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Archive for August 2011

American progressives can learn a lot from the legacy of Canada’s Jack Layton

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As regular readers know, I have a fondness for Canada and Canadian politics. But since Democracy Soup is devoted mostly to American politics, you might wonder what one has to do with another. Well, I’m going to tell you a story about a man named Jack, and what American progressives can learn from him.

Jack Layton was a fighter who stood up for those who needed the most help, someone who was respected by people whose political views were polar opposites. Layton convinced Quebecers in the last Canadian federal election to come over to the New Democratic Party (NDP), a difficult task since the NDP is a federalist party, and Quebecers have spent a generation relying mostly on the separatist Bloc Quebecois.

While Layton spoke the Quebecois French, he was a Toronto legend in politics. His wife, Olivia Chow, also serves as a MP from a different Toronto riding. And Layton was still able to get through to those who supported the NDP out west.

The United States has plenty of politicians who fight for the less fortunate, but they don’t get on TV much. And Layton certainly had difficulty getting his message through the clutter.

But Layton stayed positive and hopeful that things could be better. And in the last election, the voters reacted.

Sure Canada voted in a majority Conservative government, but the NDP became the opposition party for the first time ever. And Jack Layton was a large part of why that happened.

The election was May 2. Layton was recovering from a hip operation and prostate cancer as the election cycle started (about 5-6 weeks in Canada). In July, Layton was diagnosed with a new form of cancer. Last week, Layton passed away at the age of 61.

The obvious analogy is Moses, a leader who led his people to the Promised Land, but never made it himself. While that may seem sacrilege, the NDP had 13 members in Parliament when Jack Layton took over as leader in 2003, and now have 103 (of 308 seats in Parliament).

The loss is huge not just for a man, a fighter, but for the progressive movement in Canada, and on some level, the United States. A progressive was in the opposition chair for the first time in Canadian history. Having a progressive party such as the NDP in a high prestige would have rubbed off on U.S. politics at a time where progressives wonder where their voice is in the loud media landscape.

U.S. progressives were drowned out on health care reform, stimulus spending, and the jobs front, lacking that voice to speak up. True, Canadian media is more sympathetic to these issues than American media, and Canadians aren’t arguing health care reform or gay marriage. But Canadian media pay more attention when you are the opposition party instead of the third party.

The lesson American progressives need to take from the legacy of Jack Layton is to stand up for what you believe in, and you can do so in a positive fashion.

Progressives are demonized in both countries as being “out there,” but Layton was able to cut through to get his message out.

In covering the 2011 Canadian federal election, I was bemused as the NDP was gaining strength in Quebec that Jack Layton had been around since 2003, and yet was the new kid on the block. Layton didn’t change, the world around him changed.

Americans are more receptive to progressives’ message in these harsh economic times. People want solutions and progressives have them. What they have lacked is a strong voice to bring all of that to the table.

Over the last few years, I had often thought American progressives needed someone like Jack Layton in their world. Now Canadian progressives need someone like Jack Layton, but as we have seen, very few come along that are like Jack Layton.

We have often made fun of the teabaggers, but they speak with a voice, a simple clear message, even if that message was contradictory, borderline racist, and often incorrect. Jack Layton has proven that progressives can speak with a strong, upbeat, positive message.

Progressives are very good at being correct, but lousy on conveying that to those who don’t readily believe they have solutions. Layton went against the tide of his own party to broaden the message, but the results of the 2011 election prove Layton was right.

Now the NDP and Canadians have to build on Jack Layton’s legacy. Americans could learn a few lessons about that legacy.


Written by democracysoup

August 30, 2011 at 7:08 am

America is the ‘land of the free’ but Canadians can go topless

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America prides itself on freedom, yet Canada is a country where women have the right to go topless.

In seeing the recent protests sponsored by, we see the ridiculousness of men wearing bikini tops to show the other extreme of equality.

The women who were protesting in Chicago painted the “offending area” as to not risk arrest. Arguing that companies should be free of regulation, yet women don’t have an equal right to go without a shirt in hot weather — well, that isn’t freedom.

More on this and the upcoming protests in Canada on Sunday, here via our sister blog at

Written by democracysoup

August 26, 2011 at 8:32 am

U.S. needs one set of nonpartisan rules for federal elections

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The United States prides itself as being “one nation” with a “state’s rights” approach to solving problems, and “problems” that don’t even exist. So we get a jumbled set of rules all under one roof.

