Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

Stephen Harper, Pauline Marois import GOP dirty tricks to reduce voting

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This column courtesy of CanadianCrossing.com runs here with complete permission.

Stephen Harper and Pauline Marois rarely have something in common, but that something is a trend that has been sweeping throughout the United States.

Though using different methods, Harper and Marois are trying to deny the right to vote to people who are eligible. We’ve seen these “voter ID” laws in several U.S. states designed to prevent those likely to vote against Republicans a chance to cast their ballot, even though they are registered to vote.

While the target audience for Harper and Marois are different, the target audience for both is those who aren’t likely to vote for their party.

Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act, is working its way through Parliament.

Canadians have voter identification cards, which help identify them, and Elections Canada has allowed their use with another form of ID as proof of being able to vote. Bill C-23 would take away voter identification cards as a proof of ID. The bill also disallows vouching, where someone in the precinct of the riding can vouch for that person.

Bill C-23 allows bans Elections Canada from encouraging turnout, especially among groups that aren’t as likely to vote: youths under 30, ethnic minorities, Aboriginals and the disabled.

The legislation also removes the Commissioner of Canada Elections (investigators) from Elections Canada to be a separate office. The Conservatives have been the target of numerous allegations from overspending their budget to robocalls telling voters their voting spot had changed when it hadn’t. The change reduces the impact they can make on parties that violate election laws.

Previous coverage:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper copies Bush tactic of ejecting people from campaign stops

Like their U.S. counterparts, conservatives in Canada don’t have actual examples of voter fraud. Unlike their U.S. counterparts, conservatives have the power to change the law nationwide.

In Quebec, university students who are otherwise eligible to vote are being told that they aren’t eligible. The requirements for voting in Quebec is to be a “Canadian citizen, at least 18 years old, be domiciled in Quebec for six months.”

The key word is domiciled. The stories are pretty consistent. Even if people have been living in Quebec for longer than 6 months, and can prove those facts, they are still denied registration.

The Civil Code of Quebec states that “change of domicile is affected by actual residence in another place, coupled with the intention of the person to make it the seat of his principal establishment.”

In other words, you can be a student in Quebec, but if you no intention of living in Quebec after university, you can’t vote. And since that can’t be proven, those who aren’t francophones are being targeted as not likely to stay in Quebec.

These students are primarily living in Montréal, where anglophones and allophones are much more likely to be found.

Previous coverage:

2014 Quebec election preview; election set for April 7

Marois was also vocal about those outside Quebec (i.e., Ontario) were trying to pull the election away from the Parti Quebecois. The premier said there was an influx of illegal anglophone voters in 5 ridings. However, Chief Electoral Officer Jacques Drouin said that there was no abnormal rise in registrations.

Vote fraud would be if these students or anyone else were voting in Quebec and in the province where their parents live. There is no proof or accusations of that happening. In fact, if a student from Quebec were going to school in Ontario or New Brunswick, by Quebec standards, they wouldn’t be eligible to vote where they go to school and would also be legally barred from voting in Quebec.

The students can’t vote in two places, but legally have to be able to vote in one place.

Reading the mind of the voter is literally an impossible task. As to whether graduates will stay in the province, this would depending on being able to find work. Quebec’s jobless rate is not good, yet the campaign has been more about sovereignty and language than the economy or infrastructure.

Residency is where you live. College students in the U.S. run into similar troubles, especially with the new anti-democracy “voter ID” laws since these states “magically” won’t take a college ID as proof of identity.

Voting is a civic duty that comes with being a citizen. The voting process is about opportunity and choice. Political parties — Republican, Conservative, and Parti Quebecois — that take away opportunity and choice from citizens are no better than the Third World dictatorships that the First World likes to admonish.

Canada has done a much better job in running elections than its southern neighbor in great part because a non-partisan group such as Elections Canada works to open up voting to citizens and fights back against rampant partisanship. The Harper Government wants to make elections more like the United States in the spirit of their cousins, the Republican Party.

Politics is supposed to be about ideas. When you run out of ideas, you try cheap, undemocratic stunts such as these. These tactics go against being a democracy. The best way to punish them is to respond at the ballot box.

