Category: Money

Vague words that are synonyms for progress, paired with footage of a high-speed train

Kendra Eash published a funny poem in McSweeney’s about how big companies use stock video and portentous but vague voice-overs to create feel-good ads about their corporate brands. Then a stock footage company with a sense of humour set the poem to, well, stock footage.

Explained the company, “The minute we saw Kendra Eash’s brilliant ‘This Is a Generic Brand Video’ on McSweeney’s, we knew it was our moral imperative to make that generic brand video so. No surprise, we had all the footage.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is a case of commerce imitating art imitating commerce imitating emotion.

H/T: Jane Kansas. Accept no substitutes.

Eight years of Harper: by the dismal numbers

On the eve of Stephen Harper’s eighth anniversary in office, writer and statistics buff Alex Roberts has a must-read piece in the Ottawa Citizen, cleverly tagged, “Harper’s Economic Index.*” It casts a jaundiced numerical eye at how well he has managed the economy, the thing pundits constantly tell us he’s so good at.

A few samples:

  • Prime Minister Stephen Harper today presented the Public Service of Canada's Outstanding Achievement Award to Susan M. W. Cartwright. The ceremony at Rideau Hall, hosted by His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, honoured Ms. Cartwright for her sustained commitment to excellence, leadership and innovationEstimated amount spent on taxpayer-funded advertisements since 2009 touting the “Economic Action Plan” and the government’s economic record : $113,000,000
  • National unemployment rate in January, 2006: 6.6
  • National unemployment rate in December, 2013: 7.2
  • Number of consecutive annual federal budget deficits: 6
  • Number of consecutive annual federal budget surpluses under the previous Liberal (Chrétien/Martin) governments: 9
  • Number of budget deficit targets hit by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty: 0
  • Amount added to the federal national debt since Conservatives took power in 2006: $123,500,000,000

On the bright side, the dollar’s up, and the TSX rose 16.1% (compared to 55.1% for the Dow).

Seriously, the whole piece is worth a read.

* Not to be confused with the Harpers Index.

Don Mills plumbs the causes of the probable NDP collapse

Assume for the moment that the Corporate Research Associates poll showing Stephen McNeil’s Liberals with a 30-point lead is accurate (which I assume it is), and assume McNeil holds that lead until Tuesday (which remains to be seen).

The next question is, how the heck did this happen?

The NDP made serious mistakes (see here and here) but they did not run a horrible government (see here and here). Not everyone will agree, but there is a reasonable case that Dexter deserves another term, something of a tradition in Nova Scotia, as many have pointed out.

Don-MillsThe curious thing is that one detects little passion in this election at all, certainly no mad fury to throw the bastards out. Election signs are few, and in my circle at least, hardly anyone is talking about the election. The public exudes little warmth for McNeil, and his slender platform is pockmarked by a handful of dreadful ideas.

Without the CRA poll, my main expectation would be a record low turnout. These are not the impressions one expects a week before an electoral tidal wave strikes.

CRA Chairman and CEO Don Mills thinks the NDP’s problems are rooted in the fact it took power just as the worst recession in 80 years settled in to stay.

“These have been the most difficult economic times in most people’s living memory here,” he told Contrarian in a telephone interview Tuesday.

CRA tracks the economic wellbeing of Nova Scotians every quarter, and in each of the last four years, 40 percent of its respondents reported no increase in pay. Inflation, meanwhile, has eaten away at the value of their pay checks. In effect, a large cohort of Nova Scotia’s middle class has seen a 10 percent drop in buying power during the four-plus years of the Dexter Government. This may be no fault of the NDP, but that’s of little consequence to fed-up voters.

“Virtually every household is worse off,” said Mills. “I think they would have very little patience with any government—and it doesn’t matter what government it is, by the way. I think this is why electricity rates are such a sore point.”

