Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Cole's End Game

Juan Cole made a good point on all this. What's the end-game here?

What I can't understand is the end game here. The Israelis have pledged to continue their siege of the civilians of Gaza, and have threatened to resume assassinating Hamas political leaders, along with the bombardment. The campaign of brutal assassinations launched by Ariel Sharon earlier in this decade were, Sharon, promised us, guaranteed to wipe out Hamas altogether. Do the Israelis expect the population at some point to turn against Hamas, blaming it for the blockade and the bombardment? But by destroying what was left of the Gaza middle class, surely they a throwing people into the arms of Hamas. The US experience of bombing North Vietnam and mining Haiphong Harbor, etc., was that it only stiffened Hanoi's resolve. The massive Israeli bombardment of Lebanon in 2006 did not achieve any significant objectives. In fact, Hezbollah was politically strengthened; it now sits in the Lebanese cabinet and has been recognized as a formal national guard for the south of the country. Its stock of rockets has been replenished. There is a UN buffer now, but in the past such buffers have been removed when hostilities threaten.

If the Gaza population doesn't turn on Hamas, and Israeli measures don't destroy the organization (which they helped create and fund back in the late 1980s when they wanted a foil to the secular PLO), then what? They'll just go on half-starving Gaza's children for decades? Malnourished children have diminished IQ and poor impulse control. That would make them ideal suicide bombers. Plus, sooner or later there will start to be effective boycotts of Israel in Europe and elsewhere over these war crimes. The Israeli economy would be vulnerable to such moves.

Of course, there are only 1.5 million Gazans, and they increasingly are being forced to live in Haiti-like conditions, so in the short term the Israelis can do whatever they want to them. But I can't see this ending well for the Israelis in the long term. Very few insurgencies end because one side achieves a complete military victory (I think it is about 20%). But by refusing to negotiate with Hamas, Israel and the United States leave only a military option on the table. The military option isn't going to resolve the problem by itself. Gaza is a labyrinth. Those Qassam rockets are easy to make. There is so much money sloshing around the Middle East and so many sympathetic Muslims that Gaza will be kept just barely afloat economically, making Hamas hard to dislodge. And the Israeli blockade of Gaza is so distasteful to the world that eventually there is likely to be a painful price to pay for it by the Israelis.

There is this fantasy that continually arises in the minds of western military planners, for whatever reason: that foreign pressure—including foreign military pressure—will so demoralize a native population that they will turn on their own government, destroy them, and embrace the outside aggressors.

But that never happens. Ever. I can't think of a single conflict in modern history where that has been the case. Hell, outside of maybe Herodotus I can't think of a single ancient conflict that worked that way. To believe that the Gazans will act this way defies belief.

And yes, I'm sure that's what all the anti-Hamas rhetoric is supposed to do. But it won't work. The world isn't listening. You cannot dictate people's reactions to your own use of force. You can influence them, and guide them, and hope for the best, but you cannot dictate them. Police can't do it, militaries can't do it, and you'd better believe that the State of Israel can't do it.

I think the smarter people know that, which is why I presume that the architects of this are interested more in rhetorical cover that will justify the pre-existing prejudices of domestic constintuencies. But let's not pretend it's a military strategem. It's not.

Then again, western governments haven't been thinking much about end-games for a while now, have they? Ignorance or cynical excuse-building. Your choice, I suppose.

Would You Give the Electric Chair for Spitting on the Sidewalk?

No, of course you wouldn't. That'd be ridiculous. It's entire out of proportion to both the crime and what is necessary. It'd probably deter spitting, but you'd see it as monstrous.

And, by the same token, would you kill a whole family if someone within it committed a crime? Or maybe a whole village? A whole town? No, of course you wouldn't. Not only are you still disproportionately punishing, but now you're engaged in collective punishment as well.

So why, exactly, is Whatzisname approvingly quoting some guy who says that disproportionate collective punishment is a-okay? Does this mean that we should firebomb Osaka for some bad sushi? Maybe wipe out the Chinese because your pet died a while back? Should Americans be put to the sword because of Abu Gharib?

There are good reasons why collective disproportionate response is almost universally seen as ethically unacceptable. I do still think that Hamas was unutterably stupid for engaging in their brinksmanship. I also still cannot and will not endorse this nonsense, especially from an-increasingly-deserving-of-scare-quotes "liberal". Being a liberal takes more than a party membership.

Especially one who can't figure out that saying this:

Although Hamas won the Palestinian elections, it took Gaza by force, in the process hurling rival Fatah members down to their death from high-rises and shooting others in the knees with the declared aim of maiming them. Some democracy.

In any case, Israel in fact “recognizes,” de facto, Hamas’ rule in Gaza, which is precisely why it is justified in attacking the Hamas-ruled Strip, recognizing that it is indeed being governed by a terror entity. Israel did not launch the operation because Hamas is in power there – rather, it did so because Hamas is a terrorist organization that has deliberately targeted civilians with thousands of rockets over the past 8 years.
Do either of these men seriously understand what they're doing by acknowledging that governments can be so easily labelled "terror entities?"

(Nobody tell Noam Chomsky; he'd die laughing!)

Sure, they're probably just being intellectually dishonest. They're only focusing on the civilian mortality numbers, and deliberately avoiding the civilian casualty numbers, which are catastrophic. They're playing that ridiculous game of insisting that the other guy's choices excuse your own. And whatzisname is pulling that stupid trick of whining about the term 'militant' to try to distract from real issues.

But it's also possible they actually believe this stuff. And I, for one, wouldn't want either Israeli or Canadian leaders advised by men who think that decimation is a policy.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Rather-Gate Redux?

So the old conventional wisdom that Bush was vindicated and Dan Rather disgraced over that "Bush skipped out on his National Guard duties" stuff is, apparently, once again up for grabs. Not only that, but he's going whole-hog on CBS bowing to conservative political interference:

A $70m lawsuit filed by Dan Rather, the veteran former newsreader for CBS Evening News, against his old network is reopening the debate over alleged favourable treatment that Bush received when he served in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam war. Bush had hoped that this controversy had been dealt with once and for all during the 2004 election.

Eight weeks before the 2004 presidential poll, Rather broadcast a story based on newly discovered documents which appeared to show that Bush, whose service in the Texas Air National Guard ensured that he did not have to fight in Vietnam, had barely turned up even for basic duty. After an outcry from the White House and conservative bloggers who claimed that the report had been based on falsified documents, CBS retracted the story, saying that the documents' authenticity could not be verified. Rather, who had been with CBS for decades and was one of the most familiar faces in American journalism, was fired by the network the day after the 2004 election.

He claims breach of contract against CBS. He has already spent $2m on his case, which is likely to go to court early next year. Rather contends not only that his report was true - "What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him," he says - but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush's second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather's report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

"CBS broke with long-standing tradition at CBS News and elsewhere of standing up to political pressure," says Rather. "And, there's no joy in saying it, they caved ... in an effort to placate their regulators in Washington."

Rather's lawsuit makes other serious allegations about CBS succumbing to political pressure in an attempt to suppress important news stories. In particular, he says that his bosses at CBS tried to stop him reporting evidence of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. According to Rather's lawsuit, "for weeks they refused to grant permission to air the story" and "continued to raise the goalposts, insisting on additional substantiation". Rather also claims that General Richard Meyers, then head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the top military official in the US, called him at home and asked him not to broadcast the story, saying that it would "endanger national security".

Rather says that CBS only agreed to allow him to broadcast the story when it found out that Seymour Hersh would be writing about it in the New Yorker magazine. Even then, Rather claims, CBS tried to bury it. "CBS imposed the unusual restrictions that the story would be aired only once, that it would not be preceded by on-air promotion, and that it would not be referenced on the CBS Evening News," he says.

It's good that Rather's done this. A lot of us out in the wild were never satisfied with the idea that Rather was somehow "discredited". It's clear he was under enormous political pressure from conservatives, and a lot of the gotchas they used to try to discredit the story were never as sound as some pretended. It's also clear that CBS had decided to play ball, and were willing to do and say whatever it took to ensure that their competitors didn't benefit from broadcast regulation changes at their expense.

With conservatives practically discredited, it might be the right time to revisit this story, and make the case that bowing to conservative pressure is not going to benefit you in the long run. A reputation for integrity is worth more in that long run than a friendly White House.

Samuel Huntington Passed Away

First, I hope you all had a great holiday season.

Second, Samuel Huntington, the father of the "clash of civilizations", died Wednesday at age 81. I don't agree with a lot of what he wrote, and I find that as time goes on I agree with less and less; but I cannot disagree that he has had a profound influence on the field of International Relations as a whole, and International Security specifically. His ideas will likely long outlive anybody alive as I write this, but one can only hope that his more fearsome predictions will have proven to be untrue.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Gazans Fire Rockets at Israel

...Israel drops big bombs on Gaza. About 200 people died when Israel launched air strikes against pretty much every Hamas security installation in Gaza, with about 270 wounded.

The Gazan response? More rockets.

