Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Environmental double-speak

Alberta premier Ed Stelmach, who bowed out of this week's
climate change summit of premiers, need not feel so defensive about his province's environmental record now that building roads has become a cornerstone of green policy.

Yes, you read that correctly. Forget about investing in transit or bike paths: according to this
article, the federal and BC provincial governments are spending $790,000 of money earmarked for "greening" communities to expand a road in Nanaimo, BC. The news release states that the road expansion will reduce traffic congestion and idling, thereby helping to save the environment.

The argument is a laughably nice try, as even the idea that building roads automatically reduces congestion doesn't work: curiously, as soon as you build more and bigger roads to reduce congestion on an older road, the tendency is for the new roads to become as congested as the old almost as soon as they're opened to traffic. It's what author Anthony Downs refers to as "triple convergence" in his quite excellent 1995 book,
New Visions for Metropolitan America.

Downs's argument follows the principle that there is a sort of marketplace associated with the use of roads. Where/when the demand for a given road space is high relative to its supply, users find alternatives to taking the congested road by travelling at different times (e.g., leave early to beat rush hour), taking alternate routes that are less congested, and using alternative means of transportation (e.g., biking or walking or rapid transit). Build a new road or expand an old one to increase the supply and there's suddenly less incentive for people to use any of the three alternatives, hence Downs's "triple convergence" of extra traffic to the new, suddenly congested roadway.

The rush for everyone to brand themselves as "green" has reached a feverish pitch, and we can expect pals and enemies of the environment alike to start touting their good work. In some cases, some of those jumping on this "green" bandwagon are under the impression that rest of us have fallen off the turnip truck.

Photo: rush hour traffic in Maryland.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Welcome back...

Welcome back, Sausage Factory (sorry to disappoint anyone who expected to see a posting about Gabe Kaplan here). Many of us bloggers hadn't given up hope that Dan Lett's blog would return, as is evident by the long-standing, for-a-time-dead links on the sidebars of our blogs. Dan Lett is one the Free Press's best critical thinkers writers and it's good to see him posting again.

Monday, January 21, 2008

May's Greens: rising tide?

Globe columnist Lawrence Martin's latest
piece on Elizabeth May and the federal Green Party was quite interesting. As many know, May is fighting to participate in the leader's debate and hoping to knock off Peter MacKay and win the first seat for her party. It won't be an easy task, but the Greens are feeling boosted by recent polls showing her party as high as 13% nationally and as high as 17% in Toronto's "guilt-ridden" 905 belt.

The big question is whether May can hold on to her poll numbers and translate them into votes at election time. It's likely that the Greens will be far outspent and outorganized by the three national parties, all of whom will be spending the maximum amount, and likely the Bloc too. Electoral history is filled with stories of overly optimistic parties driven by buoyant but ultimately ephemeral support levels.

A lot of folks assume that if the Greens do gain support that it'll be at the expense of Layton's NDP. According to the Martin article, some Greens even talk about merging with the NDP to create a new GDP (apparently that's short for "Green Democratic Party" and not "Gross Domestic Product"). However, Green gain at NDP expense isn't entirely certain. If it were, how might we explain the fact that the GP's greatest strength, when looking at all 500,000+ sized urban areas, lies in Calgary (9% in 2006, on average) and the 905 belt (17%, according to some poll numbers). These are hardly traditional areas of support for the NDP, which, at 10%, came in barely ahead of the Greens in Calgary and, outside of Oshawa, Hamilton and the Niagara region, struggles for votes in the 905 area that surrounds Toronto. Meanwhile, the NDP's two strongest cities, Vancouver (27% in 2006) and Winnipeg (28%) are actually two of the GP's weakest (5% and 4%, respectively).

My hypothesis right now is that the Greens are emerging as a or perhaps even the protest party of choice in regions where the NDP is relatively absent. Apart from a few BC ridings, wherever the NDP has a strong, well-managed campaign, the Green vote tends to be a non-factor, staying in the 2% to 6% range.

