Happy Bastille Day!

The Fourteenth of July, popularly known as Bastille Day, marks one of the most single important events in human history: the French Revolution. This is not an exaggeration mind you; many historians, most historians, agree that the French Revolution was a watershed moment in human history. Wikipedia, of all places, states it quite well: “The modern era has unfolded in the shadow of the French Revolution”. The French Revolution marked a radical, unprecedented break in the structure of human society not just in France but across the entire world.

Now, as an American, I frequently here other Americans state “Our Revolution was first, it was more important!” This, quite simply, is not true. As proud of America as I am, I must state that the American Revolution was a revolution in name only. The American Revolution created little new, except unleashing the Herculean might of a new nation. The United States was not the first representative democracy, nor the first republic. It did not lead to the genesis of much new political theory and philosophy; instead it much more represented the practical application of prior (i.e. Enlightenment) political innovations. Most Americans after the American Revolution lived much as they did prior to the revolution. The American Revolution is important mostly because the United States is important. The American Revolution itself as an event pales in comparison to what the United States as a country has achieved. The French Revolution, on the other hand, is important in and of itself regardless of the achievements of France either prior or subsequent to the Revolution.

Nearly every modern political ideology, all the –isms we are bombarded with, have their origins in the French Revolution. From socialism to fascism to libertarianism to feminism to anarchism and everything in between, the ideas and ideals that shape our world and way of thinking are rooted in the barricades and salons of revolutionary Paris. Our political ideologies are what give direction and shape to our visions and expectations of a free and just society. Without ideology, without something to believe in, we do not have a goal to strive towards. The French Revolution gave us many different visions of the future, and we are still today debating which vision we wish to see. The Fourteenth of July gave the world much to debate and discuss, and as well it gave all people a right to participate in that discussion.

The First French Republic, the first revolutionary government of France, was the first government to grant universal male suffrage regardless of property, education, or birth. It was the women of France who lead the march on Versailles and the masses on the streets and the barricades who brought down the monarchy. Feudalism was brought to an end, with the nobility and peasants consigned to the same status. This was a revolution in which all had a right to participate. This is the great achievement of the French Revolution: the emancipation of the individual. For the first time in human history, society was shaped with the input of all those who were a part of it. For the first time, the individual had a voice based solely on his status as a human being. For the first time, society was governed by ideals and visions of the future and not by distant kings and warlords or aristocrats and oligarchs. Politics was no longer a zero-sum game in which the powerful accumulated ever more power, but something in which all could participate and benefit from.

Oh that fateful day in midsummer, the July heat bearing down on the barricades. Did they know what the impact of their actions would be? Were they aware of what that moment would come to mean? I would think not. Indeed, this is another lesson from the French Revolution. Any moment, any time we take a stand for something we believe in, can inspire change. Any one of us can spark a revolution. This is the legacy of the barricades. We all have a right to take a stand. We all have a voice that deserves to be heard. Every Fourteenth of July, we should all take a moment to think of the great responsibility laid upon us by those original revolutionaries. Thanks to the French Revolution, we now live in an age of the individual. With the power to effect change comes a responsibility to fight for the change we wish to see. Where shall you build your barricade? What vision of the future do you see from its heights?

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Donald Trump Jr and Russian Collusion

This story has been developing for a few days, but the atomic sized bombshell dropped today. The New York Times has published an email chain shared by Donald Trump Jr on Twitter between himself and a Mr. Rob Goldstone. The emails are damaging to say the least. Before discussing the emails themselves, it is prudent to discuss the players involved.

First there is Donald Trump Jr (along with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort in a secondary role) representing then candidate Donald Trump Sr.’s presidential campaign. Second there is Rob Goldstone, publicist for Russian pop music star Emin Agalarov. Emin’s father, Aras Agalarov, is a wealthy Russian businessman who has close ties both with the Russian government and Donald Trump Sr (working together to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow in 2013). Aras Agalarov, I would also like to add, is mentioned in the “Russian Dossier” leaked in January, specifically on page 27. Finally there is the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who does not seem to have many official connections to the Russian government, but coincidentally shares and advocates many of the Russian Government’s official positions on a number of issues. More can be read here on the main players.

