Scavengers In France
Cross-posted to Kos
I'm taking a break from my new career as a website builder with Joomla! and posting this quick-and-dirty diary. Please forgive the need for finer editing, but our new endeavor, Language-lovers.com, allows little time to write.
Recently I've been amazed and fascinated by Governor Scott Walker's new public law allowing him to appoint "Emergency Managers" to take over direction of municipalities and even county-level governments, bypass entirely their elected officials and place their direction in the hands of an entity appointed by him, often a corporation, all without recourse to the normal procedures traditionally used for such raiding.
At least three states, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio, and probably many more soon, have adopted or legalized this procedure.
Thousands Protest Snyder's Authoritarian Power Grab
April 20, 2011
Michigan's House first raised some eyebrows last month when it passed the "Emergency Financial Manager" bill, which states that in the case of an economic crisis, the governor has the authority to authorize "emergency managers" to reject, modify or terminate the terms of any existing contracts or collective bargaining agreements, and dissolve local governing bodies of schools and cities.
Naturally, unions and pro-democratic activists were up in arms when the "financial martial law bill," as some called it, passed. Thousands turned out to protest what is widely viewed as an authoritarian power grab by Governor Snyder. But up until very recently, the effect of such a bill was largely speculative. The scope of Snyder's new power couldn't be fully understood until he decided to flex his muscle in an impoverished former industrial town called Benton Harbor.
The Michigan town is very much in economic crisis--as is, one could argue, most of the country. Crises are wonderful opportunities for the political and financial elites who are always searching for convenient excuses to exploit already chaotic situations for their own personal gains and ideologies. Author Naomi Klein dubbed this the "shock doctrine."
First, one of Snyder's state-appointed Emergency Managers, Robert Bobb, issued a layoff notice to all of Detroit's 5,466 public school teachers. Soon after, another EM, Joe Harris, used his expanded powers granted by the new law to issue an order banning the city commission from taking any action without his written permission. Now, while it is unlikely that all of Detroit's teachers will be fired, what is clear is that the EMs intend to exercise the maximum amount of authority granted to them under this new law.
"I fully intend to use the authority that was granted under Public Act 4," Bobb said.
One may suspect that a higher court might find such a bizarre process of disenfranchisement illegal or unconstitutional. Whole structures, systems of management and governance with their necessary infrastructure, created at great cost in time and treasure, pursuant to statute and after elections, discarded by an unquestionable decree of a single paragraph in length.
Shazam! Your'e gone.
Even if the thing is tossed out, after a couple years in court, think of the situation that would then ensue.
A rollback of the action would be chaotic, and a financially distressed community would be returned to it's original directors--even more broken than before.
Here in France, it's the prosperous, the valuable bits of the nation that are sucked up or broken off and dispensed to favored collaborators, not the impoverished pieces. I have an ongoing morbid fascination with the process whereby such companies as "Veolia", "Carrefour" and "Fayolle" become ubiquitous and omnipresent in more and more municipalities and endeavors in France, but I never assembled enough of the other pieces to see the emerging wider pattern. And I'm not alone- even Krugman fails to mention a key element in this process, in his anguished post below:
Patients Are Not Consumers
I keep encountering discussions of health economics in which patients are referred to as "consumers", after which the usual mantra of freedom of choice is invoked on behalf of voucherizing Medicare, or whatever.
We used to know better than this.
That's why we have medical ethics. That's why doctors have traditionally both been viewed as something special and been expected to behave according to higher standards than the average professional. There's a reason we have TV series about heroic doctors, while we don't have TV series about heroic middle managers or heroic economists.
The idea that all this can be reduced to money -- that doctors are just people selling services to consumers of health care -- is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society's values.
There are better words to describe them. Prisoners. Farm animals.
Americans are a wholly-owned cash cows on the medical farm, commodities largely owned by insurance companies. The farm is staffed by doctors who are skillfully managed by appeals to their need for status and their greed. But it has been, in the past, a system that operated within the limits of at least the appearance of choice, and a legal process that offered some recourse through tort law.
Yikes! Paul points out how badly those limits have been eroded, but there's lots more examples we could look at, that make it clear that a new technology is assuming a dominant role. For example, soon, the law will force Americans to buy insurance, and from a pool in which "choice" will be even more transparently phony. This is hailed as a breakthrough reform of a broken health system.
