26 June 2009

Kremlinology

Years ago, your humble e-scribbler studied Soviet politics.

The tightly controlled, secretive, autocratic society of Bolshevik politics, gave rise to a whole bunch of western academics who tried to figure out the workings inside the seat of power – the Kremlin – by studying all sorts of seemingly insignificant details.

They’d study photographs to see who was standing next to the acknowledged powerful in order to spot either the rise or fall of certain people within the leadership.  They’d study the wording of documents to see how things changed and see if that meant something.

There’s a pattern to regimes and so these Kremlinologists would look for changes in the patterns.  Then they’d try to figure out what the changes meant.

Sometimes it’s fun to play the old games again.

Like say studying a news release of government money for a project to see if there is anything that doesn’t fit the usual pattern.

Lookee here:  a news release announcing that a regional municipal service organization on the Northern Peninsula is getting an $232,000 of provincial money to help it fight fires and look after garbage disposal.

The money is called an “investment.”

Nothing strange there.  The current provincial administration doesn’t spend money.  It invests public cash in all sorts of things.

Taking out the town trash is called “waste management”.

Again, another classic piece of modern bureaucratese.

Given any government’s record of spending public cash on dubious projects, some wags would suggest that the act of government spending is itself really an exercise in “waste management”, but that’s another tale.

Back to the case at hand:

Things are actually looking pretty innocuous so far.

Quotes?

Yep.

Two.

One from the minister responsible for helping towns fight fires and haul away their refuse, the Honourable Diane Whelan, she of the multiple announcements of money she didn’t actually have.

Another one from the guy running the local crowd that are getting the “investment”.

Another couple of checks in the standard boxes.

Wait a second.

Where’s the quote from the member of the House of Assembly for the area?

If there’s one thing any government of any stripe does, it’s give the local boy credit for “investments” especially when said local boy is one of their own team.  Just this week alone, Harry Hunter got a quote added to spending on a school in his district.

Flower’s Cove and environs is in the district represented by Whelan’s cabinet mate ,Trevor Taylor.

Now, Trevor is no ordinary fellow.  He ran once for the New Democrats and then, in 2001, was elected for the provincial Conservatives in one of two by-elections on the Great Northern Peninsula. 

That two-fer was heralded by newly minted Conservative  leader Danny Williams as the first ripples of a Tory tsunami that would sweep the Liberals out and put the Tories back into power.

Trevor’s been in cabinet a while and has carried the can for a number of projects, good and bad.  He’s been a loyal soldier and right now he’s got a few thousand constituents up in arms over everything from the downturn in the forest industry to the downturn in the fishery.

The loggers blocked a road this week trying to get a meeting with Trevor.  The fisherman plan a protest aimed at the provincial government’s lack of help  this week now that they’ve already protested about the federal government’s lack of help.

And it’s not like lesser mortals than cabinet ministers don’t get to hand out the pork.

Tory backbencher Derrick Dalley  - a recently appointed parliamentary secretary to the education minister - turned up in the Lewisporte Pilot back in April handing out a cheque from the provincial government for money from a grant program to support sports initiatives.  The money was described as a “donation”, the new term for government program spending that isn’t an “investment”.

Derrick’s likely not alone, by the by.  Since the spending scandal dried up the slush fund that used to be constituency allowances, the government crowd seem to have discovered the political usefulness of letting the crowd on the back benches do some bacon-doling.  His colleagues are out there with cheques, too;  they just don’t always make the local paper.

Anyways…

No quote from the cabinet minister of some seniority about spending in his own district at a time when the guy could use the good coverage.

And it’s not like Trevor hasn’t had other shared announcements.

Hmmm.

It’s not like he’s Ray Hunter or something, either.

Ray’s the guy who showed up in the legislature this past sitting to find his desk and chair moved right next to the exit door.  He probably had to keep shifting to avoid getting the door in the head every time someone went out for a leak or a smoke.

Ray’s also had to defend himself publicly from accusations by angry constituents that he is not allowed to speak freely within his caucus.  Of course, that pretty much confirmed them.

