Saturday, October 08, 2005

Assembly-line democracy

The L.A. Times points out that while the administration keeps trying to pretend that any given step in its arbitrary process will help to reduce the insurgency, the reality shows something else entirely:
The expectation that political progress would bring stability has been fundamental to the Bush administration's approach to rebuilding Iraq as well as a central theme of White House rhetoric to convince the American public that its policy in Iraq remains on course.

But within the last two months, U.S. analysts with access to classified intelligence data have started to challenge this precept, noting a "significant and disturbing disconnect" between apparent advances on the political front and any progress in reducing insurgent attacks...

Robert Malley, who co-wrote a September report by the International Crisis Group concluding that approval of the constitution could make things worse, called the administration's Iraq policy "a case study of pinning too much hope on an electoral process without doing so much of the other work."

And it isn't just American analysts reaching the same conclusion, as one prominent Iraqi politician has unfortunately pegged what looks like the most likely outcome of next weekend's vote:
"If the constitution passes in a non-amicable way, the violence will increase," said Ali Dabagh, an Iraqi National Assembly member who is believed to be close to Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari.

There shouldn't be much doubt that whatever terms may be used to describe next weekend's vote, "amicable" won't be close to the mark.

While negotiations are still ongoing to try to remove at least a few of the ongoing constitutional disputes (how many "final drafts" of the proposed constitution are we at now?), there can't be much doubt that a good number of Iraqis are unhappy with any draft that could realistically be produced. And some know exactly who's pushing the process forward ahead of any reasonable expectation of success:
"We're short of time — it's the fault of the Americans," Kurdish politician Mahmoud Othman said. "They are always insisting on short deadlines. It's as if they're [making] hamburgers and fast food."

Unfortunately, the constitutional process seems to have had a far less healthy effect than even the greasiest burger imaginable. And Bush and his inner circle may be the last people alive who honestly believe it's good for Iraq.

Leveling the playing field

The CP notes that while the Canada Revenue Agency has been making strides in trying to include all construction-industry revenue in tax data, there's still a good distance left to go:
Since 1999, the federal government has required contractors to report all the payments they make to sub-contractors, in an effort to flush out underground operators.

An internal report for the Canada Revenue Agency says that in the last four years, Ottawa has identified about $650 million in taxes owed as a direct result of the program...

(T)he report...found numerous gaps in the program, which floods the agency with about 83,000 information slips from contractors each year.

The agency:

-Rarely imposes penalties, up to $2,500, for a contractor's failure to notify the government of payments to subcontractors.

-Lacks the resources to verify the information in 32,000 information slips each year.

-Allows too many contractors to escape scrutiny because of a program rule that excludes companies for which construction is less than 50 per cent of their business, including big retailers such as Home Depot and Sears that offer home renovations.

The last of these dodges should be the easiest and most important to clear up. Even if there is to be a level at which the CRA avoids scrutinizing companies, it would make far more sense to set that out based on total construction income; the percentage standard obviously favours large businesses with other revenue sources, while comparatively punishing smaller ones.

The other two reflect some failure to make sure that the intent of the new program is put into effect. Good intent doesn't get very far without enough resources to back it up. Sadly, this program like so many others seems to have plenty of the former and little of the latter - meaning that smaller construction businesses who have made the effort to comply have been comparatively worse off than those who have ignored their obligations so far. Needless to say, that situation needs to change.

The costs of regulation

Murray Dobbin reminds us of a change in corporate philosophy over the past few decades:
In short, the two men (Easterbrook has also been a federal appeals court judge for two decades) argued that CEOs actually had a fiduciary duty to break the law, if it was profitable to do so. This included anti-trust laws, corruption, polluting the environment, price-fixing, breaking labour laws, and bribery. Any fines — if you got caught — were simply the cost of doing business.

Keeping that philosophy in mind, take a look at one of the provisions passed in the U.S. House Energy Bill:
A minute later, Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) switched to yes, after receiving assurances that a provision that calls on taxpayers to cover a refinery's legal bills if it is vindicated in court would be stripped out, according to Gerlach spokesman John Gentzel.

Fortunately, the actual bill doesn't appear likely to get anywhere in the Senate, so it should never be signed into law. Even if this actual provision never sees the light of day, though, the philosophy underlying it needs to be highlighted.

Keep in mind that the current administration has been doing everything within its power to undermine regulatory institutions. Sometimes, that's been through funding cuts; other times by changing mandates to involve a focus on development to the exclusion of monitoring and regulation.

