Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Liberals find a third way on Conservative budget

Most people assumed that the Liberals had two options for the federal budget that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative presented yesterday. The Liberals could have announced their support, showing them to be as weak and capitulating as they were under former leader Stéphane Dion. Or they could have voted it down, which could have risked plunging the country into its fourth federal election in five years, something that certainly would not have been good for Canada’s economic stability.

But Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff found a better way, a third way. In his announcement earlier today, he and his Liberal caucus put the Conservatives and their budget “on probation” – neither voting it down, nor giving it whole-hearted support, either.

This is wise for a budget that no one saw as 100 percent bad nor 100 percent good. The reviews have rightly stated that the budget is a long way from the Conservatives’ poison-pill “financial update” of last fall, which is ideologically driven and lacking in any measures to help stimulate the economy.

This current budget may not go far enough – there is nothing addressing the nation’s Employment Insurance problem, for example – but there is a minimum amount of stimulus to keep the economy moving.

One of the biggest complaints from all of the opposition parties is that Stephen Harper is not to be trusted. Sure, the budget numbers are OK, they argue, but you can’t trust the Conservatives to show them the money when the time comes. Therein lies Ignatieff’s politically creative genius.

The Liberals will introduce amendments to the budget calling on the Conservatives to produce three accountability reports, detailing how the Conservatives are doing in terms of producing the economic stimulus they now promise. These reports will also be confidence motions, so if the Conservatives do not reach the economic targets they set in their own budget, they can and likely will be voted out of office.

This is the ultimate in accountability for a Conservative party that loves to talk about accountability, but rarely likes to apply such principles to itself.

All this is also better politics – and policy – than the knee-jerk reaction coming from NDP leader Jack Layton and Bloc Québécois head Gilles Duceppe. They decided before they even saw the budget that they were going to vote it down.

And I feel their pain. Like Layton and Duceppe, I would much rather see a left-wing coalition government than sit through any more time with Harper’s Conservatives in power. The government should have been voted down after the financial update was issued last fall, and Harper should never have been allowed to prorogue Parliament in order to avoid a non-confidence motion. That was a corruption of democratic principles, and both Harper and Governor General Michaelle Jean are to blame for that.

But the current budget should not be judged based upon Harper’s past behaviour, but on what the current budget offers and the ability of Harper to keep his promises. And the Conservatives are not likely to vote against the Liberal amendments for fear of being seen as anti-accountability.

Harper, whether he feels it in his heart or is just doing it to save his political skin, seemingly learned something from his near-death scare before the prorogation. Now it is up to Ignatieff and the Liberals to make sure those lessons stuck.

If they didn’t, then it will finally be time to throw the bums out.

Monday, January 26, 2009

NY’s new senator can bridge state’s urban-rural divide

Enough already with the criticism about New York Gov. David Paterson’s appointment of upstate Congresswoman Kirsten Gillibrand as the state’s junior senator to replace now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Gillibrand is a strong choice who is poised to serve the entirety of the Empire State very well.

In fact, Gillibrand was a good choice for a number of reasons:

1. She is not Caroline Kennedy, who proved to be unqualified and not ready for prime time.

2. She is from upstate, and it’s about time New Yorkers north of Westchester had someone in Washington who truly understands their issues.

3. She is unquestionably pro-gay, even supporting marriage equality for same-sex couples. This will make her one of only a few U.S. senators to take such a strong stand for equality.

4. She is a Republican slayer. She first won her House seat, representing the heavily GOP district surrounding Albany, in 2006 by beating incumbent Republican Congressman John Sweeney.

5. She is a woman, and after Clinton’s historic presidential run – and those 18,000 cracks in the glass ceiling – it is a plus for a qualified woman to be chosen to replace Clinton in the Senate.

Despite all the pluses, however, Gillibrand has been criticized for being too pro-gun. Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy, who represents part of suburban Long Island and is a staunch gun-control advocate, has even promised Gillibrand a Democratic primary challenge in 2010.

