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The wheels they keep turning, I’m fine, what about the questions we have locked up inside, somewhere, somehow we’ve been denied — Our Lady Peace

Archive for the ‘USA’ Category

Sanity prevails in the USA

Months and years of campaigning, more than$2.2 billion in election spending, over 100 million votes cast… and Americans in their wisdom decided to essentially maintain the status quo. President Obama returns to the White House for a second mandate. The Senate stays blue; the House stays red. But lest anyone was thinking that this whole thing was a giant waste of time, remember that it beats the hell out of the alternative.

I was on a plane for most of the evening, and while I was able to watch the results come in on satellite TV (thanks, WestJet!), I didn’t have internet access so no liveblogging of results. It was like a throwback to the pre-Web 2.0 years when you actually had to rely on traditional media sources for information. Well, unless you’re Barack Obama, author of the Tweet heard around the world.

The big vote

The race was close all night, but the nail-biter didn’t materialize. While both candidates were neck-and-neck in the popular vote for much of the evening, most of the highly contested swing states went one by one to Obama: New Hampshire, Iowa, Wisconsin, Virginia were called one by one for Team Obama. You could see the wind go out of the sails in the Romney camp as each one was declared, but Ohio finally solidified things shortly after 11pm ET. At that point, it was all over but the fat lady, whose singing will be heard in Florida just as soon as all those folks standing in line have a chance to vote.

Latest US election results 2012, as of 2:30AM ET on Nov 7th. Source: CNN.

So what happened to give the Obama team such a wide margin of victory, despite a 7.9% unemployment rate and widespread anger and disillusionment with the status quo?

Read the rest of this entry »

4 more years

Obama tweets "4 more years"

Media bias exemplified

With less than 24 hours to go until voting day in the US, it’s a classic case study in media bias to see what the various big news outlets have as their posted headlines.

Here’s CNN, reporting a statistical tie in the popular vote but an edge to Obama in the electoral college:

Here’s Yahoo News‘s election blog, “The Signal”, calling a wide margin for Obama:

Obama still poised to win 303 electoral votes on Tuesday

Here’s blogger Ezra Klein in the Washington Post, also predicting victory for Obama, albeit with a smaller margin:

Obama will win with 290 electoral votes

And finally, good ol’ FOX News, home of the Truthiness:

"Big 'What If?': With just hours to go, electoral map still in play"

Here’s hoping that FOX is once again posting misleading wishful thinking in the place of fact. I guess we’ll see tomorrow.

For what it’s worth, I predict that Obama will win, though I think it will be close.

“I’m too rich: Tax me more, please!”

That’s the theory behind this site: We are the 1 percent. It contains manifestos of a bunch of people who claim to be part of the American super-rich, but who feel that it’s unfair that they aren’t taxed their fair share.

Now, admittedly, this concept might be better if more of the people in the blog’s photos actually said what they were doing to help the 99%, besides writing statements on paper. But the spirit ain’t bad.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has its share of problems, namely, the lack of any coherent demands, the lack of focus, and the general sense of a movement with lots of gripes but few answers. But they’re not wrong to point out the negative consequences of large income disparity in the US. And while the income gap isn’t nearly as dramatic in Canada, there’s a strong sense that we’re moving in that direction.

The fact is, while these people claim to be in the so-called 1% of Americans, and most of us aren’t, we’re pretty much ALL of us part of the luckiest 0.00001% in the world – we hit the mother of all jackpots just by being born here in Canada, having enough food to eat, a roof over our heads, security and safety and education and healthcare and the chance to grow to be an adult. It’s worth it for all of us to think about how we can do more to give something back.

(Not for nothing, but this goes back to my long-standing call for Quebec to raise university tuition for those who can afford it and increase bursaries and financial aid for those who can’t. More access to opportunity benefits everyone. Just sayin’.)

Palin won’t run

Sarah Palin won’t run for President in 2012:

After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for President of the United States. As always, my family comes first and obviously Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision. When we serve, we devote ourselves to God, family and country. My decision maintains this order.

If there is a god, he’s probably applauding this decision. Though not for the reasons that Palin might have assumed.

Tina Fey, on the other hand, must be disappointed.

Bibi addresses US Congress

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a speech to US Congress yesterday. Among other things, he spoke about Iran, Bin Laden, Obama’s ill-advised comments on the ’67 borders, and Israel’s desires for – and obstacles to – a lasting peace with the Palestinians.

The full speech is available to watch on video here.

Or, you can read the text of the speech here.

Two impressive Obama speeches

Barack Obama gave two very impressive speeches this weekend: one funny, and one deadly serious.

First, there was his speech at the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner, where Obama held the floor like a seasoned comedian and managed to get his digs in at Donald Trump while he was at it:

Does he have the Colbert Report‘s writers on his speechwriting staff? Because that was one brilliant piece of satire.

Then, tonight, his address to the nation on the death of Osama Bin Laden struck all the right notes, inspiring some Canadians to comment on my Twitter feed that they wished they could vote for him tomorrow instead of one of our guys:

Say what you will about the man, but he certainly has the gift of oratory. Why can’t any of our politicians give speeches like that?

Bin Laden’s death may not mean much in the grand scheme of the so-called “war on terror” in practical terms. But cynically speaking, it’s likely to give Obama’s re-election chances a big boost.

Bin Laden is dead

Ten years later.

Dozens of terrorist attacks, including Istanbul, Madrid, London, and last week in Marrakech, later.

2,340 coalition casualties in Afghanistan, including 155 Canadians, later.

Thousands of Afghan civilian casualties – too many for any body or organization to properly count – later.

Osama bin Laden is dead, says the President. It’s been almost ten years since the September 11th attacks, and since the world’s largest manhunt was launched for the man responsible. In those ten years, the world has changed so much that it’s almost unrecognizable.

Ten years ago, bin Laden’s death might have actually struck a body blow at the terrorist infrastructure. Today, it will probably make little more than a dent. After all, they’ve had ten years to reorganize and restructure, to recruit and train. Ten years during which Osama was little more than a figurehead, and the network has decentralized. Ten years for other international terror groups to “step up” and grow up.

(Oh, and ten years for the US to invade Iraq, for there to be civil war – and now reconciliation – in the Palestinian territories, for governments to change hands in western nations and for massive rounds of civilian unrest and protest across the middle east. A lot can happen in ten years.)

At best, this announcement will give Obama a temporary bump in the polls as he kicks off his 2012 re-election campaign. At worst, it will make bin Laden into a martyr among his followers and trigger additional attacks. In all likelihood, it will make very little practical difference.

It does feel like the end of an era, in a way.

Musings on the US-Canada price gap

A new BMO report suggests that on average, Canadians pay about 20% more for the same goods and services as our American neighbours do — even though the loonie is above par:

BMO’s survey compared 11 items, including golf balls, Blu-ray movies, running shoes and cars.

There is no denying Canada is smaller and that means less competition, which in turn means higher prices.

But Michael Mulvey, marketing professor at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, also noted some of the biggest difference in prices between the U.S. and Canada are in the areas where there isn’t free trade, such as telecomunications.

I’ve ranted about the higher telecommunications prices before. Those are due to price-fixing by the corrupt CRTC — something not mentioned in this study.

But for consumer goods where actual competition exists, how do we explain the price gap?

Taxes, for one thing. The study is comparing pre-tax prices, so you might think that’s not a factor. But there are taxes all the way down the chain of distribution, not just at the end-consumer point. That 15% you pay in combined GST and QST is merely the tip of the iceberg. The higher taxes down the line help pay for our essential social programs, like medicare, but they do make things more expensive.

Another factor that is mentioned by the study is the size of the country, and the fact that distribution and shipping is more expensive when you have a sparser population in a less concentrated area. This helps explain why prices would be more in, say, Yellowknife. It doesn’t explain why something retails in downtown Toronto for 20% more than it does across the border in Buffalo, NY.

The rapid rise of the dollar is another factor. When the Canadian dollar was worth 60 cents US, we understood the price gap. Now that it’s above par, it’s frustrating to see this gap. But the price adjustment period takes longer to catch up than the loonie takes to rise in the first place. The gap is closing somewhat — just more slowly than we might like.

But the main reason is merely supply and demand. In a market economy, prices are less about what something costs to produce and more about what the market will bear. We pay more because we pay more because we pay more. It’s circular. If people stopped buying things that were too expensive, the prices on them would drop. They would have to.

Lots of people would like to complain, protest or mobilize to correct this. What they don’t understand is that these prices aren’t being fixed by the government, and the economy cannot – and should not – be centrally managed in order to make people happy.

We do have choices. We can drive down to Burlington or Plattsburgh, shop in lower US dollars, and come back across the border — and pay duty (or not, as every good Canadian knows the tricks of how to avoid that at some point. Not that I’m endorsing that, mind you.) We can order online and pay the extra shipping charges, though the vast majority of US online retailers won’t ship to Canada, frustratingly enough.

Finally, a little perspective: Prices are higher in Canada than they are in the USA, but they’re lower here than they are in a lot of other places in the world, including South America, most of Europe, some places in Asia, or Australia. We constantly compare to the Americans because we’re so close; it’s hard not to get jealous and feel like the outsider with our face pressed to the glass when we get American ads on TV, radio or digital media splashing prices around that are inaccessible to us. But if you saw what people were paying elsewhere for the same items, you might appreciate our prices a bit more.

Midterm madness

Despite the best efforts of the likes of Stewart and Colbert to restore sanity and/or fear, the predictions of big gains for the Republican party in today’s US midterm elections are, sadly, pretty likely, with exit polls showing that the Democrats have lost ground with key groups of voters.

But before Obama panics too much, he might want to consult this list of Midterm study strategies, compiled by me back in the eighth grade:

  • Eliminate distractions. Minesweeper, SuperNES, listening to your mom fight with your sister down the hall, trying to mediate a mideast peace settlement… all these are distracting to the study process.
  • Prioritize the material. Midterm exam questions are usually about things that have been covered recently on the curriculum, and are therefore foremost in the minds of teachers – er – voters. Spend more time on recent issues like the tea party, and less time on the stuff that was covered at the start of the term and that everyone’s forgotten about by now anyway, like, y’know, healthcare.
  • Plan your time. Midterms take place in the middle of the term, as their name suggests. While you’re studying for them, you also have to juggle other assignments and a social life. Oh, and national security and economic concerns, too. Make a schedule and stick to it. Use whatever tools work for you, like an agenda book or, if you prefer, a highly-paid team of executive secretaries.
  • Find the right study buddies. Pick people who are smarter than you and copy their notes, or arrange a cram session with them in the library. If you can get them to write your speeches for you, too, all the better.
  • Remember that it’s not worth as much as the final. Even a bad grade on a midterm can be made up for with a strong final exam, which is usually worth a bigger percentage of your overall grade. Time to put it behind you and focus on what’s important: Beating Sarah Palin in 2012.

For actual news about the US midterm election, in case anyone’s interested, check out the CBC’s interactive maps.

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