Now with the cast set, we move on to the emails themselves. Read the emails in full before reading further.

The opening email is perhaps the most interesting, and also the most damaging. Goldstone explicitly states that the information he seeks to pass along is “is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump – helped along by Aras and Emin [i.e. his clients].” Goldstone here openly admits that there is an ongoing effort by the Russian government to help Donald Trump Sr win the election. Even if we assume that Goldstone was a mistaken fool who didn’t know what he was talking about, the message still didn’t raise any red flags in the Trump campaign. Fool or not the FBI should have been alerted. Instead, Trump Jr accepted the offer to meet, which at the very least demonstrates a willingness, and indeed an actual attempt, by the Trump campaign to meet with Russian officials. But we don’t have reason to believe that Goldstone was mistaken. The people he represents (the Agalarov’s) have proven ties with the Russian government. Combined with the Agalarov’s prior associations with the Trump family, it is not hard to see why they would be at the center of any Russian government effort to meddle in the election.

Another interesting portion of the emails is the attempt to arrange a phone call between Emin Agalarov and Donald Trump Jr. As reported in the Washington Post, there is reason to believe from the emails that the phone call did take place. The Washington Post points out that the meeting seems to have been arranged outside of the email chain, presumably in said phone call. But before I get ahead of myself here, let me remind you that there is no proof that said phone call took place.

It is clear however, that this email chain, as explosive as it is, does not contain all of the information. In his email on June 7th, at 5:19 pm, Goldstone states that he “will send the names of the two people meeting with you for security when I have them later today” but the names are not found later in the email chain. This suggests communications beyond what was released today. The final email, in which Trump Jr lets Kushner and Manafort know that the meeting was moved, is obviously not the first time that Kushner and Manafort were made aware of the meeting. The campaign manager, Manafort would understandably require more information about a meeting he was expected to attend than what is present in this email chain. Indeed Trump Jr first mentions Kushner and Manafort in an email the day prior, again suggesting further communications then what we have here.

To summarize, Donald Trump Jr willingly accepted a meeting with a Russian attorney to receive information sourced ultimately from the Russian government. The information was being handed over, explicitly stated, as part of a Russian government effort to aid the Trump campaign. At this point, and given the high ranking campaign officials involved, it is hard to believe Trump Jr that the meeting produced nothing of value. But it also does not really matter. The intent behind the meeting was for the Trump campaign to receive assistance from the Russian government. They did not know beforehand, and indeed we still do not know now, that the meeting would be unproductive. If all this sounds like collusion, it is because it is.

The Harsh Reality of North Korea

Last Tuesday, the Fourth of July, the People’s Republic of North Korea launched what international analysts have confirmed as the country’s first true ICBM. The missile that was launched has the theoretical capability of reaching Alaska, but not Hawaii or the Lower 48 states in the U.S. This represents a major advance in North Korea’s capabilities. In the wake of this test, the United States has threatened war to stop North Korea’s nuclear ambitions while the international community scrambles to find a peaceful solution. In this article, I will give an overview of some of the myths and realities the world faces when dealing with North Korea.

The first myth is that this stand-off on the Korean peninsula can end peacefully. Both Koreas are fully committed to unifying the peninsula; ergo they cannot accept peaceful coexistence side-by-side. It is folly to believe that the North Korean regime would accept anything but unification on its own terms, or conversely that the South would accept unification under the North’s harsh system of rule. Because the two Koreas are unwilling to live in peaceful coexistence or accept the opposing side’s system of government, what we have now is a perpetual state of “near-war.” But make no mistake, at some point war will break out. Someone will make either a tough decision or a tragic miscalculation and thus set loose the dogs of war. Short of war, there is very little reason to hope for regime change in the North. But without regime change in the North, there is very little reason to hope that peace will hold indefinitely.