But this criticism has little to do with Gillibrand and says much more about how urban New Yorkers just don’t understand rural issues in the rest of the state. Yes, Gillibrand has a perfect voting record as rated by the rabidly pro-gun National Rifle Association (NRA). But that doesn’t mean Gillibrand is a gun zealot. It means that she understands the culture of guns in her rural district is very different from gun culture in the state’s urban centers.

Howard Dean, until recently the head of the Democratic National Committee, understood this difference. No one would argue Dean is a conservative – in fact, he lost the 2004 Democratic presidential primary because he was perceived as too liberal. But as governor of Vermont for over 11 years, he was consistently endorsed by the NRA. That’s because he understood the culture of guns in his largely rural state, a place where deer season is celebrated but with one of the lowest rates of gun violence in the country.

As for Gillibrand, she has already signaled her understanding of this issue statewide. Upon being appointed by Peterson, she said, "I will look for ways to find common ground between upstate and downstate. There are so many issues where we can come together, … where we can reduce gun violence and protect our children and keep guns out of the hands of criminals, but also protect our hunters' rights."

I’m no fan of the NRA, and I certainly don’t understand killing animals for sport, but I do understand that guns are viewed differently in urban and rural parts of the country. Gillibrand understands that difference as well, and that is a good thing for someone hoping to represent all of New York state.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

FREAK OF THE WEEK: Dr. Terri Orbuch

Welcome to the FredBlog’s new weekly feature, Freak of the Week. This week, we shine the freaklight on Dr. Terri Orbuch, also known as “The Love Doctor” who regularly appears on Detroit’s Fox-TV affiliate, WJBK.

It was bad enough last summer when E.D. Hill, then a host on the Fox News Channel, referred to Barack and Michelle Obama’s infamous fist bump as “a terrorist fist jab.” But this pastweek, another so-called expert showed she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

During a “Love Doctor” segment, Orbuch didn’t seem to know the difference between a fist bump and, um, well, see for yourself …

Seriously, shouldn’t a relationship expert know a fist bump from that other activity? This good doctor needs a little more study time.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Misoverestimating Obama

As I write this, I’m watching Barack and Michelle Obama dance at another inaugural ball. But frankly, I don’t care about the pomp and circumstance of this historic inauguration day. I don’t care about what dress Michelle is wearing. And I don’t care about which marching bands took part in the parade.

What I care about is the day after, the day now-President Obama begins the hard task of fixing all that the George W. Bush administration broke over the last 8 years.

Obama told us we have to have hope, and I hope he can live up to the hype. But I also fear that people’s expectations have been set so high that he cannot possibly meet them. To turn a phrase first used by Bush, I’m afraid we may be misoverestimating Obama.

Obama talks of change – and certainly, being America’s first African-American president brings change. But there is much that will not change. For example, like Bush, he easily laces politics with religion. In fact, Obama has talked of continuing Dubya’s faith-based initiatives. He even cited scripture in his inauguration speech.

Obama talks about dealing with the wars, and many are expecting him to keep his promise of withdrawing troops from Iraq in just over a year. Is that even possible without Iraq falling apart? And I continue to be surprised at how many people don’t know that Obama pledged to INCREASE the troop presence in Afghanistan.

Much has been made of Obama being the fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s “dream.” But aside from racial equality, King preached an anti-war message of peace. Increased fighting in Afghanistan will not be a fulfillment of that part of King’s dream.

In his inauguration speech, Obama talked of America’s “God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.” Setting aside his statement that such a promise comes from God and not the laws of the land, if he really believes that all are equal, why does he still support inequality when it comes to marriage rights for same-sex couples? Too many gay and lesbian Americans have been too easily pacified by Obama’s glowing oratory, without really pushing Obama on this issue. Yes, Obama supports “civil unions,” and that is presidential progress, to be sure. But real change would be having a president who really means “that all are equal.” As the U.S. Supreme Court once ruled about racial segregation, “separate but equal” is not really equal. (The Los Angeles Times gets it right in its editorial, “Obama’s gay-marriage waffle,” at,0,1786860.story.)

