Against Prevarication

There are going to be a plethora of these pieces published this morning, after the rest of the country wakes, after the genteel liberals hem and haw in their shock, woken from their slumber by the bright light of tiki torches cutting through the sky.  Of course this began a long time ago, this has always been with us, but perhaps now is the right moment to peel open the long dormant eyes of those who pretend not to see.

500 fascists marched through the night in Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia.  These pusillanimous slugs march here in the summer when students are out of class because they know that they would get torn to ribbons if they tried a show of force while school was in session.  Charlottesville is a city with a black population of 19%.  The purpose of this march is to sow terror, to make a mark, and to attempt a ecumenism among the splintered and often feuding sects of the American Neo Nazi movement.

The stated aim and name of the demonstration is “Unite the Right.”  By the right they mean the hard line fascist, white supremacist, male led (no women in the movement were permitted to carry torches), antisemitic movement that is populated often by career criminals, murderers and child molesters.  One of the scheduled speakers at the demonstrations coming up this weekend is Tim Gionet, who was filmed last month trying to pick up a thirteen year old girl at comic con. Austin Gillespie (who legally changed his name to Augustus Invictus), a former member of the Florida Libertarian party and current member of the Republican Party, was accused by his former girlfriend of, among other things, domestic violence and sexual assault.  A book of his under the pseudonym Franco A. Saint-Fond included descriptions of raping a 14 year old girl in Mexico.  The book, self-published on Amazon, is listed under Biography & Memoirs.

These examples only touch on the depravity of the speakers list.  In addition to these at best distasteful behaviors from the heritage and tradition gang, the rally will count among its attendance the National Socialist Movement, as well as speaker Jason Kessler’s myrmidon motorcycle gang muscle the Warlocks.  These two groups have been variously involved in murders, molestation, and drug dealing.

Will Kessler or Richard Spencer rage against the “degeneracy” of those within their ranks?  Richard Spencer himself is a rentier parasite, scion of a southern family which extracts its wealth from inherited farm land and benefits from federal farm subsidies in Louisiana.  Has he ever worked a day in his life for the ill-fitting suits he flounces around in?  Mark my words that he will.  There will come a day when the wealth he expropriates and the land the he exploits will return to the hands of those who work it.  His perverse pseudo-academic stylings coined the propaganda phrase “alt-right.”  Reject this word.  These men are fascists, rotten to their core.  I saw Facebook dubbing the marchers “far-right” in its headlines.  The New York Times used the honorific “white nationalist” to describe these fascist thugs, these white supremacists strutting and sweating in the dark under the paternal watch of the police and the national guard.

The rally tonight was un-permitted, but that did not prevent the police from treating the baying crowd with kid gloves; only one of their number was arrested, and the police largely did not intervene in the attacks on the small numbers of counter protesters who had the guts to stand in a circle around the statue of Robert E. Lee these forces of reaction are pretending to be protecting.  These august defenders of the first amendment also repeatedly attacked journalists, like those from Unicorn Riot.

Here is the reality.  These people will have to be ground into dust.  When they try to further their gleichschaltung by chanting “Blood & Soil” they should be introduced to those very two things.  The order in wish to do so is up to you.

Noogie these people.  These peabrained dimbulbs are all but dead.  Even still, push the death rattle back down their oleaginous throats, deny them unceasingly.  Give them no safe quarter.  When you see them spit in their eye.  These are fascists, they’ve marked themselves irrevocably so for quite some time.  Let this be the final branding, and don’t let them ever remove it with a skin graft.  Goodbye Volk, Goodbye fatboy Heimbach, Smoothbrain Spencer, Goodbye you pack of pedophiles, pill addicts, you festering swine.  Goodnight!  Sleep tight!  Not ready?

A bloo bloo bloo.

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House Republicans’ Defense of Marriage is an Attack on Safety Nets

The Democratic party are such a gang of mendacious loons, right-wing hacks, and smarmy villains that you sometimes forget how anti-human and full of shit the Republican Party is. The line that they’re somehow more tolerable because “at least they’re open about it!” is not only bankrupt but also just untrue.

See a recent resolution in the House introduced by the Congressman from Wisconsin’s Sixth District, Glenn Grothman. H.Res.399 expresses “the sense of the House of Representatives that welfare programs discourage marriage and hurt the institution of the family in the United States.” The standard blather about the institution of family hits our eyes in the first sentence, but we should be charitable here; some people actually believe this stuff.

