Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Light blogging ahead

I'm off to destinations unknown until next week, with little to no blogging in the interim. Enjoy the long weekend in the meantime!

Guest Post: Mulcair vs. the Chickenhawks

Dan Tan weighs in on Thomas Mulcair's principled position on Iran - which may come as a pleasant surprise to anybody concerned that he'd be more interested in appealing to the Very Serious People than thinking carefully about whether military intervention is justified:
North American & European capitals are inundated with the squawks of chicken-hawks. Why not? The technological superiority of our militaries has reduced the amount of life lost on our side. The economic & voluntary nature of military involvement has reduced the perceived value of the lives pledged. Politicians have license to act as Greek gods, treating our sons & daughters as mere arrows meant to intervene in the petty quarrels of foreigners.

Thomas Mulcair was accused of being a chicken-hawk himself. There was the infamous quote about supporting Israel "in all circumstances". Then there was a boast of supporting an attack against Syria. While Mulcair provided more clarity on the Israel issue with a clear policy statement, he let his comments on Syria stand.

In a previous post, I argued that the NDP membership could temper any "adventurist" inclinations on Mulcair's part. But that left the impression that Mulcair's handling of foreign policy would indeed need tempering. I would like to correct that impression.

Recently, Mulcair was interviewed by Carol Off for CBC Radio. The final 6 minutes of that interview proved to be quite revealing, as Off presented Tom with every opportunity to bite into the deadly neo-conservative apple.

She quoted Stephen Harper and suggested that Iran was a nation of religious fanatics unable to handle nuclear technology. She then insisted that Iran was actively developing a nuclear bomb (seemingly unaware that the 2007 & 2011 American National Intelligence Estimates disagreed).

Mulcair could have nodded his head & thumped his chest (as the chicken-hawk is wont to do). Such bravery would surely be rewarded. The sheeple employed in the field of political journalism would approve of another politician parroting their simplistic narratives. The '24' fanatics who all too often dictate foreign policy would cheer as Tom stuck it to the "new Irish".

Instead, Mulcair took down Off's inflammatory claims with the purposeful precision of a sniper. He reminded Off that Iran was not a cartoon but an actual nation of complex human beings. He correctly dismissed the ominous caricature of Ahmadinejad, seemingly aware that the Iranian president is impotent in the face of the Ayatollah & IRGC. He also joined the noble General Martin Dempsey in challenging ill-advised calls to war. Mulcair reminded the audience that war was only justified if Canadians were attacked or the United Nations demanded action.

NDP members should take heart. Rather than a chicken-hawk...we may have unknowingly given birth to a dragon.

Wednesday Evening Links

Miscellaneous material for your mid-week reading.

- Frances Russell comments on the Canada which the Harper Cons are determined to destroy. But the more important point looks to me to be less any theory of constitutionalism than the desire to have governments be as ineffective as possible at all levels:
Harper, the man who co-authored the infamous 2000 Alberta firewall letter, abhors the 1982 Canadian Constitution and its Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He is a strict constitutional constructionist. He believes in the Canada of Confederation in 1867 when Ottawa managed defence, foreign affairs, fisheries, the currency and penitentiaries and the provinces looked after matters of a local nature.

Unfortunately for Canadians, what were local matters 145 years ago now constitute government's biggest, most expensive and important programs -- health, education and social assistance. The notion that 10 provinces and three territories of vastly different size and wealth can be left to finance them on their own assisted by an equalization program whose future is now in doubt as it comes under increasing attack from the right, is simply a prescription for growing disparity -- and disunity.

It was all predictable. During his years with the libertarian National Citizens' Coalition, the prime minister seldom hid his disdain for Canada and Canadians. "Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status," he told the National Post in December 2000. In 1997, he asked an American audience not to "feel particularly bad" for Canada's unemployed. "They don't feel bad about it themselves, as long as they're receiving generous social assistance and unemployment insurance."

