Friday, July 29, 2011

Friday night

Going with an Amy Winehouse remix. It was released this week after her death and has been quite popular on Soundcloud. Very awesome.

Have a good night.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mark your calendars

It's that time again! Summertime is as good as any for another casual progressive blogging get together here in the Ford throttled city of Toronto. Time and date: 6:30 p.m. on Thursday August 4th. Location will be emailed to attendees so that the anonymous among us (not me!) will be comfortable.

I am assured by Orwell's Bastard, chooser of the venue, that it is a fine downtown establishment. Email me or Big City Lib for the details.

Yes, our bud Big City Lib will be there! In his best shorts, shades and Birkenstocks. Remember to print out and bring your fave blog post of his as he is always happy to autograph them.

See you on the 4th!

Update (5:00 p.m.): Response has been good! Heard from two out of town bloggers who might actually be in T.O. that day, among other friends/supporters of the progressive blogging community...!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More of that "real 'gotcha'"

So you may have noticed that Fern Hill at Dammit Janet has been on a roll recently in terms of raising questions about Tim Hudak's position on abortion and whether he just might defund access were he ever (heaven forbid) to become Premier of our fair province. Fern's blogging endeavour, pursuing this issue in particular, which most of us in the progressive blogging community have witnessed for years, is not a matter of "gotcha politics," the way it was termed in an op-ed in the Toronto Star today. It's an issue she cares about, as do many of us. If Tim Hudak wants to play fast and loose with the issue, Ontario voters deserve to hear about it and it's a good thing that she's helped draw attention to it.

That the op-ed referenced her as "a blogger with a chip on his/her shoulder, who relied on Google, which found an old article on our site," was frankly ridiculous. A predictable attempt to undermine basic and credible research Fern did that has put an important issue under a spotlight that it needed during this election. It may be new or maybe just uncomfortable to Mark Penninga, the author of that op-ed, but there is at times a symbiotic relationship between bloggers and mainstream media. No use in decrying it in this day and age. His words were so last decade-ish. This is the great thing about the blogging community, most of the time anyway. We don't do this for pay. We spend time doing it because we care about issues, we care about our country. Simple as that. It's also why when someone like Fern raises an issue, with years of a blogging record, it can actually carry more credibility and moral suasion.

Here is Fern's response to the op-ed and an excerpt:
My original question is perfectly legitimate. Would Tim Hudak as premier work to defund abortion? Yes, I know that abortion is a federal matter and he can't recriminalize it (however much his supporters may wish for that).

But health care is the biggest budget item in the province. And if you believe the squawking of the various Chicken Littles at the moment, the financial axe is about to fall on all kinds of things.

Medical services have been defunded in the past. Hospital beds have been closed.

Why not defund abortion? Why not defund certain types of abortion? Why not cut back on the locations it is available? Why not put up barriers to safe, legal abortion in the name of saving money?

Especially if it would garner the support of 'mature' and 'graceful' voters able to understand what this is about?

Mr. Hudak must answer the question. Would he defund abortion?

On a personal note: I'm delighted that a mere blogger, an ordinary citizen, could put the spotlight on this issue. All I did was dig a little. And find something that some would obviously prefer remain cloaked.
Well said.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Friday night

Loooove this one, Goodwill & Hook 'n Sling, Take You Higher. It kind of cuts off at the end, that's because it's not officially out until next week.

Other tunes for the week...a Kaskade remix, of course! Also, fun new Red Hot Chili Peppers for those not into the progressive house stuff.

Have a good night!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Random leadership notes

