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Québec Solidaire Clarifies Its Support for Independence

By Richard Fidler / Socialist Project.

There were two main tasks on the agenda at the congress of the left party Québec solidaire (QS), meeting in Longueuil December 1-3. One was the adoption of the party's platform for the next Quebec general election, to be held in October 2018. The other was ratification of a proposed fusion with Option nationale (ON), a small party originating in a split from the Parti québécois in 2011 after the PQ had put its goal of Quebec independence on the back burner for the foreseeable future. The fusion may add several hundred ON militants to QS's membership of 18,000.

Québec solidaire members vote to fuse with Option nationale.

Following extensive debate, the fusion proposal was adopted by a vote of more than 80% of the 550 QS delegates. At a subsequent ON congress in Quebec City on December 10, the fusion with QS was accepted by 90% of the members who voted. Several dozen more, opposed to the fusion, walked out and did not vote.[1]

However, the QS congress lacked sufficient time to debate and adopt the bulk of the proposed platform, including some of the most important parts. It will be left to the party's 16-member executive, the national coordinating committee (CCN), to adopt the remaining proposals in the spring of 2018, in consultation with the party's policy commission which had created the original draft platform.

Homage to Catalonia

The congress debates were informed from the outset by the lessons of Catalonia's militant mass struggle for independence from the Spanish state. The opening night heard powerful speeches by two leaders of the Catalan left pro-independence party, the Candidatura d’Unitat Popular (CUP), Eulàlià Reguant and Anna Gabriel, the CUP spokeswoman in the now-dissolved Catalan parliament.[2] Their presentations (in French) can be heard and viewed here. Their message of internationalist solidarity with national liberation struggles everywhere was cited by a number of participants in the congress's subsequent debates.[3]

In a pre-congress interview, QS spokesman Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois said the recent events in Catalonia had “opened up our thinking about the need for a clear and positive approach” to Quebec independence. They reveal, he said,

“the profoundly revolutionary nature of the independence process, which entails a rupture with the dominant political system.... Catalonia is a good reminder that independence cannot be achieved only from above, in the salons of Outremont, with experienced constitutional scholars. The political forces that are going to lead the Quebec people toward independence are going to have to have the potential to generate a powerful social mobilization.”[4]

This thinking was reflected in the congress debate on fusion with ON, and in particular in the new centrality of the fight for Quebec independence that fusion entails.

Further Clarity on Quebec Independence

At its earlier congress in May of this year,[5] Québec solidaire had voted to probe the possibilities for a fusion between QS and Option nationale. In the proposed negotiations between the respective party leaders, it said, QS would “discuss in its authoritative bodies the development of political campaigns on the independence of Quebec and the means by which to accede to it.”

However, no report on these negotiations was issued to the QS membership until early October, when a joint news conference of QS and ON leaders suddenly announced they had signed an “agreement in principle” on a fusion that was to be put to the respective party congresses in December.

The agreement – presented as a “package deal” for adoption without amendment by the party memberships – indicated that Option nationale had taken advantage of the QS leaders’ eagerness for a fusion to drive a hard bargain. I have summarized its key provisions in an appendix to this article, below. Among these provisions:

  • ON is to continue to exist within QS as a “collective” with special rights not allowed to the other half-dozen or so collectives in the party. Under the QS statutes, members promoting specific orientations for the party (for example, secularism, ecosocialism, degrowth, animal rights, etc.) are allowed to organize within the party as a recognized collective, provided they comprise at least 10 members and abide by the party's “fundamental values.” They are not given representation in leading bodies of the party, however.

    Under the agreement, ON will constitute a distinct collective with its own funding and representation in leading bodies, and at least three ON members will be nominated in 2018 as candidates in electoral constituencies deemed “winnable” for QS.
  • ON leader Sol Zanetti will be presented as the leading party spokesman on “issues surrounding the independence of Quebec.”
  • The ON collective will organize a “university” on independence in the spring of 2018, with the right to organize this event each year, provided it is self-financed.
  • The unified party will republish an ON publication, the Livre qui fait dire oui [the “Book that leads to a yes”], although the “sovereign” Quebec it advocates is totally neoliberal in its economic program and conflicts in major respects with the QS program.[6]
  • A party congress after the 2018 election will review the QS program with a view to “aligning it with the ON program” – the program of a party that has always said the independence it proposes is “neither left nor right” in its political content.