For the Greens, it certainly doesn't hurt that their message is more palatable for some suburban voters who feel a need to support a platform they see being ecologically-conscious, but who may be uncomfortable with the NDP’s traditionally pro-labour, redistributive policies (which the Greens tend either not to share or to keep awfully quiet about). If that's the case, the Greens may well be usurping more Liberal vote than NDP. Is that the reason behind the Dion/May hug-a-Green/hug-a-Liberal strategy? It's unlikely that, over the long run, they're both going to emerge victors from their quasi-alliance.

The Internet, being the ever-glorious provider of election study and polling numbers that it is, has given me quite a bit of interesting data to play with. That's one source of the tables I have above, which are simply summed riding-by-riding totals for each region. I've also found that the 2006 Canadian Election Study data files are freely
available; that study consisted of interviews with thousands of Canadians before and after the election to gauge such things as party momentum, preferred second choices, and reactions to party platforms, campaign announcements and party leaders. In the lead up to the next federal election, I hope to share of the interesting findings from this data.


At least one
fellow Manitoba blogger, upon noticing my recent profile change (which states I've been a blogger since only January of this year), has concluded that my entire 2007 blogging history must have been written and posted all this month. It sort of conjures up the image of some wretched, hunched-over character in a dark, grungy basement cackling madly in between fits of wild typing to produce mass amounts of blog content (if only I was that prolific...). No harm done, but lest others make the same assumption, I thought I'd make it known that I merely changed the Gmail account I associate with the blog to a new one. For those using a Gmail address with blogger.com, it's easily done, as the instructions here, here, and here all attest. Of course, given the new profile date that'll appear by your name, you should be prepared to have any and all past election predictions challenged! Don't say I didn't warn you...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The endorsement game

For some reason, I found the Friday Globe and Mail's
list of celebrity endorsements received by each presidential nomination candidate to be extremely amusing.

For example, did you know that Bob Vila, the televised fix-it guy from 25 or more years ago, has endorsed Clinton? To borrow a pun from Sir John A. MacDonald, Vila might just be useful should a President Hillary Clinton need to put together a cabinet.

Chevy Chase has also lined up behind Clinton, as has trash TV king Jerry Springer, and musicians Madonna and Janet Jackson.

While Clinton boasts some impressive celebrity backing, if you're an American voter wanting some rock and roll at your political rallies, you'd be best advised to stay clear of her campaign, which is also endorsed by singers Barry Manilow and Barbara Streisand. Hopefully, they won't be singing during the rest of the primaries when Clinton's worker bees will need something a little more upbeat to keep the blood flowing. Anyone, quick, has Chuck D endorsed a candidate yet?

We all know that Oprah has endorsed Obama (potential O Magazine partner, perhaps?), but I had no idea that a huge cast of actors were also behind him. If the Obama campaign starts to run a little short of dough, maybe endorsers George Clooney, Matt Damon and Brad Pitt can crack into the Clinton campaign machine war chest safe (laser-protected, no doubt). Will Smith, Halle Berry, and Ben Affleck are also among the notable cast of Obama supporters.

The good lefty folks, including actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, consumer activist Ralph Nader and economist James K. Galbraith are endorsing Edwards, who can also count on Kevin Bacon, Harry Belafonte, and John Mellencamp to back him up. Now, if only Michael Moore would join them, they could all get together after the campaign and create a dramatic documentary (complete with accompanying musical score) on the scandalous cost of farm equipment for rural African-Americans.

Ted Nugent and Chuck Norris, gun-friendly men's men of yesterday, have both endorsed Huckabee. No surprise here that they didn't join feminist author Gloria Steinem in supporting Hillary Clinton.

Not to be outdone by Huckabee's scouring of 1978 for endorsements, Mitt Romney has recruited Donny and Marie Osmond and actor Rick Schroeder. Oh yeah, wait... I guess Ricky did eventually grow up and get that stint on NYPD Blue...