There seems to be no plan here. The Israelis should know by now that air strikes of this sort never deter attacks by whatever fraction of Hamas decides they want to prove how anti-Israeli they are to their comrades. To the extent that they simply destroy capability they may have some utility, but we're talking tiny, almost man-portable rockets here, not ICBMs. You're never going to destroy the capability of using those.

And, naturally, the rocket attacks are completely pointless. An Israeli tragically died recently and a number have been wounded, but they're simply not going to do any significant or lasting damage. At best they might have driven Israelis away from the border, but this has been going on for YEARS. At this point those Israelis that are left within rocket distance are those who are not going to be frightened into leaving their homes.

So we have a failure of credibility and deterrence all around. Israel will not get what it wants, and Hamas (or whatever fraction of them still thinks this is worthwhile) will not get what they want. The only thing either will get is a higher body count.

Edit: Okay, the other thing they'll get is propaganda points for their various talking-head proxies, which seems sometimes to be the only damned thing they care about in the first place. Expect Israeli representatives to go on and on about the "need for security" and "show of strength" and that sort of thing, carefully ignoring the question of how, exactly, this is supposed to deter anybody. Expect Palestinians to focus on the body count and the blockade and suchlike, while delicately tiptoeing around the fact that it was, yes, serial rocket attacks into Israel that provided Israel the reason/justification/excuse in the first place.

And expect both to be whining like children about "who started it."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rewritten Whatzisname

"Again, to my Democratic friends: get over your Fox News fixation."

Yeah, the Canadian version sounds just as goofy.

Look: Only a few months after an election where critical, game-changing events happened on an opinion journalist's show, said journalist (and his network) were rewarded with a plum patronage position. Mike Duffy is the guy who probably worked the hardest out of anybody to scuttle the Liberals' chances; he was a balder, fatter O'Reilly except with poorer production values. And now he's a Conservative Senator.

Not that Iggy and his 'centrist' Liberal faction probably minded, considering they were—as is becoming awfully apparently—all for the scuttling, since they were confident of winning the prize. Duffy did them as much of a service as he did Harper. And since this is whatzisname we're talking about- he has no problem with playing nice with small 'c' conservatives as long as they haven't crossed him or his superiors. Harper was his best friend, too, until Harper made the mistake of letting his contempt for Chretien slip.

But, hey, what's done is done. Dion's gone, Iraq-or-bust-Iggy won the crown (kinda), and everybody's happy, right? Well, maybe not actual liberals, who await with baited breath what this "move to the center" is supposed to mean, exactly, but everybody else, right? Certainly CTV is happy: they're about the only journalists around with a viable retirement path!

I, for one, can't wait to see what Warren's reaction is when Fox North savages his guy. The Dems learned that lesson. The Liberals will too.

Downward Shift

From a different entry on Daily Kos, there was a reference to this Bloomberg report about the retail sector. By and large sales are dismal, but take a look at this:

J.C. Penney Co., Nordstrom Inc. and Gap Inc. all reported sales drops of 10 percent or more at stores open at least a year. The decreases were less than some analysts estimated after 50 percent-off discounts lured customers grappling with the U.S. recession. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. posted a 3.4 percent gain, beating its forecast...

...Limited Brands Inc., the owner of the Victoria’s Secret chain, dropped 12 percent, while Costco Wholesale Corp.’s global sales declined 5 percent. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. plunged 28 percent. The teen apparel retailer, known for its shirtless male models, said last month it won’t use promotions to lure shoppers to protect its brand image.

"The news out of Costco and Wal-Mart wasn’t really that bad,: Jessica Hoversen, a foreign-exchange and fixed-income analyst at MF Global Ltd. in Chicago, said in a Bloomberg Television interview. "That’s definitely a positive, and Black Friday sales weren’t as bad as everyone thought they would be"...

...The comparable-store sales gain by Wal-Mart beat the world’s largest retailer’s forecast for a 1 percent to 3 percent increase and the average analyst estimate of 2 percent, according to Swampscott, Massachusetts-based Retail Metrics.

“Aggressive rollback initiatives helped kick off solid sales for the month,” Wal-Mart said. Home furnishings, apparel and electronics sales improved.

“Wal-Mart’s pricing message was just overwhelming on Black Friday, it was all about value,” said Sarah Henry, a retail analyst with MFC Global Investment Management.
And finally?

Higher-income consumers are reining in spending because of stock market declines, said Henry. Neiman Marcus Group Inc. sales fell 12 percent, while Saks had a 5.2 percent drop, better than the 20 percent fall estimated by analysts. Nordstrom Inc. sales retreated 16 percent.

December sales may see a lull until the week before Christmas, said Henry.
All this is the opposite of what had happened during previous Bush downturns. Then, the sales for Wal-Mart declined, whereas the high-end stuff tended to remain the same or better, indicating that the old truism about "the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer" was if anything an understatement.

But look at what's happening now. In an era where lower-income people are being hit hard, numbers for Wal-Mart and Costco are either beating projections or narrowly missing them, whereas Neiman Marcus, Saks and Nordstrom are taking it on the chin. That suggests that middle-class and perhaps even upper-middle-class consumers are sucking it up and heading out to the discounters.

It makes sense since their spending was buoyed by stock holdings, free credit and exploding home values--all of which are gone--but it paints a grim picture for the future. It suggests that the characteristics of American consumption may have been severely changed, and without American consumption, the foundations of the global market system become very weak indeed. Sure, it'll adapt, but what will the new system look like?

edit: The DKos diary was about the pathetic husk of a newspaper that the LA Times has become, by the way. Yes, I'm a blogger, and I've been one for longer than the vast, vast majority of the ones you see out there...and the decline of the newspaper bothers the hell out of me. Blogs are not a substitute for real journalism. They are, still, by-and-large personal opinion pieces.

The fact that the real journalists of the world end up looking for work while the right-wing blowhards keep their bought-and-paid-for conservative-funded bully pulpits is NOT a good thing.

Looks like Al Won

Daily Kos sez Franken's up by 48

The Minnesota Canvassing Board today allocated the rest of the withdrawn challenged ballots, and Al Franken now unofficially leads by 48 votes. Crazy shit.

The Coleman campaign tried to get the board to reconsider some of its decisions, but was rebuffed.

Left to be decided -- 1) the claim by the Coleman campaign that some absentee ballots were counted twice (Nate discusses that issue here), and 2) the fate of over 1,000 improperly excluded absentee ballots.

The duplicate ballot issue is a hail mary by the Coleman campaign, as it's not expected to be necessarily favor its campaign, while the improperly excluded absentee ballots are expected to heavily favor Franken.

Al has won this thing. At this point it's just a matter of waiting out all the legal challenges and appeals.

Any time someone tells you "well, my vote just doesn't matter", point them towards this and say "yes it does, idiot." You don't know whether it'll be five thousand votes or just five votes. All you can do is do your part.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Six Billion in Bonuses for Seven Billion in Profits

If you hadn't already realized that the whole Wall Street mess was all about enriching the brokers and "analysts" that put Ameica into this mess, let me point you to Kos and the Times:

The five largest firms on the street handed out $120 billion in bonuses over a five year period -- more than the GDP of 150 nations.

Still, we are talking 2006. Those were the fat years, right?

In all, Merrill handed out $5 billion to $6 billion in bonuses that year. A 20-something analyst with a base salary of $130,000 collected a bonus of $250,000. And a 30-something trader with a $180,000 salary got $5 million.

But Merrill’s record earnings in 2006 — $7.5 billion — turned out to be a mirage. The company has since lost three times that amount, largely because the mortgage investments that supposedly had powered some of those profits plunged in value.

Unlike the earnings, however, the bonuses have not been reversed.

First, how astounding is it that an investment firm handed out $6 billion in bonuses on $7.5 billion in profits? It certainly shows where their priorities lay. And of course the "profit" was generated by enormously overvaluing derivatives, swaps, and bundled securities that were worth more in their fevered imaginations that in the real world. In other words, the reputable companies on Wall Street inflated their values ridiculously, paid themselves insane levels of bonuses based on the numbers they generated, left taxpayers holding the bag, and cried all the way to their multimillion dollar second or third homes.

The difference between what Bernard Madoff did and what the rest of Wall Street has done is little more than a question of semantics. Heck, at least most of Madoff's squandered billions went to paying off investors in his schemes.

Funny that the Republicans didn't stage a protest over the investment firms handing out enough bonuses that they could have covered most of the mortgages in foreclosure. But then, it's not like these guys were in a union and hauling down those fat $23 an hour paychecks.

And, more importantly, it's not like the Republicans' golf buddies, frat-mates, families and college chums were in those unions. While everybody's getting deservedly angry over the Rick Warren anti-gay kind of Republican, remember that there are only two kinds of Republican, and this is the other kind of Republican. They're also bastards, but for a completely different reason.

(Also remember that these guys and their aspirational suck-ups are the ones bleating about bootstraps and the market. Always remember that.)

Edit: Title fixed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama is Time's Person of the Year

Yeah, that was pretty much a given. Whether or not I agree with his cabinet choices—and I'm feeling a lot better about them these days after the Chu choice—his story was inarguably the most important single person's story of 2008.