As might be expected, the sudden announcement of this ON-QS agreement aroused considerable controversy in the ranks of both parties. Many QS militants, in particular, deplored the fact that they had been given no opportunity to experience dialogue or collaboration with ON as a prelude to a unification of the parties. Instead, some noted, ON had run a candidate against QS in a recent by-election in Quebec City, and (unlike the PQ, which desisted) had even run against Nadeau-Dubois when he was the QS candidate to succeed party leader Françoise David in Gouin riding last spring.

Some members protested their inability to amend the agreement with its 18 different provisions, as well as the party leadership's insistence that it could be approved by a simple majority of votes at the congress even though it entailed some changes in the party statutes (which require a two-thirds majority for amendment).

A Constituent Assembly for an Independent State

But the substantive criticism, the subject of the most controversy in QS, was the agreement's inclusion of amendments to the party's program providing that a Québec solidaire government would act from the outset as the government of an independent Quebec, and its proposed Constituent Assembly would develop a draft constitution of an independent Quebec that would then be submitted to a popular referendum for approval.

Thus the ON-QS agreement alters what has been Québec solidaire's favoured mechanism for accession to independence. As I have noted in previous articles, since its founding in 2006 the party has insisted that the constitution to be drafted by its proposed Constituent Assembly need not necessarily be the constitution of an independent Quebec, that it could simply be, for example, a proposal for greater provincial autonomy within the Canadian constitutional regime – even though Québec solidaire itself would fight for an independent Quebec within the Assembly.

This ambiguity with respect to the Assembly's mandate reflected in part a fear that federalist supporters – currently a majority in Quebec – would be disinclined to participate in a project aimed at founding an independent state. It also reflected, I suspect, lingering federalist sympathies among former members of Option citoyenne, the feminist and community-centered organization that was one of the new party's founding components in 2006. (The other one, the radical-left Union des Forces Progressistes, had always advocated a constituent assembly with a “closed mandate” to found an independent and socialist Quebec.)

However, this ambivalence over the Assembly's mandate was not universally accepted by QS members. Nadeau Dubois had indicated he disagreed with the open mandate. And only last May, QS representatives in OUI Québec, a coalition of pro-sovereignty parties (PQ, ON, QS and the Bloc québécois) working to develop a common “road map” in the fight for independence, had signed a joint statement with the other parties endorsing the proposal for a Constituent Assembly but specifying that the Assembly must develop the constitution of an independent Quebec.[7] They were then overruled by the QS leadership, who withheld that statement from the QS congress meeting soon afterwards. As the party's national coordination committee explained in a report to the December congress, the four-party statement “completely contravened the QS program on this sensitive question.”

Thus the ON-QS Agreement in Principle, with its amendments to what the QS program says about the mandate of the Constituent Assembly, represented for some QS members a sea change in a basic part of that program. A typical reaction was that of Jean-Claude Balu, chair of the QS orientations committee. In a vigorous dissent, Balu noted that from the outset of the process of defining its program, QS had made a rigorous distinction between its support of Quebec independence and its conception of a constituent assembly that is a “fully sovereign assembly of citizens open to everyone.”

“In our founding principles, we say the national question must belong to the population of Quebec as a whole, including the indigenous peoples and persons of every origin, and not to the political parties.

“Moreover, if we really wish to have relations of equals, nation to nation, with the indigenous peoples throughout the constituent process, they must be invited to participate without imposing any conditions whatsoever upon them.”

Option nationale, he noted, with its virtually sole emphasis on independence, had manifestly failed to win electoral support. (In fact, ON's electoral results have barely exceeded 1% of the popular vote.)

“To rally a popular majority, Québec solidaire has relied since its founding on its social agenda [projet de société] and, to counter the downturn in support for independence, on a strategy linking its social transformation project to the accession to independence through a popular and sovereign Constituent Assembly.”

The QS members negotiating fusion with ON, Balu concluded, should have done a better job in defending the party's positions.

Most of the debate over the fusion agreement took place publicly, and almost all of the key documents were published in the on-line journal Presse-toi à gauche.[8]

Does Independence Trump Democracy?

Balu accurately expresses the reasoning behind Québec solidaire's road map to independence, as it has been articulated up to now. However, the argument is notable for its wishful thinking. The fight for an independent Quebec necessarily confronts powerful propertied interests dominant within the existing federal state and civil society. They will bring to bear immense media and material resources to influence and if necessary sabotage the proceedings of a constituent assembly. No matter how democratically appointed, or how democratic its functioning, if it lacks the clear objective of establishing the framework for an independent state the assembly will be immensely vulnerable to such pressures. Yet any result short of the draft constitution of an independent Quebec would simply be of no effect whatsoever. As Québec solidaire has consistently said, the federal regime cannot be reformed to become an adequate framework for the party's progressive social agenda. Yet the QS ambiguity on the Constituent Assembly mandate has undermined the credibility of the party's commitment to independence.