The second myth is the current capabilities of the North Korean regime to retaliate in the event of war. The North Korean military is vastly outclassed in every respect by the US and South Korean militaries. In the event of war, North Korea would lose very quickly. North Korea still has no ability to weaponize the few nuclear warheads it has, and in a conventional conflict the North Korean military would be completely overwhelmed in a matter of weeks. North Korea’s missile forces are also over-stated, with most of their missiles being old and unreliable. Many of their most recent missile tests have ended in abject failure. The North Korean military is estimated to have roughly 1.1 million men and a budget of around 10 billion dollars. This means North Korea spends roughly 10000 dollars per year per soldier. This money is spread out over investments in the nuclear program, supply acquisition, housing, equipment maintenance, logistical infrastructure, food, fuel, etc. and leaves little money for adequate training. As such the North Korean military is also not particularly well-trained to use the outdated equipment that they do have. This is why the North Korean regime is so ardently seeking a nuclear deterrent: it simply cannot survive without one.

The Kim regime has no ability to cause ‘millions of causalities’ as is often reported. A recent study by Robert Cavasos for the Nautilus Institute for Security and Sustainability gives a clear estimate of the number of civilian causalities expected from North Korean artillery along the DMZ, before it is silenced by US and South Korean firepower. The Nautilus study estimates that it would be about a week before all North Korean artillery along the DMZ would be destroyed. In that time, a probable 80000 civilians in the South would lose their lives. The Nautilus study however assumes unlimited ammunition for Northern artillery and does not cover damage done to logistical and military infrastructure north of the DMZ, such as bombing airbases, supply depots, major highways, power gird infrastructure, etc. Thus there is good reason to hope that causalities would be still lower.

But there are some other things to keep in mind here. This is the reality of the situation: the estimated causalities of any conflict on the Korean peninsula will only grow as time passes. North Korea is making steady progress towards a fully operational nuclear deterrent. While it must be stressed that it will be many years before the North develops an ICBM capable of delivering a nuclear warhead with some degree of accuracy and with anything more than a glimmer of hope at breaching American air defenses, it will happen at some point. Do we wait until it does happen? A recent quote from the New York Times illustrates well the logic behind North Korea’s quest for nuclear weapons:

South Korea’s stronger economy and freer society leave the Pyongyang government with little reason to exist. Ending hostilities would risk a German-style reunification that would subsume the North under South Korean rule. Only a perpetual state of near-war can stave off reunification while justifying the North Korean state. And only nuclear-armed missiles can make that standoff survivable. No amount of American power or will could impose a threat that North Korea will see as costlier than destruction nor offer an incentive more valuable than survival.

Max Fisher, The New York Times

But whenever we talk of lives lost in a potential Korean conflict we must also remember the millions of North Korean civilians toiling in bondage, held hostage by a murderous regime. Not only those killed by the Regime but all the lives destroyed, all the people who can only afford to think in the most base of terms in their struggle for survival. From what we can tell, most people in the North only live in the biological sense, without the luxury of dreams or hope. The malevolence of the regime is only matched by the indifference of hunger. The black abyss of despair is what characterizes life in North Korea, with each new day bringing new terrors, new horrors, and new tragedies. What value to us are these millions, and the millions more to follow them in the generations to come? Do we abandon them to their fate?

I do not want you to believe that I am advocating war here. Indeed, any war between the two Koreas will be terrible and costly and if at all possible it should be avoided. But the reality of the situation is that war is likely to occur at some point, and we need to have a serious discussion about it before the conflict truly goes nuclear. A day of reckoning is fast approaching, and we must be prepared. War should be avoided, but also accepted as a possible course of action. The more we accept this, and prepare for it, the less people will die. This is a decision we must make soon, before the North acquires ‘nuclear immunity’. Perhaps there is another way. Perhaps we can redouble our efforts to spark an internal uprising (though that too would likely result in hundreds of thousands dead). Perhaps a coup will depose the Kim dynasty and lead to the end of the regime a la the Soviet Union. Perhaps a future Kim will see reason and dismantle the system himself a la Juan Carlos of Spain. But, sadly, the most likely outcome remains war between North and South Korea. We can either accept that fact, and prepare for it, or ignore it until the North Korean ‘Bureaucracy of Death’ is nuclear armed.

Happy Fourth of July

Today is the Fourth of July, or Independence Day, as it is known in the United States of America. Today, we mark the anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from Great Britain. I find it interesting that we do not celebrate the day independence was actually achieved, either with the British surrender of Yorktown or the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, but instead the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. The Declaration was signed quite early in the Revolutionary war, just 14 months after the first battle at Lexington and Concord. The war would continue for another seven years. Indeed, the Declaration does not mark a moment of triumph or victory but rather the beginning of a great struggle.

