Tag Archives: government

Looking for some late arriving holiday cheer

Bah, humbug. . .to creeping incivilities

Bah, humbug. . .to creeping incivilities

Perhaps it’s the ludicrously hard start (even for Canada) of winter this year. Or maybe it’s the fact that my wife and I will not be enjoying the company of our kids and grandkids for Christmas dinner (it’s the in-laws turns). But my mood, though not yet churlish, has become unusually susceptible to the creeping incivilities of others.

I have mused awhile about Canada’s Industry Minister James Moore, who told a journalist earlier this month that the federal government is not responsible for helping hungry kids. His exact words were: “Certainly, we want to make sure that kids go to school full-bellied, but is that always the government’s job to be there to serve people their breakfast? Is it my job to feed my neighbour’s child? I don’t think so.”

Quite right, Mr. Moore. In other, more famous, words the sentiment persists: “Are there no prisons? And the Union workhouses; are they still in operation? Those who are badly off must go there. If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

To be fair to Mr. Moore, he did apologize (then again, so did Scrooge, after a fashion). The industry minister allowed that he chose his words poorly and that he deeply regretted his insensitivity. Indeed, he said, “all levels of government, all members of our society, have a responsibility to be compassionate and care for those in need. While more work is needed, I know the cause of fighting poverty is not helped by comments like those I made.”

Still, the question at the base of this unfortunate fracas has found expression in other venues. Specifically, “How obliged are the authorities to save us from ourselves?”

Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente (who makes a productive habit of ticking off her readers) really wants to know. The question, she wrote last week, “is at the heart of many public policy debates, including the new one over whether to expand the CPP. If you are a semi-upper-middle-class person who hasn’t saved for your retirement, then you’re in for a shock. The question is whether the government should cushion that shock by forcing you (and everyone else) to save more. My personal view is no – especially because it would mean extra taxes on the young, who’ve already been screwed enough. The government has a duty to save you from outright poverty, but after that, you’re on your own.”

So, that’s the choice? Penury or plentitude? No middle ground for a middle class that hasn’t been able to save for its retirement thanks at least partly to government fiscal mismanagement? Nope, because as Ms. Wente declares, “Sadly, minimalism in government has gone out of fashion. Today, it’s the maternalists who rule. They believe that people are like children who, if left unattended, will spend all their allowance and leave the spinach on their plate. Since the people can’t be trusted to act in their own best interests, the authorities must nag and nudge and regulate us into doing so.”

Authorities, presumably, like Canada’s Justice Minister Peter MacKay who insists that judges across Canada stop screwing around with the victim surcharge process during sentencing.

Currently, convicted parties must pay $100 for each summary offence and $200 for each indictable one. According to a CTV item last week, “Ontario Court Justice Colin Westman does not believe courts should impose the ‘victim services surcharge’ on impoverished or mentally ill criminals. ‘It’s unrealistic,’ Justice Westman says. ‘So if it’s not unrealistic, aren’t you bringing disrespect on this court by imposing things that either aren’t going to be enforced or can’t be enforced?”

Maybe, but Mr. MacKay – playing his “father knows best” routine – says do it anyway. “Judges cannot ignore the role of the Crown in passing legislation in our democratically elected Parliament of Canada,” he told the Globe and Mail. “Therefore, they are there like everybody else to respect the law, not flout it. . .A $100 or $200 surcharge is out of proportion to the rehabilitation and the respect that needs to occur in a justice system? I just fundamentally disagree with that. We believe as a government that giving victims a real role and respect within our justice system includes the victim fine surcharge.”

What can a victim of a crime can do with an extra hundred bucks-or-so? Save it for a rainy day. Increasingly, it looks like he (and the rest of us) will need it.

Tagged , ,

Big Brother’s eyes are everywhere

Birds of a feather?

Birds of a feather?

I summon a certain phrase whenever the world’s Internet-traveling tech companies assert their moral authority to protect their millions upon millions of customers from Big Government’s snoops and sneaks: something about foxes guarding henhouses.

In ads in major newspapers across the U.S., and on dozens of websites, Google, Microsoft, Apple, AOL, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Yahoo (call them the eight horsemen of the digital apocalypse) have announced a new consortium, the purpose of which is to pressure governments everywhere to stop the growing practice of warrantless and unaccountable spying.

That’s a little like asking a gossip to keep a secret. Nevertheless, here’s what they say: “We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual – rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.”

