Friday, October 31, 2008

Electoral Reform, why?

Electoral Reform should not be undertaken lightly. The current system has some flaws and despite the well-meaning intentions of those who think they have a better system it is quite apparent that you can find flaws in those as well. The arguments that I have heard so far can not demonstrate how their replacements would be flawless or avoid the problems we all want to avoid.

Currently we have in our parliamentary system, two houses to discuss laws proposed. The logic of having two houses was that one was supposed to represent the rich elites of society (senators) and the other house was supposed to be based upon spokespeople for the rest of us commoners. This has a long historical basis all the way back to the Romans. Canada has both houses, one is elected and the other is a reward for loyal service to the Canadian community. The elected members have a system of votes where whoever has the most votes, wins (not the majority). If Individual A has 4 votes, Individual B has 3 votes, Individual C has 3 votes.... well the majority have not chosen Individual A.... yet he becomes the representative for everyone.

Many have proposed alternatives, but as I have already mentioned, I think that these alternatives will not work unless we change other aspects as well (at the same time). Here is one of the changes that we would have to do (there are more changes we should do and the transformation should be done in one immediate change, not gradual but the limitations of space in the blog limits me to speak about one of them today): We should have 3 houses to propose and discuss our laws, a tricameral system.

One house would work the same way as we are accustomed to, representation of population, the typical member of parliament. Every chunk of 100 thousand or so would have a representative. The representatives would be loyal to their constituents first and foremost (no more party loyalty). The vote would be done the same way as before, with one exception: the one who has the second most votes would become a sort of opposition critic and scrutinize the winner to make sure that the voices of the constituents are respected. Length of stay as an elected official would be about 3 years. (a House of Representatives)

One house would work similarly to how the US senate functions, representation of political territorial borders... (for Canada it would be based upon provinces).... We could modify it so that the founding member Quebec has a few extra members compared to standard provinces. We could also give a similar number of members for the first nations representation.... So lets theorize 5 per province, 7 extra for Francophones (which includes Quebec and Acadians) as one of the two founding peoples who is now a minority, 2 per territory and 10 for the original inhabitants (which means First Nations). These representatives would be voted for fixed terms of 5 years but not everyone is up for election at the same time. The ones running would have multiple rounds of votes until one gets the majority vote and this is achieved by eliminating from the competition the member who has the lowest votes. So assume Candidate A gets 4 votes, Candidate B gets 3 votes and Candidate C gets 2 votes.... well Candidate C is dropped from the race in the second round and a new vote takes place until Candidate A or B gets over 50%. Under this system where Province A has 5 seats, there would be a vote every year for different seats. Each winner serves for 5 years but each year can give them a new co-legislator. Again, these representatives are loyal to their region (the Bloc Quebecois would fit here well). You could call this a "House of Regions".

The 3rd house would be called a "House of Ideas". This is where the political party is primary. Your loyalty is based upon ideology of your political party. You would have proportional representation. If the political party gets 1% of the vote he gets 2 seats. The political party draws up a list of 200 names in order of importance, whoever is at the top of the list gets the seat. So, using the above example, the first 2 people on the list would have the seat in this house. It is obvious that the parties would vote as a block because their loyalty is not based upon the wellbeing of their community or the wellbeing of their region, but rather based upon ideology (the wellbeing of their nation). (the NDP or Green Party would fit here well). An election would be held every 7 years where everyone is up to be elected.

Now once the three houses were formed, the elected members of all three houses would vote for a Prime Minister, who could be from any of the three houses..... but the details of how this would work is the subject of another blog.... because I would also want to have the possibility of having a President as well as a Governor General (consider this to be a hybrid presidential-parliamentary system with a third member to prevent impasse between the President who answers to the people, and the Prime Minister who answers to Parliament).

Naturally these ideas are only seeds of thought, I would include the ideas that each of the three elected houses have different architectural styles to reflect the differences of each. For example, one could be more of a round-table process to psychologically insinuate the equality of each member, while another house could be built to have a platform at the end of a room where whoever proposes or debates a law has the psychological sense that this is an intellectual debate that must be respected because he is currently above everyone else while speaking/debating.... I would not want to eliminate the Westminster model of opposing factions either because, the strength of a democracy is not solely based upon consensus, but also upon fierce opposing competition. Each house would focus on a strength of democratic thinking. (our problems are that we tend to think one method of doing democracy is superior to the other: competitive ideas versus consensus-building..... both have their place, so we should include and diversify methods.

As you have noticed, I also desire to diversify methods of electoral competition. Where one political actor will excel in a proportional contest, he may not succeed in a majority contest or even in a charismatic contest.... our democracy needs to allow strengths from varying forms of intellectual processes to succeed.... not just the same old thing.... stagnation results and cynicism or apathy from a population enters the equation.

Now, I have not focused upon division of powers (law-making vs law-executing vs law-interpretation), nor have I not focused upon division of governance (FEDERALISM: where you have an over-arching governing entity and several provinces or states who have their own powers and do not answer to the federal entity VS CENTRALISM: where you have only one central governing entity and everything is answerable to the central authority). I may look into this in later blogs.... I will just note that for this to function properly, we need a much more sophisticated populace to scrutinize issues better than what they have been doing. For that, we need to have better education and more free time to be citizens.... not consumers like the extreme capitalist desires, not workers like the extreme socialist desires, but citizens: who work, consume and think in appropriate proportions.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Theatre of Politics

This is a response to the comment about my blog "Critics on Conservatives". Since my response requires more than a few paragraphs, I have decided to use the blog entry to respond as opposed to the comments section.

Politicians we see and hear are like the actors in a play. The leaders of the political parties could be seen as the major actors, the main protagonists. We, the public, are the audience in this theater. When the play moves us, we applaud! We choose our favorite actor and we allow him to set the pace of the story to continue entertaining us. What we do not see or perceive is that there is a stage director, a theater owner and a bunch of support staff to make the theater run smoothly.

The celebrity actor has prestige and power and is often allowed alot of leeway to carry the story forward. The actor (politician) has to satisfy his public (the electorate), has to negotiate around the scenery of the stage (the bureaucracy), has to have a great support staff around him to remind him of the script, put makeup on etc (supporters). But there is also the director to satisfy and the theater owner.... and who would they be in society? What kind of power do they have? They can manipulate the lighting to make a politician look bad or play music while the actor tries to deliver a rousing speech.... any actor who forgets this does not remain successful for very long.

The main problem with this entire argument is that it is very difficult to verify or to scrutinize. The director does not want the spotlight on him, nor does the theater owner. Here is an illustration to demonstrate what I mean: a privately owned corporation does not have to reveal ownership of its corporation to the public.... so assume Individual A owns Corporation Wowzers and Corporation Zipzip. No one has any idea of Individual A's influence upon these privately held corporations. Corporation Wowzers decides to have a controlling interest in McDonalds and Corporation Zipzip decides to have a controlling interest in Burger King.... Remember that no one knows that Individual A controls both corporations and each corporation has strong influence in competing restaurants.... so in essence, Individual A can set the tone in both competing restaurants.

Apparently, Future Shop and Best Buy are controlled by the same owner. Future Shop's philosophy is to hard sell, pressure the customer to buy and the salespeople receive commission for their sales. Best Buy's philosophy is to inform and help the customer, no sales pressure and the salespeople do not receive commission. Both places sell pretty much the same type of product and if one customer is angry at one, they run to the other company. Either way, the owner of both still gets the customer's money and does not change the formula.

Now my initial blog was not looking at politics in general and how it really functions or who really chooses the tune. My blog was looking at the actor's skill in gathering public praise for applause (or the electorate's vote). My commentary was how the actor sometimes uses spectacle instead of clever dialogue to get the applause. A democracy functions on the assumption that the better dialogue will gather the most applause. Rhetoric and lies are flashy spectacle that are meaningless yet entertaining to the public and many choose their favorite actors based upon these spectacles.

The actors may not be running the show as the commentator was pointing out, but the topic was more about the actor's skill or lack thereof that I was commenting on and how our applause should be directed towards intelligent dialogue which carries the story forward instead of distracting spectacles that rivet our attention upon the stage. The cynics among us refuse to watch the stage or to applause yet can not figure out that they are also part of the theater house and have a stake to protect. The commentator has the cynical view of politics and assumes that nothing can be done because the actors are not the real power of the theater house. Perhaps rewarding the actor for his thought-provoking dialogue, our power as the audience will also influence the director of the play and the owner of the theater? We are supposed to be in a democracy.... so to make it work, we must scrutinize and not allow rhetoric to blind us or else our emotions will dictate policy.... and emotions are so easily manipulated (why else does advertising get so much money unless it works against our better judgments?)

So we should care about the actor's intentions because we still have the power of applause, and as we scrutinize the actor's intentions and speech, we will be that much closer to scrutinize other components of the play as well as the theater house and who actually runs what. Then and only then will our applause guide the story to its proper course, we will be active participants instead of passive sheep who stay silent while being satisfied with trinkets and spectacles.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Critics on Conservatives

There have been many who have criticized Stephen (Harper) on his platform and how he neglects certain issues. Throughout the election campaign, Stephen has been careful to ask the electorate to look at the track record. If you do not make any boasts, you can not really be accused of using rhetoric. Stephen pretty much told us that he would continue governing with proper judgment as he has demonstrated with verifiable experience.

One issue though can be potentially used against him as being political rhetoric to garner votes. I say potentially but to be honest, the accusation has already been made against Stephen.... I just think that the accusation is way too premature to be done with credibility. There is no proof that indicates any malice on the part of Stephen.... but for this exercise, we can assume that it is accurate just so we can see another potential example of "lying" to get votes.

The issue comes to the recognition of Quebec as a national identity which needs to be protected and accepted. The accusation is that Stephen is only paying lip service and has no intention of honoring or of understanding this unique culture. The sovereignists proposed this possibility to recapture the electorate from Stephen for themselves. The evidence they used was the fact that Stephen had cut funding on culture (about 1% cut in comparison to the whole, but still a cut which is extremely important for the Quebecois). The second piece of evidence was that they used the misunderstanding of the Conservatives to prove that if the Conservative Party really understood Quebec then they would not have done certain tactics.

To explain, you must imagine that you are the father of two sons. One of your sons likes football and fast cars following in your footsteps (because you like these things as well), your second son prefers golf and birdwatching. You approach your second son and finally tell him that you accept him in his differences and that you will not hold against him his likes and dislikes..... Yet, on his birthday, you give him the very best sportscar money can buy..... In this situation, are you really accepting your second son's unique personality or are you trying to manipulate him into liking the same things you do? Well if the accusation is true, Stephen is lying deliberately and has no intention of respecting the law recognizing Quebec as a nation.

Again to be honest, Stephen can not be accused of this credibly except through a historical scrutiny which has yet to pass. But you must admit, that if it is true, it would be yet another example of rhetoric to manipulate the voters.

This metaphor draws from the event where one of Stephen's political party members was pointing out to the Quebec electorate how their previous votes had been completely wasted upon a political party who has never had any real power in the parliamentarian system. I believe that this is a cultural perception of the same political process of the parliamentarian system. For Stephen and his political party, the practice of power can only be achieved by being the dominant political party in the house. The majority sets the tone of the environment. For the Quebec sovereignist, a parliamentary system is democratic only when there are conflicting voices within the house and that public discussion is enabled.... it does not matter if their voice is the minority, as long as it is considered when any decision is made. If the Quebec sovereignist is ignored on every issue, it gives them legitimacy that their voices are not heard at all and fuels their movement.

So, their argument becomes this: if Stephen really does accept that Quebec is culturally different, why not try to understand their cultural code? A politician knows the linguistic code for Quebec: speak French to be understood, what may not have been understood yet is to know the cultural code as well. Pointing something which is true and relevant for you does not mean that it becomes relevant for someone else. Pointing out how another party has wasted their money and showed no tangible results becomes an exercise in futility when the results that were achieved were intangible yet felt and recorded as such.

-You produced no vegetables. (says Stephen's friend)
-We were trying to produce orchards for wine and we succeeded! (says the sovereignist)
-But vegetables are what is important to put on one's plate to consume. (continues Stephen's friend)
-If you have nothing to wash down your meal, it becomes bland. (counters the sovereignist)
(with the inevitable result that the Quebec electorate felt more confortable with the sovereignist party)

So again, it is not really possible to judge Stephen's intentions. If the accusation is true, then Stephen is using rhetoric. If the accusation is false, then it is a cultural misunderstanding on both sides of the spectrum. I suspect that this may be a simple case of cultural misunderstanding.... in the hopes that both begin to understand and communicate properly between themselves.... otherwise this particular misunderstanding can be abused and become deliberate propaganda (worse than mere rhetoric).

Friday, October 24, 2008

New visions for Bloc Quebecois

A somewhat different example of lying can be found with Gilles (Duceppe) with his political party called the Bloc Quebecois (a translation in English would be something along the lines the "combined common front of our culture", so if we had a world parliament and many different political parties, someone from the US could have one called the American Front political party). The rationale for the name helps you understand what they are all about, they do not promote one side of the political left-right ideological spectrum or the other; instead, they promote the culture of the Quebecois and make decisions that support this cultural view of doing things. For someone who is used to a more traditional left/right view of the world it becomes a little confusing to see a regional political party who does not concern itself with regions outside its home-region. Opponents who don't want to think or want to use rhetoric as a weapon against them just write them off as "seperatists who want to destroy Canada". This prejudice actually fuels their existance and they use this prejudice to gather support for their cause. The reality is that this political party promotes the sovereignty of their cultural identity so that it has nationhood status, they are willing to go as far as seperating themselves from Canada if they need to, but they have the secret desire in their hearts to have something similar to what the European Union have.... and they want to unite with Canada on that basis.....

Whether or not this is practical or even possible is not the focus of this particular blog but I do need to put a bit of context so that we can understand Gilles and his political party's agenda. If you can understand that they are not anti-Canadian but merely pro-Quebecois, then you are closer to appreciate their thoughts even if you don't necessarily agree with them.... (I prefer to believe that it is better to understand before you disagree).

The previous two blogs showed lies involving rhetoric in politics. If you remember Stephane was self-contradicting himself by claiming that action X was innapropriate and that he would never do action X but his method of informing us that his opponent had done action X against him was using X as an action.... (two thieves rob the same store and the first one publicly denounces the second thief and then accuses the second thief of disloyalty when the second one claims partnership with the first). Then if you remember the second blog where Jack was using a known moral flaw to drum up support for a decision which would inevitably promote the moral flaw.... (someone tells you that cavities are bad news because you have to suffer through a dentist's office to fill them up so the solution is to avoid the dentist and ask the dentist to please leave). Remember that these lies can be found in ANY political party and unfortunately these lies actually help them to get support because they sound so confident when they use them that most don't bother to actually analyze what was actually said.... (packaging is more important than the product found inside).

For Gilles, the example I will use here is his rhetoric on statistics and how his rhetoric conveniently changes when the statistical results show a new result. This is based upon memory, so if somehow I am wrong, don't worry, I am certain you have seen someone in politics use this very illustration. On one Federal election result, the Bloc Quebecois had lost many seats and many self-proclaimed experts were saying their wishful fantasies that said that the Bloc Quebecois was finally on its way out. Gilles' political party were less powerful in the Parliament than before. What did Gilles say about this? Gilles said that what was important was that he had the majority of the votes within Quebec and that was what was important, the statistics showed that more people voted for this political party within Quebec compared to all the other parties.... To illustrate, let me use an example:

Zone 1--> Party A has 8 votes, Bloc has 7 votes.
Zone 2--> Party B has 8 votes, Bloc has 7 votes.
Total seats-->Party A-->1 seat, Party B-->1 seat, Bloc-->zero seats.
Total votes-->Party A-->8 votes, PartyB-->8 votes, Bloc-->14 votes.
percent seats vs percent votes-->
Party A-->50% vs 27% (approx)
Party B-->50% vs 27% (approx)
Bloc------> 0% vs 46% (approx)
So using these figures, you can see how the popular vote goes to the Bloc yet they have no seats in this particular example. So Gilles points out the statistical facts and uses this to justify doing X or Y in his actions. He has the unofficial majority so that is what is important and that is why he will do what he chooses to do.

Well that's fine and dandy for him, but guess what? The latest elections gives a reversal of fortune for Gilles and his political party. Gilles now has more seats than anyone else in Quebec, but the statistics show that he is quite low in the popular vote. Gilles changes his tune without batting an eyelid.... His argument becomes: "this democracy functions on the basis of the one who has the most seats so that is what is important and that is why he will do what he chooses to do."

Does that not seem inconsistent? Now anyone who thinks this example or the previous two blogs does not show anything wrong and that is the nature of the beast in politics.... Remember, I am not pointing out the immorality of the lie, just pointing out that it is a lie, an inconsistency in rational thinking.... the nature of rhetoric which fuels our democratic debates and our electoral processes. To function well, one must learn to lie well. The morality issue of these actions are not yet brought to the forefront, just illustrations of what is being done and applying the definition of what a lie is and seeing an equal sign between the definition and the actual actions described. If the reader is not shocked and sees this as normal state of operations.... then may I suggest that he has been acclimated to this form of lying.

The reason I state all of this is because, most won't believe that there are lies within the system or that one must be a skillful liar to succeed in our political system so I demonstrate examples, then these same people who would say that there are no lies, will then admit that these examples do in fact show lies but that they are ok-lies. This then becomes a new debate, which lies are ok and which are objectionable? Some are cynical and just assumes everything is a lie so they wish to throw out the baby with the bathwater and they won't bother paying attention to any examples because they already think they know them all and will refuse to see the cases where someone is being truthful. (Both extremes are unfortunate, one must admit that lies happen in this field not believe that there are no lies or that everything is a lie) When we have reached the middle ground and accept that lies do in fact happen, we can then wonder and ask ourselves if this is "normal" and desirable or whether or not something should be done to avoid it or to encourage more scrutiny.

It is always easier to see theft in the economic system because it is tangible and someone is being cheated out of something or other.... whether it be a product or one's time or anything else measurable, theft is easier to determine. The lie within the political system is much harder to ascertain and if there is a discoverable lie, we then have to judge the intent of the one who delivered it, was it deliberate or accidental? If the morality itself of the lie is under question, it brings a new dimension in its detection. So my examples of lying can always be discounted as just part of the game much like hockey has its share of fistfights on the ring.... We don't want our children to imitate the big leagues but we enjoy the occasional bash we see in the big leagues. What I may be aiming for is to have us concentrate in our metaphorical hockey game to promote skating and puck handling to succeed in getting goals instead of accepting or glorifying the metaphorical fistfights (the rhetoric, the lies).

Part of our problem in our society may be this acceptance of the lie within our political sphere as well as the acceptance of the theft within our economic sphere. First step is to recognize it when it happens..... not ignore it and not be cynical either (both are in a bubble world, one is more pleasant than the other but they are both being lulled to inaction).

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NDP and their wondrous Bubble World

Jack (Layton) is cool! As leader of the New Democratic Party (a political party), he is quite charismatic. How can you not like this guy? He wants to help the poor, he doesn't mind meeting you in your kitchen and having a cup of coffee talking about the matters that concern the working class.... which if I do think is the majority social class in Canada. Jack's political ad on TV has Jack look at you in your eyes and he says his name and that he is with the "NEW democrats!".... wow, what presence!

His heart is in the right place and he wishes to improve our world with more social programs. My problem is that sometimes his willingness to sacrifice important issues to fund his equally important social programs makes me wonder just what he is hoping to accomplish in a long term planning. Jack wants to cut funding on the military. Jack wants to bring the soldiers serving in a mission in Afghanistan back to Canada immediately. Jack uses the reasoning that this will allow us to send in workers to build a much needed infrastructure within Afghanistan instead of using soldiers to attack people. The implication is that the socialist who makes this statement is saying two things simultaneously: the first-->War is bad and Peace is good.... lucky for humanity that we have figured this out and are telling this to the population at large; and the second-->If you use soldiers for any reason, you must love War and hate Peace.

Lets look at cutting the funds for the military. Imagine that you see a fire station and every time you visit the station you happen to see the firefighters playing cards. You hear the occasional joke that one of them should go and start a fire somewhere so that they can get busy. You remember one story where a firefighter in the past had actually created fires so that they could go out and fight the fire.... Seeing all of this would make you wonder about the usefulness of this department.... You have never seen a fire in your neighborhood in the past 100 years, so why spend all that money on this department.... Of course, there may be a potential fire in the future so you don't want to completely eliminate the entire department..... but you have 20 firefighters now in this fictional department and 5 trucks.... Well as far as Jack is concerned, you could cut it down to 5 firefighters and have 1 truck.... and if ever there is a fire, we can have the immediate neighbors help out under the supervision of the firefighters. This decision is not based upon the realities of fighting fires but on the perception of wasting public money for a fire that may not even happen. Now we can all understand how this would be disastrous under the context of fighting fires and we would be shocked if this budget cut actually happened, but guess what? This is the very cuts that Jack would wish for.

A military budget is based upon very long term projections, it may take an entire generation for today's budget cuts can be felt in the realities of the battlefield.... This not only includes equipment use but also public acceptance of military operations. There have been cuts made about a generation ago onto the military and when Canada is asked to perform UN peacekeeping operations, they are under-equipped and under-appreciated.... yet we expect them to perform top-notch. (Remember my previous blogs about cutting corners and expecting the remaining employees of a corporation to not only cover the production of the fired employees but they must also surpass the production.... and we all know how unsuccessful they are in that).

Lets look at Jack's desire to bring back the soldiers back home immediately.... again using a firefighter metaphor, we have sent a group of firefighters to fight some forest fire in some obscure region of the world.... Do you really think that this is an appropriate action? People are relying upon your group and right in the middle of a major forest fire.... we pull them out? Ouch, so much for our reputation of helping. Why does Jack want to do this?

Finally, lets look at Jack's argument: where he says that we must send aid workers instead of soldiers and this is why he would pull back the military. Imagine now that you are a social worker and you have been tasked to keep an eye on a family that has alcohol problems and that the parents neglect their children. You have come to the conclusion that the children must be taken out of the house while the parents are encouraged to take some kind of therapy to stop drinking and become responsible.... Jack would applaud you for your heart and willingness to help society (in this case, the parents and the children).... you arrive at the house to bring the children over to their temporary foster homes.... For some funny reason, the currently drunk parents don't want you to enter their property and they are ready to use the family shotgun.... well you know this because your partner just received a shotgun blast a few seconds ago.... Gee don't you wish you had brought the police over to provide security on this issue? Gee don't you wish that the police who escort you would have the tools to deal with this specific situation? Ready to use diplomacy to disarm the parents but willing to use force if necessary. Why do we have the perception that our military somehow are thugs and that they can not use decent judgment to deal with situations?

So one guy used the military in the past for his own personal economic benefit.... and this means that this happens all the time? You had corrupt judges and corrupt cops during the Al Capone time-period.... does that mean we must never trust the institution of law enforcement or the judicial department forever?

Jack as decent as he is, with his great passion to help the common man, makes use of rhetoric. People have negative perceptions about the military, about war, etc which is normal, but rational thinking allows you to see that the military itself is not the evil... it is to be used in an imperfect world.... the goal is to avoid as many mistakes as possible. Jack does not encourage us to think the issues, he uses the natural aversion we have for war and encourages actions that if carried out would create more war or chaos. Using the above metaphors, how successful would the reduced firefighting team be at fighting a new fire? How much resentment would we create if we break a commitment of helping others in their hour of need? How many metaphorical children do you think could be helped if you ignored the police and attempted to bring these children to foster care?

Now it does not matter if Jack believes the rhetoric or not, he uses it to acquire sympathy by using emotions to overrule rationality. Since we all know war is bad, the obvious thing to do is to make a law to make war illegal. This reminds me of the Simpsons episode where the mayor promises a bunch of inconsistent items to his electorate which included ice cream for some.

Perceptions are used to gather votes or sympathy, but when you scrutinize the perceptions, you see that they are never the reality... yet in this illustration, Jack uses the perception that War is bad and the military provokes War. This would be a lie and discoverable if you use a bit of Socratic questioning. Naturally, if you look at any political leader, you could see that they have used such white lies or perceptions of truth to get ahead.... I have used this illustration to show how Jack's desire to sabotage Canada's reputation or military capability has disastrous consequences. If he really believes that we live in such a peaceful world where his views should be seriously considered as bringing about peace then I would suggest to him that he can always make a copy of his house keys and pass them along to me so that I can visit him and make us some coffee when I happen to be in the neighborhood for a chat. Now if he actually does this, the first thing I would chat about is that he is lucky that I am not some nut who would take advantage of his key because there are some who would..... and he would wake up to find most of his possessions are poof-gone. Of course.... if he really does this and provides a rational argument even if it sounds crazy as to why he could trust "me" with his house keys.... I might actually re-look my own presumptions that human beings are generally selfish....

But I suspect that Jack lives in a Bubble World.... As Churchill once said that if you are 20 and not a socialist then you have no heart. Jack is definitely a noble fighter for the poor.... unsure about him becoming a nation's leader though, but hey.... he's definitely someone that should be given charge of domestic issues in politics (education, health, social issues, etc)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Corruption and the Liberals

Well the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada has decided to step down from his position as soon as his new replacement is voted on by the members of the Liberal Party. I had hoped that this humiliation would have woken up the Liberals and they could have begun to show themselves as a plausible alternative to the government as opposed to the stink of corruption they still have on themselves.

Years ago, there had been evidence presented that money from the government was used to promote the Liberal Party in a very positive light. The law prevents public money to be used to promote a political party and it had been shown that this was the case where the Liberal Party had benefited from such an arrangement, it was all steeped in secrecy and money exchanges were by cash with no (or ambiguous) receipts. The leader of the Liberals at that time was Prime Minister and he admitted that wrongdoing had been made and the ones responsible were a minority within the Party. The Liberal Party should not be punished for the wrongs committed by a tiny minority and that he as leader was rectifying the problem.