Apparently, even that isn't enough: the businesses pushing the energy bill are now insisting that the costs of presenting the business' side in a regulatory proceeding be borne by taxpayers rather than themselves. The price for regulatory violations is accepted as a mere cost of doing business, but the cost of verifying compliance (a cost which has to increase when regulating a business which isn't concerned with complying in the first place) is seen as an unfair imposition.

By way of analogy, consider the equivalent provision in a criminal law context. If anybody even dared to propose that government pay the legal costs of every defendant who managed to win a not guilty verdict, how long would it take for a "soft on crime" label to be permanently affixed to that person's forehead, bolstered by examples of the most technical possible ways to beat a charge?

Yet somehow, when it comes to corporations, that exact principle was to be applied - even though most corporations, unlike most of the criminal defendants, will generally have the means to finance their own defence.

To be clear, this isn't to say that heavy-handed regulators should have the means to impose their will on businesses regardless of the merits of a charge. On the contrary: the ideal scenario would be for businesses to genuinely value compliance with the law, and for regulators to have enough resources to both assist businesses in complying, and pursue those businesses which violate the regulations even despite having a structure in place that makes it relatively easy to comply. This may require both more resources for regulators, and in some cases a more cooperative position on their part as well.

But if a given corporation prefers a completely adversarial relationship with regulators, then the outcome of that relationship must also be an accepted cost of doing business.

(Edit: Typo.)

Friday, October 07, 2005

Opening competition

News comes out of a personnel policy change which should have been made ages ago:
The federal government is planning to end its policy of 'postal code discrimination' when it comes to job applicants.

Many jobs in the federal public service have only been available to people in certain regions.

But, Public Service Commission of Canada president Maria Barrados said Thursday that beginning April 1, 2006, all officer-level jobs will be open to Canadians from across the country.

While a Con MP is quoted in the article trying to make political hay out of the issue, it would be interesting to see just where the practice began - and how many Conservative regimes in the past have played along. The problem seems to be one that's gone far beyond politics. Which is surprising given the lack of any purpose to the policy; it's tough to see how there could ever have been a good reason for the civil service to reject potentially more-qualified applicants simply because of their location.

There are still some serious obstacles in the way of a fully representative civil service. But it's always a plus to get at least one of them out of the way.

I'm it

I've been tagged. So, without any further ado:

1. If money were no object, what would you be doing with your life?

Likely practicing law on a part-time, pro bono basis, as well as putting some time into songwriting, political organization, and taking philosophy or political science classes on the side.

2. Money is just that - an object, so why aren't you doing it?

For now I'm in my first few months as a practicing lawyer and have too much to learn to distract myself in too many other ways (this blog notwithstanding). I fully plan to add some more of the above possibilities once I've had a chance to learn the ropes through full immersion.

3. What's better: horses or cows?

Cows; I'm not a huge fan of either on a personal level, and cows have a lot more uses.

4. What do you think the secret to happiness is?

The most important step is to decide personally to appreciate the good around you - it's a lot easier to be happy when you keep an eye out for that.

5. When was the last time you had a dream that you either remember well or did not want to awake from? Can you share a bit?

A couple of nights ago I dreamed I was waiting to walk into an undergraduate exam, and deciding whether I should use my limited time to grab lunch or coffee first.

6. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A city planner; I believe a couple of the sample maps I drew up at age 5 are still kicking around.

7. Complete this statement: Love is...

The feeling that you're able to be more fully yourself based on the presence of another person.

8. Can you tell a good story? (write one!)

Yes. Once upon a time, I cut short a story since I had to get back to work. I'll fill this one in later.

9. Can you remember your last daydream? What was it about?

Wandering into the Committee for a Citizen Friendly Regina meeting and being asked to run for a Council position. Not that I plan to run anytime soon (if ever), since it would take a bunch of time away from everything listed in #1 and 2.

10. If you were to thank someone today, who would you thank?

First and foremost my wonderful fiancée, who never ceases to amaze me in a myriad of ways. Of course I can't leave out my always kind and supportive family, or any of my other great friends.

Let's tag J.C.Q. and see what happens.

Jobs? Jobs? Jobs?

So much for the positive predictions about Canada's jobs rate:
The Canadian economy unexpectedly shed 2,300 jobs in September, the first dip since January, as employers in the finance, insurance, real-estate and leasing business slashed payrolls, Statistics Canada said Friday...

