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Lazy Quote Diary: 'Ce Grand Cadavre' and Voracity

by DeAnander Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 05:37:23 PM EST

[Revised due to disappointing quality of first source, I add another more interesting tidbit...] Taking a break from decrying revisionism and manufactured consent in Festung Nordamerika, I ran across this promising, but ultimately disappointing book review and an op/ed from LMD. Both suggest that France is under direct attack by neocons/plutocrats; the first casts Sarkozy in particular as the darling of the neolibs, the second doesn't point fingers so precisely but suggests that the French economy is seen by transnational finance capitalists as a ripe peach for the picking. The assault on labour and resources known as "reform" to the neocons always comes with an ideological narrative to justify its cruelties. I am curious to know what our Francophone contingent can add for deeper understanding of the neolib offensive in their nation-state. Is Sarkozy your very own Thatcher? and if so, what can be done about him and the horse he rode in on?

opening grafs of review caught my attention but it gets less interesting after that, sorry...

The most discussed political book in France this autumn is Ce grand cadavre à la renverse, literally, "this big corpse lying on its back"), by Bernard-Henri Lévy (Grasset, Paris, 2007). It is supposed to be a book about the French left. But oddly enough, it is not really about the left, and it is not even really a political book.

Bernard-Henri Lévy is by far the most notorious of the small coterie of propagandists who, some thirty years ago, under the label of "New Philosophers", began a highly publicized campaign to reverse the anti-imperialist sentiment that had become dominant worldwide in reaction to the U.S. war in Vietnam.

The war was over, and the French left was weakened by sectarian fragmentation and the collapse of unrealistic "revolutionary" expectations. The Khmer Rouge, who took power in Cambodia in the wake of US bombing and a US-backed coup d'état, engaged in the sort of bloodbath that had been wrongly forecast to happen in Vietnam if the United States left. By a highly publicized and emotion-laden "discovery" of the Soviet gulag over twenty years after the death of Stalin, and by focusing on the murderous aberrations of the Khmer Rouge, the New Philosophers undertook to stigmatize all left aspirations toward radical social change as inevitably totalitarian. Against the ever-present "totalitarian threat", the United States was restored as the necessary savior of democracy and defender of human rights.

It is hard to measure the real impact of this campaign. It fit into a general post-Nixon effort to rehab U.S. imperialism under the banner of human rights...

This narrative is certainly ingrained in average USians by now.  Hitler/Stalin/PolPot are the Designated Great Satans of the last century, and some automatically add Mao.  The crimes of western imperialists are minimised or erased, and the rehabilitation of empire, race supremacy and mission civilisatrice is attempted both in the UK and US.  I had not realised that this was also happening in France.  Can anyone comment, expand, dismiss, deride, commiserate? Next, Ignacio Ramonet in Le Monde Diplomatique says openly that transnational capitalists are deliberately targeting France for takeover and looting:

While the discourse we once called alternative-worldist, critical of the economic horror, becomes muddled and suddenly inaudible, a new capitalism - even more brutal and conquering - is moving in. That's the capitalism of a new category of vulture funds, private equity funds, funds with the appetite of an ogre that command colossal amounts of capital (1).

The names of these titans - The Carlyle Group, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co (KKR), The Blackstone Group, Colony Capital, Apollo Management, Starwood Capital Group, Texas Pacific Group, Wendel, Eurazeo, etc. - remain little known to the general public. And, sheltered by that discretion, they're in the process of taking possession of the global economy. In four years, from 2002 to 2006, the sum raised by these investment funds, which collect the money of banks, insurance companies, pension funds, and the assets of the richest individuals, went from 94 billion euros to 358 billion! Their financial firepower is phenomenal, exceeding 1,100 billion euros! Nothing withstands them. Last year, in the United States, the main private equities firms invested 290 billion euros in repurchasing companies, and more than 220 billion euros during just the first semester of 2007, thus taking control of eight thousand companies.... Already one American employee out of four - and close to one French employee out of twelve - works for these mastodons (2).

Moreover, France has become - after the United Kingdom and the United States - their first target. Last year, they took possession of 400 companies (for a sum of 10 billion euros) and they now manage more than 1,600. Well-known brands - Picard, Dim, Quick restaurants, Buffalo Grill, the Yellow Pages, Allociné and Afflelou - find themselves under the control of private equity, usually Anglo-Saxon, firms that now covet the giants of the CAC 40.

The phenomenon of these rapacious funds erupted about fifteen years ago, but is now on steroids. Thanks to cheap credit and ever more sophisticated financial instruments, that phenomenon has lately taken on a worrying scope. The principle is simple: a club of wealthy investors decides to buy up companies that they then manage privately, far from the stock market and its restrictive rules, and without having to account to fussy, fuddy-duddy shareholders (3). The idea is to circumvent the very principles of the capitalist ethic by betting on the laws of the jungle only.

Concretely, two specialists explain to us, this is how things go: "To acquire a company worth 100, the fund takes 30 out of its pocket (on average) and borrows 70 from banks, taking advantage of the very low interest rates of the moment. During three or four years, it reorganizes the company with the management in place, rationalizes production, develops activities and captures all or part of the profits to pay the interest ... on its own debt. After which, it will resell the company for 200, often to another fund that will do the same thing. Once the borrowed 70 is repaid, the firm has 130 left in its pocket for an initial bet of 30, or a return of over 300 percent on a four-year investment. What could be better?" (4)

And while they personally are earning insane fortunes, the directors of these funds practice, without any squeamishness, the four great principles of corporate "rationalization": reducing employment, squeezing salaries, increasing the work pace, and outsourcing. Encouraged in all that by the public authorities, which, as in France today, dream of "modernizing" their production apparatus. And to the great displeasure of the unions, which call it a nightmare and denounce the end of the social contract.

Some thought that with globalization capitalism was finally sated. We see now that its voracity seems limitless. Until when?

Should one read the phrase Encouraged in all that by the public authorities as a polite LMD swipe at Sarko? where does LMD fit into the press spectrum?

by the way, whose bright idea was it to make Scoop ignore/escape markup in post titles?  that's kinda silly if you ask me...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...
by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 05:39:28 PM EST

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 at 08:23:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, jesus, they certainly are taking credit for a lot...

You know BHL is despised around these parts.  I'm sure he's really very despicable.  But from the interviews of him I've seen/heard/read, I have to admit I've taken a liking to him.  He totally went off on the American judicial/prison system many times.  It may be old news over in Paris, but it was refreshing to hear it in America.  Plus he said something about Chicago being his favorite US city or something.  And he has that crazy Euro-open shirt-wild hair thing going on.  And a French accent.  So, I'm a sucker.  I'm sure he's totally evil.  Most guys I find entertaining are.

"Pretending that you already know the answer when you don't is not actually very helpful." ~Migeru.

by poemless on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 06:05:03 PM EST
well, sorry, that really was a lazy diary, I had just skimmed the first few grafs.  it turns it out it's not so much a book review as I had hoped, but a critique of BHL's career, his neocon-style equation of America=Israel=Democracy-n-Freedom(TM) (cowboy Zionism) and his pseudo-religious manifest destiny rants.  we got those by the dozen in the states, nothing new here, sounds like just another Dershowitz.

I was much more interested in his part in an organised historical-revisionist effort trying to bury the French Left for good (the Fukuyama Gambit), but as the reviewer/critic admitted (had I only read more carefully) the book isn't really even about the Left, it's a pamphlet for the Church of Benevolent US Empire and the Nth iteration weird (but clever) Likudnik trick of conflating "anti-Americanism" with "anti-semitism".

yaaawn.  maybe we can ignore BHL -- he seems very ignoreworthy on further reading -- and talk about the "dancing on the grave of socialism" strategy of the neolibs described in the opening grafs that caught my eye?  how successful has this been in France?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 06:17:37 PM EST
Well, let's say that BHL is the icon of what passes as ethical thought in French MSM.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 08:27:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wish you hadn't said that.

that's really depressing.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 08:51:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To cheer you up - he made a movie ten years ago. As he knows everybody who is somebody in French media, he got good critics - at least some. The movie was ugly, and it tanked horribly. So the French public doesn't necessarily follows the MSM on this...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 09:00:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
oh dear.  one of those.