Alyssa Rosenberg offers a few leadership lessons from the Harry Potter series and one other:
Both the Harry Potter series and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games books are about what happen when you use young people as mascots and as instruments for larger causes. The reason Harry Potter is the main character in the series isn’t that he’s awesome — to the contrary, he’s a fairly average kid, and Snape’s assessment of his overall abilities as a wizard is probably correct. The idea that he’s extraordinary — and really, that extraordinary things can happen in the cause of righteousness — inspires other people to rise to and above their potential. Harry provides a motivating impulse for the Order of the Phoenix, and for Dumbledore’s Army. The most interesting moment in the entire series is when he’s presented as dead to the people who have been fighting for him — and they keep fighting, in particular Neville Longbottom, who exists as an illustration of the arbitrariness of Harry’s prestige, and who rises to the occasion, killing the hell out of Nagini even when he’s been set on fire. Ron dashes down to the Chamber of Secrets and just pretends he knows Parseltongue, and it works: again, Harry’s not magically special, but the special things he does inspire people to try crazy and unusual things. Hermione Granger might have been the smartest witch of her age even if Harry Potter had never come to Hogwarts, but Harry and Ron encourage he to become something more than an academic know-it all with rigid behavioral rules. All the characters need each other. It’s not a matter of Rowling having chosen the wrong main character, it’s understanding how that character functions.
"In the end, both of these stories are about what happens when political movements choose pretty vulnerable figureheads. It turns out that surrounding that figurehead with a strong educational system like Hogwarts and a mentor like Albus Dumbledore is a safer bet than forcing kids to work for a living and giving them a drunken veteran of a kill-or-be-killed contest. The anti-Voldemort movement has a more limited task — it’s easier to keep someone from rising to power than to topple and entrenched government — but they also do a much better job of organizing for it over the long term than the District 13 folks, who are isolated from most of Panem, hindering long-term insurrection planning, and who end up choosing Katniss kind of on the fly. Movement-building’s hard work. And in both of these franchises, but especially with the Hunger Games books, I’m actually more interested in the people who plan the grand architecture of insurrections rather than those who are the public faces of them."
Last two sentences especially notable.

If you missed her other recent political item on Harry Potter, it's also worth a look: "The Political Lessons Of ‘Harry Potter.'"

Meet the new Toronto

2011 Federal Election

It's a much more colourful place from previous elections.  See the 2008 map, by contrast:

2008 Federal Election

Thanks to Blunt Objects for posting links last night to the above maps. They were created by a user at Rabble who posted their links there.

Update: Here is the 2011 map with riding names embedded, thanks to this blog (click to enlarge).

End of an era

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Murdochs in the dock - highlights

Highlights from the Murdoch family's and Rebekah Brooks' testimony today in Britain. Complete with foreboding music which seems quite appropriate and not ginned up, actually.

The leaders knew nothing, people let them down, the buck stops down the chain. Amazing.

Miliband's moment

It has been fascinating to watch Ed Miliband over the past week or so as he's handled the Murdoch scandal. Miliband seems to be ahead of the curve, leading the issue and tapping into the political zeitgeist in just the right ways thus far. Where might it go? Lots of talk. Here's John Burns of the New York Times:
Beyond the immediate politics, there was a growing sense across the country that the crisis had raised fundamental questions about the culture of collusion between politicians and the press and revealed a deeper malaise in British life that could dominate the national political scene for months or years to come.

Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour opposition, delivered a broadside against Mr. Cameron on Monday that sought to tap into the public outrage over the scandal by linking it to a series of crises in recent years — the role of the banks in the financial crisis that hit in 2008, the furor over lawmakers’ expense abuses in 2009 and now the tabloid scandal. Commentators said his goal was to weaken Mr. Cameron’s coalition government if the scandal continues to escalate, and to cast himself as a credible alternate prime minister should Mr. Cameron fall.
There is another good point raised in this column on, again, Miliband's performance but also this:
Politicians are always late in adapting to profound external change. In the 1970s successive governments persisted in pursuing evidently outdated and failing corporatist policies because they had been conditioned to believe that this was what they did. Once again, moving into a new epoch, leaders have tried to press the same old buttons and found they no longer work.

These are early days. Cameron/Osborne still have time to adapt, but Miliband and some Liberal Democrats have moved faster so far. The stakes could not be higher. Those that can break free from their past will be the dominant forces in British politics for the next decade at least.
Toynbee echoes that point here:
Everything has changed for Labour, at least for now. Ed Miliband was first to see that here at last was the chance to stand up to bullies, first to push for lasting change, no more crawling, as he said in today'sspeech denouncing "large concentrations of power that lead to abuses and to neglect of responsibility". He linked all the "powerful people who answered to nobody", the out-of-control bankers, the tax-avoiding corporations, dishonest MPs who had indulged in a "culture of entitlement" and News International "which thought it was beyond responsibility". Here is a David slinging stones at the Goliaths who overshadow democracy, making people feel it's hardly worth voting.