Most ominously in light of Thursday's budget, he told an NCC audience in 1994 that: "Whether Canada ends up with one national government or two governments or 10 governments, the Canadian people will require less government no matter what the constitutional status or arrangement of any future country might be."
- If there's anything the Cons can abide less than public broadcasting, it's Rights and Democracy. Which is why the former is merely being cut, while the latter is meeting with a wrecking ball.

- Meanwhile, Andrew Coyne, Bruce Anderson and John Ibbitson tear into the Cons for their combination of deception and incompetence in continuing to push F-35s long after they should have been well aware their talking points were utterly nonsensical.

- Paul Wells comments on the hidden release of another report on Afghanistan as a symptom of all that's wrong with a government more focused on propagandizing than discussing what it's actually doing - and a media far too willing to play into that choice.

- Finally, Murray Mandryk notes that while the Cons can never expect the facts to be on their side, they can usually expect the Wall government to come to their rescue in the PR department.

On areas of agreement

There's plenty of room for debate as to whether Peter Julian's budget filibuster should be seen to have its greatest impact in empowering Canadians who don't hold a seat in Parliament, or in limiting participation by other elected representatives.

But it does seem worth noting that while even a couple of NDP MPs raised questions about Julian's unlimited time, one rather significant group of parliamentarians hasn't much seemed to care one way or the other. And particularly given Julian's explanation that he didn't see any point in the Cons using budget debate time to spout their talking points, doesn't it seem noteworthy that their silence seems to signal agreement?

Leadership 2012 Lessons Learned - Party Edition

I'll close off my discussion of the NDP's leadership campaign with another lessons learned post - this one from the standpoint of the party in administering the campaign.

For the most part, the campaign seems to have thoroughly served its purpose in allowing candidates ample opportunity to showcase themselves without going into the debt that's dogged the Libs' recent leadership candidates for years. In particular, I doubt anybody would argue that the $500,000 spending cap substantially affected the candidates' ability to present themselves to actual and potential members.

There might be some room to quibble with the timing of the debates - both in not varying the debates between days of the week to reach different audiences, and in the fact that the membership cutoff hit before most of the debates took place. But the format otherwise looks to have been a success in fostering interesting discussion without becoming too combative.

And with one major exception, the convention couldn't have gone much better. The timing of the candidate showcases was called into question somewhat, but I'm not sure it was a bad idea to hold those in the afternoon to allow extra time if needed (while also leaving more time for interested viewers to record and view the showcases at their convenience). And within the showcases, the candidates found plenty of different ways to present themselves - with the immediate shift from Nathan Cullen's monologue and the entertainment-heavy presentation by Paul Dewar making for a particularly striking contrast in effective means of reaching the audience.

Of course, the one substantial concern was the delay caused by denial-of-service attacks during the leadership convention. And by all means any future votes will have to take the probability of outside interference into account - whether by providing for better triage of the type eventually carried out to separate convention voting from home voting, or by simply allowing for enough capacity to deal with attacks greater than those experienced anywhere else. But I don't see that concern as justifying a change from a model which allowed voters to participate either in advance or on the day of the convention, as the mix of votes helped to ensure members could participate however they saw fit rather than being stuck casting a preferential ballot while still wanting to be able to compare the candidates.

In sum, then, the main lesson the NDP will need to take away from its leadership campaign administration was to be more aware of outside parties seeking to throw a wrench in the works. But it speaks well to the organization behind the campaign that it took malicious outside intervention to cause a problem that will require fixing the next time the NDP elects a leader.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tuesday Night Cat Blogging

Yawning cats.

Tuesday Afternoon Links

Miscellaneous material to end your day.

- Boris sums up the Cons' budget message to poor Canadians. David Macdonald assesses the Cons' impact on jobs - with -70,000 not exactly looking like a positive number. Trish Hennessy frames the Cons' plans as death by a thousand cuts, while Paul Wells fits the budget into a theme of incremental change. And Andrew Jackson points out the the Cons' latest attacks on Statistics Canada.

- Meanwhile, in news about the Cons' idea of spending priorities, Forum Research finds that 80% of Canadians want the Cons to scrap the $9 billion purchase of F-35s. Which of course means that they're determined to push ahead at that price even in the wake of a scathing report by the Auditor General.