What’s more, and for their part, “We are focused on keeping users’ data secure –deploying the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorized surveillance on our networks and by pushing back on government requests to ensure that they are legal and reasonable in scope. We urge the U.S. to take the lead and make reforms that ensure that government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent and subject to independent oversight.”

All of which raises but one question: Do these 100th-of-a-one-percenters, these brilliant geeks who, in some cases, kissed off their Ivy League educations to make billions of bucks in the open market, seriously think we buy their pieties about personal privacy? This is all about business, pure and simple.

That’s what Google CEO Larry Page means when he observes that “the security of users’ data is critical, which is why we’ve invested so much in encryption and fight for transparency around government requests for information. This is undermined by the apparent wholesale collection of data, in secret and without independent oversight, by many governments around the world. It’s time for reform, and we urge the U.S. government to lead the way.”

In fact, the productive relationship between government R&D and the technology sector, has produced most, if not all, of the communications innovations of the past 75 years. That includes everything from the application software that makes your smart phone chatter on command to the Internet, itself. Separating these partners in this continuum of invention would be akin to extracting chlorine from a swimming pool.

What’s at stake is the integrity of Big Data – a jewell so profoundly valuable in the tech world that anything that might cause a public (i.e. consumer) rebellion against its collection and deployment in the service of capitalist enterprise must be quelled. Simply put: When Big Brother overreaches, he hurts the bottom line.

Technology writer, Katherine Arline had this to say in a piece for mobile.pro last month: “Telecommunications equipment maker Cisco Systems announced an anticipated 8 to 10 per cent drop in revenue for the current quarter, sending shares tumbling 13 per cent . . .Cisco said concerns about network security in the wake of Edward Snowden’s disclosures fueled the decline.”

Specifically, Frank Calderone, the company’s CFO said he had seen “a significant increase in the ‘level of uncertainty or concern’ among international consumers. ‘I have never seen that fast a move in emerging markets,’ Calderone said. Cisco customers are concerned that the NSA has backdoors into network hardware from U.S. makers, and analysts think  that companies including IBM and Microsoft are also at risk. Jim Lewis, a senior fellow with the Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, told Reuters that more U.S. companies are likely to be affected. ‘All the big U.S. IT companies are concerned,’ Lewis said. ‘But so far Cisco is bearing the brunt.’”

It may be true that the allegations against the National Security Agency – that it routinely and illegally snoops on average folks by extracting data from unwilling tech companies who must, nevertheless, comply with its edicts – are exaggerated.

But in an industry where reputations are everything and brand loyalty is paramount, perceptions are even more important than reality. Internet-traveling tech companies playing the role of public defender No. 1 is great spin.

Indeed, it might even work.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

A good try, but say good-bye PCs

Fame is so fleeting, so cold in its remembrance

Fame is so fleeting, so cold in its remembrance

The New Brunswick election is 11 months out, and I’m calling the odds.

David Alward’s pseudo-Tory juggernaut – that un-merry band of hometown heroes who thrashed the brash Shawn Graham and his ineffectual Liberals in convincing fashion three years ago – is dead on arrival.

Other metaphors spring to mind.

There’s “toast” and “belly-up.” There’s “froggies on a slow boil.” There’s knocked and knackered and out cold.

But however you term the imminent future of New Brunswick’s sitting government, the conclusion that it has become as useful to this province as a pocket is on the back of a shirt is impossible to escape.

Still, somehow, the shirt continues to fit in the minds of those who craft things like Throne Speeches, the most recent of which – delivered Tuesday – leaves no issue unmentioned, though few merit much more than passing references.

As for the forestry, in the upcoming year, our government promises to implement “a strategy to ensure New Brunswick has a competitive industry for generations to come” – whatever that means.

Meanwhile, “on the innovation front. . .in the coming year” our government’s focus on research and innovation will start “bearing fruit” as “other policies and initiatives are being designed to bolster our knowledge economy and create new, sustainable jobs.” The specifics, apparently, are temporarily unavailable.

There’s neat stuff on culture. “By establishing a Premier’s Task Force on the Status of the Artist, your government will work towards recognizing and supporting the profession of artists in our province.”

There’s a cool measure to protect personal pocketbooks. “Your government plans to introduce amendments to unproclaimed legislation aimed at regulating payday loans to create an effective regulatory regime.”