Hmmm, indeed.

Now the thing about kremlinology is that it is one of the more dismal of dismal sciences.  Think of it as economics but without the accuracy.

This omission could be nothing at all.

Or it could be a sign.

A sign of something very important.

-srbp-

20 comments:

Allan said...

Ed - your use of the term "Bolshevik" to describe Soviet political architecture in the modern era is strange. Bolsheviks were merely hardline Russian Marxists in the pre-revolutionary period. By 1925 the word no longer described anyone. The term was resurrected in the USA in the 1950s and used as an epithet, similar to "Pinko."

Edward G. Hollett said...

1925 was pre-revolutionary?

You don't think I'd find an old member of the party in 1930 still thinking of himself proudly as an old Bolshevik?

Even in the 1950s there'd have been and were proud revolutionaries who recalled their adherence to the Bolshevik line.

So what exactly is your point or your problem with the use of the term in this case?

Steve said...

Ed: What is the purpose of this post other than your narcissistic, venomous attack, as usual? I trust from your in depth research you have determined this is the only govt. guilty of such practices.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Steve:

Unless you need a translation to include in a briefing note for someone, why don't you just take it as a light-hearted comment that remains impenetrable to you?

It may mean something or it may mean nothing at all.

Your comments, however, are far more revealing.

Steve said...

It is that light-hearted I haven't been able to pick myself of the floor. It is typical of your postings. Now I await further crap from you and your cronies.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Typical of my postings or is what you think typical of the way you and your cronies react to the postings?

What was it that you couldn't understand? Maybe if we just focused on that we could figure out your point.

Evidently you understood it to mean something and really didn't like it otherwise you wouldn't have started out with and now continued the insults.

WJM said...

Ed, you have cronies?

Where can I get some?

steve loves dan said...

Steve - I wouldn't know, but my guess is that it is better to have a crony than to be one.

Edward G. Hollett said...

A crony is apparently a "close friend who accompanies his buddies in their activities."

Steve accused me of being narcissistic and somewhere along the line he's probably tossed in the "negative" line and a few other overworked and very telling phrases.

I think in his original comment Steve was just projecting.

WJM said...

I think in his original comment Steve was just projecting.

Projecting? Yikes... is that habit contagious?

Steve said...

Well Mr. Hollett: I credit you with one thing-- you publish comments unlike your friend in Ottawa. Even with the sarcasm you appear to take it in stride and rebut mine,especially, and others lack of brains compared to yourself and the Labradore genius. I know this has nothing to do with the posting.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Well, "Steve" your comments say more about you than they do about anyone else so why shouldn't you get to have your say?

I mean the personal attacks on me and WJM speak much louder about the weakness of your argument than anything I could say.

Your insistence on making things personal and taking things personally is entirely your own problem.

Why shouldn't you have the platform to proclaim that for all the world to see?

Steve said...

Ah, damn E.G. I do believe I lost the last comment.

Steve said...

I shall try again. Do you suppose Mr. Hollett there are others who espouse the same sentiments as I but just don't bother to comment? I try not to be personal but the negativity without suggestions or solutions become unpalatable. As for your bud in Ottawa,WJM, that is another story. He may be intelligent but he is also downright nasty, ignorant who also proffers nothing. He is anti-Nf of the worse kind. He doesn't allow the same platform as you for all the world to see. There is no need to italicize the Steve.

Edward G. Hollett said...

Steve, that business about "no alternatives" and always negative is the classic Fan Club line and it just doesn't hold an ounce of water.

Ditto your description of Wally's work.

You want alternatives?

Here's a few that you and those who think like you conveniently ignore:

1. I was one of the first people around here to start talking about the need for an investment fund as one way of ensuring we have lasting value from non-renewable resource revenues long after they are gone.

In fact, I advocated that - if memory serves- as a concrete alternative to the government's line of trying to suck more transfers out of Ottawa based entirely on a series of political frauds and pointless confrontations.

