July 13, 2024 / by 

 

Zelenskyy wasn’t the First Ukrainian President to Address a Joint Meeting of Congress

Viktor Yushchenko addresses a Joint Meeting of the US Congress, 2005 (White House photo by David Bohrer)

On April 5, 2005, the JFK Library welcomed the recipient of their annual Profile in Courage Award, Viktor Yushchenko. Senator Ted Kennedy opened his brief remarks at the ceremony by saying this:

In “Profiles in Courage,” President Kennedy wrote: “A man does what he must – in spite of personal consequences, in spite of obstacles and dangers and pressures – and that is the basis of all human morality.” Our honoree this evening vividly embodies my brother’s words, and is renowned throughout the world for his extraordinary courage.

As we all know, at a critical moment in his nation’s history, he took a strong and courageous stand for what he knew was right. He risked his life – and nearly lost it – in the ongoing struggle for democracy in Ukraine. His story is the story of honor, decency, and the will of the people triumphing over fraud, deceit and intimidation. And because of his great courage, the rule of law prevailed against the oppressive rule of the powerful over the powerless.

In 1993, Yushchenko became head of Ukraine’s national bank, but 8 years later he was dismissed because his push for reforms made him too popular with ordinary Ukrainians. Again from Ted Kennedy:

Refusing to be silenced, he became the head of a political party and helped create a bloc of reform parties called “Our Ukraine,” which won a plurality of seats in the parliamentary elections of 2002 and became a significant force in the legislature.

As the presidential election approached in 2004, it was obvious that he appealed to Ukrainian citizens in ways no other politician could. His popularity was higher than any others because he had the ability to relate to people’s lives, and was so clearly seeking public office for the public good, not private gain.

These qualities endeared him to the people, but made him a special threat to the corrupt leaders of the regime in power. Nothing – not even a vicious attempt to poison him – could break his spirit and prevent him from speaking out against corruption and for a democracy grounded firmly in the rule of law.

[snip]

State-owned media shamelessly opposed him, and independent media were subjected to violence and intimidation in a largely successful effort to silence their support.

Opposition rallies faced constant harassment. Government employees, factory workers and students were threatened with dismissal unless they opposed him. President Putin of Russia openly intervened by declaring his support for the government candidate and sending a team of his top political advisers to assist him.

Yushchenko continued his campaign, even after being poisoned. (A political reformer, poisoned? Why does that sound familiar?). When the election was held, international observers noted huge irregularities and fraud, and when election authorities declared his opponent the winner, the people of Ukraine poured into the streets in protest in what became known as the Orange Revolution (after the prominent color used by Yushchenko’s campaign). In the end, the Ukrainian courts looked at it, agreed with the accusations of fraud, and ordered a new election – an election Yushchenko won.

The day after the JFK Library honored Yushchenko, he addressed a joint meeting of the US Congress. Just like Zelenskyy yesterday, he tied what was happening in Ukraine with the US and its own history, opening his remarks with these words:

Mr. Speaker and Mr. President, Honorable Senators and House Members, Ladies and Gentlemen: On the wall of this great building, there is the Latin phrase “E Pluribus Unum,” which means “Out of many, one.” This motto reminds the world about the American Revolution, the starting point of the modern world’s history of liberty.

My road here went through the orange-colored Independence Square that became known as maidan. Millions of people standing there continuously repeated it: “Together we are many, we cannot be defeated.” This motto of the Ukrainian Revolution is a reminder of the fact that freedom continues to win. Ukraine is opening a new page in the world’s chronicle of liberty in the 21st century.

These two mottos have a lot in common. They speak to the strength of our peoples that comes from unity. They speak of the victories of our peoples in their struggles for freedom.

The whole address is here [pdf, beginning on page 12], but let me highlight a few other parts of it.

My oath is built on the reminiscences of the common prayer of hundreds of thousands of people in the maidan. Christians, Jews, Muslims were praying one prayer, everybody according to their rites, with everybody asking the Creator for one thing: freedom, fairness and blessings for Ukraine and for each of its citizens.

We are building an open economy that encourages innovation, rewards initiative, and assures high social standards. We are beginning an implacable war on corruption, promoting fair competition and forming transparent government-to-business relations. My goal is to place Ukraine in the forefront of prosperous democracies. My vision of the future is Ukraine in a United Europe.