The new Obama administration has a full plate – war, recession, and a damaged international reputation, just to name a few menu items. And Obama will need all the help that he can get. Right now, the best thing we can do is to stop deifying Obama, recognize that he is a vast improvement over Bush but still far from perfect, and set realistic expectations for president #44. If we don’t cool our collective jets, we will only end up even more disappointed and disillusioned than we were before.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Ontario conservatives playing political musical chairs

What are John Tory and Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party trying to pull?

The latest news in the party leader’s quest for a seat in the Legislature is that MPP Laurie Scott – who represents the riding of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock – has agreed to step down. That will trigger a by-election in which Tory plans to run and win.

But there is so much wrong with this scenario, and it shows just how desperate Tory and his PC party have become.

Firstly, Scott agreed to vacate her seat only after being promised a political golden parachute. She will reportedly become Tory’s chief of staff at Queen’s Park until the next provincial election in 2011. In any other situation, this would be called a bribe.

Secondly, Scott will only serve until 2011 so that she can run for her old seat again. What would Tory do then? Well, he would run in some other riding – that is, if he can find one that will elect him. After all, he disastrously lost in Don Valley West last year against Liberal incumbent and education minister Kathleen Wynne.

And speaking of whether or not he can win: Thirdly, what makes Tory so cock-sure that he will win a by-election in Scott’s riding? Yes, Scott has held the seat since 2003, but in last year’s election, she only won with 50 percent of the vote. And after the pathetic campaign Tory ran last year – basically, his party bottomed out because of Tory’s sorry plan to expand public funding for religious schools – why would the voters of Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock simply roll over and accept Tory.

Which brings us to the provincial Liberals and NDP. It is sometimes customary for parties not to contest party leaders who are trying to get a seat in the Legislature. But this is a tradition that needs to end. I don’t live in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be treated with such disdain that politicians would just expect me to accept a one-party, one-candidate ballot. That’s not democracy, and voters should urge the other parties to field candidates against Tory.

Is Tory – who has proven himself to be a political loser on multiple fronts and barely has two-thirds support of his own party’s legislative caucus – so full of himself that he expects voters in Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock to accept him no questions asked?

If a by-election is called, so be it, but it should be an election, not a coronation.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Badly burying Burris

Senate Democrats should be ashamed of themselves, and Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada is the shamer-in-chief.

On the day of the Senate’s swearing-in ceremony – celebrating Senate wins in red states like Alaska and North Carolina – Reid and his cronies turned their backs on Roland Burris, the man legally appointed to sit in the seat held until recently by President-elect Barack Obama.

I have already laid out why Burris is a good choice, but right now, that’s irrelevant. What matters is that the appointment of Burris is 100 percent legal. As Burris himself stated, his only crime is being appointed by embattled Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Reid’s excuse for not seating Burris is that Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has not signed off on the appointment. While it is true that White has not certified the appointment, that’s a red herring. The Illinois secretary of state does not have the legal power to block a gubernatorial appointment.

As Burris told CBS News: “As I read the U.S. Constitution, [the] governor shall fill a vacancy, and as a former attorney general of my state, I have no knowledge of where a secretary of state has veto power over a governor carrying out his constitutional duties.”

Oddly enough, Democrats don’t have a problem with Blagojevich’s power to order a special election to fill the seat held by Chicago Congressman Rahm Emmanuel, soon to be Obama’s chief of staff. To argue that Blagojevich can legally carry out his gubernatorial responsibilities regarding Emmanuel’s seat, but not do the same for Obama’s seat, is inconsistent, disingenuous, and dishonest.

Even Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the powerful California Democrat, has reportedly said that Senate Democrats do not have a legal leg to stand on regarding Burris. "Does the governor have the power, under law, to make the appointment? And the answer is yes," Feinstein told Fox News. "If you don't seat Mr. Burris, it has ramifications for gubernatorial appointments all over America."

And after all, at the ceremony that turned its back on Burris, Joe Biden was sworn back into his Delaware senate seat that he will give up in two weeks time when he becomes vice president. If they can swear Biden in just so he can leave, certainly Reid and his buddies can welcome Burris to his rightful – and legal – place as the junior senator from Illinois.