Quotulatiousness

January 7, 2013

“[N]o person in Canada stands above or outside of the law”

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Liberty, Media, Railways — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 15:09

Christie Blatchford on the inability of Canadian police to shut down protests by First Nations groups that violated the law:

Saying “I do not get it,” an Ontario Superior Court judge Monday bemoaned the passivity of Ontario police forces on illegal native barricades and issued a lament for the state of law-and-order in the nation.

“…no person in Canada stands above or outside of the law,” Judge David Brown said in a decision that was alternately bewildered and plaintive.

“Although that principle of the rule of law is simple, at the same time it is fragile. Without Canadians sharing a public expectation of obeying the law, the rule of law will shatter.”

Judge Brown was formally giving his reasons for having granted CN Rail an emergency injunction last Saturday night, when the railway rushed to court when Idle No More protesters blocked the Wymans Road crossing on the main line between Toronto and Montreal.

Paul Wells examines the (virtual) entrails

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:58

In Maclean’s, Paul Wells looks deeply into the hidden meanings of the Prime Minister’s rare interview utterances:

The Prime Minister’s year-end interviews are always worth close reading. Partly because he gives few interviews. Partly because those interviews, widely spaced, show how his thinking changes as circumstances do. This year the changes are stark.

The part I’ve just quoted came when Friesen asked Harper about the possibility that Bashar al-Assad might use chemical weapons against Syrian opponents of his regime.

Would NATO intervene? “Well, I don’t want to speculate.”

Is the use of what we used to call weapons of mass destruction a “red line,” as the Obama administration has called it? That was the question that got Harper talking about risks and caution. “What we can continue to do, as I say, is try to work with elements of the opposition and others to try to push that country to a better solution and try to avoid further escalation of this conflict.”

This is what being Prime Minister does to you. A decade ago, when conversation turned to the use of chemical or biological weapons and the theatre was Iraq, it was Jean Chrétien talking about risks and caution and Harper urging red lines. I dare hope we’ll never get to test the hypothetical in Syria, but it was not only when it came to Assad that this year’s Harper was notably less cocky than previous years’. Chastened, one might say, by a year when the world turned out to be more complex than advertised.

Discounting for total political dysfunction

Filed under: Business, Economics, Government, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:30

The Economist reports on last week’s “deal” in Congress and why the markets are still able to function in spite of the almost unprecedented level of political uncertainty:

Markets now live in the policy equivalent of Beirut in 1982. They have adjusted to perpetual political dysfunction. Over the last eight weeks, as the fiscal cliff talks stumbled, revived, collapsed, then came to life again, market movements were surprisingly narrow, and much of them could be explained by tax considerations as investors prepared for higher capital gains and dividend rates. The sang froid perplexed many of us who follow the policy process for a living and knew how high the stakes were. But perhaps we were too close to it. You can steep yourself in the intricacies of political coalitions, the electoral calendar, the makeup of the executive, senate and house, the interaction of permanent and temporary fiscal policy and such arcana as reconciliation, filibusters and blue slips, and yet still not know how to model the outcome. The fiscal cliff perfectly illustrated this: the people closest to the process didn’t know any better how it would end than those reading the newspapers, or not reading the newspapers, for that matter. There were just too many moving parts.

Richard Bookstaber once attributed the evolutionary success of the cockroach to coarse decision rules: it ignores most of the information around it and responds only to simple signals. Investors do something similar when confronted with hopeless complexity. They boil it down to a binary question: disaster/no disaster. Then they ignore all the idiosyncratic inputs and ask: what does experience suggest the probability of disaster is? Four times in the last two years, politicians went up to some do-or-die deadline without going over: in December, 2010, when the Bush tax cuts first came up for expiration; in April, 2011, when the federal government nearly shut down for lack of discretionary spending authority; the following August, when Treasury was days away from hitting the hard debt ceiling; and December, 2011, when the payroll tax cut first came up for expiration. In each case, one side, or both blinked; tax rates never went up, the government never shut down, and Treasury did not stop paying bills, much less default. It was, arguably, a better record than in 1995-96 when the federal government shut down twice and Bill Clinton threatened to suspend social security payments if Newt Gingrich’s Republicans didn’t raise the debt ceiling. Ignore the specifics of the latest episodes, and the logical conclusion is that despite their differences, both sides have powerful incentives to avoid disaster, so they will.

And who are the policy experts to say otherwise? For all the twists and turns, the cliff negotiations ended up where the median market participant a few months ago assumed they would: with a short-term fix and the remainder stuffed in a can and kicked down the road.

What’s that odd whistling sound coming from Wall Street?

“Wow, a zeppelin!”

Filed under: Military, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:22

Okay, maybe not a Zeppelin(TM), but still:

The first rigid airship to be built since the 1930s is about to commence trials in California: and the Pelican prototype also features a new technology, never yet flown, which could finally change things for lighter-than-air craft and see the leviathans of the skies make a serious comeback at last.

The 230ft-long, 18-ton demonstrator has been built for the US military by radical airship firm Aeros of California, helmed by Ukrainian LTA visionary Igor Pasternak. Aviation Week reports that it has now tested its ground manoeuvring equipment inside its hangar, and that next week the ship is set to actually lift off in a further sequence of tests for the Pentagon.

In particular, the US military wants to see if the Pelican can defeat the great bugbear of airships: the fact that they cannot usually offload cargo or passengers without taking on equivalent amounts of ballast. This is because, as weight is removed, the ship will become massively buoyant and will surge upwards uncontrollably.

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