In a six-page leaflet distributed to congress delegates, a self-described group of “QS members in favour of the agreement for fusion with ON” addressed the fear of some QS members that the party's support of independence might trump its commitment to democracy:

“What makes the Constituent Assembly radically democratic is precisely that it directly involves the people in the foundation of a new state, given the perspective of independence. But... it must be clear from the beginning that the question of independence will be posed in the [subsequent] referendum [to approve the new constitution]. If there is a lack of clarity during the constituent process, the debates will be confused: are we writing the constitution of a province, of a country, both at once, one or the other separately? That is why we must know clearly where we are heading.

“Giving the constituent process direction or a destination does not mean it will be controlled from above, or that the people will not have an opportunity to declare themselves freely on their political future. Quite the contrary, it means leaving it to the people to democratically draft the outline of their proposed country [their project de pays] without having to comply a priori with the narrow constraints of the Canadian regime...”

Furthermore, the argument for independence cannot be left to an assembly appointed after the election of a Québec solidaire government. The party must campaign even today around a progressive social program that is clearly the program of a sovereign Quebec with control over all the powers of an independent state. And it must be recognized that the party will come to power only on the strength of a massive social movement from below that challenges the capitalist logic and laws responsible for the social inequality and environmental catastrophe we are now facing – a movement for “another Quebec” that is analogous, but multiplied many times over, to the mass upsurge sparked by the Quebec students who in 2012 mobilized and won broad popular support for free public post-secondary education.

The arguments in support of the Agreement in Principle negotiated by QS and ON leaders had been amply expressed before the congress, so the debate at the congress gave greater exposure to the critics and opponents. However, in the end the delegates voted overwhelmingly to accept the agreement.

Québec solidaire leaned over backwards to accommodate Option nationale's concerns and it remains to be seen how this will affect the party's functioning in the near future. Clearly, the integration of those ON members who will now join QS will stimulate some useful internal debate. With the fusion, the former ON has been won to a party that proudly proclaims its progressive goals and program – and does not pretend that Quebec independence is neither right nor left.

Inconclusive Debate on the Election Platform

The congress was unable to achieve its other major objective, the adoption of a platform for the next Quebec election. The platform, for Québec solidaire, is intended to select and highlight particular issues and demands drawn from the lengthy program that the party has hammered out over nearly a decade with a view to their immediate relevance. An initial draft is compiled by the party's policy committee; it is then submitted to the members for amendment, following which a synthesis comprising the draft and proposed amendments by QS associations and leadership bodies is debated by congress delegates.

This has proved to be a somewhat unwieldly process. This year it resulted in a 130-page document in which the 15 topics addressed are listed alphabetically – from agriculture (Agroalimentaire et ruralité) to local democracy (Vie démocratique et régionale). And although an attempt was made to prioritize certain topics for the less than two days of debate, the proposed order, in the opinion of some delegates, did not assign sufficient importance to some urgent matters of the day.

As it was, the congress managed to get through the first six of the proposed topics, for the most part without major changes in the draft, leaving the remainder (as I noted earlier) for debate and adoption by the party's national coordinating committee later in 2018. Topics omitted from debate at the congress include economy and taxation, education, environment and energy, justice, health and social services, and strategy for sovereignty – that is, some of the most important questions the party should address in the election campaign, key components of a coherent social agenda.

Furthermore, some of the platform proposals left for later adoption by the party executive omit important parts of the party's adopted program. A blatant example is in the platform draft on the environment and climate change, which omits the QS program's target of a 67% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 needed to comply with the COP 21 Paris accords, as well as the party's opposition to carbon taxes and carbon markets, and its call for free public transit; Québec solidaire has been unique among political parties in Canada in adopting these demanding targets and demands. Incredibly, a 24-page pamphlet circulated at the QS congress by the Réseau écosocialiste[9] likewise omits these demands, as did a pre-congress article by a Réseau leader attempting to prioritize platform proposals from an ecosocialist perspective.[10]

Québec solidaire has made important progress in 2017. But the congress debates point to important challenges the party faces during the year to come, and beyond. •

This article was first published on Fidler's blog Life on the Left.