That sounds a bit like something we heard from Zelenskyy last night:

Ladies and gentlemen — ladies and gentlemen, Americans, in two days we will celebrate Christmas. Maybe candlelit. Not because it’s more romantic, no, but because there will not be, there will be no electricity. Millions won’t have neither heating nor running water. All of these will be the result of Russian missile and drone attacks on our energy infrastructure.

But we do not complain. We do not judge and compare whose life is easier. Your well-being is the product of your national security; the result of your struggle for independence and your many victories. We, Ukrainians, will also go through our war of independence and freedom with dignity and success.

We’ll celebrate Christmas. Celebrate Christmas and, even if there is no electricity, the light of our faith in ourselves will not be put out. If Russian — if Russian missiles attack us, we’ll do our best to protect ourselves. If they attack us with Iranian drones and our people will have to go to bomb shelters on Christmas Eve, Ukrainians will still sit down at the holiday table and cheer up each other. And we don’t, don’t have to know everyone’s wish, as we know that all of us, millions of Ukrainians, wish the same: Victory. Only victory.

Yushchenko continued his 2005 speech by laying out a desire to integrate more fully with Europe, and buttressed his remarks with references to Presidents Wilson, Reagan, Bush the Elder, and Clinton. Then he went on:

Dear friends, the goal of my visit to the U.S. is to establish a new era in Ukraine-U.S. relations. We do not seek only thaws that alter chillings in our relations. We seek a new atmosphere of trust, frankness and partnership. A new Ukraine offers the U.S. a genuinely strategic partnership.

[snip]

The U.S. and Ukraine have common strategic interests, and we have unity in one thing. Everywhere possible we want to uphold freedom and democracy. We are committed to such a responsibility because we know if somebody is deprived of freedom, this freedom has been taken away from us.

[snip]

Ukraine will be a reliable partner to the U.S. in fighting terrorism. I am sure we will be able to overcome it and not only by power of force. It is our obligation to eradicate the sources of terrorism. We can defeat the ideology of hatred that nourishes it. I am fully convinced that the time will come when in the dictionary of world languages, the term “terrorism’’ will be followed by the footnote, “archaic term.’’

The actions of the past year have proven Yushchenko’s promise that Ukraine would be a reliable partner of the US to have been honored, and Zelenskyy’s speech yesterday was a great reminder of what Yushchenko said in 2005.

Near the end of his address, Yushchenko began his conclusion with these words:

Ladies and Gentlemen: John Fitzgerald Kennedy took an oath before the whole world by saying, “We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.’’ I am subscribing to these words on behalf of Ukraine. This authority was given to me by my fellow countrymen who endured days and nights in bitter cold and snow on the maidan. Ukraine is free and will always remain free. Citizens of Ukraine gained their freedom due to their courage and support of friends and proponents of democracy across the world.

These words, too, have proven true.

Yushchenko spoke to Congress in 2005 at the invitation of a GOP-run House and Senate, while a Republican president was in the White House. Zelenskyy spoke to Congress yesterday at the invitation of a Democratic-run House and Senate, while a Democratic president was in the White House. Both Ukrainian presidents hit the same notes, pleading for a stronger partnership with the US, regardless of which political party was in charge in DC. Even without that partnership, however, each pledged that Ukraine would continue its fight for freedom.

Over the past year, Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the people of Ukraine have demonstrated that Yushchenko’s words were not simply flowerly language in a fluffy speech. Back in 2005, Caroline Kennedy said this about why the JFK Library selected Yushchenko to receive the Profiles in Courage award:

His courage has inspired citizens of the world. For those of us who are free – he has reminded us that we can never take our freedom for granted, and for people with no voice in their own government, President Yushchenko and the Ukrainian people have given them hope.

Zelenskyy delivered his own reminder of this to those of us who are free last night, much as Yushchenko did in 2005.

Thank you, President Zelenskyy. Slava Ukraini, indeed.

 


The Chicks Are Owed An Apology

Once upon a time, back when the United States was under the leadership of another fairly incompetent Republican President (yes yes, Bush and Cheney look a little better now compared to Trump and Pence, but only because they were actually semi-competent in their evil, but they were still very evil), there was was sensationally good crossover country/pop group known as the Dixie Chicks.

