Monday, April 29, 2013

Not Impressed with NDP Climate Motion Ploy

Today the NDP's environment critic used an opposition day to have the House of Commons vote on this motion:
“That this House: (a) agree with many Canadians and the International Energy Agency that there is grave concern with the impacts of a 2 degree rise in global average temperatures; (b) condemn the lack of effective action by successive federal governments since 1998 to address emissions and meet our Kyoto commitments; and (c) call on the government to immediately table its federal climate change adaptation plan.”
Unsurprisingly, the Conservatives, Liberals and sole Green Party MP Elizabeth May all voted against this motion.  Obviously the NDP didn't think for a second the Liberals were going to vote for a motion that condemns their own governments between 1998 and 2006 and Elizabeth May has objected on the obvious grounds that the motion only calls on the government to table an "adaptation plan" rather than an action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The NDP are quick out of the gate with items like this, grouping the Liberals and Conservatives together as is their wont.  I'm not impressed with the whole thing, it's beneath the NDP for one thing and speaking as a voter who could be persuaded to vote NDP instead of Liberal, this does nothing to inform me about actual, meaningful policy differences between the two parties on an issue I care deeply about, climate change.

I am all for the NDP finding ways to inform Canadians about important distinctions between themselves and the other left-of-centre parties so that when 2015 comes around they can fight for the largest share of that ~65% of the public that won't vote Conservative, but this doesn't seem helpful to that end.  It doesn't tell me any actual salient difference between the Greens, NDP and Liberals on the climate issue.    That both other parties have such obvious outs to vote against this motion makes it ineffective as a tool to prove that the NDP line on either the Greens or Liberals is accurate (the usual line being that both are effectively conservative parties and not true progressive institutions).

Lest I be accused of concern trolling, I'll say I really would like to know if Justin Trudeau would take meaningful action on the climate if elected in 2015.  I fear he won't, and would like it if the NDP finds ways to force him to take significant policy stands that allay or confirm that fear.  Asking him to have his party condemn the Chretien and Martin governments (much as they deserve condemnation on this file) isn't going to do that.  Ethics of the thing aside, if Trudeau had somehow had his party support this motion, the news coverage would be all about the meta-story of the Liberals voting to condemn their own past governments, not about the climate issue.

Maybe I'm not the target audience and this will be very effective at, well, tricking, less politically aware voters who have the environment as a top-of-mind issue and don't read past the headlines.  But it doesn't work on me, and strikes me as the stereotypical form of holier-than-thou progressivism that the NDP is often criticized for.   It's not the biggest deal in the world, just some petty political positioning and attack-ad fodder, but even describing it that way is to repeat that the NDP should be better than this.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

America's Political Nightmare in One Paragraph

My god this may be the finest paragraph Paul Rosenberg has ever written:
In truth, the Republican party only has three problems: its policies are unpopular, its policies do not work, and they hate everybody who does not agree with them. In contrast, the Democratic party has only one problem: it wants to be more like the Republicans. 
Don't look to me for the bog standard two party "duopoly" rant because I think adding more parties to a corrupted system is like asking the staff for a new set of dice at a crooked casino - the new dice will be loaded too.  Whatever forces are corrupting the two parties would almost certainly corrupt any new party that emerged absent some kind of deeper understanding of those forces of corruption and real means to defeat them.

Rosenberg's apt synopsis of the Republican party's problems is actually the less important part of his thesis, which is: What the hell is wrong with the Democratic party?  To wit:
But the Democrats have it even worse. They have won the popular vote in every presidential election since 1992 except for 2004, and yet they have been playing defence - rather badly - throughout most of this period. They do not have the means to even consider what it might look like to go on offence, except as a kabuki theatre to rev up their base come election time. 
Examples of this really are legion, from the failure to enact Hillarycare in 1993, triangulating through the rest of the Clinton presidency, failing to end the Iraq War in 2007 with control of Congress, failing to kill the filibuster in 2009, 2011 and now in 2013, the too-small stimulus, voluntarily killing ACORN under a nonsense trumped up non-scandal, falling over themselves to condemn Move On for actually opposing right wing warmongers like Bush, Cheney and Petraeus, failing to get prosecute corrupt bankers and financiers, and we can add stripping the Public Option from Obamacare.  Yes, there were a variety of villains to blame for each of these failures from Liberman to Nelson to the Blue Dogs to Obama himself but the core of it a party unwilling to really grasp the rusty levers of power and effect significant change when it counts.  Keeping the stupid filibuster in place was probably the most obvious sign that at some level, they're happy to have the excuse not act.  Not necessarily because they're "corrupt" in the sense of consciously being bought out to not do what voters sent them to do (though some no doubt are) but in not really wanting to, or being afraid to.

The Republicans are the party that won't take "no" for an answer from the voters, returning with the same bad enrich-the-rich policies over and over, year after year, but the Democrats are the party that won't take "yes" for an answer and give the voters what they want: sound liberal economic policy.  Jobs,  economic security, schools that work, a clean environment.  The Democrats had two chances in 1992 and 2008 where they controlled the trifecta of both houses of Congress and the Presidency and in both cases failed to deliver bold liberal policy that would measurably improve people's lives quickly and noticeably.  That's the big secret of what FDR did to achieve the amazing political success of the 1932-1994 Democratic coalition.  He/They (Democrats) enacted policies that made their lives better.  Not some arcane neoliberal tax credit to employers that only economists can detect any impact from, the government started mailing seniors actual cheques.  They hired people who needed work.  They built stuff that needed building and would be useful anyway - bridges, libraries, schools.  It wasn't complicated, and it worked. People felt things improving, and in 1934 and 1936 gave FDR historic supermajorities to do more of the same.