Is this sweeping endrun around established legal process really such a new thing?
"Aint nothing new under the sun"---
"Back in the days of the robber Barons"---
"In the leadup to the crash of '29"---
Of curse. But for me, sclerotic as I am, it seems so wildly illegal as to be a testament to the central disaster of the recent past, the death of the rule of law, as well as the unashamed rejection of any principle of social responsibility. Try this, for a clear statement of the new morality:
The new Corporate Order
Robert Scheer, for Truthdig
Jeffrey Immelt, the CEO of GE, recently appointed by President Barack Obama as his chief outside economic adviser, admits that this (outsourcing jobs) does not involve poorly paid work that Americans don't want, but instead prime jobs: "We've globalized around markets, not cheap labor. The era of globalization around cheap labor is over. Today we go to China, we go to India, because that's where the customers are."
The loss of well-paying jobs at multinationals like GE to other nations--54 percent of the GE workforce is foreign--exacerbates the plight of U.S. consumers while making the foreign customers even more attractive.
No less important than U.S. military muscle is the power of the American government to construct and enforce a worldwide trade and finance structure to the advantage of U.S.-based multinational corporations. (clip) It is precisely the impact of trade agreements like NAFTA that has facilitated the erosion of well-paying jobs. And it was the deregulation of international banking standards, led by the U.S. Treasury Department under the past five presidents, that created the conditions for the recent disastrous housing and banking meltdown.
Big government, the devil that Republicans love to inveigh against, is big precisely because it is so active in so many costly ways in serving the interests of our biggest corporations.
It is the corporations that need big government to protect their interests--
Robert Scheer has lots more to say about how government in the corporatist state supports the needs of corporations, but what I'm focusing on here is the commodification of life-of culture, of the natural world, and in the end, of people.
Like flowing water, it is the natural course of market capitalism to evolve toward a state wherein all major areas of endeavor, all large items or networks of "Value", and all sources of profit, including the natural environment are sopped up and held by very large entities- corporations, if you will- who will supplant government and reduce democratic functioning to a level hardly kabuki theater. Only the marginally profitable, the geographically dispersed or grossly inaccessible will remain exempt. Few will act to effectively oppose it, even though successful opposition has a long historical tail.
There will be no wide-scale action because most of us will rely for our income- our survival- on these same entities. Unions are history. Communication and growth of the consensus beliefs that are needed to stimulate action appear to be enabled by social media and the net, but this is an illusion, which can be disabled by the flip of a switch. It's an area of corporate vulnerability that only an idiot would overlook.
Alarmist? Perhaps. But remember the seven-year gap between the existence of a weapon and it's appearance in the media. Remember that discord is the enemy now, and we need to be managed, because a we are the serfs who work on the farm. Without us, there aint no farm. That fact is the route off the farm, but few will take it.
Imperial Decline: How Does It Feel to Be Inside a Dying Empire?
(Tom Engleheart, for Alternet)
April 19, 2011
Could this be what it's like to watch, paralyzed, as a country on autopilot begins to come apart at the seams while still proclaiming itself "the greatest nation on Earth"?
This can't end well.
But then, how often do empires end well, really? They live vampirically by feeding off others until, sooner or later, they begin to feed on themselves, to suck their own blood, to hollow themselves out. Sooner or later, they find themselves, as in our case, economically stressed and militarily extended in wars they can't afford to win or lose.
In the United States, about the time it was no longer feasible to provide endless parcels of public land to those who wanted to go West, our attention began to turn to other sources of plunder, at first external and, as marketworld assumed more control, internal. But now we've been feeding on ourselves for a long, long time. Now the new, more streamlined technology of social predation is increasingly here, in France, and so firmly established I can't see any outcome but that the evil process play itself out.
Dostoevsky wrote, in Notes From Underground, that to seek a hiding place from forces that reduce man to an atomized, powerless object in the end result in self-imprisonment in a narcissistic refuge.
Yes, probably so. But tell that to the people of Youngstown, Ohio.
Youngstown used to be the steel capital of the world. Now all the mills are gone, and my friend who visits there often tells me there are three new prisons- one private, one soon to be- on the same land. Their growth industry.
Pockets of coaled-out regions in Kentucky are now uneconomic and so are abandoned in marketworld, stripped of banks, supermarkets, good schools, the residents left to fend for themselves. Once unemployment runs out, the people are left with around $150 a month and maybe food stamps as a lifeline.