They were country, but never of the “stars and bars” Dixie kind. It was simply an appellation. In fact, they were all pretty forward and progressive thinking and talking. And man did they get in trouble for it. I guess the new term of the day is “cancelled”, which is kind of an idiotic term, but the howlers really did try to obliterate Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire. From Wiki:

On March 10, 2003, nine days before the invasion of Iraq, the Dixie Chicks performed at the Shepherds Bush Empire theater in London, England. It was the first concert of their Top of the World tour in support of their sixth album, Home. Introducing their song “Travelin’ Soldier”, Maines told the audience the band they did not support the upcoming Allied invasion of Iraq and were “ashamed” that President George W. Bush was from Texas. Many American country music listeners supported the war, and Maines’s remark triggered a backlash in the United States. The Dixie Chicks were blacklisted by thousands of country radio stations, and the band members received death threats. Maines issued an apology, saying her remark had been disrespectful; in 2006 she rescinded the apology, saying she felt Bush deserved no respect. The backlash damaged sales of their music and sales of their next album and tour.

In a September 2003 interview, Maguire told the German magazine Der Spiegel: “We don’t feel a part of the country scene any longer, it can’t be our home anymore.” She noted a lack of support from country stars, and being shunned at the 2003 ACM Awards. “Instead, we won three Grammys against much stronger competition. So we now consider ourselves part of the big rock ‘n’ roll family.” Some fans were dismayed, but the group made no clear response.

If you have forgotten, which is awfully easy to do in these pandemic days of Trump, this was a huge deal at the time. The United States government under the Bush/Cheney regime, and the entire country music scene hated on them and ostracized them. It was one of those kind of fulcrum moments. It was not just the Iraq war, it was torture, the unitary executive, free speech, protest…..everything was wrapped up, in a cultural way, in the actions of the Dixie Chicks. It was symbolic of the divide.

But Natalie Maines, Emily Strayer and Martie Maguire were bad ass and stuck to their morals and thoughts. They got hammered at the time, but they hung in and are still here bigger and badder ass than ever. They are now just The Chicks, having dumped the Dixie part of their original name. The Chicks are owed a debt of gratitude and an apology for the idiocy and bigotry they faced from the howlers during the Bush/Cheney years, and they are here to let you know they are still on the good side of the cutting edge.

The Chicks have a new song and video out. “March March”, and it is truly awesome. A song for this time. I saw it last night at Atrios’ joint, and it is really superb. Take a look. Expand it and watch it full screen, it is worth it. This is the music of protest, and in the best way. Music was key in the 60’s and it is key now. It spreads far and wide what people feel, whether they are in the streets or at home. The “at home” part seems even more pertinent now in the time of unabated pandemic at the hands of yet another evil Administration. And that is our trash talk for this weekend, get on it!


In Dire Need of Creative Extremists

While many would point to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial  in August 1963 as his most powerful, the words from King that most move me come from a letter written four months earlier, as he sat in the Birmingham jail. It was a letter written to local pastors, who expressed support for his cause but concern for the manner in which he came to Birmingham to protest. When looking back at historical letters, there are some that are products of their time that illuminate the events of that day, but which need footnotes and commentary to explain to contemporary readers.

King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is *not* one of those letters. I wish it was, but it isn’t. It’s all too clear, and speaks all too clearly even now.

In that letter, King identified “the great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom” not as the hoodwearing Klanners or the politically powerful White Citizens Council folks, but the white moderate. These are folks who

  • are more devoted to order than justice
  • prefer a negative peace – the absence of tension – to a positive peace – the presence of justice
  • constantly say they agree with your goals but not your direct methods for achieving them
  • feel no problem in setting a timetable for someone else’s freedom
  • live by the myth of time, constantly urging patience until things are more convenient

Anyone who has watched the news at any time over the last three years knows that this great stumbling block to freedom and justice, the Moderate, is an all-too-familiar presence, appearing in various guises. For example . . .

