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The Lesson of Greece Is that Europe Is Run by Functional Sociopaths or Psychopaths

2015 June 24
by Ian Welsh

Syriza has made an offer which includes pension cuts and VAT tax increases, and “institutions” have refused to accept it, saying that (among other things) parametric measures aren’t acceptable (though they accepted them from Spain and Ireland). They will now counter-offer.

By “among other things” they mean:

Labour laws, collective bargaining, pension reform, public sector wages, opening up closed professions, investment as well as value-added tax and corporation tax.

You do not believe, in any case, that any of these things will be good for ordinary Greeks, do you?

Total Greek Debt is about 330 billion Euros. 246 billion of that is “bailout funds,” of which over 90 percent went to private banks. As I (and many others) noted back in 2010, Greece should have defaulted then. This “problem,” such as it is, is now almost entirely the creation of attempts to bail out private lenders who should have done their due diligence, and who deserved to lose their money.

I note that the ECB is doing 1.1 trillion of “unconventional monetary policy,” about a third of which is Greek debt–mostly debt they piled up after 2010. A hundred billion of that, piled into 100 year bonds at 1 percent interest would about deal with the problem; Greece could handle the remaining debt.

A hundred billion, in today’s world, is really not that much money.

But the issue has never been Greek debt, per se, the issue has always been making it clear that no one can default and get away with it, let alone leave the Euro. Greece has been used to make an example, and when they elected a government with a mandate to negotiate an end to austerity they had to be taught an extra lesson for thinking that democracy trumped the right of debtors to run the government of those who owe them money and can’t pay it back.

(This is not remotely an exaggeration, as the terms of the deals made include the Government having to run new policies past “institutions”).

Greeks do not want to leave the Euro. They cannot devalue their currency, which is what they need to do, without leaving the Euro. They do not, apparently, even want to default and stay in the Euro.

In other words, Syriza has no bargaining position based on a popular mandate. Its mandate was “end austerity, but do it without being able to make any credible threats.”

Based on its public mandate, Syriza has no BATNA–Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. In essence, they must take anything that Europe offers.

Or Syriza can turn to the public and say, “there is no deal to be had.”  But “institutions” never give them the time necessary to, say, run a referendum to get a mandate.

Greeks want to stay in the Euro, as commenter Mandos has often pointed out, because the Greek government is terribly run. They’d like to be run by the German government. The problem is, the Germans aren’t offering the government Germans get, they’re offering austerity run by the Greek government.

If Greeks want a good government, they’re going to have to create it themselves. The first stage requires giving a government a mandate allowing them to do what reason and reality both dictate must be done: seriously threaten to default and/or leave the Euro, and follow through with the threats if a good deal isn’t forthcoming.

Absent this, Syriza’s only choices are to buckle, or to do something for which they don’t have a mandate. Of course, sometimes doing the right thing goes against the wishes of the majority of the population–and these are big steps, so it is hard to blame the Greeks for being squeamish. And in hard electoral terms, if Syriza did the right thing, the economy would need to improve before the next election or they’d be out.

But, also in hard electoral terms, they may as well, because if they don’t, they’re going to lose the next election anyway. The Greeks voted them in to end austerity; they will have failed, and the Greeks will most likely try someone else.

Good luck to Greece, the Greeks, and Syriza. They’re going to need it. But luck tends to come to those who are thinking straight about the reality of their lives, and the Greeks aren’t.

As for the “institutions,” let this be your daily reminder that our leaders are functional sociopaths, at best, but act more like psychopaths. Austerity has meant immense suffering, but it is more important to them to bail out their rich donors and friends and help make them richer and more powerful, than it is to make tens to hundreds of millions of lives (far beyond Greece) less miserable.

Psychopaths.

When you’re trying to predict how European elites will operate, assume that they are sociopaths on a good day, psychopaths on any other day. The pain and suffering of those whom they do not personally know is not real to them, and they do not care how bad life is for anyone who doesn’t make their lives, personally, better.


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Humans to Go Extinct in Three, Two—

2015 June 23
by Ian Welsh

So, a very conservative study on the rate of species going extinct has come up with the following:

Extinction Chart v06

One hundred and fourteen times faster than the normal background rate.

