Showing posts with label conservatives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label conservatives. Show all posts

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Canada Moving Toward US Style Partisan Administered Elections

I am by no means well read on the nitty gritty of Canadian federal elections, but this strikes me as an incredibly bad idea:
[Former B.C. Chief Electoral Officer Harry Neufeld] says Section 44 of the government’s new legislation would allow all central polling supervisors to be appointed by a riding's incumbent candidate or the candidate's party.
"It’s completely inappropriate in a democracy, " said Neufeld.

Under current legislation, central poll supervisors are appointed by returning officers, who are hired by Elections Canada. The supervisors are put in place at polling stations to make sure voting unfolds smoothly.

What could possiblay go wrong with such a well conceived scheme?  The government's answer? 
But a spokeswoman for the minister of state for democratic reform says the Elections Act already allows for candidates and parties to appoint other polling station officers.

"This is the case for revising agents in s.33, deputy returning officers in s.34, poll clerks in s.35 and registration officers in s.39 of the existing Canada Elections Act," said Gabrielle Renaud-Mattey.

Renaud-Mattey also points out that the idea was recommended by the Commons procedure and House affairs committee and that the returning officer can refuse to appoint the central polling supervisor recommended by the candidate or party.
Nowhere in here do we see an actual reason for doing this.  That other elections officers might be picked in a similar manner doesn't tell us whether this is a good idea.  The CPS is the chief official at each polling facility, overseeing however many deputy returning officers (who run each individual "poll") there are, as well as more general issues to that site.  Whatever the merits of letting the incumbent party pick the DROs, having the whole operation overseen by a non-partisan appointee who reports to Elections Canada (and owes nothing to the local incumbent party) is self-evidently wise.

That a commons committee dominated by Conservative MPs recommended this is similarly unpersuasive.

The bizarre thing is that the appointment power of Central Poll Supervisors was not among the issues raised by anyone to the government or the Commons' committee on Procedure & House Affairs.  It is a solution in search of a problem.  Even if you delve into the actual Committee report on matter, it really appears like Elections Canada asked to solve a different problem (not enough Elections officers supervising) and the Committee just interjected "Great, how about we also let the parties pick these people?"  Section I.3:
The Chief Electoral Officer proposes to amend the Act to authorize returning officers to hire additional election officers in situations where the Act does not grant this power. In the last general election, the CEO used his power of adaptation of the Act to enable returning officers to hire additional election officers including poll clerks, registration officers, information officers and central poll supervisors. These additional election officers were required mainly for advance polling stations. The authority to hire additional election officials has been necessitated in recent years by the increasing voter turnout at advance polling stations.

[...]

The Committee, however, raised a related issue in the course of its consideration of this recommendation: permitting candidates or electoral district associations to nominate those individuals who may be selected by returning officers to perform the functions of central poll supervisors, given the important role played by these officials.
Wait, what?  What is the argle bargle reasoning here?  It's almost completely non-sequitur to the issue Elections Canada raised (the need for more officials), and the logic is baffling: "given the important role played by these officials."  Yes, the role is important, why does that make partisan control a good idea?

The whole raison d'etre of having a thing like Elections Canada is to ensure the government of the day cannot easily manipulate election outcomes. Everything that moves away from that goal must be viewed with extreme skepticism. This isn't quite Katherine Harris giving the 2000 election to George Bush, but it's a couple steps in that direction.

It is true the Returns Officers (still picked by Elections Canada) can reject particular nominees under the proposed changes, but that puts the onus on Elections Canada to find reason to reject specific individuals.  The practical reality is this won't happen very often, as most partisan shenanigans will tend to fly under the radar, and is entirely reactive to people who have behaved in sufficiently egregiously partisan ways while acting in election oversight capacities. 

Even relatively honest people so appointed are now aware their role as CPS is a result of the incumbent party picking them, so their loyalty goes that way, rather than to Elections Canada.  If they want to be picked again (or have other ambitions in that party) they will need to do a "good" job by the party's reckoning.  I realize nearly everyone working on elections has personal opinions and many may be loyal party members, but that is still materially different from getting your election job as a result of partisan loyalty.  It's safe to assume the people picked will not be picked because of their ability to run a clean election as the top criteria.

In what I am sure is an unrelated matter, the Committee supports increasing the pay rates for Elections workers & officers. 

What's doubly alarming is that neither the NDP or Liberals, who have representation on this committee dissented over this point.  The NDP's report only disputes 3 unrelated issues, and the Liberals didn't seem to even issue a dissent.

I hope I am missing some great countervailing control that makes partisan manipulation of election conduct still a very difficult and risky proposition but I'm not seeing any merits in this. At the very least it just creates a system of partisan patronage, even if the people picked do their jobs with reasonable honesty, the prospect for graft is real. 

I doubt most Canadians will know that when they go to vote in 2015, all the leading officials at their polling place are partisan picks.  It certainly changes how I view the process of voting, and undermines confidence in the system.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Media Should Not Cover YouTube Attack Ads

If a political party isn't willing to pay to put an ad into places people are likely to find it on their own (like TV, radio, newspaper or even paid online adverstising), the media should not provide free publicity to almost-no-cost "attack ad" content:
There was no day off to celebrate for Justin Trudeau, who won the Liberal Party leadership decisively Sunday night with more than 80 per cent of the vote.

Before Trudeau's first full day as leader had even begun, attack ads against him appeared on YouTube in English and French.
I'm reminded of that West Wing episode where the Bartlett campaign returns a "leaked" attack ad on Bartlett to the Republican campaign, who deviously turn it over to the media, claim they didn't create it and because the "story" of it being anonymously provided to the Bartlett people is "news" - the ad gets major free airtime on all the networks at no cost to the Republican campaign.  Now the Conservatives/Republicans don't even have to trick their political opponents into doing something to provoke media coverage, just post it on Youtube and it gets mucho coverage.

This is even worse though, the media is just volunteering to be gamed.  If the Conservatives aren't going to put money behind their ads to get them in people's faces, no one should be writing about them.  At least if an ad goes viral on Youtube by itself, then, sure, it's already news, discuss it.  This is ridiculous.  If more people are going to see something because of media coverage of it, then would see or hear of it otherwise, it probably shouldn't be covered.

And since I'm clearly in the realm of "shouting at the wind" here because the media's incentives are all wrong, the Liberals and NDP should take their cue from this and return the favour.  If the media wants to fill news hole with vacuous "someone made a practically zero cost attack ad" stories, better feed the beast because if you don't, the cynics on the right gladly will.

(I also can't help but think the gross budget cuts inflicted on the CBC are partly behind their sinking to the level of the for-profit media - not having enough reporters and editors to produce meaningful content that's worth talking about makes an outlet starved for content, these things cost money, and spending time talking about some video the Conservatives posted is free, your existing host can blather about it, you don't even have to send reporters anywhere, but it adds zero value to what Canadians know about politics).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Conservative Pension Behavioural Utopianism

Conservatives like to portray themselves as hard-bitten "realists" who look objectively at the world as it really is and shake their heads at silly liberals with our rose coloured glasses.  Yet I often find conservatives pushing policy ideas that are based on Utopian standards of human behaviour.  This is where they make policies that will work only for people who act and behave in certain ideal or near-ideal ways, and fail miserably for people who don't do X, Y or Z where most people realistically will not do X, Y, and Z for whatever reasons.