These insights don't take political genius to understand, in fact it takes a special kind of political genius for the Democrats to avoid these lessons and try to handwave away these obvious truths.  Right wing ideologues and hacks have obvious motives to ply sophistry and revisionism to deride FDR as they simply don't want to win by implementing liberal policy.  They, ultimately, must trick voters into voting against their own interests.  That's much tougher and it's why they lose the popular vote so often, even with their generally better electoral messaging machinery and rampant voter suppression.

Yes, I know the causes are in some sense obvious, lobbyists and corporate money and so forth.  But all that stuff existed in 1932, but Rosenberg suggests a deeper problem, that the leadership of the Democratic party simply don't really want to implement bold liberal policy because they don't believe in it:
Regardless of your own ideology - conscious or unconscious - you just have to wonder why Obama clings so doggedly to both substantive policies and political strategies that repeatedly fail so profoundly. No doubt there are multiple factors involved, but the most compelling answer, I have come to believe, comes down to a lack of vision: Obama quite simply cannot see any alternative. His politics are drastically confined by the crabbed nature of his neoliberal imagination, formed in the shadows of Reagan and Thatcher.  
I tend to agree.  Despite its rampant failure in the past few years, neoliberalism still has the world's elites in thrall.  They evidently cannot turn from it.  Even the ones who know it is failing can't imagine what could take its place.  I hope democratic politics can find some way to dethrone the lot of them and let some new blood take the reins for a spell, because the alternative ways this ends are not good.

Do read Rosenberg's whole piece.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Media Should Not Cover YouTube Attack Ads

If a political party isn't willing to pay to put an ad into places people are likely to find it on their own (like TV, radio, newspaper or even paid online adverstising), the media should not provide free publicity to almost-no-cost "attack ad" content:
There was no day off to celebrate for Justin Trudeau, who won the Liberal Party leadership decisively Sunday night with more than 80 per cent of the vote.

Before Trudeau's first full day as leader had even begun, attack ads against him appeared on YouTube in English and French.
I'm reminded of that West Wing episode where the Bartlett campaign returns a "leaked" attack ad on Bartlett to the Republican campaign, who deviously turn it over to the media, claim they didn't create it and because the "story" of it being anonymously provided to the Bartlett people is "news" - the ad gets major free airtime on all the networks at no cost to the Republican campaign.  Now the Conservatives/Republicans don't even have to trick their political opponents into doing something to provoke media coverage, just post it on Youtube and it gets mucho coverage.

This is even worse though, the media is just volunteering to be gamed.  If the Conservatives aren't going to put money behind their ads to get them in people's faces, no one should be writing about them.  At least if an ad goes viral on Youtube by itself, then, sure, it's already news, discuss it.  This is ridiculous.  If more people are going to see something because of media coverage of it, then would see or hear of it otherwise, it probably shouldn't be covered.

And since I'm clearly in the realm of "shouting at the wind" here because the media's incentives are all wrong, the Liberals and NDP should take their cue from this and return the favour.  If the media wants to fill news hole with vacuous "someone made a practically zero cost attack ad" stories, better feed the beast because if you don't, the cynics on the right gladly will.

(I also can't help but think the gross budget cuts inflicted on the CBC are partly behind their sinking to the level of the for-profit media - not having enough reporters and editors to produce meaningful content that's worth talking about makes an outlet starved for content, these things cost money, and spending time talking about some video the Conservatives posted is free, your existing host can blather about it, you don't even have to send reporters anywhere, but it adds zero value to what Canadians know about politics).

Friday, April 12, 2013

Irony Collapses After Desperate Sprint to Not Get Lapped

Thin skinned anti-science idiot Chrisopher Monckton has a big sad that a bunch of actually smart people called out his errant nonsense as nonsense so he's naturally doing what real intellectuals do when their ideas are challenged:  Defend them, I mean complain to authorities and try to have the critics fired:
In a letter to Victoria University vice-chancellor Pat Walsh, the British aristocrat claimed the professors had been dishonest and brought the university into disrepute.
He claimed professors James Renwick and David Frame, both accomplished climate scientists, had insulted him in the media by calling his views harmful with no scientific basis.
 The mot-de-juste comes not from the scientists (who are happily not concerned about ramifications from this) but Monckton himself:
"In saying I have 'no training' he [Professor Renwick] has lied. I have a Cambridge degree in classical architecture."
I'm sure there were important lessons about atmospheric chemistry and radiative forcing in learning about the Collesium.

This is your hero, cliamate deniars.  Aren't you tired of being on the same side as such an egregious moron?  There's a cure for that, accept reality and stop pulling for the wrong team.  Your grand kids may thank you (if we actually avoid the calamity that will come if we don't act, if not, I hope you have some compelling lies planned to explain why their world is a shithole.  Saying you hated Al Gore, David Suzuki and enviro hippies isn't probably going to explain it to their satisfaction).


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

New Zealand Sets the Gold Standard For Monckton Journalism

This is how every article about one of Christopher Monckton's revivalist evangelical bamboozlement roadshow sessions should go:

Lord Monckton, who once argued for the quarantine of AIDS patients in internment camp-like facilities, is a vocal leader of the climate change-denying movement. 
In Copenhagen in 2009, the member of the right-wing anti-European UK Independence Party (UKIP) caused fury when he called young climate activists, 'Hitler Youth'. 
In 2011, he was forced to apologise after comparing Australia's chief climate adviser Ross Garnaut to a Nazi. 
Lord Monckton, 61, has no scientific training, having studied classics and journalism. He has toured the world trying to convince people that climate change is being exaggerated.
Awesome.  You don't have to embellish anything, just describe the man's actual record and it's transparently obvious not only should you not take his climate views seriously, you wouldn't even buy a used car from the guy.