Saturday, May 31, 2008

Clinton Hail Mary Fails

Hillary Clinton's prayers were not answered today. This thing has been over for weeks. Maybe this will quiet some of her nonsense. Then again, listening to Harold Ickes, probably not. Puerto Rico tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Lies, Damned Lies and Polls

So, the bread tax (lots of CO2 in bread making don't you know) supporters are jumping for joy because a poll says that Canadians would support a carbon tax. Folks, let's not get silly. Polls are useful to see trends during an election period. Otherwise, they are mostly useless. Ask the folks at Fair Vote Ontario. See, they thought they had a winning issue. After all, in poll after poll, when Canadians were asked if they wanted their electoral system to be proportional, they said yes. Then a funny thing happened. Once a proposal for PR (namely MMP) came out in Ontario and was placed before the voters, it sank like a stone. What happened? Well, the polls that had put the electoral reform question to the voters had accentuated the positives and ignored the negatives. The proposal put before the people had all the dirty details that people just can't look passed. I will be convinced when Canadians say by wide margins that they are willing to pay more for gasoline, groceries and home heating and witness the reversal of economic fortunes in booming provinces (I'm guessing that the green economy won't be built in St. John's or Saskatoon) as long as they are saving the planet. An abstract concept is easy to support, an actual policy is much more difficult to sell.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Obama Continues to Outfox Clinton

If the race for the Democratic nomination could be summed up in a single event, it may be the Nevada Caucuses. Nevada was the kind of state Clinton should have taken in a walk. Few blacks, lots of Hispanics for starters. Instead, back in January she squeaked out a popular vote win in the caucuses and lost in terms of the all important delegate count. Why? Clinton doesn't know how to caucus. She lost caucus state after caucus state by resounding margins. Nevada was one of the few states where she actually was competitive. Well, her failure to caucus successfully was thrown back in her face this weekend when Barack Obama took an extra delegate at the state convention.

The American primary system is horribly complex and most states (I can only think of West Virginia Republicans as a possible exception) have one or two stages in actually choosing delegates long after the CNN camera crews have left. Nevada is no exception. In Nevada the caucuses where Joe and Jane Q. Public voted in January were step one. Joe and Jane Q. Public were actually voting for delegate spots to the state convention this past weekend. Those spots were assigned proportionally based on the votes received at the caucuses by each candidate. The delegates to that convention then have the job of choosing Nevada's delegation to the Democratic National Convention in August. Thus, while the delegates are pretty much picked on voting day, if one candidate fails to get delegates to the convention and the other does, things can change a bit. This is what happened over the weekend.

In typical Clinton fashion, Hillary sent Bill out assuming that he would take care of business. The Obama campaign actually made sure his delegates to the state convention, you know, went to the state convention and came away one delegate richer. American politics are often about big ads and big money. However, in Nevada and elsewhere in this nomination fight its been about strong on the ground organization and attention to detail. Clinton has done well in the air (why do you think she's lobbying for a 1001st debate?), but has been close to incompetent on the ground. That's the lesson going forward. If you want to win, win on the ground.

Side Note: Barack Obama received the endorsement of a former KKK member today. Robert Byrd has long since disavowed his membership in that organization (a true seeing of the light by all accounts) and has become a pillar of the US Senate, currently serving as President Pro Tempore (the guy third in the line of succession). It is telling about the progress made in the United States in the last sixty years that a former klansman is endorsing an African-American to be president of the United States. It is also a fitting symbol of the evolution of Robert Byrd as a politician. One of the things that pundits predicted would tell us when this race was over was when party elders started to pick sides. You don't get any more elderly than Robert Byrd.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gifts from Political Heaven

Yesterday, both presumptive nominees in the race for the White House got really lucky in their efforts to secure their respective bases. For John McCain it was the decision handed down by the California court in San Francisco, appropriately enough, striking down the ban on same-sex marriage. While I applaud the decision, I don't know that anyone is happier about this than John McCain. McCain is desperate to find a way to energize the Religious Right. Right now, the Base is sitting on their hands. They aren't giving money, they aren't getting out the vote for congressional candidates, they are retreating from politics. However, nothing energizes the Religious Right like same-sex marriage (okay abortion does, but its harder to use). McCain and his Republican colleagues can now yell until they are blue in the face about those coastal elites attacking the values of decent, hardworking Americans. Consider the base re-energized.

Obama's gift from heaven was sent through the holy land. George Bush made a not so-veiled attack on Obama, comparing his foreign policy to Nazi appeasement. Beyond the outrageousness of these remarks, Obama know has a great way to sell his foreign policy to most Americans: George Bush hates it. Nothing unifies sentiment in the Democratic party quite like their hatred of George W. Bush. Democrats are basically prepared to do anything to contradict Bush, supporting Obama should be easy. This allows Obama to cast critics of his foreign policy as supporters of Bush's hugely unpopular foreign policy. Talk about having something served up on a silver platter.