For a lot of things in our lives, this approach isn’t all that bad, even if confusing. For one particular element in our lives, the practice of 50 different rules is a serious threat to our democracy.

In electing your state reps, state senators, and governors, each state can have a semblance of leeway, if you believe that states rights is the way to go. True, you could easily violate federal rules on voting rights, as the South did for 100 years following the Civil War, but somehow we accepted them as “legitimate.” But this approach should not apply, in any circumstance, for federal seats.

We need a federal body, truly non-partisan, to run federal elections. No poll taxes, no narrow voter ID issues, no felony rules: every U.S. citizen 18 years and older should automatically have the right and privilege to vote in federal elections. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, we haven’t had anything close to this approach.

We also need stronger, tougher rules and laws (and enforcement of said laws) against anyone who interferes in the democratic voting process, whether that be robocalls, physical intimidation, threats of deportation, calls to say the election got moved to the next day or the next week.

The GOP sweep of 2010 brought a rather large flurry of laws designed to limit who can vote in all elections, local, state, and federal. And while painful on many levels, and designed to drive away people who would vote for someone besides the GOP, these laws should be unconstitutional. These attempts to thwart democracy should be laughed off as pathetic. Then again, when you tell a young person in 2011 that for 100 years, the United States systemically excluded people from voting who were able to legally vote, that would have been laughed off if it weren’t true.

I have voted in the same high school for the last decade or so. I haven’t had to show a ID or even a voter card; I do have to sign in and they check to see that my signature matches. This policy has always seemed reasonable.

In Wisconsin, as in other states, they want you to present a voter ID. In itself, this seems fine, but the law provides that you aren’t allowed to vote without a voter ID. Elderly and poor aren’t as likely to have a voter ID, and Wisconsin is working on closing DMV offices in Democratic districts, ensuring that some won’t be able to vote.

If states want to screw themselves over in their own elections, that might be their right. But states have no business setting election rules for federal elections.

One set of rules for all federal elections; having a non-partisan body handle all of the rules and enforcement — simple democracy. After all, in the countries where we are supposedly exporting democracy, we wouldn’t stand for the chaos that rules federal elections in the United States. These shenanigans wouldn’t be tolerated overseas; why do we justify them at home?

As for the “fraud” these new laws are trying to stop, they are figments of imagination. And even if somehow a few acts of voter fraud existed, we have laws to take care of those miniscule instances. Far more people would be denied the legitimate right to vote, a fraud on the American people.

For a democracy to truly work, you need a sense of trust that the process is relatively untainted. Liberals can claim the 2000 and 2004 elections had serious problems. While the fact-based evidence isn’t as obvious, conservatives ask questions about the 1960 and 2008 elections.

Both of the major groups should feel comfortable with the federal election process, and right now, they don’t.

This non-partisan board shouldn’t be set up to make everyone happy; they have to react based on fact, not conspiracy. Nothing can help those who are stuck on birth certificates in only one direction.

The rest of us, left and right, need this non-partisan board so we can trust the political process by first trusting those that get elected. And those that work heartily to make sure people can’t vote should be punished, whether in office or not; doing so will bring more trust to the political process.

Written by democracysoup

August 19, 2011 at 7:12 am

Tea party goal is anarchy; credit rating slash is drop in the bucket

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“Anarchy in the UK” was a Sex Pistols song from 1976. You could easily see a remake done by the teabaggers in 2011.

The Daily Show and Colbert Report, as well as the current and former members of MSNBC, have made fun of the ads for gold on various right-wing shows, including Glenn Beck, because, well, they’re funny. But what they may not realize is that the teabaggers are set to create a scenario where those commercials make sense.

The tea party antics have all been about bringing a worst times, end of times scenario. And since the teabaggers have been given more power than they warrant, the rest of us will suffer.

They love the idea that our credit rating has been reduced. They are upset that only Standard’s and Poor has made the cut. They also love that Europe, of all places, is having its own debt problems.

The deficit is the ruse; this is about anarchy, at least right-wing anarchy.

Looking back on the times of the Sex Pistols, a simpler time in 1976 on either shore of the Atlantic, the adapted phrase is, “Protesting? I’ll give you something to protest about.”