To that economic malaise, add the voters’ dashed hopes that the NDP would be different. Take a closer look at Mills’s poll. Dexter was elected in June 2009 with 45 percent of the vote. Within six weeks, his government’s popularity soared to 60 percent. Voters—even those who didn’t vote NDP—must have said to themselves, “Let’s give these new guys a chance. Maybe they really will turn out to be different.”

The new government did little in its first six months, and then the expense scandal hit, with Dexter smack in the middle of it. In retrospect, I believe this created a sense of disillusionment that voters have been nursing ever since.

Six things the NDP did right — part one

In two posts earlier this month (here and here), I described six mistakes by which the NDP government brought itself to the brink of defeat. Darrell Dexter’s government also did several big things right, in some cases defying popular sentiment to put the province on a sensible course. Here’s the start of my “good things” list:

1.  A balanced budget

I know, I know, they didn’t balance it by much, and if you listen to the two guys hankering for Dexter’s job, they didn’t balance it at all. The opposition leaders base their skepticism on the fact that certain charges have been paid forward, lessening the impact in the current fiscal year.

Against this predictable naysaying comes the verdict of three independent bond rating agencies, scarcely hotbeds of N-Dip ardor:

  • On July 5, the Dominion Bond Rating Service gave the province its highest rating ever,  A (high) on long term borrowing, with a stable outlook. The agency praised the government’s “sustained fiscal discipline and prudent fiscal management demonstrated throughout the period of recovery.”
  • On July 22, Moody’s reaffirmed its Aa2 (stable) rating, noting the plan to balance the budget, and praising the province’s success in managing expenses. It predicted that major projects on the horizon would have a positive impact on Nova Scotia’s economy.
  • On July 31, Standard and Poor’s reaffirmed its A+(stable) rating for the province, and predicted strengthening economic growth in 2014.

Dominion Bond NS

That a return to prudent, balanced budgeting was achieved by a government that took office during the worst recession since the Great Depression adds to the accomplishment.

In fiscal terms, you can place Nova Scotia governments of the last 35 years into two columns: Buchanan, MacLellan, and MacDonald were reckless spenders who tried to buy voters with their own money; Savage, Hamm, and Dexter were prudent managers who risked voter wrath by turning off the goodie-tap.

2. Collaborative Emergency Care Centres

CECsThe most unprincipled aspect of the 2009 campaign that brought the NDP to power was the party’s cynical promise to keep rural emergency rooms open.

Dexter knew it was a promise he couldn’t keep. Small towns just cannot attract enough doctors to staff back shifts at little-used emergency rooms.

He knew trying to keep the promise would be bad public policy. The Corpus Sanchez report [PDF] had shown that paying scarce rural doctors to twiddle their thumbs from midnight to 8 am, on the off chance someone might come in with a medical emergency that couldn’t wait, was an irresponsible waste of resources. Seeking a breakthrough in rural Nova Scotia, Dexter made the promise anyway.

In a remarkable bit of political alchemy, Health Minister Maureen MacDonald turned her party’s tawdry pandering into a useful policy initiative, the Collaborative Emergency Care Centres. These centres don’t keep emergency rooms open in the traditional sense, but they provides teams of advanced paramedics and emergency care nurses who can triage and treat they few serious cases that do show up when physicians are not immediately available in small town hospitals.*

Where CECs have been tried, public acceptance and health outcomes have been good. Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil has campaigned against them, an election strategy as wrongheaded and unprincipled as the NDP’s 2009 promise to keep emergency rooms open. If, as seems likely, he becomes premier in October, McNeil would be foolhardy to kill them. I predict he will execute some legerdemain, change the name, and keep the concept.

3.  Trimming the education budget

Talk about sacred cows! What could be more sacred than spending on little Johnny’s and precious Jill’s elementary and secondary schooling? To get a good job, get a good education, right?

Wrong. To get a cushy job, fight your way through Nova Scotia’s backward, demeaning, corrupt, subservience-rewarding, ambition-punishing hiring system—and get a job for life in the school system.

In the first decade of the 21st century, Nova Scotia’s elementary and secondary school enrolment fell by 30,000, or 18 per cent. Over the next decade, it is forecast to fall by another 17,000. All the while, school board budgets soar ever skyward.

