Friday, April 24, 2015

A Tale Of Two Budgets.

The title of this particular missive is, as astute readers (as which of you are not) will immediately recognize, honours Charles Dickens A Tale of Two Cities. The 'two' mentioned here, however, involve the recent budgetary announcements on the part of the Canadian Federal government and the Province of Ontario.

(An aside. In this discussion, I have avoided the use of specific figures and their justifications. Were I to do so, this would turn this weekly report into an extensive tome which would take an inordinate time on my part to write, and inordinate time on your part to read. Given newspapers and the Internet, all such information is readily available.)

Now I turn to Dickens again, who is proving to be a rather sturdy prop in these writings. This from his novel, David Copperfield, the speaker being the economically sound Wilkins Micawber:

"Annual income, twenty pounds; annual expenditure, nineteen pounds and six, result happiness. Annual income, twenty pounds; annual expenditure, twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."

The Federal government appears to have recognized this principle, and have put forward a balanced budget. It must be admitted that this took time, given the fiscal hole that opened up when the 'too big to fail' institutions fell apart, sending governments worldwide into a tailspin. But achieve balance they did, and no doubt Mr. Micawber would roundly approve.

Moreover, the Federal budget seeks to return to taxpayers excess monies it does not need, in terms of higher TFSA* contributions and a relaxation of RIF* rules with respect to withdrawal amounts. It is almost as if the Feds recognize that it is not "their" money, but ours.

There is no such recognition of this in the just tabled provincial budget. Indeed, the announcement makes it all too clear that Ontario will continue for some time to live beyond its means and spend beyond its capacity. A balanced budget is a thing of the future.

And keeping Mr. Micawber's words in mind, I find that the past and present initiatives of the current Liberal government do not exactly lend confidence to the proposed balanced budget in 2017-18. Think of such wonders as the e-health fiasco, the purchase of too small Medevac helicopters, the sleazy gas plant issue, the horror story that is Ontario Hydro, well, you get the picture, along with the loss some 2.3 billion taxpayer dollars.

As another Dickensian character might put it: "Bah. Humbug."


* These explanations are given just in case a reader has been out of the country for a goodly time, or away from the planet on the good ship Oxycontin. TFSA is a tax free savings account and a RIF is a guaranteed registered income fund. A phone call to the Canadian Revenue Agency can explain their use, as can any reasonably educated banker. -- Ed.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Tripping Over The Light Fantastic

It was, I believe, the poet Robert Frost who once wrote, "Isn't it funny how the Supreme Court is always right?"

Now while I would normally support Frost in his poetic endeavours, in terms of prose he is somewhat wide of the mark. There are, in fact, a number of decisions of the Supreme Court in the U.S. that stand out as being simply wrong.

The best example would be the Dred Scott decision of 1857. Mr. Scott, a black man, had sued for his freedom. After some support for this view from lower courts, the Supreme Court, under a Chief Justice known as a strong supporter of slavery, wrote a majority opinion rejecting Mr. Scott's claim.* Not the Court's finest hour.

In the modern era, the  U.S.Supreme Court proceeded to make another serious error: the Citizens United decision in 2010 that opened the floodgates for the corporations to give massive financial support to Political Action Committees to ensure a candidate's electability, whether to the Senate, the House of Representatives, or, indeed, the Presidency itself. The principle of government of the people, by the people, for the people somehow got lost in this particular shuffle.

Well, you say, that's just in the United States. Canada's Supreme Court avoids such nonsensical rulings.

Not so fast -- a recent decision trips right into the magical and fantastic. To wit, the recent decision to strike down the mandatory minimum sentence law for illegal gun possession. And it is important to note that the mandatory three and five year sentences handed down to the two individuals in the case under appeal were acknowledged by the justices to be appropriate.

Then six of the nine justices went further, and tripped right into the land of make believe by suggesting that there could be some future case where the law would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment". And since the majority couldn't find one single case to make this argument, the Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlan, entered the world of the fantastic and MADE ONE UP!

She put forward the hypothetical situation of a licenced and responsible gun owner who stores his unloaded firearm safely with ammunition nearby and then makes a mistake as to where it can be stored. She then added, "similar examples can be envisaged."


Chief Justice, I would humbly suggest that "envisaging" is one thing, interpreting the law another. Ponder this.