Having lived through this process once already, close up and personal, I can smell it in the wind. I can tell you, it would be wise to consider having a "Plan B", narcissistic or not.
I'm moving away from Paris. Even though I love the city in a way I thought I could never love a place. Even though I finally got Ivonne to share that affection. The feeding frenzy that seems to be an inextricable part of Market Capitalism is devouring a way of life that I learned to love, and replacing it with stuff I don't want.
Even though Paris is France's showcase, it's face turned to the world, it's cabaret for the tourist, foreign or national, it's becoming more and more commodified, more corporatized, and the corporate model does not include a broad range of options that are imp[ortant to us. Survival options, off-the-farm options.
"Fayolle", the company that owns our privatized port de Plaisance here in Paris is now doing to marinas all over France, what "Veolia" did in Melun, and buying them wholesale. A residential port is a unit with all the support elements of a tiny town- water, sewer, electric, communications, administration, etc. Fayolle is buying them all- establishing a commanding position of nationwide control. Why? Duh. Still runs downhill.
"Veolia" is doing the same to cities' fundamental services all over France. Buying the facilities paid for with tax money, and doing all the usual fake improvements resulting in skyrocketing charges. Their tactics illustrate the economic side of the process, but it's a deeper story, because these small packages, communities in the true sense, are the packets that encode the culture of France.
We lived in the Ninth Arrondissement, on Rue Blanche, for six years. Our building had a huge array of professional and tradespeople living in it, and whatever, whoever was not there was in our block. The electrician was on the corner, the glazier was around and down halfway, the Italian epicierie, with Pecorino Pepato unequaled since, was next door. There were two boulangeries in the block, both fiercely independent. The school was six minutes by foot, three churches were within the same radius, and the architect's son, who lived on the floor below, was an insurance flak who married a vet.
Today the electrician is gone, the glazier hangs on by a thread selling crummy storm windows, both small boulangeries are gone, replaced by a big one that sells real bread along with the instabread that seems to be a necessary product line if you want to get deliveries of other stuff. The Italian Epicierie survives, but not the Pecorino- it's been replaced by a far poorer quality local product. The lady who made my son's zillion pairs of glasses is also gone, and a huge Grand Optical has grown nearby, on a corner once occupied by our grocer and a family pizza place. The trend is obvious.
We are living in a world where the small business, the individual enterprise, the local artisan, the small marina is either incorporated into a politically favored predator, or driven to become a scavenger in the interstices between one megabusiness and another. These scavengers are increasingly disadvantaged relics from the days of broader community. But they carry the culture. Huge parts of it. I mourn the rapid loss of culture, but I need to eat, and I can't live in the world that is again emerging. Where we all work for the company, and shop at Carrefour- the Company.
We know how this works out.
Nevers has so far escaped a great deal of this. It's schools are still fine, it's small but lovely port still cheap and quiet, free of outside control. It's a closed society, costing about an eighth as much as Paris Arsenal, and we sure need the break. But we might not be accepted. And it's the local jury of long-term residents who see us as supplicants on their turf, who will decide whether or not a place for us can be found. Or whether we will be rejected like the last boat from Paris.
"Sorry, but the power is insufficient for another boat."
"Sorry, but there is just no room here for the winter."|
"Sorry, we cannot accept your derogation from your old school or your certificate of residence for schooling."
And it's their right. It IS their turf.
A lot of the town has been corporatized, yes, and the old, private hotel we stayed in while visiting the schools and port was recently sold to a chain. The owners remain in charge, blithely unaware of their fate, blind to the train coming.
-What will happen if the local tax revenues drop to the point that the cities cannot maintain an adequate level of services? Is this likely?
-Or if a compliant mayor is installed, who will cry "Wolf! Wolf!" and open the door, like the one in Villeneuve Sur Yonne?
-Who will it hit first?
-What areas here in France are most likely to fall into the food emergency state, like many places in the US?
-And when will the new technology come to the rescue- when will an Emergency Manager be appointed (from Veolia?) to rescue the locals from their independence- er, incompetence? But it's earlier in the process in Nevers, it's cheaper, and so we go.
We feel like scavengers. We are. And so are many of the residents.
The difference is, we know it.