Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Rio de Janeiro Slum Tour

A PHD student in Rio is looking for people who have toured Rocinha to respond to a survey. pallomamenezes@hotmail.com

Monday, February 26, 2007

Liberals should propose banning incandescent light bulbs

The Liberals should follow Australia's lead and propose banning incandescent light bulbs. That is, Dion and crew should propose rewriting the Canadian Energy Efficiency Act, such that standards would be too stringent for incandescent bulbs to meet.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Elected Senate; Dumb Dumb Dumb

The notion that the lack of an elected senate in anyway constitutes a democratic deficit is patently absurd. As is implied by the notion of a triple E senate, for example, the senate in its current form is an "ineffective" body devoid of any real powers. Needless to say, a body that adds nothing to the genuine "effective" democratic process of the House of Commons can not take away anything either.

Still, that begs the question: would Canada be better off with two “effective” houses? The answer is no. As Benjamin Franklin put it, having two equally matched houses makes as much sense as tying two equally matched horses to either end of a buggy and having them both pull. However, for most of the supporters of such an idea that was precisely the point. As the name of Britain’s two houses, the House of Lords and the House of Commons, indicate the purpose of having a second House was to check the will of common people. The purpose of the Canadian senate was to do the same.

Unfortunately for the US, political necessity gave US supporters of the Second House, modeled on the British parliamentary system, the upper hand over true democrats, such as Franklin. Agreement was not possible unless the smaller states were given the power to override, or at the very least temper the will of the majority of Americans. The slave owning south, for one, wanted to insure that the institution of slavery was maintained. The lack of any sort of party discipline together with a bicameral house is a potent brew indeed. Regional interests make out like bandits, the lobbyist’s play divide and conquer and the need to water down legislation that has the support of the majority of Americans would have warmed the heart of anti democratic plutocrats, such as Adams. Alaska, for example, has a 1000 times the political clout of, say, PEI, even though Alaska makes up a smaller portion of the US population than PEI Canada’s. To top things off, a lack of any sort effective caps on corporate campaign contributions means that only the richest of the rich have the economic wherewithal to run for the Senate. Indeed, one could make a pretty good case that the original Senate, with its land ownership requirements, was open to greater percentage of the population than the current one is.

Naturally the Conservatives are committed emulating the American system and as bad as that is, things have the potential of getting a whole lot worse. (Harper was once committed to abolishing caps on corporate donations, but has since reversed course.) Being unable to “reform” the Senate in one fell swoop, Harper has proposed electing effective Senators piece meal. It is hard to image a dumber idea. In the long term, the effect of such a process would be to transform an unelected political body with no power into a largely unelected political body with real political power. In the short term, it would commit Canadians to the farcical and expensive act of electing people to office who hold no real power. If that was bad enough it would give provinces, such as Novo Scotia, power way out of proportion to their actual population.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Liberals; the meek will not be elected

Many Liberals are satisfied with the policy direction Dion is taking the party. I am not one of those Liberals. That said, I do not wish to discuss the merits of any of the policy nodes right now. I only want to clarify some of points I have made in past about the Liberals electability.

Let me start by making a blunt, some would say bald statement: the Liberals can not win the next election on the strength of their platform. Part of the problem is that the Liberals do not have a good working relationship with MSM. Canada’s pundits are a very conservative crowd indeed and the lion’s share of the negative coverage in the last two elections was directed the Liberals way. The following numbers speak for themselves and these do not include the numbers for the Sun media chain, the Conservative Party’s press division. Declan from Crawl across the ocean summarizes.

“During the campaign there were 3,753 articles written about the election in the 7 newspapers studied (The Calgary Herald, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, the Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun, La Presse and Le Devoir).

Of those 3753, 3035 mentioned the Liberal party. Out of those 3035, there were 40 with positive mentions of the Liberal party and 445 with negative mentions of the Liberals, giving a 11 to 1 ratio of negative mentions to positive (slightly higher than last election's 10-1 ratio).

Meanwhile, for the Conservative Party, the figures were 2730 total articles, including 144 positive mentions and 127 negative mentions, for a slightly positive overall slant (the positive mentions were similar to last election, but the negatives were cut in half).”


