Thursday, July 14, 2016

Joyeux Quatorze Juillet

That's French for Happy Bastille Day.

July 14th marks the day in 1789 when angry crowds stormed the Bastille prison in Paris, sparking the French Revolution.

Wall Street obviously does not celebrate Bastille Day. However, if you're in the vicinity, the New York Times suggests that rather than storming The Tombs or Rikers Island, you ponder the statue of Joan of Arc in Riverside Park and then float by the Statue of Liberty, which was donated by the French people. As much as Donald Trump would love to replace it with a Wall, and as much as Barack Obama continues to deport Latin American migrants and refugees in record numbers, it remains a potent symbol of the time when we accepted -- actually, when our forebears were -- the tired, the poor, the huddled masses.

The contemporary masses are also urged to eat out during French Restaurant Week. The Times helpfully links you to some of the participating eateries -- where, for this one week only, you can score lunch at the amazing prix fixe of $17.89. Since this price represents approximately one half of the weekly food stamp allowance for the average struggling peasant or Walmart worker, don't forget to ask for a doggie bag on the way out. And as ever, the city's homeless are advised to use caution when dumpster-diving for any of the culinary leftovers.

But marchons, citoyens, because it turns out that Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are now in a dead heat in the plutocratic presidential sweepstakes. More than two-thirds of respondents in a new Times/CBS News poll say that in the wake of her email scandal, Clinton is simply not to be trusted. Nonetheless, the mistrusters think that she is still very qualified to be president. In other words, we prefer our corrupt politicians to be competently careless rather than just carelessly careless.
Trump is mistrusted only very slightly less than Clinton. This is partly because loathing of him has been holding fairly steady, while the Hillary hatred might simply be a temporary crater in the killing fields of competence.

I rather suspect that we won't be hearing any Happy Bastille Day Tweets from either member of this Dynastic Duo.


I never thought I'd hear myself write this, but President Obama actually nailed it the other day with this statement about police violence:

“As a society, we choose to underinvest in decent schools. We allow poverty to fester so that entire neighborhoods offer no prospect for gainful employment. We refuse to fund drug treatment and mental health programs. We flood communities with so many guns that it is easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than get his hands on a computer or even a book. And then we tell the police, ‘You’re a social worker; you’re the parent; you’re the teacher; you’re the drug counselor.’ We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs and do so without causing any political blowback or inconvenience; don’t make a mistake that might disturb our own peace of mind. And then we feign surprise when periodically the tensions boil over.”

If only he espoused policies to counteract those true words -- if only he fought for policies and took executive actions that would tamp down the awful reality -- what a halfway decent country and world this might be.

Times columnist Charles Blow also finally addresses the class war aspect of aggressive policing policies in today's op-ed:
We choose to be blind to the policy choices our politicians have made — and that many have benefited from, while others suffered — while simultaneously holding firmly to the belief that all of our own successes and comforts are simply the result of our and our families’ drive, ambition and resourcefulness. Other people lack physical comforts because they lack our character strength.
It is from this bed of lies that our policing policies spring. When the president says, “We tell them to keep those neighborhoods in check at all costs,” who is the “we”?
It’s not the blue-collar civil servants in law enforcement or the working-class and poor communities, which are aggressively patrolled. No. The “we” is the middle and moneyed classes.
My published comment:
 The president's statement about the impossible roles we expect of police officers in this increasingly dystopian country of ours was one of the truest things he's ever said.

This is about classism as well as racism. Very much the product of capitalism, racism only got worse after the abolishment of slavery, since the subhuman wages paid to freed blacks also served to drive down the pay of whites. Dividing and conquering working people has always been the battle cry of plutocratic freedom.

The rich are still too big to jail, and there are now more black people in prison than there were slaves during the mid-19th century. Prisons for profit are just one of the many ways that the rich exploit the poor.
 And cops are stuck in the buffer zone. They ARE the buffer zone.
Wall Street is looting their pension funds, too. Their pay stinks, too. Working in swing shifts, they're sleep-deprived. When they get subpoenaed to testify in court during the day, they still have to go to work at night. When they arrest somebody on illegal weapons charges, too many politically appointed or elected right-wing judges promptly let the culprit go on low or no bail.
Cops are human too. Every time one of them overreacts, they endanger their co-workers.
Besides protesting police violence, we should direct our wrath at the sadistic (mainly GOP) policy-makers who created the Gestapo security state in the first place. Confront them right where they work. And fire them on Election Day.


