Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Staring down tough economic times, getting with the strengths

When the going gets tough it is probably time to play the strengths, or so Prime Minister Rudd seems to believe. The ‘service economy’ approach was a key factor of neo-liberal economics, with participating economies dumping manufacturing and agriculture in favour of intangibles.

The downside of this approach has been the lack of originality in favour of a follow the leader approach. At best it simply changed international competition from tangible to non-tangible products. At worst the ‘Simon says’ approach led economies lemming-like to global financial disaster.

= Disaster training and research
= Housing former
Guantanamo Bay inmates
= Contracting military training

Recognizing competitive advantages and breaking from the pack should be a core marketing perquisite, though it rarely is. Rudd is adopting the approach and has already signaled the first two initiatives on the list. The third I propose as a logical extension of playing Australia’s strengths.

Disaster training and research

Australia's neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region face an era of "mega-disasters" affecting hundreds of thousands of people as urbanisation, climate change and food shortages amplify the impact of natural catastrophes such as earthquakes and cyclones in coming years…” Disasters warning for Asia-Pacific

Maybe it is the harsh environment in Australia, but the country’s emergency response ability is almost legendary, and largely based on the enthusiasm of volunteers. There is a major market for these skills, right on our doorstep. We are generally first in, in this region, but getting in first as a service provider is a brilliant concept.

Housing former Guantanamo Bay inmates

"Australia, along with a number of other countries, has been approached to consider resettling detainees from Guantanamo Bay," the Prime Minister's spokesman said. Kevin Rudd may take Gitmo inmates

Okay, it sounds like buying trouble, but that is assuming a lot without seeing the detail. "Any determination for an individual to come to Australia would be made on a case-by-case basis. All persons accepted to come to Australia would have to meet Australia's strict legal requirements and go through the normal and extremely rigorous assessment processes."

Is the aim to allow residency to rebuild lives or just stick them in local prisons? About 60 detainees have been cleared for release by US authorities but are unable to return to their homelands because they fear retribution. I’ve already reflected on Australia’s ability to absorb a diversity of cultures (The compleat hedonist or Xmas was a cracker ) and can actually see this plan working – with the US footing the bill of course.

Contracting military training

"… you get better soldiers if you spend more time on education and less on training," he says. "Training is characterised by what to think. Education is characterised by how to think." Brigadier General John Caligari – Australian Army

I had problems with this as a non-militarist, but the realist part of me won out. The relatively small size of the Australian standing military is more than offset by the notable efficiency of our troops. Partly that is due to the training regime and partly the underlying national character.

To my way of thinking Rudd should be on the phone to Obama the day after inauguration, selling the new president on an Aussie based training regime for the US military. The US will always want to be front line, but events are showing us they could perform a hell of a lot better.

Australia offers an incredible range of training terrain and environments as well as a proven approach. I suspect we lose more diggers when our SAS are unengaged than on any battlefield; but SAS are the small but vital aggressive portion of our military, and being idle does not suit them well.

The bottom line is that there are things Aussies do remarkably well, and these should be our international marketing focus. Each of these three concepts actually offers the prospect of greater peace and security on a troubled planet as well an economic boost in troubled times.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Dishonesty is still the hallmark of neo-conservatives

Most assuredly one would not seek out commentary from the economic right, the likes of Human Events.com (Headquarters of the Conservative Underground…), still these commentators tend to popup from time to time. Unfortunately the only thing they add to economic debate is transparent dishonesty.

“Only a couple of weeks ago, Canada’s Conservative government was headed for defeat because of its steadfast opposition to rewarding epic failures with cash prizes -- more commonly known as “bailouts”.

“Harper’s opposition to bailouts has been the message all along, until this recent wavering. Canadian banks were made to do without -- and rightfully so.” Rachel Marsden

First up, what the Harper government did offer, as did Aussie PM Rudd, were lending insurance backstops. "Our actions will help Canadian financial institutions secure access to longer-term funds so that they can continue lending to consumers, homebuyers and businesses in Canada," says Canada’s finance minister.

The BIG LIE from commentators of the ilk of Ms Marsden is that the leaders they tend to support, Bush, Harper and the former Aussie PM Howard, have proven consistent supporters pf corporate welfare; while happily leaving the rest of the community out to dry.

In the lead up to his PM bid Stephen Harper vowed that a Conservative government would "get out of the grants and subsidies game." But once he became Prime Minister, he started handing out money - to Pratt & Whitney, Alcan, Bombardier, Research in Motion, Hyundai, General Motors, Ford and Magna. and other industrial giants.

In 2007 his government provided a $900-million aid package for Canada's aerospace industry, with most of the money going to businesses in the politically key province of Quebec. Like the bush subsidies these were part of the cost of corporate electoral support – a cost worn by everyone.

Oddly I’m at one with Ms Marsden’s central premise, the inappropriateness of the auto bailout, particularly in the absence of any real recovery plan. What I object to is the tendency to target blame away from all the pointer arrows. The reality is that our societies, our economies, will always have a socialist element. What matters after that is the social balance.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Hold the line, Sol is here

Sol Trujillo was appointed Telstra's CEO on July 1, 2005 after stints like President, chairman and CEO of U S WEST Communications, Inc. Telstra was the publicly owned phone company in Australia, until it was sold off by John Howard as another asset plunder.

Telstra and its previous incarnations, including the Post Master General’s Department, have owned the copper wire infrastructure in Australia, so have always had a massive competitive advantage.

As we try to develop a 21st century broadband network in Australia Telstra and Trujillo are still trying to leverage that advantage; particularly the cost savings of a central fibre-optic network which relies on “last mile copper connection” to deliver internet services to homes and businesses.

“Telstra's exclusion from the competitive process established by the Federal Government to build a national broadband network is another example of how Sol Trujillo and his team have consistently misread two governments.” SMH

Sol has consistently tried to stare down governments and parliament on a range of communications issues; he has consistently lost. But hang on, now his supporters are accusing anyone who critisises him of xenophobia. You see, poor Sol is a bloody American.

Personally I don’t give a damn where he comes from, I’m only concerned about his performance. In fact I doubt any of my regular readers would accuse me of any particular anti-American sentiments. But when we face a barrier like this to a broadband network:

Telstra is not contemplating legally challenging its exclusion yet, but if and when a broadband roll-out by one of the three other groups bidding for the job gets the nod, it will probably go to court.
… Telstra can argue that its existing copper network should not be piggybacked by the new fibre (as all projects will), and that it should not be prevented from building an alternative network.”

Along with many others I objected to the sale of Telstra, and more particularly of the infrastructure. The privatized unit has not served us well and obviously intends to continue with that record of performance.

I’d just like to say I don’t look at nationalities when I critisise performance; I don’t care about antecedents when I say “ah sol…” Enough of the bullshit, let’s have some sensible resolution to the development of communication needs.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Bush Prepares Crisis Briefings to Aid Obama

Bush Prepares Crisis Briefings to Aid Obama

We know “a catastrophic attack could occur with little or no notice”, but can Obama duck flying shoes as nimbly as Dublya?

Ok, so George sort of screwed things up a bit, generated a few enemies. But if he’d just get off the stage now the world might start to return to normal insanity.