Representative Grothman, with ten other Republicans, has a more cynical aim though. Through a string of “whereas,”’ the resolution makes the case, and effectively, that many means tested welfare programs discourage parents from marrying because of the negative consequences two incomes would have on their eligibility for these benefits. To whit, means-tested programs “determine eligibility and allotment of benefits by counting individuals related by blood, marriage, or adoption as members of the family unit, thereby excluding non-parent cohabiters’ income from consideration and discouraging cohabiters from marrying for fear of a loss of benefits.”

That marriage is beneficial for children has been increasingly confirmed by research. David Ribar, a professorial research fellow at the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research at the University of Melbourne writes, in a paper for Princeton University’s Future of Children program, that “reams of social science and medical research convincingly show that children who are raised by their married, biological parents enjoy better physical, cognitive, and emotional outcomes, on average, than children who are raised in other circumstances.”

This House resolution makes the case that parents are choosing to remain unmarried to keep receiving benefits. Where it becomes bankrupt is in its solution. Acknowledging that marriage can result in households losing as much as $30,000 a year in benefits, the Representatives resolve to “[support] action to change benefits or end programs in order to eliminate these penalties.”

This is an absurd proposition! Eliminating the programs might make co-habitants more likely to marry because of the simple fact that it wouldn’t cost them any benefits, but that’s only because there would not be any benefits left to lose. The resolution supports a path whereby the aim is not to improve the material conditions that make households chose not to marry for fear of losing their needed benefits, but instead to encourage marriage. A couple living together does not suddenly earn more when they join in the bonds of holy matrimony; their need still exists.

The resolution therefore is then, on its face little more than a moralizing edict. It doesn’t ask why people in love might be so desperate and in need of aid that they will not risk losing their benefits to formalize their love. It instead says that higher rates of marriage are necessary because of the improved outcomes for children, while ignoring the effects of the economic situation a child is raised in have on him.

But this is so often the motivating factor between right-wing moralizing politics. It would be naive for us to think that Representative Grothman is well-intentioned but blind, so devoted to the sacred institution of marriage that he does not see the real problem. Instead the truth is only that this is policy motivated by a right-wing ideology that rejects spending and a social safety net altogether. Don’t be fooled by these Representatives’ false love for marriage; all they really care about is cutting entitlements.

The committee that the resolution is referred to illustrates well the real goal. Rather than sending it to Appropriations with the thought that maybe marriage could be promoted through tax incentives or positive reinforcement, the resolution instead is headed to Ways and Means. It’s nothing but a question of budget.

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Jeremy Ascendant

When Jeremy Corbyn spoke in Parliament yesterday, it came in the wake of the stodgy Queen’s speech, when the 91 year old monarch, hopefully the last of her line, read the Government’s program in front of an assemblage of peers dressed like so many Santa Clauses without the jolly little hats.

The speech was a lackluster display of hackneyed reforms, fizzled legislation, and dead ideas that will be swept away in a wave come the next election. What was remarkable in the speech, Jeremy noted, in a passionate and dominating performance across from the teetering Prime Minister afterwards, was what it did not contain.

No word was spoken of eliminating the winter fuel allowance, none on getting rid of the triple lock on pensions, nothing on legalizing barbaric fox hunting, and, while the so-called Queen did talk of a state visit with the Spanish King & Queen, rien on the question of Donald Trump having the gold carpet rolled out for him. In February 1.8 million people signed a petition against giving the U.S. president what they view as the honour of a state visit. And during the election May’s insufficient criticism, and refusal to condemn outright Trump’s travel ban, were liabilities. May, and her political fellow travellers, have an eye on a more Atlanticist trade configuration in light of the diminished European relationship Brexit promises.

Jeremy, wryly echoing the now hilarity-inducing Conservative election slogan, called his Labour party the “strong and stable” choice to govern the country. He made clear, through explicit statement, that his party should not be considered just an opposition but a government in waiting.

And it felt like that indeed. Corbyn displayed a keen savagery and a powerful confidence, he was playful in his attacks but his outrage was pure, and he always made it clear that this whole politics thing isn’t a game.

The opening speech and its second were full of the same slick lines from the same slick players, the landlord and water interest investor Richard Benyon, and the former University Challenge winner and often historian Kwasi Kwarteng. Corbyn promised Benyon he would nationalize the water utilities and slap regulations on his apartment buildings. He referenced a book the prolific Kwarteng contributed to in 2011 called “After the Coalition,” leaving unsaid explicitly why that’s funny now.