“The details were not quite as sour as the headlines, but not strong enough to erase the bad taste,” said Doug Porter, senior economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns in a note, as full-time jobs rose by 19,200 jobs, while part-time positions accounted for the weakness, dropping 21,400.

The number of self-employed rose by 30,000 in September, while the number of private and public sector employees declined.

While the entrepreneurship involved in the self-employed sector is commendable, the rest of the numbers are all to the negative: assuming that at least 19,200 of the new self-employed were classified as full-time, that would have meant drops in both full-time and part-time employment outside of the self-employed, rather than the expected gains in jobs. And what's worse, the jobless percentage went down as well - implying that there was an even greater drop in people looking for work than in jobs available.

Some of the monthly effect seems like it could be linked to the end of summer (in particular a drop in youth employment). But that should have been taken into account in the previously-predicted gain for this month. Which makes one wonder whether the public's lack of confidence was the more accurate indicator all along.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Citizens organizing

Regina's recent strike may have been the most visible manifestation of the issues, but for years the city's been sorely in need of a strong movement to challenge the current leadership's no-tax-increases-and-damn-the-costs mentality. It's a long way from coming to fruition, but the seed has been planted:
Preliminary plans for the organization were being made several months ago before the recent strike of 1,600 city workers.

But the new organization (the Committee for a Citizen Friendly Regina) could potentially provide a political voice for people who are unhappy with city council's policies on a wide range of issues, including labour relations...

Issues related to urban sprawl, the development of sustainable neighbourhoods, racism, the environment and the need to maintain quality, publicly funded services are among the issues the organization could potentially address.

Sounds like a great slate of issues so far. The big key will be finding strong candidates to present a viable alternative in time for next year's election...which will be a matter of visibility in the short term. So to all fellow Reginans: get out the word, stop by the next founding meeting (October 19, 7 p.m. at the Holy Rosary Cathedral Hall at 2104 Garnet St.), and help build this into an organization capable of taking City Hall next year.

Waiting game

Can anybody even try to find a consistent position in the following passage from an Imperial Oil executive about the proposed MacKenzie pipeline?
Mr. Hearn, speaking to reporters after a speech to the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said Imperial won't proceed with the Northwest Territories project unless Ottawa agrees to amendments to the fiscal arrangements that would apply to the project.

However, he said Imperial was not asking for handouts.

Imperial has been pressing Ottawa for more financial incentives, even after the government said in the summer it is willing to pony up $500-million to get the stalled project moving. Imperial, majority owned by the world's biggest public oil company, Exxon Mobil Corp. of Irving, Tex., wants breaks on matters such as royalty payments.

It's fair enough that the project earlier ran into problems not of Imperial's making due to native land claims. But it seems clear that "an amendment to the fiscal arrangements" (which were apparently previously agreed to) that results in a "break" for Imperial would be pretty much the definition of a handout.

Meanwhile, a project with the potential to help develop a good chunk of Canada's north is in limbo - even as the underlying asset gains a ton of value, presumably helping Imperial's coffers as well. We can only hope the parties involved will work through their differences to get something done...but it might help if they'd at least admit to what they're asking for out of the process.

Non-partisan information

Scott Piatkowski writes on how the CBC's return is a plus from a public perspective, not a partisan one:
To Senator Marjory LeBreton — former patronage czar for Brian Mulroney and still one of his staunchest defenders — all of this gushy sentimentality over the temporary loss of our public broadcaster is proof that the CBC is biased in favour of the Liberals and the NDP. Citing numbers from a Decima poll that showed that NDP and Liberal supporters missed the CBC more than Conservative supporters, LeBreton wrote in a letter published in The Hill Times that this was because “the lockout has deprived them of their biggest cheerleaders on the national scene.”

Of course, this is such an absurd understanding of causal relationships, that I truly hope that Stephen Harper decides to rely primarily on LeBreton to analyze polling data...

Personally, if I “relied on” the CBC to do cheerleading for the NDP, I'd find myself to be very disappointed. What I expect and get from the CBC is information, insight and a chance to connect with the stories of Canadians from all parts of the country and from all walks of life...

Well said. The true public loss during the lockout was primarily in the CBC's capacity to find stories (whether for news purposes or in other forms of programming) that wouldn't be found otherwise. And regardless of one's political stripe, there's value in the perspectives which would have been made known if not for the lockout.

Piatkowski's argument also helps to highlight the potential harm in adding more contract workers to the CBC's scheme of operations. The issue isn't solely one of employee security. Rather, a drastic increase in temporary arrangements would imply that the information-gathering effort is only important for commercial reasons (and then only part of the time), rather than a vital part of our ability to be better-informed about our country on an ongoing basis.

Fortunately, despite both the wishes of the Cons and the best funding-slashing the Libs had to offer, the CBC will soon be back. And all sides, whether political or not, will be ultimately better off for it.

Employment insurance adjustment

It's been an problem for far too long now, but Thomas Walkom points out that the unfairness of EI only keeps getting worse:
Under pressure to cut the federal deficit, Martin effectively gutted the newly renamed employment insurance system by making it more difficult, and in many cases near-impossible, for the jobless to qualify for benefits.

But he didn't cut by a corresponding amount the premiums that most workers and their bosses are required to pay into the program.

In effect, a program designed to protect workers from vicious downturns in the business cycle was transformed into just another tax, and a particularly regressive tax at that (lower-income workers pay proportionally more in employment insurance premiums than those who make more money)...

(T)hose who do not qualify for employment insurance do not qualify for retraining programs offered under the aegis of the federal program. In this sense, jobless Torontonians get hit twice over.

Seeing as that at least two of the opposition parties have made EI a pet issue for a few years now, this would seem to be the right to to make some basic changes. Even if the hours requirements don't change, it should only make sense to make training programs available to all those out of work.

While an ideal set of changes would include not only making training universally available but also increasing EI accessibility and cutting the EI burden on lower-paid employees, I won't pretend the full slate of changes can compete with the political appeal of handing out money with no rhyme or reason. But it's time to start putting a few pieces back in place to start rebuilding the system, and training should be the ideal place to start.

(Edit: typo.)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


It appears that the U.S. Congress is taking some steps to rein in at least some part of the budget. But as usual, it's utterly insane which programs will be the target, and which will be left relatively unscathed:
The plan by Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., would reduce farmers' payments by 2.5 percent across the board, slashing spending by $1.145 billion over five years. That's half the 5 percent the Bush administration sought earlier this year.

The $574 million cut in food stamps would come from restricting access to this benefit for certain families that receive other government assistance. The restriction would shut an estimated 300,000 people out of the program.

The conservation cuts would curb the number of acres that can be enrolled in the biggest of the programs, the Conservation Reserve Program, and limit spending on two others, the Conservation Security Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

Omitted from the budget-cutting plan is President Bush's idea of cutting billions of dollars from payments to large farm operations by lowering the maximum subsidies that could be collected each year.

Now, reducing farm subsidies is obviously a plus. But it's amazing that when even Bushco can see the advantages of the 5% cut, Congress feels the need to reduce that amount by half and instead make huge cuts to food stamps and the environment. And it's doubly amazing that Congress is explicitly refusing to push the remaining subsidies toward smaller farms rather than larger businesses. (Isn't the only remotely popular argument in favour of farm subsidies the value of saving the family farm?)

It's almost as if Republicans in Congress are trying to build Bush back up by seeming irresponsible in comparison. If that is the plan, then this proposal is a great start.

(Via Suburban Guerrilla.)

Free money, sign here!

The Liberals put forward the idea of yearly "dividend" cheques where the federal government underestimates its surplus:
The Liberals’ Surplus Allocation Act will promise taxpayers a slice of the surplus along with their income-tax return, federal officials told The Canadian Press.

The legislation, to be tabled Friday, sets out a broader spending plan for the unplanned surpluses that Ottawa frequently racks up.

One-third of all unexpected surpluses will go to debt relief, one-third to program spending and one-third to taxpayers.

What's less clear from the article is how the money is to be allocated - it's not a uniform amount for each Canadian, but rather based on a recipient's tax bracket, and nothing in article suggests whether the difference is need-based (more money to lower earners) or refund-based (more money to higher earners). The former would be slightly less objectionable as some element of redistribution, though smart investments in program spending could accomplish an awful lot more toward that goal.

In either event, though, it's tough to argue with Judy Wasylycia-Leis' take:
“It’s not even enough to buy a cup of coffee every week. I think we’ve got to look at the real motive of the Liberals — which is a pretty transparent way of buying Canadians’ loyalty back and get ready for the next election.”

Politically, the bill is a fairly ingenious idea: if it passes, the Liberals could then claim that any effort to cut taxes or increase program spending jeopardizes a highly visible individual payout. Which would do some serious damage to the ability of opposition parties to propose meaningful change.

As is so often the case, though, good politics makes for terrible policy. And it looks like it'll be up to the opposition parties to call the bluff. If the Liberals want to go to the mat over an arbitrary division of surplus funds with basically no basis in logic, then it shouldn't take long for all three opposition parties to do their job and refuse the plan, even if that's not the most politically popular step in the meantime. After all, the bill will probably be long forgotten within seconds after the Gomery report comes out...while the added government hand-tying could have repercussions for years to come.

The pink slip economy

Under Bushco, this is what passes for good economic news:
U.S. employers announced 71,836 job cuts in September — little changed from the previous month — marking the end of the slowest quarter for planned layoffs since the second quarter of 2002, according to a survey by Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc.

The Chicago-based executive outplacement firm said September's layoff announcements were 1.8 per cent higher than August's, but down 33 per cent from a year earlier when U.S. companies announced 107,863 job cuts. The transportation and retail industries led the layoffs in September, accounting for 36 per cent of all planned job cuts.

Needless to say, it's awfully tough for a lot of workers to feel particularly secure in any job. But are there enough new jobs being created to pick up the slack?
The report comes ahead of U.S. and Canadian employment figures due out Friday. In the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the U.S. economy is expected to have shed 150,000 non-farm jobs in September after gaining 169,000 in the previous month. Despite the job losses, the report is not expected to dictate the direction of financial markets Friday, as it usually does...

The Canadian economy is expected to add 20,000 jobs in the month after adding about 28,000 in August.

While the hurricanes may have slammed consumer confidence, they apparently haven't hurt Canadian employment numbers just yet. The main problem for Canada seems to be the question of how long it'll take the U.S. to rebuild its consumer markets rather than issues linked to local conditions...though of course the exchange rate is causing problems for some.

Unfortunately, the U.S. situation doesn't look great: thanks to the continued aftereffects of the hurricanes, there are plenty of unplanned layoffs to make up for the drop in planned ones...and it certainly doesn't look like the reconstruction money is building anything much aside from bank accounts outside the damaged region. We'll find out all too soon whether the current good news holds up, or whether the pessimism of Canadians is justified.

The system at work

It may not be the most dramatic news today, but word comes out that Saskatchewan's new investments in health care are still paying off:
Surgeons in the province are reducing the backlog of patients waiting for operations.

Government figures show the number of people on lists in the province's seven largest health regions dropped by more than 3,200.

As of the end of June, more than 29,000 people were on waiting lists in the seven regions.

Health officials say that half of all surgical patients wait less than five weeks for their procedure, while 80 per cent are looked after within six months.

While the remaining list obviously leaves room for improvement, there's all the more reason to believe that the public system can do just fine in taking care of all of its patients. That is, as long as it receives enough funding to do the job.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The will of the voters

The good news from Iraq is that it looks like the proposed constitution will probably pass when it goes to the voters later this month. The bad news is that passage only looks likely due to a major change in the rules:
"They made this change because they were afraid the constitution would be rejected," said Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish member of the National Assembly who opposes the change. "But now it may be counterproductive: they made the Sunnis so furious that maybe more of them will vote no."

Under the new rules, the constitution will fail only if two-thirds of registered voters - rather than two-thirds of those actually casting ballots - reject it in at least three of the 18 provinces.

The change would in effect require almost all of those voting in three provinces to reject the document. In making the change, the Shiite and Kurdish representatives designated two different meanings for the word "voters" in a single passage of the transitional law.

It appears that if nothing else, the Shiites and Kurds in the governing coalition have been willing to work together long enough to learn a lesson or two about redefining terms (and setting reverse onuses) from their friendly neighbourhood occupiers.

But consider just how far the standard is from anything approaching majority territory. It's bad enough that the previous draft required a two-thirds vote against for rejection on a state basis. By that standard, Quebec would now have separated from Canada twice. But by the new standard, Prince Edward Island would be the sole Canadian province with enough active voters for the vote to have meaning even if every voter voted the same way. (See Table 4 for provincial turnout numbers.)

Not that the sham vote is inconsistent with some past Iraq practices. But isn't the sole remaining rationale for occupation to try to improve on Saddam-era standards for democracy?

(Update: Title changed since Section 15 got there first.)

(Added update: The original rules have now been restored. Apparently the "trial balloon" technique has also made its way to Iraq's parliament.)

Laws of wide application

Word comes out that Iraq's parliament has passed a rather wide-ranging anti-terrorism law:
The tough new anti-terrorism law -- a response to almost daily suicide bombings and attacks in Iraq -- sets capital punishment for "those who commit ... terror acts" as well as "those who provoke, plan, finance and all those who enable terrorists to commit these crimes," according to a text obtained by The Associated Press...

The law defines terrorism as any criminal act against people, institutions or property that "aims to hurt security, stability and national unity and introduce terror, fear or horror among the people and cause chaos."

It also cites "activity threatening to spark sectarian differences or civil war ... including by arming citizens or encouraging or financing their arming."

I'm not quite sure who drafted the language, but it seems that almost anybody taking a side in a future civil war would be covered - though of course we can safely assume that only the losers would be punished. Not to mention that I'd love to see the defense argument against a prosecution based on the "shock and awe" campaign (or prisoner abuse, or...well, you get the idea) helping to provoke terrorism.

Non-confidence motion

According to Decima Research, Canadian consumer confidence is at its lowest level in four years:
"These results likely reflect a combination of rising concerns about energy prices, coupled with concerns about the economic impacts caused by hurricane Katrina," said Bruce Anderson, CEO of Decima Research.

"The pattern of results indicates that Canadians seem to feel that the macro economic impacts will be more short term than long term, because the sharpest rise is in concerns about the one-year economic outlook," he said. "While these conditions might depress consumption levels, people appear to think that they will be able to get through the rough patch."

The index, which stood at 87.9 in May, dropped 13 points by September to 75.

The numbers mostly match similar trends in the U.S. and the U.K....but unlike those two countries, Canada seems to have a fair bit to gain from the current market environment, particularly through higher energy prices (though that naturally runs into some regional variance).

We'll see how long the trend lasts, as it's probably based largely on higher gas prices which themselves are coming under scrutiny. But to the extent that consumer perception helps to shape market reality, the near future doesn't look all that bright.

Well said

Antonia Zerbisias comments on the chasm between CBC's senior management, and its locked-out workers:
While senior management...stuck the knife in the public broadcaster and to the public which pays for it by ordering this lockout, it was the workers who, through their passion and creativity, innovation and imagination, kept producing what they could, even without a paycheque.

They gave Canadians street fests, replacement radio, podcasts, online news sites, rallies, burlesque shows, concerts and uncounted blogs, both serious and entertaining, which made plain one thing: CBC does not belong to the managers who have been talking of "business models" while presenting PowerPoint flowcharts at endless meetings.

The workers proved that CBC is not about executives with corporate credit cards and fancy perks. It's not about packing off hundreds of managers to high-priced training retreats where they play-act and learn to "lead." It's also not about shoving any old programming down a pipe purely for the ratings.

It's about passionate people who work even if they are not getting paid for it.

It's about public service and the public interest.

Amen to that. Give it a read.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Now that the fight is mostly over, it's time to start cleaning up the wreckage:
The lock-out attracted international attention — it was a virtually unprecedented spectacle of a large broadcaster shutting down its entire workforce, said Suanne Kelman, associate chair of journalism at Ryerson University in Toronto.

“Part of the reason for that is everybody knows how dangerous it is in terms of listenership and viewership.”...

NHL telecasts will likely grab big audiences — and attractive advertising revenues — right away.

But there's been little promotion for CBC's fall entertainment programming, and some current affairs shows are badly behind in production. Moreover, advertisers looking at the autumn television buys will have already committed elsewhere said Terry Sheehy, media consultant at Saatchi and Saatchi Advertising in Toronto.

The blame is undoubtedly split between the Liberal governments who have starved the CBC of money, and the management who decided to gamble the network's viewers, listeners and advertisers in an effort to do nothing more than take away union job security. But the tougher work now is to try to turn the melee into something positive.

For those of us who understand the importance of the CBC, the easy step is to go back to watching and listening...though it couldn't hurt to mix that with the occasional letter to the editor, blog post or conversation making clear that that's not to be taken as an endorsement of the management tactics. And Charlie Angus' suggestion of getting rid of the CBC's top brass should only be the start: rather than merely getting rid of the people responsible, the Liberals (presumably with a push from the NDP) need to make clear that the CBC will be receive future funding in sufficient amounts to ensure that the network can both rebuild from any losses caused by the lockout, and expand its presence in the future.

On unfortunately being right

While it's great to have a little more impetus added to one of the NDP's big issues, isn't it more than a bit worrisome that smog warnings are now extending into the fall session of Parliament?

Centralized borrowing

CBCUnlocked points out that according to a KPMG report, the federal government is effectively throwing money away by borrowing through Crown corporations and government agencies rather than through a centralized service:
The federal government could save as much as $620 million over five years by taking over borrowing now done by six large Crown corporations and government agencies, a new report says.

The government already guarantees the loans made to the six, but they make their own financial arrangements...

The study concluded the six agencies pay higher interest rates than the government does, and a single borrowing agency could cut those.

Including Canada Housing Trust, KPMG estimated the borrowers’ direct costs could be cut by $33 million in the first year, rising to $330 to $620 million over five years. Without CHT, the savings are much smaller, $10 million in the first year and $33 to $175 million over five years.

The article points out that the proposed change will probably be questioned based on both the organizational independence of the agencies involved, and "governance practices". But those should be simple enough issues to deal with for a government looking to make effective decisions, rather than merely easy ones.

Indeed, the Liberal response could be a reliable litmus test of Martin's political will. Are the Liberals willing to knowingly allow government agencies to pay higher interest rates than necessary solely for the political benefit of seeming to run a decentralized government, or for the convenience of avoiding a temporary turf war? If the answer is "yes" to either, then that should put another serious dent in PMPM's image as a good manager.

Maximizing connections

Peter MacLeod has an interesting commentary on how Europe is much further ahead of the international curve than we realize...and how we're worse off for lack of connections to the EU:
Canada's political and social consonance with Europe is an open secret. The real question is why this parity has so far failed to translate into a more active partnership.

Part of the reason is surely based on the outdated idea of "old world" Europe. As North Americans, we naturally clamour towards the new while our public perception of Europe is still stuck firmly in the past. Cutting-edge architecture, software and social policy haven't yet replaced an outdated image of Cold War Europe, with its high taxes, and trade unions.

If true, then this is a perception that needs to change. Otherwise, we risk a future where Canada is squeezed by not just one elephant, but two. The United States and China offer us their market. What they don't offer is a peer group or any of the cooperative structures necessary to address the trans-national challenges created by integrating economies. The prospect of Canada caught between two hyper-economies, trudging fruitlessly to the WTO or court systems for round after round of un-enforced arbitration is not one that anyone should relish. Stated plainly, Canada doesn't need out of NAFTA, but perhaps it needs special membership in the EU. The choice doesn't need to be either/or - the genius is the 'and'.

All too true (except perhaps on the "doesn't need out of NAFTA" line). Give it a read.

Reaching agreement

The CBC deal is undoubtedly a huge story. But it may not be the most important agreement reached today, as India and Pakistan have agreed to notify each other of any future missile testing:
"The agreement entails that both countries provide each other advance notification of flight tests that it intends to undertake of any surface-to-surface ballistic missile," the Indian side said in a statement.

"India has now handed over a draft memorandum of understanding on measures to reduce the risks of accidental or unauthorized use of nuclear weapons under the control of both countries," the statement said...

Singh was likely to meet Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz on Tuesday, and revive a joint commission for promoting economic cooperation and other contacts. Singh will also travel to the southern port city of Karachi to meet business leaders. He returns to India on Wednesday.

The new agreements seem to be fairly limited in scope, but they do reflect a willingness to cooperate that has to bode well for more contentious issues. We'll know very soon whether this is the start of a substantial move away from the arms race that has all too often characterized relations between India and Pakistan.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The war in the making

From the "proving that things can always get worse" department, Iraq's political scene gave signs of becoming more fractured than ever today:

President Jalal Talabani has accused the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance, which holds the majority in parliament, of monopolizing power in the government and refusing to move ahead on a key issue for Kurds, the resettlement of Kurds in the northern city of Kirkuk.

“The time has come for the United Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdistan coalition to study Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's stepping aside from his post,” said Azad Jundiyani, a spokesman for Mr. Talabani's Patriotic Union of Kurdistan...

Mr. Jundiyani would not say whether the Kurds would withdraw from the government if the Shiite alliance does not back them in removing Mr. al-Jaafari. Mr. Talibani has made indirect threats to withdraw from the coalition if Kurdish demands are not met.

Given that the movements led by Talabani and al-Jaafari have been the two that have effectively held the Iraqi government together to date, this can't be anything but a signal that the chaos has only just begun. As long as those two factions were working toward substantially the same goals, the most likely outcome seemed to be a civil war pitting the Sunnis against the rest of Iraq - which would be bloody, but at least relatively capable of some definitive resolution.

Now, the Kurdish call to remove Shiites from power seems all too likely to be answered in kind. And if the dispute moves from the top political leaders to the general population, then an ensuing civil war seems all too likely to involve all three groups fighting against each other. Which is a battle that nobody can realistically expect to win.

Foreseeable results

Among the perverse outcomes from the new U.S. bankruptcy bill, debtors are scrambling to file for bankruptcy before the bill takes effect:
Like most U.S. bankruptcy courts, the one for Northern California, in San Francisco, has been inundated with cases. Its Chapter 7 filings increased 32 percent in August and 125 percent in September from the same months last year.

So contrary to the bill's stated purpose of keeping people out of bankruptcy, it's actually pushing more of them into it for now...perhaps including people who could avoid it if they didn't see an advantage to filing now.

Meanwhile, the bill will also punish those who can't avoid bankruptcy later - and the punishment isn't limited to the more restrictive rules in bankruptcy itself:
Today, attorneys on average charge about $1,000 in cities and $700 to $800 in rural areas to file bankruptcies, says Steve Elias, author of "The New Bankruptcy: What It Will Do for You," from Nolo Press.

"That's going to double," Elias predicts.

Good to know that at least somebody stands to benefit from the bill. But on the balance, it's no less a disaster than it ever was.

For lack of attention

The federal government commendably promised money to create a hotline and database for missing native women earlier this year. But word comes out today both that none of the money has yet been approved, and that it's been the federal government holding up the process all along:
Newly released documents are fresh fodder for critics who say the ranks of murdered or missing native women grew by at least six cases while the Liberals dragged their feet.

No money has been released for related research in the eight months since Ottawa first promised $5 million over five years.

(A) briefing note dated March 1, 2005, almost two months after the money was promised, says a proposal by Status of Women official that cabinet formally approve the funding was held up.

Nanci-Jean Waugh of Status of Women Canada said the delay was due to the need to develop related work plans.

"In the whole process it did go fairly quickly, but we did have that delay."

If there's any silver lining, it's in the fact that the money is expected to be released following a meeting later this month.

But from all available indications, the group partnering with the federal government has been ready to proceed with the project from the beginning. And there's no apparent reason for the delay between the initial agreement in January and an announcement in May, which in turn has ensured that no money would flow until this fall.

We'll never know whether earlier delivery of the promised funding could have helped any of the women who have gone missing in the meantime. But it's fairly clear that the fate of the missing women hasn't been anywhere near the priority that it should have been.

Locked out all the more

For all PMPM's attempts to claim solidarity with employees locked out by the CBC, his office has some explaining to do on its treatment of the locked-out workers as they attempt to keep doing their job:
A CBC Unlocked journalist assigned to cover the press conference in Vancouver of Paul Martin and the president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, was refused access by the Prime Minister's security detachment on Friday.

No reason was given as to why CBCUnlocked was barred from the announcement of an agreement of co-operation between Mexico and Canada.

The presence of CBC Unlocked journalists had not been regarded as a security threat by other foreign dignitaries or federal politicians until Friday's refusal by the entourage of the Prime Minister of Canada...

Last week, the reporter interviewed the federal Minister for the Environment, Stéphane Dion, as he passed through British Columbia.

The same journalist for CBC Unlocked has also attended meetings during the last month with two foreign guests while they were under strong security: U.S. ambassador David Wilkins, as well as British writer Salman Rushdie, threatened by a death sentence issued in 1989 by the imam Khomeini, head of Iran at the time.

It's particularly remarkable that no other country's security services, particularly that of the U.S., has seemed the least bit concerned about having the regular CBC journalists covering events in Canada. Martin's office alone has taken a step which has no basis in any genuine security concern, and which has the effect of further silencing the workers already shut out of their normal work by Martin's historic lack of CBC funding.

If the Libs were truly the party most interested in defending the CBC, then the network would indeed be in serious trouble. Fortunately, there is one party that's actually interested in making sure that the CBC has enough funding to function. Hopefully Canadians who value the CBC, and even those who would rather not see legitimate media sources excluded from government events, will remember this when they go to the polls.

(Via My Blahg News.)