Is Trump another Rob Ford or is he faking?

by doconnor in Politics

Many people dismiss Trump as another flash in the pan like all those Republican poll leaders that came and went during the last primary.

I live in Toronto, and I saw the rise of mayor Rob Ford and waited for him to fall. He is similar to Trump in many ways. Both relatively wealthy business men who inherited a lot of money. Both say things that are racist, angry and shocking even to right-wingers. Both have policies that consist of incoherent half-sentences half-boasts. Their “common sense” solutions are the ideas that would pop into your head when you first hear about a problem and haven’t learned about why those solutions don’t work. Their supporters believe they are being exceptionally honest because what they say is so unconventional, and they vigorously defend them.

I say rise, but not fall, of Rob Ford because he still has strong support. It dropped from the drug and other scandals that happened after he was elected mayor, but he kept the support of the majority of those who voted for him an would have came in a solid second in the next election, but the day before the deadline to register as a candidate he was diagnosed with cancer and he switch to running in his old council seat. His slightly smarter and more sober brother ran and got about the same support Rob would have gotten.

Most “low-information” voters are intelligent and in their own areas of experience and knowledge are capable of moving beyond “common sense” solutions to more sophisticated answers. That’s why many right-wingers have left-wing positions on areas they have personal experience with.

Some politicians who start out believing “common sense” solutions but learn there are better answers. Some change their positions and voters become disenchanted and believe the politician has “lost touch”. Other politicians continue to claim they support common sense solutions, but voters can tell when they are being pandered to.

Ford seems completely incapable of learning that other ideas might be better, no matter what evidence is brought to him. From my observations of the extensive media coverage of Ford, I think that he really believed all the things he said. I’m sure even the lies where justified to himself through his own non-logic. He never did or said anything clever. He stumbled into being popular through a combination of wealth, fame and impenetrable ignorance.

The question is, “Is Donald Trump like Rob Ford?” Does he believe the things he is saying are legitimate and sensible or are his quotes carefully crafted to create exactly the level of shock needed to win the Republican primary?

There is some evidence Trump is smarter then Ford. Trump, despite his bankruptcies has substantially grown his fortune. Ford and his somewhat smarter brother has kept the business they inherited, Deco Labels, operating over the years with a modest expansion to Chicago, but a lot of businesses are kept going by their employees despite their owners rather because of them.

During his run for the nomination of the Reform Party Trump had a lot of different, more sensible policies. Both these suggest he doesn’t believe in what he is saying.

On the other hand he did walk out of a deposition because a lawyer needed to use a breast pump, although that could have been an excuse to get out of the deposition.

Perhaps Trump discovered he was excellent at faking being a bombastic dullard and he’s been using that to make business partners believe he is a fool when he really knows exactly what he is doing. Perhaps he has been waiting for an opportunity to run for president for years, cultivating the position he needs to pull it off, hosting a hit TV show and questioning Obama’s birthplace. Running for any lesser office first would reveal his true nature.

So, what do you think? If Trump faking or is he as dumb as Rob Ford?

Cross posted to Daily Kos.

Did the invasion of Iraq cause the rise of ISIL?

by doconnor in Politics

Before 2001 Iraq was a Ba’athist dictatorship dominated by a religious minority.

Neighboring Syria was also a Ba’athist dictatorship dominated by a religious minority.

In 2002 Iraq was invaded by the United States and the regime overthrown, but Syria was left alone.

Now here we ar,e with both Iraq and Syria having lost a third of their territory to the ISIL religious extremists.

In science you test theories by taking two identical examples, applying a change to one and seeing how the two are different as a result. It is rare in geopolitics where you have a situation that resembles a scientific experiment, but Iraq and Syria do. The results show that invading has made no difference in preventing extremists from taking over part of the country. Of course in a proper scientific experiment this test would be run multiple times to get statistically significant results.

The reality is the rise of ISIL was primarily triggered by the Syrian civil war, which was triggered by the Arab Spring revolutions. Had the US not invaded there probably would have been an Arab Spring uprising Iraq as well. It’s hard to predict if it would fizzle out, like in Iran, or lead to a civil war, like in Syria or what actually happened after the US invasion. ISIL may well have ended up taking over the same territory as they have now.

It is easy to forget these groups true aim is to impose their morality on Muslims in the Middle East. They are only attacking the West to provoke us into responding militarily. If we didn’t get involved they would be trying harder to provoke us or using a different tactic.

The rise of ISIL was an unintended consequence of the Arab String, which started off as a good thing, but went off the rails as revolutions have often done since the French Revolution. Its connection to the invasion of Iraq is tenuous.

Conservative Million Jobs Plan ads removed from Google Ads

by doconnor in Conservative Party, Politics

I had been seeing Ontario Conservative’s Million Jobs Plan adds on websites for weeks. Some times I would even click on them knowing it would mean money would be transferred from the Conservatives to the left-wing websites I am reading.

I was thinking about what I could do now that we have found out the million jobs are based on bogus math and I realized I could complain to the online ad companies arguing the ads where inaccurate. On the morning of Thursday May 29th I submitted a complaint by clicking on the corner on the ad. By Friday May 30th the Google ads for the Million Jobs Plan has been replaced by ad saying they would control Hydro rates.