  • police officers who, as one African-American after another is beaten, abused, and killed by one of their colleagues, silently watch the attack as it unfolds, who refuse to intervene, who write up reports to cover for this conduct, and who by their silence and their words defend and justify assault and murder done under the color of law;
  • staffers at ICE facilities who, as children are separated from their parents, as people are crammed into unlivable facilities, as basic necessities like toothbrushes and soap are withheld, clock in and clock out without saying a word;
  • personal assistants, co-workers, and superiors who watch as victim after victim were abused by powerful men like Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Jeffrey Epstein, and untold others, and who said nothing;
  • Susan Collins, hand-wringer extraordinaire, who expresses her deep concerns about this rightwing nominee or that destructive proposed policy, and nevertheless puts her concerns aside time and time and time again to confirm the nominee or enact the proposal into law;
  • media figures who practice “he said/she said journalism,” who twist themselves into pretzels in order to maintain their “access” to inside sources, and who refuse to call a lie a lie in the name of “balance”;
  • corporate bean counters, who place such things as quarterly profits and shareholder value ahead of worker safety and well-being, ahead of environmental concerns, or ahead of community partnership, saying “we can’t afford to . . .” when what they really mean is “we choose not to spend in order to . . .”;
  • lawyers who provide legal cover to those who abuse, torture, and terrorize, and the second group of lawyers who “let bygones be bygones” in order to not have to deal with the actions of the first group;
  • bishops and religious leaders who privately chastise abusive priests and pastors, but who fail to hold them publicly accountable and seek justice, out of a concern to not cause a scandal that would bring the religious organization into disrepute; and
  • leaders of sports programs who value winning so much that they are willing to look the other way when coaches, trainers, and doctors abuse athletes.

The tools of the Moderate are things like Non-Disclosure Agreements, loyalty to The Team, and the explicit and implicit power of the hierarchy. The Moderate may not be at the top of the pyramid, but as long as the Moderate can kiss up and kick down, they think they will be OK. They’ll keep their powder dry, waiting for a better time to act. But all too often, the Moderate refuses to use what they’ve been saving for that rainy day, even when they are in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.

But there are signs of hope, and we’ve seen some of them as well over the last three years:

  • career government professionals – at the State Department like Marie Yovanovitch, at the Department of Defense like Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, at the Department of Health and Human Services like Dr. Richard Bright, at the Department of Justice like Brandon Van Graak, and others like them – who refused to worry about personal consequences to themselves and fudge the data, ignore the facts, shade the advice,  or stand silently by while others do so;
  • passers-by to acts of injustice, who not only document what is being done but who take action to hold perpetrators to account (NY dog walkers, represent!);
  • young voices like Greta Thunberg who refuse to go along to get along, who ask the tough questions of those in power, and who question the answers that mock the truth, and old voices like Elizabeth Warren who do the same; and
  • voices of political relative newcomers like Katie Porter, AOC, Stacy Abrams, who do not let their low spot on the political totem pole (or lack of a spot at all) keep them from speaking out for justice.

This past week, longtime AIDS activist Larry Kramer passed away. He founded the Gay Men’s Health Crisis to care for gays stricken with AIDS, while the government turned its eyes away from the problem. Later on, he founded ACT-UP, when he saw GMHC had become too domesticated and unwilling to rock the boat when the boat desperately needed rocking. He called out the gay community and he called out government officials, even those who were trying to help like Anthony Fauci, for not doing anywhere close to what was needed.

And in many respects, it worked. Maybe not as fast as it should have, or as well as Kramer would have liked, but it made a difference. From Kramer’s NY Times obituary:

The infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was one who got the message — after Mr. Kramer wrote an open letter published in The San Francisco Examiner in 1988 calling him a killer and “an incompetent idiot.”

“Once you got past the rhetoric,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview for this obituary, “you found that Larry Kramer made a lot of sense, and that he had a heart of gold.”

Mr. Kramer, he said, had helped him to see how the federal bureaucracy was indeed slowing the search for effective treatments. He credited Mr. Kramer with playing an “essential” role in the development of elaborate drug regimens that could prolong the lives of those infected with H.I.V., and in prompting the Food and Drug Administration to streamline its assessment and approval of certain new drugs.