Where the Alward government appears unequivocal, clear-eyed and firm is on the subject of natural gas – shale gas, in particular. In fact, the “responsible” exploitation of all the province’s commercially viable natural resources has become the Tories’ single loudest rallying cry leading to the next election.

“As you may recall, your government has done a great deal of work towards making sure that our natural resources – and, in particular, our natural gas potential – are identified to determine whether there is potential for economic benefits in the future,” the Throne Speech notes. “Economic benefits that could be derived from our natural resources are what will allow government to help fund and improve education, health care and many other services in the years ahead.

“Backed by the strongest rules for industry, introduced in February, as well as an action-oriented Oil and Natural Gas Blueprint for New Brunswick, introduced in May, your government will continue on the course of responsible exploration and development.

“A key aspect of managing oil and natural gas development is ensuring that the province secures a fair return to New Brunswickers for our resources. Your government recently announced a new natural gas royalty regime that ensures a fair return to New Brunswickers while encouraging investment in this sector.”

To many in the Progressive Conservative camp (and outside of it), this is the economically right thing to do. And Premier Alward and his team deserve praise for sticking to their principles regarding shale gas. New Brunswick is the only province in Canada that has not posted job gains in the past year; its $500-million annual deficit is beginning to resemble a permanent feature of the landscape.

But common sense rarely wins elections. Voters in this province are in no mood to award power to anyone. They’re far more apt to deny an incumbent his mandate, especially if that mandate depends on the most incendiary issue to come along in this province for many years.

Shale gas is not about royalty regimes, deficit reduction, and funding increases to social programs. In New Brunswick, it’s about symbols of justice, law and morality. It’s about defending the little guy against the big, bad, rapacious corporate elite. It’s about taking a stand in the absence of a trustworthy, faithful government.

In other words, a lot of it is pure nonsense.

Still, no party – Tory, Grit or otherwise – can win against those odds.

Tagged , , , , ,

Counting down the days to the Great Transformation

DSC_0052

The world as we know it has been coming to end for years now. We haven’t had to look far to perceive the portents of impending doom: in the entrails of Wall Street corpses; in the tea leaves of governments that no longer work; in the uromancy that predicts widening income gaps between the rich and the rest.

We just haven’t been able to reliably nail down a year for the Great Transformation. Until now.

A researcher at the University of Hawaii, who used to work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., thinks he knows. The point of no return will arrive. . .wait for it. . .in 2047. . .give or take.

Camillo Mora, who studies numbers for a living, tells the Globe and Mail’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk that, overall, this is the year in which climate change will become a permanent feature of life on Earth. . .more or less.

According to the article, “The turning point arrives. . .as a worldwide average, if fossil fuel consumption continues unabated; as late as 2069 if carbon emissions are curbed. City by city, the numbers are a bit more revealing. In Montreal, for example, the new normal will arrive in 2046, and for Vancouver not until 2056. But the real spotlight of Dr. Mora’s study is the tropics, where profound changes could be entrenched in little more than a decade.”

As the good doctor says, “Today, when people talk about climate change, the images that come to mind are melting ice and polar bears. People might infer from this that the tropics will be less affected.”

People would be wrong.

But, then, there’s nothing new about that.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that economic globalization would insert several chickens in pots from Beijing to Kalamazoo – that gross domestic products around the world would rise like juggernauts, heedless of any and all counterforces they may encounter.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that democratically elected governments served the best, common interests of the majority of voters – that reason and circumspection would effectively quell fanatical and reactionary figures intent on reshaping the public sphere in their own ideologically pinched and impoverished image.

Now comes word from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that, generally speaking, the world’s got itself in an economic ringer – one from which it is not likely to emerge any time soon. Welcome to the age of slow growth.

“Emerging economies have cooled off,” an item in The New York Times reveals. “Europe remains in the doldrums. The United States is facing fiscal uncertainty, and its powerful central bank is contemplating easing up on its extraordinary stimulus efforts, with potentially global ramifications.”

As things stand, the IMF “foresees the world economy increasing by about 2.9 per cent in 2013 and 3.6 per cent in 2014. That is down from 5.4 per cent in 2007, before the global recession hit.”

If its predictions pan out, a few will be spared, thanks to their impenetrable cocoons of wealth and privilege. But most can expect lower standards of living, fewer good jobs, higher costs and increasing poverty and homelessness.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, D.C., legislators are twiddling their thumbs.