But that’s what patriotism is about really, at least to me. It’s not about celebrating achievements and resting contentedly on our laurels, but rather honoring the effort and sacrifices that went into those triumphs. Patriotism is about the struggle, not the reward. July 4th is not about saying “The US is the best and is stronger than everyone else,” but instead “I believe in this country and will do all I can to make it the best it can be.” Independence Day is a day to reflect on the ideals and values of this country and to renew our commitment to defend and fight for those beliefs. Patriotism is standing up for what you believe in. If you disagree with what the government is doing, it is your duty to speak up. If you agree with what the government is doing, it is your duty to speak up.

The 2016 election and resulting political environment in the United States has been one of polarization and divisiveness. I have seen people on both the right and the left, pro-Trump and anti-Trump, accuse each other of being unpatriotic as a result of their views. I’m here to tell you that both sides have their patriots. I have seen Trump supporters express their views with passion, intensity, and intelligence (more often than many would have you believe), and I have seen the same from anti-Trump activists (again, more often than many would have you believe). These are our patriots. I have also seen, as I am sure you have as well, members of both camps demonize, belittle, and dismiss their opposition, usually in an incoherent and bellicose manner. Is this patriotic? Freedom dies only when we stop listening to one another.

Ask yourself, who in Syria, in that great and terrible conflict, are the patriots? Is it the rebels, fighting for a free and democratic Syria? Or is it the loyalists, defending their government? Indeed, there is no easy answer. Both sides have their patriots and both sides their war lords and profiteers. The Syrian War began because the regime refused to engage with society and allow a discussion. The everyday man has since been forced to choose a side. He may not agree with the regime, but may see it as preferable to, and healthier for the country than, the likely chaos following its collapse. Or, he may feel that that disorder is an acceptable risk for the promise of freedom and democracy. Who is more patriotic? Both do what they feel is best for their country.

This Independence Day, be thankful for those who disagree with you. Be thankful that there are people in this country with the courage to fight for what they believe, even if it is not what you believe. Be thankful that you live in a country that allows this kind of discourse, a country that does not force you to choose between stability and freedom, between your life and your voice. Engage with one another, and remember to do so with respect and dignity. Stand up for what you believe in, and applaud others who do the same. Revel in your freedom but remember that a patriot’s work is never done. There is always another battle to be fought. Remember that patriotism is about the struggle, and cherish your opposition for it would not be a struggle without them.

French Presidential Elections: First Round

Yesterday was the first round of France’s Presidential election and the results are in: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen will advance to the second round. The second round will be held in two weeks, on May 7th. The results are shocking for a number of reasons, including the surprising accuracy of pre-election polls, which I will discuss below.

Though expected, the most immediately arresting feature of the result is the failure of any mainstream candidate to reach the second round. Most news outlets are hailing the results as a “full-throated rebuke of France’s traditional mainstream parties” (NYT). The Wall Street Journal too stated (using almost the exact same language) that “The vote marks a stunning rebuke of France’s mainstream political forces” (WSJ). But most stunning is not that neither of these candidates are most France’s traditional left-right parties, but that neither of the candidates really fit on the traditional left-right spectrum. Marine Le Pen is not actually far-right, and Macron is centrist really only because his left-wing proposals balance out his right-wing proposals. On any issue his proposals could be easily classified as either right or left, he simply is not uniform with which side he picks.

A second take-away from the results is how close the whole thing was. The third and fourth place candidates, Francois Fillon and Jean-Luc Melenchon respectively, both got about 20 percent of the vote, only 4 percent less than Macron, the leader. All four of the leading candidates received right around 20 percent of the vote. This reflects a deeply divided country. Fillion has taken his party far to the right, while Melenchon is a die-hard communist. In many respects Macron and Le Pen were actually the most “centrist” of the candidates, while still not really fitting on the traditional spectrum. The first round result shows a France that strongly desires change, but unable to articulate what kind of change.