Paul Ryan school lunch lie showcases GOP irrationality

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This column originally ran on BalanceofFood.com. The column appears here with complete permission.

What they’re offering people is a full stomach and an empty soul.

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/mon-march-10-2014/the-amazing-base—power-of-love

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), the man who wanted to be vice president of the United States, told a story about a child who didn’t want a free school lunch. He wanted a lunch in a brown paper bag “because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.”

That story would be emotionally telling … if it were true.

Ryan heard the story from Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Eloise Anderson at a 2013 Congressional hearing. The story Anderson told was actually based off a TV interview with the boy in the book, “An Invisible Thread.”

Anderson inserted the school lunch program, not mentioned in the book, into the anecdote. And the story in the book is an executive who offers the child money to buy lunch for the week or to make a lunch for the child. The child chooses the brown paper bag lunch because that means “somebody cares” about him.

The representative from Wisconsin later regretted “failing to verify the original source of the story.”

That was 1 of about 8 things Ryan did wrong: the most important thing was telling that story at CPAC knowing that the story was incorrect.

This implies that we are calling Rep. Ryan a liar. Yes, that is true. This speaks to an issue that we have had with some politicians, mostly conservative, on these topics.

Just because someone says something you like or falls in your comfort zone doesn’t mean it’s true. You have a responsibility to find out whether the third-hand story you are telling has a kernel of truth.

The false story that Rep. Paul Ryan told at CPAC literally has no truth to be found.

The damage has been done, of course, which is the point. If you like Ryan, you will believe the story he told, even if the “liberal press” told you otherwise. And someone in a conversation will overhear someone tell that story, as if it were true, and the story will spread.

I could write a column every day for a year filled with criticisms of the school lunch program. But not having a program would never be one of those criticisms.

Ryan spoke of a “full stomach and an empty soul,” the one part of the story that came from him. The implication is that a “free lunch” hurts a child when accepted.

“Full stomach means a full brain” is a slogan we like a lot better. That “free education” the child receives goes a lot better when the stomach is full, making things easier for the child to learn. This is especially true when that school lunch is healthy.

Yes, a number of conservatives don’t like the idea of a “free education,” but “free lunch” is an easier target.

As adults, we can argue the issues of child poverty and the impact of smart children on a society. And we can even discuss the impact of healthy food for school children.

We need two ground rules for this to work: 1) children need to be protected from being literally in the argument (e.g., Salt Lake City taking school lunches from kids), and 2) we need to work from the truth.

Rep. Ryan and any other politician who wants to take on the school lunch program: we want you to be a part of the discussion, but only if you are willing to work with the truth.

2014 Three Amigos preview

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Three Amigos summits are rare and brief, not a combination you want from three side-by-side countries that have a lot to say.

Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto welcomes Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and U.S. President Barack Obama for the latest Three Amigos summit in Toluca, Mexico.

Technically, the name is the North American Leaders Summit but the Three Amigos nickname has stuck for this event.

Despite what you might think based on the U.S. media, agenda items other than the Keystone XL pipeline will come up in the discussions.

For more on what we might see during the brief summit, check out our analysis from our sister blog, CanadianCrossing.com.

Senate passes Farm Bill with yet more food stamps cuts

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The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

“Our political system is basically evil versus spineless now,” former Clinton USDA official Joel Berg.

As someone who has worked well with words over the years, I couldn’t sum up how I felt about the savage attack on food stamps in the new Farm Bill soon to reach the desk of President Barack Obama. The quote above was as close as I could get.

The Farm Bill cuts $8 billion in food stamps in the next 10 years. In practical terms, this means an average cut of $90 per month.

Those cuts are on top of $11 billion over the next 2 years that came a few weeks ago — benefits that expired from the 2009 stimulus bill. The average cut works out to $38/month.

The $8 billion is presumably a “compromise” especially since Senate Dems opened the bidding at $4 billion in cuts. This would be the spineless portion of the negotiations.

Berg is on the frontline of this battle as the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and author of “All You Can Eat: How Hungry Is America?”

The politician who has received the most criticism on the food stamps cuts is Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Sen. Stabenow points out that the new Farm Bill gets rid of direct payment subsidies. The senator also points out changes for those who want more support for local and organic foods.

