Saturday, April 25, 2009

There is spin, then there is ignorance

Troop Stress

The Sydney Morning Herald ranks as one of Australia’s ore serious newspapers, and has a long history of stern, pedantic sub-editors. Several oddities today caught my attention, including the headline: Stressed out troops sent to war zones

Well I don’t know abut you, but I would be pretty bloody stressed going into a war zone! But the headline doesn’t match the story, which is focused on ‘military personnel who have returned from deployment’ and not receiving appropriate trauma councelling.

Cardboard king seeks fast exit

Again, this story should not conjure humorous thoughts, but alas… Pratt seeks ruling before he dies or the SMH Pratt waits on court ruling. Billionaire (Visy Holdings) Richard Pratt lies close to death with terminal cancer. He is facing four criminal charges alleging that in mid-2005, when under investigation for illegal cartel activities, he gave false and misleading evidence to officers of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Pratt’s lawyer has pleaded with the court for ‘an indulgence’ which sounds a little medieval to me, so that he can die in peace. Legally of course when he dies the case dies with him. But I’m inclined to think he should be stalling any decisions, indefinitely, thus prolonging his grip on life.

Can you trust a politician?

Over in Chilliwack Canada, where there is a provincial election underway, disgraced former minister John Les is opting to campaign on the economy. The question is, how can a provincial member effect the economy, which is the aegis of a national government?

Okay, I’m being pedantic, but if a former minister can’t distinguish between economic policy and fiscal management, the latter being the role of the provincial government, we are in trouble. Well of course we are in trouble, and this could well be one of the reasons why; we are led by people ignorant of their roles.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Harper and the free trade myth

I’m doing far more writing in my head than on the blog or elsewhere lately, and I’m not sure that anyone is the poorer for that. The times are changing thankfully and watching things unfold is both instructive and encouraging. Except for dear old Canada, stuck with an anachronism for a Prime Minister.

While the world rapidly readjusts to new economic and political time Stephen Harper insists on preaching the myth of free trade. At the 5th Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain his free-trade refrain has made him appear a bit of a lone wolf. Fine for Harper perhaps, but not for Canada.

From the outset the free trade push was dubious. I recall then Aussie treasurer and later PM, Paul Keating, going on at length about dismantling protectionism to create a ‘level playing field’. Paul still bleats about it, but it never happened cobber and never will.

John Howard managed to dismantle many of the old protection mechanism in Australia, but he replaced the likes of agrarian socialism with corporate socialism, merely shifting the zones of protection. Bush talked of fee trade but continued to builder higher and stronger walls.

Despite his waffle, his dreams, neither Harper nor any other Canadian PM is going to dismantle the entrenched barriers across his country. In many cases these issues are not only the prerogative of the provinces, but firmly held by the very people likely to support the Conservatives.

A government in decline

You don’t need to be a student of semiotics to recognise the signs and symbols presaging the fall of a government. Certainly the polls are suggesting Harper would be in danger if he went to election now; but he has no need to and polls are not always reliable. He can hold back his judgment day, but the signs are clear it is looming.

Harper’s party is a roughly cobbled coalition of the right; a party suffocated by his leadership and the dominance of the Alberta conservative heavies. While the rest of his party has been left to flounder now his Alberta fan club are starting to see the end in sight. They want to see a new potential leader, but know that another Albertan is out of the question. Problem is they have ‘killed’ them all off.

Having turned most other provinces away Harper really only has the west to depend on and only a fool would depend n the stout yeoman farmers of BC and Saskatchewan. Even if he could depend on them the real numbers are in the East where his support is dwindling.

I’m still not sure what the election trigger will be. It’s unlikely to be another coalition attempt and as dramatic as it gets at times the Mulroney scandal only serves to split the Conservatives more, not break them. Just one more sign, one more weakening for when the final event tips them out of office.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Fibre to the nerd? – if it sounds too good to be true…

When the Rudd government came to power in Australia it was partially on a promise to deliver a much waited broadband roll-out. The promise was based on a fibre to the node concept, depending on Telstra’s copper wire network to deliver to homes and businesses from local exchanges.

Instead of cooperation from Sol Trujillo’s Telstra we ended up with the highest stakes poker game this country has ever seen. Telstra’s arrogant non-bid to roll out an acceptable service has now been countered by Rudd’s plan for fibre to the nerd, T1 to every doorstep. Telstra is effectively cut out of the great communications revolution.

Okay, for the nerds among us it was an exciting, but unlikely proposal. Most Australians, including the federal opposition, have no concept of what a high speed connection really is, even a stable internet connection is problematic.

Telstra and institutional shareholders understood, however, when Rudd slid his $42 billion worth of chips onto the table. This had become a high stakes game. Telstra shares had already lost $9 billion in value in the earlier rounds of the table; there is every reason for tem to now fold and try and get back into the game.