High risk? It might have been for Blair, but not for Miliband – because he has nothing to lose and everything to gain. This is why in the difficult choice between two able brothers it was right to choose the one who could break free from the past, least contaminated, most able to start afresh.
A young progressive leader seeing the moving parts at play in their democracy, sensing the moment when it's time to say enough's enough even though there are still huge risks in the air. The British press still has a large right wing contingent beyond Murdoch. But Miliband seems to be the one who is - to use a hockey metaphor since that's what we do - skating to where the puck will be. Whether he will keep it up throughout and whether this will be the start of a new courageous path for Miliband, we'll see. Kind of fun to be watching that angle from the Canadian perspective.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday night

An easy pick this week, Kaskade was in Victoria and Vancouver a few months ago, how can you not like that? Big flag and all...

Have a good night.

Martin on Trudeau

This is likely to be one of the top reads today, Lawrence Martin's column on Justin Trudeau. The leadership rattlings are probably overdone and are, frankly, annoying to read at this point. Peddling leadership driven political games seems so useless right now and low on the list of priorities. New members, policies, repairing the brand, etc., all more important.

It is good to hear that Trudeau will be on the road selling the party. There's a real opportunity to do some outside of the box thinking, get creative over the next few years. If he's "ready to roll," I hope that's how the rolling goes. But, of course, no one person is going to save the Liberal party.

Otherwise, I liked the notes of humanity in the column. The brief angle on Trudeau going through a period of cynicism, the election's impact on him, his idealism.

Have a good Friday!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Just a thought

This excerpt is written on the still unresolved U.S. debt ceiling argument but as a Canadian progressive, I like it:
The base-case scenario is, still, that the debt ceiling will be raised, somehow. But already an enormous amount of damage has been done: the US Congress has demonstrated clearly that it can’t be trusted to govern the country in a responsible manner. And the tail-risk implications for markets are huge. Think of the speed with which the Egyptian government collapsed earlier this year, or the incredible downward velocity of News Corporation right now. When you build up large stocks of mistrust and ill will, nothing can happen for a very long time. But when something does happen, it’s much quicker and much worse than anybody could have anticipated. The markets might not be punishing the US government at the moment. But the mistrust and ill will is there, believe me. And when it appears, it will appear with a vengeance.

Green energy and the Ontario election

John Podesta spoke in Toronto last night on what's going to be one of the front and center issues in the Ontario election, green energy:
Toronto, ON – This evening, at an event for Ontario opinion leaders, John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress, former Chief of Staff to U.S. President Clinton and a key figure in the drive for clean energy jobs in the U.S. urged Ontario to build on its leadership in the global clean energy race.

“The global clean energy race is on and forward thinking decision makers recognize it as the way of the future,” said Podesta. “Even with tight budgets and questions about the future, this is the time to invest in clean energy. We have the opportunity to create millions of new jobs worldwide, deploy new sources of energy that are clean and domestically produced, and make our economies more efficient, diverse, productive and competitive.”

While he stated that the Green Energy Act has established Ontario as a clean energy leader, he cautioned against losing momentum or reversing direction.

"A long-term and important consideration is that the cost of conventional energy is going up, and will keep going up, while the cost of clean energy will continue to fall," he said. "Investing in clean energy today means investing in cheaper, more reliable energy for many years to come."

He applauded Ontario for its Green Energy Act, which has created thousands of jobs, is building a local renewable industry, and addresses the urgency of climate change in the face of competition in the clean energy economy.

"China and the EU are powerhouses in the new clean energy industry, worth 2.3 trillion USD globally by the end of this decade," he continued. "Ontario is well positioned and should capitalize on its lead."
Just say no to Mr. Hudak's brazen and irresponsible promise to axe the Green Energy Act. Much more to be blogged on this one in coming months.

More coverage today:

"Ontario urged not to scrap renewable energy policy"

"Ontario urged to stay with green energy"

"Ex-Clinton staffer urges Ont. not to scrap green plans"

The bridge silliness

I think Patrick Lagacé has it right on the comedy of errors we saw play out this week in respect of Montreal's Champlain bridge, its decrepit state and the oh-so-secret study on its state of repair that Transport Minister Denis Lebel tried not to release. Lagacé wonders what we should be afraid of more, Denis Lebel, who mucked up the handling of the report masterfully and whose competence to oversee a bridge replacement is in issue, or the state of the bridge itself. He kids, but there's an element of truth to his point. This rebuke was well deserved:
Ce qui s'est passé lundi, mardi et mercredi est loufoque. Lundi et mardi, Denis Lebel a donné des entrevues pour dire que oui, en effet, c'est vrai, Ottawa possède une étude sur l'état de santé du pont Champlain. Mais pas question de la rendre publique: trop compliqué! Le public n'y comprendrait rien! Et puis, disait M. Lebel, le pont est sûr!

