Monday, January 30, 2017

If Russia isn’t supposed to protect Russian minorities, why doesn’t NATO do it?


The governments of Western Europe and North America have spent the first years of the 21st century complaining about Russian threats and aggression, and the major media have gone along for the ride. The march to Cold War II increased dramatically when the US government incited and funded a revolution in Ukraine in 2014, then accused Russia of aggression when it acted in the anticipated way by defending Russian minorities in Eastern Ukraine (Donbass region) and Crimea, and by protecting its strategic military assets (warm water ports, access to the Mediterranean Sea) in the Black Sea. By taking action to protect minorities, Russia was acting on the precedent set by NATO when it claimed RTP (right to protect) in Kosovo in 1999.
The US and other NATO countries accused Russia of violations of international law when it made a restrained defense of Russian minorities in Donbass and conducted a referendum in Crimea, which led to Crimeans choosing to join Russia rather than to continue under a political regime that didn’t offer a promising future. Californians are in a similar situation now as they start to talk about independence as an alternative to living in a nation that elected Donald Trump as president.
The legitimacy of Russia’s actions have been debated extensively elsewhere, so the topic will not be covered further here in great detail.[1] Instead, I will discuss a simple way the new cold war tensions could be de-escalated if the US were interested in pursuing it.
In an editorial by Julia Ioffe published in New Republic in 2014,[2] the writer pointed out what she thought was an obvious hypocrisy in the Russian policy that always claims to be defending Russian minorities in states along its borders. She described in detail the egregious human rights abuses that exist in some NATO allies, but she did so without making any criticism of the NATO partners that turn a blind eye to the abuses:

In a February 2012 referendum, Latvians roundly rejected Russian as an official second language. It is analogous to what happened in Ukraine after Yanukovich fled the country: The parliament overturned a law that would have granted official status to the Russian language... In Estonia, things are far worse. Ethnic Russians are somewhere between one-fifth and one-quarter of the population. And yet, after Estonian independence in 1991, they were not given citizenship, even if they were born there. Russians who weren't living in Estonia before Soviet times are given a gray passport connoting their official status as “aliens.” They can't vote in national elections and have trouble finding work.[3]

She contrasted these abuses with similar ones carried out in Ukraine, then pointed out in her “gotcha” line that Russia has taken no military action in the Baltic countries (Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia) that belong to NATO:

And where is Putin when you need him? Where are the Russian soldiers in unmarked uniforms patrolling the streets of Tallinn... And what, if you want to be cynical about it, of Estonia's strategic importance? ...But Estonia, you see, is part of NATO. As is Latvia, as is Lithuania.... So is it about protecting Russian speakers, or is about getting away with whatever you can get away with?

