Harper Move To Slash Funding of Political Parties Anti-Democratic

Canadian PM Stephen Harper and his Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, took another step toward eliminating democratic process in Canada. Since the summer, he has called an election with only five weeks' notice, refused to debate opposite the Green Party leader, and now has decided to strike a despicably opportunistic and transparently anti-democratic blow against his opponents: By eliminating public funding of political parties.

As noted by L Ian MacDonald in the National Post, the move is being cloaked as symbolic of the Government's belt-tightening regime in face of dire economic times, though the $27.7m saved is a pittance compared with annual expenditures of $200b. Moreover, the stipend serves an essential function in our democracy by directing funding to parties on the basis of the number of Canadians persuaded to vote for them: $1.95 per vote.

For political parties able to procure significant donated funds, i.e. the neoConservatives, the new policy hurts, but not nearly so much as for its opponents. Check it:

It is because of this disproportionate effect on his political opponents that Harper would consider such a maneuver. Perhaps more persuasive is the decimating effect on his chief rival in Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois.

As the origin of one quarter of Canada's Members of Parliament, Quebec is essential to any political party interested in achieving dominance in Parliament. And the Conservatives most certainly are interested in that. By targeting the Bloc Quebecois, Harper has declared war on the Bloc and is prepared to allow the will of the Canadian electorate, Quebecois or otherwise, to be a casualty of that war. Rather than persuade the Quebec electorate that Conservatives have earned their vote, Harper has unsheathed his long knives to eliminate his political enemies from contention.

In this discussion, some may be reminded of a certain sanctified politician south of our border, who famously reneged on a commitment to rely exclusively on public funding and opportunistically capitalized on his record private fundraising. The difference here is that when Obama elected to use private donations, he did not then abolish the public funding system to eradicate his most threatening political opponent.

I wish to be clear: What Stephen Harper is proposing is not just crass neoconservatism, it fundamentally undermines the electoral process in Canada. Do not dismiss this. This is huge. Write to Harper and your MP. Tell them that you love Canada, True North Strong and Free, and that you reject the silencing of political parties that Canadians supported at the polls. Tell them instead to cut their bloated Cabinet, which has expanded from 26 ministers when the neoConservatives took office in 2006, to 38 ministers. Tell them to refund the public financing they received voluntarily if they're so committed to saving money. Tell them they lost your vote.

I am pleased to say that the neoConservatives have decided to belay their elimination of annual allowances to political parties. It is not clear to me why. We will certainly never get a clear answer from Harper on why. For a gaffe to raise such a universal shit storm that Harper would reverse his announcement in a day is a spectacular political blunder. Regardless, at least the allowance is safe for now.


The Value of Ideas

I once read that Nicholas Negroponte insured his laptop computer for $2m, not for the value of the hardware, but for the value of the bits it contained. I was reminded of that factoid when I read the following story:

Why You Should Never Try to Steal a Law Student's Laptop

A thief learned the mistake of trying to steal a law student's laptop last week after after becoming a punching bag for an Arizona State student he tried to rip off. Armed with a baseball bat, the intruder, Gabriel Saucedo, allegedly climbed through an open window into Alex Botsios' apartment, waking the student and threatening to smash his head in...

I love this story because it illustrates how some in the knowledge economy are completely disconnected from the value of ideas. The law student, Alex Botsios, knew that his things could be replaced. Even though he probably had some sentimental attachment to his guitars, he was willing to part with them without complaint. What he could not abide was the loss of his ideas, the theft of work that was entirely cerebral in origin. He put himself at risk and punished his would-be robber for his ignorance.


Who Is Rahm Emanuel?

The Straight Talk Express implored the electorate to ask "Who is Barack Obama?" then proceeded to sketch his caricature as Barack Hussein Obama, a Muslim-schooled, untested, inexperienced Communist that we should all be fearful of. Never mind that he wrote two autobiographies of his short life. Let FOXNews define him for us, not his legislative record, his career, or his own confessional words. Why work to slog through the latter sources when the former paints his portrait in broad, lurid strokes visible from 100 miles.

But what I want to know is: Who Is Rahm Emanuel? Here is what Obama said in his introduction on November 6.

OBAMA: I am pleased to announce that my good friend, Congressman Rahm Emanuel, has agreed to serve as my White House chief of staff. I announce this appointment first because the Chief of Staff is central to the ability of a President and Administration to accomplish an agenda. And no one I know is better at getting things done than Rahm Emanuel.

During his seven years in the Clinton White House, Rahm was the point man on some of the most difficult issues, from the passage of landmark anti-crime legislation to the expansion of health care coverage for children. In just six years in Congress, he has risen to leadership, helping to craft myriad important pieces of legislation and guide them to passage. In between, Rahm spent several years in the private sector, where he worked on large and complicated financial transactions. That experience, combined with his service on the committees on Ways and Means and Banking, have given Rahm deep insights into the challenging economic issues that will be front and center for our Administration. Though Rahm understands how to get things done in Washington, he still looks at the world from the perspective of his neighbors and constituents on the Northwest Side of Chicago, who work long and hard, and ask only that their government stand on their side and honor their values. The son of an Israeli immigrant, Rahm shares a passionate love for this country, and has devoted much of his life to its cause.

