chickenfeet: (Default)
I see all sorts of stories about disillusioned Repugs threatening to move to Australia or New Zealand.  I don't understand why.  Both are secular countries with (more or less) socialised healthcare systems, not particularly high levels of income and wealth inequality, sensible election finance laws and fairly strict gun controls.

The country you need my friends is Pakistan.  It's full of your fellow religious fundamentalists (emphasis on mental).  Levels of income inequality are extreme, AK47s are available on every street corner, politicians can be openly bought and sold and there's no health care system worth a damn except for the wealthy.  It's a Republican paradise!  Best of all, in a recent international poll it was the only country where voters preferred Romney to Obama.

Just try not to buy a house in one of those areas where civilians regularly get killed by those American drones that you think are doing such a great job.
chickenfeet: (death)
At 4pm yesterday several thousand people gathered at very short notice in Nathan Phillips Square to commemorate the life and premature death of Jack Layton. [personal profile] commodorified has described the event better than I could. Here's her post.


Mar. 31st, 2008 06:13 pm
chickenfeet: (fart)
Here's my prediction for what's going to happen in Zimbabwe. I don't think Mugabe or his potential heirs in ZANU-PF are going to allow an opposition win. Equally, I doubt (could be wrong here) that they are dumb enough to try and persuade the world (South Africa really because no-one else really matters) that Mugabe has polled more votes than Tsvangirai. So, my guess is that the official results will show that Tsvangirai polled just less than the 50% needed for outright victory thus forcing a run off which Mugabe will narrowly win through a combination of actually winning over most of the third candidate votes and fraud exercised a bit less negligently than in this round.


Mar. 18th, 2008 05:52 am
chickenfeet: (bayes)
The pundits are doing their thing with yesterday's bye election results. What none of them are pointing out is that the turn out is so low that projecting what happened onto a general election is a bit of a mug's game. FWIW, turn out in three of the four ridings was around 25% and it was 33% in the fourth.

My guess is that the results will scare the Liberals into continuing to prop up the government. Probably until they have compromised so much to do so that there won't be a single issue left for them to campaign on.
chickenfeet: (bull)
It's true there is a federal bye-election in my riding on Monday. One would be hard pressed to know it though despite the fact that the Liberals are running their most recent star recruit, Bob Rae, a former NDP provincial premier. The apathy may be partly due to the fact that in this riding you could pin a red rosette on a pig and get it elected but more I think because most people still hope that there will be a general election soon. Since it seems unlikely that the Liberals will find either a principle or a clue this will likely come when they finally run out of excuses for not voting the government down. I'm beginning to wonder though what on earth is left in the government's wishlist that they haven't already conceded on.

Anyway, the apathy around here is deafening. The other parties are running cannon fodder candidates although the Green candidate doesn't look old enough to join the army without lying about his age. I expect that the turnout will be a record low.
chickenfeet: (enigma)

What follows was triggered by a debate with [ profile] arcana_mundi.

We were discussing, inter alia, the relatively poor showing of the US on many population health indicators despite the US spending more on health than the rest of the OECD and whether the US healthcare financing and delivery model was responsible for that.  She argued that there are many factors affecting population health indicators besides the US healthcare model including lifestyle issues, incidence of poverty etc and, of course, she is correct.

The train of thought that I have been playing with in my head goes something like this.  Maybe there is a correlation between lifestyle factors and the extent to which healthcare is taxpayer funded.  Public health interventions are almost invariably tapayer funded (this was true even in impeccably laissez faire Victorian England) because nobody else is going to pay for them.  Well designed public health interventions can be very successful but the opposition to them is usually vocal and concentrated, the benefits hard to measure in the short term and beneficiaries may not be aware or unduly concerned about the outcomes.  The big exception is where public health investments ease the strain on a publicly funded healthcare system since there the immediate payor and the apparent financial beneficiary are one and the same.
To take perhaps the most obvious example, smoking cessation policies can save a fortune in down the road healthcare costs but are invariably opposed by the cigarette companies and the tobacco farmers (and usually by the ministry of finance who find short term tobacco revenues more attractive than long term savings.  Wasn't there a Yes, Prime Minister episode on that very theme?).   It took a very long time for Ontario to adopt fairly aggression smoking cessation strategies precisely because of the strength of that lobby in the province  and one wonders if it would ever have happened if the costs imposed by smoking on the healthcare system were not being met from the public purse.

If it is the case that polities with substantially publicly funded healthcare systems are more likely to engage in public health interventions, one might reasonably expect that to result in healthier lifestyles in those polities.  Of course, there are other reasons why the government of a polity with a private healthcare system might choose to make public health interventions and, of course, they do.  My suspicion is that they do less.  It would though be interesting to compare comparative spending on public health interventions across, say, the OECD, and see if there are correlations either to the degree that healthcare is socialised(1) or to population health statistics.

I don't have access to J-STOR until I get back to the Cancer Pits but I might try and have a look then.

(1) It is a question of degree.  Contrary to popular belief and a lot of political rhetoric, all of the OECD countries have mixed healthcare systems with a mix of taxpayer and non-taxpayer funding and delivery split, in different proportions, between government, not for profit and commercial providers.

chickenfeet: (widmerpool)
The recent spat between Admiral Brownship, General Brownjob, Mr Brown the Prime minister, Mr Browne the Defence Minister and Captain Darling the Chancellor (Where was Colonel Mustard?) about the size of the British Defence Budge was a classic example of ignoring the elephant in the room. Yes, the British defence budget is too small to support forces capable of fighting two pointless foreign wars simultaneously. Yes, the British defence budget is the second highest in NATO and must compete with other public services for available funds. Well done everybody! Could the answer perhaps be that Britain can't afford to fight two foreign wars simultaneously? O Woes, we haz no Empire.

Neither side will bring up the elephant of course as the military chiefs would advocate larger armed forces whatever the level of commitment and British politicians seem to have some, probably Freudian, need to prove their potency on the world stage especially if there is an American dick to use for comparison.

Britain has been trying to play a role on the world stage greater than its economy can support for at least 100 years. The army and navy of 1914 put a huge strain on the national finances even then. Since then war has become impossibly expensive. It always has been of course but I'm not sure Joe Punter realises by how much. claims that the purchasing power of a pound in 1914 was the same as 66 pounds today. Bear that in mind. The cost of fully equipping an infantry battalion in 1914 was less than a million pounds (quite a lot less). Today it's over a billion pounds. That's an increase of more than 1000 times as much or 15 times as much at constant purchasing power. One can produce even more dramatic figures for things like fighter aircraft.

What this means is that, in real terms, the British taxpayer is contributing more than two and a half times as much in real terms to maintain the 20 deployable infantry battalions of today (fn1) as they were to maintaining the 120 battalions of 1914. Clearly, a second class economy on the fringes of Europe can't hope to outspend in real terms a world empire but that seems to be the intention. It doesn't make sense.

Note 1. There are forty infantry battalions on the current British Army Orbat. However, there is only enough kit to deploy about half of them in a role in which they could do serious fighting (actually it's a bit less; probably 17 battalions). The rest would be equipped with hand held weapons and Land Rovers. They would have fewer heavy weapons than a battalion in 1939.
chickenfeet: (redflag)
Norman Naimark - "The Russians in Germany A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945-1949", Cambridge, Mass 1995

This a hefty read; almost five hundred pages plus apparatus. It's a good reminder too that history is not inevitable. Few events seem more inevitable in hindsight than the division of Germany or the collapse of Soviet communism but as Naimark demonstrates neither seemed likely and the latter unthinkable to the Russians and Germans who shaped the Soviet Zone and ultimately created the GDR.

Soviet policy in 1945 favoured the creation of a demilitarised, neutral and anti-fascist Germany that would eventually mature into a People's Democracy on the Russian model. The manifest superiority of the Soviet system had been demonstrated by the Soviet achievements in the 1930s and, above all, by the victory over Germany. An overwhelming sense of cultural and political superiority drove the policy makers in the Soviet zone.

However, the need to pillage German industry and agriculture to rebuild the ravaged Soviet economy and the unwillingness or inability of the occupation authorities to restrain the behaviour of Russian troops in the zone alienated large sections of the population. Even among dedicated communists and socialists support for the 'Russian way' was eroded by robbery, rape (on a scale probably unprecedented in history, confiscations and the activity of the Soviet security agencies. By late 1946 support for the KPD had all but evaporated and the elections of that year were a huge blow to the Soviets. Increasingly policy veered to accepting the division of Germany with the eastern portion under clear Soviet control.

Naimark, using documents made available from Soviet and GDR archives in the 1990's reconstructs the story in convincing detail with thematic chapters on extraction of reparations, robbery and rape, cultural and educational policy, political developments, the creation of the apparatus of the police state and so on. It's very comprehensive and impressive.
chickenfeet: (death)
On July 17th last year I wrote a piece on the cynical nature of the H&S prosecution in the De Menezes killing.

Among other things I prognosticated as follows:

I foresee the usual official reaction when the Met is convicted two years from now. "Procedures have been changed to prevent a recurrence of this unfortunate event and no useful purpose would be served by disciplinary action at this late stage."

Today I see the following on the BBC website, following the guilty verdict:

Len Duval, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, said much work had been done to improve the force's procedures since the killing.

Nobody has resigned. Nobody has been disciplined. I strongly suspect nothing has changed. Want to commit murder and get away with it? Join the bastards in blue.
chickenfeet: (redflag)
So the government has now defended infiltrating a peaceful demonstration with masked, rock carrying cops..

Mosley, Hitler and that crowd at least had the decency to recruit their own thugs for breaking up demonstrations. Harper seems to think the police are there to be used as his personal goon squad. Worse, the police seem to be happy to cooperate.
chickenfeet: (fart)
Reflecting on Harper's new cabinet yesterday I had a revelation. The true purpose of the Afghan war became clear to me. It exists so that there is always going to be one minister who is less popular than the PM and there is always one job that the PM can dispatch a feared/hated rival to. It now becomes clear why the 'troubles' in Northern Ireland went on as long as they did.
chickenfeet: (sphere)
This article in the Globe and Mail is more interesting for what it says about how the Harper government operates than for what it says about detainees and Afghanistan. If I read this right Harper has gone the American route of removing the diplomats from diplomacy and giving control of key aspects of foreign policy to DND and the generals. We all know how well that strategy has served the US! Converting the armed forces into the uniformed wing of the Conservative Party is a fundamentally anti-democratic strategy and entirely contrary to Canadian political tradition.
chickenfeet: (rugby)
Andy Bevan emerges as Stephane Dion's eminence grise. Nomads, taking over Canada one day at a time...

O Canada

Apr. 23rd, 2007 09:23 am
chickenfeet: (death)
Today's Globe and Mail leads on an investigation of the received by prisoners handed over by the Canadian armed forces to the Afghan authorities. There has been concern for some time that the agreement Canada has with the Afghan government on this issue is weak but ministers and DND brass have repeatedly assured Canadians that the prisoners are treated properly. We now learn that 'properly' apparently includes floggings, electrocution and the rest of the torturer's dismal practices. I don't believe for one nanosecond that Canadian commanders and ministers were not aware that this was going on.

This, of course, raises the broader question of why on earth we have troops in Afghanistan. Ostensibly our troops are their to defend democracy and human rights but it is quite clear that in fact we are merely fighting battles for one murderous faction of mountain bandits against another. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that Canada can do that will change the nature of Afghanistan. Why are we so incapable of learning what Britain in the 19th century and the USSR in the 20th century learned the hard way?

It's interesting how many of the commenters in the Globe and Mail are taking a pro torture line and how few are questioning what we are doing in the country.
chickenfeet: (rugby)
The Globe and Mail this morning mentions Dion strategist Andrew Bevan in the context of the weekend's high jinks.  Andy is a former president of the Toronto Nomads and a former team mate of mine. Rugby players taking over the world one ruck at a time!
chickenfeet: (redflag)
Dick Gaughan's A Different Kind of Love Song is probably the worst album he's ever recorded. It's over-produced and too many of the tracks are too preachy to be tolerable even to an old leftie. There are a couple of fine Leon Rosselson covers though, including the very fine Stand Up For Judas.

So Stephane Dion is the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. I don't really feel very strongly about this. I didn't care for any of the candidates. I guess I'm relieved that they didn't pick MachiavelliMichael Ignatieff. Anyone who can come up with over intellectual rationalisations of the immoral and intolerable when not in power shouldn't be allowed to hold public office anywhere at any time. Still that's now, what, four leaders from Quebec in a row (excepting a couple of minutes of John Turner).* One day the Liberals will have to realise that Canadian politics is about more than Quebecois fratricide and how deep one's nose is in the trough. Not this time though.

*This is roughly equivalent to every Labour leader since 1960 being a Scot.
chickenfeet: (sphere)
In case anyone is interested, [ profile] knirirr is doing a rather good job of forcing me to articulate and defend my position on future democratic reforms. The discussion is in the comments to this post.

In other news, I shall miss Ferenc Puskas a great deal more than Milton Friedman.
chickenfeet: (death)
I have really conflicted feelings this November 11th. It's a day when my late grandfather is very much in my thoughts but this year I'm thinking more of the present than the past. For the first time in my lifetime the governments of both my native and adopted countries are once again sending young men (and now, of course, women) to die in protracted, unwinnable and meaningless foreign wars. As in 1916, there is only one thing preventing disengagement from these futile and bloody struggles; the ego of politicians. In one way it's even worse than 1916. In those days the leaders had some skin in the game. Asquith lost a son in France. No child of Blair or Harper will ever be put in harm's way. All they have to do is not vomit while their parents declaim utterly insincere platitudes to the TV cameras.

There seems to be something of a tradition for posting verse on this day and I've done so myself in previous years. This year I can't bring myself to post something elegiac so anger must suffice. It's not my favourite Owen poem but it does seem most appropriate for this year of 2006.

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young )


Nov. 9th, 2006 12:36 pm
chickenfeet: (sphere)
I've held off commenting on the elections in the US because I have really mixed feelings about what happened. On the one hand I'm relieved that there is some prospect of a brake being put on the viler projects of the Kleptocracy, on the other I have little faith in a party that is really not so different from the Kleptos on the big issues and is even falling over itself to readmit a traitor like Lieberman.

The problem is that from where I stand democracy in the English speaking world is fairly badly broken and in the US it's really screwed up. (Which is not to say that it isn't the least bad of the available options).

The basic problem is that the system we've inherited was designed to decide which faction of the 18th century ruling elite would hold power while trying to stop them doing much more with that power than get their snouts in the trough. In the US that has changed remarkably little. Henry Dundas would have felt quite at home in contemporary Washington. Over the years the elites have been remarkably adept at keeping the system essentially intact in the face of Universal Suffrage, rise of the Mass Media etc.

A modern democracy would have, as a minimum:

  • Districts delineated by, and elections supervised by, a non-partisan electoral oversight body
  • A real party system with things like party policies and discipline over candidates/representatives
  • Some real control over campaign finance
  • Proportional representation of some kind
  • A non-partisan process for appointing judges

None of these things are going to happen in the foreseeable future, not least because the average American today displays the same complacency over his/her constitution that Brits did 150 years ago. So we are stuck with one loose band of corrupt millionaires alternating with another one. It's hard to get really enthusiastic about which one is at the trough.

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