“A constitutional outrage”

Wow, just wow. I am coughing and spluttering with indignation at this gross violation of Democracy:

Parliament will be suspended just days after MPs return to work in September – and only a few weeks before the Brexit deadline.

Boris Johnson said a Queen’s Speech would take place after the suspension, on 14 October, to outline his “very exciting agenda”.

But it means the time MPs have to pass laws to stop a no-deal Brexit on 31 October would be cut.

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow said it was a “constitutional outrage”.

The Speaker, who does not traditionally comment on political announcements, continued: “However it is dressed up, it is blindingly obvious that the purpose of [suspending Parliament] now would be to stop [MPs] debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country.”

In the meantime:

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg, who was at the meeting with the Queen, said the move was a “completely proper constitutional procedure.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Remember, folks, democracy is good… except when the people vote for bad things, like Brexit, in which case the people’s will can safely be ignored. But when the prime minister tries to implement the people’s long-thwarted will by using ruthless but entirely lawful tactics, like suspending parliament for an extra two weeks, this is “a smash and grab” on democracy and even “dictatorship,” and it must be stopped in its tracks, because democracy is good. Except of course when it isn’t.

I am reminded of Turkish PM Erdogan’s wise words: “Democracy,” he declared, “is like a tram. You ride it until you arrive at your destination, then you step off.”

By the way, wasn’t Britain supposed to leave the EU on March 29 by statute? What happened to that?

Venezuela heats up

Things are getting dicey – will it end in the use of force, as some fear?

Venezuela’s Supreme Court has barred opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country as international pressure mounts against the government led by President Nicolas Maduro.

The move comes hours after chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab asked the government-stacked high court to restrict Guaido’s movements and freeze any assets.

Saab said a criminal probe into Guaido’s anti-government activities has been launched but did not announce any specific charges against him.

Both Saab and the Supreme Court are aligned with the embattled Maduro.

But Maduro is weakening:

More than a week into a standoff with the opposition, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday that he is willing to negotiate.

Violent street demonstrations erupted last week after opposition leader Juan Guaido during a major opposition rally in Caracas declared that he had assumed presidential powers under the constitution and planned to hold fresh elections to end Maduro’s “dictatorship.”

On Tuesday, Guaido urged Venezuelans to step outside their homes and workplaces for two hours on Wednesday in the first mass mobilization since last week’s big protests.

Maduro, who previously rejected calls for negotiations, said in an in an interview with Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency that he was open to talks with the opposition.

May have something to do with this:

A British minister on Monday suggested that the Bank of England should decline to release £1 billion of gold to Venezuela’s dictator after the opposition leader wrote to Theresa May.

Juan Guaido, who last week declared himself the country’s legitimate ruler and was recognised as such by the US, has written to Mark Carney, the Bank’s governor, to ask him not to hand over the gold to Nicolas Maduro. He also sent the letter to Theresa May, the Prime Minister.

[…]

Mr Maduro has been attempting to repatriate the gold from the vaults since last year. The bullion in London makes up 15 per cent of Venezuela’s foreign currency reserves.

And Bolton brings the mayhem:

The Pentagon has refused to rule out military intervention on Venezuela’s border, a day after John Bolton, the US national security adviser, was photographed carrying a notepad that read: “5,000 troops to Colombia”.

Patrick Shanahan, the acting defence secretary, was asked repeatedly whether Mr Bolton’s notes indicated a deployment.

“I’m not commenting on it,” he said. “I haven’t discussed that with Secretary Bolton.”

Mr Bolton on Monday would not rule out the use of US troops in Venezuela.

Meantime, Defense Blog reports:

Residents of Eastern Venezuela have posted footages of heavy artillery systems, main battle tanks and military equipment moving towards the Colombian border.

Twitter account Already Happened‏ also has release video showing military convoy, included recently ordered Russin-made 2S19 MSTA-S heavy artillery systems, at the route to the Colombian border.

President Maduro fears a foreign military intervention in Venezuela and is ramping up its armored forces along the Colombia border.