While Kwarteng spoke a fly landed on him.

Screenshot 2017-06-21 at 9.56.54 AM.png

Jeremy spoke awhile, covered in jeers the whole time, with the clever schoolboy Jacob Rees-Mogg trying out a line about how long ago the leader of the opposition said “in conclusion,” and the entire assembly on the other side of aisle baying like dogs.

Right out of the gate he punctured the collegial mood Benyon and Kwarteng tried to create with their attempts at wit, saying that the tragic fire at Grenfell tower need not have happened.

And he’s right. Jeremy is accused often of being a weak parliamentary speaker because he doesn’t pull off the linguistic flourishes people like the Speaker excel at. But he speaks in a more important political tongue, one where rhetoric is deployed to make demands that improve the material conditions of working class people. Where Boris Johnson, though he won’t say it, wants to be Prime Minister to live out his Churchillian fantasies, Jeremy actually wants to help people. Incidentally, Boris had a satisfyingly poor performance with his erstwhile interlocutor Eddie Mair after the debate, so those fantasies of his may never come true. Disappointing for the ambitious me, who always likes seeing journalists go far (both the fascist Mussolini, and the socialist Corbyn for a local paper for a minute in his youth practiced journalism; back in his reporting days Mussolini was the editor of the socialist daily Avanti!) but just grand for the political me who’s grown a bit weary of Boris’ act. So when Jeremy ditches the primacy of the jokes (though it must be said that the barbs he directed at the Tory benches were a genuine pleasure to watch) and tells the floor that the nation needs sprinklers in its apartments blocks, the toffs may snort through their nose and laugh like diseased hyenas, but the working people of Britain know the score.

And this is why an election must be called immediately. I heard a fellow online make the joke that Vince Cable, the probable next Liberal Democratic party leader, is 74 today, and come the next election he will be 74 (apologies to whoever made it for the lack of credit, I can’t recall where I saw it). It’s a good joke, but leaves us with a question; why can’t the British people call an election themselves? Democracies need to adjust themselves to an idea that Mélenchon trumpeted in his bid for the presidency, and which his assembly group will pursue. That is the right to recall. How is it democratic for a government to be formed when the polling indicates to us that the people have changed their minds about who they want to represent them? In many cases the Tories only won seats because of Liberal Democratic voters racking up the numbers, with Labour candidates flying near. I don’t call these votes of the Liberal Democratic supporters illegitimate, but I do know how they’ll likely turn when the next goal becomes keeping the Tories out of power. The voters should be able, at the constituency level, to initiate a process to hold special elections ousting politicians they’re dissatisfied with.

The baying hounds of the Parliament may bust a gut where they please, but Jeremy feels different to people who watch. He is powerful, he is strong, and he will be Prime Minister. Soon or sooner.

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The Macron Majority

Following the French presidential election was much more exciting than following the French legislative elections. Following the first round last week, today’s results have made things very clear; the results are disappointing for the left. The president’s party, La République en Marche, won a crushing plurality of votes, and have won at at least 341 seats, accounting for their ally MoDem’s gains.

La France Insoumise and the Parti Communiste Francais, while making it through to the second round in 79 constituencies, won only 27 seats. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is among those who made it through, and he won his seat in Marseille. But it is a defeat, and a disappointment. While across the channel the drama of the resurgent Labour party played out under Jeremy Corbyn, in France the radical left, the reformist left, and the center left were put down.

2eme Tour Elections Legislatives 2017.png

While the practical outcome of the vote is demoralizing, the real picture has a little more nuance. Legislative elections generally have lower turnout than presidential ones, and this was no different. But for the first time in the history of the 5th Republic, more registered voters abstained, voted blank, or spoiled their ballots than those who did vote. In an electorate of around 39 million, just over 17 million chose a candidate. 22 million made the choice not to.

In the second round of the presidential election this was a heartening thing. The lesson I took from it was that many French people could endorse neither a neoliberal banker nor a fascist. I think the lesson for these elections is different though, and hardly encouraging. As Le Monde pointed out, the radical left won not many more seats than they won five years ago, “while at the same time, Jean-Luc Mélenchon progressed eight points between the presidential [elections] of 2012 and of 2017.”