- The Fair Taxation movement adds PhDs to its ranks.

- Finally, Manon Corneiller describes the election of Thomas Mulcair as part of a gradual cultural shift within the NDP.

Leadership 2012 - Candidate What-Ifs

Following up on this post, let's look at a few what-ifs from the NDP's leadership campaign in retrospect - this time wondering how the outcome might have changed from the perspective of the candidates based on choices made during the course of the race. And it's fairly easy to narrow down the list based on those whose campaigns ran about as smoothly as could be expected (Niki Ashton, plus Peggy Nash minus her convention presentation), those who figure to have achieved all they could realistically have hoped for (Martin Singh) and the actual winner (Thomas Mulcair).

Having pared down the list to that extent, here are a few open questions as to how the campaign might have turned out differently...

What if Brian Topp had released full polling data of his own in response to Paul Dewar's poll release?

Again, one of the hazards for those of us trying to interpret the race from the outside was a lack of reliable information about the candidates' actual support levels. And as a result, Dewar's choice to go public with his full polling results had a disproportionate impact in shaping the balance of the campaign.

But Topp could have met transparency with transparency. If indeed he had data showing himself all alone in second place, then he might have avoided the perception of a tightly-bunched pack of challengers to Mulcair by releasing the underlying data in full - which would figure to have set public impressions at worst near the midpoint between the publicly-released polls (including Mulcair's released in the wake of Dewar's). And that in turn would have allowed him to run as a stronger challenger to Mulcair, rather than one of a bunch of candidates whose positioning was uncertain.

Mind you, Topp may instead have decided that he didn't want to be wasting time comparing himself to Dewar in any event, and worried that responding to Dewar's numbers would only give them more attention. And I'm not sure Topp would have done better in the end if the race had polarized more between himself and Mulcair as the two main options - as he came remarkably close even without much perception of momentum near the end of the campaign. But if he had a chance to boost his fortunes just a bit, that could have made all the difference.

What if Robert Chisholm had stayed in the race?

The great question for Paul Dewar doesn't involve anything he could have influenced directly. But with Chisholm's exit, Dewar was left as the weakest French speaker among the candidates left in the race. And that made it all too easy to define Dewar in those terms - where a flailing Chisholm might have made language seem like much less of an issue for Dewar (or anybody else) in comparison.

As it turned out, though, it's also questionable whether Dewar had much of a path to victory in any event. So let's turn to the biggest what-if of all...

What if Nathan Cullen hadn't put joint nominations at the centre of his campaign?

It's fairly clear how Cullen may have seen a need to stand out in the race. And his joint nomination proposal worked wonders in some respects for his campaign - contributing thousands of members signing up solely for the purpose of supporting Cullen, providing a focal point for Cullen's campaign and ensuring that he'd be mentioned often throughout the race.

But of course, the flip side is that Cullen turned off a large number of NDP members from the beginning of the campaign. And while he likely succeeded in winning some of them over by the end, it's a wide open question whether Cullen's personality could have positioned him to emerge from the pack if not for a highly controversial central plank.

As with Topp's conundrum, there's a real possibility that the candidate involved reached the right answer for the purposes of the leadership campaign. And as party allegiances evolve in the years to come, Cullen's choice - winning him a higher profile across not only the NDP membership but the public at large - may have as profound an impact on some future NDP leadership campaign as it did on this year's.

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Alison nicely debunks the Cons' latest Robocon talking points. Paula Boutis offers her own suggestions to strengthen Elections Canada in investigating vote suppression. And Glen McGregor and Stephen Maher report that the Cons have been working on funneling federal money through a charity to their choice of call centre operators.

- Adam Radwanski unloads on Jim Flaherty for his constant attacks on his home province. But the explanation presumably lies in the Ontario government's inconvenient recognition that Canadians would be far more secure with an improved Canada Pension Plan than with the Cons' newest retirement lotto scheme.