“The federal government shutdown and looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling have merged into one major problem on Capitol Hill, though neither issue has a resolution in sight as the government shutdown heads into its second week,” CBS News reports. “Democrats and Republicans (have) dug further into their respective positions: Republicans are calling on Democrats to negotiate over a short-term spending bill and a debt-ceiling increase, and President Obama says he is ready to negotiate over any topic – once the Republicans pass legislation to re-open the government and raise the U.S. borrowing limit without any conditions.”

All of which prompted Laurence Booth of the University of Toronto’s esteemed Rotman School of Management to tell the Toronto Star, “Any sane person obviously believes the U.S. isn’t going to default. That would cause an earthquake in financial markets around the globe.”

Of course, once upon a time, any sane person obviously believed that climate change could very well spell the end of the world – at least, as we know it.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Counting down the days to the Great Transformation

DSC_0074

The world as we know it has been coming to end for years now. We haven’t had to look far to perceive the portents of impending doom: in the entrails of Wall Street corpses; in the tea leaves of governments that no longer work; in the uromancy that predicts widening income gaps between the rich and the rest.

We just haven’t been able to reliably nail down a year for the Great Transformation. Until now.

A researcher at the University of Hawaii, who used to work at Dalhousie University in Halifax, N.S., thinks he knows. The point of no return will arrive. . .wait for it. . .in 2047. . .give or take.

Camillo Mora, who studies numbers for a living, tells the Globe and Mail’s science reporter Ivan Semeniuk that, overall, this is the year in which climate change will become a permanent feature of life on Earth. . .more or less.

According to the article, “The turning point arrives. . .as a worldwide average, if fossil fuel consumption continues unabated; as late as 2069 if carbon emissions are curbed. City by city, the numbers are a bit more revealing. In Montreal, for example, the new normal will arrive in 2046, and for Vancouver not until 2056. But the real spotlight of Dr. Mora’s study is the tropics, where profound changes could be entrenched in little more than a decade.”

As the good doctor says, “Today, when people talk about climate change, the images that come to mind are melting ice and polar bears. People might infer from this that the tropics will be less affected.”

People would be wrong.

But, then, there’s nothing new about that.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that economic globalization would insert several chickens in pots from Beijing to Kalamazoo – that gross domestic products around the world would rise like juggernauts, heedless of any and all counterforces they may encounter.

Once, not very long ago, people assumed that democratically elected governments served the best, common interests of the majority of voters – that reason and circumspection would effectively quell fanatical and reactionary figures intent on reshaping the public sphere in their own ideologically pinched and impoverished image.

Now comes word from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that, generally speaking, the world’s got itself in an economic ringer – one from which it is not likely to emerge any time soon. Welcome to the age of slow growth.

“Emerging economies have cooled off,” an item in The New York Times reveals. “Europe remains in the doldrums. The United States is facing fiscal uncertainty, and its powerful central bank is contemplating easing up on its extraordinary stimulus efforts, with potentially global ramifications.”

As things stand, the IMF “foresees the world economy increasing by about 2.9 per cent in 2013 and 3.6 per cent in 2014. That is down from 5.4 per cent in 2007, before the global recession hit.”

If its predictions pan out, a few will be spared, thanks to their impenetrable cocoons of wealth and privilege. But most can expect lower standards of living, fewer good jobs, higher costs and increasing poverty and homelessness.

Meanwhile, over in Washington, D.C., legislators are twiddling their thumbs.

“The federal government shutdown and looming deadline to raise the debt ceiling have merged into one major problem on Capitol Hill, though neither issue has a resolution in sight as the government shutdown heads into its second week,” CBS News reports. “Democrats and Republicans (have) dug further into their respective positions: Republicans are calling on Democrats to negotiate over a short-term spending bill and a debt-ceiling increase, and President Obama says he is ready to negotiate over any topic – once the Republicans pass legislation to re-open the government and raise the U.S. borrowing limit without any conditions.”

All of which prompted Laurence Booth of the University of Toronto’s esteemed Rotman School of Management to tell the Toronto Star, “Any sane person obviously believes the U.S. isn’t going to default. That would cause an earthquake in financial markets around the globe.”

Of course, once upon a time, any sane person obviously believed that climate change could very well spell the end of the world – at least, as we know it.

Tagged , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 586 other followers

%d bloggers like this: