Wednesday, January 11, 2012


When I read articles like this, I wonder about the motives for austerity. In order that the gap between the rich and poor should continue to grow, and given the rich aren't getting richer fast enough, then the poor must start getting poorer - to keep the gap widening.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

With respect to Sun TV

I want to leave a public record that I support the concept of free speech with respect to the government. I respect that Sun TV may perceive a bias in other media for liberal points of view, and feel compelled to present what they perceive as an unbiased alternative. I encourage them to try their best. I welcome deeper analysis and better reporting so I may be better informed.

I expect Sun TV to be treated fairly as any other news organization, no special treatment for or against them. So far, there is no reason not to.

I want to be clear here, so that if in the future I present a negative point about Sun TV, that I won't be characterized as someone who wanted them shut down from day one. I don't. But I want them to live up to what they could be. We'd all be better for it. At least, don't let us down.

It would be quite Orwellian to convict or punish someone before they commit a crime. Sun TV have done nothing wrong, and should not face unusual sanctions, limits or constraints based on something they might do in the future, or for any similarities to news organizations in other countries.

However, this post by Kady O'Malley makes quite interesting reading. It's about an incident involving a source of Mr. Kory Teneycke and some tampering with an on-line petition put for on I plan to follow this matter as more information becomes available, and I urge everyone else to follow as well. It is a serious matter to steal someone's identity, whether for financial gain or political influence.

It must be noted that complaints about offensive programming are not handled by the CRTC, but rather by the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, of which the CRTC required Sun TV to hold membership in good standing when their application was approved. I sincerely hope Sun TV works with the CBSC to present their best news for the benefit of all their Canadian viewers.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Some analysis of a confidence vote

If 143 Conservative MPs vote confidence in the government, then at least 144 of the remaining 164 MPs (the speaker is excluded) must vote no confidence to defeat it. If 22 or more MPs of any party or combination of parties are absent or abstain, the government survives. If exactly 21 MPs don't vote then the 143:143 tie is broken by the speaker (Liberal Peter Miliken), who would likely defeat the government.

Since no one party has 144 MPs in the house, no one party can defeat the government. No one party can trigger an election (unless Mr. Harper requests the Governor General, again).

Since no party has declared their MPs will have a free vote, we should assume all MPs present in the house will vote with their party line.

If any MP avoids the upcoming confidence vote without sufficient cause, they express support for the government.

So therefore, any MP absent without sufficient cause is either:
  1. expressing their parties support for the government [cover your ears] EVEN IF THAT PARTY VOTES NO CONFIDENCE, or
  2. expressing their individual support for the government against the party line.
If it's #2 the party should take some action to discipline the individual MPs afterward. If no action is taken, ipso facto it must be #1.

If any party or combination of parties allows enough absent MPs to avoid passing a motion of no confidence, then they should be identified as supporting the government [cover your ears] EVEN IF THOSE PARTIES (THAT PARTY) VOTE(S) NO CONFIDENCE.

Either the BQ or NDP could allow the government to continue, in exchange for something from the Conservatives. However, the Conservatives may think they'd emerge from an election with yet another minority anyway, and therefore wouldn't gain much by avoiding an election. If the Conservatives think they'd lose the election they should definitely offer something, to retain power as the economy improves (another questionable assumption, but it's a popular opinion now). My guess is no deal because they think they'll get at least another minority. Rather, I expect the government to 'dare' the other parties to defeat it with aggressive motions designed to drive election issues and support their platform.

I think the most confusing scenario would be if some combination of absent BQ and NDP allowed the government to survive, with no reward from the Conservatives (e.g. that each thought they'd lose out in an election). In other words an implicit NDP-BQ 'coalition' of support for Conservatives, to avoid an election. Ouch, the tin foil is too tight on my head. If the government comes out with aggressive, ideological motions this won't be possible at all.

So, I guess I'm expecting an election. No predicitions though, yet.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A simpler question of confidence

The problem with marking some motion of parliament as a confidence matter is that it complicates the issue. Are you voting for the motion or the government? These two are not the same.

If a motion of non-confidence in the government is introduced by itself with no other provisions, this simplifies the question. Do you have (enough) confidence, or not?

Only if a majority of MPs agree will the government be defeated. In this case, it would require all Liberal, NDP and BQ MPs to agree to defeat the Conservative government. No one of them alone, or even 2 together, could trigger an election.

A simpler question changes the perception when favours and considerations are exchanged as justification for support. Side deals are still possible of course, but more difficult to spin since you have nothing to show for your support - just promises. You really must have confidence in the government if you're going on promises alone, quite literally.

Liberals shoudn't vote down ways and means

Liberals shouldn't necessarily vote down a Conservative ways and means motion on September 14th. Especially, not without reading it. It should be given due consideration on its merits. If the motion is an implementation matter (say, of the renovation tax credit) of the earlier spring budget, then perhaps it should be passed for the same reasons the spring budget passed.

The real issues are:
  1. Have the Conservatives executed that budget effectively in a timely manner?
  2. Has the stimulus money been focused on stimulus or patronage?
I have no idea why the Conservatives would wait until now to motion for the reno credit. What were they waiting for (other than obvious poloitical reasons)?

I'd like to read the Conservatives' progress report, or some other information indicating where the stimulus money went. Surely, someone knows.