- Dennis Gruending laments the end of decades of work on a cooperative Saskatchewan Wheat Pool as Viterra is sold off for parts. And Paul Dechene wonders how in the world Regina's city council can justify allowing the demolition of affordable apartments in the middle of a dire housing crisis.

- Finally, Paul Krugman compares right-wing economic policies to the "pink slime" phenomenon - only to find that they're even less healthy than heavily-processed filler:
Mr. Gleckman calls (the Republican budget proposal) a “mystery meat budget,” but he’s being unfair to mystery meat. The truth is that the filler modern food manufacturers add to their products may be disgusting — think pink slime — but it nonetheless has nutritional value. Mr. Ryan’s empty promises don’t. You should think of those promises, instead, as a kind of throwback to the 19th century, when unregulated corporations bulked out their bread with plaster of paris and flavored their beer with sulfuric acid.

Come to think of it, that’s precisely the policy era Mr. Ryan and his colleagues are trying to bring back.

So the Ryan budget is a fraud; Mr. Ryan talks loudly about the evils of debt and deficits, but his plan would actually make the deficit bigger even as it inflicted huge pain in the name of deficit reduction. But is his budget really the most fraudulent in American history? Yes, it is.

To be sure, we’ve had irresponsible and/or deceptive budgets in the past. Ronald Reagan’s budgets relied on voodoo, on the claim that cutting taxes on the rich would somehow lead to an explosion of economic growth. George W. Bush’s budget officials liked to play bait and switch, low-balling the cost of tax cuts by pretending that they were only temporary, then demanding that they be made permanent. But has any major political figure ever premised his entire fiscal platform not just on totally implausible spending projections but on claims that he has a secret plan to raise trillions of dollars in revenue, a plan that he refuses to share with the public?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Monday Morning Links

Miscellaneous material to start your week.

- Susan Delacourt notes that while the NDP's leadership convention points out some of the risks of online voting, the real problem lies in the people working to block democracy through any available means:
While those who use computers have become accustomed to the system-fail message about files being corrupted, we’re talking here about a different type of corruption.

The cyberattack on the NDP was apparently deliberate and orchestrated. As well, it’s looking like the ever-widening robo-calls investigation will reveal something a little larger than mere, one-off mischief.

The worry is that it isn’t the machinery that’s getting corrupted, but some of the people plying the political trade right now. If that’s the case, more than the system needs a reset — and smashing the machines won’t fix it.
And Dave reaches a similar conclusion while noting that the Cons' vote suppression looks to have been the result of an organizational push:
Perhaps it's decades of military training and my experience as a front-line "death technician" that routes my thinking, but I cannot think of any way to pull off a geographically massive, narrowly timed operation without at least four things in place: planning, coordination, deception and delegation1. In a criminal enterprise it is described with one word: conspiracy.
All the signs point to a planned, coordinated and specifically-timed national effort to suppress the opposition vote using illegal means. And to add to the elements required to pull off something as large as this appears to be, the direction of such an effort has to come from well up in the hierarchy of a group. In a disciplined, authoritarian-led organization, independent action over a wide scale usually fails.
Meanwhile, the Hill Times reports on Marc Mayrand's recommendations to improve the Canada Elections Act, while Sixth Estate suggests fully enforcing the one we have already.

- Julie MacArthur aptly sums up the Cons' idea of a message on the environment as being that of a "scorched earth hour".

- fern hill (X2, deBeauxOs, JJ and Alison are rightly asking for some progressive unity against Stephen Woodworth's attempts to reopen the abortion debate.

- Finally, John Geddes and Aaron Wherry look behind the scenes of the NDP leadership campaign, while Alice thoroughly dissects the final voting numbers.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Leadership 2012 Lessons Learned - Pundit Edition

With a week's perspective on the NDP's leadership campaign, I'll take a quick look back to see - particularly in comparing my own impressions as to how the vote might play out to what actually happened.

To start off with, let's note that of all the publicly-available metrics available to evaluate the race, none served as a particularly useful means of evaluating first-ballot support. The only ones which correctly pegged the two top of Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp were fund-raising and endorsements. But the former suggested a much tighter five-way race than proved to be the case, while the latter would have placed Nathan Cullen a distant fifth rather than a strong third.

