Saturday, 26 November 2011

Paul Dewar's personal history

Via the Huffington Post

OTTAWA - He may not have Winston Churchill's gift for oratory, Ludwig van Beethoven's musical genius, Albert Einstein's Nobel prize or Bill Gates' billions. 
But NDP leadership hopeful Paul Dewar shares a common trait with many of history's greatest over-achievers. 
He's dyslexic. 
"There's a lot of people who wouldn't know because I don't broadcast it," the Ottawa MP told The Canadian Press. 
"It's not all of me. It's part of me ... I've never believed that it's something that I needed to tell the world about." 
As an elementary school teacher, Dewar used to talk openly about it, especially with kids struggling with their own learning disabilities. Since becoming an MP in 2006, however, the subject hasn't come up — until now.
"I certainly identify strongly with people who are needing help in taking on things, be it with learning challenges, life challenges in general," he says. "It's about empathizing and understanding." 
He believes mastering the challenge of dyslexia has also made him tougher, more resilient, more determined to overcome other obstacles thrown in his way.
As an MP, that work ethic has gained Dewar a reputation as someone who knows his files and who, occasionally, gets frustrated with colleagues who are less well-briefed.
"I've been known to comment, 'Doesn't anybody read anymore?'" he says, without a hint of irony. 
Because he processes information differently, Dewar says he's also sometimes able to "make associations others don't see." For instance, in poring over the 2009 budget, he noticed the government had booked $2 billion in sales of federal assets which Finance Minister Jim Flaherty later admitted might not occur, blowing "a gaping hole" in his deficit projections. 
Dewar figures he was lucky. He was diagnosed as dyslexic early, when alert Grade 3 teachers noticed he was struggling to read and write, although his oral and numeracy skills were "off the chart." His diagnosis led to the discovery that dyslexia ran in the family — his mother, former Ottawa mayor and New Democrat MP Marion Dewar, his older brother, Bob, his grandfather and his uncle had all struggled to read and write, without anyone realizing they were dyslexic. 
Bob, 11 years older, had quit high school in frustration, fed up with being told he was "lazy" or "not working hard enough." He'd been sent to pyschologists and psychiatrists for what was deemed a behavioural problem. He eventually learned to adapt, went back to school, graduated from university and went on to become chief of staff to former Manitoba premier Gary Doer. 
Perhaps not surprisingly, Dewar cites his late mother, his brother and grandfather — all people who overcame the challenge of dyslexia without the benefit of early diagnosis — as his role models." 
Paul Dewar certainly has an inspirational story and some very solid attributes. It'll be interesting to see how he does in the race, which (despite some satire over the crowded field) is yielding real talent.

The Beauty of a Winnipeg Winter

Image Source: The Analyst (taken via camera phone)

South Osborne, November 26, 2011.

Friday, 18 November 2011

$0.05 Transit Rate Hike

I'm rather torn about this rate hike. On the one hand, the price of diesel and inflation has increased more than enough to justify it, on the other hand it makes transit less affordable for the poor of Winnipeg. I'm really torn about whether transit should be a pure social service or whether it should be operated in a quasi-business like fashion.

  In other news, guess who's screwed up our city's shovel-ready infrastructure plans? Begins with "S" and ends in "Katz".

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Next time someone bemoans "reckless spending"...

... and claims that "out of control" government programs caused the deficits in almost every developed country, keep this in mind:

Way back in 2008 much of the world sank into recession because housing bubbles in the United States, the UK, Ireland, Spain and elsewhere began to deflate. This ended a boom in construction and caused consumption to plunge as the housing wealth that provided its foundation vanished. 
Unfortunately, memories at the NYT are apparently weak. It told readers today: 
"To the roster of pain inflicted by the European debt crisis, add this: rising and persistent joblessness among young Britons." 
Of course, the European debt crisis is very much secondary in this story. The proximate cause of the high unemployment in the UK is the decision of the government to impose a harsh austerity package involving cuts in spending and higher taxes. This was a decision by the government, it was not in any way a necessary result of the UK's debt burden as the article implies. Financial markets were willing to lend the UK money at very low interest rates. 
Also, the cause of the "debt crisis" was the economic collapse that followed the bursting of the housing bubble. Most of the countries now facing serious problems paying their debt had modest budget deficits or even surpluses in the years prior to the collapse of the bubble.

(Dean Baker. "The NYT Disappears the Housing Bubble". Beat the Press blog.)

It never ceases to annoy me every time the Winnipeg Sun or even the Winnipeg Free Press goes onto some rant about how important "cutting the provincial deficit right away" by slashing programs is. The amount of damage this fashionable nonsense, which fails to address the actual cause of the deficit*, causes is enormous.

*That cause being a global aggregate demand slump - due to the housing bubble burst - leading to less profits which results in less tax dollars

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Pat Martin beating the merger drum again

Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin thinks the Federal NDP must merge or "cooperate" with the Liberals.