Hier, le bureau du premier ministre - pas le ministre des Transports! - a fait savoir que la Société des ponts Jacques-Cartier et Champlain allait rendre publique l'étude en question. Cela a évidemment fait passer M. Lebel pour la marionnette du ventriloque caché dans le bureau du PM. Denis Lebel, en bonne marionnette, s'est contenté hier de faire des commentaires dans un communiqué de presse, commentaires sans doute écrits par d'autres. Pas d'entrevue. Pitoyable.

Or, qu'apprend-on dans ce rapport? On apprend, en mots très simples, que des parties du pont risquent de s'écrouler malgré des travaux préventifs. On apprend que sa dégradation est exponentielle. On apprend que le risque est impossible à quantifier.

Bon, il est vrai que le rapport est écrit en anglais. Peut-être est-ce pour ça que Denis Lebel croyait que le public n'y comprendrait rien. Qu'il se rassure, plusieurs de ses concitoyens comprennent l'anglais. Je déconne, mais lundi et mardi, le ministre a menti: ce qui se trouve dans le rapport de la firme Delcan a beau être technique par bouts, il ne faut pas être professeur émérite à l'École polytechnique pour comprendre que le pont doit être remplacé, et vite.

On ne peut pas reprocher au ministre des Transports du Canada la dégradation du pont. Peut-être est-il rendu au bout de sa vie utile (le pont, pas le ministre). Peut-être que d'autres ministres des Transports, avant lui, auraient pu faire preuve de plus d'initiative. Mais ça ne change rien au fait que Denis Lebel, en cet été 2011, est bel et bien ministre des Transports du Canada. On aimerait qu'il se comporte comme tel. (translation)
Well said.

For the umpteenth time, that patented Harperian lack of transparency rears its head, making you wonder, again, why they just can't operate the way most credible institutions and businesses do. Handle the report sensitively by all means, it's serious, as mentioned above. But have some regard for the public who deserve to know the facts about the bridge they're driving on. They're highly aware of and concerned by the situation. That basic public interest seems to have been missed during this report handling silliness (nor did any of the other levels of government object, by the way, shameful on all counts). It may be that they're trying to manage public pressure for a new bridge but that shouldn't be a prime consideration.

The cost of a new bridge may be driving the government's nervousness. Harper himself remarked about it critically during the election when the other parties promised a replacement bridge. The newly released study says the cost of a new bridge (or tunnel) will exceed $1 billion.

But consider the hemming and hawing on the Champlain replacement compared to no such reluctance on a new Windsor-Detroit bridge project. Last summer, the Harper government offered to loan half a billion to Michigan as incentive to start building. The offer still stands. If we need a new bridge crossing there at a crucial border point, fine. But it begs the question on the comparative lack of action in Montreal, particularly when we're prepared to loan Michigan such a large sum and particularly when the Montreal bridge is in such obvious need of a replacement.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cuts versus spending blitzes

Tony Clement commenting on today's Conservative spending blitz which included cash for an airport, a donut manufacturer and a pork plant among many announcements today and in coming days:
Treasury Board President Tony Clement said the blitz was fully in line with 
the government's belt-tightening measures. 

"Our review is about finding ways to spend less of taxpayers' money on
 government while preserving responsible, affordable, targeted investments
like these that create jobs and growth, spur local economies and help to
position communities for long term success," he said in a statement.

Uh huh. Except...James Moore didn't get the same memo Clement did, speaking of cuts to the CBC and the arts and how everybody has to do their part. No such economic considerations seem to apply over here:
"The CBC has to do its part. The idea that the CBC can't find five per cent efficiencies within the CBC to give back to the broader economic framework is silly," he said. "Of course the CBC will be part of this overall process."

He said his promise to maintain or raise CBC funding had been based on the 2008 election platform.