Side Note: Anyone who doubted Obama's ability to fight a media war should be convinced after this week. Clinton crushes him in West Virginia and goes out and does interviews with everyone and anyone while the iron's hot. What does Obama do? He pulls John Edwards out of a hat. Thus, the image on CNN as Wolf Blitzer interviews Clinton is a split screen of the Clinton interview with the endorsement rally and the headline "Edwards Backs Obama." Check and mate.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


If you are in the Toronto area and want to help out, Andrew Lang will be out canvassing this evening. The information is here. There were about ten of us out last week enjoying the spring weather and having some good old fashioned Liberal fun. I know it's the dinner hour, but I can't think of too many places I'd rather be when I'm hungry than on the Danforth. Come out and join the Lang Gang!

Five Questions For John McCain

As Canadian politics continues to be on hold, I continue my focus on the upcoming American election. In the next couple of days I will highlight the challenges facing the presumptive nominees of both parties starting with the Republican, John McCain.

  1. Can he talk about anything other than national security? If the economy and other domestic issues reign supreme over the next few months, it will be incumbent upon McCain to find a winning domestic message. I have no idea what that will be.
  2. Can he overcome the age issue? John McCain is trying to become the oldest person ever elected to the oval office. He's not only old, he's got a history of cancer. Voters want a strong powerful leader, not a guy better suited for a retirement home. McCain needs to prove to voters that he is still fit enough to be president.
  3. Can he win over the base? John McCain has never really won over the Republican base. He needs evangelical Christians and other social conservatives to vote in droves if he hopes to win. There are few indications that he has done that yet. In recent primaries, 25% of Republicans who have bothered to cast their purely symbolic vote, have done so in protest against John McCain. That's not good. That leads to question 4...
  4. Can he compete with Obama's money? For the first time in a long time, the Democrats have the definitive fundraising advantage over the Republicans. Not only did John McCain fundraise poorly but no other Republican candidate (with the possible exception of Ron Paul) was able to bring in the dough. Huckabee ran second on a shoestring budget. Romney ran third on his own money. The Republicans need to get their fundraising mojo back if they want to win. That starts with the base.
  5. Can he save the Republican party from the coming doomsday? The elephant in the room for the elephant party is Congress. Even if John McCain wins the white house, the congressional picture looks bleak for the GOP. The Democrats have up to 10 different targets to pick up seats in the senate (in no particular order: ME, OR, MN, TX, GA, NC, VA, NM, CO, NH), the GOP have one: Louisiana senator Mary Landrieu. Expect the razor thin democratic majority to grow substantially. In the house, the problem is money. The RCCC (the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee) is broke and has told its members (the people running for Congress on the Republican banner) that they are on their own. With a slew of Republicans either retiring or in major political hot water, the Democratic control over the house of representatives is likely to strengthen. Speaker Pelosi is not worried about relinquishing the hammer any time soon. McCain will be called upon to try to save this sinking ship. This may be asking the impossible, but if McCain loses, he won't be going down alone.
I'll look at Obama's key questions in the coming days.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Carbon Tax Will Starve Children

That's the long and short of it folks. The purpose of any sin tax be it on alcohol, tobacco or carbon is to reduce the negative behaviour. A carbon tax will not reduce the negative behaviour because much of the behaviour is not voluntary. Any behaviour it does change will either negatively effect the environment, negatively effect Canada or both. The largest polluter targeted by this tax would be the oil industry. The explicit purpose of this tax, read the white paper folks, is to meet our Kyoto targets. Oil production in Canada has increased by around 50% since 1990. Natural gas production in Canada, largely as a result of the oil sands boom, has increased by around 100% since 1990. If you want to meet Kyoto targets, you better have one heck of oil sands strategy. Now, all us good environmentalists want to stop the smoggies in the oil sands. Problem is, all that goop does more than fuel SUV's. Oil sands oil production is, believe it or not, keeping the price of a barrel of oil down. If you were to reduce production in the oil sands, the cost would go up. If you put a tax on every barrel even if its only a $1.17 US per barrel (as is outlined in the white paper), the cost of every oil based product in Canada goes up. It is folly to think that this tax will be internalize by the polluters. The polluters won't pay; the consumers will. Not necessarily a problem on the gas for an SUV, a huge problem on a loaf of bread. We do not as progressives in this country believe in taxing the necessities of life. No problem justifies taking food out of the hands of children. This tax has that potential. Even if we find some means of alleviating the pain at home, we will not prevent the global ramifications of this action. An increase, or just the perception of an increase in the cost of Canadian oil, will send the already jittery oil markets into a frenzy. The cost will go up, world wide. And the oil to fertilizers and pesticides to grain to bread equation will happen not only in Canada but around the world. This is the equation which has the World Food Programme in full panic mode. I cannot as a progressive support a tax which will make this problem worse. A carbon tax, no matter how revenue neutral, does.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Primary Systems