The prime example would be retirement savings. We have something like a century of real-world experience here in the rich world which shows that when the government does not guarantee a minimum retirement income via some kind of social insurance program like CPP or Social Security, the result is that the majority of the elderly live (or die) in real poverty.

Conservatives frequently argue that without the nanny state looking after them, people will "take responsibility" and make better choices by saving more for their retirement. This is false, we have already tried this "system" of leaving people to freeze in the gutter if they didn't manage to save enough to pay their own freight once too old to work. Here's what one source found to be the case in Canada in 1961 (p154):
Incidence of Low-Income - 1961
All Families: 25.3%
Families with Head 65 or over: 43.9%
Individuals 60-64: 50.7%
Individuals 65-69: 64.1%
Individuals 70+: 72.5%
The steady and alarming progression of poverty as one ages is very clear.  And "individuals" should be understood to mostly mean "widows" since men tend to die first and particularly at that time, women would be very unlikely to have any form of job-related pension of their own.  As the article notes on p152:
At the time, of course, Canada lagged well behind the United States in social policy. In 1947 in Canada a means-tested old age pension was available for the destitute at $30 per month (equivalent to about $289 per month at 2001 prices), but that was all. Not until 1952 was it replaced by Old Age Security (OAS). OAS was a universal payment of $40 per month, worth about $274 per month at today’s prices. With income support at this level, the result was widespread and acute poverty among Canadians over 65. Canada had to wait until 1967 for the introduction of the Guaranteed Income Supplement and Canada Pension Plan.
So this isn't even the pre-1927 days when there was no federal pension program of any sort, but even with the government kicking in $40/month to everyone, the majority of people over 60 were below the "low income" cutoff (what Stats Canada uses instead of "poverty") and for those over 70 it was over 70% of them.

These people had no reason to expect the government would save them if they were destitute in poverty since there were no such government programs in existence, or only very minimal ones that no one would expect to be enough to live comfortably on.  Yet they did not save enough. These were people who had lived through the Great Depression and World War Two, and had seen much greater depths of deprivation than most Canadians today, if despite all that most of them did not save enough, it clearly is not a matter of incentives or desire. Whatever the causes of their lack of thrift, the reality is that governments of that day realized they had a problem to solve and so they solved it by creating the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) to bolster OAS.

The result today is that old age poverty in Canada is under 7%.  In fact, seniors in Canada are less likely to be in poverty than children and (remarkably) working age people (who generally have less poverty because they can more often work). This drop from a majority in poverty in 1961 to single digit poverty is quite simply because the government's programs successfully ensure most seniors do not end up in poverty.  We don't have to speculate about technological change or other temporal factors because we have a great test comparison with Australia, a very similar rich-world nation with a very similar economy, population and even history as a former British colony.  Here's what the Conference board of Canada reports:
Australia has the highest rate [nb: of the nations in their survey] of elderly poverty—nearly 40 per cent of Australian seniors live in relative poverty. An OECD report notes that the high risk of elderly poverty in Australia is mainly due to the relatively low level of the age pension—which is an income-support payment program. The lead author of the report, Edward Whitehouse, commented: “Australia has a very high rate of old-age poverty and the fiscal room for manoeuvre to address the problem. Public pension spending is only 3.5 per cent of national income in Australia, compared with an average of over 7 per cent of GDP in OECD countries.”
Australia has a less generous old-age pension system and thus has much higher old-age poverty. Australians are not lazier, more irresponsible or worse investors than Canadians.  Their government doesn't ensure (and insure) their retirement security so many fewer of them have it.

Conservatives who insist on a system that relies on individuals taking steps to ensure they have ample retirement savings are in fact quite simply re-creating the 19th and early 20th century baseline where most older people were in poverty.  That would be the real world outcome of such policies.  RRSPs, TFSAs and other individually-driven retirement savings vehicles are a general failure and waiting for working people of today to behave differently than working people did 50 or 100 years ago with respect to retirement saving is simply utopian idealist nonsense.

In fact, as private pensions for the last generation have largely moved away from defined benefit payments to defined contribution systems, these problems will be worse for most current workers since very few of them will have access to guaranteed sufficient income via a defined benefit pension.

There's an old joke that said of communism "nice idea, wrong species."  This criticism easily applies to conservatives for the same reason.  Maybe somewhere there's a planet with intelligent life where in the absence of a government program to guarantee minimum retirement income, most or nearly all people save enough money and invest wisely to ensure they have a comfortable income after their working years are done, but that species is not homo sapiens and the planet is not Earth.

We need policies that work for Earth, for the real people we have, not some fantasy version of humans that are better than we really are.

None of this is to ignore the very real likelihood that many conservatives who make arguments like this simply do not care if most seniors shiver in the dark eating catfood because they are too poor for light, heat or adequate nutrition.  It does allow us to call them out as callous and immoral and prevent hiding behind unsupportably optimistic rationalizations.  Humans with normal functioning empathetic capacities simply cannot tolerate the majority of their elders suffering before going to early graves and will react to solve such problems through the vehicle of government, and those policies will inevitably look a lot like CPP, OAS and GIS.  These are the realistic "hard-bitten" policy results of real-world hard-taught experience, rather than the fever dreams of free market totalitarian ideologues.



Monday, December 17, 2012

Newtown: Another Expose on Conservative Ideological Bankruptcy

While liberals debate various forms of gun control, improvements to the psychiatric care system, and other actual measures to make slaughters like Newtown less likely, the abject bankruptcy of conservative thought is something to behold.

The Tea Party suggests more George Zimmermans are the answer.  Armed vigilante squads patrolling school zones.

Gun "academic" John Lott suggests abolishing even more gun laws, specifically gun-free school zones.

Libertarian law Professor Glenn Reynolds approvingly cites a pro-gun man who later shot and killed his wife in a botched (?) puerile gun stunt.

Supposed "reasonable" conservative Eugene Volokh says to arm the teachers.

Libertarian individualist Megan McArdle proposes a creative collectivist solution:  Train seven year olds to rush adult shooters and overpower them.

Is there anything one needs to say in response to such stupidity?  They can't honestly believe this egregious nonsense.  This is the utter and complete bankruptcy of conservativism and right wing thought in general.  It is incapable of responding to this, and thus can only provide risible self-satirizing ideas to cover its shame.

I wrote about this some time ago, and this is more of the same.  Conservativism has no useful answers to the problems of society.  They simply wish to leave problems to fester, where action would impose the least inconvenience or costs on themselves.  If some problem magically solves itself, they might be ok with that, but for anything else, we are simply left to endure what we must.   They simply don't really believe problems can be solved. 