How did this leader of the Liberal Party pass on his message to the population of Canada? Simple, he spent government money to have a national television broadcast for the Prime Minister. When he had the attention of the Canadian population in their living rooms, he admitted that there was corruption within the Liberal Party, he claimed that this corruption was a minority within the Liberal Party, he claimed that he would clean it up as leader of the Liberal Party..... then to add insult to our intelligence, he claimed that he would never use public money to promote the Liberal Party. HE HAD JUST DONE SO! For whatever reason, many didn't even notice this flagrant slap in the face.....

Well a new leader was chosen afterwards, why they chose a leader who had been known as a bully against the Quebec sovereignists which just strengthened their resolve to show how Ottawa was against Quebec.... well I'll never figure that one out, I guess they really are clueless about how to deal with Quebec. If you make a claim that you think is correct and someone threatens to beat you up for expressing that claim.... do you not think that you will be that much more determined to express it? The 1995 sovereignty referendum showed that to anyone who cared to notice. First the Liberal leader of that time discounted the message like it wasn't even worth his time to reply, then when it was discovered that this angered many, they tried to use threats and fear-mongering which also backfired (remember how close that vote was?). This is where the current leader, Stephane, made his entrance in the public sphere. He decided to use the strategy of being a bully. And even today, people wonder why he is not respected in Quebec.

This humiliating defeat in the election that just happened should have taught this leader a lesson which he could have used to become a better leader. No such luck; he spent his goodbye speech to blame the Conservative Party of using a smear campaign against him. Previous errors were not admitted, if the Liberal Party lost so many seats it was because the Conservatives had a better advertising campaign. Stephane makes the claim that people just didn't understand him because the Conservative Party painted him as incompetent.... ironically his own words then say that what we knew of him was the "old" him and that people did not get the chance to know the "new" him (can you see the irony? Stephane says that the claim of incompetence is groundless yet he just admitted that it is based upon what he was--> the "old" him).

Someone asks Stephane how he felt when no one jumped to his public aid for him to stay as leader of the Liberals.... How does this misunderstood leader answer? He continues to relay his message that the Liberals had a great platform, that if the Conservatives had not attacked his personal competence (they had more money for advertising, so we will have to find more money so that we can inform the voters of our platform in a better way).... (irony #2, a perfect opportunity to relay to Canadians that he is someone with feelings, that he is not a high-minded intellectual with views that are inaccessible.... and how does he answer? by repeating the same stuff that the Conservatives have used to fuel their propaganda against this leader). So much for answering the question asked.

The last irony, which is as glaringly obvious as when Paul Martin used a national broadcast to promote the Liberal Party's ratings by using government money and then claiming that he would never use public money to support his political party and that others had done this.... Well a journalist asked a very astute question, she pointed out to Stephane that he was blaming the Conservative Party for negative propaganda and that this seemed to be the main reason of why the Liberal Party lost in the last election, she then asked him if he had any personal responsibility on the defeat of the Liberals. Now two things to point out here, and these can be used in propaganda classes as a perfect example of rhetoric and propaganda.

First, the rhetoric: Stephane says (and I paraphrase): "of course I have personal responsibility in this" then he proceeds with the a big "but".... he starts saying that the Conservative Party used negative advertising that is low (unsubstianted claims against the Liberal Party), but this action only demonstrates that they are using American Politics tactics, the Conservatives import tactics from the Americans or even sometimes from the Australians. This is the glaring irony.... Now whether or not the Conservatives have used low tactics is irrelevant, the implied message is that Stephane or the Liberals are above such low tactics, and yet he attempts to paint the Conservatives as following in the footsteps of American politicians (here in Canada, this is seen as un-Canadian, therefore bad), Stephane further implies that the Conservatives can not have their own Canadian ideas because they import the American way (UNSUBSTIANTED CLAIM) as well as the Australian way (AN ACTUAL CASE WHERE A SPEECH WRITER COPIED A SPEECH FROM AN AUSTRALIAN SPEECH BUT THIS SITUATION COULD HAVE HAPPENED UNDER ANY POLITICAL PARTY EVEN THE LIBERAL PARTY).... So here we have Stephane claiming that the Conservative Party uses low blows against him and provides his own low blow against them while implying that he would never do that. (Brilliant use of rhetoric: an appearance of his opponent's wrongdoing to smash them while claiming to be the victim of the same sort of attack from them that he just delivered to them). Of course, if you look more closely, you will find that the Liberal Party engaged in more "low blows" against the Conservatives than vice versa.... (the Conservatives are definitely not white as snow, but they are substantially whiter than the Liberals and the wrongdoings were acknowledged and corrected).

Second the propaganda--> Now I can not say that this was planned by anybody, but it is the nature of the current media system that we have. It is an example of a blatant lie, but there is no evidence that anyone masterminded this..... (maybe it was planned, but it seems highly unlikely). Stephane answered the above question by spending 95% of his time blaming the Conservative Party.... yet at the beginning of the question he answered that he had personal responsibility in this.... this was more of a sidestepping of the question asked without really answering the main question (something most politicians do, unfortunately.... and we let them get away with this). The irony is that minutes after the question was answered and that Stephane was in the middle of some other question, I noticed at the bottom of the screen the news highlights of the day. Can you guess what I saw? The news brief stated that Stephane said he has personal responsibility for the defeat of his party. True, the words were spoken by him. The implication of that quote contradicts what was actually said, contradicts the very essence of the message that was conveyed. This quote will be used to paint a picture of Stephane as being something that he did not convey at the actual interview.... and if the Conservatives would decide to use other excerpts of that same answer, they would be accused of being "low". This shows the seed of a propaganda being formed to convey the opposite of what just happened.

My rhetoric example above was to show the contradiction (linking to the former corruption which does not seem to have disapeared) of the Liberal Party (focused on its immediate leader). Anyone who is astute can find more examples if they so choose. This is not a personal attack on any one party because any party can be corrupted in a similar way.... I just use this as one example of the inadequacies in our current system of politics (by promoting the lie). My propaganda example above is more an attack on the media, one of the unofficial branches of government. They should be more responsible and take that extra 10 minutes to convey more truth than rushing out a quote that actually misleads the intent of its message.

On a different note about an interview done before the elections even happened:

To be fair to Stephane, he was inapropriately treated when one news channel decided to show their entire personal interview prior to election day when Stephane asked to have his lack of understanding of a question be edited out..... the reason that this was not fair to Stephane was because this kind of editing happens all the time for everyone else..... why treat Stephane any differently? Had this news channel been known to not edit others during such interviews, then I would not defend Stephane on this issue. Now that was a low blow against Stephane (done by a news media who usually edits interviews). But the irony is that this news media usually portrays the Liberals in a much more positive light than the Conservatives.... perhaps they wanted to balance out? More scrutiny would be needed.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Consumer or Citizen?

In the perfect Capitalist world, Consumers make the decisions that matter to society. In the perfect Democratic world, Citizens make the decisions that matter to society. We are competing today as to which is the best way to make changes that will better our society. We are told that the Consumer's choice regulates the market and that we can pressure the big business to comply with our wishes. When Democracy was being introduced, we were taught that being a proper Citizen would enable the noblest of endeavors to be accomplished. Lets look at each to see which is better suited.

Consumers are faced with advertising which are not factual and as a result we have the saying of buyer beware. This warning gives us an illusion of choice between product A and B, once we scrutinize both, we will choose the better product. Here is an example how we, as consumers are sometimes not even given the choice between product A and B. Imagine you are a corner store owner, you have a small refrigerator that can only fit one product and you have to choose between both.

Product A is real juice, costs 40 cents to make and sells it to the store for 60 cents and asks the store to sell it for 1 dollar.... (the store owner makes a profit of 40 cents for each bottle sold).

Product B is flavored water that tastes like juice, costs 10 cents to make and sells it to the store for 30 cents and asks the store to sell it for 80 cents... (the store owner makes a profit of 50 cents for each bottle sold).

Now as a store owner, which bottle will you carry? You make more profit on the cheaper priced bottle, your competitor across the street will obviously carry the cheaper priced item and be able to afford snazzier advertising to attract the customer over to his store.... so you as a store owner will carry product B. Where is the Consumer's choice? All the corner stores in the neighborhood will carry the cheaper item and only the slightly bigger store may carry the alternate product.... Don't believe this example is credible? Why are dollar stores so successful then? The Consumer is thinking of his pocket book in the here and now, not in some unknowable future, so even if he buys a cheaper product that ruins his health or invests in the economy of another country at the expense of his own.... it doesn't matter, he has been making his decision as a Consumer.