A third take-away is that now, whoever becomes the next President of the Republic, it is quite likely that neither of the remaining candidates will have much ability to deliver on their promises. France’s Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 11th, but neither the National Front not Macron’s “En Marche” movement are projected to win anything close to a majority. Whoever wins, Macron or Le Pen, will have to work with the mainstream parties that they have campaigned so ardently against. While Le Pen’s party has a much better chance than Macron’s of winning a parliamentary majority (though still slim), Macron will have a much easier time working with the parties currently (and likely to remain) in power.

Currently, Macron is well-positioned for victory in the second round. Le Pen’s second place finish means, obviously, that she needs to win more of the remaining electorate that Macron does. This will be quite a difficult task with France’s “Republican Front” already in full swing. The strong showing by Melechon should give Le Pen some hope however, as the National Front has strong support among former communists and in traditional leftist strongholds. Macron however, will benefit from the injection of organizational muscle from France’s largest parties and has much less work to do to win than Le Pen. But after all this is France, the land of barricades, revolutions, and just general political volatility. Macron is the heavy favorite but two weeks is a long time and anything can happen.

Author’s Note: Personally, I hope Macron wins. I don’t believe Marine Le Pen is as scary as many people think but Macron’s economic plan is much better suited for France’s current condition. Also, I like his combination of youthful energy and technocratic pragmatism. Until next time, au revoir!

United States Strikes Syrian Regime

It is a day I have long waited for: the United States has finally acted to stop the Assad regime’s cruelty. Yesterday, President Donald Trump ordered a missile strike against a Syrian regime airbase believed to be the staging point for a brutal chemical attack days before. President Trump, in his speech on the event, was visibly moved and emotional when describing the chemical attack. It was nice to see him care about something and someone. This is the most proud I have been of Donald Trump in my entire life. There is still MUCH I dislike about him, but here in this matter at least, he has my support. Where President Obama turned away, President Trump has acted.

The Assad regime has a long history of appalling brutality and tyranny, predating the current conflict. The regime had terror as its foundation; sheer, unadulterated terror to keep the populace in line. For decades the Assad regime has employed militias, the Shabiha (Arabic for ghosts), to enforce its rule and to enter the homes of dissidents to slit the throats of their families. The regime has built elaborate torture centers rivaled only by the dungeons of North Korea and Nazi Germany. Syria is ruled more as an occupied country than a functioning society. The Syrian “government” receives its mandate not from the consent of the governed, for who would consent to such tyranny, but from might makes right. The methods of the Syrian regime reveal the depths of human cruelty when we are given the opportunity.

But as terrible as the regime was before the civil war, it has truly reached new heights of horror during the civil war. The regime has made targets out of schools, hospitals, funerals, weddings, etc. They have enforced collective punishment on conquered territories and have used starvation as an acceptable means to further their ends. It should not have been necessary for the regime to have used chemical weapons, weapons of mass destruction, before we acted but such is the world we live in. At least now we have acted. It is time for the world to stand together and say: “Enough!” For too long we have turned a blind eye to the sorrow of Syria. For too long the mournful wails of widows and orphans have fallen on deaf ears. For too long we have sat in splendor as Syrians fed themselves with dust and grass.

I sincerely hope that the Trump administration is serious when it states that there is “no role for [Assad] to govern the Syrian people” (WSJ). While I hope that this strikes signals the beginning of a larger campaign, I am also realistic. With Russian and Iranian forces on the ground, it is dangerous for the US to wage a campaign against the regime. I do expect a serious increase in US and allied material support for the opposition however. The Russians and Iranians, with weak sanction-hit economies, do not have the financial capability to wage a war of attrition with the US and the Gulf Kingdoms. The regime does not have the manpower to wage a war of attrition with the opposition. However, the opposition does not have the unity and discipline to take control of the country. Much work needs to be done to prepare for the departure of Assad, but their is no question that he must go. That, at least, we owe to the people of Syria.

Dutch Elections: A Review

The Netherlands went to the polls on Wednesday to elect a new Parliament, and the results are in. Now, I’m sure many of you are wondering: why should I care about the Dutch elections? The simple answer is that Europe is still too important politically to ignore, and given European nations’ close cultural ties political developments in one country tend to have an impact on their neighbors. The elephant in the room here is the French elections next month. But before we get to France, lets take a closer look at the Dutch result.

Via The Wall Street Journal

The above graphic, which can also be found here, gives a number of insights to the Dutch election. First, what has been hailed as a “mainstream triumph” is anything but. The leading center-right party, the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy led by the Prime Minister, lost eight seats, just under a forth of the seats it held. The Labor Party, bulwark of the center-left, has essentially collapsed going from 38 seats to just nine. Indeed, the main takeaway from the election is just how fragmented the new Parliament is. A number of new parties entered a Parliament, and no party, or even grouping of similar parties, holds a clear majority. Coalition-building for the new government will prove exceedingly difficult.

Another major takeaway is the defeat suffered by the left in general. Most of the Labor Party’s lost seats were picked up by parties on the right not the left. The Dutch electorate has clearly shifted right and the results reflect that. That Geert Wilders’ far right Party for Freedom didn’t do better is more down to the wide array of alternatives rather than any discomfort with his policies. More clearly, Dutch voters seem comfortable with Wilders’ policies but not his personality. His has labelled himself as the “Dutch Trump” but the Dutch didn’t want a Trump. But they shifted to the right nonetheless.

Which now brings us to France. What do the Dutch elections tell us about the upcoming French elections? According to many prominent news outlets, the Dutch result portends the turning of the tide against the rise of populism and the far-right. But when discussing France there are a few things to remember and the most important is what I just discussed in the last paragraph: the presence of alternatives. Electorates across Europe are shifting to the right, as the Dutch vote shows. But in France’s presidential election, the only mainstream candidate on the right, Francois Fillon, has been formally charged with embezzlement and is now under criminal investigation. As I have discussed before, France’s left is in disarray as well, with the main candidates being the far-left Socialist candidate Benoit Hamon and the farther left Communist party pick Jean-Luc Melenchon. The left in France has moved farther left as the populace move right.

The only alternative to the far-right Marine Le Pen is Emmanuel Macron. Macron however, is, again, not backed by any party and has a Socialist background. Marine Le Pen thus has no rival on the right, at a time when the right is ascendant. Macron is currently described as the front-runner in the race, but I am not so sure. Le Pen has never described herself as the “French Trump” and has established her own identity. The BBC has a, rather long but quite informative, piece describing her past, personality, and political beliefs. She is not a blustering, bellicose Donald Trump, as Geert Wilders tried to be. This makes her much more acceptable to moderate voters, especially given the aforementioned lack of alternatives. But still, while France’s National Front as a whole is far less “toxic” than it was in the past it still attracts many whose ideas are quite detestable. The party is no longer dominated by bigots and Holocaust deniers, but they are still members. That fact will be on every voter’s mind on election day.

The Dutch elections were a victory for the right, with the leading far-right party becoming the second largest party in Parliament. The Dutch elections confirm the right-ward shift in European politics. The main task for the mainstream parties, if they want to stay in power, is to recognize and accept the general disillusionment voters have with the establishment. The trouble is, they are the establishment. I, for one, would be quite impressed by any politician who admitted that there was too much distance between their party and the people they claim to represent. The answer to the wave of populist anger sweeping Europe is not simply to adopt the policies of the far-right and hope for the best, as many politicians in Europe have done. People are not looking for firebrand radicals, but sympathy and genuine care for the issues they face. But in the absence of that care the lack of sympathy turns to anger, and thus enters those firebrand radicals.

French Elections: Macron vs Le Pen

The three weeks since my last post on France’s upcoming Presidential elections has seen the campaign essentially narrowed down to two candidates: Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Francois Fillon’s campaign has all but collapsed, with many of his senior campaign staff leaving and many members of his party withdrawing their support. The Fillon scandal has also left the Republican party itself in pieces, tearing itself apart as new faces seek to emerge from the rubble. The Hollande presidency left the Socialist party in shambles, and now the Fillon candidacy has reduced the Republicans to the same state. None of France’s main parties are leading this race, or even that close. This is truly unprecedented. Even Donald Trump won with the backing of an establishment party.

