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Archive for June, 2011

Will the NDP Pay a Price for Standing on Principle?

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Come closer children and I will tell you a tale from long, long ago.

Just under 41 years ago to be precise. In October of 1970, FLQ (Front du Liberation du Quebec) militants (terrorists?) kidnapped British diplomat James Cross and Quebec cabinet Minister Pierre Laporte (Laporte was eventually murdered by his captors). On October 16, 1970, Prime Minister Pierre Eliot Trudeau invoked the War Measures Act, suspending civil liberties and broadening military and police powers of arrest and detention.

The imposition of the War Measures Act was broadly popular across Canada, but there was also significant and vocal opposition to the move. The new Democratic party, led by Tommy Douglas, the Greatest Canadian, gave Parliamentary voice to that opposition. The immediate reward for this principled stand was condemnation of Douglas and his party by pundits, politicians and many citizens.

Eventually however, anger cooled and the NDP gained seats in the 1972 election. Trudeau’s Liberals lost seats and only retained power thanks to NDP support – which came with a price tag. In this case the anger was fleeting.

Elected politicians everywhere are sensitive to public opinion. Smart ones don’t need polling to know how their constituents feel about an issue. They read their mail and email and phone messages. They listen to voters.

Elected politicians would rather have their constituents’ support than anger and disagreement. On the other hand, some elected politicians sometimes find it necessary to take a principled but unpopular stand, thereby risking
defeat in the next election.

The NDP federal caucus returned to Ottawa to face the Conservative government’s back to work legislation, legislating an end to the lockout imposed by Postal Service management as well as the collective bargaining process. In response, the NDP staged a filibuster, allowing each of the 103 New Democrat MPs to speak during the debate on the legislation. One poll indicates that 60% of the public welcomed the back to work legislation the Government eventually pushed through Parliament. So that means the NDP will lose votes because they defended free collective bargaining, right?

Well, maybe, but not necessarily. New Democrat MPs took a principled stand and voiced the concerns of their base voters. Sometimes there is a reward in this world for doing the right thing. It also helps that as filibusters go this was a short one.

The NDP brand is, I submit, partly based on a perception that the party will (at least sometimes) act on principle even when it is not expedient. This creates a new and welcome problem for the NDP in the newly polarized world of Canadian politics.

If there is a serious challenge to the conservatives in the next federal election, it will come from the NDP. The Liberals are too disorganized, demoralized and broke to do much more than merely survive (usual caveats of changing nature of politics apply). The New Democrats will try to expand their base of support through various tactics, including perhaps a moderation of style if not of policy. Or rather, they will try to change some Canadians’ perceptions and image of the party.

Still, if anyone asks my opinion (they won’t) i would say that it is important that the NDP remain true to itself and its principles, sometimes in the face of public opposition, or risk being lumped in with all those other, more cynical parties and politicians.

Incidentally, several provincial sections of the NDP are enjoying increased popularity since the election, at the expense of both Liberals and conservative parties. This is reflected in polling, most, but not all, of which was conducted before the filibuster began. With several provincial elections penciled in for the fall of this year, we should know soon what effect the federal realignment will have on politics in Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador and PEI.

What Cenk Said

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Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Obama is losing the debate against the right by not engaging in it. His slightly firmer positions in the presser today were baby steps only.

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June 29th, 2011 at 8:35 pm

What Atrios Says

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Atrios:

I agree with Ezra that creating jobs is more important than appearing to fight for jobs, whatever the hell that last one is, but at some point we’re going to have an election campaign. Trying to get through backroom deals which may or may not have much positive effect on the economy won’t be enough, either. At some point it’s time to explain what you would like to do for the economy, and why the bastards on the other side are against it.

And, if I may, doing so would be good politics as well as good policy. Ezra Klein disagrees, as you can see if you follow the link in the quote above. Part of Klein’s argument is as follows:

Ron Klain, former chief of staff to both Al Gore and Joe Biden, thinks President Obama needs to make more of a show of fighting for job-creating policies. “The greatest risk to the president will be if the American people believe the administration isn’t trying hard enough to tackle the jobs problem,” he writes. “That is why it is imperative for the administration to do more — proposing new ideas, initiatives and job-creation programs — and without delay. It may not succeed, but it must get ‘caught trying’ to do more to spur job creation.”

This advice appeals to me. It’s what I’d like to see happen. But I also think it’s wrong, and if I were advising President Obama, I’d advise him not to take it.

