Swans Commentary » swans.com October 8, 2012  



Blips #130
 From The Martian Desk


by Gilles d'Aymery





"To appreciate nonsense requires a serious interest in life."
—Gelett Burgess


(Swans - October 8, 2012)   THE GREAT DEBACLE: I've heard that the first debate between President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney was watched by 54 million telespectators in the U.S. I've no idea how this number was determined, but I was not a part of it, embarrassingly enough. I very much wanted to watch the spectacle -- or was it a bullfight? -- but it did not play out as planned. Since the pundits all over the news were talking about the coming event and I cared little about their chitchat, I decided to watch a movie and wait for the fatal moment (6:00 pm Pacific time) enjoying myself. I picked an old 1964 hilarious movie, Le gendarme de Saint-Tropez with Louis de Funès, Michel Galabru, Christian Marin, Jean Lefèvre, etc. I say it's old because I'm old too and tend to watch old movies. That film is part of the gendarme ("policeman") series that was produced in the 1960s with the same set of actors -- Le gendarme et les extra-terrestres, Le gendarme et les gendarmettes, and Le gendarme en balade. Okay, I suppose you have no idea what I am talking about... No worries, I don't either... And if I were to mention La grande vadrouille and Le corniaud, starring Louis de Funès and the great Bourvil, you'd be totally confused, though I can assure you, were you able to watch the films, understand French (they are not translated), and appreciate the Gallic humor of that time, you would have a blast, which would be a great release and escape from our rather gray times.

SO HERE I AM, lounging in the La-Z-Boy reclining chair. The dogs sleep quietly nearby. I've timed the movie to stop 5 minutes before the beginning of the debate and I'm having a humorous time filled with laughter. A grain of salt, however, got in the planning, a bit like the mice in my wife's German coupe (which is now officially declared totaled). I must have been too comfy in the armchair. Somehow, I fell asleep. When I awoke and turned on the TV, the spectacle was over and the pundits were disserting on how much Romney had trounced the president. I turned off the TV. I was tired (I've been very tired lately). I walked the dogs so they'd do their natural part of life -- like shitting and peeing -- and went straight to bed.

THE NEXT MORNING my wife chided me for missing such a central, historical happenstance in the life of the world, no less. Even the Syrians had called a truce and stopped fighting in order to listen to the debate. Netanyahu decided to postpone the bombing of Iran. Chávez hailed the magnificent demonstration of democracy held in America. French president Hollande assured his public that the debate was an undeniable proof that at long last Socialism was on the march. Over one billion people worldwide -- or was it 2 billion? -- had watched the titans of the free world going at each other, Frazier-Ali like...more than all the spectators of the Super Bowl and the World Cup combined. I was summoned to watch the debate on YouTube, or if the satellite connection was not fast enough -- it seldom is -- read the full transcript of the extraordinary encounter.

ORDER RECEIVED, I executed. I watched and read. Romney looked presidential. Obama looked as the president he is but not much of a candidate. Many platitudes and clichés were exchanged. I yawned profusely and eventually, while still early in the morning, went back to bed, feeling that if a clown had to govern us for the next four years, I'd rather vote -- assuming I could vote, which I cannot, so it's irrelevant -- for Louis de Funès, a real clown, not the real merchandise backed by American Express, insured by AIG, and supported by the full force of the American armed services. Notice that in "Funès" you have the word "fun." Unfortunately, the dear actor died in 1983. Too bad. Perhaps thanks to innovation he could be brought back to life and service. So could Reagan, thinking of it. We all have the clowns we deserve.