“If it is allowed to continue, life would take many millions of years to recover, and our species itself would likely disappear early on,” lead author Gerardo Ceballos of the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico said…

Cheerful.

This is the point where a sane species would be in a controlled panic.

Which brings us to Laudato Si. The obvious issue with Luadato Si is Pope Francis sticking to current church doctrine against birth control. It is incontrovertible that every person has a carrying load for the planet.

But Francis makes a great number of good points, starting with the fact that we are vastly wasteful. It is not that we have necessarily surpassed the Earth’s carrying capacity in theory (only in fact). Half the food in America, for example, is wasted. Suburbs are vastly wasteful. Lawns are idiocy. Most of our buildings use far more energy than they need to. Improved agricultural methods can produce up to ten times as much produce on the same amount of land, for less water. Urban indoor agriculture using LEDs is showing great promise. Centralized manufacturing, which requires concentrated power which cannot yet be provided by renewables could be decentralized even with out current tech, and within fifteen years or so we could radically decentralize it.

And so on.  There are more good ideas than one could possibly list. These ideas would allow us to support our current population on much less land and allow the environment to renew itself. We could massively reduce carbon output at the same time, stop overfishing the seas, and everyone would still be fed, have a place to live, and so on. Yes, most suburbs would be a thing of the past, but the question of “suburbs” vs. “human survival” shouldn’t be a hard one.

All of this would probably not be enough.

Yeah, sorry.

We’ve left it too late. The issue is the carbon and other hothouse gases already in the environment. They are so high that we will see release of methane from the arctic, both land and sea. This has already begun. It will continue. Even entirely stopping carbon tomorrow (which is impossible) likely wouldn’t be enough. Cutting carbon by half would definitely not be enough.

We needed to be acting back in the 1980s when climate change science first became overwhelmingly likely to be true.

We didn’t. An alien species studying our extinction, should it come to that, will only be able to conclude we did it to ourselves.

What I’m seeing is that we are on the wrong side of a self-reinforcing cycle.

We’re going to need geo-engineering. It’s messy and we’ll probably screw it up, but we don’t have much choice left.

Because there is a chance that even doing everything right, we’ll still go extinct (especially if we bork the oxygen cycle, a non-zero possibility), we need to be crashing biospheres. We’ve never made biospheres work before; we cannot create artificial environments cut off from the world which work. We need to.

That understanding will be very useful in any scenario–from cleanup of major, but not catastrophic, environmental damage, to triage on a crashing ecosystem, to saving a breeding population in a world which no longer supports humans.

A sane humanity, who self-governed in ways that made sense, and which was concerned with the welfare of their children, would have headed off most of this. A not-completely-insane humanity who had failed to take action before would now be making this the highest world priority.

We are doing neither.

Instead, our best and brightest are figuring out the best possible ways to serve ads, creating the most impressive mass-surveillance system the world has ever seen, and playing leveraged financial games which are resulting in austerity for much of the world. Destroying the human resources which we should be using to save ourselves (and so many other species, who have done nothing to “deserve” their extinction).

One can argue, and many will, that this is entirely the fault of our rulers. Maybe, maybe not, but it won’t matter when we’re all dead, and I’m not seeing widespread revolts because of mismanagement. And hey, if worse comes to worst, and enclaves are set up to save a small breeding population, remember, it’s the “leaders” who did most of the damage who will get into them.

You won’t. Your children won’t. You live or die with saving the Earth.

Probably you die.

But, then, most people probably figure they’ll die before the environmental collapse gets them. If they’re at least middle-aged, they’ll probably win that bet.

Their kids won’t. Too bad for them. Loved them enough to do everything except save their lives from a completely predictable threat.


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The American $10 Bill

2015 June 22
by Ian Welsh

The Treasury may be changing the US $10 bill to feature a woman. Sounds good to me, but I came across these two previous $10 bills, and I have to say both of them are WAY better than the current one.

Previous 10 dollar US bills

Previous 10 dollar US bills

I like both, but I particularly like the classicism of the second.

Burn In Hell?

2015 June 18
by Ian Welsh

I am amused how many American conservative Catholics are now ignoring the official teachings of the church on the environment.