There shouldn't be 40% of Americans (and 30% of Canadians) willing to call themselves "conservatives" in the face of this.  This is shameful, and frankly disgusting.  The Emperor has no clothes.  People with ideas this monstrous need to experience sustained criticism and even scorn for refusing to rethink such bad ideas in the face of their self-evident horrific failure.  Teach children to rush at mass murderers?  Encourage more vigilantism?  What has to go wrong in your life that you even could entertain these thoughts, never mind publish it to millions in evident seriousness?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Tim Hudak Proposes to End Overregulation with More Regulation

Ontario PC Leader, and most likely our next Premier Tim Hudak has released his predictable rehash of the Harris "common sense revolution."  Massive tax cuts are of course there, but it seems Mr. Hudak can't quite decide how best to shovel money at rich people, immediately under his top priority (groan) "Balance the Budget," which has absolutely no plan for doing that, we get "Tax Cuts Create Jobs":
Significantly reduce Ontario tax rates to attract investment, create jobs and expand the economy. Acknowledging Ontario’s debt crisis drastically reduces manoeuvring room to reduce taxes as much as we would like, use this Paths to Prosperity discussion paper to solicit the best advice from Ontario’s businesses, individuals, economists, think tanks and associations on which tax cut would have the most impact on job creation: the corporate income tax, the personal income tax or the provincial portion of the harmonized sales tax.
Why choose Mr. Hudak, you can cut all three!  After all, we are always on the right side of the Laffer curve and tax cuts always increase revenue.  I wonder if the orders of both groups to solicit opinions from (businesses first) and which taxes to cut (corporate taxes first) is a coincidence? 

Ok, I should be fair I'm quoting from the summary web page.  Perhaps the actual white paper PDF gets more heft and detail.  Let's see:
It’s time to be realistic. If you own an elephant and you only have enough rations to feed a horse, it’s time to ask, why do you need the elephant?
Well with logic like that, I'm convinced.   That's from the section on Balancing the Budget (p7), which reads like a high school essay written by an Objectivist.  I really like the random charts and stats which fail to account for relative size.  So PEI's $79M budget deficit looks soooo tiny compared to Ontario's $13B.  Ontario does have a larger deficit per capita, would it have been so hard to be at least minimally intellectually honest and present us some kind of per-capita figure?

 There's a few specific promises (like public sector wage cuts via a "freeze" which is a cut, and rigging arbitration to reliably side against unions) but mostly it is without numbers and the logic amounts to "we must cut government programs to avoid the future need to cut government programs."  

The chart on p8 actually states "Balanced budgets lead to economic growth" through some magic mechanism where the Producers can only create jobs and prosperty for us when they know government's balance sheet is black or something.  Why?  Do they fear eventual tax increases?  I guess that must be it, but I also know from conservatives that you can't raise taxes on the rich because they all just leave or hire super special accountants to get them out of it, so if that's true, why are they so stressed about future tax increases? 

Near the end we have the obligatory section on deregulation, and it's where the title comes from, we will solve over-regulation by regulation of regulations:
  • Reduce the regulatory burden in Ontario by a minimum of 33 per cent (128,750 regulations) over three years. Individual ministers’ cabinet pay would be tied to accomplishing these targets. To prevent future regulatory creep, require that for every new regulation, at least one other must be removed.
  • The Deputy Premier will be appointed the minister responsible for reducing Ontario’s over-regulation. All proposed regulations will be subject to the Deputy Premier’s approval. If the Deputy Premier believes a regulation is anti-competitive, he or she will be required to reject it.
  • All regulations – without exception – will be costed by the Ministry of Finance. This costing would be made public. Require all proposed regulations that the Ministry of Finance finds have a net cost to be subject to a vote in the Legislature.
Ok, this is nuts.  In order:
  • Where does this 33% target come from?  In three years?  This is what Republicans did in the Bush years, even staging press events where they cut up pages of regulation with chain saws.  The outcome was the New Depression of 2008-(not finished).  There is no way you can intelligently reduce regulatory burden this much this fast without unintended consequences.  
  • So if someone invents a new chemical that causes birth defects, we can't regulate its use without repealing the regulation on some other chemical that causes birth defects?  Or repealing the 40 hour work week, or maybe we could stop requiring fire exits?  So many Triangle Shirtwaist fires to create, so little time!  After all, if we've repealed 33% of regulations we must really be down to a list of pretty defensible regulations.  All the easy win clearly outdated regulations will already be gone. 
  • The Deputy Premier becomes the Czar of regulation?  And what does "anti-competitive" mean?  Paid vacation is anti-competitive in all sorts of ways, it doesn't mean Ontarians want to see it repealed.  I'm sure meat plants can pack a lot more meat without "anti-competitve" rules requiring hand washing and making sure the meat is stored at cold enough temperatures.  Every regulation is anti-competitive.  If they weren't, businesses wouldn't need laws to make them do these things.  Stopping the production line because someone lost a finger in the ground meat is anti-competitive, but I really want competition to stop at such times.   
  • Costing regulations is actually not a terrible idea, but having the completely political Ministry of Finance do it makes this a joke.  How many regulations is a conservative Ministry of Finance going to find have a "net" cost?  Think they'll consider lives saved from regulating pollution in their math?  Unlikely.  A non-partisan body reporting to the Legislature, not to the Premier should do this. 
Really, the "repeal one rule for each new one you create" is the stupidest thing in there.

Despite my railing about this, I won't be shocked if this party, rehashing Harris' failed ideas and importing some fresh bad ideas from the US Republicans, forms the next Ontario government.  This document is radical, and I think that's the point.   They sense their long awaited chance is coming.  Hopefully they'll overplay their hand on the crazy ideas and we'll get an NDP government instead.  But they've done so twice already, so they might have learned to stop letting the crazy spill all over the place.  Or the public will simply have too much fatigue with the current government and will vote them in anyway. 

I'm far from a big fan of the current Ontario government, but McGuinty doesn't get nearly enough credit for Canada's relatively better economic performance in the wake of the economic crisis.  Ontario didn't implement stupid austerity in the midst of a damn depression, and at roughly 40% of Canada's GDP, Ontario not laying off tens of thousands of civil servants (like teachers) or cutting the safety net has to have been a big part of Canada weathering the storm.  Stephen Harper certainly owes his 2011 victory to Dalton McGuinty's (general) rejection of austerity in 2009 and 2010. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

PBS Must Be Killed Because It Shows Government Works

 PBS is by far the most trusted TV news source, NPR listeners show up as the best informed or the second-best informed, and a majority of Americans watch or listen to PBS or NPR on a weekly basis. Americans, as is their habit, dramatically overestimate the amount of money public broadcasting costs them and yet remarkably still want that funding maintained or increased. Most importantly, PBS is not just the most trusted source of news, it is by one reputable study, repeatedly the most trusted institution in America by a country mile. This is a phenomenal success story. PBS and NPR are educating the public (their mission), the public trusts them, and for pathetically little money in both absolute terms ($1.35 per American per year) and in comparison to their international peers (most of whom get at least 10 times the amount of per-citizen funding, and some far far more).

This is not a fluke. Public broadcasting is a great success story of modern governance. Not just in America, but the public broadcasters in Canada (CBC), Australia (ABC), Britain (BBC), Ireland (RTE), the Netherlands (NPO) and many other nations are popular, informative and even entertaining. They bring programming that for-profit broadcasters do not. Off the top of my meagre head, I can name Doctor Who (BBC), Degrassi High (CBC), Little Mosque on the Prarie (CBC), Nova (PBS), Top Gear (BBC), Frontline (PBS), The Fifth Estate (CBC), The Nature of Things (CBC), Four Corners (ABC), Panorama (BBC) and of course Sesame Street (PBS) as internationally renowned and popular programs brought to the world by public broadcasting. I listen to a lot of podcasts on my MP3 player in the car and the ABC and Radio New Zealand put out some fantastic informative programming. Public broadcasting works well basically everywhere I have ever paid attention to it (admittedly I'm mostly limited to English speaking countries). All of this serves to explain why Movement Conservatives want to kill PBS, and so far as I am aware, want to kill public broadcasters in every nation where they hold power.