In the second year of its mandate, the Dexter government challenged school boards to identify savings that would begin to reflect the precipitous decline in the number of students they educate. The late Jane Purves, herself a former education minister, praised the New Democrats for “promoting the truth that the system has cost way more over the last 10 years, but there are far fewer students.”

As Purves predicted, boards responded with transparent versions of the Kill the Friendly Giant strategy that so often worked for the CBC. They threatened to axe the very programs that are most popular with parents. The face-off likely cost the government votes, but it was the right policy, and a gutsy one.

Next: Muskrat Falls (and energy policy generally), Highway planning, and wilderness land protection. I welcome comments on these election posts, and will publish a sample of the best I receive. Email: comment@contrarian.ca.]

* Disclosure: I have many friends who work in the Department of Health and Wellness, and a relative who works at Better Care Sooner, the office responsible for administering the CECs.

 

Crowdsourcing Cape Breton stories

Ashley McKenzie and Nelson MacDonald need help finishing their latest movie about New Waterford. Their first two shorts, “Rhonda’s Party” (2010) and “When You Sleep” (2012), achieved exceptional success, screening to widespread praise at the Toronto International Film Festival and Cannes, as well as at festivals in Montreal, Stockholm, Whistler, and St. John’s. Along the way, they picked up half a dozen industry awards, including the top prize in CBC’s Short Film Faceoff.

AshleyDespite these early triumphs, the pair have had to turn to crowdsourcing to raise the last few dollars needed to finish post-production on their latest film, “Stray,” the story of a lonely New Waterford girl who tries to befriend a homeless cat.

They wouldn’t need this money if they had taken the expedient route of filming in Halifax. But director Ashley and producer Nelson are committed to telling Cape Breton stories in an authentic way. By paying the extra transportation and crew costs to film here, they were able to set scenes in magnificent post-industrial settings that just aren’t available anywhere else. (Lord knows how Nelson wheedled permission to shoot in some of these locations.)

We’re always bemoning the exodus of talented young people from Nova Scotia. Ashley and Nelson could easily flourish in a major film center, but they choose instead to stay here and tell our stories. We’ve been friends for years, and I can’t think of any two people who work harder, or bring greater intelligence and dedication to their craft.

Isn’t that something we should support?

With just 48 hours to go, their Indiegogo crowd-sourcing campaign is about $1,600 shy of the goal needed to finish “Stray.” You can contribute here.

Please whatever your name is – feedback, updated

Jon Stone writes:

Thanks for sharing that wonderful video. It is inspiring to see what creative minds can do when faced with a challenge.

There have been some astonishinglynegativecomments posted on various web sites with respect to the recent generosity of the Fountain family in creating the endowment for Dalhousie’s performing arts program. The gist of much of the derogatory discussion was that there is no value in training people in performance skills.

Well, here is one excellent example of the value of performers to society. I won’t be surprised if this goes viral and breaks all records for fundraising for the Janeway.

[Update] Greg Lukeman points out a New Zealand children’s hospital fundraising video posted  August 27, 2012, that may have provided inspiration for the creators of “Please Whatever Your Name Is” (posted May 15,. 2013).

Please, whatever your name is…

Newfoundland has always had way better tourism ads than Nova Scotia (or pretty much anywhere else on the planet for that matter). Now it turns out they have way better children’s hospital ads, too. (Stay with this at least until the music starts, about five minutes in. Hilarious.)

[Video link]. H/T Calvert’s own Jenn Power.

Exorcizing the soul of a new machine

“I’ve never considered myself a moron before,” writes a hapless dishwasher owner in Portland Hills,  Dartmouth, “but my blind faith in Sears proves I should have my mittens tied together with a string, and I should only eat with spoons, as I could easily lose an eye if I tried a fork.”

