The Blindingly Obvious About Obama, 2013, Europe, Iran and so on

1) 2013 will be ugly.  If Obama wins he will stop pandering to progressives and liberals.  Since he never has to be reelected again, he will be even worse than he was 2009-2011.  If you want anything from Obama, anything, get it before the election, do not believe promises, do not accept promises, accept cash only.  If Romney or Gingrich wins, well, it’s not going to be any better. SOPA and PIPA will be back in 2013 in some form, so will the pipeline enviros think they’ve killed.

2) Fracking is coming, bigtime, to somewhere near you.  Full steam ahead in 2013.  Bend over and kiss your groundwater goodbye. This is a bipartisan, transnational consensus.

3) The Iran oil embargo is going to cause an economic clusterfuck if it actually happens.  Oil will go up at least $20.  The world (and US) economy can’t take that.

4) Europe’s austerity hasn’t worked.  It won’t work.  It can’t work.  At least if by “work” one means “produce growth and help ordinary people.”  However, it will continue full speed ahead, because Eurocrats don’t give one goddamn about European citizens, only about themselves, and they know Euros aren’t going to impose a personal cost on Eurocrats.

5) There were coups in both Greece and Italy.  Private interests now run those countries.

6) We are on cruise control for war with Iran.  The oil embargo combined with freezing the Iranian central bank’s assets mean it is, currently, the plan.  Again, the world economy cannot handle an oil embargo against Iran.

7) The key economy in the world is China.  If China crashes, we are done.  China is in the position the US was in the 20s, it is the economy which is actually producing growth (or there are a few others, but it’s the main one) and the old world (Europe then, the Developed world now) doesn’t actually want growth, but wants to invest in China and make money that way. It didn’t work then, it won’t work now.

8 ) Business confidence is the expectation of increased demand.  Austerity is the expectation of decreased demand.  Austerity does not, will not, never has and never will restore business confidence.

9) The 2012 election only matters in the margins.  The question is flavors of disastrous president, there is no president on the menu who will not be a disaster, though obviously Gingrich would be an extra serving of disaster.  For the left, the election is essentially irrelevant.  If you’re focusing your effort on 2012 you’re wasting your time.  Focus on 2016.

10)  Greece is going to default.  So is Italy.  So is Spain.  The question is only when.  The Euro is going to contract, the question is only when.  This is almost inevitable.  If Germany actually wanted to avoid this, they’d start spending like mad, buying from the peripheral Euro nations, but they won’t do that, so we’re done.  If I’m wrong, that’s the worse case scenario: not defaulting means economic devastation in all the peripheral European nations, and stagnation everywhere else in Europe.

11) There is only one way things will get better, and that is politicians and bankers and the oligarchs start fearing the population, and believing that the military and police can’t protect them.  The longer citizens insist on being “nice” and letting oligarchs steal their future, beat them, imprison them, take their homes, their jobs and their lives, the longer the oligarchs and their servants will do so.  Why shouldn’t they?

Since populations won’t do what it takes to make the oligarchs fear them, the situation will continue to get worse.  You can have widespread prosperity and democracy, or you can have oligarchs.  You can’t have both. You’ve already made your choice, and until you change your mind, your future is gone.

The NDP Leadership Debate in Toronto

I came. I saw. I listened. And what I listened to was a lot of what MP Nathan Cullen characterized as “violent agreement”.

The packed crowd (people had to be turned away) listened to candidates who agree, violently, on what government should do. Grow the economy sustainably, help the downtrodden, ensure equality, and so on.

The disagreements, with one exception, were subtle. They were either about political strategy, or about implementation. Everyone may agree on what to do, everyone does not agree on how to do it. But with only a minute or 30 seconds to answer each question you had to listen sharply to hear the differences.

With that one exception. Cullen proposed open primaries for all non Conservative parties with only the winning candidate running, so that there would be one candidate in each riding to oppose the Conservatives.

The hissing was immediate. A heartbeat later, the clapping began. Because the NDP wants to be government, wants it bad. They’ve been in the wilderness for too long, and they sure don’t trust the Liberals to do the right things. But NDP supporters also understand that Harper is a transformational Prime Minister–in the worst way possible. He is making a Canada which is less equal, less prosperous and far, far meaner. He is undermining medicare, undermining small farms and plans to center Canada’s economy around resource extraction of the kind which leaves behind only a legacy of ruin. (Every resource boom ends. Every single one.) So defeating Harper is important.

That aside, there was so much agreement that I began doing what I prefer not to do in American politics: I started considering electability.

There were only three candidates on that stage, in my opinion, who had the raw charisma and polished speaking skills necessary to lead the NDP to victory. Thomas Mulcair, Nathan Cullen and Peggy Nash. The NDP cannot afford a leader who is not charismatic, and the others simply don’t have the ability to hold attention. Nash and Mulcair are bilingual, Cullen’s french is weaker, but getting better.

Below I’m going to go through my observations on all eight, starting with the three I feel have the charisma for the job.