Conservatives cannot abide this lasting testament to the competence and workability of public institutions. It belies all their ideological predictions. "State" broadcasters (as they pejoratively call them) are supposed to behave like the Soviet Union's Pravda or North Korean television. Propaganda and lies, dated production values and bland, uninspired presentation. If their ideas actually reflected reality, there would be no need for conservatives to make a point of killing PBS, public opinion would have long killed off the public broadcasters in every free society. It defies them that this hasn't happened. Decades after Thatcher declared "there is no alternative" and Reagan said "government is the problem" these institutions remain, weakened somewhat, but still valued.

If you imagine the world today in some alternate universe where there were no public broadcasters, and you arrived there from here, and suggested that someone set one up, you would be laughed out of the room by the conventional wisdom. Again and again we hear how government cannot work, government is inefficient, bureaucrats just sit on their butts unless they have some hard driving greedhead flogging the whip of quarterly results to keep them motivated. People in that alternate world wouldn't believe that government could successfully operate national television and radio networks that were informative, popular and entertaining. I suspect many people in this universe believe government cannot do so, and yet right under their noses, they are.

It's obvious that Romney's glib and by-the-way remark to Jim Lehrer has touched a nerve in America. People don't think about public broadcasting very often, but here is the Republican nominee for President officially promising to kill public funding for one of the last few things (along with Courts and the Military) that a majority of them (76% in PBS' case) actually trust. If you think about the recent polls on public broadcasting government funding, the fact that maintaining or increasing that funding remains far more popular than cutting it should be remarkable, as these surveys take place in very tough economic times. America is not alone in this regard, Ireland, who have suffered far worse than the US in the economic collapse still maintain RTE with almost as much public funding as America gives its broadcasters (over $200M in 2011).

Don't let them get away with it. There's very little reason to believe PBS and NPR could survive the loss of their public funding in any worthwhile or recognizable form (if at all). America already grossly underfunds these broadcasters which already significantly reduces their effectiveness. I get as annoyed as any other liberal at "nice polite republicans" and their frequent forays into beltway conventionalism and "both sides do it" false equivalencies. Yet I see this as a consequence of NPR's inadequate public funding. Having to rely on various wealthy donors to survive, is it any suprise that the editorial slant of NPR skews towards the views of that class of people? For all that NPR is still far and away better than anything else on the average American's radio dial. I even include most progressive talk radio stations in that too. Sirius Left and whatnot are better than listening to Limbaugh or some overly excited Top-40 formula station, but generally nowhere near as informative or sophisticated as NPR. Even if you really like listening to liberals call in to grouse about conservatives on the air to an appreciative host, that is qualitatively different from what NPR does with its airtime. It's not a fluke that for-profit broadcasters do not do programs like Wait Wait, Prarie Home companion, Dianne Rehm or even Car Talk. Public broadcasting fills a different niche, one that is not fulfilled by for-profit operators. Conservatives try and say that if liberals like PBS so much, we should fund it out of donations from our own pockets. This defeats the purpose of a public broadcaster. A charity network is a qualitatively different creature, even assuming such a thing could survive.

To play off something a twitter wag dubbed, it isn't surprising that a Fat Cat wants to eat the Big Bird. Don't let Wall Street consume Sesame Street.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"We Built It"

The RNC convention is decorated by banners that say "We Built It."  It.  Not "that."  Obama said "that."  Even when attempting to deliberately misinterpret his sentiment, they can't help but tacitly admitting that "you didn't build your business" isn't what Obama was saying by correcting the grammar for their jeering slogans.  Had Obama meant "you didn't build your business" he would have said "You didn't build it."

"That" can only refer to something else.  Grammatically, it can't refer to the business mentioned in the first part of the sentence.  If the banners said "We Built That"  everyone would look at it and say "Built what?"  When changed to "We Built It" one knows they mean "we built the businesses that we're mendaciously claiming Obama said you didn't build."  To wit, It and That are not synonyms. 

I know it's ridiculous to have to provide basic lessons in the English language to a political movement that to a person almost exclusively speaks English as a first language, but that's a great example of just how monumentally stupid they think that their own supporters are, and voters in general.  (Did that last sentence just read weird?  I should have said "but it's a great example of just how..." See?  Not synonymous).  The disingenuous outrage over Kerry's botched joke in 2006 was somehow more plausible than this.



Thursday, July 12, 2012

Libertarians Aren't Potential Allies For Liberals

There was some discussion awhile back which argued that the Koch brothers are libertarians, so liberals should not spend so much effort criticizing them since they supposedly want to legalize gay marriage, end the drug war and so forth.  This sort of talk is frequent and sometimes even fools well meaning liberals (like Kos with his futile 2006 effort to create a liberal-libertarian alliance).

I hate wasting time writing about libertarians, other than to mock their terrible ideas (Exhibit A: Ayn Rand), but since they have billioinaires like the Kochs carrying their banner and we increasingly live in a plutonomy where such individuals matter much much more than millions of others, well it has to be done.  Liberals need to understand libertarians enough to at least write them off as right wingers and stop waiting for the social issue fairy to bring them on board to support us for anything more than the most rote and prosaic single-issue half-hearted support.  The Terri Schiavo mess wasn't enough to drive the libertarians out of the GOP, Obama's opposition to DOMA damn well isn't going to draw them over either.

To start the answer to this, we need to address the widespread misunderstanding of how the ideological map of humanity looks.  You've probably seen something like this (taken from Political Compass for discussion):
This is supposed to be some great improvement on the simple left-right ideological line.  It is worth considering.  We could quibble over the placement of the dots from their examples, but this sort of model does demonstrate there is obviously more complexity to the ideological space than a simple liberal-conservative dichotomy.   I don't particularly love this one, as I note that the Y axis starts at "libertarian" and yet the X axis ends at "neoliberalism" which they equate to "libertarianism" which they somehow distinguish from libertarian.  Huh?  I know libertarians are infamous for having 31 flavours from minarchists to objectivists, but I find this unconvincing and somewhat awkward (if libertarian is different from libertarianism, is liberal different from liberalism?  Conservative from...etc)

I would prefer to draw it like this:


I tried to keep the axes titles value neutral/positive such that people in those quadrants would be comfortable with the terms, but you can substitute other terms if you like.   Likely if you've spent any time on ideology, you've encountered such things before.  This does propose a solution for how to think about libertarians and would seem to account for their general agreement with liberals on social questions, and with conservatives on economic ones.  One serious problem is what to put in that fourth quadrant?  What do we call people who are economically in favour of equality, but socially restrictive or hierarchical? 

The usual answer for this quadrant is to call them "communitarians."  The only group I can think of that might fit are the Amish, and being no expert on them, I could be totally wrong on that.  If you go looking, you can find some evidence that actual communitarians exist, but outside of a political science or philosophy class, I can't think of any time in which they've managed to achieve political relevance in wider society.  

I think this is suggestive of what the problem is for libertarians.  See, they're plenty noisy and it isn't difficult to find people calling themselves libertarians, particularly on the internet, but they remain inconsequential in polling and voting.  There just aren't very many of them and if it weren't for a few of them being very rich and using that money to exert disproportionate influence, I doubt we would ever spend time discussing them.

