Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

There are numerous micro indicators of the trouble looming for the Republicans in American politics.

Let's begin with an excerpt from Paul Krugman's column (subscription only) in the July 14 New York Times:

"Here’s what happened in 2004. The U.S. economy grew 4.2 percent, a very good number. Yet last August the Census Bureau reported that real median family income — the purchasing power of the typical family — actually fell. Meanwhile, poverty increased, as did the number of Americans without health insurance. So where did the growth go?"

"The answer comes from the economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, whose long-term estimates of income equality have become the gold standard for research on this topic, and who have recently updated their estimates to include 2004. They show that even if you exclude capital gains from a rising stock market, in 2004 the real income of the richest 1 percent of Americans surged by almost 12.5 percent. Meanwhile, the average real income of the bottom 99 percent of the population rose only 1.5 percent. In other words, a relative handful of people received most of the benefits of growth."

"There are a couple of additional revelations in the 2004 data. One is that growth didn’t just bypass the poor and the lower middle class, it bypassed the upper middle class too. Even people at the 95th percentile of the income distribution — that is, people richer than 19 out of 20 Americans — gained only modestly. The big increases went only to people who were already in the economic stratosphere."

"The other revelation is that being highly educated was no guarantee of sharing in the benefits of economic growth. There’s a persistent myth, perpetuated by economists who should know better — like Edward Lazear, the chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — that rising inequality in the United States is mainly a matter of a rising gap between those with a lot of education and those without. But census data show that the real earnings of the typical college graduate actually fell in 2004. "

What is interesting about this is that when the well-educated upper middle class begins to be screwed by the super rich, then the wealthy are really left with no natural allies. They have only one unnatural ally - the fundamentalist Christian poor. But that is not enough.

Other more directly political signs include:

1. A serious challenge by the Democrats in hyper-Republican and conservative Wyoming, Dick Cheney's home state, even if it is not ultimately successful.

2. A Democratic revival in Nebraska, another conservative Republican state.

When the strongest parts of your base begin to decay, you are in deep, deep trouble. When your policies begin to skew income distribution to such an extreme degree, who remains that has a stake in your success?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Global Warming/ Al Gore Links

Here are three global warming links all wholly or partly about the Gore movie.

All worth reading/watching. I suspect this may become the BIG issue of the next five years, even if there is an economic downturn.

1. Book & Movie review on the New York Review of Books site by scientist Jim Hansen.

2. Al Gore interview with John Stewart. More entertainment value than anything else but worth watching.

3. The Al Gore interview in Rolling Stone.

Update: And here is a link to the oped from the June 19 Globe and Mail by Jeffrey Sachs endorsing a carbon tax. And take a look at the NDP's action plan on the NDP web site. It has been ignored by the Canadian media. This does say something about the Canadian media's concerns about global warming but the NDP might have received more attention if they had advocated a carbon tax.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

New Manitoba Poll

A new poll in Manitoba puts the PCs in first place for the first time in many years, 43% to 38% for the NDP. However, the NDP have a structural advantage in Manitoba, and my seat forecaster suggests that, even trailing by 5%, the NDP would wind up one seat ahead. When I parse the results closely, I see two ridings that I would guess would actually flip to the Conservatives were an election really being held today.

It appears to be the standard accumulation of small grievances that afflicts the government. The NDP has never won a third term in Manitoba, but Gary Doer is one of Canada's most talented politicians, and new Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen is still an unknown commodity. We don't know yet what the heat of battle will produce.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Liberals and Afghanistan

Reports on the Liberal leadership race since the close of membership sales confirm that Michael Ignatieff remains the front runner, while Joe Volpe may have sold the most memberships. About 70,000 new members will join 80,000 existing members in determining the new Liberal leader. Earlier examples suggest that at best only about half of the new recruits will show up to vote in September. For example in the NDP leadership race that selected Jack Layton in 2003, just 44,000 of 82,000 members voted by phone and internet, much easier than going to a meeting.

While the attention this week has been on the new members, I would guess it is the existing membership that will have the higher turnout and their votes will matter more.

My hunch right now is that this helps Dion who existing party members like and respect, and if Lysiane Gagnon in the Globe is to be believed, is now not so unpopular in Quebec, having somewhat redeemed his reputation by being a passionate advocate for the environment. And others are beginning to see Dion as a potential winner, again partly because he is deemed more acceptable than previously thought in Quebec.

The Liberals would be making a catastrophic error in choosing Ignatieff. Why - because of his views on Afghanistan. He is just as foolish on the subject as Harper, who made a big mistake by visiting Afghanistan soon after becoming PM and taking ownership of the issue from the Liberals.

Just how foolish are both these would be Prime Ministers?

Today I read this account of the war from the London Sunday Times by a correspondent with years of experience in the war-torn country (courtesy of TPM and Wolcott). Its title is Death Trap. Says it all, but read these excerpts:

“If any further reminder were needed that one gets involved in Afghanistan at one’s peril, the Kabul headquarters of the Nato-led peacekeeping force is on the site of the old British cantonment. Its entire strength fled from here in January 1842 after a tribal revolt against the British-imposed ruler.”

“Of the 16,000 soldiers, wives, children and camp followers who left, only one got away; the rest were massacred or taken prisoner by Ghilzai tribesmen. Only Dr William Brydon was deliberately left alive to tell the tale and warn people back home of the consequences of getting involved in Afghanistan.”