Jay–Ottawa said...

"We" is just another standoffish term like "Mistakes were made," another variation on verbs in the passive voice in the guise of a pronoun. Where's the "agency?" as we say––"agency" being another term so in vogue at the moment when pointing the finger at someone else.

The President of the United States, with a massive bureaucracy at his command, is the most powerful "agency" in the world. Obama is good at motivating other people. But Obama has never been so disposed as to stoke a fire in his own belly. Through omission his faults pile up; facile words cover the emptiness within. If he were straightforward, he would substitute "I" for a lot of those "we's" he throws around.

The people in the streets of 1789 got tired of waiting around for something better. Wise rulers never push a population to that level of impatience.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Forget the woes of here and now. Celebrate Bastille Day in style. Yes, yes, the American Revolution, the first Brexit of the rich over here from the rich over there, has its interesting moments. Depending on which side you're on, you might better profit from a quick review of what the truly earth-shaking French Revolution was all about. In that case, Jacobin (see our very own blog roll) has something for you: "A Guide to the French Revolution." Bonne lecture!

Pearl said...

Good column Karen. And Jay I am happy to agree with you for a change on your submissions above. I feel exactly about Obama as you do and probably Hillary as well. It is only Bernie that gets in our way and I hope that can be resolved one day.

I think of the use of the guillotine during the French revolution and how that could happen if Donald gets into office.

Ste-vo said...

And you can get a subscription to Jacobin for 17$ and 0.89. Get it? They asked me.

Neil said...

A Judicial Watch lawsuit against the US Dept of State over HRC's email scandal is still active, see

Clinton lawyers fight deposition in Judicial Watch suit over emails, ABA Journal Daily News, By Debra Cassens Weiss, July 13, 2016

Non-Party Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Opposition to Plaintiff’s Motion to Depose Hillary Rodham Clinton [et al] (186 pages)

Jay–Ottawa said...

What a sad, sad ending to the French national holiday.

One of the slogans that survived the French Revolution was ""Liberty, Equality, Fraternity." It was declared a truism without borders, not just something for the French people, or a well-off faction within the French population.

Robespierre debased it to an us-versus-them slogan when he modified the slogan to read "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity or Death." That was during a spell around 1793 when the guillotine was floating on blood. The "or death" add-on was dropped after the Reign of Terror, yet it remains prophetic. In case you hadn't noticed, the Reign of Terror is back.

Disregard the universal ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity and you'll end up with big trouble, like civil wars, revolutions, foreign wars, assassinations and blowback––all of them varieties of terrorism promoting Death.

Neither the European Union, which lately equals NATO, nor the dominant powers of the Middle East pay much attention to liberty, equality, fraternity. Not even in France, the country of origin, where it's chiseled over the main entrance of every city hall. Otherwise, why would governments treat people as they do at home and continue the air war over "others" abroad? Around the world liberty, equality, fraternity is going out the window tranche after tranche. And then the MSM acts surprised when the blowback comes in the form of homemade bombs, assault weapons, hijacked planes and, now, trucks?

Misfits, like Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel whose life was chaos, find a suitable niche under the revised mottos of East and West, to which they can pledge their pirate allegiance. If you take a hard look at what's going down just about everywhere, the new motto ought to read Oppression, Disparity and Hate.

What is common to all humanity? What is the supreme value we might all agree upon? This one value, if upheld as the first value by the most powerful nations, would, by definition, put an end to just about all of the bombing, droning, shooting, etc., etc. and begin to replace that unspoken motto of the day: Oppression, Disparity and Hate.

The answer about the top value is staring us in the face. It is first word of the famous American trilogy within the Declaration of Independence: Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. In that order. Life is the supreme value. Bloodless chiefs of state and their advisors, however, don't think in terms of life; they deal in abstractions and give tame names to the antithesis of life, like "collateral damage."