I sometimes wonder whether we should be worrying so much about separation of Church and State and focus on separation of Showbiz and State...  speaking as a long time resident of California :-)

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 09:08:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Did I mention his wife is actually a famous actress who was in some actually good movies ? Tha BHL himself, a rich heir, lives in palaces all years long, except when he goes to his Morroco house ; the redecoration of which was filmed for a TV documentary he produced, and which was bought by French state TV for some hundred thousands euros ? That he claims he is "of the left", yet is very good friends with Nicolas Sarkozy, and writes in the weekly newsmagazine Le Point, which is the voice of the Right Wing in France ?

That the mere mention of his name ought to make any self-respecting French leftist vomit ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Nov 1st, 2007 at 09:31:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jour et la nuit, Le (1997)
This turkey is just another French highbrow movie. But this one is THE highbrow movie ! BHL (the director) is known in France as a philosopher but not a great one. And his movie is just as I expected. The plot is stupid and sometimes laughable, there is a lot of sex scenes, the actors are absolutely awful. But I gotta tell that above all, I didn't understand anything. I suppose there is a big metaphysical meaning hidden in the movie, but sorry I didn't catch it.

Le Jour et la nuit is one of the worst French movie I've ever seen. You should see it.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 at 08:43:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
An deconstruction of BHL's promotion of his book on the French airwaves by the media analysis site acrimed. It's interesting in that it sums up all the appearances he has made in the French media, a rather long list :

Le 4 octobre, au matin, on le retrouve chez son (autre) ami Jean-Pierre Elkabbach, sur Europe 1, radio amie puisque détenue par Arnaud Lagardère [2]. Le même jour, Le Nouvel Observateur ose une couverture audacieuse avec un Bernard-Henri Lévy qui prend la pose. À l'intérieur du catalogue publicitaire (accompagné occasionnellement d'articles) se trouve un copieux dossier de douze pages dans lequel le « philosophe » débat avec un confrère : Alain Finkielkraut. Le soir, c'est Frédéric Taddéï qui lui offre micro, caméras et projecteurs dans l'émission de papotage « Ce soir ou jamais » (France 3). La campagne est lancée. Et à compter du 8 octobre (la veille de la sortie de son livre en librairie), BHL est partout, incontournable et inévitable.

Le 8 octobre, donc, Libération lui consacre un portrait et Elle une interview fleuve. Le même jour, il glose aussi dans Le Parisien. Le 9 octobre, Nicolas Demorand l'accueille à bras ouverts dans le 7-10 de France Inter ; puis, imperturbable, BHL va jacasser dans « Le grand journal », sur Canal + où Michel Denisot l'accueille avec les égards dûs à un monument de la pensée mondiale. Le 10 octobre, il est tout aussi bien reçu par l'équipe des Matins de France Culture. Le 11 octobre, il se fait portraiturer dans VSD et donne un entretien (pas très) exclusif à Paris Match. Le 12 octobre, c'est le quotidien parisien 20 Minutes qui le questionne avec une relative complaisance, et, en soirée, il est convié par le duo de choc Guillaume Durand/Sylvain Bourmeau pour parler de son livre (et, par la même occasion, de... BHL) dans « Esprits Libres » sur France 2. Courageux, le 14 octobre, Serge Moati, parce qu'il aime les défis, consacre au philosophe son émission « Ripostes » sur France 5 dans une « Spéciale BHL », parodie de débat où se succèdent adversaires et acolytes. Le même jour, c'est le quotidien lyonnais Le Progrès qui l'interviewe. Le 15 octobre, BHL est, à 8 heures, « L'invité du matin » de Christophe Barbier sur LCI. Le 16 octobre, il se produit dans la « Matinale » de Canal + ; puis, à 13 heures, il est invité dans le journal de i-tv avant d'être reçu, de 18 heures 15 à 18 heures 25, par Olivier de Lagarde pour l'interview politique sur France Info. Trois émissions le même jour...