The other ad company that has been serving Million Job Plan ads is AdRoll. I submitted a complaint to them through live chat. They said they would look into it, but decided the ad is “not attacking any individuals or groups, and they are promoting their own opinion on policies” so it is in compliance with their policies. I will follow up with them further.

Let me know if you see a Million Jobs Plan ad served by Google. You can tell which ad company it comes from by clicking on the triangle in the corner and clicking on AdChoices.

Ontario Conservatives, Mathematically Irresponsible

by doconnor in Conservative Party, Politics

It’s been four days since the mathematical failure of the Conservative’s Million Jobs Plan was relieved, yet strangely it isn’t the top story of the election.

There have been two articles in The Star, but they are “balanced” in that the give equal time to both sides when, in fact, one side is factually correct and one is incorrect. At this point they shouldn’t be asking Hudak if he stands by his numbers. They should be asking if they are wrong because of incompetence or did he attempt to perpetrate a fraud on the people of Ontario. They might even ask if he is going to resign as leader (You’ll notice that New Democrats aren’t hesitant to question their leader in the middle of an election).

To help appreciate the seriousness of the Conservative’s error consider the gas plant scandal was largely over the $900 million difference between the government’s estimate of the cost of $230 million and the Auditor General cost of $1.1 billion. Much of that difference was from the estimates of the starting dates and how to adjust for net present value. These are the kind of thing people could legitimate debate and disagree about.

The Conservative’s error of treating man-years of employment as “jobs” was not a matter that accountants would stay up late debating. It a massive distortion that octupled their job estimate. This error would not be acceptable on a high school paper. To have it as the centre piece of a major party’s platform means incompetence or deliberate lying. To put a dollar amount on it, if they overestimate jobs by 400,000, that would amount to $200 billion per year in income.

During the opening weeks of the campaign the NDP where, rightly, criticized for not releasing a costing for their platform because it seemed like they where going to pay for everything through the same corporate tax increase. Now that they have, the complaints has stopped. However the Conservative Party have not released a costing for their platform, yet no one in the media seems to be complaining.

The Power Plant Scandal by the Numbers

by doconnor in Liberal Party, Politics

The most quoted number for the cost of the Ontario Liberals moving two natural gas power plants away from urban locations in order to win a few more seats is $1.1 billion dollars.

If you look at the Auditor General reports that the number is based on you can see that the much of the 1.1 billion dollar cost would still be needed even if the plants would built in their new locations in the first place, as the NDP and Conservatives claim they would have done if they where in government at the time.

This cost breakdown uses the Auditor General’s numbers. The units are in millions of dollars in net present value. The total is different because I also include the addition profit the companies are likely to make at the new locations, which presumably they would not have made if the new locations where selected during the bidding process.

Cost of
different location
Cost from move
Missassauga to Lambton
To Greenfield 72
To Greenfield’s lender 150
To Greenfield’s suppliers 67
Legal fees 4
Line loss 60
Saving from delayed opening -76
Reduced gas delivery -65
Finance savings 5
Total -5 222
Oakville to Napanee
Gas turbines 210
Sunk costs 40
Legal fees 3
Gas delivery 577
Gas and hydro connections 43
Additional gas for modified turbines 35
Transmission upgrades 81
Line loss 32
Replacement power 91
Lower power cost -275
Saving from delayed opening -162
Construction savings 170
Site cheaper -55
Total 678 112
Grand Total 673 334

Some interesting observations can be made. The Lambton location is just as good as the Mississauga location because the addition line loss is made up for by lower gas delivery charges. It also explains why moving the Oakville plant cost more even though it wasn’t under construction yet. Moving the plant was actually cheaper, but the costs of the new location was much higher.

With these substantial costs to putting the plant in Napanee you can understand why the Liberal government made decision they did. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NDP or Conservatives had been in office, they would have tried to put the plant in Oakville.

The decision to move the plants was, of course, political and done to try and win a few extra seats, but parties make decision like that all the time. This was just an unusually blatant example. The same thing happened during the Scarborough—Guildwood by-election where all three major parties came out in support the Scarborough subway over the LRT despite its higher cost and shorter length.

The gas plant costs plus other scandals have given the Liberals a reputation for wastefulness. If you say they wasted $2 billion over 10 years of government that amounts to 0.1% of total government spending of about 2 trillion over that period. Very few households could say they waste so little money and any corporation would be proud of such a small percentage. Some commenters on the Toronto Star website seem to think the Liberal’s waste could pay for an entire transit network for the GTA. 200 million per year would pay for less then one tenth of the expected cost.

On the other hand the possible cover up of emails relating to the gas plant decision can not be justified. While it is not definitive emails where purposely hidden from the committee’s requests they have admitted they deleted emails. The federal Conservatives had a similar problem during its minority government and was found in contempt because of it. The modern practice of not admitting to the genuine justification for a policy (because they are made to appeal low knowledge voters, therefore the justification doesn’t stand up the scrutiny) clashes with the absolute power of parliament to demand the documents that contain the justification which can be wielded under a minority government.

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:


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


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.

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Darwin O'Connor | doconno@gmail.com