Here's what a Swiss writer, troubled over the Great Depression and the direction of European governments in the Thirties, came up with as an answer to the need for a realignment of values: "The first of all values is Life, and the first of all rights is To Live."

We may not be able to sell that idea to a random, unstable, petty criminal like Bouhlel. But why is it we can't persuade our highest executives––smart, reasonable, resourceful people––to review the unalienable rights listed in the Declaration, once again, the first among them being Life?

Are we ourselves convinced that Life is the first value? Does anyone dare bring it up in political discussions about the war machine, the death penalty, medical care? Should we continue placing ourselves in the hands of people who think only in abstractions about life and death? Wherever Life is not the top value, it's pointless to move on to consider values like liberty, equality, fraternity or the pursuit of happiness.

Non believer Pearl said...

You do not mention the role of religion in human history, Jay. Instead of inspiring the best in human behavior as quoted from supposed statements from Jesus had he actually lived, corruption exists within the churches, synagogues, and other kinds of religions which include honor killings, etc. The fact that the majority of humanity finds comfort in some form of religious doctrine which is usually heavily involved in state politics indicates that before any kind of forward movement of humanity can occur, religion must be eliminated.
More killing and suppression of human rights has occurred under the blanket of religious doctrine than any other form of human behavior. In some of our lifetimes the holocaust was an event that has happened in the past to various peoples back and forth along with the financial corruption of a major religion such as Catholicism standing to this day.
It is difficult to envision a different way of thinking and indoctrinating one's children to one's version of their God's leadership opposing their neighbor's beliefs, often opposing the discoveries of scientific events. This is at the root of racism, hatred for others who worship differently and lack of support for reality based science. The attitude to environmental calamities happening under our watch is an example of how the reality of our planet's disintegration is being basically ignored.
Every calamity we read about daily involves prayers for those who have been injured or killed with no proof it has any real meaning or affect.

Jay–Ottawa said...

"[B]efore any kind of forward movement of humanity can occur, religion must be eliminated."

OK, Pearl, I'm not sure exactly how we're going to accomplish that, but Forward! Just so long as we don't spill more blood or force the conscience of anyone into our tight non-belief system.

There may be problems. What would we do with troublesome holdouts like–– assuming they were real historical figures––Abraham and Moses? Then Buddha, Francis of Assisi, George Fox, John Wesley, AbbĂ© Pierre, the Dalai Lama, MLK, Sri Ramakrishna, Thich Naht Hanh, Rabbi A.J. Heschel, Gandhi, Dorothy Day?

I believe I know what you mean, though: ON BALANCE––that is, if you were to put religion on the scales offset by reason and material science––the world would be better off with people operating solely by reason and material science, rather than religion and all its claims, even taking into account some of religion's saintly adherents, many of whom did help humanity live and think.

For myself, I'm not so sure which way the scale tips. The only common thread I would like to see agreed upon is that Life is the supreme value, and the Right To Live the first of any human's rights. Treasured documents say so. With that understanding, which need not generate hours of sermons or stacks of scientific papers, humanity could move forward, always with the understanding that killing anybody for any reason is not an option open to individuals––no matter who, or states––no matter how powerful.

Questioning Pearl said...

Thank you Jay for your response. It is obviously a tremendous problem to deal with especially since the original purposes of many religions was to teach human values and how to respect the rights of others.

"The only common thread I would like to see agreed upon is that Life is the supreme value, and the Right To Live the first of any human's rights" is an admirable thought, but the need for religion to help people survive Hellish lives is too compelling and open to manipulation.

There are no easy answers and indeed may be no answers at all. Those of us who question the existence of religion have to explain and protect ourselves lifelong without normal support from community or believers and remain in the minority.

Perhaps the best explanation from my hero Bernie when asked about his religious beliefs was that they consisted of support and concern for his fellow humans. And when he mentioned the history of the Holocaust that affected members of his family he was also speaking of the results of religious extremism and hate that exterminated them.I would love to have spoken to him about the role of religion when creating a political revolution.

Ironically, had human history started by obeying the principles you mention, the need for a belief in a god and religious dogma may have never been necessary and true Scientific investigation of our Universe and world may have replaced it.