This is why I still generally favour the simple left-right line for most political analysis.  You can draw a political space in 2 dimensions with 4 quadrants, maybe even one in 3 dimensions with 8 octants.  Great theory.  But what do most actual humans believe in?    My sense is that if you gave a large cross section of adults a detailed political ideology test that would place them on the above chart, you would get something like this (each dot a person):

 Stressing that isn't real data, but what it might look like that would explain what we can plainly see in the absence of communitarians and large disparity in the numbers of liberals and conservatives compared to libertarians.  Yes, there are four equal quadrants but I don't think homo sapiens are equally or even normally (in a statistical sense) distributed across them.  So if we try and draw the line through the bulk of the populace, you might get something like:


I have intentially shifted the line a little bit up from the midpoint of the axes to reflect the possibility that humans are a little biased toward unrestricted economics, but also a little disposed toward social permissiveness.  Naturally this is all just my theory, but it would explain the available data.  It also allows for outliers, those individuals that some theorists like to throw out as proof the simple spectrum-line cannot be correct.  Sure, so Glenn Greenwald isn't a conventional liberal on some issues, or maybe you have an uncle who wants higher taxes on the rich but protests outside abortion clinics.  Such people probably do exist, but still the left-right line would still be able to describe the vast majority of the populace closely enough without needing to get bogged down in the differences between libertarian and "libertarianism" to explain a few exceptional individuals.

I won't go to the wall for the distribution I've proposed, only the general point that I think there is no reason to assume that humans fall uniformly across whatever ideological chart you want to propose.  Some other stuff is going on whether from evolutionary biology or predominant cultural norms that compresses the field into something that can be described pretty well with a line.  

So where does this leave us with libertarians defaulting to support conservatives whenever it comes down to choosing?  

First, it should make it obvious that libertarians who want to influence policy will mostly conclude they have to choose one side or the other, the way most highly liberal people remain with the Democratic party even if they would rather something like the NDP existed as a viable political force.  That said, why would they almost always side with their economic interests over social ones?

One possibility (quite likely) is that economic and social issues are not equally weighted for most voters.  This is another problem with these multi-dimensional ideological graphs, they don't provide any means to portray that voters might value the X axis more than the Y (or Z) if forced to choose.  They imply equal priority.  

The other idea linked to this is that "economic" and "social" isues are not truly independent.  The drive people have to attain status, importance, respect can easily lead them to pursue either social betterment or economic betterment.  If you could straight up buy a Nobel prize, and be equally respected as those who earn one, a great many wealthy people would want to buy one.   As suggested above, it's possible that most people would choose the Nobel prize money over a Nobel prize if they had to choose just one, but then it can't be denied that money buys a lot of respect, even if nothing more than flying first class and the like.  Similarly, the social rules imposed by traditional values almost always work in favour of the already rich and powerful.  The great social deference and respect expected of lower status people to their "betters" under traditional norms can obviously also be of great financial value in any number of situations.  Libertarians are given a lot of credit for typically being pro-legalization of marijuana and pro-same sex marriage equality.  But yet I notice that the last several (at least 3) Libertarian Party USA Presidential nominees have been personally anti-choice.  Further, Ron Paul is hardly in favour of gay social equality seeing that he thinks Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided. 

More to Ideology than Ideas

The last broad idea I want to propose has to do with another aspect that isn't captured on these ideological graphs.  I might call it "meta-ideology" - a sort of second order ideology that is not related to the specific political ideas people hold, but how they think and reason.  In this regard I think you find a lot more similarity between libertarians and conservatives.  I have discussed this before obliquely back while explaining why libertarians today should not be confused for the classic liberals of the 19th century even as they advocate very similar ideas:
Now we're ready to arrive at our answer for the libertarians:  Yes, in many ways their policy preferences today map very well to the policies pushed by liberals like John Bright and Richard Cobden in the UK, Jefferson and Madison in the US or William Lyon MacKenzie in Canada.  The classic liberals.  However the difference is that those men did not have the extra 150 years of experience with the reality of capitalism.  Libertarians have stuck to a set of beliefs that liberals abandoned because they weren't serving the true goals of liberalism.  Rather than assume libertarian thinkers are unaware of this history, we must conclude that they either do not share the same goals as liberals, or lack the rational capacity to reach the correct conclusions about the empirical policy record.
 I was kinder to them back then, but we must consider the way in which libertarians actually ape the conservative penchant for deciding on an idea, and supporting it no matter what the empirical record says.  The obvious example here is the very high levels of climate change denial among libertarians (Koch most definitely included).  We could also discuss their support for supply side economics, and baffling love of the gold standard despite many obvious glaring logical and practical flaws with the idea, and many real world failures of it, flying in the face of their claims that it would safeproof us against crashes or inflation. 

There's a famous criticism of communism which went "nice idea, wrong species" and it really applies quite neatly to libertarians too.  Specifically their devotion to the rational actor individual, in contravention to vast reams of psychology, sociology and even common sense.  Just look at modern advertising's reliance on sexual and emotional appeals to move inferior or overpriced products.  People just aren't very rational and a large part of the real economy relies on the ways they aren't.  The market itself has decided that people are irrational and has developed a whole industry devoted to profiting from that!  The book title "Predictably Irrational"  (which I have keep meaning to read) perfectly captures this idea.  Yet libertarians persist in the belief that perfect information and rationality will allow reputation to adequately regulate bad actors and socially harmful yet privately profitable behaviour in the absence of government action. 

Returning to Climate Change, there's nothing about on-paper libertarian theory that should make one prone to deny that the planet has environmental limits, and our activity breaching those limits has deleterious consequences for the living things that rely on the environmental status quo (which includes us).  A good theoretical libertarian should be as amenable to the evidence record as any liberal, yet simply favour different policy responses (well, maybe not, seeing as pricing carbon is about as pro-market as you can get, and if we talk about relying on "voluntary action" we're back into libertarian reliance on fantasy humans rather than real humans, where things like free rider problems evaporate and everyone voluntarily does the right thing without any coordinating mechanism via government).  Yet libertarians broadly are climate deniers just like conservatives.  Why?  It's how they think, how they approach information that matters, not their ideology, and in this regard they're evidently just like conservatives because they reach the same conclusions (hoax, Al Gore fat etc).

Obviously libertarians aren't going to be particularly fond of how I'm characterizing them, but this bull headed devotion to an empirically dubious theory of human behaviour and motivations is something they really share with conservatives, who have a different theory but it's equally wrong and they're at least as devoted to it.

I'm a big fan of multi-factor explanations so I won't try and pick just one of the possibilities I've offered here.  All of them play a role, but the sum total is that libertarians will reliably fall on the right side of the left-right spectrum most every time they're required to choose.  Maybe we can postulate some alternate reality where liberalism is vanquished and the primary political debate is between libertarians and conservatives over drug laws and abortion choice, and maybe there the bizzarro-Koch brothers are devoting tens of millions of dollars to their drug legalization think tanks because there's already a mega low flat tax and no social safety net.  That isn't the reality we have and so the two groups very rarely divide in politically salient ways so long as there are liberals under the bed waiting to leap out with nightmare policies like taxes on second yachts or limiting amount of mercury that can be added to baby products.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Conservatves Never Wanted Health Care Reform

The collective conservative/Republican conniption over the US Supreme Court's ratification of most of the Affordable Care Act has brought a fresh round of confused liberals eager to remind everyone that "Obamacare" is essentially the same as "Romneycare" (enacted by Governor Romney in 2006) and that plan was itself based on a plan devised by the very conservative Heritage foundation back in 1994. 

That's fine, I'm all for reminding people that this ridiculous tantrum is not only hypocritical but completely fake on the part of the movement's leaders who used to be all for mandates before they declared conservatives have always been at war with East-Asia some time in 2009.  That said, what's happening here is not so much that they're just mad Obama stole their idea and don't want him to get credit for bi-partisan centrism in implementing the right's own health care reform proposal, what it really says to me is that they were never serious about those proposals.  They needed a health care plan in the 90s to counter Clinton's proposals, but never had any real intention of implementing such a thing.  It all goes back to the infamous Bill Kristol strategy memo from 1993, on how and why to defeat Health Care reform entirely:
But the long-term political effects of a successful Clinton health care bill will be even worse--much worse. It will relegitimize middle-class dependence for "security" on government spending and regulation. It will revive the reputation of the party that spends and regulates, the Democrats, as the generous protector of middle-class interests. And it will at the same time strike a punishing blow against Republican claims to defend the middle class by restraining government.
It's just not in their interests politically.  They've set themselves up to win power on a certain critique of government, and solving the health care coverage crisis completely undercuts that.  Kristol specifies the Clinton health care bill, but I don't see the logic being much different for any bill that ends up with universal or near universal health coverage. 

It's hardly theoretical either.  We can't know whether Dole would have actually tried to implement a version of the Heritage '94 plan if he had won in '96 (with Dole there's reason to think he may have been sincere about wanting to expand health coverage, but even so I'm really skeptical the rest of the Republican/movement Conservative establishment would have gone along) but we can skip ahead to 2000, where we have Gore with some serious proposals to greatly increase coverage (though he shied away from running on UHC), and Bush who waved his hands at various tax cuts and tax credits that might marginally help a few people but would in no way address America's health care coverage crisis.  Then of course Bush took office, and despite having a Republican run Congress for most of his Presidency and plenty of Democrats fully willing to play ball on expanding health care coverage, somehow never got around to Health Care Reform.  If you recall, the 2001 tax cuts were partly premised on Fed Chair Greenspan's warnings that the US debt might get paid off too quickly, well that sounds like a fantastic opportunity to putting some of that surplus into funding health care for the uninsured, but instead it all had to go to tax cuts.

I read some of the most ardent left wing critics of the ACA, like Ian Welsh and I certainly can't dismiss the things they say will go wrong with the plan (like the possibility of Insurance companies just jacking up rates to consume the subsidies) but to the extent I can maintain hope it will be better than the status quo, the ongoing right wing freak out over it makes me think it has a good shot of doing so.  It's costing the right a lot to abandon their own idea and in particular having to cover for Mitt Romney who was in favour of such ideas as late as 2007 can't be part of some long term plan.  Yes, they can usually paper over whatever flip flops or hypocrisy they want to in their stars, but Palin proved there's a limit to their powers of media manipulation in a campaign.  Romney's reputation for flip-flops, inconsistency and so forth is approaching Palin levels of absurd.  It's costing them to deal with this (even if rank and file conservative authoritarians have no problem with the cognitive dissonance, they need another 20-30% of the population to win the election), and I have a hard time believing they're secretly thrilled about the ACA but staging a multi-year fit of apoplexy against it just to sweep in 2012 and then somehow fail to repeal it.  I'll eat my words if I'm proved wrong, but all I see is a plan they proposed back when the American people demanded they have a plan, one they intended to ignore when in office, as they did under Bush.  Whatever local circumstances led Romney to support health reform in Massachusetts aren't replicated nationally. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

More Sun News Blatant Bias

Researching the piece yesterday on Sun News Network's evident complicity in knowingly airing a false and misleading story to Canadians, I came across this, by QMI's Mark Dunn, carried by Sun News:
OTTAWA -- Finance Minister Jim Flaherty opened the door Monday to new stimulus spending to help the economy weather what many economists fear is a looming global recession.
Ok, as far as it goes.  In fact, I'd call this mild good news, Flaherty is surprisingly Keynesian and willing to eschew conservative economic nonsense in understanding that some kind of European economic collapse might necessitate further stimulus.  Go down a few paragraphs:
The official Opposition NDP did not mention the worsening economic picture during question period Monday, nor has it raised the potential loss of union jobs in Oshawa. It was more concerned with smoke stack monitoring and a budget implementation bill it opposes.
Wait, what?  This is an ostensible news piece, and by what evidence do we conclude that the NDP is "more concerned with smoke stack monitoring" than job losses or economic conditions?  Based on their questions on one day's QP?  Even the bit noting the NDP "did not mention" the economy or job losses in Oshawa is of course highly dubious.  Is it normal journalistic practice to list arbitary things that politicians or political parties don't discuss on some particular day's QP?  I bet the NDP also didn't mention that they disapprove of child pornography and slavery.  Better get on that scoop, Sun.

It should go without saying that the NDP has made a stink over the job losses in Oshawa and the poor economic conditions. Just not today.  If Sun News wants to run some kind of statistical analysis of topics the NDP raise in a long series of Question Periods, and make hay of that, that at least might indicate some legitimate preference of certain topics to others on the part of the NDP. 

But wait, there's more:
In its most recent budget, the government announced controversial changes to old age security, employment insurance and other measures to sustain the economy in the long run and prevent the kind of budget problems many European countries are experiencing.
Behold the perils of the passive voice.  Is the author stating that the controversial measures actually do sustain the economy and prevent European budget problems?  Or just noting that the government claims they do?  Hard to say, but that's where honest journalism would require a more explicit note that these are the government's claimed justifications for these things, but really this is stated as if it is fact (it's not even close to true that European debt crises are generally about pensions and employment insurance anyway, mostly it's completely about their collapsing economies not supporting sufficient tax revenue.  Spain was running government budget surpluses prior to the crisis)

It also makes a part of the paragraph above quite ridiculous, where he describes the NDP as opposing "a" budget implementation bill.  There's only one.  It's "the" budget implementation bill, and the NDP's opposition is about the controversial matters like changes to OAS he is describing in such factually glowing terms.  It's not some strange arcane matter that has journalists scratching their heads, it is in fact the sort of thing the opposition is supposed to focus on, and frankly, to oppose.

I often challenge conservatives complaining about CBC's supposed liberal bias to provide examples and they never do.  They usually get sputtering mad or feign amusement over the notion that anyone challenges such an "obvious" truth.  Well, here's a pretty good example of the reverse.  I found it just reading Sun News' front page, picking an article I found interesting for its own sake.  If that's par for the course there, I may have to revise my view of them as a pale shadow of Fox.  They seem right in the running in the competition for most egregious bias.

Bureaucrats and Media: Getting the Truth Out

I've never been in the civil service, so maybe this is well understood there, but it seems to me that the story of Sun News and the staged citizenship swearing event highlights the ability for muzzled bureaucrats to get the real story out when the government blames them for its poor behaviour or performance.  As long as a few media organizations are willing to spend the time making Access to Information Act requests, the bureaucrats just have to make sure they've emailed one another the real details of the events in question, and let the media do the rest.  I hope these employees are protected from retribution, when this sort of thing happens. 

