Friday, July 17, 2015

American politics has been kind of boring lately...

So there is an election coming. Not just in the United States, but up here in Canada too. In fact, for the first time in my American politics obsessed life, I'm actually more excited about the Canadian one for a change.

Down south, the biggest political story so far is some variation of Republicans tripping over themselves to alienate women, latinos and African-Americans as quickly as possible. Whether it's the new anti-abortion laws at the state level or the possibility of "religious freedom" laws that allow conservative businesses to fire their un-married pregnant female staff, the GOP seems determined to make their base as small as possible. Then there's Donald Trump and Mexicans (I will not be discussing that idiot again) and the party's continued objection to same sex marriage and prison reform; Republicans seem determined to only dominate the shrinking old white men vote once again.

So basically, unless it's Jeb or maybe Rubio, this is Hillary Clinton's race to lose. The next nine months and five hundred-or-so million dollars are just distractions.

Honestly, American politics is a little boring lately. The media is focusing on the ramblings of the professional moron who shall not be named and the fun (though likely pointless) Bernie Sanders campaign. Basically, rather than cover anything important for more than about twenty seconds, CNN et al prefer to cover the minutiae of idiots or the delusional hopes of progressives.

But, here in Canada we have a real race for the first time in quite a long time.  There's an incumbent Conservative Party beset by scandal and a shrinking economy, the historically socialist NDP party trying to continue its expansion into the mainstream, and the traditionally dominant party of the country, the Liberals, trying to find themselves. If the polls are any indication in the lead up to the October election, it'll be a very close race.

So I'm going to try to focus on that a little here over the next little while as well as the American stuff.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ted Cruz, the Republican who makes Sarah Palin look presidential

Once again, Ted Cruz shows us all why he's got 5% in Iowa right now. Now Joe Biden is a bit of a blow hard, it's true. He's well known for sticking his foot in his mouth himself and he's frequent fodder for many Republicans. But he's been in public service for forty years and has been through more family tragedy than a decent person would wish on anyone. Oh yeah, and he's the elected Vice President of the United States who just lost his son.

But the supposedly devout "Christian" (I thought that word implied kindness and forgiveness), family values conservative and founding father-loving Texas senator keeps showing more of his true self.

This guy, whatever you think of his politics, really does seem to be a rather disgusting human being. The things he's said about the LGBT community, his demagoguery and grand standing in the senate and his fear mongering on any number of issues make him scary. But making a joke about Vice President Biden a week after his son dies of brain cancer, wow.

There's literally zero political upside there. Didn't one of his many advisers warn him not to make the joke? Or did he think it was a clever idea and do it on his own?

This guy is increasingly making Sarah Palin look politically intelligent, moderate and reasonable. And even she knows deep down she's not qualified to be President. 5% in Iowa right now, I wonder what kind of crazy offensive stuff he'll say when he gets really desperate...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jeb and Climate Change

So, just a couple of days after coming out against gay marriage, now Jeb Bush is coming out as climate change doubter. (Article is here)

Here we go again. All I'm thinking of is Mitt Romney and "self-deportation". Jeb is focused on the Republican primary. What he and his team don't seem to realize is that the GOP nomination isn't worth having if you make yourself unelectable in the general election in order to get it.

Whoever the Republican candidate will be, he or she (okay he -- Carly Fiorina is just funny) needs to find a way to win primaries without having to say things that Democrats can record and replay over and over during the general election. If what they have to say to win Iowa makes them look ridiculous in Virginia, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida in November, the nomination isn't worth much at all.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Jeb and Gay Marriage

So here he goes. Jeb Bush came out against gay marriage. After a bad week answering questions about Iraq and his brother's ill-advised war, he's breaking out the evangelical greatest hits. If he is the reasonable, moderate Bush we've heard  about, favouring immigration reform and other sane proposals, he's hiding it well. This is really just playing to the base after having a bad week. It's just more cynical Republican play-to-the-base BS.

