Swans Commentary » swans.com May 23, 2011  



Blips #111
 From The Martian Desk


by Gilles d'Aymery





"Few men are sufficiently discerning to appreciate all the evil they do."

—La Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), Maxims, 1665


(Swans - May 23, 2011)   WHEN THE SOCIO-POLITICAL EARTHQUAKE erupted in France on March 14, 2011, in the wake of the arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former managing director of the International Monetary Fund (he resigned from his function on May 18), my immediate thought went to the events that occurred on May 11, 2011, in Athens, Greece. That day, a general strike protesting the grotesque austerity measures imposed by the IMF and the EU was violently repressed by the riot police, sending scores of bloodied demonstrators to local hospitals. I thought of what is known as IMF "structural adjustment programs" whereby wages are cut, pensions slashed by one-third, unions dismantled, state assets privatized for pennies on the dollar, thus creating a death spiral for the entire country -- a death spiral that is being reproduced in Portugal, Ireland, and soon Spain.

MUCH HAS BEEN SAID and written about DSK's legal travails, which are of no interest to me. But for his notoriety and prominent position the arrest would have been a simple fait divers, just one case among the 6,000 handled by the New York Police Department's special victims squad every year. If the charges for which he has been indicted are proven beyond reasonable doubt it will demonstrate that once again a very powerful person, like many others, walked in the company of Eros and Thanatos, and the latter got the upper hand! -- the brain betrayed by an organ dangling between the legs... (The French, who are often titillated by these kinds of tawdry stories, have penned many juicy words for this organ: Boursicoteuse, burne, couille, gonade, glande, quéquette, and as I found out in one comment posted on the Web also l'insatiable, la toujours frémissante, la trémuleuse, la très bouillante... End of French lesson.) And enough on this topic except to express empathy for the alleged victim, the alleged perpetrator, and their respective families, whose lives have taken a hellish turn.

MILLIONS OF PEOPLE have been victimized by DSK over the years, first when he was the minister of economy and finance between 1997 and 1999 when he implemented neo-liberal policies, privatizing entire sectors of the French economy, and, second, as the managing director of the IMF from September 2007 to last week. In that capacity, he has impacted the lives of entire populations by imposing drastic austerity measures, which have negatively exacerbated the economic difficulties faced by the countries mentioned above. In short, lower wages = less consumption = less production = contraction of the economy = less government revenues = increase of the debt ratio vs. GDP = higher interest rates, which lead to additional austerity measures...and the process begins all over again. Add the human dimension -- more despair, more protests, more police repression -- and the death spiral becomes even more evident. It was predictable and was predicted by many observers.

WHAT'S MOST GALLING about these abysmal results is that the decision makers appear oblivious to the pain they are inflicting on the masses and are themselves left entirely untouched by it because they live in a different world -- a luxurious world. This is where the dimension of DSK takes its full significance. Much has been said about the $3,000-a-night suite he stayed at in New York (I've also read that it "only" cost him $525), the first-class ticket ($7,000?), then his tax-exempt IMF salary (about $450,000) and his expense account (almost $80,000). Further details about his lavish lifestyle, which was afforded by the inherited fortune of his third wife, the talented former journalist Anne Sinclair, eventually came to light: The hand-tailored suits worth from $7,000 to $35,000; the penthouse in the XVIth district of Paris on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne, bought for 2.59 million euros in 1990; the riad in Marrakesh, Morocco, bought in 2000 for 500,000 euros (apparently worth 3 million euros today); the 240-square-meter apartment in Place des Vosges, paid in cash in 2007 at 4 million euros; and the 380-square-meter house in Georgetown, Washington D.C. (5 bedrooms - 5 bathrooms), also bought in 2007 for 4 million dollars.

MRS. SINCLAIR, the only child of a French industrialist, inherited most of her vast fortune from her maternal grandfather, the renowned 20th century art dealer and collector Paul Rosenberg, who represented Braque, Matisse, and Picasso. His collection, which included many paintings by the three painters as well as those of Degas, Léger, and others, was estimated at several hundred million euros. Mrs. Sinclair and her husband belong to the very select club called by the French with derision the "caviar left" or the "champagne socialists," wealthy individuals who claim to defend widows and orphans, and the interests of low-income families and the middle class. They empathize with hoi polloi but they certainly do not share their lot.

THE QUESTION THAT IS HAUNTING ME is how these people can relate to a Greek retiree who saw his monthly pension cut from 1,500 euros a year ago to 962 euros? (Source: "Money Troubles Take Personal Toll in Greece," by Landon Thomas Jr., NY Times, May 15, 2011.) Of course, I am not naïve and know the answer. This pensioner and hordes like him are totally invisible to them. The masses do not really exist -- just statistics on various data sheets...people that do not belong to their highly privileged club. These people move from one luxury place to another, travel in first class, stay in sumptuous hotels, dine in plush restaurants, vacation in exotic places, and pretty much rub their shoulders with their peers only. The rest of the world is simply nonexistent.

THE SICKENING PARADOX of this rotten culture is that if you sexually aggress, possibly rape, a hotel worker you may incur decades in jail, but if you rape entire countries you are hailed as a hero. Sickening indeed.


LET ME END ON A LIGHTER NOTE. I actually have something in common with Anne Sinclair and DSK. Like them, I am an alumnus of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po). Amusingly, I received a letter last February co-signed by Anne Sinclair in her quality of president of the US Sciences Po Foundation and Richard Descoings, the current director of Sciences Po in Paris. How they found my address is a bit of a mystery. I haven't been in touch with this elite institute ever since I graduated in 1976. But found me they did. In that letter they asked me to generously contribute to the first annual benefit dinner of the foundation to be held on June 16, 2011, at the Mandarin Oriental in Manhattan (80 Columbus circle at 60th Street). Contributions ranged from $25,000 (Summa Cum Laude), $15,000 (Cum Laude), $10,000 (With Honoris), $1,000 (Fellow), and $550 (Scholar) -- for each participant. Attendees will be treated to a keynote speech by Jean-Claude Trichet, the current president of the European Central Bank (also an alumnus), the presentation of the Michel David-Weill scholarship (another alumnus and the former chairman of Lazard Frères), and a guest appearance of Jim Hoagland (a Washington Post contributing editor, but, darn, not an alumnus!). And, of course, one will rub shoulders...

FORTUNATELY, they included an entry that read: "I/we cannot attend, but wish to make a contribution of $........" Being my generous self, I decided to send a fat check in the amount of, urr, $10 (ten dollars), making sure to let them know that I was the publisher and co-editor of Swans (a bit of publicity cannot hurt!). Then, I forgot all about it until that is last week when I received an 8"x5" two-panel glossy brochure containing another identical invitation (and request for financial support). I did not pay much attention to it until the other day, when I noticed that they had listed the names of the "Benefit Committee." It read:

Amber Capital
AXA Foundation
Amy S. Buchanan
Credit Agricole Corporate & Investment Bank
Gilles d'Aymery
Stephan H. Haimo
HSBC Asset Management
HSBC Global Banking and Markets
Francois Janson
Ben Lenail and Laurie Yoler
Meeschaert Financial Services
Monique and J.P. Millon
Olivier and Yosun Reza
Societe Generale Corporate & Investment Banking
Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français
Jeffrey David Stauch
Beatrice Stern
Carina Van Vliet
With the support of The Association of Sciences Po Alumni, Inc.

STUPEFYING, what $10 can do to one's sense of self. I feel much honored to be a member of the Benefit Committee and to be listed in the company of such illustrious names and organizations. Now, and I am sure it is a coincidence, access to the front page has more than doubled since February when I sent the check. Who knows, maybe Sciences Po alumni are reading Swans! Perhaps I ought to send them another ten dollars... What do you think?

 . . . . .

C'est la vie...

And so it goes...


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art17/desk111.html
Published May 23, 2011