* Chief Justice Roger Taney, rarely cited as a beacon of  wise jurisprudence. -- Ed.

Friday, April 10, 2015

When An App Is Not Apt

I am harbouring a fugitive.

While I have in the past from time to time skipped rather lightly through the stern and forbidding halls of jurisprudence, such action was always in a Good Cause.* The present situation falls into a somewhat different category.

It involves Hester (not her real name, but a kind of homage to a certain lass who once wore a certain letter) who, aside from being a great elementary teacher, is absolutely brilliant in the field of electronics. particularly where small devices are concerned.

Indeed, while active in The Trade, there was many a time when I was grateful to possess some of Hester's devices, not the least of which was a tiny buzzy thing that, when primed and released, would fly around a room making an infernal noise and causing panic among any others in the room. Since these personages were often the Ungodly, the distraction was always enough to allow one to escape what would otherwise be a dire situation.

Something akin to that device was at the heart of Hester's current flight from justice.

Apparently she had developed an app for a smart phone that allowed the smart phone owner to do something rather weird. This is difficult to believe, but since I later determined that what Hester said happened really did happen, well...judge for yourself.

Hester's app was designed to detect voice modulation that indicated whenever a person was skirting the truth, or actually lying. When this occurred, the device would begin a low level whine that, if the lying continued, would gradually rise in volume to a powerful and extremely harsh screech that quickly proved unbearable to the human ear. (Hester informed me that dogs and cats simply passed out).

We explored this app one night at the Three Q's pub, and had a great time. Shortly after, however, Hester made a big mistake.

While chaperoning a school trip to the provincial legislature, she forgot to leave the device at home. Worse, while fetching a tissue for one of her charges, she inadvertently turned the phone on. Given the words being uttered at the legislature, it was not long before that soft whine had reached ear-piercing volume. Pandemonium reigned, all members were convinced terrorism was rampant, and a lock up was urged for the legislature.

Hester, being in charge of a now very unruly elementary class, was given a very cursory once-over, and then allowed to leave. However, there was a very good chance that when the politicians had finished solving the issue, electronic engineers  could begin to really determine what had occurred. Hester knew this, and therefore thought it best to lay low for a while. The school was informed that Hester had developed a very sore scarlet rash, having come into too close contact with a hawthorn bush and needed to use up some of her sick days. (Being a union member, she had 3672 stashed).

And as far as that device is concerned. I gave Hester an "A" for effort.

Friday, April 3, 2015

A Surfeit of Slogans

Of late, I have become interested in slogans, and their effect upon policies and programs beloved of politicians. Not so much in Canada, a country which tends to stick to the issues, but in the United States, where slogans achieve real importance.

This American trait has being going on for some time. Some of the more memorable slogans are as follows. And I have avoided giving much of the "surround" to these statements. To do so would turn this missive into an overlong exposition of arcane facts, a process much better left to the reader and Google.

"Tippecanoe and Tyler too." This slogan, embedded in a song,  commemorated a military victory at Tippecanoe of William Henry Harrison, and led to Harrison becoming the ninth president of the U.S. in1840. (The Tyler reference was to John Tyler, a Whig supporter of Harrison).

"We are being crucified on a cross of gold!" This rhetorical scream was made by William Jennings Bryan in support of maintaining the gold standard in terms of currency foundation. Often quoted by any number of commentators, vast numbers of Americans nevertheless never reacted one way or the other, not really understanding what Bryan was talking about.

"Remember the Maine!" This was a heading in all Hearst newspapers and described the (very odd) sinking of a U.S. cruiser in Havana harbour in 1898. This led to war between Spain and America, and included a very special charge up San Juan hill by a certain 'roughrider' who later became president.

And slogans still matter. In 2008, Barack Obama ran a successful campaign using the phrase "Yes, we can!" Unfortunately, the Tea Party bloc of the Republican Party countered with "No, you can't!" resulting in the current trials and tribulations affecting America. 

My favourite slogan, however, was John Kennedy's cry of support in the city of Berlin during the Cold War, "Ich bin ein Berliner!" This was wonderful to behold, even if his New England accent caused the phrase to alter somewhat in meaning to give "I am a doughnut!"

But as far as Berliners were concerned, this mattered not a whit, ensuring as well that the phrase would linger long in memory.

As well it should.