A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Posts Tagged ‘politics

[URBAN NOTE] “The Boring Secret of Great Cities”

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Bloomberg View’s Christopher Flavelle reports on a recent study suggesting that properly-fitted urban governments, encompassing entire metropolitan areas and not only fragments thereof, are key to ensuring a city’s long-term prosperity. Fragmentation helps no one.

(Greater Toronto Area, are you listening?)

Plenty of things make a city great: well-paid jobs, good roads and public transit, high-quality schools, attractive parks and cultural goodies like celebrity chefs and art galleries, to name a few.

But what creates those qualities in some cities and not others? A new report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development across industrialized countries points to maybe the unsexiest topic in public policy: the structure of municipal government.

Sure, you’ve probably never argued over drinks with friends about the optimal size and responsibilities of county government. And that’s exactly the problem. If the OECD is right, the overpowering boringness of metropolitan governance bodies is a big part of what keeps more big cities from succeeding. It’s hard to worry about (let alone fix) something that’s too dull to argue over.

That neglect comes at a pretty high cost. In its report, “The Metropolitan Century,” the OECD says you can’t expect a well-functioning city without “effective governance arrangements that fit the situation in a city and its surrounding areas.” So long as people live in one area, work in another and go out in a third, the patterns of their lives don’t reflect arbitrary jurisdictional lines drawn decades (or, for some cities, centuries) earlier.

The result is a “mismatch between functional boundaries and administrative boundaries,” as the latter fail to keep up with the former. Some metropolitan areas adapt, either by merging small local governments or by creating new ways to coordinate across those governments — what the report calls, collectively, metropolitan governance bodies. Others don’t, allowing bureaucratic and planning friction to persist and fester.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 19, 2015 at 10:51 pm

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly talks about the good and the bad of freelancing.
  • Centauri Dreams wonders about the technical issues associated with the Encyclopedia Galactica.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper speculating on how Jupiter would appear if it was an exoplanet.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a paper examining the tumultuous planetological history of Venus.
  • A Fistful of Euros argues that Cyprus’ engagement with the Euro has been marked by the government’s willingness to hide shady behaviour at all costs.
  • Joe. My. God. notes the death of out 60s pop icon Lesley Gore.
  • Language Hat deservedly celebrates its author’s return to health and blogging.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Perelstvaig notes that sdhe has an online course on languages available.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at the lessons of Uruguay’s José Mujica for the left, and suggests that putting populists on pedestals is a losing strategy.
  • The Map Room’s Jonathan Crowe approves of the recent book Unruly Places.
  • Marginal Revolution shares a revisionist take on the 1943 Bengal famine.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw considers the role of community gardens in modern-day Australia.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer wonders if Grexit will be triggered over so little.
  • Savage Minds shares tips on better writing for students of the social sciences (and all people, really).
  • Window on Eurasia notes the shattering of the post-Soviet space, suggests further advances into Ukraine are unlikely, argues that Lithuania would be much more likely to face conventional aggression than Estonia or Latvia, and notes Russia’s outlook to the European far left as well as the far right.

[LINK] “Putin 21-Year Quest to Be Russian Guardian Began in Estonia”

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Bloomberg’s Ott Ummelas makes the case that, as early as 1993, Putin was involved in promoting Russian separatist movements in neighbouring Estonia.

Two decades before seizing Crimea, Vladimir Putin showed his willingness to challenge the post-Cold War order in defense of Russians in Estonia, a country now bracing for the possibility he may go even further.

In 1993, as the St. Petersburg official running foreign affairs, the former KGB colonel helped the Russian majority in the Estonian border city of Narva approve a referendum on autonomy that was later struck down as unconstitutional, according to Vladimir Chuykin, who then headed the city council.

A unit of pro-Russian Cossacks, who once policed the tsarist empire by horse, had amassed on the Russian side of the Narva River before the ballot. Its organizers, who wanted a “clean” referendum, feared bloodshed if they were allowed to cross, Chuykin, 62, said in an interview.

“I held talks with Putin about the need for Russia to close its border so these guys couldn’t come here,” Chuykin said. “I knew Putin and his boss, Mayor Anatoly Sobchak, and they arranged a meeting for me with basically the KGB. We agreed that no ‘third forces’ would be allowed to interfere.”

Unlike Crimea’s vote to join Russia and Putin’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula, which the U.S. and the European Union declared illegal, the Narva initiative didn’t have the backing of the Kremlin, so there was no outside pressure to grant Russians greater autonomy, Chuykin said. That experience may have helped shape Putin’s approach to helping Russians throughout the former Soviet Union, which became a foreign policy priority after he was elected president in 2000.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 18, 2015 at 11:14 pm

[LINK] “The A to Z of the oil crash”

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Jason Kirby of MacLean’s introduces an A-to-Z encyclopedia of the consequences of the crash in oil prices on Alberta, and on Canada as a whole.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this. In the months and years immediately after the end of the Great Recession, Canada’s economy was the envy of the world. Our banks were safer. Our house prices were higher (and rising!). Global investors couldn’t get enough of Canadian stocks. And people were lined up at Canadian job fairs across Europe and the U.S., hoping for a chance to come and experience Canada’s economic exceptionalism for themselves. Good times.

Good times, it’s now clear, that were too good to last. The speed with which the cracks in Canada’s economy have spread and broken apart is remarkable. Economists have been left scrambling to downgrade their forecasts for GDP growth, the job market has showed troubling signs of deterioration, and exports have continued to slide. When the Bank of Canada cut its overnight lending rate by 25 basis points to 0.75 per cent last week, a move that stunned markets, it was a tacit admission of how bad the outlook for Canada’s economy has become.

There are many reasons why this is happening now, but the key factor that has set everything else in motion is the stunning 60 per cent plunge in the price of oil in just seven months. The oil crash is—to borrow a phrase from Bank of Canada governor Stephen Poloz, which may become a signature of his tenure—“unambiguously negative” for the Canadian economy.

True, there are benefits for certain segments of the economy. Ontario exports are smiling, as are drivers at the gas pumps. But oil’s wild ride has exposed fissures that have been deepening for years, such as Canada’s overreliance on household debt and real estate for growth, as well as imbalances in trade and the labour market.

The factors driving down the price of oil are complex, as are the repercussions, some of which are being felt now. Some may only take recognizable shape years from now.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 12, 2015 at 11:29 pm

Posted in Canada, Economics

Tagged with , , , , ,

[LINK] “The Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism Asks Iranian-Canadians “Why Are You Here?””

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Writing for the Huffington Post, Susan Khazaeli and Nicole Waintraub describe the latest small scandal of the Canadian federal government.

A Conservative Toronto MP, Chungsen Leung, recently attended an event organized by the Association of North American Ethnic Journalists and Writers. During the meet-and-greet, Mr. Leung was asked about the increasing difficulties faced by Iranians attempting to obtain a Canadian Visa. Emotions apparently ran high. At one point, in a heated exchange, Mr. Leung asked a member of the audience, “If you like Iran so much then why do you come to Canada?”

He then demanded to know: “Why are you here?” Some audience members were so offended by his comments and his dismissive attitude — which one attendee characterized as “arrogant” — that they decided to leave the event.

Mr. Leung is also the Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism. It kind of sounds like a bad joke, doesn’t it?

According to a CTV report, Mr. Leung’s office claims that the exchange was a “miscommunication.” His email apology expressed regret for the misunderstanding. Perhaps Mr. Leung’s comments were off-the-cuff, but they were, by no means, innocuous.

Even if unintentional, Mr. Leung’s comments were discriminatory and hostile. The subtext of the messaging is: “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” They betray an underlying attitude that many non-white Canadians encounter when expressing views critical of government policy. This attitude becomes even more pronounced when that non-white Canadian comes from a country that, like Iran, is on the outs with Canada.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 12, 2015 at 11:15 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

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  • blogTO notes a Toronto vigil for the Jordanian pilot murdered by ISIS.
  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly talks about friends and age gaps.
  • Centauri Dreams draws from Poul Anderson</a. to consider the far future.
  • Crooked Timber considers trolling.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper wondering why circumbinary exoplanets are so detectable.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at robots: robots which put out fires on American navy ships, robots in China which do deliveries for Alibaba, robots which smuggle drugs.
  • Far Outliers notes Singapore’s pragmatism and its strong military.
  • Language Log notes the language of language diversity.
  • Marginal Revolution wonders about the prospects of the Euro-tied Danish crown.
  • The Planetary Society Blog notes the approach of Ceres.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer considers scenarios for a profitable Nicaragua Canal and notes the oddities of Argentina.
  • Registan looks at Mongolian investment in Tuva, and other adjacent Mongolian-influence Russian regions.
  • Savage Minds looks at Iroquois linguistic J.N.B. Hewitt.
  • Seriously Science notes how immigrant chimpanzees adapt tothe vocalizations of native chimps.
  • Spacing Toronto talks about the need for an activist mayor in Toronto.
  • Torontoist examines the history of important black bookstore Third World Books and Crafts.
  • Towleroad notes many young gay/bi students are looking for sugar daddies, and notes the failure of Slovakia’s anti-gay referendum.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes a new Bosnian Serb law strictly regulating offensive speech online.
  • Window on Eurasia notes the collapse of the Russian world, suggests Russia should not be allowed a role in Donbas, argues that a Ukrainian scenario is unlikely in the Latvian region of Latgale and in the Baltics more broadly, and looks at the growth of fascism in Russia.

[LINK] “Scotland poll shows a nation on the verge of abandoning Labour”

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At The Guardian‘s datablog, Alberto Nardelli suggests that, come the next British general election, the SNP will sweep Scotland and practically destroy Labour. This has implications for the future of Britain’s Labour Party, but even more so for the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom.

Make no mistake, Labour’s crisis in Scotland is profound. That’s the inescapable conclusion of Lord Ashcroft’s 14 constituency polls that show the party losing all but one of the Labour-held seats surveyed.

The swing from Labour to the Scottish National party (SNP) is above 20% in all 14 of those seats – the average is 25% – the kind of shift that is arguably seen only once in a generation.

That is not all. More troubling for Labour is the fact that among all voters under 44, support for the SNP is nearly double that of Labour. The SNP leads across all age groups, except among those aged 65 and above.

To make matters even worse for Ed Miliband’s party, the seats polled by Ashcroft are among the ones Labour won with the highest margins five years ago – and the swing in these is even greater than the one implied in Scotland-wide polls.

On the Guardian’s modelling, based on current polls, the SNP would win 54 out of the 59 seats in Scotland. The Lib Dems would retain one, Orkney and Shetland, and Labour four.

But, curiously, when you look at the impact of these polls on the most recent projection, the most likely next government remains unchanged. Some sort of Labour-SNP alliance is still the most probable starting point of any feasible government because the Conservatives remain far short of an overall majority, where 326 seats are needed. The current arithmetic also means that feasible Tory options fall some way short of the required numbers.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 5, 2015 at 10:58 pm

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