random photos taken today – pollution, Christmas, and a donkey in the desert

This photo was taken today from the office tower where I work (16th floor.) I was so disgusted by the pollution, I took a picture. This is the view from my desk.

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Then I left the office at 6 pm and walked home. This is my route home. It’s pretty when the Christmas decorations are up. What I like best, though, is the absence of cars. It’s a pedestrian-only zone.

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Tomorrow night we have our office Christmas party, somewhere on the Champs-Elysées, don’t know where yet, it’s a surprise. The following night I’m going to make my way to the two big department stores – Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps – to take pictures of their Christmas windows.

And here, a completely random photo just sent to me this instant by my friend in Lille: me on a Jordanian horse in the 1990s (in Petra.) I was horrified by quite a few things when I was in Jordan.

juju on a jordanian horse

Their treatment of animals, for one thing. This horse initially had barbed wire in its mouth. Blood was trickling down its face. They were using barbed wire for a bit. I was so incensed by this barbaric treatment, I commanded them to use proper bits (or at least, rope.) If not, I’d lodge a major complaint with the Jordan Tourist Board, in Jordan and abroad. My Arabic-speaking friend translated for me. (I had my own horse when I was a teenager, a gelding quarter-horse called Sundance.)

Another oddity was the absence of sidewalks and pedestrian crossings in Amman. You’d see entire families crossing 4-lane highways, risking their lives as cars honked and swerved to avoid hitting them. It was absurdly uncivilized.

donkey

Then we took a long bus ride (5 hours) from Amman down to Aqaba. At some point, in the middle of the desert, a Bedouin waved down the bus. The bus stopped, the driver got out, there was some discussion, and all the passengers were watching through the windows. It turns out that the Bedouin’s donkey had collapsed in the heat. The Bedouin climbed onto the bus, took a seat, and the driver drove away, leaving the donkey behind. When I understood what had happened, I stood up and said loudly, “But what about the animal? Are you just going to let it die?”

The entire busload of people (my friend included) erupted into laughter. They found me and my reaction to be hilarious. And indeed that’s what happened. The bus drove off, leaving the poor donkey to die a terrible death, abandoned in the desert.

They found me hilarious, I found them primitive beyond words.

terrific photos of Saturday’s public demonstrations

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Photograph: Thibault Camus/AP

Since this morning, helicopters have been flying over my apartment building while police sirens wail. I’m trying to imagine the President of France barricaded in his Elysées Palace watching the TV screens, smug no longer. He’s scheduled to address the nation the beginning of next week. Up until now he’s been silent.

VIVE LA FRANCE !

VIVE LE PEUPLE DE FRANCE !

The most impressive TV images I saw today were of a dozen horses (ridden by cops) galloping down a narrow Marais street towards a group of protesters. Both the cops and the horses were wearing protective eye covering.

Here are some photos of today’s demonstrations –

https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2018/dec/08/gilets-jaunes-protesters-clash-with-police-in-paris-in-pictures

don’t come to Paris (more riots planned for Saturday December 8)

In an effort to quell the violence and anger of last weekend’s riots, President Macron’s government announced its decision yesterday to suspend, for six months only, the proposed increase in fuel and gasoline taxes. It also announced the suspension, for six months only, of an increase in electricity rates.

Not good enough. Too little and too late, the people say. They’re not asking for a suspension, but rather a cancellation of those taxes and rates. They’re also asking for a lot of other things. And so, more protests are planned for this Saturday December 8th (hopefully less violent, but there’s no guarantee.) I have a train to catch on Saturday morning. I hope I can make it across town, unimpeded.

Here’s my takeaway from the recent riots –

The young President Macron is only 40, but we see him as old. He has old ideas. During the election campaign he presented himself as an anti-Establishment progressive, but he’s not. He is the embodiment of Establishment. France has known far older presidents in the past, presidents like Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, for example, who presented the nation with young and progressive ideas. Even Mitterrand had his modern moments. But there’s nothing fresh or innovative about Emmanuel Macron.