"Everybody, including the CBC, has to be part of the strategic review and find five per cent. All of this is dictated by the process going forward of the strategic review which is to look at the macro framework of the Canadian economy, going forward the next few quarters. And we'll see where we are next year, but everybody has got to be a part of it."
Everybody has got to be a part of it, just not according to Clement. Clement's point about maintaining targeted investments that create jobs and growth, spur local economies, etc.? Also very much applicable to the CBC according to a Deloitte study released last month which found "substantial positive impact on the economy — well above its spending power — because it supports jobs and businesses across Canada." Why squeeze the CBC then other than for political reasons?

And just how do they rationalize the search and rescue cuts when dollars are being blitzed to businesses?

The reviews for the Hudak platform are in...

That should raise some doubt about Mr. Front Runner who seems to be playing a very, very safe and talking pointed campaign at the moment. Why on earth are all those news organizations saying such brutal things about Mr. Hudak and his platform? Could make a voter wonder.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Timely question on Harper's intentions on foreign ownership of Canadian media

Geoff Stevens wonders: "Will Harper open door to foreign-owned media?" Specifically, he wonders whether Rupert Murdoch's empire might make its entree into Canada. The quiet meeting between Harper and Murdoch in New York in March 2009 is noted as are the barriers to entry:
Three obstacles stand between Canada and a Murdoch invasion. First, the Income Tax Act requires that newspapers and magazines be 75 per cent Canadian-owned. Second, the Broadcasting Act limits foreigners to a 33.3 per cent stake in broadcasting. The third obstacle is the political resolve of the federal government to continue to protect Canadian cultural industries from foreign control.
With the majority government, there are no obstacles to making changes. It's also an open question whether Stephen Harper would continue to show the historic resolve of past federal governments against foreign ownership of our media.

Given the U.K. scandal, if he wanted to proceed, he might wait it out for a few years before loosening the rules, let it calm down. There will be, however, numerous public inquiries going on in the U.K. for some time to come. Further, the corruption being exposed at News International looks so damaging, there could be serious legal issues for News International and its highest executives to deal with for years as well. There has also been talk of U.S. legal authorities becoming involved, spreading the scandal to North American shores. It could be ongoing for some time.

Murdoch would, nevertheless, be a prime candidate to move in on Canada, his empire would be the one cited as a likely entrant should Harper move to loosen foreign ownership rules, galvanizing opposition. Sure there would be other prospective entrants, but Murdoch would loom over the debate.

And we've now seen the toxic precedent of what can happen when such a dominant media player is able to manipulate pliable police and the politicians of all stripes who seek his blessing. It's a worst case scenario striking at the heart of a democracy. Why would we open ourselves up to the possibility of a foreign player who could bring that mix here? None of this makes opening up Canadian media to more foreign ownership an attractive case at all, now or in the near future.

Good to see the question being raised now while the toxic brew is hot.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Checking in on the Wheat Board plebiscite

A Wheat Board commissioned poll shows support for the single desk system in advance of the plebiscite:
According to the CWB's 2011 producer survey, 59 per cent of prairie farmers support the monopoly requiring prairie wheat and barley farmers to market all grain for export or domestic consumption through the CWB. A year ago, support was 64 per cent. In 2009, it was 63 per cent and in 2008 it was 57 per cent.
59 percent has to be a smashingly stable majority by Canadian standards these days. Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz reacted as expected, however, not interested in the news of the survey's results ("No expensive survey should ever trump the rights of those farmers who want to choose how they market their own grain.")

The plebiscite rolls on with the report indicating it will be done by around September 10th. Just in time for our extraordinarily democratic parliament to resume and welcome its result, whatever that may be.

The news of the world

The other big story in the world, beyond the debt ceiling biggie in the U.S., is the unfolding U.K. phone-hacking scandal involving Rupert Murdoch's tabloid News of the World. Some are viewing it as a real turning point for the press in the U.K., with politicians being freed from Murdoch's dominance. The issue to watch is whether Murdoch's bid to gain further control through broadcaster Sky News is allowed to go forward by the Tory government, who had been inclined to go along. Things have changed drastically though and the hacking revelations really couldn't come at a better time in terms of stopping that bid. Here, the Guardian editorializes against the bid as the scandal keeps getting worse:
The outlines of the story are familiar enough: it involves a giant media organisation presided over by one of the last great press tycoons, who has ruthlessly played at the boundaries of politics and business. As he grew larger, bolder and more successful, the less people in public life wanted to take him on. This reticence was well-founded, since it now transpires that his company retained criminals on the payroll to dig the dirt on anyone and everyone.