If his campaign is going to be as the only reasonable and intelligent Republican capable of winning a general election, we haven't seen that yet. And by doing things like this he isn't differentiating himself from the other kooks in the party. He's just joining them. It's short sighted. And if he hopes to bring new people into the GOP, he's got a long way to go.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Stephanopoulos and the Sunday Shows

So, George Stephanopoulos, former Communication Director to Clinton '92, donated to the Clinton Foundation... Wow... Shocked. He didn't announce it on the supposed news program he hosts every Sunday (well every other Sunday when he feels like hosting it.)

Okay. So what? Am I missing something?

I watch the Sunday talk shows every week. Meet the Press. This Week. Question Period (that's a Canadian one.) And all of them except Question Period feature political personalities far more frequently than they do journalists.

Martha Raddatz is a journalist. George Stephanopolous isn't. Chuck Todd is a political geek. Robert Fife and Craig Oliver are journalists -- and damned good ones it so happens.

Stephanopoulos isn't incapable of being objective. His role just no longer requires him to be. Did he need to admit he donated to the Clinton Foundation? Sure, why not. But just because he held a past position in support of, or privately feels support for someone he interviews doesn't mean he isn't capable of asking them tough questions.

Does it really matter if they aren't though?

Nope. Not too much.

I don't watch the Sunday talk shows for news. Those days are gone. Thank you FOX News and MSNBC. The ratings battle means the days of Tim Russert are gone and the days of elaborate sets, trivia questions for the panel and "Nerdscreens" are here.

I watch the Sunday talk shows because they're the political equivalent of Oprah Winfrey or Jerry Springer. Their value is now in their entertainment value, not their newsworthiness.

If you are looking at these shows, especially those airing south of the border, for pure news, you're looking in the wrong place. They are conflict-driven pseudo debates that encourage sound bites and simplification. They aren't the place to get news, they are a place to see others comment on it.

If you're concerned about This Week and its objectivity, stop watching. I'm comfortable knowing Mr. Stephanopoulos is privately biased. Just because I know he is doesn't change anything. Guess what, Martha Raddatz is too. She's just been trained not to show it.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

I'm back

Well, after finishing grad school, moving around in my job, lots of work travel and a new puppy at home, I am back. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

He campaigned in poetry, but governs in grunts.

So it's in style to criticize President Obama. A huge midterm loss. Months of lagging poll numbers. It'll be easy to pile on. So I will. But first, it's important to note a couple of things:

1. He was the first president to pass healthcare reform in a very, very long time (no matter how imperfect.) This is an important achievement that will improve the lives of many Americans.
2. He did help the American economy get to a modest point of recovery from what could have been a collapse of epic proportions. TARP II and other initiatives, though unpopular, were crucial to ensure that the economy simply fell into recession rather than full-scale depression.

But besides that, President Obama has been a disaster. Syria, Iraq, Libya and Egypt have all gone from poor or bad to worse and horrific. Negotiations with Iran have gotten nowhere. Afghanistan will be left to the Taliban once again. Domestically, shut downs and the continued appearance of a detached (or aloof) President that even Democrats think are bad at dealing with Congress.

So what happened? This guy was supposed to be the saviour. The change and hope guy. (I know that I wanted to believe in him.)

Well, the truth is that he's a campaigner. And a damned good one. To borrow from Mario Cuomo: "you campaign in poetry and govern in prose." Well this president campaigned in beautiful poetry, but has governed in grunts. Barely audible, often inopportune, grunts.

Perhaps one of the best examples was the brilliant way he handled the issue of race on the campaign trail. He spoke eloquently and deliberately from Philadelphia about the America that could be, that should be. He made us cry. He made us believe.

But in power, he has done none of those things. He has overly intellectualized the position of the presidency to one where, instead of speaking of what he wants, what he thinks America could be, he switched to platitudes, allowing Congressional leaders -- usually Republicans to set the agenda. It was as if, once the Affordable Care Act was packed, that he thought it best to no longer tell Americans what he was for. He has just been a bit actor in the Republican play more often than not since.

Just look back at the issue of race, When the Henry Lewis Gates issue and allegations of racism were made by one of the President's friends, he responded not by appealing to better natures, but by proposing a "beer summit" -- simultaneously minimizing the issue and condescending about it. It changed no minds, it created no progress. It was responding to issues, not guiding them. It was a grunt rather than a poem.

Now of course, Republican lawmakers have been downright neglectful of their positions in their refusals to work with the president. They have been more focused on undermining him and scoring political points than they have in helping to fix the country. But he has also made it easier for them by refusing to stake out positions and employing the same methods so successful in his campaigns.

That's what we saw Tuesday. A president that let his opponents set the agenda for the past five years and is paying the price. If only he could govern half as effectively as he campaigned.

At this point, we are all just suspicious of poetry. The Republicans made sure of that with their cynical undermining of all political action. But, at this point, we would settle for just a little presidential prose.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Canada. Don't fall into a trap.

Today, a tragedy.
A lone gunman, driven by a perverted religious message or insanity, or both, attacked our Parliament buildings. A soldier, whose sole infraction was to be guarding our National War Memorial, is dead.
To his family, of course, go the condolences of an entire nation.
But soon after our nation relaxes again, and it will, we will face a choice.
We actually already do.
In times such as this, we will be tempted to fall into xenophobia, islamophobia, overreaction, and the sacrifice of our liberal values.
Unfortunately, in many ways, America stands as an example of what not to do.
After 9/11 (this is not Canada's 9/11 most certainly), America has undertaken unique steps. It's undermined the freedom of its citizenry through spying (Canada has started down this road too), sacrificed its morals in interrogations, and stumbled into Iraq. America's reputation is damaged and its actions in Iraq have disrupted the entire Middle East with still unknown results.  Hardly any attack could've damaged America the way that America's overreaction has.
Now is the time to ensure Canada does not fall into the same trap.
Stephen Harper has not been the greatest Prime Minister. Sometimes too conservative, sometimes not conservative enough and oftentimes willing to substitute research with ideology, his legacy is so far mixed. And he has certainly not followed Canada's general tradition of peacekeeping and bridge building in foreign affairs. Though his recent decision to join the fight against ISIS was controversial, he was right. But now he must be measured. The conservative instinct to react, often on base instinct rather than consideration, must be avoided. Security should be assured and this crisis must be allowed to pass. Then deep discussions about poverty, immigration, Islam and Canadian identity must be undertaken. Today may be his biggest test.
I just hope that, in years from now, we don't see a Canada that sacrificed its open and tolerant culture over fear. I hope that we don't destroy the very thing that these religio-fascists are seeking to destroy.
Let's not allow today's already horrible tragedy to turn into a much more dangerous one. Let's remember that many Muslims are Canadians and many Canadians are Muslims and that military actions or police maneuvers are not always the answer -- in fact they hardly ever are.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Canadian Centralization and American dysfunction

So there are significant differences between Canada and the United States today. Our cultures are certainly similar. We like the same movies, most of the same music. There truly are few things that separate us from one another.

But politics and policy certainly are.

Canada has socialized medicine, a single-payer system to use the American parlance. America has Obamacare, a gigantic extension of the private insurance system.

Canada loves hockey. America loves football.

In Canada, social issues are trumped by economic arguments. In America, economic arguments are flat out obscured by social ones.

American spent over a trillion dollars bailing out its banks. Canada, zero dollars. Canadian banks were not big buyers of the dangerous derivatives American banks were so endangered by.

Congress hasn't passed a bill of real import since 2009. Meanwhile, Canada's parliament has worked well. From the perspective of completing work, there can be no question that much has gotten done. With a majority government, Stephen Harper's Conservative Party has accomplished many of their goals. They've altered justice, immigration and environmental policies. (Whether you think they're laudable goals, or even sensible ones for that matter, is questionable, but we won't get into that here...)

Of course, with a majority government, Canada basically has an elected dictatorship until the next election. As long as the Prime Minister is able to secure his party's votes, he is practically guaranteed legislative success. This is a far cry from America's checks-and-balances obsessed notion that every bill should pass both houses and be agreed to by the President. How often does one party control all three? A majority government certainly seems more effective, despite being somewhat less democratic.