Appendix

Agreement in Principle between Option nationale and Québec solidaire

– a translated summary[11]

Preamble

This fusion should allow all progressive independentists in Quebec to work within a unified party that will spearhead the promotion of Quebec independence. This union takes place therefore on the basis of the program, the founding values (independentism, democracy, ecologism, feminism, pluralism, progressivism, global justice) and the statutes of Québec solidaire, but will preserve the spirit and visibility of the constituent aspects of Option nationale, which is summoned to become a collective in the unified party.

In the current political context, a reconciliation of the independentist and progressive forces is more necessary than ever in order to reunite the conditions for our exit from the Canadian regime and to enable the social agenda that Quebec needs. In view of the history of Quebec society and today's reality, this unification can be achieved only around a true program for a country, freed of the limits imposed by the Canadian political system. This historic agreement creates a new pole of unification for all those who are resolutely committed to this course.

The unified party will be called Québec solidaire.

Programmatic Issues

The QS program on accession to independence is to be amended as proposed in Appendix 1 hereto.

For the party program to fully reflect ON's contribution, five proposals from the ON program will be included in the electoral platform to be addressed by QS in December 2017.

The congress following the 2018 election will, in addition to adopting the party's program on “national defense,” as provided by last May's QS congress, will review the entire program with particular (but not exclusive) attention to aligning it with the ON program.

Political actions

The unified party will continue its participation in OUI-Québec when it resumes its proceedings.

In the 2018 general [Quebec] election, the party spokespersons will support three candidates for nomination from ON, including at least one woman. One of these candidates will be the present leader of ON, who will be supported in contesting one of the 9 ridings considered most favourable by party's election committee among those not already held by QS.

This arrangement will be implemented by a mediation committee formed of ON and QS members and concerned local associations.

In the 2018 general election, the unified party will present (a) a financial framework for the process of accession to independence, including the establishment of the Constituent Assembly; (b) a financial analysis showing the financial viability of an independent Quebec. And these documents will be developed by consulting economists designated by ON.

Finally, the Canadian colonial regime will be ranked equal in importance with neoliberalism in the unified party's public communications.

Organizational adjustments

ON will become a collective within QS. Its present funds will be integrated with the party's but may be used to fund initiatives of the ON collective provided the executive first approves, until the 2018 election.

The ON collective will have two positions on the national coordinating committee (a woman and a man) guaranteed for two years. QS will hire one person designated by the ON collective, who will enjoy the same conditions of employment as other employees of the party.

A committee will be established to advise and accompany ON and QS associations in their fusion process. Local, regional and campus QS associations must be fully functional as associations of the unified party no later than the end of April 2018 to ensure full participation of ON members in deliberations of the unified QS national council to be held next spring.

Every effort will be made to ensure that national commissions, theme commissions and working committees include members of ON who wish to participate.

Promotion of independence

The ON collective will organize a “university” on independence in the spring of 2018. ON funds may be used to finance this event. The ON collective may organize this event each year, inasmuch as it is self-financed.

The unified party will work closely with the ON collective to ensure that party members have available material promoting independence on a permanent basis, including the republication, reprinting and development of the Livre qui fait dire oui [the “Book that leads to a yes”], within the budgetary constraints of the party.

The unified party will feature the current ON leader in its public communications and activities concerning the issues surrounding the independence of Quebec, and in particular in public presentations on the matter.

Appendix 1

The Québec solidaire program concerning accession to independence will be amended as follows. All amendments are underlined or crossed out.

The Québec nation and Canadian federalism

(...)

Amendment 1 Canadian federalism cannot fundamentally be reformed. Quebec cannot possibly obtain all the powers it desires, not to mention those that would be needed for the profound changes proposed by Québec solidaire. A Québec solidaire government will therefore implement the measures provided in its program irrespective of whether or not they are compatible with the Canadian constitutional framework.

(...)

A Constituent Assembly

Amendment 2 A Québec solidaire government will propose, at the earliest opportunity, the adoption of a law on the Constituent Assembly defining its mandate, its composition and its process.
Amendment 3 This law will declare the independence of the Constituent Assembly from the Quebec National Assembly and provide mechanisms to allow and promote the free expression of all tendencies within the Constituent Assembly and in the public debate surrounding the process.

The Constituent Assembly, an affirmation of popular sovereignty, will simultaneously reaffirm the sovereignty peculiar to the indigenous nations. The Quebec National Assembly will invite these nations to join in this democratic exercise by whatever means they decide, including, if this is their wish, granting them a major place in the very framework of the Constituent Assembly.