It is this power and dominance that ties the phone-hacking (and worse) with the imminent decision of the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt, over whether to allow Mr Murdoch to become still more powerful and dominant. It is obvious to most people who have followed the sordid twists and turns of the phone-hacking saga that it would be extremely undesirable to let Mr Murdoch – who already owns nearly 40% of the national press – to have complete control over a vast broadcasting operation as well. Mr Hunt (and, yesterday, Mr Cameron) repeat that this is a "quasi-judicial" decision and that they must simply follow due process. But, as both the former minister Gerald Kaufman and the former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell argued in the Commons, there is in fact plenty of room for ministerial judgment.

Senior members ofthe government – including Mr Hunt and the attorney general, Dominic Grieve – have drawn attention to Ofcom's powers to use a "fit and proper person" test in judging the suitability of a particular company or individual to be a media owner. But Ofcom cannot presently trigger such a test: it would require criminal charges against senior executives before the regulator could act.

The police operation has already led to several arrests and there is a distinct possibility of such charges. Indeed, some lawyers have even mentioned the possibility of charges against company directors under section 79 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act which can be levelled if it can be shown that directors have been guilty of "neglect, consent or connivance". Knowing of these possible outcomes, it would be extraordinary for Mr Hunt to wave through the merger now.

We have suggested that Mr Hunt should pause for a period while the police find out who did what, and who knew what, when – and at what level in the company. That suggestion met with broad all-party support in the Commonson Wednesday. In the intervening 24 hours we have learned of NoW journalists bribing police officers; that News International's chief executive was warned by police in 2002 about the behaviour of private investigators; and that her paper hacked the phones of the relatives of 7/7 victims. How much worse does it have to get before Mr Hunt listens?
This commentator at the Independent makes a good argument on the legal issues facing Murdoch (see the piece), as he raises the section 79 referenced above:
Forgive me for now penetrating deeply into the thickets of the law, but eventually, in the growing scandal of the News of the World's behaviour, everything will turn on Section 79. I hope charges will be brought under this section. It is entitled the "Criminal liability of directors etc". (I like the "etc"). It states that "Where an offence under any provision of this Act... is committed by a body corporate and is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of a director, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body corporate, or any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity, he (as well as the body corporate) shall be guilty of that offence and liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly."
Rupert Murdoch has owned the News of the World for nearly 42 years. When he arrived in England as an unknown Australian newspaper proprietor to bid for the News of the World in 1969 in opposition to Robert Maxwell, I went to meet him at Heathrow Airport and travelled into town with him. I was a young financial journalist. When we got to the Savoy Hotel, he went up to reception to sign in. As soon as he was given his room number, he demanded that he be given a different room. I asked him why. You see, he said, I fear that my room will have been bugged.

Even then phone hacking and electronic eavesdropping obsessed him. Now they will be his undoing and Section 79 could be his final reckoning.
The British media regulator is also now raising the "fit and proper owner" test publicly, further salt in the wound. Quite a turn of events in Britain that could be quite beneficial to their media and politics.

Why should we care, from the Canadian perspective? It would not be helpful to see such a powerful right wing media empire's control expand in the U.K.. It's a poor precedent for other nations, like ours. And obviously, it would compound the significant power Murdoch wields through Fox News in the U.S. that in turn influences our conservatives. A prospective halt to this march should be applauded.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Column of the week

The tax cutting orthodoxy of the Republicans comes under fire from right wing New York Times columnist David Brooks as the debt ceiling fight looms:
The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary.

This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

The members of this movement do not accept the logic of compromise, no matter how sweet the terms. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch in order to cut government by a foot, they will say no. If you ask them to raise taxes by an inch to cut government by a yard, they will still say no.

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

The members of this movement have no sense of moral decency. A nation makes a sacred pledge to pay the money back when it borrows money. But the members of this movement talk blandly of default and are willing to stain their nation’s honor.

The members of this movement have no economic theory worthy of the name. Economists have identified many factors that contribute to economic growth, ranging from the productivity of the work force to the share of private savings that is available for private investment. Tax levels matter, but they are far from the only or even the most important factor.

But to members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.

Over the past week, Democrats have stopped making concessions. They are coming to the conclusion that if the Republicans are fanatics then they better be fanatics, too.

The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the G.O.P. is — a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation.

If the debt ceiling talks fail, independents voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don’t take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused this default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern.