Or is it about doing what you can while being fully aware of the differences between Ukraine and the Baltic states? Russia supplied weapons in Donbass and held a referendum in Crimea—without needing to “invade” it because it already had military bases there under a pre-existing treaty with Ukraine. It was able to do this because Ukraine was not part of NATO, but Russia could take no such action in the Baltic states to protect Russian minorities because they belong to NATO. Putin obviously doesn’t want to start WWIII over problems with Estonia, and he is quite aware that their sovereignty is a settled matter. Another significant factor is that the human rights abuses in the Baltic states are much less of a concern than the violence, threats of violence and chaos that were evident in Ukraine in 2014. The problems in the Baltics are related to language rights, citizenship rights and so on. These are not the sorts of problems that call for military intervention. The revolution in Ukraine, however, was violent, and it was followed in May by a day of ethnic rioting that ended in fifty deaths inside the Russian Trade Unions House in Odessa, most of them ethnic Russian, while police stood by either impotent or unwilling to intervene.[4] These distinctions are all obvious to people who know the issues, so what is the point of the editorial in New Republic? The tone of it hints almost at a rejoicing in the fact that there are some places where ethnic Russians can be abused with impunity.
Interestingly, the writer seems to suggest that the reluctance to start a war with NATO is a reason to scoff at Putin, or she implies that Ukraine should be in NATO because, as we are all supposed to know, it would be such a great thing if the whole world got more involved in helping the neo-Nazis, holocaust deniers and kelptocrats running the illegal regime in Ukraine[5] (the president was never correctly impeached according to the requirements of the constitution)[6].
The writer also fails to make any distinctions between the Baltic states and Ukraine. The former were never a part of the original Soviet Union when it achieved recognition as a sovereign nation. They were illegally annexed during WWII as a defensive measure against German invasion. After the war there were provisional governments in exile that continued to fight to end the occupation, but since this was not part of the deal worked out by Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt at the end of the war, the Baltic states remained in the Soviet bloc. Late in Gorbachev’s rule, as claims for independence arose in all the Soviet republics, the Baltic states were the first to rise up with the most legitimate claims for independence. Gorbachev recognized that they had unique claims to sovereignty, just as the Kingdom of Hawai’i still has a claim that it has been illegally occupied since 1898 (no treaty of surrender exists, unilaterally annexed by a foreign nation)[7]. Putin also knows that the independence of the Baltic states is a settled matter. Later they joined NATO, and that is a fait accompli. Nothing can be done to reverse the situation, and why would Russia want to try anyway?
Ukraine and Crimea, on the other hand, have a history that is much more entangled with Russia culturally and economically, and Ukraine is not yet a part of NATO or the EU. The roots of Russian culture go back to the ancient capital in Kiev, and Crimea, mostly culturally Russian, Ukrainian and Tatar, was assigned to the Ukraine Republic by Khrushchev in the 1950s when no one imagined the breakup of the Soviet Union. It was just an internal re-assignment on the map.
Furthermore, there is debate about whether Ukraine is a recently constructed nationality because it has always been ethnically diverse and under the rule of various powers throughout history. The name even means “borderland.” The first nationalist movements were tainted by their collaboration with Germany during WWII, and the present wave of nationalism has seen a whitewashing of national heroes who were really collaborators and participants in genocide.

Headquarters of the Euromaidan, Kiev, Jan. 2014. At the front entrance there is a portrait of Bandera. The Euromaidan was the name of the movement, created and funded by the US, to effect regime-change in Ukraine. The Euromaidan's "activists" are followers of Stepan Bandera, a WW II Ukrainian Nazi-collaborator and war criminal. This is why it is said that US supports Neo-Nazis in Ukraine, whom they call "nationalists." Bandera was a fascist, who opposed the Soviet Union. The KGB assassinated him in 1959. The Americans supported his rehabilitation by backing Ukrainian Maidan in 2014.
      Finally, a lot has happened since the Baltic states won their independence and joined NATO. Russia has watched NATO expansion continue, and has grown strong enough to stand up to it. The US-instigated coup in Ukraine (a violation of international law that preceded the alleged violation in Crimea) was the last straw, and Russia reacted. The legality of the reaction is debatable, but in contrast with all that America has done to assert its interests abroad, Russia’s actions have been minimal, restrained reactions to provocations on its borders. Since NATO was the first to normalize resort to RTP as an excuse for intervention, perhaps it is time to judge such interventions not on ambiguous technicalities and subjective justifications but on their outcomes. Unlike the many interventions carried out by the US since 1999, there has been no civil war in Crimea. There are no waves of refugees fleeing in dangerous boat journeys across the Black Sea—no bombardments of television stations and infrastructure, or “accidental” strikes on foreign embassies. A passenger jet was shot down, but the NATO-Ukraine sponsored investigation keeps finding excuses to dismiss evidence provided by Russia that shows Ukrainian forces shot it down. Recently, a new group of 25 journalists, former civil aviation pilots and researchers from Germany, the Netherlands and Australia have demanded... “a new investigation [that] should include independent international researchers able to overcome governments’ reluctance to disclose information.”[8]
The results of the intervention in Donbass are hypothetical—one can’t say what would have happened without Russian assistance—but it’s likely that the Russian minorities there are glad they had some protection—though what came from Russia and the international community has not been enough. The Minsk agreement has been broken again this month (January 2017) as Ukraine has been accused of backing militia attacks across the disengagement line.[9]
It is evident that because of the different history and context, Russia has entirely different rationales for its reactions toward the Baltic states and Ukraine. The most stunning thing about the New Republic editorial is that it describes in shocking detail how badly Russian minorities have been treated in the Baltic states, yet it completely avoids calling for justice or making the obvious critique. What it doesn’t say is more significant than what it does say. Why do Europe, NATO and the US not insist that the Baltic states uphold the high ideals and human rights that they always claim as the justification for their domination? Why is this not a pre-requisite of being allowed to join the club? Why do they prefer to constantly dwell on only Russia’s internal problems? Why is there no robust UN peacekeeping force, made of soldiers from neutral nations, in the Donbass region?
Such concerns for protecting minorities were never on the agenda when Turkey joined NATO decades earlier, so no one should be surprised by this inaction, but if NATO members insisted that the Baltic states grant citizenship and full rights to its Russian minorities, this gesture would go a long way in reducing tensions between Russia and the US. But who wants to insist on human rights when the military-industrial-congressional complex needs to increase the percentage of GDP that NATO members spend on defense? This editorial writer who set out so smugly to show Russian hypocrisy actually succeeded, unintentionally, in underscoring the hypocrisy and disdain for human rights within the NATO alliance.

