France

What's become of the spirit of '81?

Mention the French Riviera and most people will conjure up images of le casino in Monte Carlo, le port in Saint Tropez, la Croisette in Cannes, or la Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Less obvious are visions of Grasse, a small town tucked away in the hinterland, a 30-minute drive north of Nice, and proudly described by the locals as the capital of the French perfume-making industry. From a historical perspective, the town’s claim to fame lies elsewhere, more particularly in François Joseph Paul de Grasse’s decisive participation in the American Revolutionary War against the British along with Comte de Rochambeau, Admiral d’Estaing and Lafayette.

De Grasse, who was born and raised in nearby Bar-sur-Loup, is indeed best remembered in South-Eastern France for defeating the British Fleet in the Battle of Chesapeake in September 1781. De Grasse’s victory in the Bay on board le Ville de Paris that year conclusively cut off supplies from the forces led by General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, contributed to Cornwallis’s surrender to General Washington’s Continental Army, and ultimately paved the way for British initiatives to negotiate an end to the war and, afterwards, for the adoption by the newly-created United States of America of a Constitution strictly limiting government and uniquely experimenting with individual freedom and responsibility.

As a sign of gratitude for his services during the American Revolutionary War, François Joseph Paul de Grasse was later made a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, the organization founded in 1783 to promote the ideals and fellowship of all those who had gallantly fought for freedom during the war. The original copy of de Grasse’s Cincinnati membership certificate can be seen in the small museum dedicated to the memory of the French admiral in Grasse.

Ominously, the museum was poorly attended when I went there last October. Small wonder. A recent poll conducted in France by IFOP and published in Paris Match on November 5th, 2009 shows that 82% of French people still enthusiastically support Barack Obama’s big-government agenda one year after his election as President of the United States.

Sadly, at least on this side of the Atlantic, the spirit of ’81 as embodied by Comte de Grasse more than two hundred years ago appears to have fatally faded away.

Young skulls full of green mush

As any visitor to Cuba will tell you, slogans like "Hasta la victoria siempre" (towards victory always) or "Socialismo or muerte" (socialism or death) are dotted here and there all over the Caribbean island for fear that the long-suffering local population might lose sight of the ill-fated goals of the communist revolution that took place there under the leadership of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in 1959. The way things are going in France right now, pockets of little Cubas are very likely to sprout up all over the country as the summit on climate change in Copenhagen next month looms larger and larger. I personally know of one such Cuban-like ideological treadmill: the High School in Lyon, France’s second-largest city, where I am completing my third year as a teacher of Anglo-American Studies.

About two months ago, straight from the French Department of Education came a diktat to the effect that all public schools in the country had to organize teaching activities aimed at promoting so-called environmentally-friendly sustainable development, i.e. socialism. I have been asked to participate. Needless to say that I have sustainably declined.

One of the ideas some of my colleagues have come up with, though, is to translate the speeches President Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown are expected to make in Denmark next month, and to flash up bits of the speeches on large TV screens dotted here and there all over the school for fear that the students might lose sight of the ill-fated goals of the green revolution that is currently taking place in France under the leadership of President Nicolas Sarkozy. With so much hot air coming out of the screens, I guess temperatures will rise exponentially all over the school and melt what little critical thinking is left in the French education system.

As the episode illustrates, descriptions of President Sarkozy as a conservative are misleading. On global warming, as in many other policy areas, Sarkozy is just about as conservative as Newt Gingrich sitting on a couch with Speaker Pelosi touting misguided bipartisan efforts to save the planet.

The green revolution currently going on in France is being every bit as destructive of individual freedom and responsibility as the ominous events of 1789 there, or, for that matter, those in Cuba more than 150 years later. In other words, welcome to the new land of scorching propaganda, brainwashing, intellectual goose-stepping and, I almost forgot, youth duly decked out in Guevara accessories and apparel as the latest fashion dictates.

Are you sure you want to be next, America?