Client idéal, Bernard-Henri Lévy sait se plier à toutes les exigences, à tous les publics et à tous les genres. C'est pourquoi, le 18 octobre, il se montre digne de la très mauvaise (et très droitière) émission phare de RMC : « Les grandes gueules » [3]. Le 19 octobre, BHL ne peut refuser l'invitation de Thierry Guerrier pour « C à dire » sur France 5. Le 21 octobre, Christine Ockrent, sous les regards complices de Philippe Val et Jacques Séguéla, le reçoit sur France 3.

On l'a compris : si Bernard-Henri Lévy a une qualité, c'est bien l'endurance. Ainsi le 23 octobre, il enchaîne à nouveau trois émissions. Débutant la journée dès 8 heures sur Radio Classique, il peut, après une longue sieste, aller deviser avec Michel Field sur LCI avant se faire lustrer (voir détails plus bas) chez l'impertinent Marc-Olivier Fogiel dans « T'empêches tout le monde de dormir » sur M6. Le 27 octobre, en fin de tournée, il rend à nouveau visite à son ami Jean-Marie Colombani dans « La rumeur du monde » sur France Culture. Le 29 octobre, adulé par tous, BHL est même reçu, par Patrick Poivre d'Arvor dans « Vol de Nuit », sur TF1. Le 31 octobre, il est l'invité de l'émission « Le bateau livre » sur France 5, le 1er novembre, il est sur France Inter dans « L'humeur vagabonde » et, le 3 novembre, il clôture (provisoirement ?) ce marathon médiatique sur Paris Première dans « Ça balance à Paris » animée par Pierre Lescure. Ouf !

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 at 08:31:30 AM EST
Woooo!! Google translate is at it again...
It 'translates' BHL's name in strange ways:
Bernard-Henri Lévy est drôle Epistemology is funny
Bernard-Henri Lévy a écrit un livre Madonna has written a book

I wonder what other names it 'translates' helpfully? We had before: sarkozy sarkozy sarkozy
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 at 11:06:24 AM EST
[ Parent ]
France is definitely seen as a battlefield for "reform", but at the same time, it has long been attractive for foreign investors (whether established corporations or the new private equity funds) - but not because of its reforms - rather, because of its quality infrastructure, well educated and productive workforce, big market, etc... ie because it is not the declining economy that everybody says it is...

And in fact, France has a lot of homegrwon private equity funds, who have never been prevented by our "rigid" labor market from investing and making money.

The schizophrenic bid is that these investors are betting money on the traditional French strengths (lotsa a taxes and lotsa rigidities seem to have posivite collateral benefits) while pushing hard to unravel these things in an attempt at capturing all that latent wealth going to workers, pensioners, kids and other associated parasites.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 at 11:36:25 AM EST
Jerome, I sure hope you´re right about France´s strength against an invasion and that this is only a vulture´s fantasy, because it sounds overwhelmingly depressing.

Our knowledge has surpassed our wisdom. -Charu Saxena.
by metavision on Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 at 05:44:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The schizophrenic bid is that these investors are betting money on the traditional French strengths (lotsa a taxes and lotsa rigidities seem to have posivite collateral benefits) while pushing hard to unravel these things

oh come now J, you hail from the land of foie gras and you don't recognise the predacious pattern of fattening for slaughter?  or takeover bid with liquidation in mind?  they know very well that the French economy works quite well (in money terms), and they plan to make a one-time windfall on looting it.  who cares about continuous returns, they want one big heist, and the obvious target is the most successful store.

all same deal with the takeovers of US firms to loot their pension funds...  they are successful firms in part because they treat their workers well, so let's take them over and loot the lot and dump the workers over the side.  banditry plain and simple, wait for someone else's patient labour and foresight to accrue a  stash of value, then kill the bees and steal the lot.

in bandit infested failed states, no peasant wants to advertise in any way the extent of their wealth or success, because at the first sign of a surplus, well fed kids, an orderly and prosperous farm, the bandits will appear and sack the place.   I guess France looks like a prosperous farm with well fed kids, so here come the bandits.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Nov 2nd, 2007 at 08:45:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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