Existing textAmended text
Amendment 4
source
Congress
2016-11.04
The mandate of the Constituent Assembly will be to develop a Quebec constitution specifying the values, rights and principles on which our common life is to be based, and defining its status, its institutions, powers, responsibilities and resources that are delegated to them. The mandate of the Constituent Assembly will be to develop a draft constitution of an independent Quebec, specifying the values, rights and principles on which our common life is to be based, and defining its status, its institutions, powers, responsibilities and resources that are delegated to them.

The Constituent Assembly will be elected by universal suffrage and will be composed of an equal number of women and men. The voting procedure will ensure proportional representation of the tendencies and the various socio-economic walks of life present within Quebec society. In the election of this Constituent Assembly, candidates of all means and origins shall be allowed equitable access to the means of communication. Members of the National Assembly may not be elected to the Constituent Assembly, as participation in it requires that they be available on a full-time basis.

After the election of the Constituent Assembly, it will have the responsibility and the means to conduct an extensive process of participative democracy aimed at consulting the people of Quebec concerning their political and constitutional future as well as the values and political institutions pertaining to it. Pursuant to the results of this process – which shall be publicized and which the Constituent Assembly will be obliged to take into account – the Assembly will develop a draft constitution.


Existing textAmended text
Amendment 5
source
Congress
2016-11.04
The draft constitution will be submitted to the people through a referendum, which will mark the end of the process. The draft constitution will be submitted to the people through a referendum, which will mark the end of the process.
In order to ensure its plural and democratic character, and to fight against electoral fraud and outside interference, the government will ensure basic funding and strict surveillance of the campaigns to promote the respective options for and against the draft constitution.
Amendment 6
source
Congress
2009-05.21 (g)
Throughout the Constituent Assembly process, Québec solidaire will defend its option on the Quebec national question and will promote its ecologist, egalitarian, feminist, democratic, pluralist and pacifist values without however presuming the outcome of the debates. Throughout the Constituent Assembly process, Québec solidaire, as party, as parliamentary wing, and as government, will defend its option on the Quebec national question and will promote its ecologist, egalitarian, feminist, democratic, pluralist and pacifist values. without however presuming the outcome of the debates.

Endnotes

1.Option nationale et Québec solidaire ne font plus qu’un,” Le Devoir, December 11.

2. Another scheduled guest speaker, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of France's new left-wing party, La France Insoumise, had to cancel his appearance but recorded a 15-minute video message to the congress.

3. A public meeting in Montréal December 4 to hear the two CUP leaders drew more than a capacity crowd, many of them from Quebec's Catalan community.

4. “L’indépendance, un processus révolutionnaire,” L’aut’journal, No. 365, GND interviewed by Pierre Dubuc.

5. See “Québec solidaire: No to an electoral pact with the PQ, Yes to a united front against austerity, for energy transition and for independence,” Life on the Left, May 28, 2017.

6. For a trenchant critique of the book by a Marxist economist and QS militant, see Marc Bonhomme, “Le livre qui fait dire oui à un Québec concurrentiel sur le marché global.”

7. For a detailed account, with the text of the four-party statement, see my report on the May congress.

8. See “Débats autour de la fusion de Québec solidaire et d’Option nationale.”

9. See Québec solidaire: Au-delà du parlement, se donner le pouvoir de changer la société.

10. See “En route vers un Québec indépendant, pluriel, solidaire et égalitaire,” by Bernard Rioux, Presse-toi à gauche, November 21, 2017.

11. The full text is here (in French): api-wp.quebecsolidaire.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/ententeqson.pdf.

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Poland has sticker shock over ‘unacceptable’ price tag for Patriot buy

By: Jen Judson / Defense News.

US troops from the 5th Battalion of the 7th Air Defense Regiment emplace a launching station of the Patriot air and missile defence system at a test range in Sochaczew, Poland, on March 21, 2015 as part of a joint exercise with Polands troops of the 37th Missile Squadron of Air Defense that is to demonstrate the US Armys capacity to deploy Patriot systems rapidly within NATO territory. AFP PHOTO / JANEK SKARZYNSKI (Photo credit should read JANEK SKARZYNSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Poland has been pushing toward a purchase of a medium-range air-and-missile defense system for many years, settling on an unprecedented configuration of the Patriot system, but was surprised by the high price tag presented when the U.S. State Department cleared the sale of half of the Patriots Poland plans to buy.

According to the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, when it notified Congress last month of the potential sale, the deal could cost the country $10.5 billion for four systems — that is roughly 37 billion zloties — which already exceeds by 7 billion zloties what Poland has said it would spend on the entire program.

The DSCA announcement only marks the progress in the first phase of the acquisition. Poland would like to see a second round of Patriot systems with a 360-degree detection capability and the first four retrofitted with the new radar in a subsequent deal.