Ezra has a lot more faith in the Republicans acting rationally than I do. Meanwhile, Obama needs to make the case for more stimulus and job creation by the federal government. The current House may not go along, but by winning the economic debate, the President can help change the House from red to blue.

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June 29th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Bernie Sanders: Dear Mr. President

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In case you missed it, here is Senator Bernie Sanders’ speech from earlier today calling for shared sacrifice in the deficit negotiations:

And here’s link to a petition to the President demanding such shared sacrifice. Go ahead and sign it. I did, and I feel great.

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June 27th, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Final Thoughts on the Federal New Democratic Party Convention

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Even from 3000 miles or 5000 kilometres away it was obvious the Federal NDP convention was a pretty giddy affair. After 75 years of crushing defeats and moral victories the NDP is now, after the May 2 election, one of the two largest parties in Canada. As Official Opposition, the NDP is now the “government in waiting.” Delegates and supportive observers had a lot to celebrate.

It was interesting to see many of the new Quebec MPs contributing to the debate. Corporate Media International (CMI) pundits keep predicting that internal tensions between the NDP’s Quebec wing and MPs and supporters from the rest of Canada will eventually wipe out gains in both places, but what I saw was delegates from all regions working on policy that they believe would benefit all Canadians.

There were a couple of surprise (to me at least) in the final debates during the closing plenary on Sunday. The resolution to remove the word ‘socialism’ from the preamble to the party’s constitution was tabled. The other surprise was that the resolution that would forbid any discussion of a merger with the Liberals was defeated.

These two decisions will no doubt be interpreted by CMI as a pragmatic move to the centre by the NDP. Others will reply that it is just a growing and increasingly successful NDP trying to adapt to its new position by modernizing its rhetoric and looking for ways to work with other parties in order to advance its ideals.

The day after the end of the convention, NDP MPs were back in Ottawa ready to oppose the Conservatives back to work bill aimed at CUPW workers. I will discuss the NDP filibuster in a succeeding post but for now will just observe that the NDP brings a very different style of opposition than that provided by the Liberals.

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June 27th, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Bernie Sanders Video on Koch Bros Social Security Lies

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Here it is:

The page with the video also has these facts:
Facts:

1. Social Security belongs to you—the workers who contribute to it—not the politicians in Washington.
2. Social Security will never go bankrupt. Its major source of income comes from the contributions of workers and employers; as long as there are workers, Social Security will have income. Closing tax loopholes for wealthy individuals will increase the long term financial health of the program, and protect it for decades to come.
3. Raising the retirement age is a terrible idea and a large benefit cut. If you were claiming benefits as a 66 year-old retired worker and the full retirement age was changed from 66, where it is today, to 69 your benefits would be cut 20 percent. A typical benefit would drop from $14,000 a year to $11,200 a year.
4. Privatizing Social Security would be a disaster. Social Security is so valuable because it provides a guaranteed benefit. Privatizing Social Security would remove this guarantee and have people gamble their retirement savings in the casinos of Wall Street. If the recent financial crisis taught us anything, Wall Street is the last place where our money is safe.

For more information, check out the Strengthen Social Security Campaign.

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June 22nd, 2011 at 11:09 am

Van Jones at Netroots Nation

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Great speech and fascinating proposal for a new movement:

I would like to see this video go viral.

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June 19th, 2011 at 9:35 am

NDP Convention 2011: Hebert says NDP Should Make Nice with Libs

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Chantal Hebert has come to the aid of her beloved Liberals, warning that unless the NDP merges with what’s lefty of the Liberal Party, bad things will happen:

Many of the Quebecers who supported the party for the first time last month bring a strikingly different perspective to some fundamental tenets of modern NDP dogma.

To most Quebec voters, for instance, medicare is not an icon, just a social program that needs some fixing.

Many of them supported Brian Mulroney’s 1988 free-trade accord with the United States and the subsequent NAFTA agreement. Few think the 1982 patriation of the Constitution was cause for celebration.

Beyond their attraction to Layton, their connection to the NDP is based on their collective desire for a progressive federal government.

On that basis, there is no place where the concept of a formal rapprochement between the Liberals and the NDP is more popular than Quebec.

As I have written and said more than once, progressive Liberals are more than welcome to join the NDP (and perhaps some already have). Right wing Liberals have already shown which side they are on by voting Conservative to prevent an NDP government. That leaves a handful of “centrists” in the middle of the road, where road kill is frequently spotted.