CLOWNS INDEED ABOUND. Think of France and what the nominally-Socialist government is legislating. I've read a piece in CounterPunch that Manuel García sent me, written by some Tom Gill -- not "Gilles," mind you -- in which the author asserted that "In France, President François Hollande's government is going for a 30 billion euro cuts package..." and that "these [European policy] solutions don't fit the priorities of the current crop of EU leaders (with the notable exception of Socialist-led France where at least the government has moved to impose a 75% tax on the incomes of the very rich. Their [European leaders'] number one goal is to protect the billionaires, the corporations and the banks." ("Europe is Revolting"). Whether the number one goal of European leaders is what Mr. Gill states is a matter of speculation. Personally, I'd surmise that their number one priority is to face an unprecedented economic crisis and to try to find solutions to the globalized mess they are confronting -- delocalization, deindustrialization, high unemployment, social unrest, and the like. Still, whatever one's opinion, it's always helpful to get the facts correct before reaching a conclusion. Mr. Gill should know that there is no 75% tax rate on the wealthy. There is a "marginal" tax rate of 75% over a one million euro income per year. That's a difference worth noting, especially because it won't make a dent in the French budget deficit (at most €200 million). And, no, the Hollande government is not going for a €30 billion cuts package. It is increasing taxes by over two-thirds of that amount and using an accounting gimmick to "cut" expenses by less than one-third of that package.

A FRENCH CORRESPONDENT mentioned that the government also wanted to tax savings, which he found preposterous, to remain polite. Savings were made from years of labor and after income had been fully taxed. So, he argued, one is taxed once, manages to save here and there, and now is going to be taxed a second time. Talk about justice, he said. Here, in the U.S., the tune is slightly different. The savings are not factually taxed. They simply are remunerated at an interest rate that is much lower than the rate of inflation. So the savings are being squeezed, but, hey, the small amount generated by interest received is fully taxed as income. As you know, there are plenty of ways to skin a cat, yet the skinning has become a national obsession...

STILL, FACTS MATTER: Last month, in my Blips #128, I wrote about this very wealthy Frenchman who has applied for Belgian nationality. Bernard Arnault was immediately lambasted in the French media. He was a traitor, a man accused of wanting to stop paying taxes in France. The daily Libération published an issue that printed on the front page a picture of Arnault and the caption Casse-toi Riche Con ("Get lost rich asshole"). It was a great marketing buzz made to sell the paper, which it did. But what about the facts? Indeed, Belgium has a more lenient fiscal system than France does and it would therefore make sense from a fiscal perspective to be taxed there rather than in France. However, one need not become a Belgian citizen to be taxed there -- only a resident. According to the fiscal convention between France and Belgium, taxation depends on residence, not nationality. A Belgian living in France is taxed in France. A French living in Belgium is taxed in Belgium. Bernard Arnault does not need to become a Belgian citizen to avoid French taxes. He simply has to move to Uccle, a wealthy suburb of Brussels, where he already owns a domicile. I live in the U.S. and pay US taxes, not French ones -- except estate taxes in the case of a succession, one I've been going through for a year and a half...from a tax perspective the French are very creative. They even tax the dead and the heavens! No estate tax in Belgium though. Talk about estate planning and forget about the buzz. "Facts don't matter," would have declared Louis de Funès in Saint-Tropez as he was chasing nudists who are notorious tax evaders, as we all know. Sœur Clotilde from inside her formidable 2CV would have sent everybody to purgatory and called for god's redemption of the fact sinners -- including Tom Gill.

OTHER FACTS MATTER TOO, for instance the cultural clashes in France between Muslims and the French population at large, which is overwhelmingly secular. Letter writer Alouette Arouet feels that I am "vastly underestimating the extent of the problem." I am not and agree with the content of her letter. I do not ignore or downplay the issue (as well as the rising violence and declining civility in the French society as a whole). I simply do not know how to treat it and from my observatory post 10,000 km away it seems to me that no one knows either. Cultural differences mixed with a deep economic crisis tend to turn into violent reactions from both sides of the realm. France will be saddled with this conundrum for generations to come. All I know is that one cannot poke fun at the idiots (on all sides, but particularly on the Muslim one), and that neither inspector Cruchot (Louis de Funès) nor sœur Clotilde (France Rumilly) would have touched the issue with a ten-foot pole. These people are not funny.

Actually, no one is funny any longer, not even me.

 . . . . .

C'est la vie...

And so it goes...


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published October 8, 2012