It is, I suppose, lucky for them that official teachings now define hell as “the absence of God’s love.”

But it’s good to know that they actually do believe that one can pick and choose teachings.  Given that this is the case, can we now just ignore them every time they talk about abortion or birth control?

I’ll have more on the Pope’s encyclical soon, most likely.

Push Is Coming to Shove with Greece

2015 June 15
by Ian Welsh

Greece is now close to default (and possible Grexit, though it can default without leaving the Euro):

The radical wing of Greece’s Syriza party is to table plans over coming days for an Icelandic-style default and a nationalisation of the Greek banking system, deeming it pointless to continue talks with Europe’s creditor powers.

Syriza sources say measures being drafted include capital controls and the establishment of a sovereign central bank able to stand behind a new financial system. While some form of dual currency might be possible in theory, such a structure would be incompatible with euro membership and would imply a rapid return to the drachma.

The confidential plans were circulating over the weekend and have the backing of 30 MPs from the Aristeri Platforma or ‘Left Platform’, as well as other hard-line groupings in Syriza’s spectrum. It is understood that the nationalist ANEL party in the ruling coalition is also willing to force a rupture with creditors, if need be.

“This goes well beyond the Left Platform. We are talking serious numbers,” said one Syriza MP involved in the draft.

The “creditors” believed and believe “there are no other options” but capitulation:

The creditors argue that ‘Grexit’ would be suicidal for Greece. They have been negotiating on the assumption that Syriza must be bluffing, and will ultimately capitulate. Little thought has gone into possibility that key figures in Athens may be thinking along entirely different lines.

I had been dismayed by Syriza’s apparent unwillingness to consider default and Grexit, while acknowledging that given their election campaign (premised on staying in the Euro) and Greek’s own preference for staying in the Euro, they might well be negotiating deliberately to make the case that Europe will offer an unacceptable deal. And if Europe did offer a good deal, well, excellent!

This is all coming to a head. The demands made by creditors are virtually all punitive, things like reducing pensions and decreasing pharmacy times and wages and so on. Austerity. The vast majority of Greece’s problems, other than its massive debt overhang, are not caused by ordinary citizens, they’re caused by Greece’s rich not paying their share.

But all our lords and masters can conceive of when money must be scrimped his hitting regular people harder, soaking them. They make mention of taxing Greece’s rich and ending corruption there, Syriza agrees, but they are never willing to acknowledge that that an unsustainable debt load is the real problem, let alone get serious about tracking down Greek money which has left the country.

That, of course, is the real problem. There is talk of capital controls, but most of the moveable money and assets left in 2010. It’s all gone. I’d still impose capital controls, but it has the taste of barn door slamming after the horses are gone.

Nonetheless, Greece still has its immovable capital, its land, and its people. While Greeks would have to eat quite a bit less meat and non-seasonal vegetables, if they’re willing to do that, they can certainly feed themselves. Deals can be made with Russia (whom Syriza is on good terms with) and, if necessary, Iran and Venezuela to get the oil they need.

Greece has options. They don’t need to be in the Euro for prosperity, in fact they need to be out of the Euro for it; and they definitely need to default. Now that the “institutions” have made the case for Syriza that no compromise, no deal, is possible, I hope they will do so now, then prosper (though it will take a few years.)


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Being Effective and Liked in the Workplace

2015 June 12
by Ian Welsh

A couple weeks ago, I wrote an article about how to be liked by service employees and blue collar workers. I wasn’t writing about “in the workplace” or “as a manager,” but most commenters read it as both.

Today, let’s actually talk about being effective (and yes, liked) in the workplace. I’ve been out of a corporate environment for years now, but my last corporate gig was at a large insurance company. It wasn’t managerial, though I led the occasional team and was responsible for one large departmental reorganization. Instead, I was a senior line employee: responsible for getting stuff done that required the help of many other people, but without the authority to just make them do things. By my count, at one point, up to 16 other specialties, spread across almost a dozen different departments, could be required.

I had no authority, but I needed other people to get my job done.

Until I went off the rails in my last year or so, I was very good at this job. And I’ve held line authority positions elsewhere, including being a dispatcher and a managing editor.