“The high cost came as a surprise for us,” Bartosz Kownacki, secretary of state in Poland’s Ministry of National Defense, told Defense News in a Dec. 5 interview in Washington.

“The price is indeed unacceptable for us even in the view of the significant financial assets that we allocated for the technical modernization of the Polish Armed Forces,” he said through a translator. “We cannot simply afford to spend that much money on the procurement of two batteries and [Patriot Advanced Capability]-3 missiles for such an amount of money.”

The offer from the U.S. included 16 missile launchers, four sector radars and 208 PAC-3 Missile Segment Enhancement (MSE) missiles.

The possible sale is a long time coming with Poland and the U.S. struggling through complicated negotiations over the past several years.

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Poland began its “Wisla” competition to procure a medium-range air-and-missile defense system many years ago, ultimately choosing Patriot in 2014 but, instead of simply buying what Raytheon had at the ready, the country decided it wanted a command-and-control system for Patriot that is still in development by the U.S. Army and Northrop Grumman called the Integrated Battle Command System (IBCS) along with a new radar down the road.

Instead of opting for a simple foreign military sale like Romania did recently when purchasing Patriot, Poland is, in a sense, creating its own integrated air-and-missile defense program.

Poland has also been adamant about creating quality defense work for its industrial base and has demanded certain offsets to ensure growth in its defense industry.

“We will be doing thorough analyses of the draft Letter of Agreement once it is sent to us,” Kownacki said. Looking at his watch, he said he expected the draft LOA could be sent at anytime and could even be delivered during the interview.

The cost estimate for the Patriot deal was the topic of discussions held this week during Kownacki’s trip to Washington. “We simply cannot accept such financial conditions, we will be working hard on reducing it, we will be conducting a line-by-line review,” he said. “We understand to reduce it more than one meeting will be required, maybe two or three meetings will be required to negotiate an acceptable, reasonable price.”

Kownacki added that there are other elements of the deal that came as a surprise as well. “For instance, the price of offset,” he said. While some companies involved with the deal gave reasonable prices for offset, “there is one company which presented an unacceptable offset for us and conditions we cannot accept,” he said.

And even with the companies that offered reasonable deals, Kownacki said, there will still be an effort to negotiate the price down further.

Kownacki added it’s possible that over the course of the negotiations it will turn out that some of the high prices were presented to the country due to a misunderstanding of its offset regulations. Poland changed its offset regulations and there are a number of elements that may not be understood, he said.

While the price tag for the first round of Patriots should be higher because of some up-front costs that cover the program as a whole, it should still be proportionately smaller than what Poland plans to spend over the entire life-cycle of the program, Kownacki said.

“Of course we can’t foresee by how much we will manage to lower the price, nonetheless, the U.S. Administration as well as the companies are aware that we need to reduce this price,” he added. “I am confident that we will manage to reach our goal, our objective, and we are currently finalizing the project so we are in the last stage of negotiations.”

Some analysts in Poland are more than skeptical that the price tag can be reduced enough so the country doesn’t exceed the 30 billion zloties for which its has budgeted to cover the entire program.

The U.S. cost estimate already exceeds the limit set by Poland by 20 percent, Marek Swierczynski, of Poland’s Polityka Insight, points out in a recent report. “So it will be good if the first phase negotiations will end at 30 billion zloties,” he writes.

He calculates that if the second phase of the program reflects the first phase in numbers, the costs could be “colossal.” For example, the price of one Lockheed Martin-manufactured PAC-3 MSE for the U.S. Army is $5.7 million and, with the offset Poland wants, the cost could rise to $8 million, Swierczynski notes. The PAC-3 order is already reduced to a minimum so there is little wiggle room for price there. And he also writes the low-cost SkyCeptor missile that Poland wants to manufacture as part of the program is currently a wild card, falling in the second phase of the procurement.

Swierczynski suggests that if Poland wants to get the cost down significantly “it has to say goodbye to the prospect of technological leaps in radar or rockets. And that was the most important thing in the industrial part of the Wisla program.”

The future 360-degree radar’s cost is also an unknown because Poland won’t know what it is buying for some time.

And adding IBCS to the Patriot system is an additional cost, yet it doesn’t appear to be the reason for the enormous cost of the first phase of the program. Northrop Grumman confirmed to Defense News that IBCS actually makes up less than 15 percent of the total acquisition cost for the Wisla FMS acquisition.

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Chicago Democrats: "Embarrassment of Riches" or War?