In a sense, the NDP convention this weekend will make the party a little easier for at least some Liberals to support by replacing the word “socialist” with “social democratic” in the preamble to its constitution. Such a resolution will be voted on on Sunday and I have no doubt it will pass. I also have no doubt that NDP delegates will continue to oppose consideration of any merger with the Liberals.

So far the resolutions presented to the plenary session have found easy passage. I has also been fascinating to see Quebec delegates, including a host of Quebec MPs, so frequently at the debate microphones. So far, no issues have divided the delegates along regional lines, at least not in the plenary. No doubt Layton and Mulcair are hoping it stays that way.

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June 18th, 2011 at 8:28 am

Israeli Court Orders Dog Stoned to Death – Seriously

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I suppose it would be antisemitic to note that the actions described in this AFP report reach Monty Python levels of absurdity:

JERUSALEM — A Jerusalem rabbinical court condemned to death by stoning a dog it suspects is the reincarnation of a secular lawyer who insulted the court’s judges 20 years ago, Ynet website reported Friday.

According to Ynet, the large dog made its way into the Monetary Affairs Court in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, frightening judges and plaintiffs.

Despite attempts to drive the dog out of the court, the hound refused to leave the premises.

One of the sitting judges then recalled a curse the court had passed down upon a secular lawyer who had insulted the judges two decades previously.

Their preferred divine retribution was for the lawyer’s spirit to move into the body of a dog, an animal considered impure by traditional Judaism.

Clearly still offended, one of the judges sentenced the animal to death by stoning by local children.

The canine target, however, managed to escape.

These judges have a right to defend themselves and the world should not laugh at them without knowing all the facts.

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June 18th, 2011 at 7:32 am

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Obama Has a Problem

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Way back on June 4, just after we learned that the unemployment rate had gone back up to 9.1%, Carrie Budoff Brown and Glenn Thrush at Politico wrote a piece about how the President would have to adjust his re-election strategy to account for the dismal economy. One point they made was that Obama has tied at least one hand behind his back by ceding the austerity to the Republicans:

By ceding the argument to Republicans that the deficit is the problem, Obama helped steer the focus in Washington to cutting government spending, robbing the White House of its ability to argue for more stimulus measures. At the same time, the rise in fuel prices over the past six months has offset efforts late last year to boost consumer spending and job creation.

Responding to Politico, Digby wrote:

I don’t doubt that President Obama will be re-elected. The Republicans are offering no reasonable alternative and the Tea Party faction led by Paul Ryan is certifiably nuts. I’ll be shocked if they even come close. But that doesn’t absolve the administration of responsibility for coasting on the economy because Larry Summers assured them that everything would be fine by 2012. This economy has been going sideways for some time now and the no-drama Obama team should have awakened from their slumber and recognized it.

This week, Joan Walsh at Salon observes that Obama has lost his Bin Laden bump and his approval ratings have come back to Earth. Walsh is less sanguine about Obama’s chance for survival in 2012:

But I still see reason for Democrats to worry. Re-energizing the party’s progressive base is key to the president’s 2012 strategy, and some parts of the base are dissatisfied. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka outlined his plan to pay more attention to his union’s own political structure and spend less on the Democratic Party and specific candidates, and other unions are saying the same thing. Particularly on the issue of the economy, there’s a risk of core constituencies being demoralized, and demobilized. Since I’ve been critical of the president before, let me say here that I don’t believe there were many concrete measures he could have taken to accelerate the recovery and reduce unemployment, because Republicans in Congress dug their heels in to fight on day one, and conservative Democrats wouldn’t go along, either. My main concern has been Obama’s failure to use his presidency to tell voters a story about our changing economy, and even when he didn’t have the votes in Congress, to lay out what he thought was the right course.

The point is Obama has disappointed a large portion of his base. It still seems hard to picture any Republican defeating him, but if unemployment remains high, and if the President does not seem to care or seems unwilling to offer solutions or lead the debate against the Republicans, the so called enthusiasm gap of 2010 can be repeated in 2012.

Most (but certainly not all) of the Democrats I talk to are fed up with Obama’s leadership, but see no alternative but to support his re-election. A primary challenge to the President would not surprise me. I would expect him to survive, even if the challenge is a strong one.

At the same time, Congressional Republicans have convinced millions that they are unfit to govern. The House is up for grabs (as long as Washington Democrats don’t give too much away in budget negotiations), and the Dems might do well in the Senate elections as well. Obama might need Nancy Pelosi’s coat tails to survive as President.

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June 17th, 2011 at 8:28 pm