Nearly three weeks ago, in my last post on the French election, I spoke of the “Republican Front” phenomenon in France. I feel the need to explain it more clearly. France has a two round electoral system, and has long featured strong parties with “extreme” views. The “Republican Front” boils down to a system of tactical voting. When faced with an establishment politician versus a “fringe” politician, voters always chose the establishment, whether right or left. A Socialist would vote for the center-right rather than a Communist, while a right-wing voter would turn Socialist rather than vote for the National Front. Since Marine Le Pen took over the helm of the party in 2011, the National Front has seen its vote share surge. It is now frequently polling at two to three times the level it had before Marine Le Pen, but has still struggled to translate that support into political power because the “Republican Front” has held. But the “Republican Front” assumes that the NF faces an establishment politician, and France’s establishment is in tatters. With both leading candidates being outsiders, can we really expect the “Republican Front” to hold? With this in mind, lets look a little closer at the two front runners.

Just a few days ago, Emmanuel Macron unveiled his policy manifesto. It shines details on his unconventional left-right political fusion. The main features are pro-business reforms, cuts in public spending, more European integration, and re-invigoration of social programs (i.e. education, community programs, etc.). While his plan has individual features that appeal to all groups it has nothing that speaks to everyone, no unifying theme. The key question is, is there enough that appeals to both right and left to convince voters to look past what they don’t like? Or, is there too much that they disagree with to get them to vote for what they do like? Again, Macron’s lack of a party hurts him here. A policy heavy campaign requires large amounts of logistical infrastructure to explain the proposals to individual voters. Otherwise, you open yourself to having your policies explained to voters by the opposition. As Macron is the main obstacle to the Socialists and Republicans earning a spot in the second round, it is expected that they will focus their attacks on his campaign. This in turn will make it difficult for Macron to hope to win establishment endorsements for the second round.

Marine Le Pen, on the other hand, has a strong party organization with a nationwide presence to frame the race on its own terms. Many in Europe are increasingly fed up with the heavy hand of Brussels, and France is no exception. Many feel left behind by globalization, and the National Front promises relief. Whereas Macron’s campaign rests on policy, Le Pen’s rests on an idea: make France great again. It is, admittedly, an enticing idea. The promise of a renewal of French pride and prowess finds many supporters in the birthplace of nationalism. But is it enough to convince voters to look past the party’s troubled history? How successful has Marine Le Pen’s “detoxification” really been? With the erosion of the “Republican Front,” we may soon find out.

France’s election, whatever the result, promises to be unprecedented. The establishment is in tatters, and Macron and Le Pen battle over the remains. Both have hurdles to overcome, and opportunities to exploit. The “official” campaign season has not yet begun, when candidates are promised equal media coverage, and already the race has largely been reduced to two candidates. On a final note about polling, it is common in France for people to “hide” their support for the National Front leading to the party under-performing in polls. With this in mind, Le Pen’s current lead in the polls is even more impressive. Of course, it is also a sign that her party has yet to fully shake off the taboo surrounding it.

Jeff Sessions had Contact with Russian Officials

Another day, another revelation about the Trump-Russia connection. This time, it has emerged that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice last year with the Russian Ambassador to the United States. Despite this, Mr. Sessions stated at his confirmation hearing that he “did not have communications with the Russians.” A little while ago, I reported on Donald Trump’s “Russian Dossier” and expressed my belief that it was false. With the latest allegations however, perhaps it is time to, once again, review what we know about Donald Trump and Russia.

First lets talk about about the latest allegations, against Jeff Sessions. It’s pretty simple actually. He testified to Congress that he had not met with Russian officials, while in truth he had. He lied, plain and simple. Whether or not those meetings were of any consequence is unclear, but lying about it suggests, at the very least, a serious lapse in judgement on the part of Mr. Sessions. It is not common for individual Senators to hold closed door meetings with foreign ambassadors, which Mr. Sessions did on one occasion. A growing number of Congressional members, both Democrat and Republican, are calling for Mr. Sessions to at least recuse himself from the ongoing inquiry into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Many are calling for his resignation. It is important to note that this is very much the same sort of scandal, evening involving the same Russian official, that lead to the removal of General Michael Flynn.

