Friday, March 16, 2018

America's Answer To The Homeless Problem

Call it thinking outside the box, but a U.S. candidate for the Senate has a novel idea about the homeless problem: arm them with shotguns.

Here is Libertarian Brian Ellison's plan, borne, no doubt, out of deep compassion:
... homeless people are “constantly victims of violent crime” and providing them with firearms would provide a deterrent.

[He] said he had settled on pump-action shotguns for practicality purposes.

“Frankly I think the ideal weapon would be a pistol,” he told the Guardian, “but due to the licensing requirements in the state we’re going to have a hard enough time getting homeless people shotguns as it is.

“Getting them pistols is probably next to impossible. The pistols need to be registered, people have to have addresses.”

Carrying a concealed pistol is illegal without a permit, Ellison said, “whereas open-carrying a long gun is completely legal”.
I can't help but wonder if it also occurs to Ellison that he may also have hit upon a cost effective plan to reduce the number of homeless people in America's midst.

Kind of a reversion to Hobbes' state of nature, eh?

And The United States Considers Itself A Civilized Country?

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Enough To Warm A Cynic's Heart

No matter how bleak and pessimistic I may sometimes feel about my species, something always comes along to lighten my heart:

May they thrive, and may their momentum be unstoppable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Seeking Sanctuary

Sometimes, living in Canada's most populous province is embarrassing. Anyone know a remote mountain top I can retreat to?

These letter-writers define my problem:
In light of the recent PC leadership convention that saw the resurrection of the anti-abortion faction, the denial of climate change, the renewal of the “no tax is good tax” fallacy, an anti-gay bias and the assertion that only parents undertake sex education of their children, I would propose that the party change its name from Progressive Conservative to Regressive Conservative — taking a giant step backward for all Ontarians.

Peter Lower, Scarborough

A mere two days after we observed International Women’s Day, the Ontario PC party membership decided to bypass a strong, highly qualified, intelligent woman in favour of a dense, inexperienced, impudent man who rode the populist wave to victory much like another well-known politician did south of the border over a year ago. For a man who doesn’t have an original idea in his head, Doug Ford certainly has a lot of people betting on his ability to beat Premier Kathleen Wynne in the upcoming election. Let’s hope this time the electorate chooses the strong, highly qualified, intelligent candidate.

John Fraser, Toronto

Columnist Martin Regg Cohn tells us that we should not rule out the possibility of Doug Ford being elected Ontario premier, and he may well be right. It is possible that Ford’s populist appeal will be sufficient to propel the PC party into government. However, it is also possible that Ford’s election will revitalize Liberal party fortunes and give Premier Kathleen Wynne a fighting chance of clinging to power. In electing Ford, PC party members chose to roll the dice with the future of both their party and the province, and they apparently did this with their eyes wide open. On June 7, we will know whether those who voted for Ford allowed Wynne to once again beat the odds.

Jonathan Household, Niagara on the Lake

Monday, March 12, 2018

Curbing An Addiction

A recent post outlined the terrible toll plastic pollution is exacting on the world's oceans and wildlife. We pay a very high price for personal convenience, but our addiction to plastic runs very, very deep, as you will see in just a moment.

But first, Tim Gray makes a plea for Canada to take a lead in the battle against this scourge, and for a very good reason:
Canadians are among the most wasteful people in the world, with 25 million tonnes of waste, including plastic, ending up in landfills in 2014. Of course, millions of plastic bottles and other plastic waste never even make it to the landfill, but instead end up in our streets and environment.

In our oceans, our plastic joins the waste of other countries to kill a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals every year, according to the UN Environment Program.
And just how can we work towards taming this monumental problem?
Provinces set the legislative frame for how waste is tackled. For example, all but two provinces and one territory have plastic beverage bottle deposit return programs that achieve high recovery rates. Ottawa could mandate that all provinces achieve at least a 90-per-cent recovery and let each of them design its own system.

This would ensure that the laggards in Manitoba and Ontario (which throws away 1.5 billion plastic bottles every year) get their acts together. If provinces don’t achieve the target, the federal government could impose a tax on the bottles and give the funds to municipalities for waste abatement programs.

The federal government could also require that major multinational corporations — like Coca-Cola, Nestlé, Pepsi and McDonald’s — increase the amount of recycled material in their products and packaging to 100 per cent by 2023. High recycled content targets create market demand for recycled materials. They also make companies more likely to support collection systems that provide high volumes of high quality plastics, like deposit return programs.
Although Gray doesn't mention it, another avenue would be for us to wean ourselves off our heavy use of plastic. That, however, is easier said than done, as you will learn in the following video:

You can read about the above initiative here.

Just because something is difficult does not make it beyond our means to achieve. By educating ourselves about the problem and taking steps to reduce our reliance on plastic (through cloth shopping bags, reusable water bottles, etc.), we can all contribute to the reduction of one of humanity and nature's biggest blights.

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Neoliberal Creep - Part 2

While Part 1 dealt with the neoliberal agenda influencing Bill Morneau's retraction of his pharmacare promise, today's post deals with that same influence, this time on Canada's 'evolving' position on foreign aid.
International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says she wants to use the new $2 billion in extra aid dollars in the new budget to attract insurance and pension funds to invest in fight against global poverty.

Bibeau said her priority is going after wealthy private-sector investors, because governments can’t provide the level of spending needed to do development in a world where conflicts are lasting longer and displacing people for decades at a time.
Given the aversion too many people have to taxes and government expenditures, on the surface this proposal would seem to spread out the costs of doing good. A win-win situation, right?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The need for foreign aid is beyond question, both for the well-being of the recipient countries and the security of the larger world. Those who are suffering and disenfranchised today are the recruits for terrorist organization tomorrow. However, if improving the well being of those in the targeted countries is the overall goal, one has to ask a fundamental question: Is private investment the best vehicle by which to accomplish it?

Private investors, whether institutional or individual, are seeking a decent return on their money. If the goal of foreign aid is better the recipients' lives, how, exactly, is entering into partnerships with pension and insurance funds going to accomplish that? Unfortunately, Ms. Claude-Bibeau leaves that question unanswered. Perhaps she felt that given most Canadians' shallow engagement on public policy, simply making an announcement on cost-saving measures would satisfy them. But the key question to ask is whether or not the goals of private profit and foreign aid are compatible.

A report by the OECD-DAC sheds some much-needed light on this issue:

As you can see in the above, the first unspoken 'rule' is that 70% of the private investor's funds are guaranteed against loss. Guranteed by whom? The taxpayer, of course.

But surely that is not enough to attract such investment. There must also be the prospect of earning a healthy return on investment. And therein lies the tension and potential conflict between development and private sector goals. A 2013 study into the American experience with PPPs (Public-Private Partnerships) may shed some light:
Some development officials are concerned that opportunities to access private resources through partnerships can pull mission staff away from established country plan priorities. The availability of private funding, they argue, is hard to ignore, even when a proposed partnership does not fit well within an established mission priority. Given very limited staff resources at many USAID missions, the opportunity cost of following through on PPPs that are not necessarily aligned with stated mission priorities can be high.
In other words, the prospect of 'free money' can subvert a government's development goals.

There is a host of other problems associated with these partnerships, including overlooking needier countries in favour of more-developed ones so as to provide greater opportunities for the private sector to profit. This issue and many more you read about in the above report.

Will Canadian go blindly into this brave new world of foreign aid PPPs? Given the decidedly neoliberal bent of the Trudeau government, I think that is a distinct possibility.

Canada, and its foreign-aid recipients, deserve much, much better than this.