Yes, the crash was probably a more important story, but then again, the crash also proved decisive in washing away any remaining fears about Obama's "communism". After all, if capitalism has failed so badly that Tom Friedman is starting to draw comparisons between Communist China and America where China comes off looking better, screaming about "pinkos" just isn't going to get much traction.

Obama rose from an also-ran candidate as of this time last year to the President-Elect of the United States of America, and did it by understanding its electoral machinery and national mood more completely than any candidate in living memory. One can only hope that he'll keep it up.

"a criminal enterprise launched by madmen cheered on by a chorus of fools and cowards"

Go Matthew!

I think it’s crucially important not to allow these positive sentiments about soldiers and marines to deteriorate into sentimentality about the mission they were undertaking in Iraq. The Iraqi people didn’t ask to be liberarted conquered and occupied by a foreign power that destroyed their country and then immediately set about meddling in Iraqi politics and until just a month or so ago was struggling mightily for the right to permanently station military forces on Iraqi soil contrary to the will of the Iraqi public. Not only did Iraqis not ask for such services, but nobody anywhere has ever asked for them.

The harsh reality is that this was not a noble undertaking done for good reasons. It was a criminal enterprise launched by madmen cheered on by a chorus of fools and cowards. And it’s seen as such by virtually everyone all around the world — including but by no means limited to the Arab world. But it’s impolitic to point this out in the United States, and it’s clear that even a president-elect who had the wisdom not to be suckered in by the War Fever of 2002 has no intention of really acting to marginalize the bad actors. Which, I think, makes sense for his political objectives. But if Americans want to play a constructive role in world affairs, it’s vitally important for us to get in touch with the reality of what the past eight years of US foreign policy have been and how they’re seen and understood by people who aren’t stirred by the shibboleths of American patriotism.
Bolding's mine. And, like Matthew, I'm extraordinarily concerned that nobody's trying to "marginalize the bad actors" for reasons that should be quickly obvious: If there are no consequences, they'll do it again, since the rewards for being on "the right side" were so handsome.

Hell, they still are. The biggest lesson I've learned from all of this--and it's a timeless one I should never have forgotten--is that being right is absolutely irrelevant. What matters is whether or not your position is popular. A position that's unpopular but correct will be marginalized; a position that is popular but incorrect will be apologized until the ends of time. Politics: it's the stereotypical high-school drama writ large.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

American Monarchy

Kos is peeved at Caroline Kennedy:

It's clear that a significant contingent on this site believes that Caroline Kennedy should be senator because her last name is "Kennedy", and because they "like her". It is unseemly that she's being considered for the seat simply because of her family lineage and her ability to pick up the phone and ring the governor, but pointing that out is "bashing Caroline". It's all ridiculous, and yes, depressing.

Because as much as people on this site and others fight for a more small "d" democratic political system, one that isn't so tilted in favor of the rich, famous, and connected, there will always be a significant majority that is desperate for an American monarchy and will discard notions of meritocracy to reward their favorite political dynasty.
The answer, I believe, is simpler than that.

People like familiarity. People are comfortable with familiarity. They prefer to be ruled by those they think they know instead of those they find alien. (Obama is a master at making people think they know him; he doesn't buck this at all.)

And who, honestly, is more familiar than a celebrity? People often know more about celebrities than those in their own lives. They're told news about them daily, know every detail about their habits, and they're features on the television, which has always been arbiter of what's important, significant, and acceptable among Americans. The stuff on television is more real than anything in the real world.

In these frightening times, it's quite understandable. Why wouldn't people be attracted to rule by familiar celebrity? Why not an American Monarchy that's knowable and predictable?

Even if you don't agree with it, it's not a complicated concept.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Wee Bit of a Folllowup

I made fun of Andrew Coyne over on Macleans for some ridiculous market fundamentalist hypocrisy, and since posting links there is always a bit tricky, I'll put my confirmatory sources here in a reprint with links attached:

Deficit financing? During a recession?


That sounds like Keynesianism, and that man Keynes was not only a communist but a sissy besides! Rock-ribbed (small-l) libertarians like Coyne will not stand for this! Especially considering Coyne has demonstrated that he can go it alone, without any intervention by the goverm…

[frantic whispering]

what’s that?

[more whispering]

Coyne regularly appears on government-financed public television, and edits a magazine that as, of 2006-2007, received $3.1 million from the “Publications Assistance Program” and $400,000 from the “Support for Editorial Content” component of the Canada Magazine Fund?

And also benefits from all the spending the government does on keeping foreign publications out and piracy prevention?

[confirmatory whisper]

Whoops. Er, never mind then.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Auto Bailout Fails in Senate

I think, honestly, that the Dems should start raising the question of the "nuclear option." The Republicans' obstinacy is harming the entire country. Especially because they're using that ridiculous "$69 per hour" dodge that lumps together American auto companies' obligations to pensioners in with current salaries.

It smacks of a ploy to try to screw pensioners out of their money- certainly in line with that bunch, but still odious enough to make me wonder if the filibuster is a luxury the times cannot afford.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Outliers is Amazing

It's also tragically depressing, since it shows just where the advantages for "outliers" actually come from, and it's not something they're born with.

More later, perhaps, but I'd definitely recommend it. In a great way it's even changed how I think about politics and economics, far more so than anything else Gladwell has written.

So Much For Democracy

Without a single delegate or member vote cast.

Without a single public debate.

Without a word about what he's supposed to do.

Without anything even approaching a platform.

Without any explanation given about what "moving to the center" is supposed to mean.

That's how he won.

Were the Democrats to have gone through a similar exercise, they would have nominated Hillary. And they would have lost.

I wish the Canadian Liberals all the best. But I no longer am convinced they're worth my time. I had fixed on them because I had thought that they were the last bastion of honest-to-goodness liberal democratic thought and belief in the west, without its tainting by "I got mine, Jack" market fundamentalism in Australia or Europe and its association with communism in America. Instead, it appears that they are, if anything, just like the Liberal Democrats in Japan: a party of power and privilege that pays lip service to democracy; and not even that to their grassroots.

I hope, for Canada's sake and liberalism's sake, that I'm wrong about this choice of an arch-supporter of torture, adventurism, and abandonment of progressive and liberal principles in the name of a fanciful "move to the center".

But I don't expect to be.

Good luck. Eh.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Drama in Canada Appears Over

With Parliament prorogued (put on hold) until the new year, PM Stephen Harper's job is saved for the time being. And perhaps longer than that. There are already rumors and whispers that the Liberals are going to crack apart over the thing, especially considering the dubious quality of Stephane Dion's response speech yesterday.

(Nobody on his staff, apparently, had access to a broadcast-quality camera. So he ended up putting out what amounted to a YouTube video.)

I don't think this is good, but I sympathize with Canada's governor general, Michaelle Jean, who was put in an impossible situation over this. She may have made the only choice available to her, and it's the job of the opposition to make Harper wear it.

I do think, though, that the Liberals are missing something. Whether or not any individual Liberal supports the Coalition or not, they're all going to wear it on election day. Paul Martin showed that you can't distance yourself from your party's past, so I'm shocked that Michael Ignatieff is making obvious moves to distance himself from this situation. It won't help him win over angry Conservatives, and it certainly won't bolster his already-poor reputation among Canadian progressives. It's political gibberish.

(Well, fine, political gibberish from Ignatieff isn't exactly "shocking" per se.)

Oh, and speaking of gibberish, check out Bloggin' Tory Stephen Taylor over at Macleans. Their site was one of the better places for discussion of Canadian politics, since the Globe requires a ream of personal information, the Star is dull as dishwater, the CBC plays host to roaming packs of howler monkeys and the National Post's commentariat are just mad.

But, as is usually the case, a magazine has brought some bleating conservative idiot on board, and now he'll ruin everything.

Ah well, I'll just go back to complaining about Obama's cabinet picks.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Less Happy About the Clinton Nomination

I still don't get it. She was pretty much rejected because of her foreign policy positions. So, of all the possible positions she gets...Secretary of State? Sure, I can bringing her in, but it remains a ludicrous choice that isn't going to help America's relations much.

It'll be Dion

Looks like the Liberals have figured out where they're going. Dion will be PM, not Ignatieff.

I'd still say this was pretty inevitable. Neither Rae nor Ignatieff nor LeBlanc (nor any other potential leadership contender, and there may be several now that 24 Sussex is the prize) could possibly grant the other one the massive advantage that would be de-facto incumbency.

Dion was the only sensible choice. And I still suspect that he won't actually be a bad one.

Now THIS Appointment, I Likes

Wee bit dated, but Obama's appointing prominent Net Neutrality advocates to his FCC review team.

The Obama-Biden transition team on Friday named two long-time net neutrality advocates to head up its Federal Communications Commission Review team.
Susan Crawford, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, and Kevin Werbach, a former FCC staffer, organizer of the annual tech conference Supernova, and a Wharton professor, will lead the Obama-Biden transition team's review of the FCC.

Both are highly-regarded outside-the-Beltway experts in telecom policy, and they've both been pretty harsh critics of the Bush administration's telecom policies in the past year.