So, here are Ian’s guidelines for getting folks to do what you want, at work, and having them like it. To be clear, these never worked on everyone, but they have always worked on enough people.

First, find something to admire. A couple years into that corporate gig, I was talking to a friend who was complaining about our co-workers and how she could never get them to do anything for her.

I said, “Most of the people you’re complaining about are happy to help me. It might be that I like them.” The co-worker she found a persnickity snob, I found precise, knowledgeable, and willing to share his knowledge. The boss she disliked (our mutual boss) was one of the best bosses I ever had, understanding and kind, who never failed to give me the material support I needed. And so on.

Most people go through life with very little admiration. Their families take them for granted at best, nag them at worst. Their bosses pay them attention only when something goes wrong. Their coworkers are concerned only with themselves. All of this is natural– people’s first and second concern tends to be themselves, and they are interested in others only as those people reflect them.

But it’s not hard to find something to admire or like in most people. Maybe they work hard, maybe they’re reliable, maybe they’re really precise, maybe they’re insightful. Find something and genuinely admire it. Don’t be a flatterer, your admiration and appreciation must be real. Faking it is endless work, and unless you’re really great at being fake, you’ll screw it up.

Remember, you don’t need everyone, you just need enough people.

People can tell when you actually like and admire them. And they want to keep that admiration, so they’ll be generous with their time, advice, and help. This isn’t enough by itself, but it is the essential foundation.

Next, treat them right.

I had a few rules I followed at work.

1) If I ask someone to stay late to do something for me, I don’t leave until the job is done, either. It’s my job to be there to help them if they need it. In seven years at that job, I only left work once before someone who was doing me a favor. I apologized and she forgave me, but if I had made a habit of it, she wouldn’t have stayed late for me.

2) If someone helped me, I cleared the way for them. If I asked them to do something, I ran all the interference I could; I got their bosses permission if necessary, if anyone else was needed to help, I was the one who ran them down. If they needed anything else to get it done, I got it.

3) If they were doing me a favor and something went wrong, I took the blame, even if I could have shifted it onto them, even if they made a mistake. They would never lose from helping me if I could make it so they didn’t.

4) If something went right, I made sure they got the credit, and that meant to their boss, to their face, and publicly to others. They got praise, and that praise went where it would make their lives better. Including in writing when appropriate (usually) and in terms of my nominating them for workplace prizes and whatnot.

5) In general, I acted like they were great people, and I meant it. My gratitude was not fake or bombastic, it was real. I was glad to see them, I smiled at them. I thought they were great people. (Note, I did not socialize with my co-workers, with very few exceptions.  This is not based on being their out-of-work friends.)

Did everyone like me? Hell no, some people hated my guts. But enough people liked me. I was able to get many people to do favors for me they would not do for actual management. I was able to get people to stay late, for example, who would simply not stay late for their actual bosses. (It was the sort of workplace at which the boss could not just order someone to work extra hours.)

I was also always on very good terms with my immediate boss, which has been the case in almost all my jobs, simply because I delivered.

Unfortunately, I can’t give any advice on managing up beyond the immediate boss level. As a rule, I’ve always been terrible at dealing with upper-upper-management. Perhaps because they’re used to people saying what they want to hear, and I don’t do that.  Remember, my admiration was real. But I don’t blow smoke up people’s asses: If something can’t be done, I say so. If something is illegal (I handled the compliance for the area), I say so. If there will be negative effects from a decision, I say what they are. And if more resources are needed to get something done properly and in time, I let them know.

Or, perhaps, I was just kind of a jerk.

But the jerkiness was, in most cases, predicated on protecting my people. I can’t override management, especially senior management, but I can put my body in the way, and I can say, “If you do that, it’s going to go wrong in the following ways.”

A few senior management types appreciated that, my direct managers almost always did (a couple exceptions aside), but the more senior the management was, the less I found they were interested in the real world consequences of their decisions, and the more they wanted to be told “we can do that,” even if their ideas were terrible.

So, that’s the Ian Prescription for getting shit done at work, and being liked by enough people, but pissing off the wrong people. Will you be loved? I can’t say I was. Not really my personality at the time. But when I asked for help or favors, I got them.

