Trudeau: Project your beliefs on me

by doconnor in Liberal Party, Politics

Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau has called out Justin Trudeau for not having a platform. Trudeau has said that he is deferring to the Liberal’s policy renewal process.

There is no strong tradition of the leaders of political parties in Canada surrendering control of policy. This promise has all the hallmarks of one that will be ignored after he is elected, like the Conservative’s promise to be accountable.

However it is a very good campaign strategy. The problem with policy is that most people will disagree with at least some of it. If vision was as wonderful a thing as everyone claims, every politician would have one. The best political strategy is to have voters project their own beliefs on to the candidate, that way they’ll get broad support, even from people with contradictory beliefs. Obama was able to achieve this will his Hope and Change campaign.

Trudeau is using the Liberal’s policy renewal process to do the some thing. Most everybody knows that their policies will win out in the process. After all, their own beliefs are clearly the best and most sensible.

Does this mean you should vote for Trudeau? If you think that policy is important you should avoid him and vote for the candidate who you believe will implement the policies you believe in. However if you only care about winning elections, he would be a great choice as he has shown he is willing to do what it takes to win.

Religion tells us about the nature of man, not the nature of the universe

by doconnor in Ideas

Religion claims to tell us about how the universe works, but most religious belief comes from a time of superstition, ignorance and fear we can only catch a glimpse of when we read stories about fundamentalist cults in undeveloped countries like Nigeria.

People believe religion because that is what they have been always taught. They also believe that the Earth is one of eight planets that go around the Sun for the same reason. Nothing in their day to day experience indicates if those things or correct or not. People can learn for themselves the nature of the solar system by carefully plotting the motion of the Sun and planets and applying some serious mathematics. (I wonder how long it would have taken us to figure this if we weren’t already obsessed with the position of the planets because of astrology.) Of course, there is no reliable evidence that God exists.

Religion can’t help you understand the Universe, but it can help you understand something at least as mysterious, the human mind. The mind is the true domain of religion. It fits into its nooks and cranies, filling up space left unfilled by family, friends, society, knowledge and wisdom. Its shape and size changes from person to person and era to era, growing or shrinking as needed.

People who are in jail for life sometimes become born-again Christians. Religion creates a social network that accepts them for who they are, gives them a mission in life, fullfilling things to learn and forgiveness. Studies show the those who have done wrong and asked their God for forgiveness feel more relief from guilt then any other method, including admitting your wrongdoing. That’s why religious leaders are often found out to have repeatedly done immoral things.

In contrast, middle class people who live comfortable lives often only go to church on Easter and Christmas, giving religion less thought then than atheists for the rest of the year. They have no need for what religion provides, beyond a sense of tradition.

Religion is a story that provides spiritual fulfillment, just as Romeo and Juliet fulfills our desire for drama and Monty Python can reliably make us laugh.

Life of Pi really summaries why people believe in religion. Pi is found after being shipwrecked and spending months on a life boat. He tells two version of his tale to investigators, a fantastical story about a hyena, zebra, orangutan and tiger where only he and the tiger survive. Then he tells a tragic story about a sailor, a cook, his mother and him in the lifeboat in which the sailor kills the cook and his mother and he kills the sailor in revenge.

Pi doesn’t tell the investigators which is true, but asks them which they prefer. They don’t really know either way, so they choose the one with the animals. Pi says, “and so it goes with God.”

NDP being deceptive on Conservatives chances in Victoria by-election

by doconnor in NDP, Politics

Over the past few months I’ve received a steady stream of emails from the Federal NDP email list asking for money. During the recent by-elections they where coming so fast and furious one would think there was a general election going on.

I received this one on November 22nd:

Stop Stephen Harper in Victoria


I’ll be blunt: Stephen Harper could take Victoria. And with just four days to go, we’re running out of time to stop him.

In the last two elections, the Conservatives came second there. This time around, Stephen Harper is determined to take it.

And you and I both know – the Conservatives will do anything to win. Because they know that only Murray Rankin and Canada’s New Democrats can take them on – and win.

Help stop Stephen Harper and keep Victoria New Democrat. Make an urgent donation today.

We’ve got word from our organizers on the ground that the Conservative campaign is pulling out all the stops. So yesterday we put out a call for all New Democrats in the area to go to Victoria to volunteer. Because now more than ever, we need your support.