Their jobs will be to review the agency and arm the president, vice president and prospective agency leader with all the information needed to make key decisions as they prepare to take over.

The choice of the duo strongly signals an entirely different approach to the incumbent-friendly telecom policymaking that's characterized most of the past eight-years at the FCC.

This March at a telecom policy conference in Hollywood, for example, Crawford bluntly told Ambassador Richard Russell, the White House' associate director on science and technology policy, that he lived in a fantasyland when he asserted that the United States' roll-out of broadband is going well.

"I think it's magical thinking to imagine that we're somehow doing fine here, and I just want to make sure that we recognize that even the [International Telecommunications Union] says that between 1999 and 2006 we skipped form third to 20th place in penetration," she noted acidly at the annual Tech Policy Summit, a gathering of top officials in the world of tech policy (of which Wired.com was a participant and sponsor.)

"We're not doing at all well for reasons that mostly have to do with the fact that we failed to have a US industrial policy pushing forward high-speed internet access penetration, and there's been completely inadequate competition in this country for high speed internet access," she said.

And in a final introductory statement during her talk (that's likely to send shivers down the spines of telecom company executives) she said that she believes internet access is a "utility."

"This is like water, electricity, sewage systems: Something that each and all Americans need to succeed in the modern era. We're doing very badly, and we're in a dismal state," she said at the time.
Now that last comment really, really speaks to me. Internet access is absolutely needed to succeed, and is as much a utility as anything.


Well now, this is even more interesting. Although Rae figures have denied it (and why wouldn't they?) the current hot rumor is that Count Ignatieff will be crowned, Bob Rae will step aside for a courtier position, and who knows what happens to Stephane.

I have serious, serious reservations about the man, particularly his foreign policy. I think his torture-as-astrology justification for "coercive interrogation" is naive, and his attitude towards Iraq critics insulting. His gaffe on Lebanon said more than he admits, and I can understand why Ukrainians did their level best to keep him from getting his seat in the first place.

But on the worst issue—his insistence that the party should be dragged to the right—he would now find himself in an intensely difficult situation. After all, the Liberals would be part of a left coalition, which means he couldn't drag the party to the right lest he face the whole thing falling apart on his watch. If anything, he'd have to swallow his pride and watch as the locus of power shifted to the left. And as his foreign policy would be subject to a veto by Social Democrats, of all things, he would be forced to stifle any and every tendency towards torture apologias, foreign adventurism, and neoliberal excess. He'd also need to squelch that imperious attitude, as it wouldn't wear well with the coalition partners.

In short, he'd have to give up pretty much everything that I find objectionable about the man, as he grins and bears the weight of a coalition that really has nothing to do with the positions of Iggy-the-author and Iggy-the-campaigner.

I could work with that.

Edit: On the other hand, I'm becoming more and more convinced that he's holding the entire deal hostage because he can't countenance the idea of Dion becoming PM. Which makes sense, considering his faction's behavior, but I can't imagine anybody would give a tinker's damn for his chances were he the guy that kept the Liberals away from forming a government out of his own pique, and left them to the tender mercies of "kick 'em while they're down" Harper.

The Coalition is Official

Well, well, well. Guess it's on after all.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Is It Over?

I've seen several comments in various places wondering if—if the Conservatives ratchet up the stimulus—the whole "opposition deal" thing is off.

It may be. The opposition wouldn't necessarily have a lot to stand on, depending on how badly the Conservatives cave. They might decide that they can't defend their decision to the Canadian people.

But it shouldn't be. Let's be clear: if Harper stays in power, he will kill the subsidies. He'll make it a confidence motion, waiting just long enough to ensure that the GG has no choice but to call an election. He'll follow that up with a brace of conservative bills, all confidence motions, as he takes advantage of the financial disarray on the part of his opponents.

Meanwhile, Harper's as weak as he's ever been. The illusion of mastery is gone, and so is his ironclad grip on his party. Already some are taking advantage of it; others will follow. And now that it's gone, it's never coming back. People aren't going to forget his incredible miscue, and will refer back to it whenever he does anything remotely controversial in the future. He'll need the advantage that that subsidy gives him, because his other advantages are pretty much gone. He'll have crippled the opposition, but he'll end up at war with his own party.

And you know that? That doesn't sound like any more stable a government than a cobbled-together caretaker Dion government would be. So they might as well go forward.

A Part of the Game That Harper's Playing

In case you were wondering, he's probably banking on the Liberals falling apart as much as anything else.

As the week goes on, the "our faction at all cost" forces within the party are going to get rowdier and rowdier at the thought of either Dion or The Other Guy taking the lead. And, in turn, as things get rowdier, they're going to start pushing harder and harder for Their Guy to take the helm. Which is going to make the Other Side push Their Guy, and so on, and so forth.

The solution was, and is simple: Let Dion do it, with the understanding that he won't act without the consent of his caucus. He is neither Iggy's man, nor Rae's man, and isn't even likely to stay in politics after this is all over. He is, thus, the perfect caretaker here. Especially if the Coalition is waiting out Harper's replacement.

Though, if you think about it, that makes things a bit different. Part of the reason the leadership race was this Rae/Iggy affair was that they were both anxious to deal with Harper. If Harper's out the window, though, and the Conservatives are embroiled in their own leadership battle, the Liberals will likely see much more fertile ground. And, in turn, the Conservatives will no longer look like the staid, stable party that they professed to be under Steve-o. They'd be as chaotic as the Liberals, maybe even more so.

Canada could end up as changed by the middle of next year as America will.

Even More Talking Points!

This? This right here? This is hilarious.

Hey, this is kind of fun.

I don’t have time to go through all the other regions, but commenters are encouraged to type in their postal code to find out exactly what Doug Finley wants outraged Conservatives to say when calling up talk radio shows in their respective regions. Feel free to paste the results in the comments, too — let’s see whether they’ve had time to give a lovingly targeted Muttartian massage to the message in different parts of the country, or are relying on quick and dirty boilerplate shock and horror.

UPDATE: Aw, poor Tory MPs. They’re stuck with the same talking points, according to the super-urgent-top-priority-all-hands-on-deck Giornogram dispatched to caucus on Friday, which was - gosh, this isn’t a good sign, guys - promptly leaked to the Globe and Mail. Oh, unless this is one of those Doug Finley double-reverse mind tricks, where he actually wants his party’s footsoldiers to look like they’re incapable of coming up with their own words to express their fury.

As noted in an earlier post, Montreal Gazette reporter Elizabeth Thompson has the Montreal hotlist, and here’s what I got when I plugged in my downtown Ottawa coordinates:

Opposition lacks mandate to take power

  • Is anyone else outraged by what the Opposition Parties are doing in Ottawa?
  • We’re not even two months removed from the last election, and a group of backroom politicians are going to pick who the Prime Minister is. Canadians didn’t vote for this person. We don’t even know who this person will be.
  • Not a single voter voted for a Liberal-NDP coalition. Certainly not a single voter voted for the Liberals to form a coalition with the separatists in the Bloc.

  • Add – what’s worse the Liberals even promised that there wouldn’t be a coalition with the NDP – this is all about power, all about money and they don’t even want to face the voters
  • This is what bothers me the most. The Conservatives won the election. The Opposition keeps saying that the Conservatives have to respect the will of the voters that this is a minority and so on.
  • …how about Liberals, NDP and Bloc respecting the will of the voters when they said “YOU LOSE”.
  • And what’s this going to do to the economy. I’m sorry, I don’t care how desperate the Liberals are – giving socialists (Jack Layton) and separatists (Gilles Duceppe) a veto over every decision in government – that is a recipe for total economic disaster.
  • Here is what is bothering me about all of this backroom opposition coalition talk.
  • Sure it bothers me that parties Canadian rejected are trying to seize power through the back door.
  • But how more phony could these guys be?
  • I mean, I follow the news, virtually every single day you have Harper or Flaherty out there telegraphing exactly what they plan to do with the economy. And not once did you hear the Liberals, NDP or separatists talking about toppling the government in response.
  • No – do you know what set this off. When Flaherty said he was going to take taxpayer-funded subsidies away from the opposition. Now there is a reason to try and overturn an election– because the Conservatives the audacity to say “Hey, it’s a recession, maybe you should take your nose out of the trough.”
  • And I wish the media would be more clear on this point – the opposition aren’t being singled out by this fact the Conservatives stand to lose the most money of all. The only difference is that Canadians are voluntarily giving money the Conservatives, so they don’t need taxpayer handouts. The only reason the opposition would be hurt more is because nobody wants to donate to them. They should be putting their efforts towards fixing that problem.
  • I don’t want another election. But what I want even less is a surprise backroom Prime Minister whom I never even had the opportunity to vote for or against. What an insult to democracy.

So there you go. Lots of delicious talking points. And, for those Canadians who might be reading, the site in question gives you radio shows for you to call and repeat them!

So, if any of you were thinking about calling and, say, letting these guys know that the Conservative Party of Canada thinks they're such suckers that they'd get played by a bunch of internet yahoos with talking points...