In recent years Mr. Kramer developed a grudging friendship with Dr. Fauci, particularly after Mr. Kramer developed liver disease and underwent the transplant in 2001; Dr. Fauci helped get him into a lifesaving experimental drug trial afterward.

Their bond grew stronger this year, when Dr. Fauci became the public face of the White House task force on the coronavirus epidemic, opening him to criticism in some quarters.“We are friends again,” Mr. Kramer said in an email to the reporter John Leland of The New York Times for an article published at the end of March. “I’m feeling sorry for how he’s being treated. I emailed him this, but his one line answer was, ‘Hunker down.’”

Which brings me back to King’s letter and the title of this post:

. . . though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . .” So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime–the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

We’ve got plenty of extremists like Stephen Miller and the cop who knelt on George Floyd’s neck until he died. We’re in dire need of more creative extremists.

Which leaves me with one question: how will you be a creative extremist today?


Macron’s Christmas: Grabbing the Third Rail of French Politics

Things are not going well for Macron’s government in the run up to Christmas. Pensions are like that old saying about Social Security, they are the third rail of French politics. Former President Chirac tried to reform the pension system twice, and faced so much action in the street he had to mostly back down in both 1995 and 2003. Then Sarkozy tried again in 2010, without managing to reform much more than Chirac did. Marcon is not so much touching the third rail as tying his government to the substation at this point.

According to the government there are two reasons the pensions need to be reformed: firstly there are 42 different plans that need to be simplified and streamlined so that anyone, including the government, can understand them. The government has proposed making one plan for all. (Though this principle has already fallen to political expediency and keeping the police unions happy, and there are now more than one being proposed) Secondly, they’re doomed to run into the red by billions of euros, though there seems to be a lot of variation in how many billions of euros different people project.

The reasoning gets a little trickier than it might seem when you look closer. 42 pension plans is a lot, but they cover a broad swatch of work, from construction and firefighters to train drivers and accountants and computer programmers. Having one retirement age to cover both firefighting and computer programming doesn’t make much sense. A seventy-year-old can take up programming for the first time and find themselves productive and engaged, 40 years of firefighting breaks the human body.

As for the shortfall, it’s complicated. Much like the Social Security shortfall in America, it’s a bit of an accounting trick one way or the other. French workers pay into it, have paid into it, and will keep paying into it along with the rest of their considerable tax burden. There’s money, just not a lot of clarity on how to spend it. Any shortfall in pension funding represents somewhere else the government gets to spend, such as Macron’s love of cutting taxes to make France more business friendly, or revitalizing transit in remote areas, or paying nurses.

There’s no reason to believe Macron is eager to pay nurses, though he has been eager to get rid of wealth taxes. There’s also no reason to believe that the proposals are actually intended to address any shortfall — as the government has faced resistance it’s put the reforms out further into the future, and changed nothing about how Baby Boomers will retire, despite the Boomers being the source of retirement shortfalls all over the developed world. In fact, the proposal is so gradual the only people who would be fully affected by it are currently too young to vote.

Macron has said nothing recently about any of this. He’s made his prime minister, Édouard Philippe, the face of recent announcements, along with the minister appointed by the administration to manage pension reform, Jean-Paul Delevoye. Phillippe has been somewhat damaged in public view, but Delevoye, an old Chirac minister who turned En Marche! at the moment when it became politically expedient for everyone to turn En Marche! in 2017, had to leave office after several newspapers reported that he had illegal conflicting contracts with his role as pension minister. He has not been replaced as of this writing. Lines for political suicide are often short. How this week goes will probably also determine the fate of Philippe.

On a side note, never join a political party that has an exclamation point in its name.

Macron’s neoliberalism seems to be descending into a kind of absurd nihilism where nothing gets cheaper for the government, but also no one has as much as they used to. (Trust it to the French to make something as boring as national budgeting into a screaming abyss of nihilism into which seemingly endless passion is poured from the streets of Paris.) His government has no trust with most people, and even when En Marche! supporters speak out, it’s often with disdain towards the majority of their fellow French people. Most often I have heard that they’re lazy and want everything to be given to them.

