Sunday, May 06, 2012

France Elects Socialist Hollande + A Black, Gay Olympic Male Gymnast?

New French President François Hollande
with his partner, journalist Valérie Trierweiler (AP)
Leave it to France to show the world how it's done. Today, after 5 years of right-wing governance that helped to solidify the pro-austerity approach now ravaging Europe, the French people began the process of revolt, voting in their presidential contest's second round to send their globe-trotting, pro-US, plutocrat-enabling head of state, Nicolas Sarkozy, back to the wealthy suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine. In his place they elected the former First Secretary of the Socialist Party, François Hollande, as the 24th President of the French Republic (and Co-Prince of Andorra), with a vote of 52% to 48%. Sarkozy becomes only the second French President to serve one term in the last 40 years.

Where Sarkozy has maintained a non-stop narcissistic show and meddlesome razzle-dazzle within France and globally, punctuating it with extremist rhetoric and policies at times, Hollande has suggested he will remain "M. Normal," and has promised to take a more measured approach politically.  But he has proposed measures such as raising the federal marginal tax rates to 75%; reducing France's dependence on nuclear power in favor of renewable sources; recruiting 60,000 more teachers, as well as judges and police officers; push for full marriage equality; restoring the retirement age to 60 for workers who have contributed more than 41 years of labor; and building more public housing. These policies, as well as more centrist ones such as lowering the corporate and small-business tax rates and creating a public investment bank,  while not going as far as his last Socialist predecessor François Mitterand (whose radical, nationalizing, pro-worker policies in 1981 sent shockwaves throughout the country and continent), are all to the left of Sarkozy (or most of the leaders of Europe, the United States, or even Canada, for that matter).
Light in touch as he may hope to be, Hollande cannot proceed too slowly or at too far a remove on the global stage, for the Eurozone, especially the countries (Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and certainly Greece) on its periphery, its ill.  As President he has the power and platform to rethink the German-led fiscal and monetary approach that is strangling the periphery nations; whether he can persuade Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel to adopt a different approach or pressure the European Common Bank toward more effective monetary policies remains to be seen.  Too, his election, is only the first step; French voters next have the opportunity to elect their parliament, which has been under the control of the combined conservative parties, led by Sarkozy's UMAP party, but which will likely shift to the left, giving President Hollande a Prime Minister he can work with, and legislative power.  On economic issues his power could increase as well if  if Marine LePen's extreme-right National Front party, which now has no representatives either in the National Assembly (Lower House) or Senate (Upper House), cannibalizes seats at the expense of Sarkozy's UMAP.

As an aside or adjunct, it struck me that most of Europe, like many of the major industrialized countries across the globe, save in Latin America, either has been under the control of center-right or right parties or has fallen under their control, so France's shift is a dramatic one. But I also realized--and perhaps I am making too much of this--that the United States, having been under truly far-right control for 8 years, under George W. Bush, began the shift in 2006 by handing control of Congress to the Democrats, and cemented the shift in 2008 by electing Barack Obama by a 53%-47% margin over John McCain and returning the Democrats to power in both houses. Though the president, who has governed along the lines of Dwight Eisenhower, with an interventionist foreign policy and mini-wars, and phantasmally liberal social and economic policies adopted by his predecessors, has been repeatedly deamed a "socialist" by his opponents, the American voters, seeking changes in direction on the social, economic and political fronts in 2008 have gotten more continuity than they sought, which has meant a slow and stuttering economic recovery crippled to a great degree by de facto fiscal austerity, a glacial deescalation of the foreign wars, and increasing assualts on civil liberties. One might then say that US voters, having lived through the worst of the worst--though certainly Silvio Berlusconi ranks up there, and Jacques Chirac, another rightist politician, was no dance in a nightclub--sought but did not get what the French voters think they've achieved now. One can only hope that Hollande can secure a National Assembly (the more powerful of France's two houses) to support his vision and push it, and that President Obama, who looks like he will be reelected, and the Democrats in Congress, even if they only retain control of the Senate, as well as whatever remains of the moderate elements of the GOP, pay attention. Forward, yes, but change, absolutely!

Also: Here's Professor Paul Krugman on François Hollande's win, and the elections in Greece, in which voters drubbed the two major parties, the center-right New Democracy (Conservative) party and center-left Pasok (Socialist), selecting legislators from much farther to the left (Syriza--Coalition of the Radical Left, which finished second, after ND, and the Democratic Left) and to the right (the Independent Greek Party and the ultra-rightwing neo-Nazi Golden Dawn). An anti-austerity, anti-bailout coalition, led by Syriza, with rightist elements, very well could take power, sending the markets tanking and Greece out of the eurozone....


Robert G. sent this link to Cyd Ziegler Jr.'s article today on the Outsports site, which reported that the United States very well could, for the first time ever, have an out, gay gymnast on its Olympic men's gymnastic team. Who is he? Josh Dixon, a 2011 Stanford University graduate and seven-time All American, who yesterday finished second out of 72 competitors at the US men's qualifiers in Colorado Springs, Colorado, also tying for the top spot in two events, the floor exercise and the high bar. Oh, and Dixon is an African-American and Japanese-American adoptee who grew up in a multiracial, accepting home, which led him to feel comfortable coming out, an experience that his Stanford teammates, and fellow students, as well as gymnastic competitors, have nurtured through their support over the last few years.

According to Ziegler, his next challenge is the Visa Championships in June (7-10) in St. Louis; the top 15 finishers at that meet will proceed to the Olympic Trials, which run June 28 to July 1, in Dixon's hometown of San Jose, and he very well could be one of the 6 young men to compete for the USA. I just knocked on wood, and am wishing him the best.

Here's a YouTube video of Dixon during his sophomore year, in 2009, competing for the Cardinal in the floor exercises:

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