Notes


[1] Gary Leupp, “The Utter Stupidity of the New Cold War,” Counterpunch, January 10, 2017.
[3] This situation is described in more detail in a 2016 report by Human Rights Watch: “Human Rights Watch submission to the Committee on the Rights of the Child concerning Estonia,” November 21, 2016.
[4] Roman Goncharenko, “The Odessa File: What Happened on May 2, 2014?Deutsche Welle (DW), May 2, 2015.
[5] Josh Cohen, “The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine’s Past,” Foreign Policy, May 2, 2016.
[7] Dennis Riches, “Hawaiian Kingdom, American Empire: An Interview With Professor Keanu Sai,” Mint Press News, January 4, 2017 (interview conducted in August 2015).

Friday, January 27, 2017

Nukes prove their usefulness once again: excellent for partisan fear-mongering



The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has moved the hands of its famous clock forward, immediately after Donald Trump was sworn in as president of the USA. In doing so they have proved that they are, as I have suspected previously, a part of the Washington establishment groupthink on foreign policy, biased, unconsciously perhaps, toward advancing American interests (previous post on this topic).
As much as one might despise Trump’s policies in other areas, or conclude that he lacks the experience and temperament to be a head of state, there is an argument to be made that his statements about nuclear policy are not much of a departure from standard nuclear doctrine. He has spoken carelessly about nuclear weapons, but most of his words have been interpreted with extreme bias. A more generous interpretation could be made. For example, he asked, “If we have them, why can’t we use them?” but his follow-up question was “Well, if we can’t use them, why do we have them?” but only the first question was widely reported. Like all American presidents, he expects all other nations to disarm first, which is why he came out in favor of renewing the deterrent. America must go down in history as the first and last nation to possess nuclear weapons. That’s a standard assumption in the US, not a Trumpism.
In addition, many years ago Trump spoke often about his fears of nuclear destruction, so much so that he appeared to be much more obsessed with the topic than the average citizen. In other words, he is like many of the anti-nuclear activists and scholars I know: obsessed with the fact that such a dread has been allowed to exist, worried about the world his children will inherit, trying to enjoy life regardless.
In The Bulletin’s 2017 Clock Statement, Trump’s worrying statements about nuclear policy were credited as the reason for moving the minute hand closer to midnight. He was described as having “made disturbing comments about the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons.” The report even lends credence to the ridiculous fear-mongering that Russia influenced America’s sacred democratic processes. It notes:

...events surrounding the US presidential campaign—including cyber offensives and deception campaigns apparently directed by the Russian government and aimed at disrupting the US election—have brought American democracy and Russian intentions into question and thereby made the world more dangerous than was the case a year ago.