A source in Caracas said that Maduro feared that U.S. troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan and Syria, they could be well-suited for redeployment in a Colombia-based conflict with Venezuela.

But the Colombian Defense Ministry reported that the Colombian government is not going to provide the United States will military bases so that the latter could launch a possible military invasion in Venezuela.

Is an invasion in the works?

Venezuela crisis

Read this blog to see the future. Back in November, I noted a media report that Colombian president Ivan Duque had agreed to support Brazil or the US if they decided to invade Venezuela to overthrow the country’s socialist government. (Columbia and Brazil denied the report.)

Well, two months later (Jan 2) we learned that the US was laying the groundwork for some sort of intervention in coordination with Brazil and Colombia:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is pledging to support allies in South America as they respond to the crisis in Venezuela.

In remarks Wednesday in Brazil, Pompeo said he and Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo discussed their “deep desire to return democracy” to Venezuela.

Later in Colombia, Pompeo said he discussed with President Ivan Duque how their nations might collaborate to help people in Venezuela while also responding to the flood of migrants fleeing that country’s economic collapse, though he provided few details on what was discussed.

And then on Wednesday, this happened:

Amid widespread protests on the streets of Venezuela, the newly elected chief of the country’s National Assembly declared himself “interim president” on Wednesday, prompting an immediate endorsement from US President Donald Trump.

“Today, I am officially recognizing the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaido, as the Interim President of Venezuela,” Trump said in a statement from the White House.

“In its role as the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people, the National Assembly invoked the country’s constitution to declare Nicolas Maduro illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant. The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” the statement continued.

President Nicolas Maduro rejected this action, which he described as a US-backed coup, and gave US diplomatic personnel 72 hours to leave the country. The US responded by saying it stands with Guaido and “will take appropriate actions to hold accountable anyone who endangers the safety and security of our mission and its personnel.” Quoth Senator Marco Rubio:

President @jguaido has asked us to remain. The United States should NOT comply with this illegitimate order from Maduro.

It should be made clear that we are prepared to take all actions necessary to guarantee the safety of our diplomats in #Venezuela.

I sense another Grenada coming.

Ok, so I can’t claim to have predicted all this in my November blog post. But I did make this comment, which I continue to stand by:

Caution is needed here. The American public does not want another foreign war, and a major intervention in South America is guaranteed to be a multi-faceted disaster.

Let them eat debate

Somehow I don’t think this initiative by the French government will succeed in mollifying the angry wearers of high-visibility garments:

In 1789, Louis XVI summoned France’s aristocracy, clergy and citizens to discuss ways to plug the crown’s dismal finances and quell popular discontent over a sclerotic feudal society.

It marked the start of the French Revolution. Within months he was powerless and four years later beheaded by guillotine.

Two centuries on, President Emmanuel Macron, often criticized for a monarchical manner, is also calling a national debate to mollify “yellow vest” protesters whose nine week uprising has set Paris ablaze and shaken his administration.

He will launch the three-month “grand debat” initiative on Jan. 15. As during the rule of the ill-fated king, the French are already writing complaints in “grievance books” opened up by mayors of 5,000 communes.

The debate will focus on four themes — taxes, green energy, institutional reform and citizenship. Discussions will be held on the internet and in town halls.

There’s a catch, though, that seems to defeat the purpose:

But officials have already said changing the course of Macron’s reforms aimed at liberalizing the economy will be off limits.

“The debates are not an opportunity for people to offload all their frustrations, nor are we questioning what we’ve done in the past 18 months,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told BFM TV. “We’re not replaying the election.”

Meanwhile, the protesters have come up with another disruptive tactic:

Members of the “yellow vests” protest movement have vandalised almost 60% of France’s entire speed camera network, the interior minister has said.

Christophe Castaner said the wilful damage was a threat to road safety and put lives in danger.

The protest movement began over fuel tax increases, and saw motorists block roads and motorway toll booths.

Some protesters feel speed cameras are solely a revenue-generating measure which takes money from the poor.