Let me tell you: the media is watching this race very closely. We need a decisive victory in Victoria to send a message loud and clear – that Canadians are uniting behind Tom Mulcair and Canada’s New Democrats.

We need your help to finish strong. Your urgent donation of $10, $15, or $25 will make all the difference in the final push.

Your support will go directly toward all the tools we need to make sure voters get to the polls on election day.

Together we can stop Stephen Harper and defend Victoria. But you must act now.

Nathan Rotman
National Director
Canada’s New Democrats

P.S. We have just four days to stop Stephen Harper from taking Victoria. There has never been a more important time to show your support. Make an urgent donation today.

300-279 Laurier West
Ottawa ON K1P 5J9

cope: 225/jg

It made it very clear that the Conservatives where main threat to the NDP winning the riding of Victoria.

Another email from Nov 20th covering all three by-elections called on readers to act “If you want to defend Victoria from the Conservatives.” There where other emails that referred to the Conservative threat.

The trouble is the Conservatives weren’t close to winning Victoria. They got 14%, less then half of the 37% that the NDP got. It was the Green Party that was the actual threat to the NDP. The Green where leading during some of the count and end up with 34%.

Was there an unexpected surge from the Greens and a collapse of the Conservative vote? No. The NDP would have known the Greens where a threat. A major campaign like this would have had its own internal polls or they could just look at this Forum Research poll (registration required) from Nov 12th which showed the Conservatives at 12%, behind the Liberals, the Green Party at 26% and the NDP at 47%.

Why would they claim that the Conservatives where they threat when it was actually the Green Party? Clearly, to motivate donations. NDP supporters wouldn’t want the Conservatives to win for a multitude of reasons, but many of them probably see the Green Party as partners and would even welcome a second Green Party member in the House even if it meant slightly fewer NDP MPs.

The real question is what other deceptions the NDP is prepared to engage in on the road to power?

Rob Ford, not guilty due to stupidity

by doconnor in Politics, Toronto

Toronto mayor Rob Ford is currently facing two trials (there are probably more to come). One over his claim that the renewal of a restaurant deal with Tuggs was corrupt. The other over his conflict of interest during a council debate on reprimanding him over donations gathered for his football charity gathered using city staff. Both demonstrate the trouble he gets into by not thinking things through.

In the Tuggs case he claimed the awarding of the sole source contract was corrupt because of how it progressed through City Hall. But if you think things through you have to conclude that the owners of Tuggs was behind the corruption. They are the ones that gained from the contract. Despite the obviousness, it seems this never occurred to Rob Ford. That would mean he never intended to defame the owners of Tuggs. Depending on how defamation law works, that may or may not get him off.

In the other case most expects agree that he was in a conflict of interest. The only questions is if he made an “error in judgement” in not declaring it. During his testimony it seems, again, like the idea that he could be in a conflict of interest never entered his mind and all he thought about was the importance of helping kids with his football charity. Given his mayoralty has been little but a series of errors in judgement, it seems like a plausible defence.

These cases highlight Rob Ford’s unwillingness or inability to think things through. I believe that is the key to his popularity.

Many voters often don’t have the time or the information to fully consider the best solution to problems, so they often believe the first thing that pops into their mind. For example, when they hear about crime, they know that people don’t like jail so they assume that sending people to jail longer will deter crime.

Most people who start thinking about running for office sooner or later realize they the simplistic, “common sense” solutions many people believe don’t stand up to scutiny. They then do one of two things. They run on a platform with well thought out solutions and significantly reduce their odds of winning or they continue to spout common sense solutions they know to be wrong. While people who do this often win, voters can tell they don’t believe what they are saying.

What’s unique about Rob Ford is that despite years as a councillor, and now mayor, with plenty of time and resources dedicated to helping him make good decisions, he never moves past his simplistic solutions to problems.

For example, for years his solution to the supposed massive overspending in Toronto was to cut councillor’s office budget. He became mayor and reduced them. If asked, he still lists it as one of his main accomplishments. He still may believe today that reducing office budgets is what saved the city from fiscal disaster.

In Ford, many voters see for the first time someone who honestly believes the same things they do and he suddenly became very popular. Of course now that they have seen his ideas fail, his popularity has fallen.

The significance of the US election result

by doconnor in Politics

The result of the US election, which didn’t really end up changing anything, has lead to deep and profound questioning in the Republican Party. People are analyzing the mistakes made and arguing that if only the party had been listening to what they where saying all a long they would have won. Many expect a “civil war” within the party will fundamentally change it, one way or the other.

But, what if a few tens of thousands of voters in Ohio and Florida, a tiny percentage of the US population, ended up voting for Romney and he had won the election. Then everyone would be talking about how brilliant the Republicans where had how they have a bright future and the Democrats would be doing the sole searching. Everyone in the Democratic party would be saying that the party should have moved in the direction of their particular beliefs. All due to a tiny shift in the vote.

The Republicans and Democrats have been more or less evenly match for years. If anything that suggests they both are so optimized at collecting the just about number of votes they need to win its only random events, like a sleepy debate performance here or a hurricane there, is one puts one or the other over the top.

The Advantages of Winning Because of Your Name

by doconnor in Liberal Party, Politics

Unfortunately these days those who win elections usually aren’t those who would do the best job of representing the people, but those who are best at winning elections. (Capitalism has a similar problem where those who make the most money aren’t those who are best at making products people want, but those that best at making money.)

This mean abandoning one’s principles (assuming they had any) to tell people what they want to hear no matter how little sense it makes, hinting a belief to one group without saying because that would offend another group. It means attacking opponents by any means necessary, and having a thick enough skin to be able to tolerate the same kind of attack from others. It requires carefully designed and emotionally powerful ads. It needs an elaborate system to ensure that you supporters are identified and come out to vote.

The result is people who get elected are often unprincipled, opportunistic hypocrites.

Of course, many candidates are principled, but most of them don’t get elected, especially to the highest offices. Some principled people do get elected, but they are significantly underrepresented compared to the general population, to say nothing of people expectation that elected officials represent the highest quality.

Justin Trudeau has been lucky. He has been able to win a nomination and become an MP largely on name recognition. He is even in position to become leader of the Liberals because of his name. He hasn’t had to do all the unprincipled things most politician do to get elected.

This doesn’t automatically mean he would be a good leader, but it means it is less likely he would be a bad one then the average politician.

Basically I’m saying that our system for choosing political leaders has gotten so corrupted that electing a random person with name recognition is likely better then someone who did what it takes to get elected.

In my opinion the long term solution for this is Internet Direct Democracy, where legislative decisions are made directly by the people voting on ideas rather then people.

F-35 shows how controlling the message backfires

by doconnor in Conservative Party, Politics

The Conservative government is in trouble for understating the cost of the F-35 program by 10 billion by only giving out the incremental cost instead of to total cost. Despite years of controversy, it seems they never bothered to point out there was a reasonable explanation for the two different numbers.

Because they where so obsessed over controlling the message they never admitted the total cost. Since to most people can’t conceive of $25 billion anyway few minds would be changed by knowing it.

Instead many people have been convinced that they tried to deceive them and has suffered a significant drop in the polls.

Scotiabank thinks they can handle mortgage risks

by doconnor in Politics

In a speech to shareholders, Scotiabank head Rick Waugh said, “It’s up to the banks themselves – not government or regulators – to manage our risks and advise our customers appropriately.”

It’s hard to call this statement anything but delusional. It was graphically shown in the United States banks frequently don’t do a go job managing risks these days. Lehman Bros. went bankrupt and most of the other banks had to get bailed out when the property bubble burst down there.

I don’t think anyone would claim that Scotiabank and the other big five banks aren’t too big to fail and wouldn’t be bailed out if they where about to go under. Their implied government backing has been one of the secrets to their success. Therefore, the claim that government shouldn’t be managing the bank’s risks, especially when Canada is still in a property bubble of its own, is ridiculous.

There are some things that make Canada’s situation less troublesome then it was in the United States. First it is much harder to abandon your mortgage in Canada then it is in the US. The other problem was that the bad mortgages where just the tip of the ice burg. There real money was lost on the derivatives where many insurance policies where taken out on each mortgage that paid off it the mortgage was foreclosed on. Many of these insurance policies where taken out by people who anticipated the crash, often by the vary investment banks who where selling to mortgages to investors.

When the crash happened and the foreclosures started not only did the home owners and mortgage holders lose money. The groups providing the insurance, like AIG, lost many times more money because there where multiple insurance policies on each mortgage. In fact the insurance provides lost so much money they wouldn’t have been able to pay it off so even the people who had the insurance lost money.

Back to Soctiabank, maybe if the CEO promises to surrender every dollar of his family’s assets and all future income above a minimal amount if his bank should ever need a bail out, it would almost be enough to convince me to allow the bank to manage their own risks, except the humans have an uncanny ability to underestimate risks so frequently, even that wouldn’t be enough.

Conservatives, Libertarians and Progressives

by doconnor in Politics

Conservatives believe the first thing that pops into their mind.

Jail is bad so they think that if we increase jail time, people will stop committing crimes. They don’t consider that the current sentences is already enough to deter crime and if the criminals where worried about going to jail at the time they where commit the crime they wouldn’t do that. They problem is they are not thinking about it. Instead they are thinking about their addiction or their desperation or even that going to jail is inevitable for them anyway.

They also think that taxes on businesses are bad because they work by making money, so if they make more money they will work harder. In reality the thing the businesses need most is customers. If there is a demand businesses usually don’t hesitate the fill it.

Libertarians try to think rationally about things. They use reason to conclude that if everyone where free to do what they want and where as rational as they think they are the economy would work out fairly. They probably think they are being scientific, but they are not.

Science isn’t about logic or even rationality. It is about performing experiments and examining evidence to test theories. Logic is great for coming up with theories, but if one had infinite resources you could test every possible theory and you could discover how the universe works without the need of any logic or reason. That’s how evolution works. Without any intelligence it has been able to develop incredible capabilities just with uncounted trillions of random experiments in survival over a billion years.

Libertarians don’t look at the evidence to see if their ideas would work in the real world. If it did you wouldn’t have bankers that risked their banks (Lehman Brothers did go bankrupt) and the world wide economy over clearly foolish moragage investments.

Progressivism is supported by evidence. The counties that have the best conditions for people (the 99%, anyway) are the most progressive, like the Nordic counties while the US is the least progressive and has the worst conditions for people among developed countries.

Admittedly few progressive choose that position after examining the evidence, but choose it based on their values. Maybe some libertarians know the evidence shows poorer outcomes but still believe in it because they so strongly believe in economic freedom.

Perception of Waste, is it the Rule or the Exception?

by doconnor in Politics

Many people believe the government wastes vast amounts of money. This perception is created by the media and the opposition making a big deal out of every little bit of perceived or real wasteful spending, which make people assume that waste is pervasive. Governments spend billions of dollars but when people hear about waste of ten thousand dollars or even ten million dollars they don’t put that number in perspective. A lot of them probably don’t even notice the difference between ten thousand or ten million.

Government isn’t perfect but I suspect it is no more wasteful then large businesses. The difference is there is no Freedom of Information Act for businesses and no group of opposition board members always trying dig up scandals. Even if people hear about a business being wasteful they assume it is someone else’s problem, but in the end we all pay for corporate waste just as surely as government waste, especially since most large companies are part of oligopolies and it would require a major screwup to bring them down.

For example, look at the recent controversy over the CEO pay of ORNGE, a mid-sized Ontario government agency that handles air ambulance service for the province. They cleverly hid their CEOs pay in a for-profit subsidiary. When it was reveled to be $1.4 million a year, more then the head of Ontario Power Generatio, people where appalled. How many people assume that such excessive pay is widespread in the government when this is really an exceptional case? We know the salaries of the heads of other agencies, so we the head of ORNGE was the highest paid of them all. He was the exception.

However, in the private sector his pay would not be exceptional, but the norm. Who is really more wasteful? The government where his salary is exceptional and makes people angry when they hear it or the private sector where his salary would be normal?

The false perception that waste is widespread it drove dubious Toronto mayor Rob Ford to victory, but he has yet to find any beyond the crumbs he campaigned on.

It’s a fundamental problem with the media. They spend so much of their time reporting on exceptional things, people assume those things (murder, sex scandals, war, animals doing somethings funny) is the norm, rather then exception.

This post based on a comment I made on the Toronto Star website.

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Darwin O'Connor | doconno@gmail.com