But the French are not very good at lazy. Private company workers have struggled through terrible traffic to get to work during the strike. Bike use has spiked. The protestors and strikers have taken streets, blocked fuel depots and bus depots. Transport strikers are being joined by schools, libraries, museums, and as of today, trash collectors. To restate my constant refrain, the French have nice things because they take them, but that’s never easy or simple. The country is paralyzed, and right now neither side seems inclined to blink.


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France Strikes, with Firefighters at Center Stage

Few protest camps were as unusual as the one on Place de la République this week. On Wednesday night the Sapeurs-Pompiers (French for Firefighters) gathered around a fire in front of their tents on the old and famous la République, where they had set up on Monday. Around 15-20 were sleeping on site, and a changing cast of twenty or so more visitors, including me and my translator, were stopping by to chat with them.

They are camping until Friday, and like many of their colleagues, they were getting ready for the general strike and protest that happened today in cities all around France. They were dressed in their firefighting gear, good enough protection against the biting cold of the Parisian winter. The pompiers were all smiles, brewing fresh coffee and chatting with passersby. Two were even happy to try out their English with an American, before giving up and just talking to my translator. “It’s about the cost, the money,” Claire, a pompier from Nice, said to me, before reverting to French. In translation, Claire and another companion who didn’t give her name continued: the Pompiers pay more into their pensions because their job is high risk, and because they have to retire earlier than most other professions due to the harshness of the job on their bodies. But Macron’s plan to reform the pension system threatened them, potentially with less benefits or a later retirement age, and they wouldn’t have it. Pompiers all over France wouldn’t have it, along with train workers, nurses, doctors, teachers, and so on.

The trains aren’t running, nor is the Paris Metro, hospitals are on skeleton crews, the firefighters were on the streets of Paris instead of in their firehouses, with what felt like everyone else in the world also on the streets of Paris, if you were trying to get through the crowd. One of the biggest strikes in recent French history was accompanied by one of the largest protests since a similar effort to reform pensions in 1995. The presence of the firefighters in the crowd was electric. They were the heroes of the day, people sang to them, the police mostly avoided tangling with them. At one point, when a group stopped to wait for other pompiers to catch up, a nearby group of perimeter police quickly put on their riot helmets.

The crowd was estimated between 800,000 (Traditional police lowballing) and 1.5 million (Traditional organizer highballing). Let’s say 1.1 million, because the journalist normally just picks a number between them, and the fact is no one ever actually knows how many people are protesting. The germane answer is: a lot. Life in France was largely put on hold, as the unions engaged in France’s true national sport.

French unions consist of five major confederations of trade unions that represent most union workers and negotiate directly with the government, as wells as other smaller unions that represent a wide range of mostly public sector workers, as well as political positions from centrists to anarcho-syndicalists. But the unions only represent about 11% of France’s workers as of 2013, down from about 30% in the 1950s. Everyone else grumbles these union workers have it much better than the rest of France, and that they strike and complain too much.

This position seems to be stated by many of the non-unionized French workforce without a hint of irony or self-reflection. France is a country where the few protect the rights and social safety net of the greater number, while pissing off absolutely everyone.

What has prompted them this time is the deeply unpopular President Macron’s amorphous and secretive plan to reform and combine French pension programs to streamline them and save money as they start to head into the red in the coming years. Macron’s administration has tried to say soothing things about their plan, and involve the unions in the process, but no one in France trusts Macron’s administration as far as they could throw the Élysée Palace. He consistently polls less popular with the French than Trump is with Americans, and that’s not easy to do. He also tends to act like he’s a petulant little king of France, an attitude that’s given rise to a lot of protests, walk outs, and political quagmires, of which the leaderless Gilets Jaunes (Yellow vests) movement is only the most famous example.

At the same time Macron is trying to assure everyone things will be alright and they can put their retiring livelihoods into his profoundly neoliberal hands, his administration sent the police unions a letter saying police pensions would remain unchanged by the government, whatever happened to anyone else. If there was one lesson the Roman emperors who once held Gaul passed on to their successors it was pay the people who fight for you, and pay them well. Macron claims not to be an autocrat, but he sure pays his muscle like one.

This strike is now ongoing, and having caught one of the last trains to Paris, I appear to be staying for a while. Words and pictures to follow, and I have more details and pictures in this Twitter thread.


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Originally Posted @ https://www.emptywheel.net/global-protest-movements/