“Mr. President”, said a naysayer in the Senate, “You are not reforming the country, you’re brutalizing it.” During his campaign speeches Macron promised reforms. We haven’t seen any reforms, only tax hikes.

As for climate change and the environment, Macron’s government has done nothing. A highly respected Minister of Ecology, Nicolas Hulot, resigned for that very reason in August.

The people are turning against Macron, in particular those with lower incomes. They are the losers, they feel, in a country run by elitists; a country where the gap between rich and poor just gets bigger; in a country where the rich get tax breaks and those with tiny pensions are subject to increased taxes on their sole and meagre incomes. They say they feel abandoned. Abandonnés.

One wonders how a small group of ivory tower elitists can qualify as representatives of the people.

During a whirlwind visit to a region of France earlier this year, President Macron actually scolded a group of elderly pensioners who complained to him about his recent tax increase to their fixed retirement incomes. On another occasion, he told a young job-hunting horticulturist that all he had to do was “cross the road” to find a job (as a dishwasher in a café or restaurant.)

The people call Macron “president of the rich” or “King Louis XIV.” What he really is is a rather unimaginative civil servant turned banker. Before becoming President he worked for the investment bank, Rothschild, where he earned €2.9m and learned about debt restructuring, mergers and acquisitions. (The French have a deep anti-bank sentiment.) After graduating from the elite school, ENA (École nationale d’administration), Macron went on to become a finance inspector at the Ministry of Economy.

The only reason Macron won the presidency was because the man tipped to win – François Fillon, who served as Prime Minister under President Sarkozy – got caught up in embezzlement allegations. After Fillon was eliminated during the first round of presidential elections in April 2017, the center-right electorate clamored for heavyweight Alain Juppé to run (mayor of Bordeaux, former Prime Minister under President Chirac, Minister of Foreign Affairs). But Juppé declined. He had had enough of Paris and was happy at his job in Bordeaux. Meanwhile, no-one had heard of this young upstart called Emmanuel Macron who had formed a new political party based on his own initials. EM – En Marche!

The two remainers then in the run-up to the presidential elections were Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen, the leader of the extreme right-wing National Front party. Macron become Prez almost by default.

People are sick of paying taxes. What’s more, they want to know where their tax money is going. They want transparency. They also want to put an end to the upper-class and blinkered political world of Paris “that only works for itself.” 

Les casseurs sont vous, le gouvernement !!” This is probably the most powerful phrase I’ve heard yet coming from the protestors. (The hooligans are you, the government!)

Update – Thursday evening and I’m watching the TV news. Shops are shuttering all along the Champs-Elysées and on other high-end shopping streets. The Eiffel Tower and many museums will be closed this weekend. A major soccer game has been cancelled. Monuments will be protected by army tanks. All this in anticipation of another violent Saturday. I’m wondering if I should cancel my trip to Lille. To get to the Gare du Nord from my apartment on Saturday morning, I have to cross central Paris …

Friday update – here’s a really good article in today’s The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/07/macrons-arrogance-unites-us-on-the-barricades-with-frances-gilets-jaunes

Friday night, 6:30 pm: Arriving at my local supermarket this evening to do some food shopping, I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight before my eyes. A dozen men were hammering huge wooden panels onto the windows of the store. I wanted to run home and get my camera. Other stores were doing the same thing, all in fear of “casseurs” (angry, violent men who break things) storming the streets tomorrow, smashing windows and looting. Two weeks before Christmas, the big department stores will be closed tomorrow … unheard of! They’re also closing over 30 metro stations. And I’ve changed the dates of my trip to Lille. I’ll go the following weekend.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/07/armoured-vehicles-deployed-paris-combat-gilets-jaunes

 

Paris is burning

I’m interrupting my Christmas idyll to post news about the urban warfare that took place all day yesterday not only in Paris, but around the country. As I write this, France is considering imposing a state of emergency on it citizens. Last night I watched, stupefied, the images on television. Burning cars, tear gas, masked protestors, hordes of police, buildings in flames … the images resembled those from the May 1968 protests.

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Saturday December 1st. Central Paris.