Another problem is that the Liberal party's aversion to controversy has carried over into its time in opposition. They have continued to come up with middle of the road, offend no one, please no one, interest no one, policies that are utterly incoherent at their core because they are designed to appeal to both sides of any political divide. Not rocking the boat is a sound strategy when one is in power and ahead in the polls. However, it makes no sense whatsoever when one is behind in the polls and in opposition. Indeed, what made such a strategy so appealing before, viz., the lack of attention such policies garnered, is what makes them so unappealing now.

Yet another problem is the lack of a grass roots base. Being the party that stands for nothing, save averaging the differences between the other major parties' policies, it is little wonder that the Liberals do not have a strong base of support and what base they do have, as demonstrated by anti establishment favorite Stephane Dion’s being elected leader, is at odds with the party establishment. Without a solid grass roots movement, the party is not going to be able to buy anywhere near the amount of ad time as the Conservative party will be able to.

If all this were not bad enough, Stephane Dion, while charming in nerdy sort of way, has neither the English language skills nor the personal charisma to keep the media’s attention for very long.

I have said time and time again what I think the Liberals should do to overcome these difficulties. For example: http://themaplethree.blogspot.com/2007/01/reality-has-to-have-well-known-liberal.html I want to hear some others chime in.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Liberals need to Wake Up

It is time for the Liberal Party to wake up. Polls and focus groups will not provide them with a winning template. The party lacks the resources, the media presence, a strong grass roots base, and quite frankly the people to effectively appeal the “average” Canadian.” The news is not all bad though. Such an approach produces just as many duds as successes. Paul Martin was one such dud. To win, the Liberals are first going to have to admit just how limited their power to sell Canadians on their ideas are. Their only hope of winning is to kick off a number of highly charged public debates that will envelope all parties. Controversy for controversy’s sake is, of course, no strategy at all. The Liberals must take debates that have been more or less settled among the educated and force feed the public the results. The point is not to be on the side of the Canadian public per say, but to be the side that most respects the process and is humble enough to defer to learned opinion. In such debates, process matters much more than being on the numerically winning side. As I have said time and time again, SSM was a great case in point. At the polls, SSM was a looser. Canadians were spilt on the issue, but the older one is the more likely one is to be opposed and to vote. It was a winning issue because it left the Conservatives defending an intellectually, morally and legally bankrupt position and they were, rightly, pillared by the media and the learned every step of the way. I mentioned some possible issues in a piece entitled “Reality has to have a well known-Liberal bias.” It can be read here. http://themaplethree.blogspot.com/2007/01/reality-has-to-have-well-known-liberal.html

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Dion gets an F

Of the big 4 Liberal candidates, Rae has the makings of the best PM. He is witty, quick on his feet, a very good retail politician, fluently bilingual, a good debater, an experienced politician and a good speaker. Ignatieff also has the makings of a good PM. He is intellectually honest, a good speaker, fluidly bilingual and had the best environmental policy of the bunch. Dion, on the other hand, was all at once the safest candidate and the anti establishment candidate. For those two reasons I was not entirely disappointed that Dion won. I am glad the Liberal party base poked the brass in the eye and I had believed, against my better judgment it seems, that Dion could carry the Liberals to minority government win.

Dion has proved to be a one trick pony and not a very impressive one at that. Many Liberal bloggers have claimed that the Tory ads did not work, but polls suggest that Canadians do not trust the Liberals environmental stewardship. The Liberals have been badly outmaneuvered on the file and have offered nothing to fill the hunger for broadly progressive agenda. Harper is slowly neutralizing the environment as an issue and has begun focusing the public debate on issues that he, rightly, feels that will favor the Conservatives, viz., tax cuts and law and order issues. If that is not bad enough, Dion’s English is so labored and his accent so strong that it is impossible seeing him fairing well in an English language debate. If this trend continues, then a Conservative majority is distinct possibility.

The Liberals need to do more than simply attacking the Conservatives; they need to focus the public debate on issues that will paint the Conservatives in a bad light and that can only be accomplished by pushing a large number of hot button issues, e.g., prostitution, drugs, euthanasia, stem cell research, and not just the environment. I have touched on the topic here. http://themaplethree.blogspot.com/2007/01/reality-has-to-have-well-known-liberal.html

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Stephen Harper and the Joy of Quoting

Even though the Prime Minster covets being perceived as a man of his word, a man who does not dither, a man who means what he says and acts on what he says, Conservatives sure get upset when Stephen Harper’s words are tossed in their face. One Harper apologist even called such behavior “extreme”. Needless to say, this is an odd accusation to make. Political parties spend a great deal of money trying to get their message out. So, you would think that Conservatives would be grateful whenever someone goes to trouble of informing people of what Stephen Harper has said on the record and for the record, but no. Take a letter Stephen Harper wrote to the National Post entitled

“Separation, Alberta-style: It is time to seek a new relationship with Canada”

If Harper did not want Canadians to know what he thought of them, he would not have said the following and then sent it to the National Post for publication.

“Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country, boasting ever more loudly about its economy and social services to mask its second-rate status, led by a second-world strongman appropriately suited for the task. Albertans would be fatally ill-advised to view this situation as amusing or benign. Any country with Canada's insecure smugness and resentment can be dangerous.”

That said, this does help explain why so many Conservatives believe, despite what the McGill media studies clearly show and despite the fact that virtually ever newspaper in the country backed the Conservatives during the last election that the media has a strong Liberal bias. After all, many media outlets have the audacity to report what Stephen Harper said on the record without first getting his permission. By logical extension, this makes any media outlet that does so an “extremist”. The willingness of the media to note in passing that Harper once called into question the

"so-called 'greenhouse gas' phenomenon"

is just further proof that the Toronto Sun and National Post, for example, are part of the loony left.

All kidding aside, the Conservatives do have one legitimate gripe with the media. Not a single media outlet noted that the Exxon funded

“Co2; we call life ads”

went ahead without crediting Harper with the idea. The case for plagiarism is as clear as day: In criticizing Kyoto, Harper said

“It focuses on carbon dioxide, which is essential to life"


and the media, the Red Star anyway, reported this, but failed to note that Exxon plagiarized Harper. Hell, it was not like Harper’s comment was one time thing; it was a well developed talking point: Other variations abound; to wit,

“Carbon dioxide which is a naturally occurring gas vital to the life cycles of this planet."

However useless it is to debate the “extremism” of quoting Harper, it is a debate I am happy to engage in. After all, if one claims that it is “extreme” to quote the following, say, then one needs to refer to what is being quoted.

"You've got to remember that west of Winnipeg the ridings the Liberals hold are dominated by people who are either recent Asian immigrants or recent migrants from eastern Canada: people who live in ghettoes and who are not integrated into western Canadian society."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Rio de Janeiro

I recently compared notes about Rio de Janeiro with JJ from The view from down South: a Liberal in DC. http://dcgrit.blogspot.com/2007/01/pictoral-interlude-v-view-from-above.html One of the topics of conversion was crime and Cariocas’ subjective feelings of personal safety. I have expanded on some of those musings below.

How safe one feels depends on were you live in Rio. If you live in Ipanema, or Leblon, your sense of personal safety is going to be much better than if you live in Duque de Caxias. That said, regardless of where someone is in Rio, crime, or the threat of it, affects people’s behavior. As you know, because of the threat of being car jacked people rarely stop at red lights after dark. On the flip side of things, a code of conduct has developed amongst many muggers. They appreciate the cost of getting a driver’s license etc and so will dump emptied wallets and purses in the mail box. Such niceness would not be possible if the post office had not set up a program to facilitate it. The fact that they bothered speaks volumes about just how common such muggings are. Crime has turned Rio’s many dozens of malls into beehives of activity involving the whole family. Malls in some parts of North America have failed because the environment they offered is too sanitized, in Rio that is the attraction. Rio’s malls are in many respects self contained communities; they have everything from daycares, to stores and movie theaters. Brazilian law helps facilitate such feelings of safety by placing the onus on the mall to keep its customers safe. For example, under Brazil law, you can sue the mall, if your car is broken into in a mall’s parking lot. The same is true if you are mugged.

Rio is also in many ways a city on the edge. There are always plenty of riot cops in full gear in the downtown core (In and around Rua Branco) and the army is always out during Carnival checking people’s papers. I once counted 23 riot police on a Monday afternoon on Setembro street just milling about. Incidentally, I did not see any kind of protest downtown. However, I did see some in Duque de Caxias and one did get ugly. Tear gas was let off and rubber bullets were flying. Finally there are the nightly checkpoints. The Red Line is famous for them. They are a nightly occurrence and they are almost always set up in the same fashion. One cop car is parked across the highway limiting traffic to one line. There is another cop car behind pointing down the highway. Leaning on the hood of the second car is a guy armed with some kind of machinegun, sometimes heavy but mostly light. He is pointing the gun down the highway. You are directed to stop just at the spot where he is pointing. The police look in the car and either pull you over or wave you through. Many people turn on their lights to prove they are not black. Brazil is not as post racial as it likes to think.