The same general strategy worked when I was in leadership positions, if combined with strict fairness. When I was a dispatcher, for example, I did not play favorites. The person who could do the delivery fastest got the delivery, even if it was an easy, well-paying one; I didn’t give it to my “favorites.” You only got sidelined for important deliveries if you’d proved, again and again, that you were unreliable. Most dispatchers I dealt with had favorites. I, being human, did too. But I didn’t let that affect my dispatching.

In leadership: fairness. People are treated in accordance with their demonstrated abilities and are given chances to show what they can do. Their successes are celebrated, publicly, their failures discussed in private unless an example needs to be made (which, on occasion they did; justice must be seen to be done).

All of this, in my opinion, is just an extended example of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you; combined with some common sense (no, I’m not going to let you do shoddy work).

Treat people right, and they’ll treat you right. There are some people with whom “right” treatment doesn’t work. If I’m a manager, I get rid of those people. If I’m in a position, as I was in my corporate gig where I didn’t have the power to do so, I’d sideline them to the extent that I could; nothing “mission critical” or “Ian critical” went through them if I could avoid it.

Treat people right. It isn’t hard.


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The Enforcer Class

2015 June 10
by Ian Welsh

If you are a left-winger who wants to, in effect, overthrow a racist oligarchical system, the police are not your friends. Nor, need I point out, are corrections officers. Nor is most of the court system.

These people belong to the enforcer class. Police and corrections officers are paid not just in money but in license to brutalize. In most cases, they can get away with beating people up and even killing them. To stop a police officer from skating on murder requires riots, as a rule, and even that doesn’t usually work. The FBI has cleared themselves of every killing an FBI officer has performed for decades.

This is not incidental, this is not an accident; this is how our lords and rulers want the enforcement system to run.

Police are selected and trained and socialized to either become thugs or to cover up thuggery. Imbeciles will say things like “not all cops,” but it is virtually unheard of for the “good cops” to inform on the bad cops–they keep their mouths shut. This is wise on their part, of course, because the vast majority of police would turn on them in seconds if they were to betray the blue wall of silence.

America, per capita, imprisons more people than any other country in the world. Many of these people are non-violent drug offenders who used a drug which is less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes. Solitary confinement is widespread, prison rape and battery are widespread, and there is plenty of evidence of prison guard collusion in said rape and battery.

If you are an African American male, you are far more likely to have spent time in prison than in university.

And police lie routinely about those they arrest. How many people are in prison who didn’t commit the crime of which they are accused? How many would have been convicted if police hadn’t concealed exculpatory evidence? The answers to these questions are unknown for obvious reasons, but I would stake a great deal that it is a non-trivial number.

All of this assumes the accused even had a trial–most people in prison have never had one: They plead out. That’s absolutely not an indication of guilt, it is an indication that they couldn’t afford to fight the system. Justice is very expensive, and prosecuting attorneys advise defendants against going to trial. If people lose (which, again, doesn’t  necessarily indicate guilt), they’ll get book thrown at them.

The American “justice” system cannot operate without plea bargains. The state arrests too many people for that. Hardly anybody gets justice, people get railroaded to prison without a trial, based on the word of police who are willing to lie, and once they are felons, their lives are permanently destroyed.

The people who run this system are not your friends. They do not like you. They enjoy the authority they have, and if you “disrespect a cop,” even if you’re firmly within your rights, if they think they can get away with it, they will fuck you up, enjoy it, and firmly believe that you deserve it. Then they’ll lie about it.

Not your friends. Not your allies. The hard fist of the oligarchy, the boot stamping on your face over and over again.

If you do not understand this you are living in a fantasy land and delusional in the face of real, hard power.


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The Honesty of Morphine Addiction

2015 June 8
by Ian Welsh

For the first time today, I had nicotine, in the form of gum. First I thought, “Wow, that’s powerful stuff.” Then I started thinking about addiction in general.

When I was in my twenties, I spent a lot of time in hospital, in considerable physical and mental pain. And by considerable, I mean “spent days screaming” and “some days no amount of painkillers was enough.” I also suffered from nausea. (Despite the major levels of actual pain, Ian’s rules of pain are that nausea is worse, and mental pain is worse than physical.)