I had planned, yesterday, to head over to Galeries Lafayette and Au Printemps, the two side-by-side department stores on the boulevard Haussmann, to take photos of their Christmas windows. Luckily I didn’t go because of light rain. Those two stores were evacuated, neighboring stores were pillaged, and flames and violence erupted all around in that area.

ave de la grande armee

It appears there are two distinct groups: peaceful gilets jaunes (yellow vests) and hooligan ultra-rightwing and ultra-leftwing ‘casseurs‘ (violent anarchists who break things). ACAB graffiti tags (All Cops Are Bastards) used by rightwing extremist groups were seen around the city. And who has to clean this mess up? The city cleaners. Late last night, TV images showed the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, and her colleagues walking the streets, shaking hands with the cleaners and thanking them for their efforts. I hope they get paid double-time and receive a big Christmas bonus.

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Here are some comments (translated) from ordinary French citizens that I have selected from this morning’s comments section of Le Figaro newspaper –

It is high time to reform France in a framework more in line with the aspirations of ordinary French people. The technocrats who from their ministries “administer” France by reneging on the people, their wishes, their daily difficulties, their aspirations, will have to change before the current ‘peasants’ revolt’ turns to revolution!

***

France: is this not the country in which 90% of the world population would like to live? With a system of benefits and handouts unique in the world where health care is provided for everyone, where various and varied allowances are available (APL, RSA, EDF tariffs, single parents’ benefits, etc. etc.), where education is free, where the right to protest is recognized, and where the press is free? When one reads about our rebellious climate, what must the people of countless countries that do not have a quarter of the rights and living conditions enjoyed by the French think?

***

Macron is paying for his blusters. He cannot escape with impunity the people’s revenge following his arrogant manner and remarks. The French have come to get him and hold him accountable. Without agreeing to all the vandalism, I can understand their anger that has turned into hatred. By continuing to not listen, to utter empty words, to prevaricate and speak a double language has today become unbearable. A political answer is urgent and indispensable NOW, its content will have to exceed by far what they should have said two weeks ago. But I fear they will remain in their technocratic postures, with the risk that this mutinous climate will turn into a revolution.

***

It is not only the increase in fuel prices that has triggered these riots…!
But also the injustices of which the “socialists”, are largely co-responsible, all the taxes, paid for by those who work honestly …!
– the real workers (workers, peasants, artisans, …), no gifts, minimum wage, many unpaid hours, and a “justice” hard and unyielding!
– the parasites (thugs, idlers, spongers of the system, …), lots of gifts, winners (with allowances and state benefits) who often fare better than those who work, and a “justice” soft & lax!
How to accept that we pay footballers hundreds of millions of Euros?
The recent Marseillais scandal in which decrepit apartment buildings collapse (with the inhabitants inside), while only blocks away are magnificent new and expensive football stadiums?
How to accept corruption and money laundering by world-name big banks?
How to accept that Renault’s rogue CEO, currently in prison in Japan, can receive five million euros for each day of his life?
Or that bosses receive 80 million euros a year while the workers earn minimum wage on temporary contracts? Or that Brigitte and Emmanuel Macron spend 300,000 Euros to change the carpet of the presidential residence?

***

On this Sunday morning I can still hear police sirens in the distance. All night long – and all day yesterday – they were wailing.

One of President Macron’s errors was to abolish taxes on the controversial “wealth tax”, otherwise known as the ISF. The solidarity tax on wealth (Impôt de solidarité sur la fortune or ISF) was a direct annual wealth tax imposed on those living in France having assets in excess of €1,300,000. The amount of these taxes brought in over 5 billion euros per year to the state. Its idea was to be “redistributive,” helping narrow the gap between rich and poor, hence the name – “solidarity tax.” The majority of French people demand that this tax be reinstated and that the proposed increase of gasoline tax and all other tax hikes be cancelled.

Here are two articles and analysis on the subject in the London-based The Guardian –

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/03/paris-streets-riots-violence

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/02/paris-riots-worst-unrest-decade-with-shops-and-cars-set-alight-gilets-jaunes

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/02/france-is-deeply-fractured-gilets-jeunes-just-a-symptom