Monday, March 30, 2009

NAFTA - letting the cat out of the bag

Stephen Harper indulged in a bit of a mixed metaphor during his interview with Chris Wallace -- implicitly acknowledging that NAFTA wouldn't fly with Canadians if we were negotiating it today:
WALLACE: Finally, briefly, if I may, sir, candidate Obama talked a lot last year about reopening NAFTA, renegotiating our trade agreements. Now that he is President Obama, has there been any serious move in that direction?
HARPER: Well, what President Obama said to me is he's concerned about the labor and environmental aspects. Those were side agreements in the original NAFTA agreement. He'd like to see ways that those are more comprehensively incorporated into the main body of NAFTA.
We're not [opposed]* to doing that, provided we don't open the whole package, because I think it would be hard to ever put — ever get the cat back in the bag if we tried to renegotiate the thing.
Once that cat is out, he ain't goin' back...

*note that the transcript said "we're not closed (ph) to doing that " but in the context, I think it is probable that Harper actually said "we're not opposed to doing that"

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Great line of the day

Bob Cesca pinpoints the stupidity of wingnuts who wanted to negate Earth Hour by turning on all their lights:
. . . crank up your utility bills if it'll make you happy, wingnuts. It's your money.

The Earth Hour website also has photos and video about last night's event around the world.

One for one

Ending two-for-one sentencing credit may be controversial but anything that attempts to remove artificial distortions from the justice system is likely a good thing.
One of the rationales for "crediting" convicted prisoners with more time from their remand time is that people in remand centres have no access to rehablitation, counselling or recreation programs. So, the solution to that is to provide remand centres with rehabilitation, counselling and recreation programs. Another rationale is that prisons will be more crowded if sentences are longer. So, I guess we'll have to build more prisons. The stupidest reason I've heard for not passing this law is that it removes judicial discretion. Huh? The two-for-one sentencing credit wasn't discretionary either. And don't most of our laws already specify a particular sentencing range for a particular crime? But the best reason for removing the credit is that apparently lawyers were starting to use it as an excuse to delay trials and game the system. So, all in all, the credit has to go.

Friday, March 27, 2009


I have been feeling a little more optimistic about the economy lately. But next week is the end of the first quarter of 2009. And Calculated Risk explains why the financial news isn't going to be very good:
A little story ...
Imagine ACME widget company with a steadily growing sales volume (say 5% per year). In the first half of 2008 their sales were running at 100 widgets per year, but in the 2nd half sales fell to a 95 widget per year rate. Not too bad.
ACME's customers are telling the company that they expect to only buy 95 widgets this year, and 95 in 2010. Not good news, but still not too bad for ACME.
But this is a disaster for companies that manufacturer widget making equipment. ACME was steadily buying new widget making equipment over the years, but now they have all the equipment they need for the next two years or longer.
ACME sales fell 5%. But the widget equipment manufacturer's sales could fall to zero, except for replacements and repairs.
And this is what we will see in Q1 2009. Real investment in equipment and software has declined for four straight quarters, including a 28.1% decline (annualized) in Q4. And I expect another huge decline in Q1.
For non-residential investment in structures, the long awaited slump is here. I expect declining investment over a number of quarters (many of these projects are large and take a number of quarters to complete, so the decline in investment could be spread out over a couple of years). And once again, residential investment has declined sharply in Q1 too.
When you add it up, this looks like a significant investment slump in Q1.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

School Daze

The school district does not contest that Ms. Redding had no disciplinary record, but says that is irrelevant.
“Her assertion should not be misread to infer that she never broke school rules,” the district said of Ms. Redding in a brief, “only that she was never caught.”
Whenever we might be tempted to romanticize our school days, we read something like this and the real memories all come rushing back. Gag me with a spoon.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Training Dodge

Cpl. Robinson said he was trained in the use of tasers in 2003, but did not go through refresher training until a month after the incident.
He conceded he was not “current” on tasers at the time of the confrontation, although he said he was able to give direction on using the device"
Sounds to me like the Dziekanski inquiry is going to conclude that RCMP "need more training" on Tasers.
Gee, ya think?

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Great line of the day

From Matt Tabbi's great article in Rolling Stone, The Big Takeover:
AIG is what happens when short, bald managers of otherwise boring financial bureaucracies start seeing Brad Pitt in the mirror.


Can someone please tell me whywe still have Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan? What exactly have they done there in the last seven years that makes the death of four more brave men worthwhile?
The Torch writes:
Soldiers I've spoken with are not of one mind on this issue, and I wouldn't pretend to speak for them in such a situation. But many of them have expressed to me their frustration that the media and public pay attention only to the costs of the mission, and not to what Canadian blood and treasure is accomplishing in Kandahar.
And while I respect this sentiment, I still would like to know what our military has actually accomplished in Afghanistan.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Great line of the day

Lance Mannion writes about not-travelling:
I've never had the time and money to even go sight-seeing abroad, let alone do any exploring, wandering, or abiding. No doubt I'm full of prejudices that need killing by travel. But I've tried to make up for not being able to get to know Mumbai and Shanghai by getting to know the places I happen to be. "I have traveled extensively in Concord," said Henry David Thoreau. I think if you keep your eyes and your ears and your eyes open you see quite a bit of the world in a walk around your own block. I have traveled extensively in Boston and Iowa City and Fort Wayne and Syracuse and I'm trying to travel extensively here in the Hudson Valley. It's a beautiful day. Think I'll take a quick trip around the world down to the post office.
Emphasis mine.
Still, there's something to be said for actually seeing the pyramids, as my sister did last year. Did you know that, in Egypt, dogs treat people as sources of shade? Bet you never read that in the brochure.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

`No room! No room!' they cried

I think we just found ourselves at the Mad Tea Party now.
And there's lots of room for all of us.
Today those great populists Rick Santelli, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh seem to think its perfectly OK for the AIG executives to collect their $165 million in bonuses, while the White House is lying and trying to blame everything on Democratic Senator Chris Dodd, even though it is perfectly clear that the people who should be falling on their swords are Larry Summers and Tim Geithner.
People said last December that Obama would live to regret hiring those two.

The $35 bottle of wine

Back in the late 70s, there was a cabinet minister in British Columbia who had to resign because he went out to a fancy restaurant and put several bottles of $35 wine on his public expense account.
Sure it was a trivial amount, especially compared to what governments spend every day. But the government budget figures are so large they are incomprehensible. A $35 bottle of wine, now THAT we can understand.
The same thing is happening now.
We've had months and months of news about an incomprehensible economic crisis with incomprehensible numbers being bandied about, so large that they are impossible for average people to understand -- 40 billion here, 300 billion and 900 billion in the United States -- we just can't wrap our heads around numbers that large.
But $165 million? Well, yes, its a large number, but its only two or three times larger than some of the recent lottery jackpots. So THAT is now a number that people can understand.
And since Jon Stewart told everybody they had a right to be angry, AIG is reaping the whirlwind.
Couldn't have happened to a more deserving bunch, either.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How are we supposed to know?

I find this kind of story extremely confusing.
If Canada's nuclear industry is able to sell several new reactors and make billions of dollars and create lots of jobs, then firing Linda Keen to clear the way for the Nuclear Safety Commission to pre-approve new reactors would turn out to be the best move the Harper government ever made.
If instead there is a horrible nuclear accident because the reactors aren't safe because the Nuclear Safety Commission didn't know what it was approving, then firing Linda Keen was the worst mistake the Harper government ever made.
Of course, perhaps both things could happen. Or neither.
So how do we know? Maybe all we can do it look at the Canadian track record.
As a general rule, I think Canada has found that political decisions have turned out to be bad decisions if they were based on an ideological agenda rather than on non-ideological evaluation.
So if changing Nuclear Safety Commission policy to allow pre-approval of new reactors was based on sound science that fuddy-duddy Keen was too obstructive to grasp, then OK.
But if the policy change was just based on a kneejerk pro-business anti-regulation ideology, then watch out.
And I think Greg Weston is a little worried, too:
According to its own bumpf, commission staff conducting last year's review were able to determine “at a high level” that the new Candu design meets Canadian codes and regulations for safety, performance and quality assurance.
What seemed odd is that last month, long after the review was done, the commission issued a contract for staff training on “regulations and associated codes and standards applicable to the construction of new nuclear facilities including those types that have never been built before in Canada such as ACR-1000...”

The Pottery Barn Rule

I see a lot of talk on the internets about how this recession should be blamed on the Bush Administration and their criminal greediness and lack of market regulation, and how unfair it is to blame this on the Obama who's only trying to fix everything.
But a couple of more incidents like this one, where Obama's people are running around saying mealy-mouthed things about how they really can't do anything to control Wall Street greed, and Obama will be wearing this recession around his own neck.
You break it, you buy it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Send in the clowns

Jon Stewart is a comedian, but it was Jim Cramer who was the clown tonight.
And for a guy who is side-splittingly funny, Steward seems to be taking on the Carlin role of our last angry man.
A couple of years ago, Stewart got outraged at CNN and MSNBC about how their anecdotal horse race coverage trivialized politics while boys were dying in a needless war.
Now Stewart is angry about the financial meltdown. And he's getting outraged at the financial press, like CNBC, because years and years of their pandering brownnosing Wall Streer coverage allowed a bunch of crooks and thieves to loot our retirement funds and then blame it on people who are now living in tents.
Stewart's Cramer interview tonight demonstrated that Stewart has thought deeply about what had gone wrong with America's financial system and with the financial reporting which was supposed to have alerted everyone to the danger. And Jim Cramer hasn't thought about it at all. So Cramer had a hard time explaining both his own actions and the generally smarmy tone of the whole financial press.
Towards the end, Cramer finally started to show some humanity and humility.
Now, don't get me wrong -- he still wasn't angry about what Jon Stewart is angry about -- Cramer didn't seem to be shedding a tear for the millions of people devastated by the financial meltdown.
But at least he showed a glimmer of real emotion when he talked about his feelings of betrayal, because the CEOs and financial managers he had thought were his friends had come on his show and lied to him.

"We don't like this kind of thinking anymore"

Tweety said a remarkable thing::

He's arguing with Ari Fleisher, who starts in with the "Bush kept us safe" mantra, and Tweety points out that "We were attacked on your watch". So Fleisher gets all outraged, and starts in with the "Saddam was a threat" mantra, saying "After Sept 11, how can we take the chance that Saddam might not strike again?"
And Tweety cuts him off at the knees: "I'm happier we no longer have an administration who will use that type of argument; we don't like this kind of thinking anymore in this country."
Fleisher fades to black, looking like he just bit into a very sour dill.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The washing machine? How about the computer!

There's a new article out that argues that the washing machine "liberated" women.
That's silly. Sure, the automatic washer saved hours of labour per week -- but very often that labour was performed not by wives but by landresses or at laundries.
Doesn't anyone remember the "shirt laundry" anymore? I used to work at one.
Nope, it was the computer that turned everybody into their own secretary.
And without the easy, mindnumbing seduction of readily-available typing pool jobs, millions of women found they could learn more than typing and do more than sit at a desk and handle somebody else's letters -- and earn a lot more in the process.
And with birth control, women could hang on to those good jobs, too.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Dream on

Apparently a bunch of American rightwingers are going to pressure Obama to lower their taxes by "going Galt" and stopping doing any work.
Well, we can always dream.

Now gimme money!

Apparently the US banking industry is down the tubes and the Obama administration is secretly trying to save it without going back to Congress or telling anybody what they're doing -- all it all, it sounds like credit default swaps actually will cause the end of civilization as we know it.
But you know, here's the thing -- it wasn't just accidental bad luck, everybody got carried away and then the bubble burst, how sad, but nobody could have predicted...
No, there was illegality here. There was lying here. There was fraud and stealing and malice aforethought -- lots and lots of it. These bankers didn't just fritter away millions of dollars by accident, they stole it, or tried to steal it.
They didn't just make a few mistakes, there was wholesale fraud, here, so that bankers and their friends could make more money.
Now, I have no idea how they did it -- who can understand all these derivatives and asset mixes and triple-A credit ratings for the big shitpile. And that's the problem -- even if it gets investigated, these bankers will all walk. I don't think any of them will ever go to jail.
Their crimes are too complicated, too complex, too difficult for a judge or a jury to understand.
No prosecutor except Patrick Fitzgerald would even consider taking them on.
And I don't think even Lord Black would ever have been convicted, except for the video of him sneaking his boxes out the door.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Great line of the day

Via Atrios, here is A Blog Named Sue:
You know, in every movie I've seen about the end of the world, civilization collapses because of something wicked cool happening - an asteroid hits, nuclear war, a supervirus, an ape revolution, whatever. If civilization collapses over credit default swaps I am going to be pissed.
Emphasis mine.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Square Root day

Damn -- I missed Square Root Day this year (though we did experience a strange hunger for parsnips and carrots!). Now there won't be another one until April 4, 2016.
But Pi Day is coming up next week!

Living in a dictatorship

In view of the Bush V Constitution memos, Avedon Carol makes a thoughtful point:
. . . it is perfectly possible to be living in a dictatorship and not experience it as such as long as you are either uninvolved in politics or are a genuine supporter of the regime. . . . in a free country, you don't prevent pacifists from getting on airplanes because you're trying to prevent terrorists from flying, and you don't refuse entry into the country to journalists from friendly nations. Neither do you incarcerate people for lengthy periods without trial, let alone torture them. Saddam was a dictator, but many Iraqis went about their daily business without encountering any trouble with him and his government. Millions of Soviet citizens did the same under the USSR, but that wasn't a free country, either. Pretending that nothing is wrong because you don't personally know any of the people who are being abused this way does not provide evidence that the country you live in is, in fact, free.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Bring the Jubilee

I once read a book called Bring the Jubilee, which was an "alternative history" of the United States from 1864 to approximately 1930 about what happened after the South won the Civil War.
Now Lance Mannion brings us up to date:
As fast as they can the Republicans are erasing the Presidency of George W. Bush from their official history, just as they've pretty much written Richard Nixon out of it and written out Republican isolationism and pro-fascist sentiment in the years leading up to World War II. They still aren't sure what to do with Joe McCarthy. They'd probably like to make him a non-person too but that darn Ann Coulter is so cute when she talks about what a hero Tail-gunner Joe was you just have to think she has a point.
For going on seventy years the National Republican Party has consoled itself, sustained itself, and kept itself alive by telling itself and anyone who will listen an alternative history of the United States. In this alternative history the New Deal didn't do any good at all, the Cold War was fought and won entirely by super-patriotic Republicans, welfare not racism or systemic poverty destroyed the African-American family, anyway racism ended when Martin Luther King's birthday became a national holiday (alternative to the alternative: racism ended with the election of Barack Obama), the 1960s are the root of all evil, the hippies and the liberals lost the War in Vietnam, 9/11 was Bill Clinton's fault, the financial crisis was Bill Clinton's fault, Barack Obama is turning America into a socialist dictatorship.
If people who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it, what are these people going to repeat?

Monday, March 02, 2009

Great line of the day

POGGE writes
If the pundit you're reading seems more concerned with the effect the economic crisis is having on an ideology than with the effect the economic crisis is having on actual human beings then the pundit you're reading is irrelevant. Or should be.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

The more you know

Well, well -- turns out the Santelli rant was a set up and CNBC was scammed.
Yes, Virginia, there really is a vast right wing conspiracy. Turns out the anti-Obama "Chicago Tea Party" has been planned since last summer.
I wonder how Olbermann will handle this on Monday?

Great line of the day

The Province editorializes against the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association both trying to muscle the Dziekanski inquiry:
For the police to come out now and boldly suggest more Tasers are needed is, at once, bullying, egregious and insensitive.