Anyway, being that I was having such a swell time, I used rather a lot of Demerol and morphine. (Demerol is better, always choose Demerol, it provides a nice warm glow. Ahhhhh.)

I was concerned about addiction, but my doctor (a truly great man, and one of the only doctors I respect), said, “Take as much as you need, and if you get addicted, we’ll worry about it later.”

This attitude was, I suspect, composed in part by genuine empathy, in part by the nurses complaining about the screaming being “so tiresome,” and in part because, as I discovered later on reading my records, he didn’t think I was going to live, and there’s not much point in keeping a terminal patient from getting addicted to opiates. (Despite this, many asshole doctors refuse to give terminal patients adequate pain relief.)

But I surprised him, and screwed with the nurses’ betting pool on when I’d die, by living (Note: Said nurses’ pool is conjecture only. But if they’d had one, they should have let me place a bet!)

So I left the hospital, and yeah, I was addicted to morphine.

I stayed addicted for about three months, time in which I mostly slept, ate, and wished my parents would stop screaming at each other, or at least do it somewhere where I couldn’t hear them. Eating was probably the most important thing I did, since I’d left the hospital weighing 90 lbs, barely able to walk, and looking like Jesus right out of the desert.

As with the actual Jesus, good, honest “God Fearing Folk” treated me like a leper. Glassy-eyed and weaving around like a drunkard due to not having enough muscle mass to control lateral movement might have had something to do with it.

Or it could just be that good, honest, “God Fearing Folk” are mostly assholes to anyone who looks different.

Hard to say.

Or perhaps just impolite so say.

Anyhoo…addiction.

Morphine. Ah, morphine. Morphine is great stuff. You get super-relaxed, you don’t care about anything–including the fact that your back spasms every couple minutes and hits an inflamed, infected joint filled with liquid, causing you to scream. Great stuff, morphine.

But morphine, like all great mistresses, demands everything. Everything.

You can’t get shit done on morphine. And by shit, I mean “reading a book or playing a video game or having good sex.”

Morphine says, “You can have me, baby, or you can have everything else.”

So, eventually, I decided it was everything else. Breaking the addiction was unpleasant, but not that unpleasant. I tapered off till the only problem was I couldn’t sleep without taking morphine, then I stayed up about 40 hours before finally collapsing. Physical weakness was probably a big plus there.

Now, the problem with a lot of addictions is that they appear to allow you to keep everything, or most other things. Amphetamines give you more energy, let you work harder. Ecstasy makes you more sociable. Lower doses of opiates (a codeine addiction, say) let you squish through your life, and there are tons of more or less functioning alcoholics. My dad was an alcoholic, and he was extremely competent. Alcohol just made him a raging asshole to his family.

Most drugs have a cost: You get a few good years from amphetamines, years during which you look like a genius, then your brain fries and you’re never much good ever again. A lot of early Nazi success is based on “we’re all rocking amphetamines” and a lot of late Nazi failure is based on “this shit doesn’t work any more, and our brains are fried.”

But because a lot of drugs have their cost on the back-end, breaking the addiction is a lot harder. Cigarettes will kill you, but in the meantime they make you think better and they suppress your appetite. Alcohol, well, it relaxes you and makes you more social and it gets rid of that tight hot feeling in your gut from fear. SSRIs make you feel way better, but they really screw up your brain’s receptivity and uptake to serotonin, in ways from which you may never recover.

So even though morphine is really addictive, it has one great advantage over most other drugs: It’s honest. It says, “Baby, you can have me, or the world, but not both.”

In a way I was lucky, then: I got addicted to a drug that made its cost clear, upfront.  Most people aren’t so lucky and by the time they realize the cost, they’ve already paid most of it.

If you are ever addicted, may it be to an honest drug.


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Canada’s Left-most Party, the NDP, Moves Ahead of the Neo-liberal Liberal Party

2015 June 6

I am amused:

Canadian Federal Poll Results

Canadian Federal Poll Results

This is entirely the result of the decisions made by Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, and by NDP leader, Thomas Mulcair. After Parliament was attacked by a mentally ill man, the Canadian Prime Minister, Harper, decided to push through a surveillance and police state bill, Bill-C51. This bill voided about half the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

Immediately after the attack, support for the bill was in heavy majority territory. So Justin Trudeau, the Liberal leader, decided to support it. Mulcair decided not to support it.

