There is not a single media report about the Yellow Vest demonstrations in Paris and France that I’ve read or watched that has not been slanted by Fake News.
It has (usually) not been deliberate, I gather, and nobody has said anything factually wrong; what is the problem is the fact that (very) important stuff has been omitted.
It is not wrong to say that the demonstrations were caused by the government’s decision to raise gas prices. What is missing is that this is just one of several draconian measures dating back half a year, i.e., ‘tis the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
For the past four to five months, the French government has done nothing but double down on bringing more and more gratuitous oppression and more and more unwarranted persecution measures down on the necks the nation’s drivers and motorcycle riders.
In fact, the imposition of ever harsher rules has been going on for the past decade and a half or so — whether the government was on the right or on the left — and that is why the choice of les gilets jaunes (the yellow jackets) by the demonstrators is particularly ironic.
The 2008 law (under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy) requiring the presence of high-visibility vests (gilets de haute visibilité) aka security vests (gilets de sécurité) in every vehicle — hardly an unreasonable rule, for sure, as similar ones exist throughout the continent — was just another example of the myriad of evermore-onerous rules for car and motorcycle owners over the past 15 years, and so the government in effect provided the 2018 rebels with their uniforms.
What has been most irksome for les Français since the turn of the century has been the ubiquitous radars, which, like red-light cameras in the United States, are accused of having (far) more to do with bringing revenue to the state than with road safety.
And just like the arms industry in the Soviet Union, if there was one area of France where the technology was always moving forward, it was the radar business.
When I served on the traffic commission in my small city in Mission Viejo, CA, we managed to avoid the ubiquitous red light cameras.
I have been opposed to those cameras for years. I can understand the French antipathy to the radar as Arizona, under leftist governor Napolitano, had radar vans parked along highways everywhere.
Over the years, the radars have become evermore stealthy and insidious. For instance, radars have gone from contraptions being able to photograph a single car on only one side on the road, in the lane closest to the machine (with a burst of white flash quite jolting to the driver at nighttime), to taking multiple pictures over the entire roadway simultaneously of several cars driving in both directions.
The first radars were installed in 2003 under President Jacques Chirac and his interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, and in the beginning, drivers were always warned beforehand when a radar could be expected ahead (which brought about what allegedly was the desired goal, to get French cars to slow down).
Eventually — in spite of the insistent promises of then-interior minister Sarkozy — new radars were installed without the signs announcing their presence.
Recently came the news of mobile radars, meaning unmarked cars loaded with a radar-installed contraption driven by gendarmes dressed in civilian clothes. (Everywhere, young boys daydream of wearing a shiny uniform and fighting criminals; imagine, then, a policeman being asked to put on plainclothes to do nothing but drive back and forth in order to trick honest citizens who have done nothing but “violate” a rather arbitrary administrative rule, one that has barely changed, if at all, in almost 50 years).
Meanwhile, crony capitalism has given rise to a side economy, a side economy whose only purpose revolves around the punishment of citizens with cars or motorcycles — not least with blossoming (and very expensive) driving schools for drivers to regain some of the points they have lost on their driver’s licenses (again, for violations of a rather arbitrary malum prohibitum rule). If that’s impossible, they lose the driver’s license itself, for a year or more, which leads in turn to job losses for some 80,000 Frenchmen every year, since they can no longer drive to work.
Of course, this does not affect the residents of Paris as they have the Metro and often walk to work.
On July 1, Prime Minister Édouard Philippe did what no other country in Europe or in the West (or, as far as I know, on the planet) has done: go against the march of progress and lower the slowness limit (sorry, the speed limit) on secondary (country) roads by 10 km/h, decreasing the limit from 90 km/h (56 mph) to 80 km/h (50 mph).
• At about the same time came the contracts that the government decided to write with private corporations, handing the business of the state’s (plainclothes) gendarmes over to their company employees, to take over the business of the mobile radars in their shiny new fleets of vehicles. (Meanwhile, other private companies have been getting similar contracts from city governments, meaning wage earners doing mostly nothing but driving up and down the city streets, while a license plate reader decides which cars’ owners will be getting automatically-generated fines.)
This sounds a bit like the collusion between cities, like Costa Mesa CA, which reduced the yellow light duration below state minimums to generate more revenue from fines. The camera contractor split the fine revenue with the city.
This is actually the point at which the first protests started. During the summer, the country saw a huge increase in instances of destruction (or incapacitation) of radars on the roadside. Many were defaced with paint, others were set on fire, while still others were simply covered with something like a garbage bag (one man arrested while covering a radar was let free by a judge who decided that since the garbage bag hadn’t actually brought any physical harm to the machine in any way, the defendant could not be accused of destroying it).
• More recently, the government added more gratuitous sanctions to the driver’s license point system, which is already far more punitive than that of most European countries, not least neighboring Germany’s.
France seems determined to punish drivers.
The movement, organised through social media, has steadfastly refused to align with any political party or trade union but has grown into a mass movement amid frustration at Macron’s presidency.
The ‘yellow vests’ include many pensioners and has been most active in small urban and rural areas where it has blocked roads, closed motorway toll booths, and even walled up the entrance to tax offices.
Chantal, a 61-year-old pensioner who came from an eastern Paris suburb, said she was avoiding the ‘hooligans’ but was determined to send President Emmanuel Macron a message on the rising costs of living.
‘He has to come down off his pedestal,’ she said under cold rain on the Champs Elysees. ‘Every month I have to dip into my savings.’
The immediate trigger for the protest wave was Macron’s decision to raise tax on diesel fuel in a move to encourage the driving of less-polluting cars.
Can Macron survive this ? We’ll see.