I wonder in Vlad Putin can slam a shoes as well as Nikita did?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Treat the children well

Australia, Canada and Ireland have been lashed in a UNICEF report, The Child Care Transition. Using 10 benchmarks, including the amount of GDP spent on early childhood services, the availability of paid parental leave and the subsidies provided for childcare and education, the report ranks Mexico, Slovenia and Portugal higher than the three welfare economies.

Britain didn’t fare well either, but is so far the only country making a song and dance: British Children's Minister, Beverley Hughes, has written an official letter of complaint to UNICEF describing the report as poor with many inaccuracies, saying it has misrepresented the British position and querying whether it has also misrepresented the situation of some of the other 24 countries covered.

Canada’s leaders are too busy playing politics to notice and Australia’s leadership can conveniently blame a decade of John Howard. Australia meets just two benchmarks, accreditation for early learning staff and the provision of subsidised childcare services for at least 25 per cent of children under three.

Oh, and the USA just pipped Australia on the list. The report can be downloaded here: UNICEF

Reflection

Having experienced my early years in a society still scarred by the terrors of war I couldn’t help but reflect how far mores have shifted over half a century. I still regard myself fortunate that my first ten years were spent within commuting distance of Sydney yet in splendid isolation on the banks of the Port Hacking River.

The hamlet of my childhood probably numbered fewer than fifty souls to start with, rising to several hundred in the end. The community was stretched along several miles of road with a glorious, sandy river on one side and an untouched portion of national park on the other.

Our shack was hardly spacious, but seemed to accommodate seven of us with little real trouble. The fact is, at least me and my brothers were more drawn to the outdoors attractions, swimming, fishing, exploring, climbing rocks and trees, all that boy stuff. If pater familias was on the violent side we were in pig heaven outside.

A one room primary school was another delight. By the time I reached grade 3 an infants teacher was added, but I missed the plastercine and building blocks, instead absorbing an early introduction to the full primary school scope. I can still recall the sense of wonder and excitement during that accelerated learning time.

It was a wondrous period in my life, though as the picture shows on inspection, not short on domestic violence. I find that horrifying now, but it was simply the way it was back then. I have alluded to the horrors of war and recall the often whispered justifications. UNICEF certainly would not have been amused.

The picture, on close inspection [a sorta bigger image], shows the ravages of domestic violence. Not on me I should add. I’m the cheeky coot holding the flag at the local boys club (third from the right) , from which my father had banned me because he believed it was a communist plot. Fortunately others in the community were encouraging and I don’t recall any fallout from my entry into the world of gymnastics.

It wasn’t until we moved from that hamlet to the inner city I realised, or was made to realise, I had been living in a world of poverty. We had no power to out home, no running water and our bath in the yard was filled from pots and buckets from a wood stove. Even worse was my clothes suddenly had buttons, my shoes laces.

I guess the point is, everything is relative. In those early years, brutal at times, I enjoyed privileges few others can even contemplate. The gymnastics stayed with me for many years, but also a love of poetry and literature absorbed from that one teacher trying to infuse education into a full primary age range in one hit. I expect he overshot the mark and I than him still.

When I did move to a big city school my deficits weren’t education, they were dirty fingernails, untidy dressing and not having a handkerchief. Unlike the city kids I could swim before I could walk and would still prefer to walk rather than ride.

My childhood would no doubt be regarded as underprivileged by some, including UNICEF. Somehow I think the problem is more related to artificial social standards than a real recognition of issues of childhood development.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A week is a long time in politics

Canada's Liberal Party has a new leader following the last week’s abortive coalition attempt by Stephan Dion. Michael Ignatieff has been anointed, following the withdrawal of his main opponent Bob Rae. The party is now furiously searching for a mechanism to legitamise the arrangement.

This time last week the minority Harper government was facing down a non-confidence challenge in parliament and replacement by a coalition of opposition parties. The weak link was the patchy performance of Dion, undermining any real confidence in the effort.

According to reports Ignatieff is not in favour of the coalition concept, though there has been no reference to his possible stand on a non-confidence vote when parliament resumes in late January. Despite convincing the Governor General to prorogue parliament before an early vote could be taken Harper the underlying issues are still to be addressed.

Stimulus

Last week’s crisis began when the Harper government elected to attack the opposition parties, rather than the looming economic crisis, in budget proposals it was putting forward. One of the trigger issues was a move to cut the public funding of election campaigns. Cute, and potentially crippling to other parties, but a sad commentary on the need to circumvent electoral corruption.

But wider than that was the lack of any real stimulus, with proposals that sought dubious spending cuts instead. Now, given seven weeks to come up with an acceptable plan Harper is under pressure to come up with some direction – and failing.

First of all, I think the move by the Bank of Canada [cutting rates] is very significant, and the monetary policy stimulus, the economic stimulus they'll get out of today's announcement, is significant.”

"But no, our assessment is we're going to need additional fiscal policy action....” Harper Dec 9 2008

It is hard to imagine the author of that statement holding a degree in economics, a ‘do nothing’ approach is hardly what the country needs right now. Still, he welcomed the elevation of Ignatieff to Liberal leadership, offering that he will meet with him and put forward economic stimulus proposals for the government to consider.

Diane Francis of the Financial Post had no problem coming up with a few key economic directions. Current Liberal finance critic Scott Brison cited Statistics Canada's report that almost 71,000 Canadians lost jobs in November, the largest single-month drop in 26 years. He might also consider the relatively low wage structures of remaining jobs.

Fresh elections?

Unless Harper seriously turns his mind to matters economic his government will still face the wrath of parliament early in the new year. Coalition or not, if Harper is dumped a fresh election will follow, probably in early spring. This gives Ignatieff’s team a double job over the break.

First is to formulate a strong economic statement, behind the scenes, ready to deliver when the crunch comes. One reason I would be opposed to feeding a program to Harper is the tendency want to piss in the corner and skew any effective plan out of recognition. When Ignatieff moves it must be with a strong base.

The second thing I would do, given that most of the developed world are going to have a miserable Xmas, is to keep reminding the country of just where Harper’s government has put them. To be sure, it is a global problem, but Harper has shown no great gift for resolving Canada’s stresses.

A week is a long time in politics, seven weeks is an eternity! The Liberals have an enviable economic record and now need to use every moment of this time to position themselves for government.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Politicians, Moody’s – Standard & Poors

“These errors make us look either incompetent at credit analysis or like we sold our soul to the devil for revenue, or a little bit of both.” A Moody’s managing director [Debt Watchdogs: Tamed or Caught Napping?]

There is no real reason most of us would ever know of the existence of the various international credit rating organisations like Moody’s Investors Service, Standard & Poors or Fitch Ratings. They deal with big money, in $billions, but they impact on our lives just the same.

Where they serve us little guys is by keeping a reign on the big guys, or that’s the theory until the reality began to unravel. Now these agencies stand accused of being substantially responsible for the subprime collapse.

The way it worked was that subprime mortgages were bundled up with other forms of debt into what are elegantly known as CDOs (collateralised debt obligations), each worth maybe hundreds of millions of dollars and paying an attractive rate of interest.

New South Wales

Back in September the Premier of NSW resigned, as did his treasurer Michael Costa. Both had been involved in a drawn out effort to sell off public assets, so desperate that towards the end they were using threats of credit downgrades by these ratings agencies.