But Canadians turned out to be more sensible and principled than Trudeau thought (indeed, I was surprised, though I would have done as Mulcair did as a matter of principle); as time went by and the details of the bill came out, they turned against it.

More importantly, left-wing swing voters turned against it. And seeing that it was supported by the Liberal party, they turned against the Liberal party and towards the NDP, whose principles now appear to be driven by something other than polls.

Or, as I sarcastically noted some time ago, “I’d like to thank Justin Trudeau for single-handedly reviving the NDP’s election chances.”

Justin Trudeau is, for those who don’t know, the son of the great Pierre Trudeau, who ran the country through much of the 70s and 80s, and who is beloved by many on the left (and truly hated by many on the right, and in the West). Justin is also quite pretty, and has beautiful abs, which he showed off in a boxing match he won.

He was the heir-presumptive from the moment he was coronated by the Liberal Party (calling it an election implies there was any chance the Liberal Party wasn’t going to choose him)—the polls consistently showed the Liberal Party under him as the main opposition party to the Conservatives.

Meanwhile Mulcair kept just doing most of the right things. And one day Justin, who was always quite clearly a neo-liberal with few actual left-wing beliefs, made an error of judgment and character which left-wing swing  voters weren’t willing to overlook.

This is exactly the circumstance I was talking about in my article on ideology and political parties. Exactly:

Let me put this precisely: The job of a political party is either to get a few specific people into power, or it is to offer a clear option to the voters. If it is the second, then your job is to make sure that option remains available. In many cases, if you do so, you will get into power fairly soon—after two to three terms. In other cases, if you are a minor party, it may take decades.

If you genuinely believe in your policies, in your ideology, whatever it is, then that is fine. The public has a right to choose, you just make sure they have a real choice and not a menu that is all of the same.

Your job is to offer a clear choice. Mulcair, fairly consistently, has offered that clear choice. Perhaps he did so out of principle, perhaps he did so out of strategy, perhaps it was both, I don’t know. But it has paid off. If he had offered the same as the Liberals, those voters would not have gone to the NDP. (I happen to believe, in this case, that it is principle.)

The election is still some way off, and there is no way to be sure who will win. But this has changed a multi-year dynamic in a significant way. Last election made the federal NDP the official opposition party, but it did so on the back of the personal charisma of the previous NDP leader: Jack Layton. One election is not a pattern.  Two elections start becoming one.

If the NDP either wins the election or becomes the official opposition again, one will be able to make the case that they are one of the two main parties. At that point, strategic voting starts cutting heavily against the Liberals (a thought which brings most NDP supporters great schaenfreude). If you want the Conservatives out, you must vote NDP, not Liberal, so as to “not split the vote.”

I find that funny beyond describing.

And as for Trudeau, he was always an empty suit: A man cruising on his father’s name, “le Dauphin”, with no real accomplishments or weight of his own. Since their coup against Chretien, the Liberals have repeatedly selected as their leaders either men with little charisma (Martin, Dion), no weight (Trudeau), or neither weight nor charisma (hello Michael Ignatieff). Perhaps they should decide to believe in something other than being in power, and in doing so, deserve to be in power.


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Congressional Surveillance Reform

2015 June 4

I don’t have a great deal to say about the actual content of the reforms, except: “Too little, and I wonder if they’ll even obey it, but better than nothing.”

What is of more interest to me is that Democrats let Rand Paul steal the issue from them. Sure, the bill passed with mostly Democratic votes in the Senate, but Paul made it his issue, taking it away from people like Leahy.

Lots of left-wingers hate libertarians (I’m not a fan; their theory of government is childish and harmful if followed, in my opinion), but the two Pauls have led on this particular type of civil liberty issue in a way most Democrats haven’t. (And the Democrat I respect most on the issue, Russ Feingold, the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act, is no longer in Congress.)

I wouldn’t vote for Rand Paul under most circumstances I can think of, but Feingold is standing for election again and deserves your support.


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