The striking similarity to the Flynn case is indeed what makes this new development so damaging and shocking. It dramatically raises the suspicion that Sessions’ meetings with the Russian Ambassador went beyond his official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. But these are not the only two cases of contact between Trump’s associates and Russian officials during the campaign. In mid-February, both the New York Times and CNN reported extensive contacts between numerous members of both Trump’s team and the Russian government. As stated by CNN, it was “both the frequency of the communications during early summer and the proximity to Trump of those involved” that raised the suspicions of the US law enforcement and intelligence communities.

Everyday more and more of the allegations made in Trump’s “Russian Dossier” are shown to be be true, at least in part. The time has come for a full Congressional inquiry into the matter. The administration, which, through the Department of Justice, currently oversees the investigation, cannot be trusted to remain impartial in this case. The American people deserve a full, clear, clean, independent investigation into the connections between Donald Trump, his election, and the Russian government.

Trump’s War on Media

An article published just yesterday by CNN extolled the American public to ‘give Trump a chance’ and, specifically, to “stop judging the President and his administration on every word that is uttered, every hour.” Tom Barrack calls on the press to focus on Trump’s policies, rather than stories of leaks and confrontations with the intelligence community and other ‘headliner’ stories. But what Barrack fails to realize is that it is Trump himself who will not let these things go. It is Trump who continues to bring up the size of the crowds at his inauguration, and to lambast the press and intelligence community. We hang on his every word because he uses words such as “Enemy of the People.”

Enemy of the People. Words more apt to be written in blood rather than ink. Is Trump aware of the historical significance of the phrase? And if he is, my God, what does that mean for the country? The phrase “enemy of the people” was first used during the French Revolution to designate those to be guillotined. Since then, almost every totalitarian government, from Nazi Germany to the Soviet Union to the Khmer Rouge, has used the phrase or a close variant thereof to label their victims. The phrase is wrought with malice and violence. These are not words to use lightly, even in jest. These are words of terrible consequence, and of great pain for all those who have and who still toil and suffer under the yoke of tyranny. To hear the President of the United States of America, the standard-bearer of freedom for the world, utter such a phrase is more than shocking. It is an affront to liberty itself and all the Americans who have died in its advancement. When the leader of your country says such things, you cannot ignore it.

Donald Trump’s war on the press has gotten out of hand and out of control. The press is not an “enemy of the people” but is, as former President George W. Bush put, “indispensable to democracy.” Over the course of history, there have been many despotic regimes of many types: right, left, “third way,” military-rule, party rule, sectarian rule, etc. But they have all had one thing in common: a desire, oft realized, to control the dissemination of information. Totalitarian regimes are sustained through a combination of force and ignorance. China’s ‘Great Firewall’ was constructed to maintain public ignorance, and thus Communist-party rule. A free press is not always accurate and not always truthful, but it is indispensable. To have the freedom to discover for yourself what to believe is one of the most precious acts of liberty we have. Donald Trump’s exclusion from White House press briefings news agencies he sees as “unfavorable” works against this most precious liberty of ours.

Just yesterday, an Iranian film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The film was ‘The Salesman,’ directed by Asghar Farhadi. As stated by the New York Times, “At the heart of Mr. Farhadi’s films are the social struggles that many urban Iranians face daily” and “it is Mr. Farhadi’s eye for detail and respectful storytelling that make him such a powerful champion of millions of Iranians who feel that the state-controlled news media completely ignores the reality of their lives and problems.” Farhadi is popular because he shows the truth of ordinary life in Iran, not propaganda. This in a nation that, by historical standards, is relatively free and open. This is where the absence of a free press leads: to make the display of reality revolutionary.

On the other hand, it is very easy to get carried away with criticism of Donald Trump. Does Trump truly deserve the comparisons with totalitarian regimes that I have made? Of course not. He said something he should not have, and barred some journalists from a meeting. He has not formed paramilitary groups to storm news outlets. He has not armed followers to hunt down opponents. He has not used force to intimidate lawmakers and activists. He is not a Hitler or a Stalin, or even a Xi Jingping. But he is at the summit of a very slippery slope. The precedents he is setting, and un-setting, open the way for yet more regression, until regression becomes oppression. Where Trump leads others will follow, and more than what is I fear what is to come.