Trump was blamed for wanting to upgrade the nuclear arsenal, but it is a well-known fact to the disarmament experts at The Bulletin that this upgrade has been in the works for years. The Bulletin makes no mention of the destabilizing influence of American meddling in Ukraine’s sacred democratic processes, and no mention of NATO expansion to Russia’s borders and the deployment of ABM missiles in Romania and Poland. During the presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton and the neo-con hawks backing her were on the war path to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, a step that would have led to an air war with Russia. Surely the disarmament specialists who work for The Bulletin could have concluded that the danger of nuclear war had been recklessly increased by these words and deeds of Obama and Clinton. But instead it was a bit of thinking and tweeting out loud by Trump, before he was in power, that moved the hands of the clock forward. His "disturbing comments" about wanting to get along with Russia were not considered worthy of moving the hands of the clock backward. In the report there is a tangential mention of the need to reduce tensions over Syria and Ukraine, but the issue was not personalized the way it was for Trump. American policy, or statements and actions by Obama and Clinton were never mentioned. The partisan bias of this report leaks off of every page.
If all this is not enough to make my familiars in the anti-nuclear movement suspicious, I urge them to read page five of the Clock Statement. They will find there a rather strong endorsement, with some standard caveats, of nuclear energy as a solution to global warming. It seems that in this vision for a nuclear weapons-free world, the US will still have its network of 800 or so overseas military bases and the largest defense budget in the world—larger than the total spent by the nations ranked 2 to 10 on the list. They will still have offensive anti-ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and inter-continental ballistic missiles, loaded with conventional warheads, capable of accurately targeting and destroying any city on the globe (Belgrade in 1999 was the first demonstration of that power). Thus there will still be a great military threat aimed at nations with nuclear power plants, aimed also at their infrastructure and power grids (needed for cooling reactors in shut-down and cooling spent nuclear fuel pools). We could avoid nuclear war, but conventional war would still have the potential to create hundreds of Chernobyl catastrophes.
These non-conventional military threats and this tremendous imbalance are, of course, the well-known objections of Russia, China and other nuclear powers to moving forward in nuclear disarmament. It’s a curious thing that they consistently rate no mention in most Western nuclear disarmament think tanks and NGOs. This year’s nuclear ban treaty negotiations at the UN could have been turned into a much more comprehensive discussion. Why not have an agreement on limiting national defense spending, or curtailing the permanent stationing of military forces in foreign nations? Is it time to question the danger of large, outdated alliances that risk world war starting over, for example, a border skirmish in Estonia? The supposedly radical solution of banning nuclear weapons is actually not very radical at all. It consistently avoids engagement with the root causes of war and enmity between nations, which are rooted themselves in domination and control of the world’s resources.


Other recent views on the 2017 Clock report:

Chris Busby, “Real Doomsday clock passed midnight long ago,” Russia Today, January 29, 2017.

Gwynne Dyer, “Doomsday Clock and Talk Do More to Blow Up Fears,” London Free Press, February 1, 2017.

 

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Clockwork Orange President



What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
- Buffalo Springfield

For what it’s worth, I’ll say there’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear. Everyone knows the outrageous and offensive things Donald Trump has said and done in his past. He’s a shallow, tax-evading, anti-intellectual vulgarian. Yeah, we all know the score, but what it is curious is that he seems to have exploited Ralph Nader’s insight of a few years back that there was a potential for a left-right alliance just waiting for a new kind of politician to champion.[1] Many of Trump’s policies stated during the campaign were to the left of Hillary Clinton’s. Trump has come out in favor of the government using its dominant purchasing power to negotiate lower drug prices. He is against free trade agreements. He wants to halt the financialization of the economy and invest in building things. He wants peace with the other nuclear superpowers and nuclear disarmament. In spite of all the odious aspects of his presidency, the substance of these policies have to be weighed in the balance when Americans consider impeaching him and leaving the country to be led by the vice president and the familiar cast of Republican knuckleheads in Congress and state houses throughout the republic.
The question that nobody is asking is why the only permitted vehicle for these drastic alternative policies came in the form of the dreaded “orange-skinned” monster (don’t worry, it’s OK to mock skin color in this case according to the reigning ethos). He received billions of dollars in free publicity on corporate-owned media networks. Ralph Nader and Jill Stein, with similar foreign policy and economic policies but cleaner histories of personal integrity, never received such favorable coverage.
In the film Clockwork Orange, the violent behavior of the protagonist is treated with a behavioral psychology therapy in an experiment to test whether the government could save money by eradicating the criminal’s ability to commit crimes. The music of Beethoven excited him and inspired his frenzied orgies of violence, so psychologists designed an experiment which would associate feelings of dread with the music and the violence that he once enjoyed. He was given drugs that induced feelings of deep nausea and suicidal dread, and while under their influence he had to listen to Beethoven and view films depicting acts of violence. He emerged from the treatment cured, temporarily, of his ability to carry out acts of violence. The treatment never affected his impulses and motivations. It only affected his behavior.