His decision to accept this position is a wonderful reflection of that commitment, for it is not easy to give up the significant position he holds today as chair of the House Democratic conference. The post he has accepted also will require more time away from Amy, and their children, Zach, Ilana and Leah, which I know is painful and difficult.

I appreciate his friendship. And I, and all Americans, should be grateful that Rahm is once again answering his country's call.

That tells us a little. But let's describe him instead as a neo-Zionist, a sharp-elbowed, partisan pit bull, truth be damned. I went to Wikipedia to learn a little more, for what that's worth. He left his post as Clinton-appointed Board member of Freddie Mac to pursue elected office. His work history includes working as an investment banker after he left the Clinton administration, where he made $18m after two-and-a-half years according to Fortune magazine (read this great profile from 2006). Rahm Emanuel "was the top House recipient in the 2008 election cycle of contributions from hedge funds, private equity firms and the larger securities/investment industry" according to OpenSecret.org.

His father was a member of the Irgun, a militant Zionist group operating in British Palestine from 1931 to 1948. His father also said some egregious nonsense about his son influencing "the president to be pro-Israel. Why wouldn't he? What is he, an Arab? He's not going to be mopping floors at the White House." I have a tough time writing that without the bile rising in my throat or my knuckles whitening. Emanuel has apologized for his cantankerous offensive father to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

The PlanIn his book, The Plan: Big Ideas for America, Emanuel and Bruce Reed propose a flat tax, a College Tax Credit, a Universal Mortgage Deduction, and other modes of tax reform to a byzantine system. He describes a system of Universal Children's Health Care. He advocates an end to "corporate welfare," costly disbursements to corporations which skew the market economy. He proposes mandatory public service for American youth. These proposals tell me something more, but still don't paint a complete picture of Emanuel.

I think it is essential to be skeptical of the new leadership entering the White House. I hate the fearmongering that passes for news. I hate the fawning too. Obama is now more a symbol than a leader. But as he begins to lead, there can be no honeymoon period. The stakes are too high. He needs to hit the ground running and not let up til 2017. Guantanamo Bay. Iraq. Afghanistan. Carbon emissions reduction. Health insurance. Financial Industry regulation. Infrastructure investment. Tax cuts. Alternative energy. Environmental protection. Pakistan. Free trade. The list goes on.

Obama is credited with a sharp intellect, openmindedness, sound judgment, and a willingness to find quality advisors, even if they disagree with him. As his Cabinet fills out, the media should be reading the entrails of each appointee's credentials and telling us what it means, not sketching broad caricatures designed rankle or woo us.


Change Has Come To America

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama at a campaign rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina: "I don't love him ... I wish him to be elected."

None of us who gathered in my library yesterday to watch the outcome of the US election could dispute that we were bearing witness to history. Barack Obama promises, as Colin Powell noted, to be a Transformative Figure. His platform of optimism, of Change We Can Believe In, and of Hope, were a powerful elixir for an American electorate exhausted by suspicion, fear, and violence.

I was fortunate to be able to share yesterday’s triumph with family and friends. As Obama spoke, as he spun the story of centenarian Ann Nixon Cooper and the history she bore witness to in the last century, as he exorted America to construct a similar arc of progress for the coming century, tears rolled down my cheeks. No Greek columns to mock. No empty slogans to keep in frame. No red white and blue bunting, or confetti, or balloons to clean up when the speech was over. A bare stage, a simple lectern, and a man whose only embellishments were the power of his ideas and depth of his conviction.

Change has come to America.

I told my sons to “Remember this night,” this historic night when a parent can tell his child that anything is possible, and actually believe it. It was on this night that more Americans than ever had voted, that a higher proportion of Americans had voted than at any time in a hundred years to first elevate a non-white to the White House.

French journalist Bernard-Henri Lévy described Barack Obama as the living embodiment of John F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr, a conflation of their ideals, their gifted oratory, and their promise. Some watching with me yesterday had the appallingly poor taste to wonder aloud when, “Obama’s number would be up.” How long would it take for some fucked up American white trash hillbilly zealot to put a bullet in Obama’s head? In just a five year span, JFK, MLKjr, and RFK were all assassinated. This is the reality check on our hope. All of us present yesterday wished that Obama would become President, yet most of us were afraid to believe that his election would truly come to pass. Now that he has been elected, we temper our hope and optimism with the fear that Obama will be taken from us, just as those other great men were taken from us.

I cannot help but believe that Obama’s leadership will be more empathetic to those who struggle at society’s fringes, more constructive on the world stage, and more dedicated to the American ideals of democracy, liberty, and justice for all. There will be litmus tests of his effectiveness, on the promise he embodies.

I, too, have never felt more hopeful for America than I do now. In crisis, as the worn-out business-speak turn of phrase goes, there is opportunity. America is at a crossroads, and while I hope Obama can lead them on a path of inclusiveness, multilaterality, sustainability, and prudence, I am also mindful that Obama is not only a product of his humble beginnings but also of his recent success. I am sure he is already strategizing for the 2012 campaign. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a candidate recently elected to President must be in want of a second term. How will his intentions be corrupted by the process? How has the process already corrupted his intentions?

He is saying all the right things. Now is his time to act. Now we will measure this man by his deeds.

"...to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope. For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow."