What we deserve?

There is a law somewhere about rewards and punishments. It states that there are three dimensions of the outcome of an action:

  • positive or negative
  • immediate or delayed
  • certain or uncertain

The most powerful motivator is positive, immediate, and certain. The second most is, I think, negative, immediate, and certain.

For sure the weakest motivator is an outcome that is negative, delayed, and uncertain.
“Wait till your father gets home” comes to mind.

Supposedly we get the kind of government we deserve. I am not sure I believe that. I don’t think the conscripts in Viet Nam deserved the government that sent them there, nor the PTSD veterans of failed experiments in regime change (Iraq, Afghanistan, and others.)

We get the government, and economic system, that we allow to be built up around us over years, decades even. It’s the ‘boil the frog’ technique. Each little bit of dismantling of protection for the common citizen goes more or less un-noticed. (I might remark here that the dismantling of protections that led to the 2008 crash also went under the radar for too many of us, although there were lots of warnings from newspaper columnists like Paul Krugman.)

So now our American friends have an electoral system within an economic system that systematically (pun intended) robs the poor to pay the rich, and lobbies the voters with some of that money. (I might mention the redrawing of voting boundaries in Texas, which is credited with W’s second term victory by some. There are a lot of ways to use influence to magnify that influence.)

So now we are six weeks, more or less, from the ‘moment of truth.’ But the actual reward / result of the American election will be delayed a couple of months more, and will unfold for perhaps four years or so. The effects may last indefinitely. Canada cannot possibly be immune to this, nor can any other ally or trading partner of the USA.

I predict that the result of the election of the next president of the United States of America will be delayed, and negative. Right now it appears to be uncertain as well.

Which means, given the ‘law’ I started this entry with, we won’t learn much from it.

Is that what we deserve? (That’s not a dumb question.)

Banks, Bahamas, TPP, and sovereignty

The person of interest might be Elizabeth Warren, US Senator for Massachusetts. It might be Justin Trudeau, when we get to the dumb questions. And it could easily be the heads of three Canadian banks: RBC, CIBC, and Scotiabank.

The three banks are revealed here as being heavily involved in registering corporations in the Bahamas, presumably to avoid paying tax. I will select a few quotes from that page.

According to the data, RBC registered 847 companies, CIBC registered 632 and Scotiabank registered 481 in the Bahamas between 1990 and this past May.

“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Richard Leblanc, a leading corporate governance expert and professor at Harvard and York universities. “Why are there so many companies registered and such a high volume in a jurisdiction that doesn’t have the population base or the economy to support it? That’s a legitimate question.”

Unlike 103 other countries, including well-known tax havens, the Bahamas has, to date, refused to sign a global treaty that the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development calls the “most powerful instrument against offshore tax evasion and avoidance.”

In case you think I’m smoking cheap dope here, I’ll give a pointer to a C.R.S. report provided by www.fas.org (Secrecy News, c/o The Federation of American Scientists.) There you will find that the profits of (just) US controlled corporations as a percentage of GDP runs from being much of the country to twenty times (!) the GDP there. This in a report requested by the US Congress.

Back to the Star article, where you will find this: (emphasis mine)

For more than a century, Canadian bank executives have played an instrumental role in shaping the banking laws in tax havens, said Alain Deneault, a professor at the Université de Montréal and author of Offshore: Tax Havens and the Rule of Global Crime.

Starting in the early 19th century and right through to the establishment of the modern offshore system in the 1960s, Deneault said, “Canadian banks customized the legislation in Caribbean tax havens for their purposes: They are states made to allow large companies and wealthy individuals to avoid paying tax.”

Banks “purchase the sovereignty” of these countries to have the laws they wish, he said. “It’s a banker’s fantasy. Ask a banker what their ideal country would look like and that’s exactly what you find in the Bahamas.”

Now to tie in Elizabeth Warren. Again, emphasis mine:

ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.

If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?

If the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, big corporations. So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.

Elizabeth Warren was writing from the standpoint of a United States Senator. If she thinks the TPP agreement, by including ISDS, challenges American sovereignty, then what are the prospects for Canada under such a ‘trade’ agreement?

(I will quote Noam Chomsky? or was it Paul Krugman in The Great Unravelling? These are not trade agreements, they are capital agreements. They allow the means of production to be moved anywhere. Now we also allow the fruits of production to be taxed anywhere too.)

That’s where Justin Trudeau might come into the picture.

  • Our Canadian banks have been, apparently, pioneers in the use of jurisdictions like the Bahamas to offshore profits and hide wealth. Our banks have, in a sense, purchased the sovereignty of the Bahamas to achieve this end.
  • ISDS clauses in trade agreements similarly sell out the trading country’s sovereignty.
  • Large corporations are the beneficiaries of all of the above.
  • Ordinary people have not benefited from rising national and corporate wealth.

Now for the dumb questions, and they are addressed to Justin Trudeau as well as for my ‘ordinary citizen’ readers’ enjoyment:

  1. Will you as minimum remove the ISDS clause from any TPP agreement?
  2. From any future trade agreement?
  3. Will you champion the investigation into tax havens? Collaborate with the Americans, if possible, without losing freedom of action?
  4. Will any questions at all be asked of the Canadian banks named in the Star, or their CEOs, regarding ‘sharp practices’ in their clients aided by themselves?
  5. Is the continuing export – of jobs, of taxable profit, in short, of citizen well-being, going to continue?
  6. Do you want to be the Prime Minister if you can’t at least bend this situation into a slightly better shape?
  7. Comments? You know where to find me.


Bring back humans

Companies don’t really exist, yet they have the rights of persons. I can show that these ‘legal entities’ do not exist the way persons do, for example:

  • one has never gone to jail
  • one can discorporate leaving no discernible corpse
  • one can negotiate a wrongdoing suit, and pay without admitting guilt
  • one can only be assassinated by passing a law or by sharp business practices
  • one has never taken a lie detector test
  • one has no academic qualifications
  • one has no human friends

It’s time we undid the legal swindles that allowed corporations to have the rights of human beings. Decision makers should face the consequences of their deeds, not wait for their corporation to settle (should that prove necessary.) Decision makers should face real fines, jail terms, limitations of future activities, if their decisions lead to social harm.

Imagine a very large gorilla given the rights of a person. Suppose, next Tuesday, I control this gorilla. I have him pollute your fishing livelihood, or sell you a vehicle whose ignition switch leaves you without power steering, ABS, and airbags. I have him control your investments and make them disappear. I have him sell you food that has Listeria contamination.

You somehow get my gorilla into court and somehow get a judgement against him. What happens next?

Gorillas can only be fined. I only control the gorilla, I am invulnerable. If the gorilla becomes more embarrassing than it’s likely worth, I discorporate it. You get to fight for your scraps of gorilla fur and primate feces.

If I hired a human, I might be held responsible for what I caused that real person to do.

If I direct a corporation, I canNot be held responsible in the majority of cases.

I would like to see the ‘person’ status taken away from ‘legal’ ‘entities.’

This would have some very nice side effects.

  • Spending money would no longer be like free speech. Restrictions could constitutionally be enforced.
  • Real people facing real consequences would make real human decisions, not just profitable ones.
  • It might be harder to spend money on political candidates.
  • Lobbying as an industry might go into decline.

OK, I’m smoking cheap dope if I’m hoping for that last bullet. Sorry.

The dumb question:

How can we (you, the reader, and me, the blogger) begin to un-person corporations?

Florida sinkhole

Oddly, this incident is not visible in the Toronto Star. You may have missed the pending disaster in Florida’s water supply.

About 30 minutes east of Tampa Bay, a 45-foot-wide sinkhole opened in late August, depositing at least 215 million gallons of polluted, slightly radioactive water into a vast underground aquifer.    ….  And Mosaic’s environmental track record is less than stellar. Last year, the company agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to settle a suit brought by the EPA over its stewardship of hazardous waste at six phosphate mines and sites in Florida and two in Louisiana.

The sinkhole was discovered by a worker on Aug. 27, but the company responsible for the phosphate, Mosaic, waited three weeks to notify authorities. 

Sinkholes are common in Florida, and can be dangerous.

A massive sinkhole in Florida, which had been filled in, has opened up again — bringing back nightmarish memories of when it swallowed a man two years ago. In February 2013, the sinkhole first formed under Jeff Bush’s bedroom in the town of Seffner as he turned in for the night. He screamed out for help to his brother Jeremy, who ran into the bedroom to see that Bush and all his furnishings had vanished into the earth.

Apparently phosphate is dug out and piles of mud left. 75% of USA, and maybe 25% of world, phosphate comes from mines in the USA like these.

So much for the observation: it’s easy to find in Google, and the hits don’t seem to be in Canada news except for CBC Radio. Now for the dumb questions.

The company involved sat on the disaster for quite some time. The company involved says the water will move slowly and there is no problem. The company involved has paid rather large settlements in the past.

Do you remember any oil spills that weren’t responded to quickly? How about the chemicals still poisoning Aboriginals in Canada?

Is mining (and extraction in general) allowed to ‘get away with murder?’

What action a) is being done and b) could be done to protect Florida’s groundwater?

Will Florida citizens find out too late, and will a mere fine be the result?

On Wait Times

We all face lineups. Everyone has heard horror stories about wait times for surgery, passports, blood tests, transit buses, bank tellers.

This is absurd.

I am reminded of a product, decades ago, called IMPACT, for something like Inventory Management Product and Control Technology. There was one thing in that package that I still remember.

Instead of trying to always have what is wanted on hand, the program asked the user to determine the level of UnService the customer would get when wanting a specific product. The business owner was to decide, what (small) percentage of the time, a product for sale should Not be available. Then the program would use history, lead times, etc to predict how much to pre-order and how much to have on the shelf ready to sell.

I submit that most of our lineups today are based on the same kind of thinking: what sort of backlog will our users tolerate without rioting?

I am not an expert in queueing theory. I do understand the rudiments. Simple fact: queue length depends critically on arrival rate compared to service (and departure) rate. If you speed up the service a bit, you can get ahead and shorten your queue.

I have been in queues where much of the forward progress was due to people ahead of me giving up and leaving. I suspect that many long-wait medical queues are shortened by the deaths of those kept waiting.

I submit that long queues are caused by several factors, including these:

  • long queues create job security. The Estate Department of a local bank.
  • long queues create queue-jumping profit opportunities. There is an attempt to create a ‘standard’ way to buy faster medical procedures. This in Canada today.
  • individuals serving queues are bored if there’s nothing to do, and thus are not motivated to reduce their queue to zero. Services Ontario may be an example.
  • the time of those waiting is free. If there were a penalty for keeping a lineup waiting, things might be different.
  • large organizations don’t care if those lined up have little alternate choice for the service. That all banks are pretty much equal here reinforces this point.
  • there is no ‘Vice President of Customer Service.’ This is for sure true at those chartered banks where I tried to find one. The president of Scotiabank claims to have that role, but a registered letter (which must be signed by the recipient) does not reach this august personage.



New Citizens: our values, on their values

There is a push in the USA (which may fall apart if Donald Trump is not elected President) to have new citizens affirm American values.

There is a push in Canada (which may fall apart if cooler heads prevail) to have new citizens vetted for Canadian values.

This is nuts. Here is the oath of citizenship, sworn by our new Canadians:

I swear (or affirm) that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada, Her Heirs and Successors, and that I will faithfully observe the laws of Canada and fulfil my duties as a Canadian citizen.

I would reword this ever so subtly to indicate that the new citizen will live under the laws of Canada.

No clerical courts. No Sharia law.

To quote J.R.R.Tolkien, One ring to rule them all.


iAuthor – anybody else tried this?

I have recently added information on my books to a new, to me, website: iAuthor. If you go there and search for Jim Bennett, you’ll end up here.

I haven’t yet put the equivalent of ‘peek inside’ up on iAuthor, but I have put in hotlinks to my blog, my website, and my book pages at Amazon. Amazon should be happy as works on iAuthor get additional visibility for their availability on Amazon.

It takes time to enter or cut&paste the information, but the website is very well designed and it is fairly clear what to do and what will result. I’ve not seen such an easy-to-use website in ages.

It’s free. The site will do paid advertising. Presumably that funds the system.

Now for the dumb questions:

Comments? is my presence reasonably well set up?

Comments? is the site doing a good job?

Comments? is there a catch?

Please comment here, and provide a real eMail to the website when it asks for one.

Have a good day.

Canadian Federal Conservative Candidates – for ‘leadership’

Today we have two persons of interest: Peter MacKay and Tony Clement.

I was hoping that Mr. MacKay would run for the federal Conservative party leadership. I really wanted to see him try to lead this party out of the wilderness. I’ve been following McKay ever since I heard about the Orchard Agreement. By this agreement Peter MacKay became leader of the Conservative party.

The agreement was literally written on a scrap of paper. It is very short. I will cut&paste it here:

1) No merger, joint candidates w[ith] Alliance. Maintain 301.

2) Review of FTA/NAFTA – blue ribbon commission with D[avid] O[rchard] w[ith] choice of chair w[ith] P[eter] M[acKay’s] agreement. Rest of members to be jointly agreed upon.

3) Clean up of head office including change of national director in consultation (timing w[ithin] reasonable period in future, pre-election) and some of DO’s people working at head office.

4) Commitment to making environmental protection front and center incl[uding] sustainable agriculture, forestry, reducing pollution through rail.

[Signed by Peter MacKay and David Orchard]

Now for the first dumb question.

What happened next? Peter MacKay became the leader of the Progressive Conservatives. He then broke the conditions as follows:

  1. merged with the Alliance to form the existing Federal Conservative Party.
  2. After Stephen Harper became Prime Minister, the NAFTA review did not do anything.
  3. Not sure about this one.
  4. The Harper government (search this blog for James Travers, Haroon Siddiqui) took down a large number of environmental and other protections.

So I was hoping to see Peter MacKay responsible for digging himself and his party out of their opposition hole. No such luck. MacKay has married, has a couple of children, and seems to be enjoying his new life.
I wish him well, out of politics.

On to our next Person of Interest.

Maybe I’ll get lucky with Tony Clement as he runs for the leadership of the Federal Conservative Party. Clement’s history is broad and shallow. I will give one obvious, egregious, example of his valuable contribution to the Canadian political life.

The G8 Summit was held at Deerhurst, a hotel complex outside of Huntsville. Projects to ‘enable’ the summit were funded. Clement controlled almost $50 million. Here you can read that most of that money was controlled in a way that lacked accountability, and that the control was done by Clement and his staff. A quote from that page:

“We’re looking at a slush fund that was very carefully constructed to remove all the checks and balances and basically put $50 million in the hands of a politician who dispensed that money out of his constituency office,” Angus said in an interview.

“It is clear that a cover-up happened. And it’s also very clear that they used Clement’s constituency office in order to ensure that a cover-up was possible,” said Angus (Timmins—James Bay).

Let’s have a fast look at Clement’s history, as told by Wikipedia:

As Minister of Health:

Some of Clement’s initiatives included announcing a national strategy on autism, working towards establishing Canada’s first Patient Wait Times Guarantees, and investing in faster, more effective and safer health information systems across Canada for Canadians.

In Ontario, health information systems are still wanting. Patient wait times try patience. Health care is, sadly, a provincial responsibility. Medical standing does not extend across provincial borders. None of this got fixed.

As Minister of Industry:

In the summer of 2010, Clement introduced changes to the 2011 Census. On this issue, he said, “The government will retain the mandatory short form that will collect basic demographic information. To meet the need for additional information, and to respect the privacy wishes of Canadians, the government has introduced the voluntary National Household Survey (NHS).”

It took a change of government to get the long census back.

The G8 we won’t go into again. I could mention the Gazebo built nowhere near the G20, and much much more.

As President of the Treasury Board:

On December 22, 2014, Clement was quoted by the Canadian Press as saying that government deliberately withholds public data because people using the information might “create havoc” by altering the contents.

On November 2, 2013, Clement backed a motion at the Conservative Party national convention that advocated clawing back public-sector pay and benefits.

In charge of FedNor: I won’t comment on this as I didn’t follow the details at the time.

Today: Tony Clement has stepped down from the shadow cabinet (in Opposition) to run for the leadership of the Federal Conservative party.

I wish Mr. Clement well. I hope he wins that leadership. I anticipate many pleasurable campaigns as his Conservatives wander in their Harper-created wilderness.

Second dumb question: Will Tony Clement get that leadership?

Given the effect of his backing by Stephen Harper, he’s probably got a good shot at it. Given the (to me at least) lack of star power opponents, it could actually happen.

Voting Systems: not trivial

The Person of Interest is Elizabeth May. Leader of the federal Green Party of Canada.

Here you will find that May is trying to consult with Canadians on electoral reform.

I think this is well-meant, but of uncertain value. Why?

Here you will find one of many web pages on the Arrow theorem. I’ve read through the Wikipedia version and confess that I don’t follow the logic completely. However, the conclusion is clear: no voting system can produce the ‘correct’ result for all possible voter choices. There is always a ‘pathological’ case where the system will vote-in the wrong result.

That’s one reason I think consultation is, however well-meant, perhaps misplaced. The real reason I think it’s not a good idea is a bit more elitist.
We had a vote in Ontario on this issue some time ago. (I worked that election as DRO and we had to manage two full sets of ballots. Not something one would easily forget.) There was a lot of public consultation, and it caused a lot of confusion. Confused voters are uncertain, and uncertainty creates neophobia: fear of the new (system.)

I predict the same result this time. Read Arrow’s theorem and you might agree that designing a voting methodology is complicated.

Instead, I think that a few existing systems should be explained in simple terms and people should be asked to choose between them. Don’t start with first principles, start with working systems and get testimonials (and complaints) from the citizenry that votes in them. Look at foreign jurisdictions with other voting systems.

I respect Elizabeth May a lot more than this terse blog entry might show. Now for the dumb questions, and they could be addressed to her:

Can we shape the discussion on electoral reform? Can it be about choice between a few systems that are known to work elsewhere?

Can we avoid having ‘ordinary citizens’ try to outshout each other about choice, when they for sure don’t know (most of them) about Arrow’s Theorem or the complexity of the space of all possible systems?

Can we keep it simple? and then decide by (shudder) one last first-past-the-post vote?

These questions could apply to you. If you think they do, contact Elizabeth May, your federal MP, your newspaper, and make your opinions known.

Thoughts on 9-11

It does not seem like fifteen years.

I am a Canadian. I did not find the twin towers irrelevant. I once worked for IBM Canada and, as a result of Brokerage experience and a case tool called SEER, was in New York and on the 105th floor of one tower, a short time (weeks) before the disaster.

I followed the TV coverage incredulously. Then I went online and found everything I could. I think there were thirty-four videos posted of the towers, their collapse, and the rubble-panicked crowds. One video was from a helicopter checking the roof for escapees. Apparently, the advice to ‘go up’ did not lead to an exit they could open.

I am a poet. Naturally, I wrote about the towers. I kept four poems aside for ten years, working on them only occasionally. Final versions passed muster at writers’ group and are in my fifth poetry book, Retirement Clock. (Published in 2014.) I was afraid of being too sensationalist in Executed, and then too oh-goody for the American determination to prevail, in Speech to the Statue of Liberty. I needed the cold water of other opinions to justify the patriotism and the naked horror.

I did a lot of research. How the four teams were started (two pilots per team came here first), how the lesser (muscle) members were recruited and trapped into needing martyrdom’s reprieve from earthly sins, how the flights were taken a week before for practice. ‘Tighten clothes’ is not something I made up. I did a lot of research.

Research does not make a good poem (it prevents it from going pop at the prick of a fact, eh?) but it supports it and provides needed background feel for the events as they happened to the participants, including the unwilling ones in the planes and towers.

One narrative told of two men who ran and hid behind a large pillar to survive the rubble pouring down from the crashing towers. A woman ran past them. One grabs an arm, fails to pull her into safety in time, and is left holding … an arm. Some things one does not forget. I never put that arm in a poem, but other unpleasant things I could handle.

I usually end a blog post with a dumb question. Today being a serious anniversary, I’ll end with dumb answers as well.

  • Who gained from 9-11? You won’t like this answer. President G.W.Bush went from ill-thought of, to tough Commander-in-Chief. Dick Cheney got a Lot of money for Halliburton as provider to the armed forces in Iraq. Bin Laden became a folk hero among radicals.
    It is possible that this empowered Daesh and the Caliphate.
  • Who lost from 9-11? You won’t like this answer either. Most ‘civilized’ countries used this (and later) incidents to increase police power, increase surveillance of civilians, increase scope of authorized extrajudicial executions, increase checkpoints / border walls / customs inspection / access to phone, eMail, social media accounts.
    In many ‘civilized’ countries, the rights and lives of fine Muslim citizens went downhill or out the window.
    And, of course, all the victims and their families lost, big time.
  • What did we learn from 9-11? Not much. We have watch lists for airline passengers that repeatedly deny infants boarding. We have lone-wolf incidents, and they are extremely difficult to predict (at least in some cases.)
  • What should we have learned from 9-11? We could read Peter Scowen, Rogue Nation, ISBN 0-7710-8005-0; or Noam Chomsky, Power and Terror, ISBN 1-58332-590-0. Chomsky is an American. Scowen is a Canadian whose sister was in Tower Two.
    Chomsky’s view of American international actions is, er, disturbing.
    Scowen asked himself, ‘why would anyone do this?’ and the answer, from fifty years of American international actions, is in his book.

It is time to remember 9-11. Remember the loss. Remember the spirit that was able to rebuild. Respect the dead. Honour the rescue workers and others who did all possible under treacherous conditions.

Maybe tomorrow, or next week, it will be time to re-examine 9-11. Scowen. Chomsky.

I could give a quote from Pogo. It’s about meeting the enemy. Maybe next month we’ll ask our governments to think about this.