By Lenny Brody​

National Steering Committee member, Justice Party

The race for Congress in Chicago’s 4th Congressional District is on. Congressman Luis Gutierrez announced he will not run for re-election. He has anointed Chuy Garcia as his choice to succeed him. In the recent Chicago mayor’s race, Gutierrez supported Rahm Emanuel over Chuy Garcia. So what gives? Those on the ground in Chicago know this maneuver was orchestrated to get Garcia out of the 2019 race for mayor and clear the way for Emanuel. As soon as Garcia announced his candidacy for Congress, Bernie Sanders endorsed him.

It is unclear what Sanders knows about the Chicago situation. However, in the face of this sellout to the corporate Dems, Chicago’s most popular, progressive elected official, Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, has stepped up to carry the political revolution forward. Rosa has announced his candidacy for Congress in the 4th CD.

While Garcia is relying on the established Democratic Party politicians, there has been an eruption of grassroots support for Rosa. Hundreds of volunteers are collecting thousands of signatures for Rosa. Supposed progressive organizations in Chicago that are leaning toward Garcia are finding their members flocking to Rosa’s campaign.

Establishment politicians and the media are trying to paint this race as an “embarrassment of riches” with two progressives running. But in reality a battle of a different kind is shaping up. Those who have been forced to fight because of the poverty growing in the U.S., because of the rise of right-wing politics, and because of the energy of the Sanders campaign, are not fooled by this Gutierrez-Garcia alliance. This battle has the potential to become a war for the soul of Chicago and perhaps this country. Activists in the electoral arena are facing a clear choice: Do we stick with the corrupt back room wheeling and dealing of the Democratic Party or do we stake out an independent truly progressive stance.

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Trump's Bizarre Rantings and Tweets Give Cover to His Fellow Authoritarian McConnell to Ram Through a Huge Tax Cut for the Rich

By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet.

Planned or not, Trump's provocations distract from McConnell's iron fist in the Senate.

Photo Credit: Image by Shutterstock, Copyright (c) Christopher Halloran

Wednesday’s headlines from Washington perfectly displayed the dysfunctional personalities and darkening politics that are turning America into a plutocracy ruled by sociopaths and authoritarians.

Whether or not it is coincidental, orchestrated or a bit of both, the latest reality-denying fantasy-embracing outbursts and provocations from President Trump gave Senate Republicans more cover to continue ramming through a tax bill in a manner that defies any pretense of representative government.

From a political perspective, Trump’s latest Twitter pile-on is a perfectly timed distraction from the dirty business unfolding in the Senate. First, he suggested the head of NBC be investigated for sexual misbehavior after the network fired morning show host Matt Lauer. That came after Trump said the infamous Access Hollywood video (in which he boasted of grabbing women) was not real. Then Trump retweeted some British anti-Muslim tweets, with the White House commenting that it didn't matter if they were true or not.

In much of 2016, the press became addicted to the daily outbursts from candidate Trump. It’s old news to recount his lies, distortions and vanities—everything that makes him anything but presidential. On Wednesday, however, this habit served Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell very well, by diverting attention from the GOP legislation plundering the middle-class and eviscerating safety nets so the rich can get richer.

But McConnell is a different breed of authoritarian than Trump. As Bernie Sanders, the Senate Budget Committee’s ranking member said in impassioned remarks on Tuesday, no Senate committee has held a hearing on the tax bill. The Budget Committee only had 15 minutes of “debate” before passing it on a party-line vote. The opposition party had no role in this process, which Wednesday moved to the Senate floor. This is not representative government, it’s mob rule, by and for the rich, mostly at blue states' expense.

“You know, how many hours have I sat here, and you’ve sat there, and we’ve seen all the charts and all the discussions, about how terrible the deficit is, and what it means leaving this burden to our kids and our grandchildren,” Sanders said, making a final appeal to the budget panel’s Republicans. “We’ve heard all of that rhetoric, year after year, and now we have a bill that raises the deficit by $1.4 trillion. And let me be very clear, I have not the slightest doubt, that if this bill, god forbid, is passed, the Republican leadership will come back and say, 'My god, we have to deal with the deficit, and that’s why we’re going to cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and education.’”

Sanders’ plea went nowhere. But that shouldn’t surprise anyone. McConnell has shown he will embrace any tactic necessary to win—unless stopped by a fellow Republican like Arizona’s ailing John McCain during the Obamacare repeal vote. McConnell’s sabotage of Obama’s final Supreme Court nomination is Exhibit A. Partisan principles vaporize before McConnell’s mob rule dictates. And Wednesday, McConnell was helped by Trump’s outbursts and craziness, planned or not, which is even more sinister.