Saturday, November 29, 2008

More Talking Points!

Here's what the Tories will be saying:
The email includes exact sound bites MPs and their supporters should use when giving interviews, including:

1) "We're not even two months removed from the last election, and a group of backroom politicians are going to pick who the Prime Minister is. Canadians didn't vote for this person. We don't even know who this person will be."

2) "And what's this going to do with the economy. I'm sorry, I don't care how desperate the Liberals are - giving socialists (Jack Layton) and separatists (Gilles Duceppe) a veto over every decision in government - that is a recipe for total economic disaster."

3) "I don't want another election. But what I want even less is a surprise backroom Prime Minister whom I never even had the opportunity to vote for or against. What an insult to democracy."
So now you know.

Counterpoints in order:
1) "A progressive coalition would represent a majority of ridings and a near super-majority of voters. It is what the voters chose. It is time we respected that choice."

2)"Harper already needs the votes of socialists or seperatists to govern, unless he's prepared to enter coalition with the Liberals. He wants to govern for the interests of his right-wing donor base, not Canadians. THAT is an economic disaster."

3)"Canadians already returned a progressive majority to the House. Harper has no mandate to govern as if he has a majority, and clearly only cares about his ideology and right-wing base. Minority rule is not democratic."


Hey, Libs/NDPers/BQs, You Wanna Talking Point?

Just came up with it:

"A progressive coalition would represent a majority of ridings and a near super-majority of voters. It is what the voters chose. It is time we respected that choice.”

You're welcome.

The Laschelles Principles

Over on CalGrit's ("terribly interesting") blog, Jason Townsend made a profound point: the events in Canada have been anticipated by the so-called "Lascelles Principles".

Here's the salient bit from the Wikipedia entry:

The Lascelles Principles are notable in that their formal statement was not incorporated in any governmental document, but rather was in the form of a letter to the editor of The Times by Sir Alan Lascelles, writing under the pseudonym "Senex", published on 2 May 1950:

To the Editor of The Times

Sir,—It is surely indisputable (and common sense) that a Prime Minister may ask—not demand—that his Sovereign will grant him a dissolution of Parliament; and that the Sovereign, if he so chooses, may refuse to grant this request. The problem of such a choice is entirely personal to the Sovereign, though he is, of course, free to seek informal advice from anybody whom he thinks fit to consult.

In so far as this matter can be publicly discussed, it can be properly assumed that no wise Sovereign—that is, one who has at heart the true interest of the country, the constitution, and the Monarchy—would deny a dissolution to his Prime Minister unless he were satisfied that: (1) the existing Parliament was still vital, viable, and capable of doing its job; (2) a General Election would be detrimental to the national economy; (3) he could rely on finding another Prime Minister who could carry on his Government, for a reasonable period, with a working majority in the House of Commons. When Sir Patrick Duncan refused a dissolution to his Prime Minister in South Africa in 1939, all these conditions were satisfied: when Lord Byng did the same in Canada in 1926, they appeared to be, but in the event the third proved illusory.

I am, &c.,


April 29.

First, a fellow pseud!

Second, the second point hits home. The wiki piece calls it "dropped from the canon", but there's a real argument to be made that Canada cannot afford another election. If it can't, and another government is in the offing, why not let them take a shot at it? It's not a "coup"—Paliament is still supreme and the House itself goes on—and it might be the only way of creating a government stable enough to last, since Harper is clearly willing to have as many elections as he can get away with.

Let's be honest. Mumbai is far more important in the broader scheme of things. But this Canadian thing is gripping; and it's only likely to get better.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Wells and the Mission

He accurately predicted what the Canadian Internet is already starting to experience: absolute FLOODS of wingnuts mindlessly rewriting their rote talking points over, and over and over....

It's actually happening in the very entry he made the prediction in!

That's why Harper has pushed the "opposition day" (where the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc can put forward their own bills and motions) back a week. He's counting on his machine to save his bacon, both online and offline.

The job of progressives, no matter what party you belong to, is to prevent him from doing it. Libloggers, Bloggin' Dippers, Bloquists of all stripes, that is your mission. Fight them at every turn, rebut them at every opportunity, and mock the HELL out of them when four or five show up saying the same damned things using different words.

Make no mistake: his job is on the line here. If he loses government for even a few months, his own caucus will devour him. He'll be finished. And if he's finished, his party will be completely listless. They have nobody else with his political skill and talent in caucus. Those that aren't idiots are dullards that make Harper himself look like a charismatic dynamo.

His attempt to finish you—and make no mistake, he is trying to bankrupt your parties, ALL of them, and force his ideology down your people's throat—may finish him.

But only if you act.

Holy Crap, They're Doing It

The Canadian Liberals are going to bring down the government 48 days after the election.

The federal Liberals plan to bring down the Conservative government in a confidence motion on Monday, saying they have a viable alternative, the Canadian Press reported Friday.

But Harper could still avert the immediate defeat of his minority government, re-elected six weeks ago, through procedural tactics.

According to the Canadian Press, the Liberal motion, which has the approval of the NDP and Bloc Québécois, reads:

"In light of the government's failure to recognize the seriousness of Canada's economic situation and its failure in particular to present any credible plan to stimulate the Canadian economy and to help workers and businesses in hard-pressed sectors such as manufacturing, the automotive industry and forestry, this House has lost confidence in this government and is of the opinion that a viable alternative government can be formed within the present House of Commons."

A source says the opposition parties have agreed that Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion would lead the government for the next few months.
American readers may not get the big deal; Canadians will realize that this is historic. Maybe not as much as "first black President", but historic nontheless.

Free Advice for the Liberals

If the vote thing should come up again?

Just say something like this:

"In the last election, even if your chosen candidate didn't win, you still had a voice. That's because the party you voted for receives two dollars a year for every vote it gets. Win or lose, you make a real monetary difference. Win or lose, they have to pay attention to your issues. VOTER'S issues.

But Harper wants to take that voice away. He wants to return to a government where the highest bidders get listened to, and your issues get ignored. One where the wealthy call the shots and the voters get ignored, because the majority of votes don't make a difference.

Tell Harper that you think he's wrong, and let's preserve the voters' voice."

It's a little rough, but the point is that this public financing scheme is actually rather elegant; it ensures that parties have a real incentive to get votes, even in ridings where they aren't going to win. It would be at the heart of any real "308 riding" strategy, and would be a massive incentive for turnout if they bothered to highlight it. It's an additional voice for voters, and that's a GOOD thing. (No matter how Coyne may whine that the Liberals aren't scaring people into direct-mail donations like the Conservatives do.)

If you tell people that it's party welfare or an "entitlement", they might not buy it. But that's not what it is. It's a way of ensuring that every vote counts. And I'm sure that if you tell people that that's what it is, they'll think it's worth defending.

Three Nation Roundup

In America, it's thanksgiving. Obama has a thanksgiving address, and it's pretty good. Krugman has a column, though, and it's better:
A few months ago I found myself at a meeting of economists and finance officials, discussing — what else? — the crisis. There was a lot of soul-searching going on. One senior policy maker asked, “Why didn’t we see this coming?”

There was, of course, only one thing to say in reply, so I said it: “What do you mean ‘we,’ white man?
The moaning about "how it wasn't predicted" does have a point though:
Now we’re in the midst of another crisis, the worst since the 1930s. For the moment, all eyes are on the immediate response to that crisis. Will the Fed’s ever more aggressive efforts to unfreeze the credit markets finally start getting somewhere? Will the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus turn output and employment around? (I’m still not sure, by the way, whether the economic team is thinking big enough.)

And because we’re all so worried about the current crisis, it’s hard to focus on the longer-term issues — on reining in our out-of-control financial system, so as to prevent or at least limit the next crisis. Yet the experience of the last decade suggests that we should be worrying about financial reform, above all regulating the “shadow banking system” at the heart of the current mess, sooner rather than later.

For once the economy is on the road to recovery, the wheeler-dealers will be making easy money again — and will lobby hard against anyone who tries to limit their bottom lines. Moreover, the success of recovery efforts will come to seem preordained, even though it wasn’t, and the urgency of action will be lost.

So here’s my plea: even though the incoming administration’s agenda is already very full, it should not put off financial reform. The time to start preventing the next crisis is now.

Not much more to add to that. Never mind the guys bailing out of their mess now: what everybody should be worry about is the guys who are setting up for the NEXT mess to bail out of.

In Canada, the Government is apparently backing down on its pledge to gut public financing in the face of an opposition drive to defeat the Conservatives and cobble together a three-party coalition government. (Well, two-party and one extra, the Bloc strikes me as uninterested in cabinet seats.)

The funny part is that the opposition might well do it ANYWAY. Why? Because their concern that the Canadian mini-budget contains no stimulus isn't just a cover, it's real. And, yes, it is valid: Harper appears to have had the brilliant idea of capping government spending during a recession, while not providing any real stimulus.