In a government that has taken to muzzling scientists, bureaucrats, diplomats and in some cases even its own cabinet ministers, the Access to Information act provides a vital outlet for information the government doesn't want out. 

In that vein, I would look out for the goverment amending (gutting) the act.  I'm sure they could concoct some kind of cost-cutting justification for doing so, and get their loyalists all enraged about the biased liberal media engaging in costly witch-hunts.

You heard it here first. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Will Sun News Investigate the Staged Citizenship Ceremony? Will the CRTC?

Last October, Canada's Sun News Network, filmed and broadcast a story on what was portrayed as a regular swearing in ceremony for new Canadian citizens taking their oath of Citizenship.  Turns out, the participants were all already citizens and the ceremony was a "reaffirmation" ceremony.  Worse, most of the participants were actually civil servants working for the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  This came out because the Canadian Press obtained emails through access to information showing the event was essentially staged for the benefit of the cameras.  At the time, Immigration Minister Jason Kenney blamed the civil servants for staging the event, and apologized to the network that had covered it, Sun News Network.  Kudos to the Canadian Press for staying with the story and requesting more documents because, well:
Kenney had criticized civil servants when it was revealed six bureaucrats reaffirmed their oath of citizenship alongside three or four bona fide new Canadians during a televised ceremony last October.

But he was striking a decidedly different tone Tuesday after The Canadian Press published the bureaucrats’ version of events — that the network was actively involved in the decision to use civil servants as stand-ins.

During the Sun News broadcast, the hosts referred to the group as new Canadians that had “finally” received their citizenship.
Now of course the minister lied both when he blamed lowly civil servants for the staged event and in claiming Sun News was unaware that the event was staged.  Also unsurprising that once again, civil servants were blamed for a political screw up.  This government has a track record of blaming staffers, underlings and bureaucrats whenever anything goes wrong.

But what about Sun News?  Back in February we were supposed to believe the Sun News didn't know the swearing event was staged.  Now we have documents credibly alleging that Sun News employees knew the event was fake and even participated in the last minute decision to throw the bureaucrats into the event when too few of the government's hand-picked participants showed up. 

It seems to me we have a prima facie case of Sun News knowingly airing "false or misleading news" in contravention of the Canadian Broadcast Act.  Will the CRTC investigate?

Even aside from that, from a simple journalistic credibility perspective, Sun blithely accepted Kenney's February apology to them for his department "misleading" them.  Will they investigate internally to find out who at Sun News knew all along?  They're not even carrying the story today.

It's pretty hard to avoid the conclusion that Sun News is just "Fox News North," operating under a still functional sort of "fairness doctrine" set of regulations up here which prevent it from going the full Murdoch, but still working in as much pro-Conservative bias as they can.  I know the substance of this event is pretty small bore in the grand scheme of things.  A citizenship swearing event staged for an ideologically friendly news network to run a soft story is hardly the most imporant issue, but at heart the issue is about truth in news and the government's ability to lie to the public without consequence.  If this sort of thing is allowed, much greater and more consequential propaganda could easily follow.  It mostly appears this one was put together by bungling amateurs in Kenney's political operation likely thinking that no one would look into such a minor event.  But letting this slide will teach other politicians what they can get away with.

It's also a good moment for uncovering what Sun News is really about.  A chance for the upstart network to show its quality.  Conservatives have been complaining for years about CBC's pre-supposed bias and poor journalism.  Yet, given the chance to show up the "state broadcaster", Sun News is hardly shining. 

And even if you want to still believe the Sun News didn't know the event was staged, that's hardly the greatest endorsement of their journalistic acumen:  A bunch of cubicle dwelling career bureaucrats managed to pull one over on the network that prides itself on "hard news."  A few quick interviews with the event participants would have quickly uncovered the lack of bona fide new citizens.  Even a better soft news outfit would have done these interviews just for the sake of having some human interest footage.  So, Sun News:  Complicit in a journalistic fraud, or merely gullible and incompetent, which are you?



Saturday, March 31, 2012

OAS and GIS Cuts Are a Travesty

The Harper's government's first majority budget is being portrayed as some kind of "moderate" or "compromise" budget because it doesn't gut as deeply as the wingnuts in Harper's caucus and Canadian wingnut welfare think tanks like C.D. Howe, Fraser and the Candian Taxpayers Federation have been calling for.   Good job moving the 50 yard line of moderate centrism, wingnuts.  The US political playbook continues to work here.  Canada's "paper of record" the Globe and Mail, calls the budget "prudent."   It's not.  It's a travesty that seeks to reduce the deficit on the backs of poor (future) seniors by delaying eligibility for Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Suppliment (GIS) retirement income programs (and very little attention is being paid to the GIS cuts, even though they're actually more disturbing). 

Everyone younger than 54 has just had approximately $12,000 in OAS ($6,000/yr) and potentially another $12,000 in GIS taken away from their retirements.  That's $24,000 in 2012 dollars, of course by the time people aged 53 hit 65, assuming 2% inflation, that figure is over $30,000.  The people who qualify for GIS are of course those least able to sustain the loss of this income, and particularly so at age 65, where the potent mix of health issues and workplace age discrimination mean it will be particularly hard for these seniors to find paying work.  There are just only so many Walmart greeter jobs, and for even those you have to be in reasonable health to work them.

Let's be clear that people receiving GIS are poor pushing on destitute.  The income cutoff to receive GIS in 2012 is just over $16,000.  That figure doesn't include OAS benefits, but CPP payments (which max out at about $12,000 a year anyway) would count.  However not everyone qualfies for CPP and you don't necessarily get the maximum depending on your work history contributions to the program.  Also, the numbers aren't trivial, in 2011, over 1.6 million Canadians received GIS

The arguments for the OAS changes are the usual stew of mistruths and tendenicious rationalizations:  People live longer ("People" here meaning: "middle to upper class" people; working age poverty has a dramatic effect on life expectancy), there's more retirees per worker than when these programs were created, the boomer bulge (you can safely ignore anyone citing this since boomers are cynically exempted from this cut) and so on.  For GIS, there are no good arguments for cutting it, as this progressive economist notes.  In general, I don't buy any of these arguments, for this basic reason:  Canada today is a much wealthier country than the Canada that created OAS in 1951 under Liberal PM Louis St. Laurent. 

OAS is Completely Affordable if We Want To Afford It

A little math here:  Canada's GDP per-capita in 1970 was $4047 (using 1970 dollars).  I couldn't find a figure for 1951, but 1970 is far enough back and yet modern enough that we had most of the same modern safety net programs in place, and found them evidently affordable at the time.  Using the bank of Canada's inflation calculator that leads to a figure of $24,282 in 2012 dollars.  Canada's actual 2010 GDP per capita?  $46,236.  That's 1.9 times higher even after the biggest recession since the Great Depression.  We're almost twice as wealthy as a society than our 1970 cousins.  According to this, we may actually be more than twice as wealthy (not sure how the difference emerges).  Why could those 1970 Canucks afford OAS but not us?   
This is the Big Picture 

All the sophist minutia about the number of seniors per working age Canadian, the deficit, the percentage of the federal budget this stuff eats and stats on how long people live after 65 cannot withstand this basic fact.  Yes, you can persuade me that OAS will become modestly more expensive as a percentage of our GDP in the coming years, but not that it isn't, at a very fundamental level, affordable.  We're simply allowing this government to make the choice not to afford a decent and humane retirement for all Canadian seniors.  We decided more than a generation ago that leaving seniors in poverty was unacceptable (in fact income programs for seniors pre-date the Great Depression in Canada).  How can we afford this?  Clearly there are people who can pay more taxes.  The answer really is that simple.  Raise the taxes of those who are doing best, who are far wealthier than their 1970 peers were and maintain this basic social intergenerational compact.  We don't need another complicated neoliberal four letter (RRSP, TFSA etc) Rube-Goldberg scheme.  Tax the people with the most money and ensure the poorest seniors aren't left relying on foodbanks and soup kitchens. 

I'm also not moved by arguments around what our OECD/First World peers are doing with pensions.  Neoliberal dogma has infected the whole rich world, and a bunch of other neoliberal government unwilling to tax the rich appropriately to maintain the social contract are just proof the problem is very big, not that reducing retirement guarantees is some kind of hard economic necessity. 

I am looking for the two main opposition leaders to promise to overturn this decision.  Ian Welsh likes what he is seeing from Mulcair on this, so I'm optimistic.  Rae perhaps cannot make promises given that he is supposedly only the interim leader, but NDP supporters should pressure Mulcair and when it comes time to pick a Liberal leader, voters in that process should ask the candidates to commit to reversing this.  It doesn't have to be this way. 


Monday, October 17, 2011

No wonder Rush Limbaugh loved Palin

Many better writers than me have already covered the monstrosity of Rush Limbaugh reflexively supporting the Lord's Resistance Army because they are "Christians" and Obama is against them, but looking past that, what's actually slightly surprising about this is how literally ignorant Limbaugh actually is about the world.  He'd really never heard of the LRA:
Is that right? The Lord's Resistance Army is being accused of really bad stuff? Child kidnapping, torture, murder, that kind of stuff? Well, we just found out about this today. We're gonna do, of course, our due diligence research on it. But nevertheless we got a hundred troops being sent over there to fight these guys -- and they claim to be Christians. 
I think we usually assume that people like Limbaugh are worldly, knowledgable and extremely cynical, so, say, when Limbaugh is trying to rationalize Sarah Palin's serial of geopolitical ignorances, we figure he's well informed, but simply doesn't care.  This is too much credit.

Not knowing who the LRA are is not quite on the level of many of Palin's exposed ignorances, but for a middle aged man who does politics for a living, it's a remarkable testament to the self-imposed insularity of conservatives that he's really never heard of them.  I don't doubt if you did a poll, far less than a majority of the general public would have heard of them, but those people don't have internationally syndicated radio shows.  The LRA are not obscure, they've been at this for decades and as someone who doesn't pay particular attention to Africa or Uganda, I have heard of them multiple times over my years (and I'm much younger than Limbaugh).  Probably because they are just so extraordinarily awful, they get media coverage.  See this Google News query from 1 Jan 2008 to 30 Sept 2011 (before Obama's troop deployment).  The LRA are at the level of that old cliché that if you wrote a fictional book about a group like them, no one would believe it.

I'd like to see Katie Couric ask Rush what newspapers he reads or what the Bush doctrine was.  I'm beginning to doubt he would do much better under the glare than Palin did.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Conservatives to downtrodden: Let them eat jobs

I remember learning about the French Revolution in high school, and my history teacher scoffed at the idea that Marie Antoinette had really ever said "let them eat cake" ("Qu'ils mangent de la brioche") upon being informed that the peasants had no bread.  Wikipedia's writers on this subject evidently agree, and it seems unlikely that Antoinette herself actually uttered the words.  Some think it was invented by revolutionary radicals of the day as a propaganda tool against the monarchy.  After all, it is a pretty outrageous thing to say.  Either the speaker is hopelessly deluded about how the poor live, or is simply malicious in their scorn for the suffering of others.  Could anyone have really said it?

Having observed the collective conservative/top 1% response to the Occupy movement, and to the economically downtrodden in general over these past few years, I have to say I am quite certain that someone in the French nobility said it, or something very like it.  Things just as bad are said routinely today.  One can start with the dreary "get a job, hippies!" jabs at any and all protests, to this vile litany, and this, and of course, let's throw in Rick Santelli's Tea Party inspiring rant:
Why don't you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages; or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give them to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road, and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water?
Really, being shocked that some rich twit in the 1700s might have actually thought that the poor could just switch to cake when bread was unavailable, or was so unconcerned with their hunger as to derisively mock it is just a luxury of the post WWII societal consensus that has now broken down.  It was nice to think that we all basically want a society where everyone has enough to survive, but just differ on how to bring that about, but it just isn't so.  Many people don't believe this is possible, or actually don't want it to happen even if it could.

Versailles never really shut down.  It lives on in the hearts of many of the privileged.



Saturday, October 15, 2011

Conservative Distaste For Democracy

I'm watching the twitter feed for the #occupyToronto protest and one of the people in the thick of it (perhaps even an organizer, I don't know) says, to my complete unsurprise:
Dan Speerin
Thanks to all those on twitter who have suggested we here at should get jobs...I'll bring it up at general assembly
This is a timeless conservative response to protests. At least, protests they view as left wing.  Like most if not all conservative "humour" it relies on mocking the weak for being weak, as bullying is about the only thing conservatives are able to generate humour from.  It's also deeply and disturbingly undemocratic.

The basic notion underlying the sentiment is that those without jobs aren't entitled to complain about anything in society.  Let's leave aside the rank stupidity of hurling "get a job" at people who are in large part protesting because of the rotten economic conditions (and yes, conditions are rotten in Canada, less rotten than the US, but still quite bad) that leave many of them unemployed or underemployed, it really is an open admission that you think society should only be run by those with money. They used to be a lot more open about this:
Those who own the country ought to govern it. - John Jay (a US Founding Father)

I don't think conservatives get called out for their distaste of democracy often enough, but if you read between the lines of many of the things they say, it's right there. It's important to understand why they're often not even interested in engaging with the substance of protester complaints, as they don't accept their fundmental right to complain.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Incompleteness proves deceit fallacy

One thing I have to give internet conservatives credit for is their ability craft and devise brand new species of logical fallacies.  I checked several different lists of logical fallacies, but didn't find one that addressed this form of argument:
Author: <article, essay or blog post on subject>
Critic: Oh, look how you've conveniently left out fact/argument X, this proves you're (a hack/wrong/biased)!
 It's a special form of ad-hominem, and the beauty part of it (for sophists anyway) is that since no essay or article can possible include every fact or argument relevant to a topic, you can always find something the author didn't mention or a counter argument not rebutted.  It's the ultimate moving goalpost. 

It probably doesn't belong purely on a list of logical fallacies since it can be a valid argument, where it is obvious the author has ignored something they could be expected to know about that undercuts their entire premise or shows some significant personal bias toward a desired conclusion and purposely avoids considering obvious plausible alternatives (for example villagers like David Brooks writing entire columns about the need to fix the deficit without even mentioning tax increases) but I see it used so regularly by conservative trolls, particularly against journalists I thought I would call it out. 

Hopefully it does have a name somewhere that I didn't find, as it is hard to search for concepts or logical structures on search engines.  If not, I've coined it per the title.