One interesting event occurred last month that underscores the differences between Canadian politics and American politics perhaps more simply than others.

The New Democratic Party, Canada's "socialist" political organization, announced that it now supports free trade with South Korea. The NDP, traditionally the voice of the left and specifically, labour (with an emphatic "u") is now going against its union base and supporting free trade in this case. In 1984 there was just one party, the Conservatives, that supported free trade. Now all three major parties in Canada support it. Now it's easy to say that this is just another example of the world -- and Canada specifically -- moving further right. And there is something to that. More conservative policies are accepted as dogma in many places now than in recent memory.

Yet, this is also representative of something else. In no other time have Canada's three major political parties agreed on so much. Free trade, a single-payer medical system, humanitarian aid to Africa. Even gay marriage is no longer an issue here. Of course there is discord about Canadian jets assisting American ones in attacking ISIS in Iraq, but these arguments are more echoes of Canada's rich peacekeeping past than fervent policy disagreements.

How stark is the Canadian contrast to the United States? Well, in the U.S., the two major parties and their supporters can't even agree on evolution or climate change as concepts. There isn't far to go from there.

Now much of this apparent agreement between Canada's parties and the efficiency of its politics has more to do with its political system than its political opinions. This is probably true.

But nonetheless, Canada should stand as an example to our American friends. A low, and apparently soon-to-be-extinguished budget deficit, agreement on most basic issues (environmental policy a clear exception among a few others), low unemployment and high labour participation, much lower per-person healthcare costs and a longer life expectancy are just a few things Canada has over the U.S. And anyone who says that our more effective political system has nothing to do with is just nuts.

The polarization of American politics is a disease. It is one that Canada has largely avoided these last twenty years.

Maybe it's time to stop demonizing the centralized, majority-driven political system of Canada and embrace some of its edicts. American politics is so broken after all -- why not give it a try?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sure Congress Sucks. But where's the guts?

Barack Obama has reason to feel exhausted. Upon his election, he was immediately met with a Republican opposition bent on doing all it could to deprive America's great 2008 hope of any political action for his policy goals. The belief that he could bring the parties together and single-handedly get America back to some imaginary promised land was quickly dashed.

After using just about all his enormous political capital in 2009 to pass a healthcare reform law, he has done practically nothing since. Congress has a great deal of responsibility here of course. Without question, they are the ones who should be pushing the President to act by approaching the other side of the aisle with real, practical policy plans. They should negotiate. They should horse trade. And then they should send the President a bill to sign, however imperfect.

But here is where Mr. Obama became his own worst enemy. After the divisive battles of 2009-10 over healthcare and government bail outs, he ensconced himself in a very thick veil of indecisiveness.

He has since refused to take the lead on any other policy pushes. Sure, he made speeches from the Rose Garden. He met with the crazy Republicans after they'd already decided that they don't like him and that the concepts of debt, default, and currency strength are too complex to factor into their thinking on government finance. He speaks boldly in States of the Union speeches.

But, in reality, he simply doesn't take definitive stances. He says that action is required, but not specifically what. He says that the result should be "a stronger middle class" or "a better America", but he doesn't say what that would really look like. On foreign policy, his overly-intellectualized meandering from prescription to prescription without specifics or announcing any definitive strategic principles makes the opposition's job easy.

He simply worries too much about his opposition and what they will use to attack him. As a result, he spends more time avoiding doing things than he does doing the things he should.

He should stop thinking about all the people that don't like him and what they might say when they attack him. They're going to do that no matter what he does.

He should announce his principles and specify exactly what he wants. He should meet with Congress about his plans and push to get it done. It should be pragmatic. It should be reasonable.

And for once, maybe it should be aggressive. Since 2009, we haven't seen that.

This Obama is a wimp. On Syria, on ISIS, on Russia and with his own Congress. He only has a little more than two years of governing left. Hopefully he decides not to waste them like he has the last five. Maybe then he could actually achieve some of the things we all hoped he could five years ago.