“In a country that has ended up as a graveyard for so many thousands of British soldiers, why don’t we learn from history?”

“This time the politicians tell us that we have gone to make peace, not war — to “secure the area so that development can take place and extend the reach of the Karzai government”. But we are woefully underequipped for either: already six British soldiers have lost their lives within 24 days, victims once more of the Ghilzai Pashtuns.”

”Last month saw 53 “TICs” — troops in contact, in other words under Taliban attack — and last week there were two nights during which all but one of the British bases and outposts in Helmand came under attack.”

“How did it all go so wrong? Why does a senior British military officer talk despairingly of “military and developmental anarchy”?.”

Read the rest.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Conservatives and government

This article by Alan Wolfe on “Why Conservatives Can’t Govern” on the Washington Monthly site should not be missed by any person to the left of George Bush’s brand of conservatism.

Here are a few choice morsels:

"Search hard enough and you might find a pundit who believes what George W. Bush believes, which is that history will redeem his administration. But from just about everyone else, on the right as vehemently as on the left, the verdict has been rolling in: This administration, if not the worst in American history, will soon find itself in the final four.

"Eager to salvage conservatism from the wreckage of conservative rule, right-wing pundits are furiously blaming right-wing politicians for failing to adhere to right-wing convictions….. Conservative dissidents seem to have done an admirable job of persuading each other of the truth of their claims. Of course, many of these dissidents extolled the president's conservative leadership when he was riding high in the polls. But the real flaw in their argument is akin to that of Trotskyites who, when confronted with the failures of communism in Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, would claim that real communism had never been tried. If leaders consistently depart in disastrous ways from their underlying political ideology, there comes a point where one has to stop just blaming the leaders and start questioning the ideology.”

"Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon: If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well.”

"If yesterday's conservative was a liberal mugged by reality, today's is a free-marketer fattened by pork.”

Monday, July 03, 2006

Quebec Liberal Popularity

A Léger poll conducted June 22-25 has the Quebec Liberals ahead of the PQ for the first time since the summer of 2003. The results are:

PLQ - 37
PQ - 33
ADQ - 17
Quebec Solidaire - 6

This result led to some hope that Jean Charest was starting to turn things around. The CBC said the "Charest government has been riding a small wave of popularity over the past couple of weeks."

However, a subsequent CROP poll taken June 12-25 had the PQ in front albeit narrowly:

PQ - 35
PLQ - 32
ADQ - 16
Quebec Solidaire - 7

My take on this is that it is more about PQ weakness than Liberal strength. I think the Léger poll is suspect because it was conducted over the weekend of Fête Nationale, Quebec’s biggest holiday for nationalists. It could have slightly skewed the results.

More fundamentally, the Léger poll had the PQ ahead among francophones (meaning an election based on the poll would have given the PQ the most seats) and confirmed that there remains high dissatisfaction levels with the PLQ government and Charest’s leadership.

I think it will be very difficult for Charest to win again. However, there are clear strains and tensions among nationalists and signs that the 40 year old PQ coalition may be fragmenting.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Harper's Six Month Honeymoon

This Environics poll released on Friday, June 30 delivers generally good news for Stephen Harper with one exception. Compared to the January 23rd election, the Conservatives are up, the Liberals down. The overall standings: C - 39, L - 25, NDP - 21, BQ - 9 & Green - 4.

Translated into seats using my forecaster, it produces a Conservative minority government: C - 147, L- 67, NDP - 39, BQ -53, Ind. - 1. Much of the Liberal seat loss is in Ontario and Atlantic Canada to the Conservatives and the NDP. This might appear to be great news for the Conservatives; six months into their mandate they have a solid lead, Harper’s popularity remains intact and the Liberals, the one party that could realistically displace them, is in a leadership race where question marks hang over the leading contenders.

However, the forecaster predicts a small seat gain for the Bloc - at the expense of the Liberals in Montreal - with the Conservatives picking up just two seats in Quebec. There has been a great deal of media and other attention paid to the idea that a Conservative majority is there for the taking in Quebec (see here and here to get a sense of this notion). So far, the Conservatives have trailed the Bloc in every post-election poll in Quebec and my sense is that the Bloc are finding issues, the climate crisis for example, they can use effectively against the Conservatives in Quebec. This poll continues the frustration for Conservative ambitions in Quebec.

My impression is that the Liberals are going through a negative sort of honeymoon. Having survived in 2004 strictly by being the anti-Conservatives, they are now suffering a hangover from the 12 years in office. Like a real hangover, it will inevitably take time for the party to recover. Meanwhile, the best they seem able to do is try to blame the NDP for their defeat - an inside the Queensway effort that will be of no consequence in the long run. This post by an NDP blogger deconstructs the logic of the attacks quite brilliantly (see also the first comment in the comments section). However, the whole NDP/Liberal feud is of little interest to most Canadians I suspect.

In the end my guess is the fate of this government will rest heavily on the state of the economy, given the Conservatives ambitious spending and tax-cutting programs. It is still fairly strong right now, and was strong when they entered office but one is far better off to enter office when the economy is emerging from recession as the Liberals did at the end of 1993, than just before it heads downhill. I don’t know where the economy is headed; there are mixed signals about the future. The economy may well remain vibrant enough that the Conservatives would not be hampered by slowing growth when faced with re-election, probably some time next year, but they are perilously dependent on it.