Imagine the Sex Pistols were upset at the government before Margaret Thatcher, and Ronald Reagan in the U.S., free trade agreements which cut jobs in countries such as England and the United States, and the anemic economic growth of the 21st century.

Imagine the teabaggers are upset at the government in 2011: taxes are the lowest in decades, we’re in 2-4 useless wars, badly needed domestic spending is on a very high shelf and we can’t find the damn step-ladder. True, a small percentage of women can still have abortions, and slightly more people can get gay married, so life isn’t perfect for them.

The MSM still thinks the teabaggers are upset about the deficit, but since they refuse tax increases on the very rich and any liberal suggestions on budget cuts, the teabaggers may be fooling the MSM but not the rest of us.

Teabaggers/Republicans don’t want the government to spend money on the American people; we can certainly spend money propping up governments and people elsewhere in the world, usually in the chase for oil, but they see spending money on American needs as un-American.

“Lift yourself by the bootstraps” is a common phrase from former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, though she comes from a state where the citizens get subsidy checks from the government for oil.

They sincerely believe that the government helping people produces character of weakness, again, unless they live outside the country.

The fact that they are borrowing tactics from the 18th century, 1976 England, and wherever they can find them speaks volume to a people that aren’t used to protesting. They have been the “America: Love it or leave it” crowd.

Panic in the streets is what they want. A slashed credit rating is only the start; in their Biblical world, the end times don’t come in a sea of calm. While gold is a metaphor to most Americans, they believe that gold is a sign of the bad times, and they want that sign.

What would help is if liberals would take to the streets, like they did in Wisconsin. Several states passed similar union-busting legislation but Wisconsin got the media coverage in part because people were protesting.

But fighting for government help isn’t as exciting and getting people to rally to support Social Security and infrastructure isn’t awe-inspiring. After all, abortion rights have been stripped away, and the protesters we see are the anti-choice crowd.

The teabaggers insist this is their country. And mock them as you will, but they are fighting for what they think they want, even if it doesn’t make sense.

If liberals don’t fight back, the teabaggers’ goal of anarchy may soon be realized, even if the anarchy would look foreign to Johnny Rotten and the British youth of the late 1970s.

As Barack Obama turns 50, could his ‘mid-life crisis’ include fighting for his base?

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Turning 50 brings a lot of questions: How is my life? Am I doing what I want to do? Is this how I wanted things to turn out?

When you’re the president of the United States, and you turn 50, that last question is a doozy.

President Barack Obama turned 50 yesterday. What do you give the person who is the leader of the free world? Obama was quoted earlier in the week as wanting a debt ceiling crisis resolution for his birthday. The packaging was nicer than what was in the box.

Even if Obama isn’t asking “Is this how I wanted things to turn out?” — those who supported him in the 2008 campaign have been asking that question, and they aren’t happy with the answer.

Presidents have aspirations about what they want to do when they are sworn in, though they often get thrown off schedule. But even supporters of President Obama have a hard time figuring out what Obama wants to do as president.

Circumstances do change for presidents, but some battles are obvious. President Obama was warned back in December that the debt ceiling crisis was going to be problematic. George W. Bush was given a PDB in August 2001 saying bin Laden determined to attack the U.S.

And the one ace up his sleeve, the Bush tax cuts that caused most of the current deficit crisis is something Obama has kicked down the road.

Obama may enjoy these battles, seeing this as his mark for his administration. The rest of us outside the White House aren’t enjoying these battles, mostly because Obama shows his hand too quickly, and the Republicans don’t fear anything he might do.

Turning 50 for some mere mortals involves radical changes to try to find meaning in their lives, something that has been missing. Stereotypical moves involve a mistress and a convertible. Obama can’t order a fast food burger without getting flak, so very little chance of doing something mysterious.

We do understand what Obama is trying to do, sorta. He is trying to be the cool, reasonable leader, hoping that he shines as reasonable against unreasonable, such as the teabaggers. While the president is winning on style points, the teabaggers and the rest of the Republican Party are getting things done.

They have an agenda. They have a plan. They are determined to “win.” And they get upset when they don’t get everything they want. All these things are lacking in the Obama arsenal.

If Obama’s re-election bid rises or falls on the economy and job growth, then he needs to start thinking in these terms. The president needs to take the initiative and demand job growth legislation from the GOP. His leadership failures on the debt ceiling crisis have produced a deal that will slow down the trickle that passes for job growth in 2011.

The teabaggers are a significant percentage of one party that holds one house in Congress, and they are setting the agenda, and Obama stands by with a red cape. Olé.

When Obama ran in 2008, people interpreted his philosophy as being more liberal than it was, so liberals being disappointed in the president isn’t a surprise. However, independents who made bold moves to vote Democratic for the White House in 2008 are shaking their heads, and asking, regardless of age, “Is this how I wanted things to turn out?” Chances are, their collective answer is a resounding “No.”

Obama used Ronald Reagan as an example during the campaign, upsetting Democratic voters. Reagan was great at convincing you he was helping you when he wasn’t. Obama is helping people, but isn’t great at convincing people that he is helping.

At 50, Obama has it all in many ways: successful family, successful career. But at 50, a person has to want more, especially when they live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Soon, we will have an announcement about a re-election campaign. Maybe then, we’ll have some idea as to what Obama wants to do. If it takes a convertible for Obama to figure that out, those on the left would gladly buy him a car, as long as it was American-made.

Written by democracysoup

August 5, 2011 at 7:39 am

Solution to debt ceiling crisis is obvious, but could cost John Boehner his job

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Editor’s note: At press time, a tentative agreement has been reached. But this formula will be necessary as long as the GOP is in charge of the House in similar legislative battles.

Looking for a last-minute secret solution to averting the debt ceiling crisis? You are, of course. But what about Congress?

This solution is guaranteed to work, but would likely cost John Boehner his job as Speaker of the House.

We are used to the Speaker of the House being a politically partisan figure, so we forget that the Speaker’s role is supposed to be Speaker of the Whole House, not just one side of the room.

Speaker Boehner has 218 votes in the House of Representatives to extend the debt ceiling; he just doesn’t have 218 Republican votes to do so. The parties in power could write a simple debt ceiling extension, maybe within Herman Cain’s requirements of a 3-page bill, include some obvious cuts and obvious revenue sources (obvious by Congressional standards), and pass it with Democratic votes and a few Republicans who believe we shouldn’t default. Once the bill passes the House, the Democratic-controlled Senate would pass it quickly. And President Obama would sign it just in time, as long as they limit him to 20 pens for the signing ceremony.

Then Speaker Boehner would have a tea party riot on his hands, but he would come across as the adult missing from this pseudo-battle.

His alternatives aren’t much better. If Boehner can’t get 218 votes going the traditional route, he will be seen as weak, will get the lion’s share of blame, and only hangs on as long as he serves the teabaggers.

If he follows the solution above, the teabaggers will walk over to Eric Cantor or someone similar, and hand them the reins of the House. Then again, the same coalition that would have passed the debt ceiling bill could also keep Boehner in power. Yes, that would mean Democratic votes would save Boehner’s job. Then again, this is an unusual circumstance.

Tough choices, true. But Speakers of the House are two heartbeats from the presidency; a lot is at stake, especially in the current dilemma.

Going the nontraditional, yet old-school route might not save his job, but it will save his and Congress’ integrity, and America’s bottom line.

Canada in good shape debt wise, but worried about what might happen south of the border

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Canada has very little debt and deficit, and created more jobs in June than the United States despite having only 11% of the population. But the Harper government is seriously worried about what might happen if the U.S. defaults on its debt. For more, check out the link from

Paul Simon once taught us that “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.” And the Canadian economy is worried about the potential damage to its floor after tomorrow.

If the United States does default on its debt by not extending the debt ceiling (get it, ceiling), the Canadian economy will suffer from the suffering of the American economy.

The two economies are tied together in many ways, like being each other’s largest trading partner. And the Harper government is understandably more than a little nervous about what might happen after August 2.

The Canadian dollar has been trading high, around the $1.06 mark versus the U.S. dollar, the highest levels in almost 4 years. And Moody’s has renewed Canada’s triple-A credit rating.

Today is a civic holiday in one form or another in the vast majority of the Canadian provinces and territories, so they will return to the potential financial impact on Tuesday.

Americans aren’t the only ones hoping the debt default is thwarted.

Editor’s note: At press time, a tentative agreement has been reached, but this didn’t detract from legitimate concern north of the border.