Indeed, the closest overall single metric looks to have mentions. Which may give rise to some chicken-or-egg philosophizing, but also offers a data point to suggest that those who took the time to cover the campaign did fairly well in collectively assessing its outcome.

That said, there are a couple of points I'll take away from the campaign for future punditry.

First, while it was fairly obvious that different dynamics were at play in different parts of the country, my biggest mistake lay in presuming that one Saskatchewan-specific dynamic would play out similarly elsewhere.

My impression is still that Brian Topp's Saskatchewan endorsements (which he trumpeted at several points in the campaign) were well out of proportion to his share of support among at least the members at the events I attended. And I extrapolated from that view to figure that Topp's support elsewhere was similarly top-heavy. But instead, he had enough grassroots support to come closer than I'd thought possible on the first ballot.

(Of course, it's possible that Topp could have dispelled any false impressions by releasing some of his own campaign's data, rather than treating a perceived lack of momentum merely as a PR issue to be swatted away with a mere "nah, that's wrong". And I'll expand on that possibility in a future post about lessons learned and what-ifs for the candidates.)

The other obvious mistaken impression was as to Paul Dewar's first-ballot support. But that one simply looks to be a matter of reality defying all evidence available at the time of the vote - which if anything should serve as a warning about pretending to know more than we do before a vote takes place.

So the take-aways from the NDP's leadership campaign are to listen more to...spin-meisters and the mainstream media. Which may make for the most surprising outcome of all.

Sunday Morning Links

Assorted content to end your weekend.

- Karl Nerenberg reported on Marc Mayrand's Robocon testimony, featuring some much-needed discussion of what can be done to improve the Canada Elections Act to ensure fair elections rather than creating an incentive for electoral fraud:
Mayrand fretted to the Committee that there are too many grey areas in the current legislation, and he promised to propose changes to the electoral law before the next election.
Committee members repeatedly asked Mayrand about the threshold for nullifying the results of an election, and he had to repeat more than once that Elections Canada does not do that.

It may be one of the lacunae in the law that Mayrand will try to have fixed, but for now citizens who believe they were cheated out of their vote, and that the election in their riding should be rendered null and void, have to go to court.
Meanwhile, the Guelph Mercury reported that the infamous Michael Sona was merely following orders in tampering with a ballot box at the University of Guelph - raising plenty of questions as to who actually gave those orders.

- In further commentary on the federal budget, Carol Goar nicely summarized the budget as an attack on the "economically diversified, socially progressive Canada" that Stephen Harper has loathed for so long, while Thomas Walkom looked in more detail at how it earned the title. Iglika Ivanova pointed out that Canadians fully support higher taxes, including reversing most of the Cons' moves to slash federal fiscal capacity. Murray Dobbin wondered why Jim Flaherty seems eager to bring on another recession. The Globe and Mail slammed the Cons' gratuitous attacks on the environmental movement, while Gloria Galloway wrote about how the budget will further restrict the flow about accurate information about what the Harper Cons are up to. Peter Thurley concluded that the first fully-formed majority budget should serve as the ultimate disproof the Cons have any clue what they're doing managing public finances. Tim Harper tried to minimize the damage. Paul Wells pointed out the final elimination of the Public Appointments Commission which was once hyped as the Cons' big idea to take patronage out of civil-service hiring, while Sixth Estate charted just how much political hiring is going on. Steve compared the Cons' cuts to the CBC to the hundreds of millions allocated for further propaganda. And Jim Stanford crunched the numbers as to how much Canadians will lose from the Cons' cuts to OAS.

- And in a point which deserves at least a separate bullet, APTN noted that part of the attack on environmental reviews includes trying to fold constitutional obligations to consult with First Nations into the same time-limited processes being set up to wave through development without any serious review - which looks like a rather promising ground for challenge.

- Finally, Tabatha Southey set a high bar for due mockery of Mitt Romney. But David Javerbaum easily cleared it.