  • In general terms, perhaps the budget was a reasonable compromise.
  • The budget devil is in the details of its execution.
  • That execution was lacking in quality and timeliness.
  • Poor execution is justification for no confidence.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

An idea to save news

I believe there are several problems with news media today which must be addressed.
  1. News, especially television news, often competes for advertising revenue and is expected to profit. This opens the possibility that the news will favor their advertisers.
  2. Some programs appear to be news but in fact offer opinion and comment on news reported by others. Hosts on these shows usually call themselves commentators and do not claim to be journalists, and thus don't feel bound by any journalistic integrity. They claim their right of free speech; free speech is not limited to unbiased and independently verified work.
  3. Reports might be biased by many different means.
I'd like to see a simple-to-use, voluntary rating system applied to programs which do claim to report news.

It would be impossible to have independent verification of every published article or even every individual reporter. Whole organizations would receive a single rating for all their individuals and articles published. The organization would be responsible to hold its individuals and published matter to the standards described under their rating, or risk losing that rating - and thus affecting the whole organization.

This rating system would be paid for by application fees. Any organization which wants a rating would pay a non-refundable application fee and submit to an audit by the rating organization. Only if the rating organization is satisfied would it award a rating.

The ratings would describe what to expect from the news organization. For example, does it contain original reporting? Does it exhibit any bias? Does the organization employ any independent verification of its facts?

I expect a rating would benefit large newspapers and TV networks which could afford the costs; not just the application, but the corresponding overhead of living up to the rating. In general, people should be more attracted to a rated show than a non-rated show, and enjoy higher ratings. Bigger audiences should lead to higher advertising revenue. Indeed, even advertisers would perhaps enjoy being associated with higher quality news - or even as another demographic or targeting tool for their advertisements after they learn how to use it.

Organizations which can't afford the cost, or which choose not to apply for a rating could still carry on as usual. They might be disadvantaged compared to rated organizations. But that is the whole point - to make bias more visible so that people can decide. In the case of small organizations like individual bloggers, they could appeal for financial support to pay the rating costs. This could be anything from a paypal tip jar, to soliciting private or public sponsors.

Non-rated organizations could still function as they do, and if a rated organization re-reported an article from a non-rated source, they could add value by performing independent verification. Indeed, perhaps a rated organization might only perform independent verification and do no original reporting, and be rated as such. Perhaps this could be a business case itself - I'll leave that to businessmen to determine.

In fact, journalists themselves could set up a ratings system to help in marketing their added value, without government intervention. Simple brand-building, I should think.

The problems in a rating system might be:
  • How to limit bias in the rating organization itself?
  • The ratings organization might be overwhelmed by complaints against rated organizations. Complaints would have to bundled together like class action law suits.
  • Non-rated organizations could systematically attack the rating organization itself. The most damaging attack would be to falsely promote the idea that the rating organization is against free speech. An 'anti-rating rating' could be displayed, where the anti-rating rating conveys no information about quality - but simply a belief in free speech. The impact of the rating could be diluted, or even exploited by non-rated organizations.
I believe even some non-rated organizations would have some interest in backing a rating system. For example, imagine a biased non-rated organization which does no original news gathering re-reporting only those selected facts which support their bias - then claiming these facts came from a rated organization - thus 'stealing' the impression of being unbiased.

Ratings do work for other things like entertainment (movies and video games get ratings like G, PG, R, etc.). Ratings are also applied to certain financial instruments; in some cases these work, in other cases they might need reform - I'll leave that to better experts than me to say.

This post is not yet rated. ;-)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Swine flu, the free market and EI

Those who promote free markets, the invisible hand, the efficient market hypothesis and related topics often neglect the social cost and the meaning of equilibrium.

Imagine applying this model to a pandemic flu by allowing the flu to run its course - no meddling intervention from know-it-all physicians. Eventually the spread of the flu will slow and stop on its own. The survivors will likely be more resistant to that flu strain, have better hygiene or perhaps were just lucky. Pity if you aren't a survivor.

I doubt anyone would let a pandemic flu just run its course without trying to do something. No one would stand for that, it can't even be argued.

Now compare that to the financial pandemic affecting our economy. First, corporations and individuals are very different. Even a single human life is much more valued than any corporation. Corporations are soulless and are expected to die off if they can't compete. But don't forget about the symbionts hosted by the corporation, the employees. Finding another host (job) isn't as easy as it seems.

So how to allow the host to die while protecting the symbionts? Employment Insurance temporarily protects workers between jobs, and offers a chance for re-training to find a new job. Is EI meddling or interfering with a pure free market? Probably if it isn't applied uniformly to all. But it does make it easier to allow companies to fail while protecting the displaced workers. [N.B. To those who think those employees could quickly and easily relocate to another job, I ask 'Where?'.]

So I can't explain why someone who promotes laissez-faire economics wouldn't also support EI and support fair and equal treatment under EI. How does it make sense to preserve a system which is not equal and fair across the country? I guess he figures EI is unfair to the employed who contribute to EI. If we treat individuals like corporations, shouldn't those who can't compete fail and make room for those that can? What a ridiculous statement when applied to people.

We couldn't take the same attitude for a pandemic flu. Working for a failed corporation or catching a flu are both beyond the control of most individuals [N.B. I don't expect everyone has what it takes to be an entreprenuer].