And they will be right.
Tax cutting orthodoxy is fun until it becomes the stumbling block that just might cause a nation to face default and many devastating economic calamities. 

But don't worry, those kinds of problems are all down there, not here, right?  

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Liberals will never be lonely

Not when Conservatives keep writing nitpicky, protests-too-much columns like this. Beardsley is probably right about the summer travelling being about staying in the media eye. Why not? It is important for Liberals right now. And really? Liberal plans for the summer require a stomp 'em piece? (Check out the commenters meming the line that it'll take more than a summer to rebuild for Liberals, snicker, in the piece at the CBC. Fun. The eliminationist strain in Canadian politics continues apace.)

Have to disagree with propositions like this one too:
As the third party, the Liberals will slowly fade from view. Yes, some of their veterans, including Rae, will have their moments, but third parties simply don’t garner the attention the Official opposition can attract. It’s a numbers game and it’s about profile, and the Liberals have neither now.
Dunno where Beardsley's been but this is a 24/7 media age. There's plenty of hungering for content. Arguably, there isn't enough content to fill the media beast that is probably disproportionate in size to what Canada can really sustain. Plenty of opportunity. And when parliament resumes, the panels will be comprised of the three main parties, just like in the last parliament. 

Slow news day...

Clement's user fees kabuki dance

Well this seems strange: "Federal departments to propose user fees hikes despite government promises."
The Harper government may have vowed that cutting the deficit would not lead to higher user fees, but documents show that as many as a dozen federal departments plan to raise those fees – including Parks Canada.
My, despite the governmental vow, apparently we have government departments gone wild that are hiking user fees without the blessing of the government. Scroll down to about the two-thirds mark of the report, however, and you get a glimpse at what's going on here:
After floating the idea of higher user fees in a closed-door speech to public servants, the Treasury Board President later flatly rejected the notion when asked about it by reporters on Parliament Hill.

“We don’t think that taxpayers should be taxed more or should be user-feed to death,” Mr. Clement said on June 13. “There’s lots of ways that we can get to a balanced budget without additional user fees on Canadians.”

Squaring this circle requires a classic case of Ottawa-speak.

Mr. Clement’s office explains that the minister was only ruling out higher user fees as part of his Strategic and Operating Review process, which will be detailed in the 2012 budget. That doesn’t prevent government departments from raising fees outside of that plan.
So, to recap. Behind closed doors in early June with said government departments, Clement raised the option of user fees. See this report as well ("“We are encouraging departments to develop a full range of options in areas such as administrative and program efficiencies, business consolidation and user fees,” he said"). Then it becomes public, he denies. Yet 13 departments go ahead with user fee plans. Of course they do, they were given the green light by Clement. Yet...this government can't be seen to be raising revenues aka taxes aka user fees. It's anathema for them. Bad public relations and all. Thus the solution, pin it on the departments doing so beyond the review process they've got going on.

Why whatever will these rogue government departments be doing next? Somebody, anybody in charge up there, really should get on that.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Friday night

Some Canadiana this week. Happy Canada Day to all!

Great day for Nortel

Not for everybody though:
Nortel Networks Corp. has auctioned off its remaining patents to a "rock star" group of technology companies in the biggest patent sale in history, ending a massive selloff that generated US$7.7 billion for the insolvent former Canadian technology giant. A consortium that includes leading smartphone makers Apple and Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) and computer giant Microsoft will pay US$4.5 billion in cash for about 6,000 patents and patent applications belonging to Nortel.
"Had Nortel’s management realized they had been sitting on the goldmine of patents, the Nortel bankruptcy could have been averted through patent monetization."
The sale of the last of Nortel's technology assets is expected to be completed in the third quarter and is subject to approvals from Canadian and U.S. bankruptcy courts in a joint July 11 hearing.
"The size and dollar value for this transaction is unprecedented, as was the significant interest in the portfolio among major companies around the world," George Riedel, Nortel's chief strategy officer, said in a release at midnight announcing the patent sale.

Nortel had previously announced it did not expect its shareholders to receive any value from its creditor protection proceedings.
The kicker:
Some 400 former Nortel employees found themselves abruptly cut off from their long-term disability benefits this year, as part of a court-approved pension settlement between Nortel and its former employees.
Wonder if there is any way that the July 11 hearing will see an application to alleviate that latter disgraceful situation that looks even worse given today's news.