Trump’s pro wrestler-like provocations are part of an ongoing barrage to erase the past (Access Hollywood), rewrite history (who voted for him), dismiss fact, and embrace fiction. Holocaust historians like Timothy Snyder and experts on George Orwell like author Tom Ricks have said these impulses were all tell-tale characteristics of totalitarian rulers. The risk is not just that Trump is a sociopath with unique dysfunctions, but that he is indulging in attacks and fantasies as president.

The Washington Post’s ‘Plum Line’ columnist, Greg Sargent, noted these sociopathic features on Wednesday, warning that Trump is accumulating and asserting power, much like McConnell is asserting his rule in the Senate.

“Trump is not trying to persuade anyone of anything as much as he is trying to render reality irrelevant, and reduce the pursuit of agreement on it to just another part of the circus,” Sargent wrote. “He’s asserting a species of power—the power to evade constraints normally imposed by empirically verifiable facts, by expectations of consistency, and even by what reasoned inquiry deems merely credible. The more brazen or shameless, the more potent is the assertion of power.”

Trump’s attacks on the press are no accident, Sargent adds, but are calculated to damage the one institution that stands between elected officials and the public. Trump has ceaselessly attacked the media, toyed with coverage by introducing absurdities that get repeated everywhere—as mainstream media sees covering statements of record as a core responsibility. However, Trump’s dumpster dives also sully the media, who reflectively follow him into the gutter, Sargent notes.

“Here again, the absurdity is the whole point: In both the volume and outsize defiance of his lies, Trump is asserting the power to declare the irrelevance of verifiable, contradictory facts, and with them, the legitimate institutional role of the free press, which at its best brings us within striking distance of the truth,” Sargent writes.

“I don’t claim to know whether this is merely instinctual on Trump’s part, or part of a strategy,” he continues. “As Trump biographer Tim O’Brien puts it, Trump constantly ‘tells fables to himself’ and ‘about himself,’ and has long self-consciously regarded this as ‘one of his great skills.’ Trump has been doing it for so long that the separation between instinct and conscious technique has probably disappeared. But one thing is clear: Terms like ‘lying’ or ‘delusional’ don’t do justice to what we’re seeing here, and we have not yet seriously reckoned with its true nature and what it really means.”

What it means Wednesday, to start, is that Trump is providing a handy distraction for what may end up being the GOP’s first legislative victory of his presidency—a $1.4 trillion tax bill that will cause, as Sanders noted, 87 million middle-class households to see their taxes go up in the next decade while 62 percent of the benefits go to the top 1 percent.

But as bad as that tax legislation is, the specter of two breeds of totalitarians working in tandem—the authoritarian Republican Senate Leader and the sociopath commander-in-chief—is unprecedented in modern times. And their reign has just begun.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America's democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

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Wind power blows past coal in Texas

By Ryan Maye Handy / Chron.

Photo: Michael Paulsen
A thick cloud of fog and morning light engulfs several 285ft tall 2.5 MW Clipper wind turbines at the BP Sherbino Mesa II Wind Farm, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012, in Fort Stockton. After cutting its solar program ... more

Wind power, by one important measure, surpassed coal last week to become the second-largest electricity source in Texas, yet another milestone in the state's march toward greater reliance on renewable energy.

When a 155-megawatt wind farm in West Texas began commercial operation this month, it pushed the state's wind power capacity to more than 20,000 megawatts, surpassing 19,800 megawatts of capacity from coal-fired power plants, according to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which oversees 90 percent of the state's grid. One megawatt is enough to power 200 homes on a hot Texas day.

While ERCOT still gets most of its power from natural gas and coal, wind power generation now accounts for 15 percent of the power mix — up from just 2 percent a decade ago.

The imminent shutdown of three coal-fired power plants owned by Dallas-based Vistra Energy and the loss of their 4,000 megawatts of capacity will further tip the scales in wind's favor, said Joshua Rhodes, a research fellow at the University of Texas' Energy Institute in Austin. In October, Vistra announced the pending shutdowns of its Monticello, Big Brown and Sandow coal plants, triggering the loss of more than 800 jobs and the closure of two coal mines. The shutdown of the Vistra plants are the first retirements of coal-fired power plants since Texas deregulated power markets in 2002.

"We are used to seeing wind numbers add, add, add," Rhodes said. "We are not used to seeing coal plants' numbers decreasing."

Texas power mix

Natural gas capacity: 45,800 MW
Wind power capacity: 20,102 MW
Coal capacity: 19,800 MW

Source: ERCOT

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