The right rises in Spain

Vox party leader Santiago Abascal

Vox party leader Santiago Abascal

A right-wing political party called Vox (no relation, presumably, to the progressive news website) wins office in Spain:

After many years in the shadows, the far-right has now arrived as a force in Spanish politics. Local elections in Andalusia on Sunday gave the fiercely nationalistic and socially conservative Vox party 12 of the provincial assembly’s 105 seats.

Why it matters: That makes Vox the first Spanish far-right party to win office since the country’s dictatorship ended in the 1970s. Vox wants to slash taxes, quash Catalan autonomy, criminalize illegal immigration, build a wall on the Moroccan border, restrict the religious activities of Muslims, and radically centralize political control in Spain. Ironically: the party also wants to eliminate precisely the assembly in which it just won seats. […]

Still, what has helped Vox most of all is the surging number of Middle Eastern and African migrants arriving on Spanish shores.

  • Overall, migrant arrivals in the EU have fallen dramatically since peaking in 2014-2015, but the numbers in Spain have risen more than 500% since then.

Andalusia “has become the main landing point for growing waves of immigrants sailing across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar from Africa.”

Paris

Man, these Paris protests are getting out of hand:

What’s that? Oh, sorry. Those are actually photos from 1968.

Mass socialist movements grew not only in the United States but also in most European countries. The most spectacular manifestation of this were the May 1968 protests in France, in which students linked up with wildcat strikes of up to ten million workers, and for a few days the movement seemed capable of overthrowing the government.

Got my dates mixed up there. Almost exactly 50 years later, Paris is again convulsed by riots:

‘Yellow Jacket’ protests in France leave gas stations running dry; Paris riots worst since 1968

Saturday’s unrest was the worst in central Paris since a student uprising five decades ago.

“Yellow Jacket” protesters blocking access to 11 fuel depots belonging to one of the world’s biggest oil companies have left gas stations running dry in France.

At least 75 of the company’s 2,200 gas stations were out of fuel, a spokesman for energy giant Total said Monday.

For more than two weeks, protesters angry over gas taxes and the high cost of living have been blocking roads across France, impeding access to fuel depots, shopping malls and some airports.

Riot police were overrun on Saturday as protesters brought chaos to Paris’ fanciest neighborhoods, torching dozens of cars, looting boutiques and smashing up luxury private homes and cafes in the worst disturbances the capital has seen since 1968.

More than 100 people were injured in the French capital and 412 arrested over the weekend.

The “Yellow Jacket” revolt erupted on Nov. 17 and poses a formidable challenge to President Emmanuel Macron as he tries to counter a plunge in popularity over his economic reforms, which are seen as favoring the wealthy.

What do the protesters want?

The movement began online as an impromptu rebellion against higher fuel prices but has morphed into a broader outpouring of anger over the squeeze that living costs are putting on middle-class household budgets.

Their core demand is a freeze on further planned tax increases on gas and diesel — the next is due in January — and measures to help bolster spending power.

A lot of the anger is focused on the technocratic, internationalist Macron, who is perceived as an elitist.

But many have also called for Macron to quit.

Public support for the “Yellow Jackets” remains high, with seven-in-10 people backing their protest, according to a Harris Interactive opinion poll conducted after Saturday’s unrest.

The revolt is an example of “open source warfare,” as John Robb puts it. There are no leaders, no barriers to participation, and everyone is united by a plausible common goal. The lack of leadership is a key advantage:

The French government has faced difficulties dealing with the protesters as the movement has no real leadership and has not aligned itself with any political organisation. […]

On Friday, the government tried – mostly in vain – to talk to representatives of the movement.

Eight were invited to meet Prime Minister Edouard Philippe but only two turned up, and one walked out after being told he could not invite TV cameras in to broadcast the encounter live to the nation.

Paris is so romantic this time of year…

Paris protest Burger King

Peaceful divorce

US partition red blue

Image by Dicken Schrader (Source)

It’s time to talk about peaceful national divorce. A clever article in New York Magazine maps out a scenario of political devolution in which the US is carved up, amicably, into multiple federations of states, leading to the effective breakup of the Union. You have to read all the way to the end to understand what author Sasha Issenberg is driving at, but suffice it to say that the law of unintended consequences has a field day.