Thomas Mulcair

Mulcair has a reputation as a firebrand, but the man I saw on the stage was calm and in command of the facts. Able to switch easily between rabble rousing and policy, he also showed a clear command of the actual policy levers, as when he commented that the CMHC (the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation) was the key to affordable housing, or when noted areas of provincial jurisdiction. He was also the strongest opposing voice to Cullen’s suggestion of open nominations, making a passionate case that the NDP can win as the NDP. I didn’t go in with a very favorable impression of Mulcair, but I came out with one. He would be vulnerable to attacks on his strong support for Quebec provincial jurisdiction, and I’d like to hear his current views on the role of the federal government in areas on Provincial jurisdiction, but his charisma and command of the issues made a strong impression in the debate. His point about youth engagement being key to victory was also well taken, and I’d like to hear more about how he plans to increase the youth vote.

Peggy Nash

Nash was the most relentlessly rah-rah of all the candidates. Her answers were much more often pep talks and rally the troop moments than any other candidate. She reliably commanded the crowd. Her rhetoric on issues of social equality was very skillful, making the point that if some people are better off (union workers who have pensions, for example) the solution isn’t to take those pensions away, the solution is to make sure everyone has good pensions. Of the three candidates with charisma Nash left me coldest, but I was in the minority in the crowd. She didn’t demonstrate the same ready command of the nuts and bolts of issues as Mulcair, Cullen and Romeo Saganash but given the format of the debate and her background, I would assume she is just as knowledgeable and she certainly has enough policy proposals out. I like to hear her plans for winning the next election, and holding on the the gains in Quebec.

Nathan Cullen

I should confess first off that Cullen said many of the things I like to think I’d have said were I up on the stage, and said them the way I’d say them. He was the most combative of the candidates, and he was the one to call for specifics, and to call BS. The open primary suggestion was the main point of conflict in the debate, but he also made the point that when it comes to professional associations recognizing immigrant’s qualifications, “dialogue” isn’t going to cut it. He showed a ready understanding of the actual dynamics of power and how parliament works. And he was a smooth and clean speaker with charisma. As with Nash or Muclair, he commands attention. I don’t know his ideas on how the NDP should win, if the Liberals reject his open primary idea (which I’m pretty sure they would), but I’d like to hear them. As with all candidates not from Quebec, I’d like to hear how he plans to maintain the NDP’s success in that province, as well as grow outside it.

Niki Ashton

Ashton has a tendency towards mushy talk. The solution to too many things is apparently dialogue. We need to “talk” about everything. Certainly right on the issues (but so is everyone) but I didn’t get the impression she was ready for the leadership spot yet. She didn’t demonstrate the ability to make the case in a short, pithy, commanding way, and in our media environment, that’s disqualifying.

Paul Dewar

Comes across as likeable. The bloke you’d want to have a beer with, which so many political reporters seem to think is important. Good on the issues, like everyone.. Kind of forgettable otherwise. Nothing stands out from him in my mind other than “such a swell guy”. Of course that can go a long way in politics, and if Dewar were fluently bilingual his likeability could pass as charisma. As it is I think he’s a good candidate for the leadership in the next race, if he fixes his french.

Romeo Saganash

Romeo isn’t a good public speaker. I winced when he made his introductory speech. But he grew on me through the debate. He had an excellent grasp not just of the details of how government works but of what is most important. He made the single most important policy point in the entire debate – that the government has almost 200 billion dollars worth of tax loopholes, subsidies and so on. (He gave the exact number, but I didn’t note it down at the time.) The 5 billion in tax cuts for the rich which could be rescinded is just the top of the iceberg. That money means that if the NDP is serious, it can remake Canada. And his record in Quebec, bringing Quebec Hydro to heel and making it work for everyone in Quebec, is impressive. In any NDP government I’d want to see Saganash in a senior ministerial role. He impressed me as a man who could turn good intentions into policy which worked. He wouldn’t make a good leader, because he’s not a man for the soundbite era, or a great giver of speeches. But for the actual work of government, he’d seemed perfect.

Martin Singh

I think Singh knows he isn’t going to win. But he kept making the same point and it’s well taken: Canadians trust the NDP on social values, medicare and so on. They know the NDP will do the right thing. The sale which needs to be made is that the NDP can handle and grow the economy. I think that his point, and Nash’s combined, are the argument the NDP should go with: that Canadians don’t have to be mean to each other to grow the economy, but that we can all be prosperous together. Make that case, and the NDP wins. Fail to make the case, and the NDP can only back into power if Canadians hate Harper and see the NDP as the alternative. The other candidates, and the eventual leader, should listen to Singh on this.

Brian Topp

Another likeable man, though he doesn’t come across quite as personable as the immensely likeable Dewar. I get his mail, and he or whoever writes his pieces is a great writer, who hits all the right emotive spots. His policy papers are smart. But he came across flat and wasn’t a significant presence in the debate.