There are now doubts that those threats held any substance, but veracity rarely matters when really big sticks are waved around. Regardless, there was no great enthusiasm for selling off our energy infrastructure, just as there is no enthusiasm outside the government to now sell other assets.

Like the ratings company executives our politicians must be seen as being vulnerable to greed. So what is to be achieved by selling assets? From past experience, at the very least well paid consultancies, if not even more valuable appointments.

So where does NSW stand on credit?

NSW has a debt-to-revenue ratio of less than 40 per cent. In comparison, the Germany state of Baden-Wurttemberg, also rated AAA, has a ratio higher than 150 per cent. The state’s finance are in a much better position than, for example, some Canadian provinces or many European regional governments.

Our real problems must sheet back to poor administration and a weak opposition, they all seem like second rate amateurs. Prior to last financial year, NSW households had long enjoyed the highest level of disposable income in the country, with the exception of the ACT. Someone recently suggested that the federal government appoint an administrator for this sick state, and I agree whole-heartedly.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Peace and Goodwill? Not in our parliaments

A government has opted to run and hide over the Christmas season, rather than face a hostile parliament. An opposition ends the year in disarray, its leadership failing to hold the respect of its own or of the government. A parliament seemingly peopled by members prone to verbal, physical and sexual abuse – across party lines.

Three parliaments in two countries, ensuring goodwill is not part of the Christmas spirit:

Canada

With barely a 38% of the national vote PM Harper chose to bulldoze his way through a hostile parliament this week. Challenged with a potential loss of power, via a non-confidence vote of parliament, Harper sought the option of proroguing parliament until early next year.

With due respect to the Canadian Governor General, Michaëlle Jean, who approved the move, I personally find the precedent disturbing. The first point I take issue with is usurping of the will of the parliament by this dubious manoeuvre. The second point is that in the cloudy arena a Westminster tradition the Canadian decision creates a worrying precedent across Commonwealth parliamentary systems. Peace, order and good government

Fortunately constitutional crisis across the Commonwealth are few and far between, which makes their mode of resolution particularly vital well beyond the jurisdiction where the decision is made.

To my mind, in a parliamentary democracy, the will of the majority of elected members is paramount. Harper should have been required face the house and let the votes fall as they will. Instead there will now be seven weeks of speculation, intrigue and jockeying, wasting valuable time and energy needed to address growing economic concerns.

Australia – federal

The Aussie federal opposition is now under the control of would be strong many, Malcolm Turnbull. This former merchant banker might be well versed in running a business enterprise, but seems inadequate to the task of managing a political party, or two for that matter.

The federal opposition is a coalition of Liberals and Nationals, conservative in nature. Turnbull is a relative new comer to parliament, and shows it in his disregard for the powerful emotional and intellectual forces of the place. He managed to visit an number of major gaffes in the dying days of the current sitting.

It is summertime here, just entering the holiday season, and the Rudd government had no need to prorogue parliament like their Canadian counterparts. But the final days of sitting did require cleaning up the legislative leftovers. Turnbulls first gaffe was to force shadow colleagues to change stance on some key bills. Having achieved that step he assumed his parliamentary colleagues would simply follow suit, instead he managed to split his team three ways.

His second gaffe was in response to a Rudd government statement on security. Turnbull told parliament : Turnbull said Australia had to "work energetically through our international partnerships with our major allies - the US, Japan, China, Indonesia, India - and of course our kindred allies, our historically closest allies, such as New Zealand, the UK and Canada."

The leader of the country’s opposition, it seems, simply doesn’t understand the language of international protocol. "China is a long-term friend of Australia; the US, by contrast, has been, for more than half a century, an ally of Australia. That's a term which has a specific definition as a military alliance containing reciprocal defence obligations.”

Australia – NSW

The lower house of the NSW state parliament is not called the bear pit for nothing, in fact both houses rank among the most robust, if crude, parliamentary performers on the planet. They ended the year in fitting style when yet another prominent member was punished for untoward behaviour.

National Party MP Andrew Fraser was sacked as an opposition spokesman after ‘shoving’ a female colleague during an incident on the floor of the house. He also faces further sanctions for yelling at the Government's leader of the house, John Aquilina during the incident. Fraser is just one in a long list of MPs, government and opposition, who have failed basic decency criteria this year.

More worrying is that through all this the government managed to slip two reprehensible measures through in the dying days of parliament, both self serving to this poor excuse for government. The first was a sop to two members of the upper house, both with the rump Shooters Party.

Under an amendment to the Domestic Violence Act, successfully introduced by the NSW Shooters party on Thursday, men who have previously been the subject of apprehended violence orders that have expired will be able to have the orders revoked so they can regain gun licences. Good one NSW!

The second odious measure allows NSW Lotteries products including Saturday Lotto, Powerball and Oz Lotto and other gambling games to be sold 24/7 by phone or internet. NSW already has one of the worlds highest gambling rates, with tougher economic times surely less rather than more temptation is needed.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Canada’s Constitutional Conundrum

PM Harper as bound to overstep the mark sooner or later. Despite his training as an economist Harper has shown a greater regard for the practice of political thuggery, ignoring global crisis to create his own.

The crisis he has created has plunged the country in relatively uncharted waters, but only relatively. The splintered, albeit majority, opposition have worn Harper’s bulldozer tactics long enough. This week they released an open letter to the Governor General, Michaelle Jean:

Today we respectfully inform the Governor General that, as soon as the appropriate opportunity arises, she should call on the Leader of the Official Opposition to form a new government, supported as set out in the accompanying accords by all three of our parties.
from Dion [Lib] to the Governor General | from Layton [NDP] to the Governor General

Constitutional crisis?
Britain's constitution is part written in statutes and partly maintained through custom and convention. Commonwealth countries generally do have written constitutions, though provisions related to the powers of the monarchy, and by extension the governor’s general, are hazy at best.

The Canadian crisis is not the first instance in a commonwealth country; the most striking former example being in Australia in 1975. In that case the GG fearing being sacked by the PM, Gough Whitlam, jumped first and dismissed the Whitlam government.

Sure there were questions of constitutional propriety of installing the opposition as government. A fresh election, confirming public support for a change of government, soon smothered further enquiry. While questions are arise on these hazy extra-constitutional questions the issues are rarely addressed beyond ‘expert’ chatter.

The vexing questions giving rise to the constitutional crisis claims include: Can the GG sack a serving prime minister and government? Conversely can a PM sack a GG? If the first can the GG appoint a new PM from the existing house or must the house go to election?

Canada, like Australia, is essentially a parliamentary democracy the individual elected members should have precedence over political parties. Convention holds that where there is no majority party after an election the party with the most reps should be asked to form a minority government.

That is the current Canadian situation, with the added dynamic that the current government apparently cannot ensure the confidence and support of a majority of MPs. As with the Australian situation in 1975 that situation can become untenable if supply bills are blocked by a hostile parliament. Those bills allocate the money to run government.

We know from that episode that a GG can sack a PM, what we don’t know is how that action would stand up to the scrutiny of the courts. No one has yet tested it. We know the Aussie GG of the time acted to avoid the PM sack. Again, we have no idea how this would stand the test of a court challenge.

To my mind, the important factor is the will of an elected parliament; that means the individual members. Once voters have elected their representatives those office holders hold a delegated authority.

