Friday, November 28, 2008

Enemies or competitors?

A post on CTV writes about 2 professors who think the governor general won't call for a coalition (well, one admits it is possible).

Both are from the University of Calgary.

Why not solicit comments from other universities? I feel obliged to ask. I'd like to hear from other constitutional experts; I'm certain I will.

Predictably, many comment call the action to form a coalition partisan, not reflecting the majority. And I think this is why things come to an inevitable confrontation. Think about this: the Liberals, NDP, BQ, and Progressive Conservatives worked together for years as principled representations of different views. Scratch that - it wasn't that they worked together, but they didn't set out to destroy each other. They simply competed to further their own ends.

But it seems this Conservative party is set to destroy the opposition as one of its ends. You can't ignore someone who's out to destroy you; you can't let your guard down.

And there's another paradox: a party which claims to embrace competition of merit, doesn't want to compete on merit.

Honestly I never expected to see a coalition, and perhaps we won't. Harper has given himself another week to come up with another plan (and I don't mean only an economic or stimulus plan).

All I want to see is parties that don't want mutual assured destruction.

"Our goal is not the victory of might, but the vindication of right" - JFK, October 22nd, 1962.

Fix or replace?

I just saw tory MP Brian Murphy (Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe) on CPAC speak about selling old assets (pg. 52 of the plan he said). He cited an example of selling old infrastructure from the 1950's which might no longer be relevant - how could you expect to get fair market value for it?

Well, I hope the government would get fair market value for assets sold - it's just that fair market value has probably dropped recently. I don't want to make a blanket judgement on all potential asset sales. I want to examine each potential sale on its own merit.

The opposite position is updating old assets and making them more relevant. Wouldn't that be a constructive stimulus, pumping money into the economy?

That's more like it

The N.B. Liberals have got it right. Limit the role money plays influencing democracy. Harper's constitution challenge against limits to 3rd party advertising is still more evidence that he believes money should rule, hidden under the guise of free speech. And no one is paying me to say that.

Seriouser and seriouser

According to CBC, this is getting serious. Still, you have to convince the Conservatives a coalition is really possible for them to take such a threat seriously(er).

I find the idea of a coalition (extremely) entertaining, but I wonder if it's such a good idea for the Liberals. The LPC might become the doormat of the House, with smaller parties using their contribution as leverage.

But my emotions are very, very optimistic if a coalition becomes an option. Even more so if such a coalition actually works well. Many other parliamentary systems regularly function with minorities and coalitions.

Perhaps they have no conservatives.

Off topic - number two escapes?

For fans of The Prisoner, Sir Ian escaped! I didn't think it was possible.

Be seeing you.


Just thinking aloud, analyzing some alternative scenarios. I must admit, this showdown is pretty entertaining to a guy like me, if nothing else.

What could possibly happen?

1. Conservatives back down. So then, what would they propose? IF they accept ideas from the opposition, they can always blame a failure of the stimulus on the opposition in the next election. "Hey, it's not our fault, it was their idea!" "Look at deficit resulting from their spending!" However, this would be risky for Harper to sell to his own party, which already might be losing patience with him after their convention. I doubt they'll back down unless they think a coalition is a real possibility, since I think the Conservatives have more to gain in a premature election - possibly a majority.

2. Liberals back down. Unlikely, when they could do #3 below.

3. Enough Liberals abstain to pass the update. I think this could happen, but it seems a pretty risky move to me. In the last election the BQ and NDP pushed the fact the Liberals had supported Harper so much already. And the (lack of any) plan makes so little sense. Even though the Liberals would vote again, if they don't kill it it'll be spun as support for the Conservatives.

4. The motion is amended by the opposition. Is this possible? Could the opposition hijack the bill and amend it, then pass it? If this is possible, the Conservatives are in a minority, they couldn't even kill their own bill... but they could withdraw it. The Conservatives could blame the amendments later if things go wrong.

5. The motion is defeated as a matter of confidence. Then what? This is certainly the most entertaining possibility.

5a. An election is called. Each side would blame the other for failure of the government at a time of economic crisis. I think the only people that want an election now are the Conservatives, thinking they could get a majority. They can't call an election themselves - it would be suicide. Unfortunately, I speculate such an election would end in a Conservative minority - AGAIN.

5b. A coalition forms. The Conservatives' roar of undemocratic behaviour would be deafening, completely ignoring that they were a MINORITY government. I find many Conservative arguments grounded in majority rule taken to the point of majority tyrrany. Emotionally, this appeals to me as poetic justice. There is just way too much to speculate on here, there's more than enough material here for many blog posts. Hmmm...