The Citizen, as a contrast, must be educated and scrutinize decisions made or arguments that help to make decisions. To make Democracy work, the Citizen must not be lazy or exhausted. Our current consumer-oriented society offers the choice between easy spectacle (Hollywood Blockbuster with plenty of explosions) or out of the way film (Shakespearean type of literature). So the choice is between the "lets-allow-ourselves-to-take-a-ride-and-not-think" and the "this-literature-makes-me-think-about-issues-and-has-moved-me-deeply". The lazy in society will always choose the spectacle over the film, this makes for a lazy mind and makes propaganda that much more effective against the supposed responsible Citizen. The non-lazy Citizen will choose to see both, as someone who has a diet of meat and vegetables with the occasional sweet chocolate cake, of course this desire means more efforts must be made because the consumer society promotes the cheaper product as mentioned in the previous paragraph.

The exhausted Citizen is the one who is not given proper time to scrutinize the news, to engage in literature, to think. He comes home at night after working non-stop at some job (and trust me his own boss did not work as hard and was engaged in conversations with other bosses in society and within his own corporation to have a better view of the society in direct contrast to the worker who was not allowed to talk to anyone but to focus on the job in front of him). This individual which many call the working poor (because the salary doesn't place him above the poverty line) is too exhausted to scrutinize the news, to read literature, to think.... he can only recuperate with the spectacle, to take his mind off of his job temporarily.

Imagine how Democracy would be different if the Citizen was allowed to manifest himself. For approximately 8 hours in a day, this Citizen is not allowed to be a Citizen, he must follow orders and can not practice his duties as a proper Citizen. His immediate supervisor may also be exhausted but the decision makers of the corporation definitely take the time to concern themselves with what the society is doing. When the worker gets home exhausted, he spends whatever time he has to recuperate, to do chores around the house, to hear a very basic generality of what has happened in the world and then he sleeps to repeat the same pattern the next day. This Citizen is told that he is participating in Democracy because he takes some time off his recuperation time to go vote.... but year after year his immediate condition has not improved..... AND THE EXPERTS WONDER WHY THERE IS SUCH APATHY?

The solution offered to this exhausted Citizen is to become a Consumer, and we know where that will lead us.

We can afford to double our salary, cut the cost of living by half, reduce our daily work hours, reduce our weekly work days and increase our weekly vacation times in a year. The technology is there, the money is very well hidden but there. The political will is not there and the current rich won't abide or tolerate such a redistribution of wealth (even at the expense of their descendants as our society stagnates more and more each generation). I think that our Democracy can work if and only if we allow our Citizens the tools to make it work, even if we should have less luxury trinkets as the result.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

In the Service of the Rich?

Previous blogs gave examples of why our current economic system favors the intelligent thief. If you have the morality of stealing from others, you will become rich and get public recognition of being a great member of society. This was mentioned to show what we tolerate as a society and also how much money is available to pay for our precious and failing education and health care. If a government is forced to use $100 as a budget and that health care alone requires $80 and education requires $90.... well we can see that harsh sacrifices must be made when the total budget we give our governments is mere peanuts compared to the riches we know exist out there.

We seem to think that we can not make major changes in the rules of the game and that we can only administer budgets under the existing rules. After all, the debates of the elections have so far been about how to administer the public purse and creating rules to make its administration easier. Yet the irony is this, and I don't know how many people have noticed it but.... when the richest members of society have had their small hiccup with the economy, the governments of the entire world moved as one mind to help solve this crisis that touches the richest of society. The poorer you are in the system, the less this crisis affects your pocket book worth.

Now we can debate to see if these measures are but a band-aid on the problem or not, my point is that an unusual compliance of world governments have come together to protect the interests of the very rich. If the world governments can do this in such a short time in the interest of serving a small minority, how much more could be done if they were serving the interests of the majority?

Lets look at my argument from the previous blogs and put it all together:

-We have a problem dealing with issues because we move too quickly and do not take the time to think.
-We have the technology to take the time to do things properly.
-Current budgets have no money to solve the real problems so we stagnate and try to keep afloat.
-There is an overabundance of money available and thieves have control of the purse.
-There is a lack of will to solve the problems as we should because we would prefer to serve the rich with the belief that one of us poor suckers may become rich ourselves one day and we want to be served in the same way.

In brief, we have an economic system that rewards the intelligent thief and we do nothing about it. I would also suggest that we have a political system that rewards the intelligent liar but finding examples of that is much more difficult. I don't want to use blanket expressions that all politicians are the same or that one party is better than another at X or Y. The current politicians are playing a game, and they must play it well to get some things done, and the nature of that system requires rhetoric (fancy word for lying).

My next blogs will critique our current system of governance and how again we are responsible for allowing it to get that way. We know that money can be acquired by the snap of the fingers for society's sake, deficits can be written to be non-existant by a simple law that says so.... The current crisis shows an attempt at rewriting the rules to benefit the rich who have lost out (imagine if they would have the same motivation to serve the poor in the same zeal.... when the poor loses out, tough luck for them).

So in brief we are in an economic system that supports the thief and a political system that supports the liar. To change one system we must change the other at the same time. Democracy introduces Capitalism like a child, when the child takes over and treats Democracy like a child, we lose out the better elements of both. We must transform Capitalism and Democracy and bring them back into the proper level of balance (assuming that those systems are the ones we want). Democracy must become the leader of Capitalism. The political must command the economic. Our main problem is that we have allowed the Economic to subtly become the Leader over the Political. An alternate argument which follows in the same idea as the economic/political relationship, we have allowed Laws to dictate what is Justice when Justice should determine its Laws.

Again, this is something we have tolerated. Shall we continue to tolerate this foolishness? Shall we smash down the idols we have created and now worship? Lets take the time to think and then implement prudent actions. I have shown that our economic system is a runaway train and we are all passengers on this train, lets take back the control as we should before we run out of railway. As for the political system..... future blogs will explore that one.

Monday, October 13, 2008

What kind of Leader do you want?

Well here's a metaphorical outlook of the situation in Canadian elections and what the leaders are saying:

The neighbor's house is on fire and the fire department has been called (US economy taking its nosedive and Senate trying to come up with a law to solve it). The boss of the house we live in is explaining how our house is built with brick and stone and will not catch fire like the neighbor's house, we do not have to worry about our house catching fire (our banking system and how our economy works is built upon stronger foundations than the US). What do the other leaders who want to be the boss of our house are saying? "PANIC!!! OUR HOUSE IS ABOUT TO CATCH ON FIRE!", then they all ridicule the current boss of our house in doing nothing.

The current boss mentions how we can spend our time to get a water hose and perhaps spray our lawn and our wooden sheds which may be at risk (a proper time to invest in low priced stock, a proper piece of advice considering that our economic system is based upon Invest-Produce-Consume and that if one of these three components is damaged, it affects the other two). How do the other leaders respond to our current boss's advice? "PANIC!!! WE HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT THE POSSESSIONS IN OUR ROOMS!", then they all ridicule the current boss of our house for giving foolish advice.

The Investor within our economy has to have confidence that his investment will bring him a return, this will only happen if the Producer and the Consumer do their jobs. If leaders yell out PANIC, the Consumer will consume less. If the Consumer consumes less, the Producer will not produce as much and the Investor will worry and invest less. Less investment will mean less Producers which will then make the situation a real cause for panic.... there will not be enough Consumers (they just lost their jobs) etc for a downward spiral. Our current boss of our house is maintaining a calm head and saying that things are on track and the others are using the election to gather extra votes by risking our economy.... Does the Canadian population really want self-serving leaders who use panic to get votes? Our house is intact, there is no reason to panic. We can take preparations, which are already being done, to try to protect the weaker aspects of our economy.

So I ask again, if you are in a shopping center and the fire alarm has rung out to have the area evacuated because of a fire in an office building next door.... who do you prefer to be in charge of the evacuation, the one who calmly guides us towards the exits and says that everything is fine or the ones who scream at the top of their lungs: "PANIC! EVERYONE FOR THEMSELVES! oh and vote for me because I saved your life!"

Look at the situation, see how our economy works. See what our current boss has succeeded in many projects.... as a minority government!!! Forget the foolish name-calling or the rhetoric or the propaganda of all of the political parties (yes even the current boss's political party engages in this..... its the nature of our current political system to do it that way and the public seems to encourage it because very few of us verify claims made) Be scientific, the proof is there.... verify.

Now I do see flaws in our current system of democracy, our electoral processes and even in the whole legitimacy of whether or not we should vote; but, while we are "playing" with these flawed rules, we should try to play well while we try to figure out how to change the rules themselves to make the "game" more fair for all.... and in this view; I hope we will verify the claims, I hope we will see how the economy currently works in the world we live in, and I hope we take the time to understand that for any diplomatic measure used, there requires a strong military in the background to impose order (do we really think that police officers could do their jobs without firearms? but that is another argument for another blog). Enjoy the Canadian elections!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Canadian Elections 2008, Final Assessments

I always get disappointed when I see democracy turned into a rhetoric or propaganda contest. Seems like many in the public fall for it. Appearances count more than accuracy. You hear that someone voted for candidate A because his chin was more honest looking than candidate B. For democracy to function properly, you need at the very minimum a population who has the time to think out the issues or can follow an argument made by candidates and condemn rhetoric for what it is and look behind the propaganda presented.

Unfortunately, when you see candidate A's suit is judged before the content of his ideas and that candidate B is judged along the same criteria.... well you end up with electoral debates that present nothing but the same old nonsense that was sputtered during the speeches. No one confronts intellectually the ideas that the other party has presented and everyone attacks the container of the other candidates instead of what is inside.

Lets look at each leader of the political parties that were at the nationally televised debates. Then lets look at what some people said about these same people.

Stephen (Harper) --> Receiving the brunt of the attacks from all the others, kept saying to look at the record, look at the history of how his party dealt with the issues. What was left unsaid was that this is the longest running minority government in the history of Canada (that in itself is quite the accomplishment).... I suspect that this is also one of the very few times where the minority power dictated the when of an election (also quite an accomplishment). What this means is that each of the other parties have at one time or another kept Stephen in power.... So why are they now attacking him or his integrity. The only one who could attack Stephen in such a way without being hypocritical would be Elizabeth (May). Elizabeth was never in power so she could not keep Stephen in office. Every other leader becomes hypocritical by the virulence of their attacks. Stephen keeps saying: "check the record of what actually happened" for every attack on the appearance of mismanagement. When you do check, you discover Stephen is correct. If you do not check, you may believe the rhetoric of the other leaders who sound so convincing.

Perceptions of some people on Stephen? One claimed Stephen was confused because he was not as agitated as the others and answered the questions in a calm voice without interrupting others and the other leaders were successfully interrupting Stephen. Is this how one makes a decision for a vote? Forget the content of what is said, listen to the presentation of a person's sincerity?

Stephane (Dion) --> Head of a party that has the recent history of corruption, yet never admitting their wrongdoing, it becomes difficult to fight the battle. Stephane decides to use direct eye contact with the television viewer. He does not debate directly with the other leaders often, he passes his message directly to the viewer. Ironically, the same Stephane who during the Sovereignty issue with Quebec was the one who proposed harsh interventions against those who would want a nation is the same one who is today saying that he is also a Quebec Nationalist.... Now that it is acceptable to use the word he does a 180 degree turn and acts as if he is a friend to Nationalists within Quebec. Stephane keeps to the issue that he intends to lower taxes for regular Canadians and that polluters are to be taxed extra, what is not really mentioned in the debate is that prices of whatever would increase all around for consumers and in the end would probably cost more for regular Canadians. Companies who are forced to pay more in expenses usually pass the cost increase to the consumer. But the debate does not focus on this possibility and time is not allowed to focus on any one issue.

Perceptions from some people? Many are convinced that Stephane was the winner in the debates. Well using rhetoric, he did speak it well. Does not change the fact that the content is inadequate, even if the container seems pretty. People do seem to forget their history about how the Liberals were proven to be corrupt by their own actions (while still denying with words), people seem to forget Stephane was very aggressive towards Quebec (tough love approach which backfired on him) and that now he acts as if he is a benevolent father because that approach was used by the Conservatives with success, and people seem to forget that Stephane supported Stephen on many occasions which should not be the case if Stephane really believes that Stephen is terrible in his management skills.

Jack (Layton) --> Jack presents himself as socially minded versus the conservative's business minded. It is hard to determine in life whether or not one should consider business issues as primary concern and that social benefits come from better economic trends or its contrast where social issues are primary concerns and that better morale will result in better business? Jack says that as a Socialist, he is better than the Liberals to run the country. Jack also says that Socialist thinking is better than the Economic Thinking of the Conservatives. This is a debate that even philosophers have trouble agreeing to. But unfortunately, Jack also uses the rhetoric and sophistry of the fears of regular Canadians who have not thought out issues and are just fearful of the future. Jack says he understands the fears and will solve the problems. Even if Stephen explains that the problems are not as disastrous as one may think, this does not matter because when one is irrationally afraid, logic and rationality can not be used to bring the person out of it. Jack uses his soothing voice to say that he will have things under control.

Perception on Jack? Not many express much except to say that perhaps he is better than Stephane.

Gilles (Duceppe) --> Gilles says from the beginning, if ANYONE in power does something good for Quebec, he will support that idea. If they do something bad for Quebec, he will reject that idea. Unfortunately, Gilles uses rhetoric against Stephen.... See the entire platform of the Bloc was based upon the unwillingness of Canada to accept Quebec differences in viewpoints in its culture and when Stephen made a law that accepted the uniqueness of Quebec culture and that it was recognized as a Nation, well this sabotaged the Bloc. They never seemed to have realized this until this election where more and more people were questioning if the Bloc was even relevant today.... So to catch up on the political chess, Gilles went the route of rhetoric and is trying to discredit the container more than its contents. Gilles was better in the past to attack the contents, but being disarmed, he has to recapture what he has lost. One statement that made me tickled pink with glee was when Gilles mentioned straight out that he knew he wasn't going to win the Prime Minister vote and that the other three parties also knew that but would never admit it publicly.

Perceptions from the people? Well integrity can be sensed from Gilles and some people may be hesitating to support the Conservatives because a perception seems to be growing that the Conservatives may be getting corrupt like the Liberals even though Stephen is still seen as reliable.... the party he is running seems to be making too many faux-pas. Gilles is using perception now more than ever.... Will people vote on issues or on perceptions?

Elizabeth (May) --> Elizabeth tried really hard to show that she could present other ideas outside the environmental issues, but she also succumbed to rhetoric and attacked Stephen on many issues. She gave me the impression that she was Stephane's Robin fighting more vigorously than Batman on certain issues. She really had nothing to lose with the exposure but the more perceptive would have noticed a sort of tag-teaming between the Batman (Stephane) and the Robin (Elizabeth).... In itself, this may prove to be interesting, but during one question where leaders were asked to say something nice about their opponents, Elizabeth was one of two leaders who failed that question (Gilles was a little critical with his assessment of Elizabeth). Elizabeth said Stephen was a nice dad, then she proceeded to attack Sephen on everything else.

Perception of Elizabeth? Many were wondering why she was even allowed there because she did not contribute any more than any other leader present there. Considering she tried to show she had other issues to present than the single issue party perception, she may have had that backfired because she did not seem to be any different than the Liberals.

One word assessments of the leaders based upon the above critique:

Stephen-->wise (his approach has worked as any verification will attest to)
Stephane-->knowledgeable (his reliance on rhetoric destroys his credibility)
Jack-->charismatic (how can you not like this guy? I just don't agree on some of his views in VERY crucial areas, but in most other areas, they're A1)
Gilles-->honest (he has a view of Quebec and wishes to see it through, he has a strong sense of integrity, moreso than his peers)
Elizabeth-->intelligent (she learns very quickly, perhaps she will see alternate means to get what she wants instead of using a one-issue party)

So we have a one-issue party(Green Party), a regional party(Bloc Quebecois), an ideological party(NDP) and 2 brokerage parties(Conservatives and Liberals).... interesting to see the votes come out on this one.... hopefully the citizenry will make their decisions upon issues, not the perception of issues.... decide on the essence of an idea, not an empty catch-phrase. Past votes tended to be more on the container's flash than on its boring contents.... Can this time be different?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Poor and the Rich

Lets illustrate and contrast the poor and the rich and see if there is anything glaringly obvious. My point will be made after the comparison. Imagine that the poor has $100 to spend and the rich has $1000 to spend.

-The poor pays $5 for a meal (mostly cheap ingredients that would make nutritionists cringe and will cause long term health problems which someone will have to pay.)
-The rich pays $50 for a meal (prepared by someone else who used healthy ingredients insuring a good healthy lifestyle)

-The poor pays $20 for a DVD for leisure time (doesn't have much time to do anything else, too exhausted to pay for dance lessons or mountain climbing activities.... he barely has the time to watch the DVD)
-The rich pays $200 for the salary of a cleaning person and a cook (which allows the rich extra time for physical activities which will maintain a healthy lifestyle and an alert mind at work)

-The poor pays $25 in different taxes (whether income tax or sales tax or whatever)
-The rich pays $50 for an accountant to find the latest rules on taxes and ends up paying $50 in taxes (tax breaks are offered to the rich to encourage them to employ more people, loopholes are found to make great savings for the rich.... they even keep receipts for when they buy a coffee because they can use that as a tax deductible for business expenses)

-The poor pays $50 for rent (with many problems around the residence, which requires constant care but the poor is usually at work so he can not afford the time to fix it, or chase after the landlord, or even pay a professional to fix it)
-The rich pays $500 for the mortgage (if any problem arises, has the energy and time to deal with it, or chases after the city workers to deal with certain aspects, or even hire a contractor to come fix specific problems)

-The rich has an extra $150 that he will spend in further investments to make him richer.

-The next pay period, the rich gets a bonus of $100 because he was well rested and healthy which increased his motivation to produce more and got the $100 bonus for the extra production.
-The next pay period, the poor loses out of $10 because he was not well rested or healthy and had to take a day off without pay or had to pay money for medication or some combination of both. His motivation is low and the production suffers.

Note that there are 100 poor persons for every 1 rich person, so whenever there is the need to increase taxes to cover unfortunate increases in the health care of the population.... guess where they implement the tax on, the tax burden falls upon the majority. If the rich get the tax increase, they make studies to show that: A) the rich will have to fire employees within their companies just to make the increased tax payments. B) the rich will not hire new employees to stimulate the economy. And C) the rich will point out that it is the poor who seem to suffer more from these health issues in an increasing capacity, so why should the rich pay for the poor's bad health choices?

The rich have the attitude that if you are poor, it is because you do not work hard enough and you do not save your money to become rich. Grab any rich person, strip him of his wealth and contacts place him on welfare for 6 months (allowing for the poor diet to kick in as well as the poor living environment) and then ask him to go looking for a job. (he must not be allowed to use his former educational background as an asset which was acquired through a rich lifestyle.... if he manages to get an educational background while poor, then he can use that for his job searching). Will he succeed in re-acquiring his wealth? I was not even considering clothing in my illustration, so let us assume that he starts this experiment with donated clothes and he can not use his former clothing. The rich seem to believe that they could get out of this predicament by being motivated and working hard. Yeah? Well good luck on that fantasy.

We have had someone who while young, disguised themselves to look old and see how different the reality was between young and old. We have had a racially white person who had disguised himself into a racially black person to see the differences in treatment. The rich who are so easy in their negative judgments of the poor should perhaps have this kind of experiment as part of their lifestyle and see how they would do better. One exception, they must never know if they will be allowed to return to their former rich lifestyles. If you know that you are only going to be poor for a period of 2 years and then become rich again, you will have that extra hope that the poor do not have. Of course, everyone hopes that they might become rich; I am talking about knowing that this experiment in being poor comes at an end and you go back to your previous lifestyle. Nothing angers me more than when I see a truly rich person who works for a few months alongside of the poor on some common project with the belief that he has lived like the poor for those few months and that he has "worked" like they did.

Why does it anger me? Well it would be as if they believed that they gave more to charity by paying $20 out of $1000 in direct comparison to the poor who only paid $10 out of $100. The poor paid 10%, the rich paid 2%, with the added benefit that he probably has his accountant explaining how to benefit from tax breaks for donations. Society would unfortunately claim that the rich gave more in charity, just like they would believe that the rich who worked those few months with the poor makes them understand the poor's plight. Often the motives behind this "charity" is not so charitable and they act as if society should reward them for altruism.

If the poor could be brought closer to the "rich" lifestyle, society's long term costs would be lowered. Like the metaphor of the ship taking in water in one of my previous blogs, allow the ship to take in the extra water as we fix the hole and then we can use the bucket to drain the ship of the water.... as opposed to what we are doing now: using the bucket to drain the ship of water and losing the long term battle because the bucket is too small for what is coming in through the hole. Why do we tolerate the rich's fairy tales? Why do we tolerate their threats of closing companies? If you are rich, then you have the extra responsibility to serve the society you live in.

If you have a pet, you have the responsibility of feeding that pet. You go out of your way to buy the food. You go out of your way to open the can and depositing the food in a clean dish.... and on and on. You do this because you have extra capabilities and your pet does not. Your pet relies upon you, so you serve his interests. You are responsible. If you were lucky enough to have great wealth, then you must take up your responsibility and be a leader and SERVE your society. Otherwise, the society you live in has full rights to deduct from you what you owe society. Do not assume that your wealth is acquired through hard work, it is a fortune (luck) that allowed you to be rich. Have the responsibility to use it properly. As for the poor.... how long do you want to be treated as mere pets who have to feed themselves on their own and still carry the slippers for the master?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Critique of Economics

We place a lot of credibility on economics and on economic thinking. Is this justified? Previous blogs have shown the weakness of over-reliance on statistics to answer questions that statistics are not able to answer. The discipline of Economics does tend to use statistics quite heavily. Thankfully, the experts of that discipline know the weaknesses of statistics and they do take account of them in their calculations. Their theories are not based on statistics but they do use statistics to measure specific areas and they then base their decisions on what they know in their theories.

To use my previous metaphor that statistics are like photographs and that we should rely on them as guides, not truth. The economics expert will take a photograph of the atmosphere at a certain altitude, see the result and based upon that result steer the metaphorical ship towards the right or the left to avoid whatever pitfall the theory predicts. So the economics expert is not using statistics to make decisions, he is using statistics properly like a weather forecaster for proper navigation and based upon the metaphorical photograph and the metaphorical knowledge of weather systems (economics), he steers the ship.

I believe that many of us misuse statistics. Thankfully, the school of thought we call economics makes better use of statistics. So what is the problem, you may ask? Well the basic premise of economics as it was first invented is based upon a false assumption. It comes from a philosophy of utilitarianism, where things are useful only if they are of use. (love is useful because it encourages procreation, procreation is useful because it increases productivity in a population). The weakness of that philosophy has already been explored by others and I will not bring it up in this particular blog.

The false assumption for the discipline of economics is that people make rational choices with the limited resources that are available to them. Now, if you think about it for two seconds, anyone knows that this ain't true. It took economics about 150 years of research before they have discovered this obvious fact, and the guy who discovered this won some economic nobel prize for it. The theory he proposed was that we don't always make rational decisions with our limited resources. Now I won't get into what he said or why he said it, if my readers care to, they can go research it on their own and have their curiosities satisfied.

The human being has been transformed into a greedy consumer and selfish producer under this viewpoint that we only make decisions that are of immediate use to us. Capitalism is born under this economic philosophy where we have a system that uses the selfishness of people to create great things for society despite the individual's selfishness. Now lets us not get into the argument of whether we are selfish or not. Let's stick with the assumption that we will be logical robots in all our decisions. If you have $100, you will need to spend X on food, Y on shelter and Z on entertainment. If the doctor says that you need to spend 90$ on food for proper nutrition, the economist will think that you are being irrational because you only have $100 and that you must place X on food, not $90. The economist will say that if you can manage to have X=$90 then you must work more to get this. But if you worked more, you would have less time to enjoy the Z spent on entertainment. Yes the example is extremely simplified, but it is there to demonstrate the flaw in economic thinking.

Life as we know it is complex. The economics discipline has created a model of the world and how it operates. This model can be seen as a very sophisticated type of game like Monopoly: you have the bank, you have the players, you have transactions and you have the assumption that everyone is trying to buy Boardwalk and using rational decisions to get to that point. On the surface, many people seem to be in that metaphorical "model/game". The problem is that this model assumes that everyone sees the same end goal, that this model is self-contained and that the world is as self-contained as the model.

When governments created social welfare, they used economics as the basis to determine a proper amount of money to survive. Other resources at their immediate use was divided up in many other areas as we all know.... that is what governments debate today, how to allocate what resources in what departments to best serve society. Unfortunately, that is part of the problem because we are using economics to write us our reality. We only use the resources that economics says exists and we limit our budgets based upon economic fantasies.

In the case of social welfare, nutritionist indicate what is needed for a balanced meal for any given day. If the person does not get this, he becomes less productive. The food that is affordable for the poor who needs social welfare, is the type of food that does not produce energy. So the poor have less energy. This same less expensive food is also known to produce sickness in the longterm which places the poor into hospitals much earlier than the one who eats the supposedly proper diet. Economics does not study the effects of bad food choices versus good food choices. Under economic thinking, food is fuel.... you need fuel to keep going and X amount of money enables you to get some fuel. Economics then struggles to figure out why more and more people need hospitals or are less motivated to find work.

Now are the nutritionists right? Who knows.... but I do know that our belief that things should be run by economics mindsets is the wrong kind of thinking. They should offer options, but they should not presume to say that theirs are the only available options. While we allow them to dictate their reality, we lose out on options that could be used to pay for better health care, or eliminate the deficit or other human created problems that can be solved by the same stroke of the pen that created them.

You don't believe that a stroke of a pen can solve a problem? Isn't that what was just done to re-establish confidence in the banks in the US? Economic thinking caused a panic because money was running out in the Monopoly game and people couldn't pay the Boardwalk hotel fees so a temporary solution was created to solve an immediate problem: they inserted money from another Monopoly game to the hands of the players and hope that this solves the problem.

When one believes in economic thinking, you see situations where farmers burn entire crops of wheat because they do not want prices to drop because they need money to pay their loans. Meanwhile, starvation is on the rise in another country because the price of wheat is too high for these people who are in a drought period. We want that logic to determine our governmental budgets?

I have shown the logic of utilitarianism run amok and I have also shown how not everyone follows this logic of rational decision making. Economics assumes that we ALL make rational choices and that these choices can never get to an extreme because there is an inherent balancing tool within the system that they call the "invisible hand of the market". I propose we see the Economics discipline as one potentially plausible point of view in which to make decisions, let us find other plausible points of views that can help us in society.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Running and Thinking

Everyone can run. You learn as a child to walk, and then you figure out how to run on your own. But consider the 100 meter dash, then consider the 10 kilometer marathon; you know that there are different skills to acquire to do either of them well. You need some training, and you need some knowledge to run either of these tracks properly. You can't just use your normal running capabilities to run these races; well you can but you risk injury or unnecessary exhaustion. The racing track also affects how you will run: the cross country run will have different dangers for you as opposed to a nice flat level paved road. We all know and respect athletes who dedicate themselves to perfect their skills for the variety of obstacles that they will face.

Now, lets look at thinking. Everyone can think. You learn as a child to memorize, then you figure out how to think all on your own. But consider wisdom, then consider contemplation; why do you assume that these aspects are not abilities or skills that can be honed and developed? Why do you assume that none of us should dedicate some time to cultivate these highly important attribute? The terrain the thinker has to face would be the different subjects of knowledge, we may dedicate alot of energy mapping out the terrain but we do not know how to apply our "thinking" to "run" on these different terrains. We do not allow ourselves to hone our skills of thinking. It is considered unproductive at best, pure laziness at worse.

The runner has to know more than the map of the track, he has to run it several times and feel the ground under his feet, and he gets a budget to do this (not nearly enough than he needs, but that is another discussion). The thinker is assumed to have enough by just having him memorize the map, the thinker is assumed to have enough by not training himself to think.... because anyone can think just like anyone can run. Yeah? Have a race with a trained athlete in running and see how pathetic you are. Well its the same thing with thinking. Unfortunately the bad thinker can not perceive that he has lost the race and thinks that the memorization of the map of the racing circuit is the epitome of knowledge.

Some scholar guy, deBono (right spelling?), does point you out towards the right direction by saying that thinking is a skill and that anyone can learn the skill. Cool info from him! But he only limits himself to general thinking much like the general physical education teacher limits himself to general running. Contemplation or wisdom are not really addressed in deBono's theories, but that is ok. It is still highly valuable, even though he has a layman's comprehension of philosophers of old, this can be forgiven because his target audience are not philosophy students but rather the general public who have similar assumptions of what philosophy is.

What I would like to see is the creation of a thinking social class. We have athletes, we have artists, we have scientists.... so why not thinkers? The thinker is a combination of the athlete, artist and scientist. He would combine the grace and perseverence of the athlete, the imagination and creativity of the artist, with the focus and the love of details of the scientist. The thinker would be an advisor who takes the time to think of several issues and sees the long-term implications of decisions. The thinker is not synonymous with leadership, because they have to concentrate on making decisions and making sure that the decisions are carried out.... no, the thinker gives alternative options which have their high points and low points. The leader will choose which option to follow. The thinker must spend his time thinking, not leading.

How many disasters have we faced that would have been prevented, if we had someone paid to think about what we are doing and modifying things accordingly? The 2 opposite extremes of the listeriosis situation would definitely not have happened. (see previous blogs for that story) Better training for the RCMP officers would have been implemented so that they questioned the logic behind the behavior of the foreigner who could not speak english when he entered Canada and was stuck in the airport for 10 or so hours. They would not have tasered him, they would have demanded a translator and offered some food. (Imagine a first contact situation in a Star Trek episode, where the stranger is approached with peaceful intentions yet still using force as a backup in case the situation warrants it)...

But then again, the individual would not have had to wait for 10 hours because there would have been a thinker who would have wondered multiple scenarios which would include a stranger arriving at an airport without the ability to speak the language and the design of the airport would have been modified immediately to cover this situation. Roleplaying reactions of alternate viewpoints is second nature to a thinker. Never assuming that something is X, just because a majority believes it to be X.... what about the other culture who sees Y instead? How do we communicate our intention? The thinker considers these things. Our society moves too quickly to produce.... its X because we don't have time to consider anything else (time is money) and too bad if the other culture doesn't understand, they'll just be eliminated in a social evolution type of justice (the strong survive, while the weak are eliminated). Everyone must adapt to the X.

The airport incident of the taser is an example of a stranger who did not adapt to the "obvious" ways of doing things and when he got angry (which is entirely normal), the RCMP was trained to deal with a malcontent by showing reasonable force. No thinking, no judgment, no contemplation, no wisdom, just a show of force to explain that one does not get angry and throw things around. I wonder if any of the implicated RCMP officers had a nightmare where they were in a foreign area and no one understood anything and then some uniformed individual shows up and starts babbling incomprehensably while pushing them around? But I do not blame any of the RCMP officers individually, they are victims of a training methodology in a production-prime society that discourages independent thinking or criticism. Follow the training, do not question orders. This they did, with the unfortunate results. Do not condemn them because we all follow orders from our bosses blindly.... and our compliance is as damaging to our society as the RCMP's were to that foreigner who died from being tasered.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

How the System is Guilty

Now for today, pretend that you are a CEO of a major corporation. You are hired to not only maintain your existing profit level but you are strongly encouraged to increase the profit level. So if your corporation did 500 million dollars in profit last year, you are expected to make 600 million dollars profit this year. To help encourage you, a bonus in salary is offered if you can reach this objective, more bonus if you exceed this objective. Naturally if you fail, your 1 year contract will not be renewed and you will be stuck in finding employment. So you are under pressure to perform, or else. So what do you do?

Well the natural thing for you to do is to move quickly, no time to think, just perform. The current bureacratic rules does not stop you from eliminating positions within the corporation. You trim the fat. You don't want to affect production or sales in this year because that will affect the bottom line very quickly. You cut 10% in advertising expenses. You buy cheaper primary products. Assume your corporation makes computers.... you would buy cheaper plastics for the casings, for your keyboards.... doesn't matter if the current plastic would last 5 years and the cheaper ones would only last 5 months.... you have saved a pretty penny. Then you decide to cut customer service by about 90%, replace it with an automated system that makes customers wait 15 minutes to reach a technician as opposed to 15 seconds in the past. If their complaints or problems are genuine, they will wait on the phone longer, right? You have cut costs by quite a bit and so far your sales should still be the same as before.... hence higher profit!!!

You decide not to renew your contract because you know you can't sustain such decisions and the long term effects for these short term gains will be disastrous.... but you were not hired to think, you were hired to produce. You have achieved what was most important, the bottom line. Irrelevant if the loyal employees were fired so that you could get your bonus, irrelevant if the customers now complain for receiving crappy products.... you have achieved what was expected of you and you have received your bonus. You can now become CEO of a completely different company with your past success! Who will challenge proven expertise?

The statistics show how you have succeeded. The bureaucratic rules have not been violated. You have produced. So where is the problem? The problem is that if anyone was given the time to think for only a mere 2 seconds, it is obvious that this situation could not sustain itself for very long. If you would have explained the facts of the matter, you would never have been hired as CEO in the first place. You were hired for the bottom line, that's it, that's all.... and you achieved it!!! Whoever is the next CEO will now have to find solutions to deal with the growing customer complaints, the growing reputation that the finished products are crap etc. But it does not matter what the next CEO does because your contract is over with that company and you have moved on somewhere else to repeat the same procedure and given the bonuses for it!!!

The system has encouraged this form of behavior, forget long term consequences. Don't think, produce. Anyone who has a word of caution is not promoted or just simply fired for being "lazy". Statistics don't predict the obvious long term negative consequences, they only report what the leaders want to see: the profits have increased this year or not. The bureaucratic rules are written to encourage the bottom line is the most important thing. Anyone who suggests that the bottom line will be destroyed if this practice is continued is ridiculed because the statistics prove that everything is great and the rules work!

Solution? Hire thinkers. Allow thinking. Do not fire someone for daring to say "no" to a boss, evaluate the reasoning behind his "no". Give time the priority, not production. Allow employees to be happy employees, not stressed. We have the technology, we have the resources; enable them do not waste them.

Oh, since we are about to have an election soon, may I point out that the CEO problem can easily be transfered over to the leadership of a country. The politician is more there to satisfy our immediate gratifications irrelevant to the long term costs that this can affect.... So if we complain about today's problems.... remember that we have allowed this system to create them. Blaming a specific politician is hypocritical because as the example above shows.... you would have done the same bloody thing.... otherwise you would not have been voted in.

As our "system" promotes production over thinking as well as this same "system" promotes bureaucratic rules over human judgment we will continue to have short term gains with long term losses.... We are starting to feel the effects of the long term.... can you not see it yet?