That does not mean they are bound to the shifting whims of an electorate, they have been given authority to act as they believe is best for the electorate. To do otherwise would require endless consultation with voters, most who have no way of being privy to the intricacies the parliamentary situation.

We have been conned into believing we are voting for a presidential type leader. That is untenable under a Westminster style system. The rigid dominance of the party structure already dilutes democratic principles enough without handing all power to one person.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

News media in permanent decline?

“The publishing sector has continued to be squeezed as readers and advertisers increasingly migrate to the Internet.” E&P

I grew up, one way and another, in the print media sector. I was also an early adopter of the transition to print media electronics, hardly a good move twenty years ago. I’d moved from stringer for one regional newspaper to advertorial writer for another.

The first, the smaller of the two actually initiated the prototype electronic newspaper production which included remote transmission of stories by ‘acoustic coupler’ like the one picture except with a keyboard. Like my first modem these were a lightning fast 2400 bits (baud rate).

For the bigger paper I’d write at home on my trusty Mac LCII, then take floppies to the newsroom after hours and copy and paste onto one of the papers dumb terminals. When I suggested uploading from home of a night the supplement editor suggested I was talking fanciful science fiction and wouldn’t consider it.

Eventually I went to the IT manager and organised a trial, which was obviously successful, but the editor never really accepted that I didn’t just sneak in of a night – clear proof was still too far out there to be acceptable. The media have remained reluctant or incredulous towards the potential of electronic delivery.

The media squeeze

That is perhaps a long illustration of how the media have consistently missed the boat on technology developments. Between a steady diminution of the value of news as news and not entertainment, television he undermined the raison d'etre of newspapers and print news.

The internet is a great delivery medium, but the promise hasn’t been realised. Sure it is de rigueur to have an online version of a newspaper, but that seems more about ‘me tooism’ then developing effective strategies. There have been no effective approach to generating a dedicated internet delivery, at least by the major media.

Now with a major economic crisis and reduced advertising revenues it might be too late for some, electronic or print. While allied communications sectors have created and driven new approaches the once dominant print sector has remained stuck in the past, an easy prey for the alternatives.

For a news junkie the developments, or lack of them, are being monitored with a real sense of dread. The death of the newspaper probably began when accountants and financiers began to take over the industry. Advertising was a license to print money, but they ignored the basic reason news media existed, the reason people subjected themselves to advertising.

With money people running the show the problems are being further compounded by the apparent disregard for readers. Certainly newspapers need to make achieve ROI, however papers aren’t going to sell because they feature ads and gossip, their core business should be delivering news.

In Holiday Season, Some Papers Show Contempt For Readers
Leafing through the season's (slightly) thicker newspapers sends a clear message to readers: You don't matter enough to get "premium positions."

Sadly the newspaper genre seems to be in terminal decline, even sadder so is news delivery. The much heralded citizen journalism is not a bad thing, as part of a proper mix. The problem is that is could become, by default, the new media. It is cheap, enthusiastic, but lacks the industry training and discipline, particularly in style, objectivity and dare I say ethics.

Computers and the internet have the capacity to make everyone designers and writers, as a consequence we are simply seeing more bad design and writing than ever before. Having the capacity does not guarantee ability, as the barely surviving print media are already showing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

No confidence in a power hungry Harper

Canada's Conservative Party, ignoring the economic crisis, have opted for a high stakes gamble to force a fresh election and Conservative majority. Canada’s Prime Minister is known as a man who gets up in the morning with a determination to destroy his political opponents.

Harper's ridiculous act of political brinksmanship has taken an economic crisis and made it into a political crisis. it has encouraged an unprecedented coalition of Liberals and New Democrats. A coalition prepared to take over the reigns of government.

Instead of reaching out, as leader of a minority government and as president-elect Barack Obama is doing by talking to moderate Republicans, he smacked his opponents in the chops.

Instead of heeding the advice of economists everywhere that the economy needs stimulus, he got his Minister of Finance to present a budget that offered cutbacks and tiny surpluses that absolutely no one believes will be realized.

Instead of supporting the fight against political corruption and vote buying they plan to eliminate a $1.95-per-vote annual tax subsidy for political parties. The plan would all but cripple the opposition, while saving the treasury a paltry $30-million.

Faced with Harper’s folly the opposition parties have cobbled several variations of a motion to go to parliament next week. These range from a call to turn the focus back to the economy through to a full on non-confidence motion which:

  • denounces the Conservatives' handling of the economy
  • expresses that the House has lost confidence in the Conservative government
  • expresses that in the opinion of the House, an alternative government can be formed from existing Members of the Parliament

So what would this Liberal led coalition offer in its economic package? According to the party’s finance spokesman Scott Brison measures to be considered would include:

  • an increase and an acceleration of infrastructure measures, with a particular focus on green infrastructure
  • an increase in support for Research and Development measures that can take place in the short-term
  • working with provinces to improve programs for Canadian workers to train and retrain as part of life-long learning to help them cope with current and future economic realities
  • working with manufacturing, forestry and auto sector leaders to develop measures that help strengthen their position during this crisis.

With regards to the auto sector, we would not continue to be a bystander in these important ongoing negotiations in the U.S., seeking to be a more active stakeholder given that Canada represent 14 per cent of the auto industry in North America.

We would also convene an immediate First Ministers conference to partner with provinces to ensure the stimulus comes into effect quickly and makes an impact now in the downturn, but also contributes to greater productivity and prosperity in the future as the global economy recovers.

Curiously, according to recent polling, the majority of Canadians believe the Conservatives are best suited to delivering on the economy. In the face clear evidence that Harper is more concerned about politics than he is about the country’s wellbeing that sentiment might be at risk.

But to give the country confidence in a potential coalition the Liberals must show some real spine and resolve their leadership issues. Even if it goes back to the wider membership in due course the federal caucus and party executive need to bite the bullet in the short term and install workable leadership.

One major display of a country first attitude would surely involve putting ego aside for the sake of wider interests. Any potential coalition must be predicated on the public interest over petty politics.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Regulating the housing market

It should not take a sociology major to determine that adequate, affordable housing is a social imperative. Which makes the proposition of the home as an investment, wealth generation vehicle a dubious development. The resulting housing stress as the ‘free market’ approach to property trading implodes must surely flow on and reduce overall productivity.

Historically, while home owners might have aspired to upgrades, actually clinging to the family home was a clear priority. Even when the home became a commodity, and for much of the 20th century, there was no real change in house prices, measured against the broader economy – at least in western economies.

It was only around 1995 that house prices began to outpace inflation, the greed and speculation coming out of the 1980s finally infected the housing market. The security of the family home is now under threat, subject to increased outside forces and an increasing willingness to risk the house on the promise

At the same time pressure is increasing on rental markets, which had remained more competitive than the purchase sector until recent times. In Australia “vacancy rates in all capital cities have fallen well below the three per cent level which is widely used as a benchmark of fully-utilised supply.” With a consequent creep in rent levels.

The global credit squeeze will no doubt slow down housing speculation. In the long term slowing this trend is not good enough, housing is too important to simply leave to the mercies of market forces. If we want relatively stable economies homes cannot be used as gambling chips.

Perhaps more than any sector of the economy housing needs to be regulated. Certainly there must be an end to no-doc or sub-prime loans; home equity lending needs to be looked at and controlled carefully, as do many of the financial ploys in the market. There might be a sucker born every minute, but the housing market is not the place to test the concept.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Comparison worth celebrating

The Rudd government has just would up its first year in office remarkably blemish free. Contrasted with Howard’s scandal prone administration that seems an incredible achievement. In John Howard’s in shaky first term lost 7 Ministers in various scandals, four of them in the first year.

Arguably Howard set the bar too high from the outset, with his Ministerial Code of Conduct, but he was nothing less than a victim of his own hubris. By contrast the Rudd administration has been virtually invisible, with any attempts by the opposition of generating scandal quickly ignored as petty gestures.

In fact, just prior to the advent of Rudd’s first year in government Howard and his infamous crew were still discussing, justifying or admitting their miserable decade in office. They are still, it seems, willing subjects for a media which thrives on a level of scandal; even if it is old scandal.

There were suggestions that Rudd would reshuffle his ministry during our long Christmas break, making way some overdue rewards. Change is now off the books; why interfere with a team that is working for the government? The anonymity of the current ministry suits Rudd, and it seems suits the Australian people.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Limitations of diversity

I’m inclined to the idea of federal systems of government; they more easily reflect regional diversity. Federal systems can also mitigate against bad policies; innovations tried first in one jurisdiction before spreading nationally. For all that there are a wide diversity in federal models.

I tend to defend the Australian model against perennial attack from the Canberra centralists. Aussie federalism was hammered out in fiery forges of constitutional conventions, ensuring all former colonies retained a fair go regardless of size or economic strength. A favourite point is that the Aussie model prohibits any trade barriers between states.

There are other systems I wonder at, like Canada’s. Interprovincial trade barriers leave the provinces to endlessly negotiate bilateral, trilateral or quadrilateral deals. Canada's constitution prohibits internal tariffs, but it says nothing about non-tariff barriers.

For 130 years, the provinces have erected a spider's web of licensing requirements, product standards and other regulations that protect their own workers and local markets -- at increased costs to consumers and businesses, as well plumbers who simply want to move from one province to the next.

Before a landmark free-trade deal was struck between Alberta and British Columbia last year, an Alberta farmer had to restack the hay on his pickup truck when crossing the provincial border to meet B C hay-stacking regulations. At one time BC’s Campbell government had tried to force Costco and others in Alberta to provide purchase records of BC residents who slipped across the border to shop.

At the same time Alberta’s major windfall from the oil-sands chimera was held jealously for the sole benefit of that province. But now that dream has burst with falling oil prices and general economic gloom that prairie province will soon be dusting off their begging bowl and heading to Ottawa.

Obviously each of the various federal models have shortcomings. National governments consciously use their budgets as a device to "manage" the state of their economies, increasing their spending or cutting their taxes when private sector activity is weak and unemployment is rising, and cutting their spending or increasing taxes when private sector activity is too strong and inflation pressure in rising.

State/provincial governments aren't national governments and what they should do with their budgets during downturns in the economy is different from what national governments should do. That is because, unless duplication can be justified, state/provincial government should be purely in the business of delivering service, they are business managers in effect.

Of course that model works well, though not seamlessly, when there are no trade barriers between these subordinate jurisdictions. Canada, and to a degree the US, have never established that sort of clarity between state and national responsibilities. I expect it makes managing the economy just a touch problematic.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Crown colonies and bloody Bostons

On Nov. 19, 1858, the Crown Colony of British Columbia was created. Happy 150th birthday BC! I fell in love with BC, the place felt like home, albeit the other side of the coin; so many similarities mixed in with the obvious differences.

Having lived for many years around Australia’s Bass Strait the presence of Boston sailors was one of the curious similarities. On the edges of the Great Southern Ocean it was wailing and sealing drawing these intrepid adventurers.

"Vessels of the American fleet, the first representative of which had already been on our coast as far back as 1797, were a common site in colonial Van Diemen's Land."

In fact some would credit the surviving remnant of the ancient Tasmanian aboriginals to the lusty attentions of the Boston sealers. These people, mainly females and children surviving, were located on various Bass Strait islands, handy for the attentions of the itinerant seamen.

By 1858 BC was still an isolated British holding, with most white activity revolving around the fur trade. Obviously, at that time, communication with the rest of the ‘Empire’ was a slow and tedious business. The governor of Vancouver Island, Sir James Douglas, was stranded at the ends of the Earth with few resources for the ensuing gold rush.

Within months an estimated 30,000 ‘Bostons’, mainly from the US, were making their way along Fraser River system, to the bloody consternation of the Stó:lô and nations further up the Fraser Canyon. On the way they created settlements such as Boston Bar.

Of course the 30,000 didn’t hail from Boston as such, but from ships bearing the name as their home port. I’m not sure how the native populace so quickly managed to adopt this label for the voracious species of invaders to their ancestral lands.

"The Bostons [Americans] and Indians have been fighting for the last ten days and has been a great many killed on both sides. The Indians have stopped the miners from going up through the Canyon," George Wesley Beam reported in a letter dated Aug. 20.

Douglas, as mentioned, had few resources to contend with the flood of prospectors and the savagery and bloodshed. A number of armed groups went north to avenge the butchered Bostons and clear a path with force.

On Aug. 17, a San Francisco reporter, H.M. Snyder, leads a company of 52 men up the Fraser River to make peace with the Indians "by peaceable means if we could, and by force if we must."

Poking around the issue I found another link with my own past, Douglas’ successor Frederick Seymour, who came to the colony with twenty years of colonial experience in Van Diemen's Land. Then of course there are Matthew Flinders, James Cook, Joseph Banks – I think Vancouver himself, and many more.

There is an excellent article in the Globe and Mail.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Few Brain Cells Short Of Conservative

“Conservatism's current intellectual chaos reverberated in the Republican ticket's end-of-campaign crescendo” 'Socialism'? It's Already Here

Little wonder we are in a global economic mess when US commentators have little real understanding of the terms and dynamics of economic/political theory. The United States of America is just coming out of one of the greatest national socialist periods in history, leaving potentially as much destruction as the Nazi era.

The Bush administration was hell-bent on corporate welfare, for their chosen beneficiaries, while the masses were left to fend for themselves. The approach would have been a global pandemic had other countries populations, like those in Britain, Canada and Australia, not been so inclined to a reasonable level of social equity.

As it stands, the Bush economic allies did attempt to dilute that social equity, indeed, Canada’s Harper still enjoys vivid dreams of playing out the Bush fantasy. But as I suggest in my Sunday blog on ragebot.com; republican (or conservative) intellectual increasingly comes across as an oxymoron.

I have shouted loud and long on this blog over the fallacious claims of those conservatives who would champion the concept of free trade. They know bloody well that it has never been tried, instead we had a period where the market was opened up to those who were willing to plunder the rest.

In fact free trade was, and will continue to be a very expensive exercise, one where the beneficiaries could indulge in corruption freely, with the rest of us left to pay the cost. We’ll be paying for a long time yet! Conservative dogma is riddled with falsehood, greed and obfuscation, but very little of anything identifiable as intelligence.

I am increasingly convinced there are standard international definitions for terms, then American definitions followed by American conservative daffynitions. The article quoted above trots out many US (Democratic) instances of ‘socialism, most of them not going anywhere beyond sound economics.

These conservative attack dogs never even consider the fascist end of the socialism scale common to the American right. Nor do they mention the destructive McCarthyisms which so easily led a nation astray, and still echoes in the conservative voice. American conservatives might be in chaos, but I wouldn’t dignify it with the word intellectual. On an international measure I would suggest the US version is a few brain cells short of conservative.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Call Me Keynesian If You Must

For years now I have been chided for the use of economic expletives, like deficit and Keynesianism. Now those sort of words are coming back into semi-respectable usage I’m left confused rather than overjoyed. My two preferred economics tutors, economics editor Ross Gittins and fellow blogger Lindsay have no real concept of how thick I really am, but they keep trying.

Gittins is now revealing himself as a born again Keynesian, more or less using the argument that it was just as well to save his breath to cool his porridge. I can accept that from a professional commentator, but a recent article he penned (Listen carefully…) Take this statement for example:

“It's appropriate (and desirable) for budgets to fall into deficit when the economy is entering or leaving recession (or a serious downturn), whereas it's appropriate and desirable for the budget to move into surplus when the economy recovers from recession in the expansion phase of the business cycle.”

It has been common across western economies over the past couple of decades to shrink spending on key areas like health and education. That has never made any sense to me, just taking those two areas. Surely it is economically healthier to provide easily accessible frontline health services to reduce later pressure on more expensive specialist and hospital treatments.

Though conservatives tend to fear education it really has the effect of maintaining stock on the shelves for the future. The stop start in valuing education and training has severe consequences on the economy, particularly when we hit times of skills shortage, as is currently the case.

I’m inclined to believe that regardless of the economic cycle, if deficits are needed to ensure these things are maintained at appropriate levels it is worth the cost. I will stand corrected, but it seems that as the corporate sector must compete with government for available borrowings, the recent regime all too happily shed community responsibility for corporate gain.

For some insane reason the New South Wales state Labor government is sticking with the nasty ways of the past, increasing taxes and reducing spending to avoid deficit. In fact they are putting the national economy at risk to maintain a dubious AAA credit rating.

This at a time when the health, education and broader infrastructure across the state is in serious need of attention. The benefits of creating much needed jobs from construction and other projects feed back to the state in a number of ways, including maintaining currently dwindling GST revenues and other taxes.

I seriously fail to comprehend why government should not be entitled to a portion of loan funds, regardless of stages in the economic cycle. If investment is the base is not consistent they need to be caught up sooner or later, and it is generally later – after the horse has bolted. Call me Keynesian if you must, at least it is no longer a swear word among most economists.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Paling around with the language

Sarah Palin of Alaska, accused Mr. Obama of “palling around with terrorists.”

Politics throws up ugly words from time to time; but palling? With so much else going on I let it slide for awhile, but it worried me. It looks wrong ad sounds wrong – it’s plain ugly. Thanks Sarah, we need more ugly.

I no longer have a hard copy Oxford English dictionary, but the online version simply reverts the word to pal. Dictionary.com lists the word as ‘informal’, which means something Americans accept as normal apparently.

If the word endures it will only be thanks to US media – palling is a stinker…

Kiwis out of step - again

When told a country has just 4.3 million people there is a temptation to ask their names; but New Zealand are used to being the butt of jokes. Try the fact they still have nearly 2.9 million registered voters, and they are not exactly a geriatric society.

In recent times an estimated 100 Kiwis a week have relocated to Australia. I guess it’s a matter of the grass is greener… both the migration and the election result. The sad part is that the country’s population is always economically marginal, and reducing population doesn’t help.

Now, despite eight years of good social and economic polices the Labour government of Helen Clark has been dumped. Kiwis are known for initiative and inventiveness; they are also known for others reaping the rewards. Instead of the best little economy in the world they continually sell themselves down the drain.

While other countries are swinging away from hard monetarism New Zealand has just embraced it. The new Prime Minister, John Key, has promised a more ambitious future for the country. A self made multi-millionaire and currency trader, that class largely responsible for the global mess, Key is intent on continuing the now dubious financial cowboy line.

At least, while most of the worlds endured monetarist policies New Zealand was doggedly progressive. I expect when the dust settles Australia will be hosting even more Kiwi voters in the future. Don’t get me wrong, I like them, but their country desperately needs them.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Economics and elections

Eighty-nine percent of people view the economy negatively, and 85 percent think the country is on the wrong track. NYT

Given the assumed complexities of economics its easy to understand why my much repeated economic election prediction method is generally greeted by a shrug of the shoulders. Not one to give in easily I’ve continued to refine this prediction process, for myself as much as anyone.

Obviously few people can speak authoritatively about economics, I sure can’t. But it turns out that we aren’t talking about hard data here, at least the average voter isn’t, but about emotion responses to the effects of prevailing economic conditions. That is not as flaky as it sounds, with the main measure being consumer sentiment.

Consumer sentiment is a well excepted economic tool, though one obviously less recognised by the political establishment. It is the word sentiment here that finally dawned on me – like market professionals household consumers work on an emotional level more than hard numbers. But apparently consumer sentiment figures are far from flaky.

I used something similar, certainly less than formal, to predict the 2006 swing to Democrats in the US. But the method assumed an uneven sentiment across the country. My focus was on the rust belt states while the Bush Republicans were selling a ‘booming market’ as though the market was the sum total of the economy.

The Republican focus on the markets was so blinding even their local Reps through the rust belt states were taken by surprise less than two weeks out from the election. When the heavyweights deigned to make a visit to these depressed areas it was far too late to modify their campaign.

That raises the second modifier to this election prediction model – economic dynamics are not uniform across a country, state or even city. There will always be areas doing well while others could be enduring trends as diverse as inflation , deflation, stagflation or even recession.

Of course this presidential/congressional election did not require any really in depth analysis. Once action was required to ensure there was no run on banks across the country the seal was set. Could there be any greater indication of consumer sentiment than the fragility of the whole banking system?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Pity The Poor Boomers

Pity the poor boomers being bought down by McCain
And pity for the boomers being threatened once again
Bought low by generation X and a gen that has no name
The boomers have the numbers but they still can’t play the game
(To a confusion of half remembered melodies from the John Wesley Harding album – Bob Dylan 1967)


It was another asinine headline - Next week the Boomers go bust – in a generally vacuous media coverage. The thrust being that whoever wins boomers lose, as McCain is pre-boomer and Obama post-boomer.

First up, let me take issue with the modern definition of a baby-boomer - born between 1946 and 1964. This construct only arose to fill the vacuum between the real extremities, 1945 – 1950 and the later gen X. Real boomers, of which I am one, are barely half a decade of procreation.

We are nothing more than the product of the pent up deprivations of wartime. It was the greatest ‘love in’ in history and the only thing that really distinguishes we true boomers is numbers.

Next let me say that many of us have utmost respect for certain of previous generations and are generally proud of our progeny, aforementioned gen X. But I still confess not to understand why we boomers are constantly vilified and envied. Numerical superiority does not imply any special attributes.

Sadly most of the traders responsible for the current global meltdown, not to mention a growing number of commentators and journalists, don’t even need a razor in their bathroom cabinet. At least boomers would bring a sense of history and experience to moderate youthful exuberance.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Black Cnut and an Ice Maiden

One of my favourite English ‘kings’ was the Anglo-Saxon Cnut. He ruled in the 1020’s and 30’s, before your time of course. The thing I like about Cnut is that having done a great job of conning his followers he found it necessary to disabuse them a little.

He had his followers carry him down to the beach on his throne where he ordered the tide not to come in and wet his tootsies. The tide failed to obey of course and the king was able to show the limits of his power. It looks now like Obama might have turned another tide:


“Some perceptions of race are changing, with a marked increase in the number of people who say they believe that white and black people have an equal chance of getting ahead in America today.” NYT

To much of the outside world US society is adolescent at least, bordering on nursery. I know that is not a universal condition, but seems to be at least majority. From food preferences through to the inclination to adult tantrums, the prevalence of pathological narcissism, right through to ingrained racism suggests a society in crisis.

But now it looks like the country might be dragged into a semblance of adulthood; good job Obama. Much of that outside world practiced racism, but it is generally directed at overt displays of preconceived behaviour. A black, Asian, Martian or even poor white can exist unseen so long as they behave on the correct side of the mean average.

Ice Maiden
Obama is no Cnut and Palin is no maiden, but let’s not split hairs.


Palin warned an audience of 7,000 not to vote based on economic concerns alone and talked about national security concerns. NYT

Eighty-nine
percent of people view the economy negatively, and 85 percent think the country is on the wrong track. NYT

You just don’t get it Sarah, the economy is security, the most personal kind in fact. The economy is central to the well being of every voter and a proper adult concern. We know it is all about perceptions, emotion rather than reality. But economic realities are hitting households heavily just now.

Reality might not filter as far north as Alaska, or into your average trailer park, but most people feel it even if they can’t articulate it. It could well be the shock of an economic collapse as much as the promise of a good leader could lead to a national maturing. Maybe the tide can turn.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Refining election prediction models

“Based on past elections and economic factors, two professors at the University
of Oregon predict that Senator Barack Obama will win the presidential election
by a 52 to 48 margin.” Newswise


This blog has bored readers rigid since at least mid 2006 on election prediction models. That was when we became excited about the predictor based on simple household economic indices - the unemployment rate, inflation and interest rates; basically the rise and fall of consumer/houshold confidence over an election cycle.

From my early excitement it soon became obvious that this was a very general, sledge hammer approach; and increasingly difficult to track as governments became increasingly cagey about releasing hard figures. In fact it also became evident there were numerous factors skewing the economic prediction argument. The US presidential election presented big problems for a non-economist, the variables across states under that electoral model are daunting.

Well now a pair of academics from Oregon think they’ve cracked that code. Their paper can be downloaded at: A Disaggregate Approach to Economic Models of Voting in U.S. Presidential Elections. I was interested in the way they broke Breaking the states into five groups of 10, ranging from the states with the lowest average income to those with the highest average income. From there they were able to factor in the additional voting behaviors.

I’m not convince that some being touted are consistently valid. The Bradley effect and the reverse Bradley effect are dependent on social attitudes which are changeable. The tendency for a late surge for the challenger, or decline of the front-runner are not in themselves predictable events.

Public opinion polls and election betting (prediction markets), depending on the country and system, can be good to outstanding, but often rely on too many historic weightings. This is the case in the US now where pollsters must speculate on a range of issues to come up with a formula to predict voter turnout and its likely mix.

Australian federal elections should be about the easiest to predict on the basic economic model, it rarely fail. Aussie states are more problematic, with many side issues, including which party controls the federal government, determining the result. Perhaps this is a reflection of the dominant federal economic control.

The same can be said for Canada, except that opposition conservatives tend to splinter and the dominant centre left is permanently splintered. According to the economic prediction model the non-conservatives in Canada should have won easily, and in fact did, but the largest single party (Conservative) forms a minority government.

I had suspected that emotional factors overrode economic factors in the US presidential election. In many ways, being sold on America’s booming economy it must cause a major guilt trip to be among the losers. In fact, according to the study above, it comes back purely to economic distribution through the country.

Another aspect I’ve noticed, no doubt a product of the economic prediction theory, is that economies tend to deteriorate under conservative governments. Often the progressive parties are left to clean up the mess. This tendency might in fact work backwards, as some researchers believe voters lean towards conservatives when consumer/household confidence is high, and swing to progressives when confidence wavers.

As a progressive I should perhaps be selling my preferred parties to ensure poor economic outcomes, or at least reduced consumer confidence, in key voter catchments. Fortunately our politicians aren’t that bright, or the knowledge could become the basis of entrenched governments.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Convoluted leadership selection

Electoral laws are increasingly under the spotlight in various efforts to reduce electoral fraud, or alternatively to entrench to political elites. Canada has some of the toughest laws, extending to Elections Canada overseeing party leadership contests. Given outcome, there is a question over how effective strong regulation is, particularly in leadership races.

The Canadian Liberals went into a recent federal election with a leader who was clearly unpopular publicly, but worse, lacked the support of his parliamentary party colleagues. In Canada the party leader is chosen by complex methods across party membership rather than by those they need to work closely with.

In Australia, even given public funding of elections, political parties are considered to be private organisations. For the most part elected members choose their own party members, with little more than normal media scrutiny. The idea of supervising or imposing outside rules is not generally regarded as appropriate.

Bloodletting spills public
With the Canadian Liberals now facing a new round of the leadership selection process perhaps the party should be developing a more pragmatic approach, within the rules laid down but ultimately more effective.

The Liberal partyroom needs to get down a flesh out which candidates will have the ultimate support of colleagues. Sure the bloodletting often spills public, there are tears and recriminations, but the final candidates to go before the wider party have been pre-qualified by their colleagues.

In 2004 the bitter leadership battle Michael Ignatieff and Bob Rae, the strongest choices undermined each other to the degree that the relatively weak Stéphane Dion was elected as a compromise. I certainly don’t put Dion down in any sense other than he never really became The Leader.

The process I’m suggesting is already underway, to an extent, according to reports. Rae and Ignatieff could probably both command the respect of their elected colleagues, but Rae is the more charismatic of the two. The backroom deal being suggested is a recognition of this, without the obvious tears.

I would hope, when leadership contenders go out to the party branches for support they have also secured support from their colleagues. It is moronic to think you can win a ‘popular vote’, complete with the branch stacking and still lead a team who don’t want you.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If there were any doubts

“The NSW National Party leader, Andrew Stoner, says the federal Liberal MP Alby Schultz should be shot after he helped the independent Peter Besseling during the weekend Port Macquarie by-election campaign.
"If I had my way, I'd march him out at dawn, put a blindfold on him and shoot him,'' Mr Stoner said today.” SMH

If there were any doubts about the fascist tendencies of the NSW National Party, Stoner has now dispelled them. Forget the constitutional rights of the electorate to vote for their choice, and accept or reject outside intervention in that choice.

Stoner has gone too far in this intemperate outburst. Frankly I don’t care what Stoner or Turnbull think about the Port Macquarie vote, the involvement of Alby Schultz in the Besseling campaign was never a secret or deterrent to a majority of voters.

The disdainful and high-handed repudiation of voter rights is a mark Stoner’s lack of concern for democratic rights, his belief that the electorate is a Nationals ‘gift’; there is also an implied accusation of stupidity of the voters. He might believe that, but more fool him.

We knew most of that anyway, Stoner’s mentor Mark Vaile made that much clear; but even Vaile was not so crass as to suggest shooting those he disagreed with. We are becoming accustomed to the lack of maturity and poor leadership skills displayed by our political elite, but this outburst really takes the cake.