Mélenchon won 7 million votes in the first round of the presidential election. In the first round of legislative votin FI won just below 2 and a half million votes. Add the PCF vote and they scored around 3 million. That’s 13,74% of all the votes cast, but in a reflection of how few votes were actually cast, only 6,54% of the electorate. And that is abysmally poor. In the second round they got a third of those votes, hardly over a million. LReM rustled up 6.4 million votes the first time around, taking 28,21% of the electorate (32,32% and 7.2 million with the help of the “centrist” Modem and its leader Francis Bayrou, an early and enthusiastic ally of Macron).

Is it fair, in a national assembly, for a political bloc that received only 32% of the vote in the first round to win 62% of the seats? Is it fair for that bloc to win those seats with 48% of the vote in the second round? An absolute majority in the assembly requires just 289 seats, and an absolute majority is what the party has. That party will be a rubber stamp for Macron’s “startup” ideology. When Macron calls for France to “think and move like a startup “ one might ask how Macron can genuinely compare a centuries (or millennia depending on what historiography you agree with) old nation to four programmers in a loft trying to make an app. That would be generous though, and assume that Macron is doing anything more than clothing an agenda of social cuts and war behind the cloth of tech culture babble.

Macron will get rid of the 35 hour workweek, which squares with his startup line, surely. At a startup you work long hours for little pay with only a slim chance of success. Most fail, and a huge amount of money ends up concentrated in the hands of the sometimes talented, but more often lucky or timely, few. So when Macron bleats his tune about this we should see it as an admission of the future he promises for France.

During the Presidential election, I quite admired the two round system. I thought it gave a chance to candidates who I admired like Mélenchon to become President. Looking at the legislative elections I think I have to reevalute this position. That’s not because the politics I support lost out. All politics aside from the right wing “centrists” Macron leads have lost out. Rather than giving an outsider the chance to make his case before the nation, the outcome of this system seems to be the elimination of outsiders and the consolidation of power in the hands of a tiny few. With a 56% rate of abstention, it truly is a tiny few; only 16% of the country really voted for Macron’s policies. An absolute majority is an unfair outcome; of those who voted, 48% voted for LReM and MoDem. That’s well above the vote of any other party, but like the recent Conservative Party win in England does not even reflect a simple majority of the population.

The other lesson to be drawn from the first round of the election is that Mélenchon’s movement does not extend beyond his personality. The rapid last month surge in the polls was dramatic, and made me think that France was on the edge of a Socialist-Humanist-Ecologist renaissance. What is more likely though, was that it was a combination of Jean-Luc’s charismatic personality and the death rattle of the French left in parliamentary politics.

With the huge rate of abstention and the rich tradition of politics on the street, there may yet be a massive resistance mounted against Macron’s agenda, but it is clear that Mélenchon’s movement is not as popular as he is. I hope his claim that “our people have entered into a form of general civic strike,” a diagnosis divined from that strong rate of abstention, comes true. And FI did not exist a year ago; Sunday it will be in the Assembly, having vanquished the Parti Socialiste as a political force with a future. FI will be very limited in what it can do. The LReM majority is too big. But FI and its allies will have a group in the Assembly. This means that members will get a place on permanent commissions which do the work of government. Those places are distributed proportionally to groups, which means that though FI seats will be limited they will be guaranteed a seat at the table. More important for the growth of the political movement into a political force is the public monies that forming a group guarantees to its members. Perhaps one bright political spot is that le Front National did not win enough seats, eight, to form a group. In terms of the health of democracy that optimism may be misplaced, because FN won more than twice the votes of FI, and if there was proportional representation the picture would be very different.

French Legislative Elections 2017 Proportionelle.png

Le Monde’s projection would have FI winning 63 seats, with the radical left winning 84 seats in total. LReM would still have won the most seats, 162, but not enough to win an absolute majority. The soft left, including the ecologists and the now devastated PS would win 80 seats together.

On its face proportional representation seems difficult to argue against, it just seems too just. But is it? It depends on your expectation for representation. A system with proportional representation would not necessarily make an assembly more representative of the people it represents. When MPs are the choice of their constituencies, constituency work is ostensibly more important, because those representatives will be dependant on those constituencies for reelection.

However, those who argue for proportional representation echo the arguments I made above, that it’s unfair for a political bloc with 48% of the votes getting 62% of the seats, and by the same measure a political bloc that wins 5% of the vote receiving only 2% of the seats feels unjust. The second half becomes less unfair though when you look at the fact that FI won only 1.8% of the actual votes, taking into account those who abstained.