The At Issue panel on The National tonight was comparing the primary systems of Canada and the United States. The panel stressed how the system in the United States is very different from the one in Canada, which is true. However, the panel, which praised the American system, ignored the similarities between the system the Liberal Party of Canada has used in the last two leadership races and the American model. Hebert claimed the Tories were close, which is false as anyone who knows anything about the delegate selection method used in the United States knows, it is not one member one vote, it's well, delegated. Under the Tory system, states with small number of registered democrats like, say, Indiana, would have a disproportionately small say in the race. While the Republicans do reward Republican voting patterns it is not based on the number of registered Republicans.

Both Systems:
  • hold elections to elect delegates to a national convention
  • both select those delegates at regional meetings (state level in US; riding level for the grits)
  • assign delegates to different regions based on population (the Republicans modify this slightly by rewarding Republican states but the base-line remains rep by pop)
  • make it so that elected delegates are pledged to a certain candidate for the first round of voting at the convention
  • generate large fields in races with no clear front runner which narrow as the race progresses
There are three major differences. The first, is party membership. In the United States, party membership is cost-free and voters have the option to register with a certain party when they register to vote. In Canada, there is a small cost and party membership is not available through elections Canada. The American system is largely a product of, and perpetuater of a closed two party system where political parties (as organizations) have more power. This is largely beyond the control of Canada's political parties and is not something they can consider when setting their leadership rules. The second, which is also beyond the control of parties, is timing. The Democratic and Republican parties have no leader. Every four years they nominate a candidate for President. Voters and politicians understand that the primary process will happen at a certain time, and if both parties finish in a reasonable amount of time (*cough Hilary Clinton cough*), the primary process will have no impact upon the general election outside of deciding a candidate and possibly airing some dirty laundry. By contrast, a party without a leader in Canada is in a bind. A party cannot afford to not have a leader for the almost 18 months that the American race has lasted. The last Liberal leadership race was maligned by party insiders and the media alike for being excessively long at 10 months. Because of the fusion of powers in the Canadian system, a leader is much more important to the party than a presidential nominee. In fact, the government of the United States has functioned with almost no regard to the race. In Canada, a leaderless party, particularly if it is in government or the chief opposition changes the nature of parliament. Finally, the third major difference between the American system and the LPC system is that in the US the primaries and caucuses are staggered over months while the LPC does it over a weekend. Once again, time considerations come into play. However, I applaud the LPC for not making the leadership about pandering to local constituencies and hate the fact that ethanol and farm subsidies are major issues every four years because Iowans vote first.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Hillary Clinton Surrogates Lose It

Watching CNN's coverage of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries last night, I was struck by the performance of Clinton's supporters. They as a group (three of them through the night versus the one Barack Obama surrogate). I can't remember who exactly all three of them were at this point but they made quite a team. First, Paul Begala picks a fight with undeclared super-delegate and member of the rules committtee, Donna Brazile. Then Begala disappears into the ether and the next guy starts complaining about media bias on CNN. He goes after the most objective guy on the set, John King. Never mind that Clinton surrogates got about three times the air time that Jamal Simmons, the lone Obama supporter got. Apparently King's stating of the facts is biased. Apparently, Barack Obama is solely responsible for Florida and Michigan's disenfranchisement. No it wasn't the governors and senators in FL and MI trying to gain influence, it was those nasty Obama supporters. Maybe you'd get a little more sympathy if you stopped picking with members of the committee charged to solve the problem! Then, the Clinton team starts spinning the "Indiana is the tie-breaker" bit. Never mind your own prediction that "North Carolina would be a game changer." Or that you won Indiana by the skin of your teeth. What matters is the over-confidence all candidates show when campaigning in a jurisdiction where their hopes are bleak. Ask the Green Party how many times they've heard that they're on the cusp of a breakthrough. All in all a terrible performance by Clinton surrogates on a bad night for Clinton. According to the Green papers if you add up the delgates from Pennsylvania, Guam, Indiana and North Carolina (the last four contests), you get a net of a one delegate gain for Hillary Clinton. That's including super delegates, a total of 358 total delegates. In other words, Clinton is done. She cannot possibly catch Obama. Even if you give her the results as in from Florida (roughly a 40 delegate edge) and take the Michigan results as the forty percent "uncommitted" for Obama (netting a 17 delegate edge), she is still almost 100 delegates behind with just over 500 delegates remaining. With the PR rules, she's done.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Join the Lang Gang

Are you tired of endless speculation about election timing? Do you want to actually do something? Are you in the GTA? Do you want to see Jack Layton out of the house of commons? If you answered yes to all of these questions come join Andrew Lang as he canvasses in Toronto-Danforth. Here's the link with all the info.
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