Now, unless his actual goal is to cut energy costs by harnessing all of Canada's electricity from Keynes' furiously spinning corpse, this is ridiculously stupid. It's out of line with the entire western world. Yes, Canada's system has helped shield it from the crises, but it's not going to be shielded from the effects. Stimulus will be necessary just to help Canada through America's tough times; and that must include any and every bit of government spending that might be necessary. Carving up the budget to please your idiot base can wait.

And in India, well... you already know. My first reaction was "spraying crowds with guns? They're disciplined, but that smacks of weak logistic capabilities." Obviously I was wrong there. This was a big, big deal. I'm not thinking it was Al Qaeda, the signature is all wrong, but could it actually be connected to the Pakistani government? I'm not sure.

Kos has a nice omnibus thread on it, and links to two other sources: Nataraj's Kos diary and Barcepundit's blog. Nataraj says that it's an old group:

Looks like most of the terrorists came from Pakistan. They are said to belong to LeT (Lushkar - e - Taiba) an old terrorist outfit that has been involved in high profile terrorist attacks on India in the past. Some experts are saying direct Al Qaida involvement is likely. The name of Deccan Mujahideen is a red herring - as none of the terrorists speak with a southern accent - they speak with a Punjabi Accent.

There were certainly some local accomplices. Some others are beleived to be British citizens.

The captured terrorists are from Firodkot near Multan in Punjab (Pakistan). They were highly trained and belong to the "suidcide" group of LeT....

...but admits it's somewhat speculative, and Nataraj appears to be no great fan of Pakistan (or, um, liberalism), so take it with a big grain of salt.

And here's Juan Cole's take, where he noted something a bit alarming:

CNN is reporting that two of the terrorists may have been Britons of South Asian heritage (about half of UK Muslims are originally from Kashmir). If true, that datum would make sense of some of the tactics used in Mumbai (concentration on Americans, British and Israelis or Jews), since many young British Muslims view Anglo-American actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as a genocide against Muslims, and Israeli actions in Gaza and the West Bank as a slow genocide against Palestinians. In their fevered imagination, Hindu India is an ally in this generalized persecution of a harmless and righteous community.

In fact, the ruling Congress Party generally attracts the Muslim vote and in turn New Delhi does favors for the Muslims.

My suspicion is that a US withdrawal from Iraq will lead to fewer such incidents (The Iraq War was cited by the perpetrators of the bombings in Madrid and 7/7 in London, and it is probably implicated in this one too. Fallujah is a rallying cry).
Britons were involved in this? Hoo boy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

This is Better

Eugene Forsey Liberal Sez:

We Liberals & the other parties have no option but to oppose the Cons' cynical move on election financing, or sign our own death warrants. Should the government be defeated on a confidence motion, so soon after the last election, the GG would have to ask the 2nd party, the LPC, if they could command the confidence of the House. I think we could. Failing that, better to fight yet another Con-provoked election now, with their previous economic lies & mismanagement exposed, rather than allow ourselves to be bled to death before the next election. The Cons have two choices: back down or risk losing power. We & the other parties have no choice, we simply can't back down. No-one wants an election, but better one now, on a level playing field, rather than one later on a severely inclined pitch. Whatever the result, better we resolve ourselves to go with a bang rather than a whimper.
It's clearly, clearly the case that the Conservatives want to put the Liberals between a rock and a hard place.

On the one hand, they cannot allow this bill to pass. CANNOT. Regardless of its merits, it would be crippling to the opposition, who had built their fundraising and financing strategies on this subsidy. They would likely not recover, and Canada would have Conservative rule for decades, perhaps, unless and until the left recovers and reorganizes. The NDP, Greens, and BQ can't support it either. The BQ and Greens quite literally face annihilation without public financing, and the NDP isn't doing so well that they could recover.

(It may not be the same Canada. The deliberate throttling of the BQ would likely inflame Quebec nationalists. It's one thing for the BQ to be seen as somewhat irrelevant, it's entirely enough to watch it get choked to death by the Calgary Mob.)

On the other hand, they cannot go to another election. They can't afford it, the Liberals don't even have a leader yet (oh, was THAT a great decision!) and the NDP are in dire financial straits themselves, considering they spent to the max in the last election and their core givers are likely in no position to give.

So there's this other option: go to the GG and create a Bloc/NDP/Liberal coalition. Would it be rickety? Hell yes. More so than most things you see out of Israel or Italy. And there's a good question about whether or not the Liberal party as a whole would even want it; Dion-as-PM might actually be a big success, he might change his mind about running again, and all of a sudden Ignatieff isn't looking so hot.

(Rae would be in a different position, as he's a bit more likely to produce policies the NDP and Bloc would like, but the NDP thinks him a traitor and the Iggy crew control most of the party apparatus. Which is one of the reasons Dion was so paranoid and distrustful in the first place.)

This cannot pass. It's profoundly undemocratic for a sitting government to change the electoral rules to benefit itself so completely. But the question of how to respond is one that the Liberals, NDP and Bloquists are going to need to carefully consider. And right now, I'm wondering if they should be talking about that coalition. To hell with "moving to the center." A left coalition might be the only thing that saves them now.

This is When Bloggers Piss Me Off



Jesus wept, you call yourself a Liberal and a progressive and you just say"hmm wow isn't this brilliant and INTERESTING?"

No wonder they got their asses kicked. Never mind that Liberals clearly appear far more interested in fighting leadership battles (with or without an actual "leader" to pretend loyalty to) than actually winning elections or forming an effective opposition. Though that's obvious enough.

But when the Prime Minister of Canada makes a move to bankrupt his opposition by taking away the public financing that was the backbone of the Canadian system, without opening up fundraising to replace it, because he's comfortable with HIS war chest of oil dollars...

...you just call it "interesting"?

It's cut-throat, it's conniving, it's Machiavellian, it's underhanded. It's being done for no reason other than crass political gains.

And it's absolutely brilliant politics. Absolutely brilliant.

Symbolic cuts to politicians' perks, temporary relief for pension plans and a political grenade – ending the $30-million public subsidy to parties – are expected highlights of Thursday federal economic statement.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will ask the five political parties to give up the $1.95-per-vote subsidy that parties need to pay for staff and expenses.

Right after the election. Dressed up in the cloak of self-sacrifice during tough economic times. Bundled with MP pay cuts and a slew of other symbolic, and popular, moves.

How can the opposition vote against it? Then again, given the stakes, how can they not?

No. They didn't. They just got fucking nauseating. This is third world stuff. Robert Mugabe would pull this. Even Obama, when he bailed out of public financing, didn't breath a word about getting rid of public financing, and nor has he said anything along those lines. (He did question whether McCain qualified; he never questioned the legitimacy of his funding.)

Don't be a dispassionate observer. Sorry, bud, you're CALGRIT, you're kind of caught up in the game, you can't be a dispassionate observer. And nor should you be even if you weren't in the game; I'm no Liberal organizer, I'm just a pseudonym, and even I think this is absolutely odious.

Does it bother you? Does it make you upset? Does the prospect of a conservative boot stamping on progressive necks forever trouble you in any way?


Then SAY it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hilarious Irony Day!

Thomas Friedman: "overrated dopes who had no idea what they were selling, or greedy cynics who did know and turned a blind eye."

No, you're wrong. He's actually referring to bankers. Why you might have thought otherwise about the man is totally beyond me.

(Though, if other issues end up being reflected in this banking debacle, said dopes and cynics will end up in plush think-tank positions, New York Times sinecures, and nestled in the banker's equivalent of Obama's national security apparatus .)

(Albeit perhaps not CIA director.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Health Care

Ezra makes a good point on Obama's appointments: that a lot of them seem tailored to the idea that health care needs to be fixed.

Latest evidence? Peter Orszag at OMB:

Orszag will be coming from the Congressional Budget Office, OMB's legislative cousin. There, he's shown an almost single-minded focus on health care reform. He's added dozens of health care analysts to the staff, reconstructed the health policy division's management structure, and is readying to release two major books on health policy options and CBO's health care scoring models that will be extremely central in how Congress looks at building a health care bill. Amidst all that, he's toured the country giving a slide show about the problems of the health care system, the overwhelming danger it poses to our fiscal condition, the incredible inefficiencies that beset the delivery, and the research that suggests reform could not only save money but also improve care. He's also acted as a powerful and credible counterweight to those who counsel incrementalism, or delay, on health reform. Indeed, when it became common to suggest that the bank bailout should displace ambitious agenda items like health care reform, Orszag took to his blog -- yes, he has a blog, did I mention that? -- to write:

Many observers have noted that addressing the problems in financial markets and the risks to the economy may displace health care reform on the policy agenda...Although it may not seem immediately relevant given our current difficulties, it will be crucial to address the nation’s looming fiscal gap — which is driven primarily by rising health care costs — as the economy eventually recovers from this current downturn. Indeed, our ability to address our current economic difficulties (through both financial market interventions and potential additional fiscal stimulus) would be severely impaired if investors were not so willing to invest substantial sums in Treasury securities without charging much higher interest rates. That willingness reflects the (currently accurate) view among investors that Treasury securities are extremely safe investments.

