compared in its logic to the old practice of locking up debtors in the poor house.

France is under specific orders to deepen pension reform (meaning pension reduction, one way or another), reduce or eliminate job security, limit minimum wage increases, shift taxes from income to consumption and further deregulate professional and commercial activities. These anti-egalitarian, pro-capital, anti-labor measures leave virtually no leeway for the “Socialist” president to do anything significant in favor of economically disadvantaged segments of the population.

Instead, he can advocate gay marriage, which has become the flagship proposal of those who want to prove they are “on the left” by infuriating a segment of the conservative right. Hollande has promised to give homosexuals the right to marry and adopt children, to enforce employment quotas for the handicapped, to propose legislation allowing the incurably ill to benefit from medical assistance to end life in dignity, to combat racial discrimination, including in police identity checks. If – and it is still a big if – he gets a majority in next month’s legislative elections, President Hollande can keep these civilizational promises without asking permission of Brussels or “the markets”. And based on experience, it is to be expected that the police will be better behaved toward ethnic minorities under a Socialist government than under Sarkozy.

However, when it comes to Hollande’s key promises to shift from “austerity” to economic growth and job creation, the gambling “markets” are already yapping at his heels and the European Union stands as a bulwark against any effective measures in that direction.

Mainstream commentators fidget on the sidelines. Will Hollande tell the French that they must continue to sacrifice for the banks? Will this push France into revolution, following its old tradition? Or into “fascism”?

Anti-fascism kills democracy

It is a major paradox that the post-World War II ideology of anti-fascism has played a major role in killing democracy.

This ideology, which finds its most respectable reference in the writings of Hannah Arendt, posits that the masses, when plunged into deep economic trouble, will readily follow demagogues who find scapegoats (usually Jews) and impose some sort of “fascism”. This ideology underlies the constant denunciation as “populism” of any criticism of banks and finance capital. Indeed, any expression of sympathy for the needs of ordinary people may be condemned these days as “populism”, regarded as the first step toward “fascism”. The result of this haunting fear has been to support every possible measure to discredit and weaken “the state” as the source of all evil. This ideology has been particularly strong in France. Generations of the left in France have hailed European unification as the answer to the threat of fascism, since it weakens the nation state. The EU is designed to prevent any excess of nationalism or populism, by moving decision-making to the European level.

With the current financial crisis around the euro, this process has reached fruition. There is now no important decision that can be made on the national level. A collateral damage of this achievement is the end of meaningful electoral democracy. Demagogues may rant and the people may riot, but they are totally powerless. As are the peaceful voters.

The common currency was conceived by many pro-European ideologues above all as a mechanism to force a European political unity. This is happening, but in a far more unpleasant way than promised. National sovereignties are being destroyed, but national resentment is growing. There is no “European common spirit” to match the European common currency and reconcile euro-rich Germans with euro-poor Greeks.

National Sovereignty and the Right-Left Division

The most spectacular defeat of democracy by “European construction” occurred in 2005 when French voters resoundingly rejected the Treaty establishing a European Constitution, only to have the French parliament ignore the vote and adopt a clone in the form of the Lisbon Treaty. Since then, what is called a “sovereignist” current of those who would like to recover national sovereignty has been growing, ignored or stigmatized by mainstream media and politicians. more
In Germany, Frau Merkel is surrounded by layers of neoliberals who assure her that standing up to the rest of Europe is somehow morally virtuous.  This is a very good neoliberal investment because she seems to believe their horseshit—even though she leads a country that has prospered mostly because the big economic actors are anything BUT neoliberals.

Germany Austerity Policies: Berlin Unmoved By Votes In France, Greece

By Noah Barkin and Stephen Brown Posted: 05/07/2012

BERLIN, May 7 (Reuters) - Germany is ruling out any substantive shift in its approach to Europe's debt crisis despite a rising chorus of opposition to Berlin's austerity policies that reached a crescendo in Sunday's elections in Greece and France.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Berlin on Monday, rejected the notion that Europe was on the brink of a major policy shift after Socialist Francois Hollande defeated her fellow conservative Nicolas Sarkozy and Greek voters punished ruling parties who slashed spending to secure a foreign bailout.

