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Submission to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act

by doconnor in Democracy, Politics

As you consider the Fair Elections Act, your common sense may tell you it is vital to prevent fraudulent or ineligible voters from casting a ballot at any cost.

However the mathematical reality is that the effect on an election of a ineligible vote is equal to the effect of an eligible voter who is unable to vote. One gives one extra vote to a candidate, the other removes a vote from a candidate.

Any change to make it more difficult to vote will only make elections more democratic if it prevents more fraudulent or ineligible voters from voting then it discourages or prevents eligible voters from voting. Given there is every reason to believe there is virtually no fraudulent voting in Canada, any change would have to meet a very high standard before it would provide a net benefit.

If you believe in improving democracy, you must consider these factors as you vote on the measures in this bill.


Ford Nation’s reaction predicted by science

by doconnor in Politics, Toronto

Once someone becomes a leader of the high [Right-Wing Authoritarian Follower's] in-group, he can lie with impunity about the out-groups, himself, whatever, because he knows the followers will seldom check on what he says, nor will they expose themselves to people who set the record straight. Furthermore they will not believe the truth if they somehow get exposed to it, and if the distortions become absolutely undeniable, they will rationalize it away and put it in a box. If the scoundrel’s duplicity and hypocrisy lands him on the front page of every daily in the country, the followers will still forgive him if he just says the right things.

- from page 100 (footnote 5 of chapter 3: How Authoritarian Followers Think) of The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer. The book is by a psychology professor who spent his career studying authoritarians and authoritarian followers with surveys and experiments that give an empirical foundation to his insights.

Right-Wing Authoritarian Followers are the segment of society that largely driven by fear and believe what their leaders say without question. In our society they represent many, if not most, of the hardcore conservative supporters. They are probably the only supporters Rob Ford has left.

He shows that they are willing to forgive any wrong doing by their leaders not matter how blatant or hypocritical so long as they continue to say the things they want to hear. This is just one of the ways they are hypocritical.

The book is free and available at the link provided. I would recommend that anyone who wants a better understanding of how supporters of modern conservatives think should read it. It doesn’t really suggest ways to change their minds, but understanding they can’t really help themselves will make you less frustrated.


Rob Ford: Addicted to being Mayor

by doconnor in Politics, Toronto

Rob Ford may not be addicted to crack. It’s even possible he isn’t an alcoholic, just an occasional binge drinker. But I think his is addicted to the adulation he gets from being mayor.

He has admitted to smoking crack in one of his drunken stupors, yet still he refused to resign as mayor. Anyone else would have quit months ago when the video was first reported or when he started losing control. Yet he still subjects himself to the numerous indignities of covering up his misbehavior and then having to confess the truth. His lawyer has claimed that pressure from the media has damaged Ford’s health, when he could have prevented these problems by not binge drinking or, more realistically, resigned to reduce the media pressure on him.

This article suggests many people get involved in politics for the adulation they get.  No doubt in some cases that adulation can become addictive. It would explain why Ford spends much of his time dealing one and one with resident’s problems. That way he can receive that respect and praise directly from individuals, one at a time. It would also explain why he continues to puts himself and his family through this torturous process that is destroying him.

Others, like Michael Jackson, have arguably died from the effects of addiction to adulation. If Rob Ford doesn’t quit, I fear he may not make it to end of his term.

…and back during the election people said Smitherman wouldn’t be any better then Ford just because that had similar policies.


Bombing campaing to remove Assad the best option for Syria

by doconnor in Politics

I believe a bombing campaign with the aim to toppling the Assad regime, similar to the campaign in Libya, is justified.

The primary reason is that allowing the civil war to continue would likely cost more lives then a bombing campaign would.

If we do not intervene the Syria civil war could end up much like the civil war in neighboring Lebanon, where the multi-side war lasted for more then ten years and didn’t really end until there was international intervention, by Syria. The Syrian civil war has cost 100,000 lives so far. If it continues for another 10 years the number could reach 500,000.

In Libya the bombing there cost relatively few civilian lives. During the bombing Toronto Star reporter Rosie DiManno was in Tripoli. She was kept under continuous control by the Gadhafi regime, never allowed to talk to people on the street without supervision. They tried to show her all the civilian causalities, but the best they could to come up with is a single body every day or so, and sometimes the doctors would take the reports aside and tell them the victim has died in a traffic accident or something.

A bombing campaign could be more difficult in Syria then other places where it has worked, like Libya and Serbia, because the Syrian military is more advanced. They could even lose fighter pilots to the enemy, but the number of western lives lost are likely to be tiny compared to Syrian causalities.

One of the major concerns about intervening is that many of the rebels are Islamic extremists. While this is true, I think it is a argument to intervene as soon as possible. It is the civil war that has brought the extremists to Syria. Allowing the war to continue will only make the more entrenched.

It would have been better to try and end the war earlier, but even now I doubt the extremists would have much support among the people of Syria. They may make up a significant percentage of the rebel fighters, but that doesn’t equate to popular support, especially since many of them are foreigners. However, the longer civilians suffer, the more popular support the extremists will get.

The only counties where extremists have gained a significant foothold are Afghanistan and Somalia, two countries that have been in a state of almost continuous war for decades. Keeping the Syria civil war short will help keep the extremists from gaining any more of a foot hold. If we are able to end the war, the extremists may still commit bombings and other terrorist attacks, but the level of killing will be much lower.

It should be possible to provide weapons and support to the secular rebels. This article argues that they are separated by geography and ideology and dislike each other almost as much as they dislike Assad.

A bombing campaign against the government forces to bring victory to the secular rebels would be a risk. There are a lot of things that could go wrong, but I believe the risk of allowing the civil war to continue is likely to cause more death in Syria and a greater chance that Islamic extremists could acquire chemical weapons.

Perhaps to greatest benefit is that it would send a message to other dictators that the world does not accept using massive military force against democracy protestors.


Mobile friendly rss feeds for The Toronto Star

by doconnor in Media, Meta

The Toronto Star website recently underwent another revamping. In the process the mobile version of the articles seems to have been removed, or at least I can’t access them from my smartphone. Using Firefox mobile leads me to a crazy page by page view that I suspect is design for tablets. Using the Android 2.3 Browser sends me to the desktop formatted page.

I mostly use The Star’s rss feeds on Google Reader for reading. What I’ve done is create a small php script that takes The Star’s rss feeds and changes the article links to the printer friendly version. They look great on my smartphone. They just have the article text and a picture with no javascript fluff and no ads.

To use it find the url of the feed. It will look something like this:

http://www.thestar.com/feeds.topstories.rss

Take the part after “http://www.thestar.com/” and copy and paste it after “http://doconnor.homeip.net/stariphone.php?r=” to make:

http://doconnor.homeip.net/stariphone.php?r=feeds.topstories.rss

You can subscribe to this link in Google Reader or any other feed reader. Here are some other example links:

Canada News
World News
Chantal Hébert Columns

You can find the feeds on The Star’s rss feeds page or you can follow the author link of a columnist to get a feed that that writer.


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

Friend,

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.

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Darwin O'Connor | doconno@gmail.com