Behavior adjustment therapy in A Clockwork Orange
It seems that the American public is being subjected to something similar. President Trump has been run up the flagpole, but already on the first day of his presidency the mainstream media has declared it doomed to fail. He will be forced to resign or impeached, or he will come to an untimely end. The next time a candidate comes along who wants peace with Russia and all the other progressive aspects of Trump’s platform, these positive aspects will be associated with everything that was odious about Trump’s character and his scandalous record on other matters. It will all be part of the Trump brand. America is being clockworkoranged.
It’s great that millions of people are on the streets in their pink caps standing up for dignity and respect, but it’s a little odd that this is the priority now when there is a large clique in America’s media, intelligence and legislative institutions that is escalating the chances of a conflict with Russia. The historian Stephen Cohen has this week said that he believes we are in a time more dangerous than the Cuban Missile Crisis, but no one is talking about it.[2]
Instead, everyone is indignant and shocked that a wealthy businessman has used his power and privilege in the pursuit of sex, or just talked about it, as if such characters are something unheard of in the history of American politics. In the infamous recording he talked about pursuing a married woman and making audacious and quick moves on women who “let him do it” because he’s famous. This is all odious and creepy, especially when it comes from the mouth of an older married man, but it would fit right in with the plot line of any cable television drama, the real lives of celebrities, or the love and sex columns of Salon.com (Salon was an uncritical supporter the Clinton campaign after she won the nomination) in which female writers have been known to extol the virtues of one-night stands and anonymous hookups. I’m not knocking these confessional sex columns, but there does seem to be a bit of reverse slut-shaming going on here. The traditional bodice-rippers written by women don’t involve the male lead asking for permission to place his hands. Everybody knows that in sexual encounters most of the communication is non-verbal.
The important distinction here is that many American voters now want to be children choosing the perfect daddy figure for their political leaders. They have to be better than us ordinary sinners. Barack Obama was a gentle and faithful husband and father, so it didn’t matter to most people if he destroyed Libya and Syria and drone-bombed innocents abroad. No one hit the streets in these large numbers until the groping ogre got into the White House.
So the American public has been left with this odious choice with a leader who has now “tainted” a few good policy goals borrowed from the left. People can defend female and minority rights, or speak up for ending wars abroad and preventing nuclear war. They could do both, but the protests on the streets of America this weekend are almost entirely focused on threats to gender and minority rights. Identity politics has degraded political thinking so much that people are incapable of going to the roots of the problem. The assumption seems to be that there could be a kinder, gentler form of oligarchic, militaristic capitalism as long as it delivers some racial and gender equality and reproductive rights. Would that it were so simple.

Notes

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Boots or Hearts, They Really Fall Apart


Boots or Hearts, They Really Fall Apart

See when it starts
to fall apart,
man, it really falls apart,
like boots or hearts,
oh when they start,
they really fall apart

The Tragically Hip
Album: Up to Here (1989)

The 2016 United States election may be seen in the future as a historic rupture in the nation’s history. Voter turnout was low, and less than half the population voted, with a historic level of displeasure expressed for both candidates of the two major parties. Bitter rebukes were leveled at those who wanted to vote for third parties. The victory of Donald Trump made his opponents think the republic was doomed, while his supporters saw the attempted sabotage of his inauguration as a sign that respect for democracy was in tragic decline. For the first time in history, Americans seemed to be asking, “Is this how it ends? What next?”
Those who think Donald Trump is an insane narcissist fear that he will stumble into nuclear war when his feelings get hurt, while others have fears about an American holocaust or widespread violent chaos in a nation with both militarized police forces and private militias armed with automatic weapons. As an alternative to these nightmare scenarios, there are some historical precedents that show how the USA could renew itself in a relatively peaceful revolution. Revolution, however, implies a complete reset of the game. America’s sacred constitution would have to be replaced with something entirely new. Consider the following fictional scenario of the near future, then read the explanation that follows of the historical example it is based on.
_____

The Second Republic (fiction)

The trigger for the collapse of the First Republic was the crisis of American forces overseas that arose in early 2022. America was still an imperial power, although rejection of the system had started to increase significantly in East Asia since 2017. The Philippines, Japan and South Korea still allowed US military bases on their soil, but popular resistance was mounting to unprecedented levels. South Korea, in particular, felt rising internal and regional pressure to rid itself of the American presence. The assertiveness of Russia and China in the region caused American forces to balk. The situation was complicated by the utterly dysfunctional and deadlocked politics in the executive and legislative branches of the American government.
Further complications came when a section of the US military rebelled and openly backed a movement to reverse the decline of the American empire. Revolts and riots broke out in 2021 against the US forces in Seoul, Tokyo and Manila, and there were no adequate diplomatic or political initiatives by the US government to win support in those countries for a continuation of American presence, owing to the insolvency of the federal government and political gridlock. Amid this chaos, and the imminent collapse of the North Korean government in December 2021, Russia and China brokered an arrangement for Korean re-unification that required the exclusion of US bases from the Korean Peninsula.
In Europe, disputes over contributions to the NATO budget led to Romania and Poland leaving the alliance and declaring neutrality. For US military leaders, it was obvious that a debacle like that of the Warsaw Pact collapse of 1989 was in the offing, and that the government was sacrificing American honor for political expediency.
This situation prompted a small group of generals to create a patriots’ committee to demand the formation of a new national government under former president Barack Obama, who still advocated a strong military policy. Obama was still making speeches in retirement about America’s status as “the indispensable nation” and the importance of retaining American uni-polar hegemony.
The generals declared that unless Barack Obama was returned to power, the US Army would openly revolt. The generals covertly planned the takeover of Washington, with 50,000 paratroopers preparing to take over airports. Armored units prepared to roll into Washington.
On 24 May, paratroopers landed in Miami, taking the city in a bloodless action called "Operation Flamingo." Miami was chosen as a shock demonstration of what would soon follow in other cities if demands were not met. The operation was cheered by the local population and met no resistance. The generals promised that Operation Resurrection would be implemented if Obama was not approved as leader by Congress, or if Obama asked for military assistance to take power, or to thwart any organized attempt by opponents to seize power or stall Obama’s return.
Barack Obama, who had retired from politics six years before, placed himself in the midst of the crisis, calling on the nation to suspend the government and create a constituent assembly in order to draft a new constitution. On 29 May 2022, Congress agreed upon calling on Obama to take over the government as acting executive. The military’s willingness to support an overthrow of the constitutional government was a significant development in American politics. With military support, Obama’s constituent assembly terminated the First Republic (the last Congressional sessions of the First Republic hastily voted for its dissolution) and drew up a new constitution over the next six months proclaiming the Second Republic in November 2022.
Freed from the traditional constraints on constitutional and electoral reform, the constituent assembly was able to preserve the best aspects of the First Republic while abolishing those unsuited to the 21st century. The electoral college was abolished, and various voting innovations were implemented, such as ranked-choice voting. The influence of corporations on the electoral process was shrunk so much that, as one advisor put it, “it could be drowned in the bathtub.” Experts have questioned whether the Second Republic is actually a republic. They argue instead that it has been reformed into a thing called “a democracy.” The rights to government-funded pensions, health care and education were enshrined in the new constitution.
In spite of the generals’ original intent to preserve America’s global dominance, decline continued while the nation went through an internal renewal. Both international and domestic populations no longer supported American hegemony, and the American treasury could no longer afford the cost of hundreds of foreign military bases. Restoration of “the homeland” became the pressing necessity of American politics for the decades to come. The military officers, to their credit, stood down when the constituent assembly was in place, as they never intended to form a government themselves. Their goal of re-establishing global hegemony was completely overtaken by the dire finances of the republic and popular demand for domestic reform.
_____

This scenario might seem outlandish, and overly-optimistic about the chances of a peaceful and progressive transition, but it is actually an adaptation of events that happened in France in 1958 as the Fifth Republic was created out of the Algerian crisis and the decline of French colonialism. The basic elements are all the same: the military demanded the restoration of the empire and the return of retired president de Gaulle, the military took Corsica as a preliminary step before taking Paris, de Gaulle returned, and the Fourth Republic was dissolved.
France and the United States both had their revolutions in the late 18th century, but France has gone through two Napoleonic empires and five republics while America is still stuck in its first. The chaos that followed the 2016 election should be making it clear that no meaningful change is possible within the constraints of the existing system, and amendments to it under the present rules are practically impossible.
This is not to say that all has been perfect in France since the Fifth Republic was established, and there are risks in depending on a military force to usher in a new constitutional system, but among all the alternatives, it might be the best.
One good outcome for France and other countries was the collapse of the empire, but France continued to exert oppressive control over parts of Africa through neocolonialism. Algeria and Polynesia were forced to suffer the consequences of French nuclear detonations conducted between 1961-1996.
This year, French voters face a similar dreadful choice as Americans did in their presidential election. Viable progressive alternatives are nowhere in sight, while the choice comes down to a conservative and an anti-EU, anti-NATO and anti-Euro conservative nationalist. Perhaps the French can double up with the Americans and they can both get a new republic at the same time, a two-for-one deal shall we say?*
If the French example is not convincing, the Carnation Revolution in Portugal in 1974 is another example to refer to. In that case the Portuguese military was exhausted from fighting in anti-colonial wars in Africa, so they launched a bloodless coup against the Portuguese dictatorship, not to continue the war and the empire but to bring them to an end and usher in democracy. The public in Lisbon reacted by flooding the streets, sticking carnations in soldiers guns and overtaking the military coup with a popular resistance movement.
Perhaps the United States is too conservative, too isolated and too inclined to fetishize its "sacred" constitution to look to such historical examples in other nations for ways out of its present dilemma. However, it would be a good thing if the present raging and rudderless protests against the new president could calm down, get creative, and be turned toward some practical solutions. In the current derangement, some people imagine only nuclear holocaust or civil strife, and in desperation they have indulged in satire and personal insults toward the president-elect, and begged the CIA to conjure up some cabal to bring down this villain who has risen to power. In one of his speeches near the end of his term President Obama said Russians don’t make anything and don’t innovate. The question should be this: can Americans make something new and innovate their way out of this?



* In fact, there is presently in France the Mouvement pour la 6e République which is gathering signatures in support of establishing a 6th Republic. As of January 2017, 108,269 people have signed in support of this statement:

I demand the election of a constituent assembly with which citizens will establish the 6th Republic. This republic will abolish the monarchical presidency and will enshrine the new personal, ecological and social rights that our country needs.

America, what are you waiting for?

UPDATE 2017/04/18:

Insurgent presidential candidate Luc Melenchon now has a viable chance of making it to the second round of the presidential election, and he too has called for a 6th Republic to replace the dysfunctional 5th.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Trump. Right. Okay, the world's gone nuts


Russell Brand, episode 327 of The Trews, November 10, 2016
 

Transcript:


Donald Trump's president [-elect] of America now. I wanted to talk to you now while everyone is sort of still delirious and in shock about it. We've talked about Donald Trump quite a lot on The Trews because he's a fascinating media operator. He said such outlandish and offensive things, but he’s antithetical to our times where politicians seem so groomed and slick, even though in some ways he's both groomed and slick, because he has a sort of earnestness and rawness.
Take even the first moment of his victory speech where he says, “Sorry I'm late. Complicated business.” He obviously knows that this is taking place in incredible adversity.
What I'm fascinated by, though, is the amount of fear and anger that's generated by the victory, and how obviously reminiscent it is to Brexit in this country. This for me, Donald Trump’s victory and the decision of Britain to leave Europe, point to a phenomenon that’s really well outlined in an article by a man called Thomas Frank in The Guardian where he points to the idea that liberalism as a political system is failing so many people that they have lost interest and lost faith. My own personal feelings about it is that people no longer trust the people that say, “Hey, we’ll look after you. It’s OK. Stay in Europe. We’ll be alright. Vote for Hillary Clinton. It’s going to be better,” because the people that you’re talking to are already living in a kind of post-apocalyptic world, for want of a better phrase. You can’t tell people that it would be terrible if we leave Europe if the world they live in is already terrible. You can’t tell people it will be terrible to have Donald Trump in power if the world they live in is already terrible. They’re not susceptible to that kind of threat.
Of course, I’m of aware of the mad things he said about women, and the mad things he said about Muslims, and the mad things he said about building walls. And what I think is fascinating is that someone can say that and it makes no difference. People still vote for him. How disenchanted, how disillusioned, how dis-empowered can you be that this seems like a sensible alternative? My interpretation is the only thing they actually cared about was change. Hillary Clinton, whatever she was offering, whatever she was saying, is a political affiliate of Barack Obama, who was already in power—Barack Obama, by the way, who now seems sort of like Christ, doesn’t he, compared to the people contesting this election? But let’s look at the last eight years and the kind of things that are happening. And that’s why people are disillusioned because they’ve seen that when it’s someone that seems affable and capable like Barack Obama in the White House: still terrible unrest, still drone killings, still terrible poverty, still no consequences for the people that exploited huge numbers of ordinary Americans through the financial crash. We can’t keep responding to events like this with more fear and anger. It’s fear and anger that are creating these conditions.
There was this yogi, whose name I really should learn, who said to Bertrand Russell when Bertrand Russell was campaigning for nuclear disarmament... he said to him, “What’s the point in us getting rid of nuclear weapons if we still have the mindset that created the nuclear weapons?” Bertrand Russel said, “I don’t want to talk about that. Let's just get rid of nuclear weapons. You can’t blow up the planet with a mindset.” But now forty years later, 50 years later, we haven’t achieved nuclear disarmament. There are more weapons, and the point that he was making is that Donald Trump for president of the United States is sort of not what’s important. What’s important is the conditions that have occurred in which Donald Trump becomes president. There’s no point in reacting “What? Donald Trump is president!?” Yesterday the conditions existed for it happen, and so they did two days ago, a month ago, a year ago, for the last ten to twenty years they’ve been building towards this moment. And what it is, and what I’ve always believed, what I’ve said very publicly, is the political system doesn’t connect with people. People want change. People want to have genuine power, so if someone comes along and says things like “I’ll drain the swamp of Washington of all its corrupt lobbyists and affiliates,” that’s appealing. My hope is that this victory for this sort of absurd and ludicrous character who said these outrageous and offensive things... my hope is that we will recognize that we have to provide an alternative. People have to provide an alternative. It’s not enough to say, “Look, here’s Hillary Clinton. Be grateful. Shut up.” People have had enough.
If the Democrats could have Bernie Sanders now, of course they would have him--a person who's talking about socialism, a person who’s talking about fairness and justice.
So what I've taken from it is that this is a time where we have to, instead of saying after Brexit, “Those bloody racists Brexited us,” we have to say, “Right, let's try to reach out and try to understand why people feel like this, and be loving and not be presumptuous. Those of us that are privileged enough not to be in financial trouble, that aren't feeling the weight and the pressure of the world, and looking for someone to blame and feeling like that so that when someone like Donald Trump comes along and in his own easy, accessible, TV-friendly way says it's because of Muslims, Mexicans… so that when someone like that comes along it seems appealing and attractive, we have to create a world where Donald Trump isn't necessary, and if we don't create that kind of world, don't be surprised when Donald Trump becomes president. For the last twenty years we’ve been creating the conditions where this was, as we now know, inevitable because it has happened. Now we have to find alternatives, and I don't think it's going to take place on the superficial, administrative level of Washington or Westminster politics. It’s going to take place philosophically and deeply. We have to change the way we treat each other, change the way we see ourselves, change the way we talk about the world--significant change because the people that voted for Brexit, the people that voted for Donald Trump… even if people do think that immigration is the issue, then those of us who don't think that's the issue have got a duty, haven’t we, to communicate in a way that is understandable and accessible, not condescending and not patronizing, why we believe that this is the wrong path for the world. We're talking to people that don't have an awful lot to lose, so if you do feel afraid, and disappointed and angry about it, try not to be. Try to be optimistic because this had to happen. In the end we have to reach some kind of climax, some sort of crisis, some kind of nadir where it is no longer possible to continue in the way we have been.
What I think the election of Donald Trump means is it is no longer possible to pretend that politics is all right because look at it. Now look at it. Now you see it. As Biggy Smalls would say, “If you don't know, now you know.” I can't use the next word, not being an African-American man or woman, but those are the sentiments I feel. If Hillary Clinton had become president… she's a person that did have those affiliations with the banks, that does want to go to war in the Middle East, and there is stuff I don't know very much about, but what I suspect is we would not have got real change. With Donald Trump it is no longer possible to ignore that real change is required.