Shunned by Merkel, who publicly backed Sarkozy's campaign, Hollande repeatedly criticised Germany's focus on budget cuts and labour law reforms as the solution to Europe's debt crisis. Many saw his victory and the outcome in Greece as heralding a shift in Europe toward higher-spending growth-oriented policies.

But close Merkel allies made clear within hours that the expectation in Berlin was that it would be Hollande who would be making the lion's share of the concessions, and rowing back on policy promises made during the French campaign which the Germans view as dangerous for the entire single-currency bloc.

"The position of the German government is clear. We will continue on our savings path," said Volker Kauder, parliamentary leader of Merkel's conservatives and one of her closest allies.

After another bad night for her Christian Democrats (CDU) in a state election on Sunday, Merkel knows that if she is to win a third term next year she can ill afford to ignore German voters' demands that she give no more of their cash away to foreigners.

"Germans could end up paying for the Socialist victory in France with more guarantees, more money. And that is not acceptable," her ally Kauder said. "Germany is not here to finance French election promises."

Those promises appear potentially costly.

Hollande has pledged to balance the French budget in five years, but he also wants to hire tens of thousands of new teachers, introduce a 75-percent tax on million-euro annual incomes and raise the minimum wage.

He favours the introduction of joint euro zone bonds and a more active role for the European Central Bank in fostering growth - both taboos in Germany.

Andreas Schockenhoff, a leading CDU lawmaker who heads a Franco-German parliamentary group, told Reuters he expected Hollande to commit "very quickly" to "stability policies".

Pressed repeatedly at a news conference on whether the French and Greek votes might change the policy debate in Europe, Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seibert insisted the only way forward was growth through structural reform - such as of tax and labour rules aimed at improving trade - not debt-funded stimulus plans.

Merkel herself made clear that, while there was scope to discuss tactics, the overall strategy EU leaders committed to by agreeing a compact on fiscal consolidation was "not negotiable".

"We are in the middle of a debate to which France, of course, under its new president will bring its own emphasis," she said. "But we are talking about two sides of the same coin - progress is only achievable via solid finances plus growth." more
This is from The Guardian.  Even though it covers some of the same points are the article above, I had to include it because Traynor make the point that politicians continually selling out their voters eventually leads to a crises of legitimacy.  It is a good point because the LAST thing the banksters need is for their stooges to lose their legitimacy.

Eurozone crisis: Merkel tells Athens and Paris to stick to spending limits

Efforts to save the euro under threat after EU leaders' strategies collide with the wishes of voters in Greece and France
Ian Traynor in Brussels
guardian.co.uk, Monday 7 May 2012

Europe's 30-month effort to save the euro by slashing spending and debt levels risks turning into a crisis of political legitimacy after EU leaders' strategies collided spectacularly with the wishes of voters in Greece and France.

The impasse was most graphically demonstrated when Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, insisted Athens must comply with the stringent terms of its €130bn (£100bn) bailout even though more than 60% of the Greek electorate had voted for parties rejecting those terms.

Following a French election campaign in which she strongly backed the loser, Nicolas Sarkozy, and snubbed the president-elect, François Hollande, Merkel stressed her opposition to Hollande's central campaign pledge: reopening the euro's new rulebook, or fiscal pact.

"That's just not on," she told a Berlin press conference called to address the huge shift from right to left in France.

The first attempt to cobble together a new Greek government collapsed quickly when Antonis Samaras, the centre-right leader, called off negotiations. Greece appears to be on the brink of ungovernability as a result of a messy election triggered by the euro crisis. The stock market suffered its worse fall since 2008, losing as much as 8% of its value before closing 6.7% down. The country's banking index was 13% lower.

Market analysts shortened the odds against the country's chances of surviving in the single currency.

"The irresistible force of German austerity has clashed with the immovable object of Greek popular resistance," said Tristan Cooper, sovereign debt analyst at Fidelity Worldwide Investment. "The eurozone's weakest link just got weaker. Although it should be no surprise that Greeks are spurning the bitter medicine, the violence of the rejection is a shock. A Greek eurozone exit is now firmly on the cards."

But Klaus Regling, the German head of the eurozone's temporary bailout fund, warned that a return to the drachma would "be a catastrophe for Greece". more 

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