The unnamed customer is so distraught over fruitless attempts to get the venerable appliance giant to furnish a working dish washer, he’s offering to sell it for the price of the sushi takeout he and his wife ordered Friday night: $57.50. But after 4,300 hits to his viral-bound washer-for-sale ad on Kijiji, no takers.

Broken Kenmore Ad

The owner and his wife built a new house in Portland Hills and installed a new, $800 Sears Kenmore dishwasher. It worked for six months, then stopped draining. After much to-ing and fro-ing, Sears’ South Asian call centre agreed to dispatch a repair person.

[W]e washed dishes by hand for weeks, waiting for their repairman to show up – I guess it took some time for the work order to make it the 15 time zones back to Halifax. Then we have to take 4 hours off from work (the repairman only promises to show up sometime in the four-hour block), burn our gas to get to and from work, only to be told, “we have to order a new drain pump.”

Wash, rinse, repeat:

In comes the part, so we have to book off another 4 hours of work, drive to and from work on our own nickel. In goes the new part, and the dishwasher works, kind of. . . for about 4 months, then it breaks again. Wash dishes by hand for 3 weeks. 4 hours off from work. Order part. Wash dishes for a week. Take 4 hours off. Install new part. Doesn’t work. Order same part again. Wash dishes for two weeks. 4 hours off from work. Part still doesn’t make it work. Order same part for the third time.

At this point we called back the Sears Buddy in New Dehli and suggested that we got a lemon. “Nope. Can’t be a lemon until it’s been fixed 3 times” they say. “It has been fixed 4 times,” says I. “Nope. The last 3 visits have been the same problem, so they only count as one,” says they. I went into the store where I bought it, and said, “You sold me a lemon. Please, sir, may I have another?” “Nope” says they. “We only take your money here. We don’t help you with your problems… call New Dehli. Now shoo, you’re scaring off our next victims.”

Customer thinks about taking page from Kim Jong-un, and “letting my kids starve while I build a catapult and threaten to launch the dishwasher through the window of Sears,” but decides he is too tired. Letter-writing blitz persuades Sears to replace lemon. Identical replacement works for 11 months… and stops draining. Homeowner installs different model from different company: Works fine.

So, if you have the skills and the time to replace the pump in this dishwasher… this baby can by yours for the low, low, everyday price of $57.50. After several months of phone calls, drives home on your work time, and numerous uncalled for bursts of rudeness to your significant other, you’ll have weathered the storm of being treated like a moron by Sears, and you’ll have a dishwasher you can be proud of. And I will have enough cash to pay for the really good sushi we had last night, which helped ease the pounding in my temples after shelling out $800 to replace a dishwasher that’s still under warranty.

Stand by for more price drops.

Visits as of midnight: 23965.

[NB: We do not have Sears's side of this saga, we'll be happy to post it when and if it arrives.]

H/T: Jane Kansas

Necroeconomics: the dismal science looks to the afterlife…

…and doesn’t like what it sees:

[Video Link]

Yoram Bauman, an environmental economist at the University of Washington, does double duty as a stand-up comic. He spoke to a convention of the American Economic Association this month in San Diego.

H/T: Richard Stephenson

Has Chief Spence got the Harpersphere worried?

Right-wing blogger and Maclean’s columnist Colby Cosh professes consternation at his discovery that running a hunger strike from a makeshift teepee in the middle of the Ottawa River involves actual out-of-pocket expenses, for which supporters of the striker might solicit actual contributions.

Screen Shot 2012-12-29 at 1.46.54 PMPressing his dudgeon pedal to the metal, Cosh waxes indignant at Chief Theresa Spence for “distort[ing] the perceived integrity” of “the most morally serious activity a protester can undertake.” Oh, the humanity!

Cosh concludes his thinly veiled ad hominem attack by speculating that Spence’s “demands aren’t in earnest and the whole thing is no more than a publicity ploy.” Well thank goodness for that.

From this I conclude it must have dawned on Cosh that Spence’s vigil and the associated First Nation demonstrations that swept the country Christmas week hold outsized potential to cause trouble for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government.

Let’s hope he’s right.

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