The other outcome of proportional representation would be propelling FN into becoming the third largest political force in the Assembly, an outcome that would vastly over represent their support, which is largely concentrated in small geographic enclaves. The reality of the moment is that so too is FI’s.

The practical outcome of proportional representation would therefore not have been particularly more representative than another form of representation. Some political forces would have a voice plenty louder than those who supported them. And the political outcome in France would have been LReM being dependent on Les Républicains for support. I have no illusions about the right wing character of Macron’s party, nor do I have any illusions that adding LR to the mix would improve the situation at all.

The alternative I favor would be Cardinal Voting, specifically “disapproval voting” where all candidates are given numerical rankings by voters, positive and negative, and once the numbers are added up the candidate with the highest overall score is elected. This would solve the problem of the runoff pitting two hated candidates against one another, and give a candidate who a voter might think has no chance but who they want to vote for the opportunity to register far greater support than they otherwise would have the opportunity to.

I have no projections to share reflecting a National Assembly with this configuration, and it may not have been very much different at all. But I would wager the rate of abstention would not have been so high. Gaël Sliman, the president of Odoxa, which does polling in France, told Francetvinfo that their analysis of opinion polling on why the rate of abstention was so high came down to the fact that many people concluded “the election was played out in advance,” and that LReM “was assured to win.”

Mounir Mahjoubi, Macron’s technology minister, has talked about introducing some electoral reform in the shape of greater proportional representation. The majority the government has won gives them an overwhelming ability to do so, but if the result is a super-charged FN gaining heavy political power it never could have in a more democratic system, there will be no more artful proof for the argument that “centrists” empower fascism.

The right is on the march in France. The country will experience great change over the next five years, much of it of great consequence for the society that so many of the French have fought so long to build. One change that would be welcomed, though, would be making sure France France votes under a system that empowers them to extricate themselves from the dangerous position they’re now in.

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FY 2018 Budget

An Addiction

The new budget does not mention the word ‘addiction,’ and mentions ‘opioids’ only once despite Trump promising to help the rural swathes struggling with this issue (he did not offer such help to the urban populations with the same problems, of course). ‘Opioids’ are mentioned in a section titled Invest in Law Enforcement. Opioids don’t even merit their own sentence; they’re rolled into a sentence about fighting illicit drugs, which includes interdiction efforts and gun crime reduction.

The Department of Justice figures heavily in this effort, in the context of “fighting…illicit drugs.” Treatment does not come into the equation. Instead there is an $84 million commitment “for increases in the Federal detainee population,” and $214 million “for immigration enforcement,” which the DOJ will use in part to hire 75 more immigration judge teams, all the better for ramped up deportations.

News of ICE actions and deportations have crackled in the background of the national news like heat lightning ever since January. Obama built a formidable deportation force, and this is the one Trump now works with, which is not a piffling thing. The hires that Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has laid out include 5,000 additional Customs and Border Protection agents and 500 Air & Marine Agents/Officers, as well as 10,000 new Immigration & Customs Enforcement hires, and the deputization of state and local law enforcement as immigration agents with the powers enumerated under the Immigration and Naturalization Act. These combined with the fund commitments this budget promises will be even more powerful than before, and an expedited court process for throwing out illegal immigrants will unleash this power with even greater bluntness and speed.

In line with this commitment the budget suggests $1.5 billion above the current budget for the Department of Homeland Security. This money is expressly earmarked for “ensur[ing]…DHS has sufficient detention capacity” – which will mean the construction of ever more prisons in the nation’s already sprawling ecosystem. These prisons will likely be built by private firms and administered by private firms. Since Trump’s election stock prices for private prisons have launched dizzily into the stratosphere. The Center for American Progress has published a good look at the links between the private prison industry and the current administration. Those include quarter million dollar contributions from the GEO Group and CoreCivic. CoreCivic donated $225,000 to the Rebuilding America Now super PAC, which the Campaign Legal Center says violates a law prohibiting government contractors from donating to politicians.

GEO Group has already begun reaping the benefits; in April it was awarded a contract worth $110 million for a 1,000 bed detention center in Conroe, Texas. The full dollar amount of the contract, according to its contract solicitation listing, is $457,361,493. A CNN Money article which reported the stock bonanza also noted that 200,000 beds in prisons are over 75 years old predicted that “the federal government may turn to private prisons instead of upgrading antiquated facilities.” This squares with the GEO Group contract and slashes in the proposed budget, which includes a reduction of $888 million in construction funds for the Federal Prison System.

The supplementary Major Savings and Reforms report to the budget includes this justification for those cuts:

“The Attorney General recently released guidance reversing a decision to phase out the use of privately-operated contract facilities. In light of that decision and the present size of the inmate population, the Administration has additional, flexible options for confinement that may be used before expending resources for new construction.”

That reversal is of a directive issued last year by the Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates under the previous administration, which directed the Bureau of Prisons to reduce dependence on privately operated prisons with an eye towards ending their use.

And while I might be inclined to criticize such a policy, credit is due to the remarkably bureaucratic-dystopian phraseology of “flexible options for confinement.”

Fiscal Responsibility

This budget crows lustily about its fiscal responsibility. Nothing lays lie to that claim more than the budget’s justification for increased military expenditures of $54 billion.

“[The Budget Blueprint] included a $54 billion increase in defense spending in 2018, which was fully offset by $54 billion in reductions to non-defense programs.”

Balanced indeed! The supplementary Major Savings and Reforms report tells us it’s all part of a plan to “create a leaner, more accountable, less intrusive, and more effective Government.” And a more leaner country it will surely create, with massive cuts to SNAP of $191 Billion over the next 10 years.

Funding will be shifted over to the states, the evergreen solution this budget refers to. The aim is to end the benefits, expressed in a bit of shifty language that for a moment pretends to be empowering: “By giving States a financial stake in the cost of providing these benefits, rather than relying entirely on Federal funds, it would increase State incentives to create economic paths to self-sufficiency.”

Put more plainly, with states scrambling to allocate their budgetary outlays effectively, they will not be able take on the burden of programs previously paid for by the federal government. The language does not envisage a path to economic self-sufficiency, i.e. the material needs of poor people being met; the only concern is to get the problem out of the government’s hair.

The most insulting expression of this policy is the introduction of the SNAP Retailer Application Fee. The dollar amounts are not nailed down yet, but they start at $250 and can go as high as $25,000. MS&F claims it will raise $2.4 billion over the next ten years.

I asked NACS, which represents convenience and petroleum retailing, whether or not they thought these fees would discourage stores from seeking SNAP authorization.

“The short answer,” came the reply, “is yes.”

A press release from NACS on Wednesday laid out the organization’s objection: “any policy that would make it more costly or difficult for small format retailers to participate in SNAP raises concerns because of the access implications for beneficiaries.”

The financial concern for retailers is important too; SNAP is “not…lucrative,” I was also told, as well as that NACS had “already gotten a couple of calls” from retailers concerned about the fees.

That leads one to the conclusion that these fees are designed to limit access to benefits for those most in need, who, if their local store decides the new fee is too much to pay, would not be able to travel far to a supermarket than can afford the authorization.

Passing the Buck

Much is made in this budget of the “flexibility” it offers to the states. This is a smokescreen for the fact that the budget merely strips federal dollars for essential services that states have come to be expected to provide. But while states will still be expected by their residents to provide these services, they will have far less money at their disposal to do so than before. Thus, rather than being in a more flexible position states will now be further constrained in how they allocate funds. In states controlled by conservative governments the outcome will be programs like welfare assistance, health care, and housing assistance simply being cut. This will also be the case in poorer states because of the bare fact that they won’t be able to find the extra money.

The National Governor’s Association released a statement on May 25th criticizing the budget for shifting costs to the states; for them the “additional flexibility” does not make up for “significant cuts to federal-state programs.”

‘Flexibility’ is a cruel euphemism. Nothing in this budget makes up for anything in it or out of it. It is a deliberate mess, crates toppled behind a thief for us to clamber over as we try to chase him down.

Budget Material

Summary: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/budget.pdf

MS&F: https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/budget/fy2018/msar.pdf

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Monsieur Mélenchon

I’d never bet cash on anything before the first round of the French presidential election this year.  I threw down, in total, a hundred bucks on Jean Luc Mélenchon winning the whole affair.  Had he only made it through to the second round I would have been able to pocket $313  in the deal.

7, 060, 885 votes later and the forecast for my pocketbook is the same as that for France: austerity and disappointment.  The upshot of it all was that when the final round of the election was held everyone’s favorite fascist auntie, Marine Le Pen came in third in an election with two candidates.  Emmanuel Macron failed to win 50% of the electorate.