Closing Remarks

It’s important for the NDP to elect a leader who can win, and who if he or she becomes Prime Minister will do the right things, and do them effectively. Eight years of a Harper majority will change the country dramatically, and when adding in his years as minority leader, will make him one of the longest serving PMs in our history. Incredible damage will be done to the country as Harper’s policies strip mine resources and largely ignore the rest of the economy, leaving Canada in great danger when the resource boom ends, as they always do.

I don’t know enough about the candidates to make an endorsement, I will simply say that electability and ability to govern are the two things which I believe matter most. The candidates who struck me as having the necessary charisma, administrative chops and sheer bloodymindedness required were (in alphabetical order), Cullen, Mulcair and Nash.

There’s more I’d like to hear, including some big ideas. Instead of “increased sustainable housing” something like “in 10 years, every building in Canada will be energy neutral”. Or “we will roll make university tuition $2k a year, and student aid will be 80% grants.” (Oh, and bankruptcy from student loans will be allowed again). “We will overturn everything Harper has done.” Big things. The vision thing. Not “tax rebate for X”. Ten point plans are all very nice, but they won’t win the election, a clearly different vision for Canada will.

In the era we’re going into Canada has a lot going for it, not the least of which is that we have oil and other resources in a period when resources are scarce and prices will stay high for a while. Offhand I can’t think of a country better positioned to prosper over the next generation. But resources can destroy us, annihilating the other sectors of our economy, including manufacturing, so that we become nothing but hewers of wood and drawers of oil. When the eventual resource crash happens, we can become Argentina north. The grab the money and run strategy of the conservatives is incredibly shortsighted.

So the Conservatives must lose. The NDP must win. And having won, it must govern effectively. For the sake of Canada, may the NDP choose the right man or woman for the job.

(View the Toronto NDP Leadership Debate yourself.)

NB: corrections made. I used the word Sovereigntist sloppily with regards to Mulcair.  He has never been for Quebec independence, he does have strong views on the role of the Federal government in Quebec which could be charitably characterized as asymmetrical federalism.  Nathan Cullen is not fluently bilingual, but does speak French.

Ron Paul Hysteria

So, I’m noticing a ton of attacks on Ron Paul from progressives.  The reason is simple enough, Ron Paul is great on some key things the left cares about, and horrible on others.  His last ad in Iowa says he’d ban abortion, for example.  On the other hand, he wants to withdraw all troops from foreign wars and bring back the troops from America’s far flung military bases.  And he’s the only candidate to unequivocally state that he would never order the assassination of Americans.

Paul’s economic policies are straight up insane, and would throw the world into a full catastrophic Great Depression, even worse than the one we’re in now and worse than the one in the 30s.

But the problem is that current policies by more “mainstream” candidates just get to the same place more slowly.  And maybe not even that much more slowly.  Numerian thinks this could be the year of the big crash, for example, one where even the first world has food shortages and so on.

We’re going to get there.  There is a consensus for austerity amongst the transnational developed world elites which is breathtaking in its unanimity, imperviousness to argument and lack of regard for democratic niceties.  There is no consensus on how to deal with the oil bottleneck, no plan for actually dealing with the leveraged debt overhang, no understanding of how to create real growth, as opposed to bubbles.  If they do manage to hang on, what will happen is a huge non-conventional oil boom (read Fracking) and that will devastate ground water and turn large areas into wastelands.  Nor will it last all that long or feel all that good (it’ll be better than now, but probably not even as good as the best Bush years.)

After that I see no scenario in which things don’t crack up, completely.

So Ron Paul will cause a crack up, possibly a little bit ahead of schedule.  That sucks for old people who might have died before the world went to hell, but for young people, you might as well get it done.

But Ron Paul also might do some real damage to the military industrial complex.  There is no route forward for the US which does not require taking that misallocated effort, and using it for other things.  So this is necessary.

Also the movement of manufacturing and other expertise overseas means that the US labor force is a wasting asset.  The longer the decline goes on the fewer people there will be with the skills to bootstrap back up, the less of an industrial base other than defense there will be, and so on.  Infrastructure will be more degraded, not less, and so on.  So from that point of view, cracking up sooner, rather than later, is preferable because it leaves a clearer path to the future.

But let’s move back to the title.  The reason Ron Paul causes hysterics is he pits interest group against interest group, morality vs. morality. He’s a different kind of lesser evil.  If Afghans got to vote in the US election, who would they vote for?  How important is Habeas Corpus to you really?  What about pot legalization?  Etc…  Ron Paul is awful on some issues, and very good on others.  Are abortion rights more important than dead Afghans and Pakistanis at weddings?  (I don’t claim they are, or aren’t, I simply note Paul forces you to make that choice.)  And Paul would end all bank bailouts.  Hate the banksters?  Think they’re the key problem?  Paul’s your man.

Obama is objectively awful.  Paul is objectively awful.  But unlike Romney, Paul is objectively awful in different ways than Obama.  Romney would just be Obama, but slightly worse.  If you’re going to choose a lesser evil, you might as well choose Obama.  But when it comes to Paul vs. Obama the equation changes.

And that’s why many progressives are attacking any other progressive who says anything good about Paul, because Paul threatens to split the left, and because Paul makes progressives decide what they value most.