If we fail to put the nation on a sounder fiscal course over the next few decades, though, we will ultimately reach a point where investors would lose confidence and no longer be as willing to purchase Treasury debt at anything but exorbitant interest rates. If that were to occur, we would lack the kind of maneuvering room that we currently enjoy to address problems in the financial markets and the economy. So if you think the current economic crisis is serious, and it is, imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have the ability to undertake aggressive and innovative policy interventions because creditors were effectively unwilling to lend substantial additional sums to the Federal government…

In other words, one of Obama's top economic advisers will be an economist who has clearly stated that he thinks health care reform central to our fiscal future, who has said that he considers delay or denial a dangerous impulse, and who has proven himself willing to leverage his position and agency to argue that position. That's important, as it assures that there will be voices around Obama arguing that health care is more than simply another item on the lengthy liberal wish list.
Obama talked a lot about eliminating "programs that don't work", which would normally be worrisome. But I did like the example he used: huge subsidies for "millionaire farmers" that make more than $2.5 million a year, which is supposed to be the cutoff for said subsidies.

I also like that Obama out-and-out said "I have a mandate." He didn't say "progressive mandate", and I still think he really, really doesn't understand just how badly the Republicans want to ruin him, and how much it would benefit them if they managed to succeed. Still, it's definitely a positive step.

Edit: On the other hand...

Drop down a tier, as Yochi Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal wrote last week, and you find the Obama transition people using a little known think-tank, the Center for a New American Security (CNSA), as a "top farm team" to stock its national security shelves. The founders of the center are -- don't be shocked now -- former Clinton administration officials providing yet more "centrists" to an administration that seems to believe the essence of "experience" is having been in Washington between 1992 and 2000. CNAS, by the way, is officially against a fixed timeline for withdrawal from Iraq. In that, it seems typical of the coalescing national security team, almost none of whom, so far, opposed the invasion of Iraq (other than the president-elect). Having been anti-war is evidently a sign of inexperience and so a negative.
Bolding mine, and the sentiment expressed is depressingly predictable.

I think we're seeing the shape of things: domestically, there will be real change, since Obama appears hell-bent on getting health care reform done and is facing a crisis that conservative ideology would only make worse. Internationally, though, it feels like a party and electorate that decisively rejected the "foreign policy community" are still having it rammed down their throats. Which is ridiculous, considering how Obama distinguished himself, and is only going to further increase alienation between Americans and "their" official foreign policy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Worthwhile Fight

So I raised a bit of a ruckus yesterday over in the Kosoverse over the Lieberman thing. Good times, and it was definitely the place to be when reading reacts to the netroots getting potentially thrown under the rhetorical bus. I suggested that the only way to ensure that the grassroots are taken seriously is to not always fall in line, but to serve notice that their help cannot always be taken for granted.

I specifically mentioned Georgia; since the Dems are desperate to win that seat now that Alaska and Minnesota look pretty positive and Lieberman is keeping his gavel, the netroots could make the point that they want to see some progressive change or those lovely online dollars and vigorous phonebanking would dry up. It, well, "provoked some controversy".

Thing is, I don't think Martin should get the short shrift for this; but I understand that the Dems are only going to listen if pressure is applied where they'll actually feel it.

But as usual, digby points to more useful fights.

Matt Stoller wrote a piece yesterday about the fight over the Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship between John Dingell and Henry Waxman and he points out that the outcome of this is probably far more important to a progressive agenda than all this sturm and drang about Lieberman and he's right. Waxman is an effective, green progressive and he knows how to get things done. Dingel is an elder who is discredited by his relationship with the auto industry and the NRA. If pragmatic change rather than milquetoast status quo bipartisanship is what people voted for, this is where the action is.

Stoller lays out all the strange political machinations, with the fight over seniority (as this article in The Hill.) It's complicated, petty politics (which should be something the netroots should be good at participating in.) He concludes:
No one really has any idea how the votes will play out, but I am surprised that the blogs have taken so little interest in this fight. The 2008 freshmen are being absorbed into the House quagmire without any protest from our quarters, or even requests that they actually take a position to help a progressive chair one of the most important committees in Congress, the one that regulates climate change, media policy, net neutrality, and trade.
Waxman is the right guy to be in charge of these things as we deal with this economic/energy crisis. Whatever threats there may or may not be to the seniority system by putting Waxman in charge pale in comparison to the necessity to have the House working properly on these issues.
The seniority system is, to a certain extent, what's at fault here. Lieberman kept both his job and his committee chairmanship not because he's either a good Democrat or a good Republican—or even a good centrist—but because as an old-line Senator their loyalty to him was greater than their loyalty to either their party or their ethics. The newer Senators wanted him out, the older Senators wanted him to stay. The latter won.

So if the netroots has a chance to make a difference on that front in the House, why wouldn't they? Yes, Lieberman is a more accessible, simpler villain here, but perhaps the refocus isn't a bad idea. The key is to have progressive appointments, and if Waxman promises to be one, so much the better.

It helps weaken incumbency advantages, too. Yes, incumbency advantages might sound good right now, considering where the Dems are. But the primary battles that will be necessary to unseat (or at least unsettle) the Blue Dogs aren't going to happen if incumbency advantages scare off potential challengers. Besides, Republicans have a lot of tools that can overcome these advantages. They can get around it. Dems can't. So they're probably better off levelling the field a bit.

So call your Congressional Rep (if you're an American reader and have one; Brits, Canadians, Mexicans and whoever else probably don't) and let them know where you stand.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Yep, He Kept It

The message this sends is simple: feel free to skew as far right as you want; you can only ever be punished in the village for being too far left.

Two words, kiddies:


Liebernan's Likely to Keep His Chairmanship

This means that the netroots have some work to do. They've pushed people over the top, and fundraised for Obama; now they have to make it clear that if they're ignored, they're going to subject the party to bruising primary fights.

Obama's been making plenty of concessions to the right, and that's because they have the ability to make his job difficult, if not impossible. (They will anyway, but he clearly doesn't believe that. Yet.) The reason why he hasn't been making concessions to progressives is because he clearly doesn't believe they can make his job difficult.

And I hate to say it, because of the popularity of the man, but that's not doing anybody any good. He needs to be shown he can't ignore the people who were right about Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy and the Republicans.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Saving GM?

Tom Laskawy, courtesy of Ezra, makes a convincing case for helping GM.

The Chevy Volt, by the way, is a huge deal. Not only will it be the world's first commercially-produced plug-in hybrid, but it will use a lithium-ion battery. Today's hybrid's use nickel batteries. Nickel mining is highly competitive with coal as the worst, most environmentally devastating, carbon-intensive industry. As a result, every hybrid drives off the lot carrying a "carbon debt" which, according to Wired Magazine, takes over 45,000 of driving to "drive off." Lithium ion is the acknowledged future of battery technology, and GM would be first out of the gate. But better to spite our faces, right?

But wait, there's more! After cheerleading for 3 million pink slips, most bloggers then say, "well, if we HAVE to bail those bastards out, at least attach some "green" strings," as if that's some meaningless little thrown bone. Um, hello? Has anyone been paying attention? Mileage standards have been stuck at around 27mpg for 20 years and will only need to go up another 8mpg over the next 12 years. In one swell foop we could revolutionize those standards, thus breaking a decades long political logjam. As Joe Romm (an eco-expert who supports a bailout) points out, greener cars will play a major role in lowering our carbon footprint. And here comes a once in a lifetime opportunity to show some fortitude and remake an industry. But, no, no. Better to make the "safe" decision and go with the pink slips.

And let's not forget Democrat John Dingell, congressman from Michigan, who has "protected" the auto industry from reform since long before most readers of this blog were born, and would jump on any bailout bandwagon, no matter what the industry was forced to do. Heck, he'd probably eat his Energy and Commerce Committee chairman's gavel if an amendment that so required was attached to bailout legislation, rather than oversee the destruction of the industry.

And I would also suggest that you turn your heads, oh you Big Three killers, and look whose shining face rests on the pillow next to you. It's none other than the GOP, which is honestly and truly gleeful at finally FINALLY destroying one of the last powerful unions left. There are strange bedfellows and there are toxic bedfellows. Just thinking about it makes me want to take a shower.

So, let's stop debating the possibility of bailing on the bailout and start debating the best way to help an industry transform itself for a carbon-neutral future. Can I hear a "Yes, We Can!"
I'm torn on GM. On the one hand, the big 3 have been appalling. On the other hand, some have made the case that they're improving, and the auto industry is one of the last that's providing good manufacturing jobs on a broad scale. I'm concerned that killing the auto sector wouldn't do anything but further depress the wages of most laborers, decimate the middle class, and further reinforce the division between rich and poor, as it's the wealthy who are likely to reap the reward from all this.

(The benefits of cheaper unskilled and semi-skilled labor are going to have to go somewhere, and it's likely to be the already-well-paid executive class that have been exploiting the financial bailout.)

I truly dislike corporate welfare. But these are not normal times, and it's not a normal sector.

Friday, November 14, 2008

"Out! Out! All of You, Out!"