5c. The governer general simply refuses to call an election. I'm not sure this can happen, I don't think there is a precedent for it.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I'm sure he means the surplus will grow.

I just love this photo. Too funny! Thanks Dr. Dawg.

Is democracy going out of style?

Minister Flaherty is rumored to be ready to cut election subsidies to political parties. Plenty of other blogs break down the numbers and explain why this hurts the Conservatives less than other parties even though they give up more money.

A common reaction to the subsidy is "Why should I pay someone to run against me, and turn my own taxes against me?" Look at the recent American presidential election and ask yourself if more money makes a difference in the election. Many Americans certainly think so. But then ask yourself, is that right? Should the election result be determined by private money? When tables turn, do you want that money used against you?

Another parallel with America is campaigning before the writ is dropped (e.g. attack ads on Dion). If this continues, we'll be forever in campaign mode. Well, I hope election weary Canadians remember who is advertising before the writ, and delivers them a message. I don't want to live in a permanent campaign and debate the merit of motions in parliament on the basis of whether I'll be re-elected - though that is probably already a hazard anyway.

Angry in the Great White North asks "Why is our democracy so fragile that it has to propped up with taxpayer money?" It's not about propping up democracy, it's about protecting it for all the people, not just the rich or best fundraisers.

Another Point of View points out (with good links) how Canada is spending more on democracy in Afghanistan than the amount of this subsidy.

Section 15 points out that the political donation tax credits are public money the Conservatives aren't complaining about. For example, if you make a $100 donation, you get a $75 tax credit - which comes from the public money. So a $100 donation only costs the donor $25 after tax. Why don't the Conservatives axe this subsidy? Because it works in their favor, of course. Just another small piece of evidence that the Conservatives are not willing to work within a minority and are constantly searching for new ways to grab more power.

Conservative MP Dave Anderson used parliamentary mailing privileges to influence the election of directors of the Canadian Wheat Board. Isn't that using public money to fund election campaigning? "Hello, pot? It's me kettle."

And barring the media from the recent Conservative convention? It shows the Conservatives don't value democracy within their own party. How fair is that to those tories who couldn't make the trip to Winnipeg as delegates? I guess if they were richer, then they'd count.

Remember Harper avoiding media questions during the last election? Evidence is piling up that Harper and the Conservatives don't believe in democracy, they believe in the tyranny of the majority.

If you're on facebook, you could join the I Support Public Campaign Financing group. Or if you're really angry like me, you could donate to one of the parties.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Propaganda and sensationalism

A friend sent this link:

Forget Red vs. Blue -- It's the Educated vs. People Easily Fooled by Propaganda | Media and Technology | AlterNet

It's American but not difficult to understand in a Canadian context. IMHO, both sides (every side?) used money and propaganda for manipulation, in both recent Canadian and American federal elections.

I don't want my government decided by the rich alone, whether I agree with them or not. While it isn't always illegal or immoral, I believe trading money for political influence is undemocratic. And I'm not writing about bribes, just advertising, promotion and other marketing.

What can be done?

1. Word-of-mouth. Point out abuse of sensationalism and propaganda when you see it. In fact, the repetition of the abuse will reinforce repetition of its own exposure.

2. Volunteer to teach literacy. Help someone to learn to read for themselves. It could have a bigger impact than you imagine, if those you help set an example to their friends, family and their children that literacy is useful and empowering. Read to your own children; I do this almost every night.

3. Don't argue against obvious fallacies. Doing so helps validate the fallacies (as in, "That's what I'd expect you to say.") and fuels the fire. Don't play their game and increase the ratings and influence of sensationalists.

4. Read, don't watch. I recent read Al Gore's book The Assault on Reason, and I recommend it. It gets quite technical at times and assumes some knowledge of American politics, but it's not hard to get the gist of it. At one point he writes about the difference in how the human brain processes textual vs. visual information. Different parts of the brain are stimulated. In particular, when reading the brain must make up a mental model while parsing the text symbols into thoughts. To me that means you can't help but think a bit more about what you're reading compared to being shown on TV.

5. Understand how propaganda works. Read the entries for propaganda and inoculation theory in wikipedia. I found the description of black, white and grey propaganda quite relevant.

6. Resist creating more sensationalism. Using sensationalism to decry sensationalism doesn't work; it just reinforces that sensationalism actually does work. In this case you can't fight fire with fire.

7. Build bridges of common agreement and understanding. For example, I'm concerned that Conservatives may not be managing the economy the way I would. But I can agree that they didn't create the mess, although recent budgets might make recovery more difficult. Continuing the example, I'd be more sensationalist if I said "Harper's laissez faire attitude and policies created this mess." which is clearly not the case.