“Our agriculture economy is increasingly based on rising consumer demand for healthy, locally grown foods. We’re investing more in programs to promote fruits and vegetables. We provide over four times more funding for farmers’ markets and strong support for growers who want to transition to organics. We create local food hubs to help institutions like hospitals, restaurants and schools buy more local foods.”

Specifically, the senator states that the new Farm Bill “doubles SNAP benefits for low-income families when they buy healthy produce at farmer’s markets, increases funding for food banks, and provides financing for new grocery stores in underserved areas.”

As for the food stamps cuts, Sen. Stabenow says the bill is designed to reduce fraud and misuse. The “heat and eat” programs — where states can get extra SNAP money for signing up people for home heating assistance — is the primary focus. The senator says any SNAP recipient getting more than $20/year in home heating assistance won’t get SNAP cuts, and those getting less assistance have to show a heating bill to keep their SNAP benefits at the status quo mark.

Even if the bill does address direct payments, the bill still has plenty of crop subsidies and expensive crop insurance. The louder Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) screams, the better the bill will be. Fincher is in the dubious position of taking huge payments to not grow crops while calling for radical cuts in food stamps.

If people are choosing between heating their homes and eating, then we are shortchanging those people.

And if we are saving this much money from payments to those who don’t need the money, then we should be able to afford a boost for those who still need help.

The truth likely rests somewhere in between. The sad part is that we may not learn about whether people are suffering from the food stamps cuts since those stories go underreported. And in a struggling economy, especially without a subsequent raise in the minimum wage, it looks bad to cut food assistance, no matter how that might be done.

I love reforms to make sure those who need help are getting help. But those that need help aren’t getting enough help.

President Obama will be under significant pressure to sign the bill into law. Fights over the Farm Bill have weighed down Congress, but then again, this is part of the GOP strategy. Unfortunately, for Americans who struggle in real life with putting food on the table, the politicians in Washington have other priorities.

Conservative politicians need food security solutions, not rhetoric

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The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

Some conservative politicians get upset over the idea of government helping those that need help (as opposed to those who don’t need help). They get really upset with the idea of helping people get food, even children.

We have two stories, one American and one Canadian. While the Canadian politician did eventually apologize, these two stories are a microcosm of an attitude, mostly in the United States, that helping people who are struggling with getting food is one of the worst deeds for government to do.

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-GA) is trying to stand out in a field to replace Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) in the Senate. Kingston’s views on school lunches will definitely make him stand out.

Rep. Kingston really has a problem with free school lunches, as he expressed to a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party.

“But one of the things I’ve talked to the secretary of agriculture about: Why don’t you have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel, to instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch?”

Think that is too severe? Kingston is one step ahead of uh, something.

“Or maybe sweep the floor of the cafeteria — and yes, I understand that that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money. But think what we would gain as a society in getting people — getting the myth out of their head that there is such a thing as a free lunch.”

Even by the standards of the U.S. South, Georgia’s children come up short. More than 25% of Georgia children live below the poverty line (already set pretty low), and the state has the 6th highest child poverty rate.

“Is it the government’s job — my job to feed my neighbor’s child? I don’t think so,” Canadian federal Industry Minister James Moore.

Moore said this in a radio interview about child poverty and hunger in British Columbia, Moore’s home province.

“Obviously nobody wants kids to go to school hungry … but is that always the government’s job? To be there to serve people their breakfast? Empowering families with more power and resources so they can feed their own children is I think a good thing.”

Moore hit on a conservative theme: giving more power to families to feed their own children. Or using private charity to help those in need. In theory, that sounds lovely. It doesn’t match the reality on the streets and in the neighborhoods.

To reiterate, Moore did apologize later for this remarks.

“Great work has been done to tackle poverty and the challenges associated with poverty. And while more work is needed, I know the cause of fighting poverty is not helped by comments like those I made last week. For that, I am sorry.”

Rep. Kingston is worried about poor children thinking the world is full of “free lunches.” MP Moore is worried about people thinking the government job is to feed children who need food.

Children, regardless of social structure and status, do not think about how much food costs. They don’t get that toys can be expensive, no matter how cool they look on TV.

If the children are poor, then they already know their world are not filled with metaphorical free lunches.

The government’s job isn’t to feed people. And food assistance doesn’t do that; food assistance allows people a boost so they can afford rent and food. You can treat it as a subsidy to farmers markets and grocery stores if that will make you feel better.

MP Moore’s suggestion of empowering families to feed their own children is a rather good suggestion, but neither the United States nor Canada is doing so.

USDA school lunch portion control rules gone for good

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lunch 1

The following column ran on BalanceofFood.com and runs here with complete permission.

The whiny video over the portion size of school lunches did the trick. The USDA has permanently dropped the calorie limits from the rules.

True, the rules were temporarily relaxed after a video surfaced following a cafeteria strike and GOP politicians complained about the cuts in portion size, particularly among carbohydrates and protein.

It’s like the old joke, “The food is lousy and the portions are too small.”

“The USDA made the permanent changes we have been seeking to the School Lunch Program,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) said in a statement. “A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements.”

The changes, established in 2012, also dealt with limits on fat and sodium and increasing fruit and vegetable servings. Those changes didn’t inspire videos, so presumably they’ll stay.

Previous coverage:

School lunch reform happens quicker when conservatives whine

850 calories argument makes for good TV, but falls short on honesty

Mukwonago students strike because their lunches are ‘only’ 850 calories

The changes limited meals for high school students to 850 calories, a reasonable amount in a normal 2,000 calorie day. If the people complaining were those who don’t get enough to eat at home, that response would be completely reasonable against a “one-size-fits-all” attitude.

Then again, those kids aren’t running to make videos; kids with plenty of food have more energy to make videos.

The experts tell us that kids need as many as 10 times to like a new food. So the kids needed time to adjust all the way down to 850 calories. If you go back and look at how quickly these two videos made a wave, Nightline and The Daily Show had both weighed in by the end of September. And by December, the rules were temporarily relaxed.

We never did have the discussion about what the limits should be. 900 calories? 1000 calories? The easing of the rules was basically to say, “here are the rules, except when we want to break them.” To be fair, that was the standard before the USDA implemented the new rules.

A few kids complained in a school outside Milwaukee. A group of kids in Kansas with help from a teacher made a video. That was enough to take away changes that could have helped these children and millions of others. The Mukwonago, WI kids might have been sincere in expressing their concerns, but ultimately they were used as pawns to score cheap political points.

No school lunch program would ever replicate children going home to home-cooked nutritious meals at lunchtime. But in the reality universe that isn’t black and white TV, we have kids who are getting too much to eat side-by-side with kids who aren’t getting enough. And what both sides need are solutions.

photo capture: Kansas video

Rob Ford retrospective pre-crack and post-crack

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Rob Ford, the crack-smoking mayor of Toronto, has received a lot of publicity for, well, smoking crack. From the time he danced around whether he had smoked crack, Ford became more apparent outside Toronto and Canada. And of course, when the police discovered the video, suddenly Ford was a lot more open.

But the folks at CanadianCrossing.com have had their eyes on Ford for some time. We thought you should read about Rob Ford pre-crack as well as post-crack. So enjoy these columns courtesy of our friends at CanadianCrossing.com.

Pre-crack

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford wins Keith Olbermann’s ‘Worst Person in the World’ (11/1/2011)

Toronto has more than usual number of gun deaths, but still safer than U.S. (7/25/2012)

How Rob Ford spent (part of) my summer vacation (8/21/2012)

Battle of intense mayors: Toronto’s Rob Ford visits Chicago’s Rahm Emanuel (9/19/2012)

Toronto highs and lows: Argos way up, Rob Ford down and out (11/28/2012)

Post-crack

Canadian politics notebook: Rob Ford’s alleged crack use (5/19/2013)

Daily Show pokes fun at Rob Ford’s (alleged) crack (5/22/2013)

Rob Ford (finally) admits smoking crack cocaine, but lies continue (11/6/2013)

Rob Ford: Liability to Toronto Argonauts (11/15/2013)

Rob Ford makes negative impact on Toronto’s Grey Cup quest (11/18/2013)

Rob Ford looks better in the eyes of the U.S. media (11/20/2013)

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