Digby says that the intelligence guys are unlikely to be kept around after Obama takes over:

The good news is that Obama is apparently unlikely to keep any of these jerk-offs:
In approving the post-9/11 law setting up an Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Congress hoped to put an end to the rivalries among the 16 fractious and secretive agencies that make up the U.S. intelligence "community." But the jockeying over the briefings for Obama is a sign that the bureaucratic maneuvering is anything but over. It also leaves open the question of where the agencies will stand—and who will head them—in the incoming Obama administration. Although both McConnell and Hayden expressed a willingness to stay on for some period of time, sources close to the Obama transition say this is unlikely, given that both men zealously defended controversial Bush administration policies—such as the warrantless-wiretapping program—that the incoming Democratic president opposed during the campaign.
Let's hope that's the case, although that last part isn't exactly true, is it?
That quote is from Newsweek. The problem isn't really the high-level guys, though. The problem is all the mid-level people from various far-right-wing colleges who have been seeded into these agencies, squeezing out the non-partisan professionals. Obama may not be willing to pull THEM out, but they're the issue here.

Yep. Called It. Apologias for Iggy All Around!

I had said Whatzisname was going to Iggy. It was patently obvious. And now, lo and behold, he's gone to iggy.

That's not what's striking.

What's striking is that, at a time when progressives have received a huge mandate in America, he seems ready to "throw them under the bus", in an attempt to replicate the ridiculous Democratic failure of triangulation between 1992 and 2006.

After all, never mind the blather about "going to the centre, where the votes are" (well, yes, but that's meaningless, if you're focusing on a center that doesn't reflect the views of the public), how else can you interpret this?

• On Québec, I had opposed the “Québecois-are-a-nation” resolution with which Ignatieff had been associated. I still oppose it. But every non-separatist political party – and every non-separatist political leader – came to support it. And, I admit, the country did not fall into chaos or the vortex of endless constitutional gamesmanship. We are still here, the resolution notwithstanding. That is the reality.
• On Iraq, like many Canadians (but not Stephen Harper and not a few Liberals), I had opposed the invasion of Iraq by the U.S. and its allies. Ignatieff initially supported the war – as had the Clintons, and as had most of the Democratic Party establishment. By March 2004 – long before he became an MP, let alone a Liberal leadership contestant – he was writing in the New York Times that he had been wrong. That impressed me.
• On Israel, I and many others had been upset that Ignatieff wondered aloud if war crimes had been committed in Qana. Soon afterwards, he agreed that such determinations should be left to international bodies – and he went to Holy Blossom Temple to apologize, and accept personal responsibility for his error. That impressed me, too.
• On torture, I made an error myself. I relied upon some highly selective accounts of Ignatieff’s writings on war, terrorism and coercion – accounts cobbled together by Ignatieff’s partisan and academic detractors – and rushed to my computer keyboard. If I had read more widely, I would have seen that activists at places like Human Rights Watch had defended Ignatieff’s position – and I would have seen that his true position was a complete ban on torture, because the use of it places us all on the inexorable slide towards the appalling notion that, as he warned, “human beings are expendable.” I had fundamentally mischaracterized his views, and I regret that.
So, let's go through these, step by step.

First, the "Quebec as a nation" thing was what handed Quebec to Harper, and then kept the BQ alive. The question of constitutional recognition of the resolution is a source of constant agitation by Quebec nationalists, and the very existence of the resolution provides them with strong legal grounds for their claims. To say "well, no problem so far" is idiotic. That's like a banker saying "meh, what's the worst that could happen" when looking at default swap figures.

Second, notice that the one guy who did oppose Iraq from the get-go is going to be president in January? I realize Kinsella doesn't give (as Spider Jerusalem so memorably put it) "two tugs of a dead dog's cock" about progressives, but he should be insightful enough to know that they don't like Iraq war supporters. Especially ones who, like Ignatieff, didn't really turn their back on the war. Go read what he said; he defended his support of the war as "the least of bad options" while continuing to read out the old lines about "gathering storms" that were questionable then and ridiculous now.

(The man said "I still do not believe that American or British leaders misrepresented Hussein's intentions or lied about the weapons they believed he possessed", for God's sake, and has never apologized for that little gem even after the Downing Street Memos were unearthed!)

More importantly to progressives, his apology on Iraq argued that it should have been sold as "a preventive, instead of preemptive war." Is this really the view of the Liberal Party of Canada? Is it the view of Canadians? It's sure not the view of Americans, and holy HELL is it not the view of progressives!

What's going to stop Jack Layton and Elizabeth May (or her successor) from taking that line and gleefully feeding it to him?

On Israel/Palestine, the problem is not so much the Qana incident itself. It never has been. What Qana betrayed was the basic unseriousness and glib attitude of the man. It was a classic "gaffe", in that he said what he was clearly thinking, and paid the price for it. Has that unseriousness about policy gone anywhere? Certainly he's more serious about politics, considering the brutal factional politics within the Liberal party, but policy?

And as for the torture thing, well... to be honest, I'm amazed. If there are detractors who can put together a case so convincing that someone as savvy as Warren can be swayed by it, then isn't that a problem in and of itself? Yes, fine, Kenneth Roth defended him. So what? The detractors (like myself) had a point, and continue to have a point, when we point out that his apologias for torture leave gaping holes where he says "oh, no, we shouldn't torture, but I can completely understand why people would and completely believe in its efficacy."

No, No, No! It is not efficacious, people whose knowledge of interrogation goes beyond applying SERES to whatever Arabs are handy know it's not effective, and the man has zero credibility on the subject since he only came out against "enhanced interrogation" to save his hide.

And how on earth can anybody who writes something like this have credibility in the first place?
It is often said....that neither coercive interrogation nor torture is necessary, since entirely lawful interrogation can secure just as effective results. There must be some truth to this. Israeli interrogators have given interviews assuring the Israeli public that physical duress is unnecessary. But we are grasping at straws if we think this is the entire truth. As Posner and others have tartly pointed out, if torture and coercion are both as useless as critics pretend, why are they used so much? While some abuse and outright torture can be attributed to individual sadism, poor supervision and so on, it must be the case that other acts of torture occur because interrogators believe, in good faith, that torture is the only way to extract information in a timely fashion. It must also be the case that if experienced interrogators come to this conclusion, they do so on the basis of experience. The argument that torture and coercion do not work is contradicted by the dire frequency with which both practices occur.
Oh, and he's one of those people who tries to draw a mealy-mouthed distinction between "torture" and "coercive interrogation". Even when trying to save his ass and win the Liberal leadership, he still couldn't jettison this crap.

Never mind the lack of intellectual rigor betrayed by anybody who would make the tiger-rock argument that "It must also be the case that if experienced interrogators come to this conclusion, they do so on the basis of experience" being a problem in-and-of itself. How on earth is he supposed to retain progressives who have two (strong) options for their vote AND the example of an American president who won big by opposing the Iraq war?

The answer? He doesn't give a rat's ass about them. He's going to fight Harper on his own right-wing turf. And, apparently, Whatzisname is okay with that.

The basic problem is the same one it has always been. The Liberals skew right. Harper holds his ground. conservatives—generally content with Harper—stay where they are. Progressives say "screw it, they're both right wing parties anyway." They vote NDP or Green, depending on where they live and their key issues. The Conservatives win. Big.

The Liberals try to skew farther right. The Conservatives continue to hold their ground, maybe move a bit to the left, because they can count on their flank's loyalty. More progressives flee. The NDP starts winning urban seats and working-class seats. The Greens start winning assorted seats as they fine-tune their message and focus their resources. The Liberals, rootless, faithless and philosophically unmoored, no longer demonstrate any reason to exist.

The Liberals die, absorbed by the new (Green?) Democratic party and the Conservatives. Harper wins. Flanagan wins. Layton wins. And Whatzisname? Bigtime loser.

Edit: Yep, I also know that he ain't interested in any of this stuff. He chose Iggy because he thinks Iggy is going to win, wants to be seen as backing that winning candidate, and is using the blog as a way of spinning. That's clear enough. He's jettisoned all of his principled arguments against Iggy because the principles in question aren't convenient anymore. That's clear enough, too.

What isn't clear is why he thinks that Jack is going to sit on his hands and not move his own party to scoop up all the disaffected progressives. I know he hates the NDP, but you'd think he'd be savvier towards their tactics and strategy at this point.

Edit 2: Ah, yes, I didn't link to the 2006 "Getting Iraq Wrong" piece. It was
unutterably goofy passive-voice "mistakes were made" nonsense, but if you do want to read it, enjoy. You'll especially like the part where he continues to call war opponents names for daring to think that the war was at least partly about money. Who wouldn't like being called "dumb-asses who were right about everything for the wrong reasons, instead of wrong about everything for the right reasons", as David Rees put it?

Edit 3: As I've said elsewhere online today, I do think that it's possible for Ignatieff to get out from under this. He's the presumptive nominee of a party that I still have a lot of respect for, albeit perhaps not as much as when I started writing about it in this space. If he wins, I hope he does do the right thing.

But the political situation in Canada is such that he cannot get away with jettisoning progressives, as he and Whatzisname seem so eager to do.