Monday, June 14, 2010

Flaherty Wants to Raise your Taxes Good on Him.

Here is news you don't expect to hear, Mike Flaherty of the Conservative Part of Canada Flaherty's wants to raise your taxes. Follow the link and be surprised. The Conservatives looked at Canadian Pension Plan and said we need so reform here. At that point you might think privatization of CPP, along the lines of what the American conservatives tries under Bush. You would be wrong. Flaherty acknowledged that CPP is an extremely well run Government program, that is solvent, going forward 75 years. It is also an important service that provides some peace of mind for the majority of Canadians that will retire with no other pension and the minority that have been unable or yes unwilling to save for their own retirement.
Raising the employer/employee premiums have the usual suspects screaming job losses business closures. I am waiting for the Tax Payers Federation to come out against the increase, that is my indication that it is a decent idea.
I understand it is an ugly issue, nobody wants to pay, even as they benefit from programs provided through taxation. Some don't want to pay because they are well off enough never to need it, or they just don't like any government programs. To these people i can't write anything that will change your minds.
I Credit Flaherty with understanding that CPP is a very useful tool. It is a low cost way to offset poverty among the elderly, the disabled and other disadvantage groups. The Government administers the CPP and we contribute, how simple a plan is that.
I would also challenge Mr. Flaherty to come up with more ways to get Canadians to save. We are all better off when we take part in providing for our futures. The TSFA program was stroke of genius and the old RRSP though both, have the draw back of depending on free markets and our own competence, the results can be mixed. These methods of retirement planning also assume that an individual has income that they can set aside for investment. While some people are profligate spenders, most want to save but don't have the excess cash.
What the government needs to do is create a program that will incentivize businesses big and small to create their own mini-pensions, administered by government and transferable from job to job. This plan can be mandated for those under a certain income level. It will not be paid for out of the payroll because we already have CPP, this one is paid for through tax rebates to the business. If the Tories are hell bent on cutting taxes on big and small business make it work for everyone. Company A contributes 1% of weekly pay towards a pension they receive a 1.5% tax break. I will let the experts work out the details, but the, idea is to let Tax cuts work for Canadians and Canadian businesses.
I also hear that Flaherty wants to hike EI contributions. Again I congratulate the Tories on understanding that in tough times when EI fund gets drawn down you need to fill it back up. I expect that we the economy gets back on a solid footing we can see the EI rate adjusted down again.
Institutions are routinely in need of tweaking and sometimes of a total reset. It is nice to see the Tories addressing the needs of Canadians through Ideas and not Ideology.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hemingway in Toronto

I don't know why I think I should have known that Ernest Hemingway wrote for Toronto dailies in the 1920's, but i do. The book I'm reading is called By-Line: Ernest Hemingway. It is a compilation of his newspaper work from the 1920's to the 1950's.
I am just a short way in and I'm enjoying the read.
Perhaps it was the style of the day, a gateway to the world found cheaply in the local daily newspaper, but the articles read like short stories. It is all first person. Hemingway both telling the story and taking part in it, an art sharing program in Toronto, lugeing in Switzerland or a meeting of heads of state in Italy.
Yet it is not fiction, Hemingway coverd real events and became part of history as a result.
I have read collected essays from authors like Rushdie, Eco, Hitchens, and Orwell. A small selection from a large pool. These are great writers, authors and newspapermen, and they tell great stories. But what I found in Hemingway is the fullness of a story in breif amount of space. It is not that Hemingway gives you a truncated tale, cut to fit, unfinished. He does away with the superfluous. It is akin to a movie, where only what the director wants on screen appears there. Hemingway gives the reader the scene without disraction, a single plot line seen through, from start to finish.
I don't know if Hemingway was paid by the word or the story, but i'm not sure he would care. I get the feeling that the story was the point, writing was the reason, money was the means to keep writing.
I expect that the book will continue to hold my interest. The spanish civil war is fast approaching and after that is WWII. I find myself wondering how Hemingway's Spanish Civil war will compare to George Orweel's. I can't wait to find out.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

How Likely is a Fox North?

It's in the news, Canada might be getting a Fox like news/opinion cable channel .A former aid to the Prime Minister Harper, Kory Tenecyke has been tasked to see whether a "conservative view" news channel would fly here in Canada and to set one up if it's feasible. Ezra Levant, another well known conservative, might be tagged for the anchor job.
Is it possible to find an audience in this country for a news channel dedicated to providing a conservative view point? You bet their is. All you need to do is convert the audience already reading conservative newspapers and listening Talk Radio.
The great many who claim the CBC is a Liberal run media outlet, will clamor for the opportunity to pay for a news outlet that is run by conservatives. If that seems strange, you are not alone in your confusion. Conservatives say they dislike the CBC for a whole bunch of reasons, bias, poor programming, or because government shouldn't be running a television network. The real problem is paying for something that provides them no benefit. If the CBC shifted to a decidedly pro-conservative stance like the National Post or the Toronto Sun, all but the conservative purists would learn to say nice things about the CBC.
The next question is how successful can they be? Can you just transfer a successful format from the United States to Canada? I don't think you can. It is not that were more sophisticated than Americans, sorry were not, Canadian Idol anyone. Fox news is 4 hours of sort of news and 20 hours of opinion. I don't think we have enough news or opinion for that matter to fill the air waves. America has 50 different states for fox to pick news from, plus overseas. The united States has commitments all over the world that can be drawn into the debate. It also help that America has a distinct dividing line, between republican and democrat, well the claim is made, though I'm sure their is considerable overlap.
In Canada the line is there but with less hostility. Over the years attempts have been made by right wing think tanks and institutions to create strong lines of difference but it has yet to take. Just compare Canadian Talk radio to that of the American version. The vitriolic hate filled screeds so evident on American air waves just isn't found here. Radio hosts like Charles Adler and Jerry Agar are card carrying conservatives, after that they bear no resemblance to their American counterparts. I don't know if it's a conscious decision on the part of the radio outlets or broadcast rules.
We have a multiparty system, a multi ethnic population, two officail languages, a smaller social and reilgious divede. There are a whole lot of topics that the preceeding sentence renders difficult to expliot by a conservative news outlet. How do attack language, immigration, minority and ethnic rights in the same fashion that opinion makers on Fox do and not aleinate portions of your potential audience.
How do you attack only Liberals or New Democrats leaving Conservatives alone and retain credibiltiy. There will always be a core audience that wants that type of news and to see the enemy always skewered, but in Canada i don't think that audience is large enough to pay the bills.
I think that when this Channel hits the air waves, it will end up looking a lot like CTV or the CBC. We are no less partisan than Americams but the Canadain public isn't ready for a Fox North. We haven't been conditioned to accept the echo chamber quite yet.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

E-Volve Cultures Screensaver

I was on twitter the other day and chanced upon @ebertchicago . He has a great deal to say and does it well. Mr. Ebert also links to interesing stuff. Something he twittered was a screensaver. It is called E-Volved Cultures from LUMC Reseach labs.
It is quite something and is hard to describe. It is like watching a painting being created before your eyes, but all abstract. The picture is always transforming, being painted over, layer after layer is added. The site gives you an explanation of whats going on, but honestly i don't get it. I don't mind that because not being an artist i don't understand how a person can pull a flower out of a blank page with only a piece of charcol. Yet i can still enjoy the result.
If they are able to make this into a product that you could hang on your wall I would buy one.
It is not a substitute for art. It is an example of technology as art. Like elephants and apes that paint. I think it is cool that these animals can do it and the pictures they paint are interesting, but they represent nothing of the artist. That is what seperates the human artist from his animal or computer compatriot. Art preforms two tasks, to exist and to represent the perception and interaction of the Artist with the world. For the second action you need inteeligence on an order sofar found only in humans.
I do recomend you give it a try, of course take the usual precautions when downloading any material from the net. I have installed the program and have encountered no neagtive effects. Enjoy.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Internet -Paradise Mispalced?

The Internet quickly became a paradise lost. That is if you thought that the web would usher in a golden age of learning and enlightenment. With information at your fingertips, borders no longer barriers to people and ideas, finally, a flowering of the human race. What a world we could build. Well we got all that plus porn, shopping and bullshit. I don’t have a tally but those three categories must run 75% of the net. I don’t have a real problem with it either, sex, lies, and shopping are as human as apple pie.
Where is the problem? You might even ask if there even is one. There is. The information at available to any one human being as of Saturday the 5th of June 2010 at 10:00 am, is more than has been accessible to any one in the history of our species. That is a good thing. The problem lies with us and the nature of this new library.
In the past we added to the knowledge base by investigating the world around us writing books about what we thought or found . These books found their ways into libraries and classrooms of schools and universities. In the case of hard science, many hurdles had to be jumped before information was thought suitable vetted to print, the social sciences had a softer go but a standard had to be met here too before you were published. It didn’t mean everything published was correct. It meant that there were gatekeepers. These men were the academic and educated elite and they exercised power over the published world. It was a self appointed and know doubt arrogant elite, doing a necessary job. University presses and other publishers provided us with up to date and accurate information on the world.
I will note to forestall complaint that such a system works only when the state is relatively free. Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany exercised a control via state apparatus over large segments of the information industry in order to bring about ideological ends that were largely or completely at odds with the facts. Some western nation states on very specific issues like race, engaged in the same campaign of misinformation. This though this was a product of social prejudice and civil rights not fully realized, passive rather than active government suppression of the truth, the result were the same, the public was given false information and so could only come to an inaccurate conclusion.
So what a public needs in order to stay informed is freedom, you can find the full list of necessary freedoms in the constitutions of most Western states. Canadian constitution is a nice one. A pool independent gatekeepers makes up the other half of the equation. Scientific societies, museums, and universities just to mention an important few are tasked with maintaining the standard.
Then along came the Internet. This wild west of the information age where we have a hundreds of standards which effect to leave us with none. We still have the good measures, they migrated to the net intact. The Royal Ontario Museum didn’t change, neither did scientific journals, like the Lancet they still provide the same service to the facts they always have. What happened is that they have been joined by the rest and out numbered.
There are sites that talk about evolution, where you can get accurate information. In that same search page find sites promoting creationism, alien seeding , or any number of opposing ideas. All you have to do is pick a site that conforms best to what you want to believe. I am biased towards Darwin and consider the other ideas to be fantasy. My choice mine is not based on desired outcome, Evolution is correct, the others are incomplete to outright wrong. You get no indication of veracity from the search window, Google’s job is not to decide what ideas are true, just deliver you the items you requested.
What have on the Internet is freedom but no gatekeeper, to be more precise we are now our own keepers. And I have to admit that I don’t have the required knowledge to judge the truth of everything I read on the net. I rely on the experts for help. Only we can’t always know who to trust, or worse we pick someone that has not our interests at heart but their own.
A man Glenn Beck. He is conservative personality. A large part of his show deals with bringing history to his audience. But his interpretation of the past is often at odds with what the standard says. He is in effect for his audience at least rewriting parts of the past. He and other conservatives a certain type are telling people this- National socialist(Nazi’s) are in fact socialist - so they are leftists or communists- as leftists they are akin to liberals - so in effect Nazi’s are Liberals. An absurd ideas that the right likes to promote. If you are inclined to believe Glenn Beck are you ever going to visit a web site that calls that into question?
There are the half truths. Where we get edited information. Edited to provide an opposite account to what actually happened. Again Beck is the example he hosted a gentleman that claims the congress of the United States order bibles printed for schools. This is part of an ongoing attempt to remedy the idea of the separation of church and state in a favourable manner for the church. The full rebuttal can be found at Talk To Action. In effect they use of selected exerts edited to provide support for a position that the original documents in no way support. How likely is it that anyone that listens the Glenn Beck is going to find this information? Your guess is as good as mine, but I’m pessimistic.
I don’t know what kind of solution is available. Maybe we could set an age limit on the Internet. Just kidding. It is clear to me that the better educated you are the more tools you have to shift through the bullshit. There is no guarantee that you will, but if you want to you can.
The Internet must remain free, despite the short comings inherent with a mostly anything goes policy. I will put my hope in education and the increasing sophistication of the Internet user. But I think that the war on facts will be a long one and closer than it should be. In the end we win.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Only a Difference in Details?

Do you ever wonder why politics is so partisan if everyone has our best interests in mind? It has everything to do with how you arrive at a given point. All ideologies even extreme ones like Fascism or Communism and maybe Libertarianism promise a better existence. The worst require a complete reset what can be considered normal moral and ethical values or a return to some unworkable or idealized past. Conservatism, Liberalism and Democratic Socialism occupy the main stream and make the offer of a better life without a massive overhaul of our present system.
I will place liberals in the centre, the conservatives to the right and socialists to the left. In their modern form there is a moderate amount of overlap. We really don't have much of a difference in political and social values. The mainstream political ideologies all support the major rights like free speech, freedom of the press, freedom from discrimination and universal suffrage. Sure as you get to the fringes the voices are more shrill but recent history suggest that parties play to this base but will not legislate for them. It is fair to say that we have settled the big questions concerning the rights of citizens that had been in play for the past two centuries. Liberals and conservatives of the eighteenth and nineteenth century would barely resemble those of today. The only traits that have carried forward are evident in their names. Conservative seek to restrain change to a manageable amount and preserve the social order. Liberals are more inclined to work with and encourage change. Socialism is a new comer to the scene and shares with Liberalism the ideas of social reform but differ on issues of economics.
This brings us to the point of divergence. The point of how we get from there to here.
If conservatives have grudgingly given way on rights issues, they remain steadfast in terms of economic liberty,(where rights effect economic liberty conservative will take the side of commerce). Conservatives champion the intersts of business as a means of creating a better Canada. It is a fair position to take, more money represents more oppurtunity. It is also fair to say, as conservatives do, that economies are so complex that governments tend to cause problems when they over manage. Competition is the theme. Competition creates better everything. The flip side of this that it creates winners and losers. This matters less when applied to companies and much, much more when applied to citizens. When people lose it means a hard life, less oppurtunity for themselves and their children. In the free market you need three things to win talent, determination and luck. One your born with, one you can learn and the last is out of your hands. Would Bill Gates have become a billionaire if he was born in a first world slum or a third world country? I have no idea and neither do you. The problem isn't that the free market doesn't work. The problem is that it's not as "free" as conservatives would have you believe. Where you ended up has a lot to do with where you start, talent aside. The better fed you are, a stable and secure your homelife, the better education you recieve all tilt the table in favour of success. These are just some of the factors that determine achievement but they all have an economic component. Now conservatives either don't realize that money plays a role in success or they don't want to talk about it.
This is one of the reasons conservatism does not appeal to me. How can I support an ideology that knows money matters yet pretends that it doesn't.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Blockade

Israel intercepted a group of ships headed to Gaza with relief aid and lives were lost. That is enough to set everyone with an interest either direct or peripheral to their blogs, twitter accounts and streets. I'm a lagging behind but will give my opinion on the issue. The first thing i wanted to know was whether the blockade is legal. The United Nations Charter section section 7 deals with acts of aggression and threats to peace. Article 42 of that section recognizes that blockades may be imposed on offending members. When I read this section the implication was that any action must be approved by the security council, the Israeli action is not sanctioned by the U.N.. I found story in Reuters that answered the question a little better. I will not assume that this piece is part of an agenda aimed at legitimizing Israel's action in the Eastern Mediterranean, but i will leave open the possibility that all the questions needed to be asked in order to assess the legality may not have been posed. The questions that were asked an answered in this article do address the legality of the blockade in terms of international law and treaty (excluding the U.N.).
It is reasonable that when a state of war exists between two nations that blockades maybe imposed. It may be undeclared but a state of war does exist between Israel and Hamas(Gaza). Hamas attacks Israel with rockets on a routine basis. These attacks damage property and rarely take lives, but they are attacks by one state on another, however ineffectual. This provides Israel with the choice of whether to act and how. Mostly Israel will reply in kind. Last year they replied with disproportional force resulting in 1300 Palestinian deaths. Hamas takes this chance every time they fire a home made rocket. Hamas can goad Israel into action but once initiated it's out of their hands.
In an effort to control the influx of material used to make weapons Israel initiated a full blockade of Gaza. It is not quite complete. The border with Egypt is more or less porous depending on the mood of the Egyptians. The upshot is that everything that goes into Gaza must go through Israel. This puts Israel in complete control of Gaza, and responsible for the conditions found therein. Yes Hamas is the architect of this situation, but like the rockets, after helping to create this circumstance they immediately lost control of process. Since Israel is in control of Gaza they are responsible for the conditions found inside Gaza. This may be unfair to Israel, since their stated aim was to reduce to zero the rocket attacks, not the occupation of Gaza. Unfair or not Israel is running the show deny it all you want.
Having a legal right to engaged in the blockade does not confer on you the right to do as you please, proportionality matters to the legitimacy of any given action. Though they live under almost complete control of a foreign power in most ways that matter, Gaza isn't starving, even if life is very hard.