48% of those who voted for Monsieur Macron told pollsters their motivation was only to block Le Pen.  Despite deceitful characterizations in the English language press, Macron is no political magician, and the country was not swept away by the former finance minister’s verve and sophistication (and certainly not by his charisma); only 8% of his voters called his personality the reason they cast their ballot for him.

France is a country in which nothing seems to be over.  It’s never over yet. <<Résistance>>, broken into three solemn and hopeful syllables can still credibly be chanted.  Those in France who are the same age as myself have a clear eyed and inspiring assessment of their role in the country’s future: 61% say they would join a large scale uprising against the government.

The next parliamentary chance for such an uprising is in June’s legislative elections. The political movement Mélenchon ran under and has charged up, La France Insoumise, polls at 15% before the first round next month on the 11th.  This is not enough for a parliamentary majority.  Though the hope charging through those on the socialist left who have observed Mélenchon’s astounding electoral feat is that he will now become a combative prime minister to stop Macron in his tracks, at least at the moment this does not seem likely.

But the numbers and the support for a movement which is swiftly shifting into a political party, just as Macron’s En Marche! has fast put on the skin of orthodoxy to become La République en Marche!, is heartening.  And rather than aping the parties that came before it as Macron’s faction does, FI retains a commitment to heterodoxy, if only in its spirit and architecture.

The French retain their revolutionary spirit.  Despite the shortcomings and betrayals of the Mitterand government, it is still remarkable that a major Western country had communists in its government, despite the limits of their influence and early departure.  And while that tenure was marked by an inauthentic commitment to the project ostensibly embarked upon and strongly supported (Mitterand won his first election in 1981 by a little more than a million votes), it is a testament to the French tolerance and desire for the direction socialism promises, if not its destination.

In Western Europe outside of Italy it would be difficult to find a recent headline like “French Workers Paid Not to Blow Up Factory.”  In looking back at a similar incident which I had read about just the other day, I found in France a remarkably robust recent history of these type of actions.  That title itself comes from an instance in 2009 at a manufacturing factory in Bordeaux.  The outcome was laid off workers being paid €30,000 apiece in severance and in exchange for removing the gas cylinders from the industrial equipment in the factory.  At the time the article was reported it was the third such instance that month.  And this month there are rumblings of the same.  At an auto-suppliers plant for GM&S Industry in La Souterraine 280 workers facing the loss of their jobs have rigged gas tanks around a large liquid oxygen container.  On the container is written <<On va tout peter>>.  The means “we will blow everything up,” and has a witty tinge to it in ‘peter,’ which also means ‘to fart.’

And in 2009 Nicolas Sarkozy’s government was marked by a rash of so called bossnappings, a French word if there ever was one. The name describes it well. Workers making demands for negotiations and concessions barricaded company officials in offices or factories until they got what they wanted. In one case they served their captive moules-frites. Predictably, Sarkozy condemned the tactic, and predictably its practitioners had the support of the French people.

At FI‘s legislative convention last Saturday, Mélenchon acknowledged these tactics, if not to the effective extreme France takes them to.  Speaking on the importance of building a parliamentary majority, he noted that if the movement is not able to attain that aim the only tools that will remain will be those of the strike and that of the manifestation.

Macron has already started to put together a staid, technocratic government filled with aging mandarins, a far cry from the gushing he receives as a youthful renewing figure.

It might be unfair though to dispute Macron’s renewing power.  Every day of the rest of month is packed with strikes scheduled all across the country, and his pick of the right wing ENAiac Edouard Phillipe (Alain Juppé’s spokesman during the Les Républicains primary campaign) will do him no favors in earning further the already healthy ire of the left (Mélenchon said Macron had “annexed” the right, and Pierre Laurent, head of the Parti Communiste Français, riffed on Macron’s anodyne slogan, calling the new government “neither left, nor left”).

France’s Parti socialiste long ago became a partner to a grudging and not unhappy capital.  Phillipe tracks a similar political evolution as Macron; from a soi disant homme du gauche to the free marketeering type of manager he is now.

Monsieur Mélenchon’s presidential campaign defied this trajectory not just in terms of policy.  He brought a political imagination to the proceedings, a passion entirely absent from Macron’s school of thought, and a sense of history that the president does not have or even want to have.

I do not see Mélenchon becoming France’s prime minister this June.  But his movement has capitalized on the failure of Hollande’s government and broken the phony PS into a thousand pieces.

And all that’s left to do is scatter them to the wind.

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