Monday, October 21, 2013

Embracing Redundancy

We've all been sold a bill of goods.

All the time we are told that efficiency, productivity and profitability are the most important things in the world. Heck, we've even folded sustainability into this model. As we continue to mix more and more ingredients into this cake we're increasingly at risk of choking ourselves to death as we consume it.

Whoa, Anon, you are going off half baked dude.

I'm afraid not. Let me dish out some examples that will help you understand what I'm going on about. As many of you will already know there are companies such as Monsanto that are locking up the worlds food supply by accumulating locked in farmers worldwide. Their profits are good. Yay, isn't that wonderful.

Alternately, most of the western world purchases food products from increasingly large operations located further and further away. We've got increasing economies of scale. Our food is grown or raised in another country. We've shaved five cents off the price of each of our meals. Hooray! The world is a better place.

We're all busy working eight hours a day, if we are lucky enough to have full employment. Our spouses are busy working too. We're all too stressed and tired to raise our children effectively. We have to do this to afford health care, education, good food and a safe place to live. Thank goodness some of our lives are going so well.

Anon, you've described a veritable utopia, what could possibly be the problem?

Yes, I know, if you buy the corporate mantra we do appear to have a utopia, for corporations. However, even these stalwarts of progress and common good for all mankind, if it generates a profit, have blind spots. What I'm talking about is risk. We've all seen risks manifest themselves recently.

Perhaps you felt the impact of the global financial crisis? If not, perhaps you've at least seen others impacted by that event? Luckily, we saw the tip of the iceberg just in time, panicked, yanked on the wheel, and avoided a directly collision. By we I mean the world. Risk is a tricky business and we aren't managing it well.

Perhaps you have noticed natural disasters happening here and there from time to time? What happens when the infrastructure is no longer available for us? How does food get delivered? How do people stay warm? How do people earn money? If they are lucky, and the disaster didn't knock out too much there will be aid distributed while recovery efforts take place. This is true in places like New Orleans, more recently New York, as well as more remote places.

Anon, are you going to let me know why you are talking about redundancy? Who cares about natural disasters?

Don't rush me, I'm getting there. First, let me ask you a few questions. What happens when Monsanto eventually releases a strain of food that has some type of unexpected catastrophic failure? What happens when a man made emergency interrupts the flow of oil and prices skyrocket for months? What happens when a single sourced item from another country is no longer available and we depend on it completely?

Let me give you a more personal example. All the food in local grocery stores arrives via trucks. If there is a hurricane and a few key roads are knocked out then there will be no trucks for some period of time. How long do you think the food will last? What if a local power plant has some type of minor catastrophe and the power goes out. If you have electric heating what will you do?

These are examples of very efficient systems that have no redundancy. We are making ourselves so efficient that we cannot handle interruptions. Companies often run on a "just in time delivery" principle in order to reduce inventory costs. Competitors merge and facilities get larger so that more customers can be served at lower prices. The economic principle of comparative advantage has companies focus on core value alone such that they cannot provide a service without a large interlocking set of other services.

Whoa, dude, don't go all survivalist on me!

Don't worry, I'm not a survivalist but I would mention that most movements have at least a kernel of accuracy under them somewhere or they would not attract followers. Survivalists are right in that we are designing inflexibility and vulnerability into our homes, our communities, our food supplies, our infrastructure our businesses and even our nations. Seeking profit is not the same as building a robust system.

Some amount of redundancy is appropriate. If I'm growing vegetables in my backyard then I might be able to rely on external resources slightly less the next time a hurricane comes through my neighborhood and takes out chunks of infrastructure. If we embrace some level of renewable energy then we might not be quite as susceptible to wild swings in energy prices due to world events.

If we ran our companies in a slightly less efficient manner, while still ensuring profitability, then we might be able to withstand interruptions in supply chains without immediately curtailing production. If we grew our food with a little less concern for absolutely maximizing our profitability we might be able to reduce our risk on one single mistake causing a massive catastrophe.

A little bit of redundancy would not hurt us. It would in fact increase chances of dealing with both man-made and natural disasters effectively.

I don't get it, what's your problem with corporations?

Weren't you listening? I don't have any problem with corporations. I don't even have a problem with profits. I'll even agree that the profit motive is indeed probably the most efficient way to apportion capital to competing uses.

I have a problem with the fact that the world has created a huge complex system that is optimizing itself for profits. There are things that the quest for profits does not take into account. For example, it might be acceptable to run a manufacturing company in North America that produces an 8% return on investment instead of running it overseas for a 12% return on investment.

I mean, we can certainly argue the economics of comparative advantage and decide that only the most advantageous efforts should be allowed. However, what happens if all out meat comes from overseas and there is a disease outbreak in the source country? Wouldn't it be great to have a reasonable sized herd somewhere else to help recover from such a disaster?

We need to have backup plans -- but they aren't efficient unless you are in a state of disaster. They will potentially impact profits and total rates of return on investment. They will also reduce our exposure to systemic risk. This risk has been slowly growing for a long time and we should think about where it is leading us.

What happens the next time there is an asteroid collision with Earth? What happens when a new volcano erupts and creates a cloud covering half the planet? What happens when there is a massive crop failure or worldwide epidemic affecting animals or humans? How are we going to deal with these things when our resources are so "efficient" that none of us know anything except our particular small slice of work and there are no "replacements" around to deal with the loss of input from affected areas.

I, for one, would like to see just a little bit of redundancy remain in the world. I also wouldn't mind a little less pressure to be more and more efficient during working hours so I could be a little more human when at home with the family. Maybe we could even employ a few more people and offer a little bit more job security.

Hmm, you might have a point, but I still think you are half baked.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Yes to Capitalism, No to Greed

The political arena is strange. So much of the time it's about "defining" the opposition. News flash - the left is not against capitalism.

Greed is visceral. We all know what it is. It is all around us every day but it is no longer directly visible to us. The direct connections have been disguised, hidden or broken completely.

It is often greed that drives someone to knowingly dump toxic wastes instead of handling and disposing of it appropriately. It was greed that drove the housing market and the eventual global financial crisis several years ago. It was greed and a feeling of elitist entitlement that lead bankers to grant themselves huge bonuses after being bailed out.

Greed has been pushed on us as the best way to make financial decisions. When it comes to large organizations, large dollar values or large groups of people it is not. Greed is a force that will cause many people to abandon their ethics. We all know that. It's something that we never talk about.

At some point it became wrong to talk about the flaws in our system. We can't mention the flaws in capitalism. We can't mention the flaws in our democratic system. We certainly can't mention the strong points in other systems. Well, you know what, our entire system is based on greed. One of the seven deadly sins is the driving force currently setting the course for our entire planet.

Capitalism is wonderful. It allows for very efficient movement of resources to worthy companies and purposes. However, we need to protect ourselves from the failings and flaws of people. We can enumerate simple common human flaws quite easily. As well as greed we know that rising to power causes people to forget where they came from -- or believe themselves to be better than others.

Throughout human history we have seen what happens due to greed and a sense of being better then others. This leads to abuse of power. The powerful know best, they will make decisions for the rest of the incompetent world, they will tell us what is good for us. They will recreate society in their view. This is not very good for anyone who isn't sitting near the top of the food chain.

We all know this. We all understand this and have seen people change in front of our eyes when the get promoted or otherwise develop a sense of power. While it is not universal it is incredibly common. So, yes, capitalism is great. However, greed and other human flaws are very bad. This means creating a system that allows people to accumulate a lot, through greed, also means that we need to build in strong protections against those flaws.

Those protections have always been regulations. Government regulations. Everyone plays on a level playing field when regulations are enforced fairly and the natural flaws that are expressed in some quantity of people are kept in check. Unfortunately, the powerful have been very successful in declaring regulations as one of societies ills. And yes, when it comes to administration, there can be too many regulations. We have to be able to differentiate between types of regulations.

Many of us, the general public, simply went along with this castigation of regulations. However, something important happened. Reduced regulations and poor enforcement led us to the point of global financial collapse. We all saw it. We all lived it. There can be no doubt that wise regulations, appropriately enforced, are much better for society and commerce than a commercial wild west.

If we can capture this message, this simple to understand truth that everybody knows and understands, then we can open the door to preventing all the ills that greed leads to. If we don't, and continue to battle resulting issues one by one, we may win many battles but we will lose the war. We need regulations. We need everyone to understand that regulations, protections from power, are required.

From there we can talk about poisoning the environment, as an example of harmful greed, and regulate it. We can talk about predatory lending practices, as an example of harmful greed, and disallow it. We can look at people proposing that we allow the rich and powerful to further enrich themselves at our expense and make appropriate decisions. This is simple, true, and can reach everyone. We need to stop getting distracted and start talking in visceral terms.

Yes to capitalism, no to greed.

HOMEWORK: Find examples of greed in society. Find examples of business greed influencing government policy. Identify regulations that are meant to protect society from abuses of power.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Canada: It's Worse Than I Thought

Recently I was writing an article about Stephen Harper and how his previous actions imply his future behavior towards First Nations.  However, accumulating background information for this suggests that things may be worse than I thought.

I am going to simply present a list of articles, in no particular order, with minimal annotation in the hopes that you, the reader, will take the time to sift through things and make up your own mind.

Election Problems

Former Tory MP's Speak Out Against Campaign Financing
Conservative Pleads Guilty to Election Overspending
Study of Misleading Calls in 41st Election
Top Strategist Provides False Leak to Sun Media [election issue]

Media and Communications

Tory Insider Furious After Sun Debacle [close ties to Sun Media]
Canadian Government Muzzling its Scientists
Scientists Escorted by Handlers During Polar Conference
Harper Tightens Grip on Media Message Control

Harper Governments

PM Abuses Prorogation
House Falls in Contempt of Parliament
Access to RCMP Controlled by Minister
Former Harper Aide Charged With Influence Peddling
Emails Contradict MacKay's Explanation for Chopper Request
Drunk Driving Charges Dropped Due to Tory Connections
Radicals Working Against Oil Sands says Ottawa
Gazebos and the Governing Morality
F-35: A Case in Deficient Decision Making

Environmental Issues

Canada Cuts Environment Spending
Stephen Harper Faces Revolt by Scientists
A Bleak Year for Environmental Policy
Budget Gives Cabinet Free Hand on Environmental Assessments
Environmentalists Decry Changes to Navigable Waters Law
Federal Documents Spark Outcry by Oil Sands Critics
Energy Industry Letter Drives Environmental Law

Aboriginal Affairs

The Man Behind Stephen Harper, Tom Flanagan
Cabinet Mulls Massive Chinese Arctic Resource Project

So, as you can see, the Harper team cheats during elections. They work to contain scientists and control the general media. As a government they have no respect for Parliament, laws or even citizens who they declared to be radicals for daring to have their own opinions about the best path for Canada.

If you have done any reading you know a bit about Harper's background. It seems pretty clear, especially being so close to Tom Flanagan, that Harper is anxious to redress the West's anger over the National Energy Policy of a bygone era and to stampede over the objections of environmentalists and First Nations both of whom his government considers enemies or radicals depending on which statements you view.

I also have to point to a few locations on my blog, which are admittedly lesser by way of journalistic tradition, but do highlight ties between so-called grassroots organizations, Ezra Levant, the CPC and of course our government:

Ethical Oil: Domestic Puppets
Canada II: Link Library

And, as well, one recent post and a bonus link:

AAND and First Nations Under Harper
Stephen Harper's Ministry of Truth

The fact that the CPC operates in concert with astroturf (faux grassroots) organizations, appears to coordinate with Ezra Levant (on Sun News) regularly and has goons monitoring/participating in social media strongly suggests that we are on the receiving end of a continuous propaganda campaign.

All of which is unconscionable.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

AAND Under Harper Government

I will be the first to admit this post is somewhat speculative.  However, given the blatant actions of the Harper regime over the years I don't think I'm going to be proven wrong.  Additionally, the Harper regime may not be the first Canadian government to enact this type of campaign but it is certainly the most brutal.

Consider recent events.

Harper government involved in a myriad of tiny scandals from poor accountability, spending boondoggles, astroturf (faux grassroots) organizations, massive CPO communications (propaganda) staff, and so on. We aren't exactly dealing with an ethical organization here.

We can see them getting control of media. We see them muzzling scientists. We can see the government attempting to shut down environmental monitoring for the majority of waterways while we are seeing reports of tar sands impact. We can see them "streamlining" the approval process for energy projects.  We see them deciding that we don't really need census information anymore. We see them cutting funding for public broadcasting. We see them cutting funding for science.  We even see them involved in social media. Basically, anything that might stand in the way of their policy decisions has either gotten the axe or has operatives assigned to it.

So, what does this imply for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development (AAND)?

It's clear that Canada has long recognized treaty obligations towards AFN communities. While these have been loosely defined they have been supported by the courts and explicitly mentioned in the constitution in order to allow for ongoing improvements.

It's also clear that Harper does not like impediments to commerce. He is working hard to find ways to smooth the path for increased resource exploitation -- as per many of the steps defined above.  The biggest impediment now is that Canada has obligations with respect to First Nations.

So, in a manner true to form Harper's communications arm has been working very hard to discredit the First Nation communities. Nowhere is this more evident than Attawapiskat. In this case we have seen all manner of invective applied to Chief Spence in order to discredit her personally. Nobody in the CPC propaganda arm seems to be attacking the message -- they are all attacking the messenger.

What I suspect is that the Harper regime has enacted policies that will ensure that First Nations cannot succeed.  You see, the more they fail at providing for their people appropriately, the more the government can spin this. We're already hearing that First Nation leaders are greedy, making too much money, not using money for their own people.

What we don't hear is that government plays the largest role in deciding how money is the spent by these communities and how it is to be accounted for.

With a careful analysis is it clear to see that Harper views every aspect of the government as a resource to help him mold Canada into his view of what it should be. We have MPs unable to have a private meeting with the RCMP.  We see important government oversight and funding being cut -- so that we won't know the impact of Harper's own policies.  We see incredible lapses in ethics during the election process. We see incredible lapses in humility with respect to understanding that his electoral majority represents only a minority of the people in Canada.

I have no doubt that he will work to push First Nations to the edge of collapse in an attempt to force them to accept what he has in mind. Push them to the brink of economic collapse and then tempt them with lucrative resource contracts under the cover of limited environmental oversight.That's already happening. At the same time he'll manipulate policies to allow him to label First Nation leaders as incompetent and greedy and castigate them in the court of public opinion in order to discredit their claims.

Perhaps he even believes this will work. It would fit in with the narrative. However, First Nations have traditionally been stewards of the land. It's a Faustian bargain at best. If we are lucky the Idle No More movement, a grassroots awakening among AFN, will also wake us non-natives up. If we aren't lucky... we are all going to be paying the price for Harper's vision -- or more accurately, our children will.

UPDATE: Homework -- what changes to policies have been enacted over the Harper years and what stresses have they placed on AFN communities? Do these actions fit into the narrative above?

UPDATE: Here's an illuminating look at Tom Flanagan, a former adviser and chief of staff for Harper, and his views on First Nations.

UPDATE: I have linked to a variety of supporting documents... and feel I must link to this informative post about information manipulation by the "Ministry of Truth".

Friday, January 4, 2013

IdleNoMore: A Short History

Today the Harper Regime capitulated to the request by #idlenomore and First Nations to meet. This seems like a big win but I can only look at this with skepticism.

Now that the pressure is off of Harper there is every danger that public interest will flag -- that ongoing work to discredit #idlenomore by attacking messengers instead of the message will find a way to sour interest.

Any public disagreements between leaders and grass roots movements will be give intense scrutiny. Now is the time to ramp up activity and have an even bigger show of solidarity and support before the meeting takes place on January 11th.

Here are some recent, and less recent, actions in the #idlenomore saga:
A couple of related posts from your local blogger:
We've created a small opening. Now is the time to seize advantage of that opening before Harper and his minions can find a way to shut it again without awakening the public ire. Now that you've gotten hold of the public view do not lose it. Do not let it go. Once the energy dissipates it is much harder to regain it.

Please note, I am of European descent but I fully support that Canada has recognized treaty obligations and that we must stand by them.

UPDATE: Almost forgot, I plan to take part in the #idlenomorefast taking place tomorrow.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Ezra Levant and Sun News Network

Today both Ezra Levant and the Sun News Network have been asking scary questions about uses of money by the Attawapiskat community.  They are suggesting malfeasance in an effort to discredit Chief Spence for political purposes.
  • Why was Chief Spence's partner paid so much per day?
  • Why did they buy a new Zamboni when they already had one?
This is blatant.  And, importantly, most of the information has already been debunked. Any organization approaching a competent media outlet would know this.
So...what does this difference between Ezra's statements about Chief Spence and reality mean?

It means that Sun News Network makes no pretense at being a news organization. Everyone in the political arena is already aware of this -- but the man or woman on the street doesn't. Basically, whenever the public gets uppity and starts complaining about the Harper Regime, Ezra Levant and Sun News Network jump out with blatant propaganda meant to deflect and discredit.

This was done with the so-called Ethical Oil campaign - an astroturf (faux grassroots) organization created to generate propaganda in support of exporting tar sands oil and building pipelines to do so. This was widely discredited by online social media participants but I'm sure many non-political people are not aware.

All of this leads to a pair of important conclusions.
  • The government has a propaganda arm which may or may not be operating at arms length from various people and departments -- as high as the PM or PMO itself.
  • We know that whenever the Sun News Network is attacking something with intent to discredit that the Harper Regime is likely concerned about the public attention it is getting.
Additionally, it is vital that we help people understand the real issues and why the allegations and innuendo have no impact on those issues. I don't know Chief Spence. It is possible she has done things that I might not approve of (who hasn't). However, Canada's ethical and legal obligation to uphold treaties with First Nations has nothing to do with that.

From a political point of view we need to find ways to disarm this propaganda. The government should not be engaging in propaganda against its own citizens. This is unabashedly wrong. How do we stop this tactic from being effective on the non-political public?

From an ethics point of view -- how come people, news outlets and a certain political party can maintain any aspect of credibility when they use such tactics. Can we make the general public aware of these things - is it as simple as spending money to run some ads that make these behaviors publicly visible?

What's the playbook on these things? Can I simply put up a donate button and describe what I'll do with raised funds and expect anything to happen?

Please leave a comment (anonymously if necessary) if you have any ideas to share. I want to find a way to do things about this type of activity. It is damaging to democracy and our entire country - not to mention our international reputation.

UPDATED: Some additional links concerning Ezra Levant: On Being Called Anti-Semitic, Ordered to Pay $25000, Court Decision against Ezra Levant, Ezra Ordered to Pay Additional $32500, On Ezra's Blatant Gypsy Racism, and Ezra Levant Investigated for Hate Speech.

UPDATED: Here's a nice discussion on the politics of wages from the site.

UPDATED: I just watched an exchange on Twitter detailing how those big scary stock holdings that Ezra refers to are in a trust fund with the beneficiary to be the people of Attawapiskat. Such insinuations are recklessly and act as an incitement for racism and bigotry.  It's shameful.

NOTE: To avoid hammering the web site I've taken the liberty of uploading the answers PDF to a shared Google Docs file.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Harper vs First Nations

The following article, in a nutshell, provides the basis for all of Harper's actions with regards to First Nations. He does not believe they should be able to stand in the way of so-called "progress" for Canada.  He also believes, being of the religious right, that the Earth is for us to plunder at will.

We've seen comments from him in the past pointing in this direction. We've seen actions taken to "streamline" approval processes before.  We know where this is going.

Personally, I'm not against economic progress, but I am against the headlong rush to do things. We don't need to crush the concept of First Nations just because they stand in the way of financial gain. Sure, we can make life miserable on reservations and then offer them jobs destroying the land.  What a bargain that is for people who live off the land.

What an asshole Harper is.

Why does the right hide behind words like freedom and then make choices for everyone else? They impose their view of how things should be all the while trumpeting how they are enhancing freedom. I don't want to be free to live in mean-spirited squalor.

I like having a society. I like everyone receiving a decent education. I like it when consenting adults can do whatever they like as long as they aren't hurting someone else.  I decry commerce without regulation. I decry disregard for environmental issues. I decry the apparent goal of changing the nature of the First Nations whether they are willing or not.

This is not in the will of the majority of Canadians. We've been hijacked by a minority interest and a split vote. This is the most important issue on the plate. We must fix the disconnect between the will of the majority and the actions of government. We must fix this while we still can.

After we fix our government representation problem we can spend decades working to undo the crap Harper has been foisting on us, and the world, since his surprising brown-streaked arrival on the seat of power.

Oh Canada, I miss you.

Update: Some background information concerning Harper government actions... via UBCIC (courtesy of a tweet from @deepgreendesign).

Update: Perhaps worthy of a new blog post... wouldn't "steward of the land" views fall under freedom of religion? Aren't non-political conservatives sensitive to religious persecution?