What I find interesting is that the idea of devolving power to states and localities has supporters across the political spectrum:

Even if they don’t use the term, states’ rights has become a cause for those on the left hoping to do more than the federal government will. Both Jacobin and The Nation have praised what the latter calls “Progressive Federalism.” San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera has called it “the New New Federalism,” a callback to Ronald Reagan’s first-term promise to reduce Washington’s influence over local government. “All of us need to be reminded that the federal government did not create the states; the states created the federal government,” Reagan said in his 1981 inaugural address. At the time, Democrats interpreted New Federalism as high-minded cover for a strategy of dismantling New Deal and Great Society programs. Now they see it as their last best hope for a just society.

Calexit has been in the spotlight in recent years, and according to a Reuters survey cited in the article, nearly one-quarter of Americans support the idea of their respective states breaking away. Given the intensely polarized nature of today’s politics, I would not be surprised if that number grows, as more people decide that a mutually agreed breakup is preferable to staying in a toxic relationship.

Of course, dissolving the Union creates a dizzying array of problems. The most obvious of these is that the various pieces of the former USA might go to war with each other. The danger is also geopolitical. At the cost of over 600,000 lives, the Civil War ensured peace on the North American continent for over 150 years. From the 17th century to the early 19th century, the European powers had fought a series of wars on North American soil. A divided continent could once again become a playground for foreign powers, as the smaller and weaker states that replace the US fall under the influence of China, Russia and the EU.

The 100 million

Holodomor Ukrainians

Ukrainians fleeing starvation

For the second year running, the US remembers the victims of the most lethal ideology that has ever blighted the human race:

On the National Day for the Victims of Communism, we honor the memory of the more than 100 million people who have been killed and persecuted by communist totalitarian regimes. We also reaffirm our steadfast support for those who strive for peace, prosperity, and freedom around the world.

Since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, we have witnessed the effects of the tyrannical communist ideology—anguish, repression, and death. Communism subordinates inherent human rights to the purported well-being of all, resulting in the extermination of religious freedom, private property, free speech, and, far too often, life. These horrors have included Ukrainians deliberately starved in the Holodomor, Russians purged in the Great Terror, Cambodians murdered in the killing fields, and Berliners shot as they tried to escape to freedom. The victims of these and many other atrocities bear silent testimony to the undeniable fact that communism, and the pursuit of it, will forever be destructive to the human spirit and to the prosperity of mankind.

Today, we remember all who have been denied the great blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under oppressive communist regimes. Together, we mourn the unbearable losses so many have endured under communism, and we renew our pledge to continue advancing the cause of freedom and opportunity for all.

Virginia also becomes the first US state to join in commemorating the National Day for the Victims of Communism, and the 18th state to recognize the Holodomor, in which an estimated 4 million Ukrainians were deliberately starved to death by Stalin, as a genocide.

The Berlin Wall came down 29 years ago, on November 9, 1989.

Bannon vs Frum debate on populism

Be it resolved: The future of Western politics is populist, not liberal.

Steve Bannon says yes, David Frum says no. Full debate here:

The moderator expands on the topic a bit: “Is the West living through a populist sea-change that will irrevocably transform our politics? And can these longstanding liberal values – liberal values of trade, society and politics – push back against this populist surge and reassert their primacy in the 21st century?”

It’s a spirited argument and worth watching in full. Bannon achieved a decisive victory in this one. Before the debate, only 28% of the audience agreed with the resolution, while 72% disagreed. After the debate, 57% agreed while 43% disagreed. [UPDATE: Munk Debates screwed this up. The actual, corrected post-debate figures are 28% pro vs 72% con. Thus, audience opinion was unchanged.]

The debate was held in Toronto. Twelve people were arrested in a protest outside the venue, during which one police officer was hit with a stick and another was punched in the face.