Never ones to miss a good war, Henry Kissinger and ex-Republican-in-Democratic-clothing Joe Lieberman both feel that war supporter and veteran John McCain is their candidate. Pat Sajak, meanwhile, is fully behind F_ED TH_MPS_N.

Adam Sandler begs to differ -- he's punch drunk love for Giuli. The 9/11-era Mayor of New York City also has Pat Robertson, Kelsey Grammer and Donald Trump behind him. No word yet on whether Trump plans to share any styling tips with Giuli.

Photo: Comedian and actor Adam Sandler, who is supporting Rudy Giuliani.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Local blogs

I recently discovered a couple of punchy local blogs more than worth adding to my blogroll.

PolicyFrog is an interesting read. See for example this
post on what I see as the Free Press's maddeningly simplistic and analytically-poor editorial efforts (in a world of exploding online content, the Free Press still seems to think its competitors are limited to the Sun and the local TV stations - the grey pap it tries to feed us in editorial form just doesn't measure up against the quality news and editorial material I can access within seconds from elswhere, including from other major Canadian dailies). While PolicyFrog's flavour is overall a little to the right of Prairie Topiary's, it's certainly worth a regular read.

The Rise and Sprawl is a pretty fantastic, well-researched, urban-focused blog. I love the fantastic photographs of Winnipeg past and present and the great research on the city's history and architecture. I love too the cogent and biting critique of our urban space's management, which is sadly characterized more often than not by its lack of vision, ignorance of planning basics, and discarding of urban history. The world could use more blogs of this calibre.

Photo: "Drawing for a Typewriter, 06/23/1868," a printed patent drawing for a typewriter invented by Sholes, Glidden, and Soule.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The more things change...

"Change" seems to be the popular word among American presidential nomination candidates and watchers alike, but I wonder how much change we're really going to see no matter what happens over the next ten or so months.

On the Republican side, we see an interesting cast of characters led by Guiliani, Romney, McCain, and Huckabee. There's not much to say about -- to be blunt -- America's party of thugs and zealots: its record over the last eight years speaks louder than any of those seeking to be its standard bearer. Frankly, none of the leading candidates stand far enough removed from the party's legacy to count as much in way of "change."

On the Democratic side, we see Barack Obama chasing front-runner Hillary Clinton, with John Edwards in third place. The winner of this contest will likely inherent the mantle of a party that has the U.S. presidency firmly within its sights. While the U.S. is far overdue in selecting a bright, talented woman or an energetic, inspiring African-American to lead it, can we really expect a significant shift in policy?

Clinton is on record as being strongly and consistently behind the country's plundering of Iraq, at least until very recently when that position became a political liability, while Obama has already started to flash his cowboy-esque diplomacy skills in proposing to bomb Pakistan, a nuclear power. Of course, we can't blame these Democrats entirely as it seems that no aspiring U.S. leader gets taken seriously without promising to "get tough" by tapping the country's vast arsenal when needed.

If anything changes during their reign, it certainly won't be the U.S. war machine, which
some estimate to account for $1.3 billion or 51% of the country's 2008 federal budget. As Jeffrey Simpson suggests in today's Globe, the "change" we're hearing all about is really about persona rather than policy.

Third-place candidate Edwards has probably been the most exciting proponent of policy change for some of the reasons mentioned
here, but he looks to be too far behind either Clinton or Obama to have a chance of winning. The best we may be able to hope for is that he plays an important role in putting important policy issues on the agenda.


For those curious about my predictions, I'm not one of those who jumped on the "Obama will win" bandwagon last week, after Clinton lost in Iowa. I thought then that Clinton remained ahead of the pack with her well-funded superior organization and experience. No surprise, I'm still predicting a win for this second Clinton "comeback kid." Obama will be well-placed for a future run at the presidency and could even wind up on the Democratic ticket as candidate for Vice-President.

The Republican side is much more of a toss-up. My sense is that loose cannon-types Huckabee and McCain will eventually flounder and that Romney, despite his current struggles, will go on to win the nomination as the anyone-but-Guiliani candidate.

Photo: Democrats rally on "the Green" at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.