8. Tolerate other opinions. Opinions aren't facts or truth, and in a free and democratic society we should permit disagreement. But I will not tolerate incorrect facts supported by evidence, or follow my emotions before my intellect.

9. Ask for evidence (calmly). During the recent Canadian federal election I argued some points with an opponent. He made some wild, emotional claims. Rather than get angry, I asked for references and evidence. He never did come back with any. This is a simple way to expose sensationalism and at the same time tolerate other opinions (by defining them as opinions rather than misrepresented facts) and perhaps finding points of agreement.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

VirtuCon demands $100B bailout

VirtuCon (ticker symbol: EVL) owner Dr. Evil demanded a government bailout today of "O N E M I L L I O N D O L L A R S", though quickly revised this figure to $100 billion. Although VirtuCon owes its rapid growth to diversification in media and other companies, nearly every division has entered hard times. Shipping has been hit by piracy, demand for premium coffee is declining, crude oil prices are falling rapidly, environmental regulations loom for it's original volatile chemicals subsidiary and deflation is hitting sales of miniature models of factories.

Responding to its cash crunch, VirtuCon's number two man has cancelled its deep drilling project code named 'Vulcan' due to low commodity prices. Rumours are the Steamroller Testing Facility in Las Vegas, NV is up for offers. During negotiations for concessions from the henchamans' union Dr. Evil broke down saying only "Throw me a freakin' bone here."

Expectations are VirtuCon will try to push through a lucrative defence contract to develop shark-based directed energy weapons before the change of presidential power in January. Some analysts questioned VirtuCon management talent, pointing to repeated accounting errors confusing billions and millions. [editor: analyst sources could not be reached for verification]

Congress declined to offer an aid package, noting that the VirtuCon executive arrived in a private spacecraft at a time when NASA faces funding cuts. When questioned on how aid money would be spent, Dr. Evil claimed the congressmen were "insolent" and stormed out.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The boundless muzzle

We've seen Harper use the muzzle, there's even a site dedicated to detailing it. But now it extends to the Conservative Party of Canada at their conference in Winnipeg. How democratic can that be?

Danielle Takacs is blogging from the floor this weekend... or at least trying. Some are surprised the media muzzle applies to the conservative media as well (such as a blogging tory, here) - but why wouldn't it? How is this blogger different from the cabinet and other Conservative MPs?

But more important: how is that blogger different from any other citizen of Canada? Where will this end? I can see only one deciding criteria: either you are Steven Harper, or you aren't.

It seems hypocritical that conservatives complain about the Canadian Human Rights Commission interfering with their free speech. Again, either you are Steven Harper, or you aren't.

Next up - the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms section 2 c) (freedom of assembly) vs. the Liberal Leadership Convention.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Advisory committee on economic strategy

Stephane Dion has announced his shadow cabinet and also an advisory committee on economic strategy (pdf). Sounds good, but I'll wait to see what comes of it. I don't think it can hurt anyway. Many of the answers may be obvious; some less so. Comparing the Liberal 5-point plan with the Conservative 6-point plan is an example of obvious similarity. Running a surplus vs. selling assets is a pretty big difference.

I believe the next decision is obviously stimulus from spending on infrastructure, coming from the recent meeting between the PM and premiers. Some disagree saying it would take too long to start new projects; maybe they're right.

My hope for this new committee is that they fight hard too prevent loss of valuable Canadian assets at fire sale prices. With the Canadian dollar and the stock markets down prices will be at the lowest (bargain hunting indeed, Mr. Harper). Now is the time to buy infrastructure, while it's cheap. And maybe let those JSS contracts too.

Excellent - everything going according to plan

redtory posted a fair comment about the Conservatives having a fire sale to avoid a deficit. Carried further, this could be seen as a planned strategy to reduce the size of government:
  1. Act outraged at surpluses (which pay down debt)
  2. Increase spending to avoid surpluses
  3. Create a deficit by cutting taxes
  4. Act surprised
  5. Sell government assets to make up the shortfall (until we run out)
  6. Cut those unnecessary social programs (because we're forced to, honest!)
I had no idea 407 ETR toll highway jumped prices by as much as 200% during peaks.

The PCs privatized Nova Scotia Power in 1992. In the last few years we've had some pretty bad weather which lead to multi-day outages. The weather may sound like an excuse (hurricane Juan is legitimate), but it seems suspicious at other times when the only company using the weather as an excuse is NSP... times when there were no collapsed roofs, bridges, etc. Why would the weather single out NSP?

Maybe because there is no profit in making more reliable or robust infrastructure, or maybe more profit in using the cheapest material regardless of quality. In case of disaster, wouldn't they expect a bailout? Certainly these losses shouldn't affect profit.