There will be blood

Recently I wrote a piece noting that Obama's economic policies are less about fixing the economy and more about retributive justice -- a pernicious form of wealth redistribution designed to achieve a liberal social agenda. This agenda is at the heart of Obama's philosophical orientation -- that same "spreading the wealth around" view that he inadvertently let slip to "Joe the Plumber" on the campaign trail. Many didn't pay attention to this off-hand comment -- but we know now just how revealing it was. Daniel Henninger reinforces the retributive justice argument in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal today and highlights the underlying theory that alights the Obama redistribution plan. He cites a graph created by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, French economists who "are rock stars of the intellectual left."  Their specialty is "earnings inequality" and "wealth concentration" -- code words for socialist theory designed to validate confiscatory economic policies. It turns out that Piketty and Saez are for Obama what Arthur Laffer was to Ronald Reagan. Perhaps it tells you all you need to know about Barack Obama that his economic philosophy comes from French economists -- that nation of stagnant growth, high taxes and huge public sector unionization. That in itself should be troubling enough.

Piketty and Saez have provided the Obama Administration with their rationale for "soaking the rich". See the following graph:

"As described in Mr. Obama's budget, these two economists have shown that by the end of 2004, the top 1% of taxpayers "took home" more than 22% of total national income. This trend, Fig. 9 notes, began during the Reagan presidency, skyrocketed through the Clinton years, dipped after George Bush beat Al Gore, then marched upward. Widening its own definition of money-grubbers, the budget says the top 10% of households "held" 70% of total wealth."

This kind of income inequality is anathema to those who see an equality of outcomes in society. Never mind, of course, that the top 1% of earners pay almost 40% of all Federal income taxes to begin with, and that from these earners come a huge percentage of the jobs that fuel the economy. Socialists like Piketty and Saez would prefer that everyone dumb down to a common denominator where so-called "winners" and "losers" were much closer together. They would prefer that everyone be mediocre rather than have a few big winners who raise the tide for everyone. And it is exactly the economic philosophy that Obama has now embraced. Massive wealth transfer as social policy.

And it matters not that it is bad economic policy, because fixing the economy is a poor second to the need to dumb America down. In Obama's own words:

"While middle-class families have been playing by the rules, living up to their responsibilities as neighbors and citizens, those at the commanding heights of our economy have not.

Prudent investments in education, clean energy, health care and infrastructure were sacrificed for huge tax cuts for the wealthy and well-connected.

There's nothing wrong with making money, but there is something wrong when we allow the playing field to be tilted so far in the favor of so few. . . . It's a legacy of irresponsibility, and it is our duty to change it."

So if you made a lot of money you somehow cheated -- not living up to your responsibilities, even though you paid your fair share of taxes in what is already a highly progressive tax code.

What a tremendously offensive statement.

This is class warfare pure and simple. Or, as Henninger says, "the primary goal is a massive re-flowing of "wealth" from the top toward the bottom, to stop the moral failure they see in the budget's "Top One Percent of Earners" chart.

And for those top earners -- the engine of our economy -- there will be blood.

Merci, Monsieur le Président

Dear President George W. Bush: As you open a new chapter in your life down in Crawford, Texas, after eight, sometimes turbulent years as the 43rd President of the United States, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly express my eternal gratitude to you for strengthening my faith in America’s destiny as a truly exceptional nation. It all goes back to March 2003. Back then, I remember huddling over my ancient radio trying to pick up medium-wave signals of the BBC World Service for the latest English-language news about the outcome of a summit meeting which you were holding in the Azores with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to work out a U.N. resolution that might eventually lead to military intervention in Iraq. In hindsight, I can truthfully say that when the report ended with the view that war was imminent, I was born again.

Please, do not get me wrong. I agree that war is ugly and should always be used as a last resort. However World War II taught us that the use of force in a just cause is an eminently virtuous course of action. In March 2003, most Europeans were still wilfully denying the essential truth of that painfully poignant lesson and you were trying hard to educate them.

Therefore, Mr. President, although your brand of conservatism eventually turned out to be too compassionate for my small-government predilections, I want to thank you again for courageously standing up for good against evil. I want to thank you again for steadfastly promoting freedom and democracy in the world. Above all, I want to thank you again for relentlessly protecting America and the American people and conserving the enduring values which your blessed country uniquely stands for.

May God bless you, Sir. May God bless the United States of America.

Yours Faithfully, A French friend of America

Note: “Paoli” is the pen name, er, nom de plume, of our French correspondent. Monsieur is a close student of European and US politics, a onetime exchange student in Colorado and a well-wisher to us Americans. He informs us the original Pasquale Paoli, 1725-1807, was the George Washington of Corsica.