Stoner’s behaviour is ample proof of why Port Macquarie, and many former National’s members, again turned their backs on the party.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Maple Leaf Rag

I’d call it post election blues, but it doesn’t have the swing. A week after the ‘Clayton’s’ government was returned in Canada – that is the government you have when you aren’t having a government – the devastated Liberal leader has resigned.

I don’t want to attack Stéphane Dion, I expect we’d almost get on well despite the language barrier, but he’s made yet another bad choice. Dion has decided to stay on until he is officially replaced next spring.

“[Dion] will work to rebuild the party's finances to ensure that his successor will be equipped to counter Conservative “propaganda”

The bloke is politically dead! He isn’t going to inspire much needed donations to the party coffers and he won’t have the grunt to hold a team together, particularly one including a “long list of potential candidates for the Liberal leadership”

A Conservative partial administration
So we are left with an unworkable opposition to a Conservative government which doesn’t really have the numbers to govern. I guess Canada doesn’t have an Obama, or a Rudd or even Britain’s Gordon Brown; and try as he might France’s Sarkozy can only manage to inflame Canuck sensibilities.

The real problem is that Harper’s true conservatism is aided and abetted by the dubiously informed Canadian banking fraternity… “The banks, moreover, don't want no stinking government funds in their equity mix -- a message delivered last Friday by TD Bank Financial Group CEO Ed Clark.” A global overreaction Terence Corcoran

Corcoran, a strangely shortsighted conservative commentator, goes on to say: Two sources say Mr. Clark noted that "the Canadian banking system is the only major system in the world where no nationalization has occurred in the current crisis."

An interesting observation from Clark and a lapse in research for both he and Corcoran. Mind you, terms like nationalization, socialism and communism are being bandied about by the Canadian conservative elite as though the were still card carrying members of the McCarthy witch hunts.

Australia has certainly put instruments in place to ensure confidence in our major banks, but in reality they won’t be called on and those banks would certainly lose their revered international status at the slightest whiff of nationalisation. I presumed, despite idolizing the former John Howard regime Harper’s buddies don’t see Australia as major in any sense.

Canada is really aiming for a stretch in isolation with the sort of views being expressed by the fragile conservative minority. Never mind opposition at home, world economies are now too closely intertwined to simply go off and play by your own rules. Harper is yesterday’s man, but I guess no one wants to tell him that right now.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Another election down

Even for a political junkie the constant election trail over the past year or so gets wearing. On Saturday there were four state by-elections, including my home electorate of Port Macquarie.

While the governing Labor Party were flogged in three contests the Port Mac contest was between the Nationals (conservative) candidate and a raft of independents, including a former Labor candidate.

The stand out independent and former Oakeshott assistant, Peter Besseling had what the local conservative paper called ‘a close win’. A 10% split doesn’t seem too close to me. Despite the headline the local report went on:

“Besseling declared victory in the state by-election less than two hours after polls closed on Saturday, surprising pundits who had tipped a closer tussle.”

A spiritual experience
Obviously there is something deeply compelling, for me, with election campaigns. To a great extent I try to focus methodologies of electoral systems and campaigns, but generally fail to remain dispassionate. What I notice is an almost spiritual emotion when voting time comes.

I was a little ambivalent this time out, and even considered an informal vote on the basis that none of the campaigns managed to inspire. What I discovered is that I am incapable of ignoring the call of a valid vote.

While I’m pleased Peter won there is still a feeling I can’t shake, that he is too strongly a parliamentary insider, to the detriment of a local constituency. I hope I’m wrong about that, and regardless, I know Pete and he is not a National Party conservative. Though he might well be a Liberal, but probably of the pragmatic variety.

So, there is just one more election to run in this current series, and it seems McCain has worked extra hard for an early result. Not in his favour of course, but Nov 4 is looking increasingly an anti climax. Now we just have a global crisis to deal with.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Economic survival and resource management

Canadian politicians are frequently inspired by Australia, in part because the two countries' economies are similar. But Australia's handling of the global financial crisis offers a cautionary tale for Canada's next government.

Over the weekend, Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd introduced a $10.4-billion (Australian) stimulus package, joining many other major governments in using taxpayers' money to buoy its sagging economy.
Globe and Mail - Canada


If the two country’s economies are so similar then why does Australia have a winning surplus and Canada will find it impossible, to put together even a small rescue package? Where are the results of Canada’s oil and mineral exports? Especially when you consider Canada is the major source of US oil.

The answer it seems is in a the differences in the relative federal systems. Unlike Australia, Canada’s Constitution deems natural resources located onshore are almost all owned by its provinces (states). Resources in the three Northern territories are federally owned and a few Aboriginal First Nations also have significant natural resource wealth.

“As a result, the role played by natural resource revenues in generating inter-regional fiscal disparities occupies a much greater place in the public discourse in Canada than in most other countries” Rona Ambrose- President of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada

Federalism
The mix in the Australian situation is more complex, with the states taking a share of royalties with the federal government; then fiscal adjustments are made to compensate states without the resource income. It should be noted that there is also provision for some Aboriginal claimed territories, though not to the level we see in
Canada.

There are other significant difference in our federal models. The Australian constitution Section 92 provides that "trade, commerce, and intercourse among the States shall be absolutely free". In Canada the corresponding provinces held rigidly to the freedom of each jurisdiction to guard and protect their own interests.

As much as I would like to see particular constitutional change in Australia the current global crisis gives me pause. We are not perfect, but there are elements in the mix that are a real credit to the framers of our constitution. With all its faults it is still a model federalist constitution. National resources belong to the nation!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Oh Why Canada?

In Canada, more than anywhere I’ve ever experienced, there is only one poll that counts and that is election day. My prediction that the Conservatives would fail to win government, purely on economic indicators, was part right.

Progressive parties have the numbers, but not government; just look at the bald numbers -
the broad progressives just over 60% - the winning conservatives just short of 40%. With just 59% of eligible voters turning out the progressives obviously failed to capitalize on their support base.

This was the election that shouldn't have been held, that attracted a dismal turnout, that didn't change anything. Without doubt the blame for this electoral farce lies chiefly with the Liberals and their poor choice of leader. Not to put Dion down personally, but he is hardly an inspiration.

Incremental Conservatism
So, given the sad result, what are the prospects? One commentator suggested incremental conservatism, given that Stephen Harper still lacks the numbers to institute a full conservative program. Just as well the brakes are on when the rest of the world is reacting to forced change.

“Each increment forward on a couple of conservative issues-- telecom deregulation, maybe, or military spending, a family tax issue -- has been matched by lurching fallbacks on scores of others. On the environment and consumer regulation, not to mention spending, the Tories have been as prone to heavy government intervention as any non-conservative.” Financial Post

Never mind that JK Galbraith, Canadian born and bred, adapted Keynesian economics to the modern Americas, indeed to post war Europe; sensible Canada has lost the plot. Again I blame the Liberals, who have also lost the plot. It’s not a left/right debate in the end, it is an economic/fiscal argument.

The Liberals have a record of adapting to the needs of the times; from today they need to be looking at where they are going and make some hard decisions. Before the greed set in they had an innate understanding of what the country wanted, and the ability to deliver. The focus must now be to rebuild that ability.