Sol is a lousy poker player, but he is already on his way out of the game here. The Liberal/National opposition are looking like the perennial suckers, folding quickly then sniping from the sidelines. My guess is we will return to a fibre copper mix with Telstra grabbing back what it can on Rudd’s terms.

Consumer perspective

I’m just a humble end user; well an unhappy end user perhaps. There are several long running and unresolved issues I have with providers – Optus (Singapore government owned) as ISP and Telstra as line provider. We pay top dollar here for a broadband service which often slows below even dial up speed and is prone to constant drop outs.

Opus refer the connectivity problems to Telstra and Telstra technicians claim cut backs for their inability to address identified problems. It could well be a decade before we have a reasonable broadband service, but even a reasonable dial up level would be helpful.

A second issue is denial of service. I have been a regular contributor to for some time, no longer. My ISP has ragebot’s host server on a blocked list. These heavy handed attempts at internet censorship are bound to become increasingly annoying, and arbitrary.

It could be that the particular server hosts some objectionable material, but the approach seems to be, ‘block the lot!’ It is a blunt instrument approach limiting the usefulness if the internet while probably missing the real target. Frustratingly service providers really don’t care all that much about the needs of end users.

I expect to continue my personal campaign to address some of the issues plaguing me, but would much rather engage in discussion on the net rather than about the net.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Canadian Election – an event in waiting

The Harper government is hanging in, but their days are numbered. How long? That is the big question with the minor parties not keen to head to the polls and oblivion. Even so some of us are watching carefully for the trigger.

As one put it, quoting former British PM Harold Macmillan when asked his greatest fear: “Events, dear boy, events”. More often than not Harper creates his own events and events almost always favour the opposition. That event will most likely be economic.

‘But Harper is an economist’ I’ve been assured; he is also apparently an ideological conservative. “I’m a conservative. I happen to believe in the long term, we will see long-term economic growth from the private sector,” Harper

From PM Harper

“We all know that we have a massive and growing employment problem. We've seen dramatic drops in output, dramatic rises in unemployment in the last four months... We anticipate more big job losses.”

[Canada] is well poised to emerge quickly and strongly from recession when recovery begins.

From Finance Minister Jim Flaherty

Canada's recession will be relatively mild and that Canadians were not worried about the exact pace of the slowdown.

I think we're certainly looking at negative growth. I don't think Canadians are that concerned if it's ‘2-point-this' or ‘1-point-that'.

Banking on banks

Flaherty claims Canada has the No. 1 financial system in the world in terms of stability. Harper is busy urging banks to become more active in takeovers of US banks. I’m no great fan of the Aussie banks, but would argue they are at least as stable as their Canadian cousins and historically far more aggressive.

This is evidenced by the ease which the Aussie banks have just offered a 12 month holiday for those in danger of defaulting on their mortgage. Sure the banks will still capitalise on those loans, but they have the strength to cover the interregnum and still pursue a steady growth agenda.

The Endgame

In short, the Harper government comes across as economic flakes, dishing out platitudes in place of solutions. Somewhere, I suspect, among Harper’s economic deficits the ‘event’ will emerge. Most likely it will be a panic move to shore up his flagging support, most of his events have targeted shoring up his power.

We don’t yet know Michael Ignatieff’s economic agenda; after all, why would he feed clues to a beleaguered government? What we do know is the Canadian Liberal record for sound economic management and the apparent dynamism of the PM in waiting.

Friday, April 03, 2009

A Canadian goose among the leaders

The G20 Summit has been impressive, for the speed in which a consensus was achieved and an apparent lack of egos. So much so that Canada’s Stephen Harper would gone totally unnoticed if he had not gone missing during the obligatory photo shoot. So Canada provided the equally obligatory humorous moment.

What capped that sad episode of was the country’s main conservative newspaper, the National Post, leading the G20 story with a picture of Australia’s Kevin Rudd. Fair enough, I guess; Rudd had played a major behind the scenes role in the lead up to this historic talkfest.

While I do support Rudd it is not without reservations. Even so there is something especial satisfying when your national leader, punching well above his weight, is distinguished be such a fine performance. Michael Ignatieff is Canada’s PM in waiting and the sooner his Liberals gain government the better.

Harper waves his economic credential, no doubt well earned, but fails miserably to give them any credence in his role as steward of the country’s economy. He has been slow to acknowledge te depth of Canada’s exposure and slower to address the problems. It seems he was only a vague passenger at the G20.

I am inclined to thing the Liberal Ignatieff would find much in common with the Labor Rudd, Democrat Obama and New Labor Brown. The time for the conservative bully economics is past and Harper is among its last surviving relics. The current breed of leaders are distinguished by their flexibility in recognising real situations and responding without reference to ideology.

I hope we can welcome Ignatieff to the world community of leaders, for the world’s sake as well as Canada’s. The more considered and reasoning voices, as we recraft the world’s economies the better. It is time now for the Canadian goose to move on to other pastures.