I try not to reject either privatization or nationalization without learning the details. But it seems odd that other countries are nationalizing banks, insurance companies, etc. and Canada is proceeding in the opposite direction. Is this sell low, buy high? Or is it that the companies are too restricted under government ownership, and need less regulation?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The End of Wall Streets Boom

This is a pretty good article explaining the chronology of the Wall Street mess.

You can't tell people what to do, you can only tell them what they can't. Over time people will push any system and exploit it until something gives.

But given all of this mess, capitalism is in principle still a very good system, and we shouldn't make wild changes yet. So I guess I agree in principle with Flaherty's position, though I reserve final opinion until I've seen details. I expect Dion would've suggested something similar.

Obviously what is missing from capitalism is responsibility [to shareholders]. Why are company leaders irresponsible? I propose that those leaders aren't held accountable, and that their decisions aren't transparent.

How can you punish an executive who ruined a company, but no longer works there? He's committed no crime save bad judgment, which isn't enforceable - and he knows it! How can you even know the decision might not be sound if the process isn't transparent? I admit introducing transparency is a difficult problem, and I have no ideas yet.

Companies which have decried regulation in the past now demand government help, holding the shareholders, employees and other stakeholders as hostages.

Shareholders have not demanded company leadership be responsible, they assumed it. However, recent events show at least some company leadership put themselves before shareholders and the longer term interests of the company. In fact, many shareholders themselves might be corporate-like entities such as mutual funds, pensions, etc. which might not demand responsible leadership.

So who should encourage company leadership to behave more responsibly, and how? Simply giving in to demands (for money, loans, etc.) may only guarantee the safety of the hostages temporarily.

Shareholders must return to valuing a company including its leadership and the market risks, and demand at least enough transparency to make a reasonable valuation. Perhaps too many have turned to technical analysis and ignored fundamentals? Not that technical analysis is wrong - but ignoring fundamentals might be.

As long as bailouts continue, then company management and shareholders have indeed shouldered no risk and will continue their behaviour.

Although the current problems seems made-in-America, don't forget the commercial paper crisis repercussions in Canadian Banks, or the tech bubble. We have the benefit of learning from American mistakes.

Monday, November 10, 2008


(somewhat) Funny video on capitalism.

What I think is funny here, is the sense of humour of the video creators. Personally I don't know anyone who is anti-capitalism, but I know plenty of people who are getting tired of unrestrained capitalism. Sure, we all need capitalism and capitalism is great, especially if it's your capital. But the idea that people need to promote capitalism (by mocking anti-capitalism) is worth a laugh.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Welcome! This is my first post on a difficult journey. A path toward humour, a path beaten by many great men and women which I admire and to which I aspire. Public speaking and writing often inspires fear of laughter (born of ridicule). When you seek to create humour the fear is lack of laughter.

Did anyone else mistake the Canadian federal election for Hallowe'en?

People canvassing houses offering treats in exchange for support. Lots of nasty tricks, too. I'm not sure the carpet of campaign signs was more attractive than toilet paper in the trees.

The costumed hordes included clowns, knights and few costumes too subtle or confusing to figure out unless you're also a 43rd level paladin in world of warcraft. You just have to be polite and nod.

Some of the visiting kids wouldn't speak, not wanting to give away their disguises. Or perhaps they were scared of the bully. You know, that one kid you could tell was waiting to steal their candy; his blue sweater wasn't much of a costume. He liked to tease the other kids and throw eggs at houses. Still, even he had some tender words about his mother... or perhaps he was really Norman Bates?

Sometimes you come across a house that only offers healthy, nutritious, organically grown treats. They even have a fancy home-made wrap to make them look attractive. But we know the kids get wise to that fast, put a chalk mark in front of the house and avoid it just like the graveyard.

Another house had lots of big, bright orange pumpkins outside. They were giving away full-size chocolate bars, the real good stuff. And they had a bigger turn out than they've had in years.

Then there was the house of horrors that one really enthusiastic house sets up. This year they really outdid themselves. It was over on the corner of Wall St. and Bay St. Truly scary, apocalyptic end-of-the-world-as-we-know it stuff. Vampires and werewolves wanted to take a bite from my RRSP. I expected to see legions of zombies searching for "brains", but they starved to death (undeath?).

When you get home and dump the haul on the kitchen table, you look it over. Your parents throw away anything that's not in store-bought packages (and anything with a Maple Leaf logo, too). Same candy as usual. Still, the pile is bigger than last year - 38 treats of sugary junk to rot your teeth and lower your IQ. And no nutrition facts displayed on the side either.

Well, I must go now. I'm getting a headache as I come down off a $300 million sugar rush.