Part of the problem is this. The favelas, where the gangs such as the Comando Vermelho (Red Command), are based, are de facto sovereign entities. Even locals seek permission before they enter and the boundaries between them and the rest of the city resemble at times boarder crossings. The police only venture in when they are well armed. In both Rio and Sao Paulo, police sometimes venture in inside an armored personal carrier, a caveiraos, painted black with skull painted on the front. The aforementioned Red Line cuts through Mare favela and the debate about whether to “wall in” the favela nicely captured the divide. http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/world/20050602-1309-crime-brazil-wall.html The place at which the Red Line cuts through the favela has been the seen of more than few shootouts and robberies of motorists stuck in traffic and it was proposed that a wall be constructed in this area. Much to dismay of people I know, the wall was never built. If for no other reason than the chance of accident would be significantly less, I can sympathize. Rio drivers are not known for their good driving habits at the best of times and the road narrows at this point, there is curve in the road and people speed up.

For those wishing to see a favela, there are guided tours – slum safaris if you will. They are safe. The tour operators give the gangs a cut of the profits in return for safe passage.

The police are still the meanest kid on the block. A third of all homicides are attributed to them. However, the power of the gangs even outside the favelas should not be understated. Not only can they be not wiped out, they have the ability to bring Rio to its knees. Indeed, whereas in Canada the schools sometimes close because of snow, in Rio schools shut down from time to time because the Red Command has threatened to shoot them up. To prove they mean business, they shoot up one or two. This is one tactic the gangs use to bring the government to the negotiating table. Sometimes it takes other forms. Last month, for instance, they boarded a city bus and set it alight with the passengers still on board. 7 were killed. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6214299.stm

I was not the victim of any real violence. The cops shook me down for 50 bucks and I was tailed on a bus, but that was the worst of it. The locals I associated with were not as lucky after I left. A person I stayed with was murdered 3 months after I left. He went to pick up some groceries some 5 minutes walk from where I stayed, got in argument and was shot 6 times in the head. It is common knowledge as to who the murderer is, but no eyewitness, and there was many, have come forward. The investigation is thus stalled. This is not unusual for the northern part of Rio. Well under 50% of all murder cases are solved. Another person I knew literally got his head kicked in by the cops. He stupidly mugged someone at the Lagoon and was caught by the police. Someone took a picture using a cell phone camera of a cop kicking him in the head. The picture made the papers. Soon after I left the cops went on a rampage in Baixada and murdered 29 people in one day of bloodshed. I used to do some of my shopping near the site of the carnage. http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGAMR190302006?open&of=ENG-351

Friday, February 02, 2007

Harper's Kyoto Speeches: Email Quotes to others

I wish the Liberal party would stop putting Harper’s Kyoto speeches into PDF files. They are easier and quicker to access in html. It is also easier to paste in html. This is important. The Liberals want people to send quoted material to their friends via email who will send it to their friends and so on. There are a lot of Liberal blogs listed here. If everyone emailed 30 people and these people emailed just 15 more people, these quotes could reach fair number of Canadians. So, get busy.

Anyway, when discussing these speeches the Liberals must not focus on the economics of Kyoto. The focus has to be on Harper’s denying that human activity is unrelated to global warming.

The following is a good example: "Steve" Harper: “Kyoto simply does not target air quality. It is instead designed to address the so-called “greenhouse gas” phenomenon, the hypothesis that the increase of certain gases – not necessarily pollutants – contribute to a long term global warming trends.”

Liberal Blogs should go negative: Get the quote out

I ask my fellow bloggers Stand Up for Canada. Paste the following from Stephen Harper into an email and fire that email off to as many people as they can think of.

Stephen Harper: “It would take more than one letter to explain what’s wrong with Kyoto, but here are a few facts about this so-called “Accord”:
— It’s based on tentative and contradictory scientific evidence about climate trends.
— It focuses on carbon dioxide, which is essential to life, rather than upon pollutants.
— Canada is the only country in the world required to make significant cuts in emissions. Third World countries are exempt, the Europeans [e.g., France, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Great Britain, Austria, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark] get credit for shutting down inefficient Soviet-era industries, and no country in the Western hemisphere except Canada is signing."

This is the reference.