OTTAWA — Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin says he is preparing to ramp up his demands for a merger or official co-operation between the NDP and the Liberal Party of Canada.
At the outset of the NDP leadership race, Martin said he would only support a candidate who pledged to co-operate or merge with the Liberals, as a united centre-left movement to defeat the Conservatives. He even went as far as to say he'd run for the leadership himself if no such candidate were to emerge.
Thus far, B.C. MP Nathan Cullen is the only one who has really even opened the door to co-operation. Cullen has proposed the Liberals and NDP and possibly the Green Party hold joint nominations to field just one candidate in Conservative-held ridings. He has ruled out a full merger saying it's too difficult.
It appears he may be nearing the critical halfway point in support for his demands. An Ipsos-Reid poll for Postmedia News released Monday shows 44 per cent of NDP supporters and 41 per cent of Liberal supporters like the idea of a merger. Overall, 40 per cent of Canadians back the idea. 
The Ipsos news release suggests these numbers are high enough that a leadership contender for either party could use the issue to garner support. But it's noteworthy more than half the supporters of both parties are not supportive of a merger, with 31 per cent of NDP backers and 29 per cent of Liberal backers strongly against the idea. 
The poll was conducted by phone of 1,000 Canadians on Nov. 8-9. It is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points. 
At least two NDP leadership candidates, NDP president Brian Topp and Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair, have firmly ruled out a merger ahead of the next election. Topp kept the door open to co-operating with the Liberals in the event of another minority government.

(Mia Rabson. "Manitoba NDP MP to increase pressure for deal with Liberals". Vancouver Sun.

All in all, I'm skeptical of the prospects of merger. A lot of people look at the "Unite the Right" phenomena and think that it guaranteed Harper his Conservative governments. It didn't, the support for the united Conservative Party of Canada still wasn't enough to topple the Liberal government (and the support for the new Conservative Party was initially less than the sum of the support for the PCs and Alliance). The SPONSORSHIP SCANDAL was what opened the door to the Harper Government™. A lot of people seem to forget just how big a deal that was back in the mid-2000s. 

Some form of cooperation - especially when in the House of Commons - seems reasonable and necessary for developing a healthy multi-party democracy, but I revel at the thought of restricting choices for voters at the riding level. 

All in all, what are the prospects for the Opposition? With a litany of minor scandals (most of which were done when Harper was in a Minority government) it's only a matter of time before the Harper Government™ does something colossally stupid. Coupled with the ever present danger of a second dip in the global economy, the Conservatives don't look too good five years from now.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Saganash rebukes Harper's Foreign & Veteran Policy

Protest over the Harper Government's overhaul of
Veteran's Pensions

Image Source: CPCML
Romeo Saganash, writing in the Huffington Post:

Canadians take pride in our historic role on the world stage. Our history has been one of an honest broker of peace. But over the years, we have seen this change. 
Ironically, in pursuing his "Canada-first" strategy, Stephen Harper instead has ensured that Canada's interests will not be at the forefront when important international decisions are being made. 
Over and over, the Harper government has demonstrated how poorly they understand international law and diplomatic relations. Representatives from other countries have openly wondered what happened to Canada. Our leadership on global issues can no longer be relied upon. The proof of Canada's fall from relevance was our failure to win a seat on the UN Security Council, a clear rebuke to what was once an expectation of an automatic place at the table. 
When anyone criticizes these policies, the current government hides behind our brave soldiers in the field, equating support for Stephen Harper with support for the troops. At the same time, the government proposes cuts to Veterans Affairs and breaches the medical privacy of veterans. This is a strange version of support. 
I believe that when they get home, those who have served their country deserve the best service in return. I also believe that before we send them into danger, our troops deserve to know what is expected and why it is asked of them.

 It's long overdue that people start calling Harper out for shamelessly identifying his political interests with that of Canada's military personnel. Some particularly brainless supporters - like Don Cherry - have boasted of Harper's "support for the Troops", yet when they really need it (like after the horrors of war) the Harper Government is nowhere to be found.

Market Interventions in Everything: The pencil

John Quiggin, from Crooked Timber, describes the numerous processes that lead to a pencil.

(h/t to Mike Huben

The Point of the Occupy Movement

Occupy Protester: From the US, yet articulating a concern
that equally applies to Canada, where austerity measures
surely won't improve the youth unemployment rate.

Image Source: MMT Wiki
I've met a lot of people who wonder what the point of the Occupy Movement is, especially in Canada. I've even stumbled upon an article from Andrew Coyne stating the Occupy Movement is utterly pointless in Canada. If I have enough time, I plan on writing a post to refute some of the more wonkish points in his article*, but I'm still pretty busy so don't hold me to it.

What's really interesting about the variety of criticisms about the Occupy Movement being pointless is how they demonstrate the very point of the movement. The national conversation, in the United States and (too a lesser extent) in Canada was about how reckless spending had caused the crisis, how the government would have to make deep cuts to silly "over-indulgent" programs**, and how government deficit is the sole economic concern. Rightwing populists South of the Border were channeling anger at immigrants and blaming the poor duped into loans by supposed financial experts for the crisis through groups like the Tea Parties. After the Occupy Movement, people in the media started to recall that the crisis began and was caused by the recklessness of American and European banks and began to realize that unemployment and household deb are the pressing cancers crippling the real economy. Proper diagnosis of the problem is a prerequisite for a lasting solution to the problem.

And perhaps the best illustration of how the Occupy Movement is succeeding in shifting the national conversation rests in Coyne's own article.

Inequality is a legitimate concern in its own right, of course, quite apart from the costs of government.  
The gap that ought to trouble us is not between the top one per cent and the other 99 per cent, but between the bottom 10 per cent and the rest of us. Whatever harm may be imagined to arise from people being too rich, there is ample research on the harm that comes from being too poor, especially to children: poor, not only as a matter of absolute privation, but of relative inequality.
Even given that Coyne's attention to relative poverty within society is solely to deflect concern over the growth at the top, this is a promising note. Can you imagine a conservative writer for Maclean's declaring the importance of equity in the distribution of wealth before the Occupy Movement? There'd be little discussion of the matter in much of Canada's Corporate Press without the groundwork the Occupiers have laid. And for that, I thank them.

Regardless, not all of the Occupy movement ignores the distirbution of wealth within the bottom 99%, as this video from Occupy Toronto demonstrates.

 The distribution of income was never the sole concern for the protesters either. Adbusters, an early organizer of the Occupy WallStreet protest (which spawned the broad Occupy Movement) stated clear concerns early on:

This could be the beginning of a whole new social dynamic in America, a step beyond the Tea Party movement, where, instead of being caught helpless by the current power structure, we the people start getting what we want whether it be the dismantling of half the 1,000 military bases America has around the world to the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act or a three strikes and you're out law for corporate criminals. Beginning from one simple demand – a presidential commission to separate money from politics – we start setting the agenda for a new America.

Canada has prudent financial oversight, so the Glass-Steagall Act isn't as much of a deal. But the influence of corporate power over public policy is as much of a concern in Canada as it is in the US, even with a lower limit for campaign contributions (which the Conservatives have managed to get around anyway). Opposition from big banks in Canada was one of the key reasons why European-led plans for a global financial transactions tax failed and the Alberta Oil Sands industry remains a key player in obstructing environmental regulations.

As these issues persist, Occupy Canada remains relevant.


*Something that struck me when reading the article was how Coyne's, when arguing for the fairness of Canada's tax system with respect to the top 1%, focuses on income taxes, and not our (markedly less progressive) sales tax system.

**In a WTF??!! moment, US commentator Joe Scarborough compared medical programs people - particularly low-income people - depend on to chocolate cake. Which reminds me of a specific urban legend about Marie Antoinette.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Romeo Saganash campaign site

Romeo Saganash, a Cree Leader from northern Quebec elected to Parliament last election, launched his NDP leadership campaign website sometime in September. I just recently stumbled across it.

Saganash, the second person to declare their candidacy in the leadership race, doesn't have much of a profile outside Quebec. His coverage has been low in the rest of Canada, at least after announcing his bid. This is such a shame, as Saganash brings many strengths to the race, including experience with...

Knowledge of getting things done in government will certainly be an asset to a social reform oriented NDP Prime Minister. 

Below is one of his English language interviews, with

Lest we forget

Tomb of the Unknown Solider
Image Source: Lune Vintage
They went with songs to the battle, they were young. 
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow. 
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted, 

They fell with their faces to the foe. 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning, 

We will remember them.
Lest we forget.

Happy are these who lose imagination:
They have enough to carry with ammunition.
Their spirit drags no pack.
Their old wounds, save with cold, can not more ache.
Having seen all things red,
Their eyes are rid
Of the hurt of the colour of blood forever.
And terror’s first constriction over,
Their hearts remain small-drawn.
Their senses in some scorching cautery of battle
Now long since ironed,
Can laugh among the dying, unconcerned.

- "Insensibility", a poem by Wilfred Owen 
British First World War soldier 

Friday, 4 November 2011

Life's been busy, such a shame

Life's been busy for me lately, a bit too busy for someone as scatter-brained and severely disorganized as myself. Which is such a shame, as there's been so much to talk about. I've had numerous posting ideas; ideas like analyzing the Provincial election and why the NDP won, looking at Press coverage on the Provincial deficit, shedding light on the various inequities that Lake Saint Martin First Nation has continuously suffered, elaborating on the Occupy Winnipeg movement, and taking a glance at the many candidates to enter the race for Federal NDP leader.

If I have time, I might get to some of these issues. For now, sorry about the infrequent posting, but it'll probably continue well into the future.