All that racket and chest thumping gained was a single cheque for $2.0 billion and the worst set of relations with the rest of the country since 1869.

I am still advocating the investment fund all with a series of other fiscal measures.

Here's a clue: search for the post "15 ideas". I started out with five on fiscal policy alone, including a balanced budget.

On a related matter, I was warning of a economic downturn way before anyone else even thought of it. I did that so people would start talkign about what we needed to do in order to get through it. Other people ignored it entirely.

My posts on public finance were aimed at getting people to think about these issues rather than blindly accept that always was wonderful and well when there were shoals laying ahead.

2. Offshore: settle deals by negotiation rather than confrontation. Seems to have worked out rather well as a general principle.

3. Offshore: I noted a long time ago now that the surest way to fatten provincial coffers was to sweeten up royalty regimes rather than start up and oil company or trying to load down offshore projects with all sorts of spin-off projects that weren't based on a viable need.

That's basically where government policy was from the 1980s until 2003 and lo and behold the Hibernia South deal shows, I think, a return to that.

4. Here's another positive suggestion: the government should do what it promised on accountability and transparency.

I point out that they've failed to deliver on a huge promise not because I delight in the failure but because the original ideas were good and shouldn't be ignored.

If it embarrasses government into doing the right thing then all the better; nothing else seems to be working.

I support the 2003 ideas. I'd go even farther.

No shortage of ideas, Steve and no shortage of positive ideas for making the province stronger, more financially sound and generally better off.

Just because you - and others- chose to ignore the ideas doesn't mean they aren't there.

In Wally's case, he's a pretty fierce advocate for Labrador and bully for him. That likely goes up the noses of a bunch of people who find it a little uncomfortable when their rhetoric aimed at others on the mainland, for example, is thrown back at them.

He's been pretty relentless and the Fan Club just can't handle it.

Frankly I wouldn't expect them to because - being a personality cult - they miss the point entirely again and again and again.

There are a host, a pile a flood of good ideas, good alternatives for any given issue.

Some of them come from this little corner of the universe. Many more come from elsewhere.

Just because you and others don't pay attention or don't want to pay attention is your problem.

not as board as you said...

Steve - why are you "Marshalling" all your energy at commenting on this site anyway?

Steve said...

1. I was one of the first people around here to start talking about the need for an investment fund as one way of ensuring we have lasting value from non-renewable resource revenues long after they are gone.

Agreed, however, I ask: do we really have the resources to do that at this time? We continue(at least I hope)to pay down the massive provincial debt along with having some of the worst infrastructure in the country. That needs massive amounts of monetary infusion. Do you think the govt. needs to look at re-settlement again to lessen the demand on the province's economy? People complain about the fishery. What should the government do? Subsidize again? If I am out of work I have to do whatever everybody else has to do; go look for another job(wherever that takes me), EI or Social Assistance. The govt. isn't going to bail me or my co-workers out. The forestry is in a mess primarily because of the mill closure and reduction. What should the govt. do there? Milk the cash cow again? I know the govt. throws money Krueger's way. I am at a loss. So, with everybody demanding from the public purse how can we save?

In Wally's case, he's a pretty fierce advocate for Labrador and bully for him. That likely goes up the noses of a bunch of people who find it a little uncomfortable when their rhetoric aimed at others on the mainland, for example, is thrown back at them.

A fierce advocate, fine, but the nastiness, ignorance, and sarcasm, in many instances are beneath him. To me that is a poor means of getting support. If he is that strong an advocate for Labrador, why doesn't he come here to our lowly province, seek a party leadership, run in an election, form a government then deal with the Labrador matters rather than spew venom from his far away land of Ottawa? Or why doesn't he start a movement to remove Labrador from Nf?


Frankly I wouldn't expect them to because - being a personality cult - they miss the point entirely again and again and again.

Just because you and others don't pay attention or don't want to pay attention is your problem.

I am glad I am the one accused of the personality attacks.



not as board as you said...

Steve - why are you "Marshalling" all your energy at commenting on this site anyway?

What the hell is it to you where I marshall all my energy?

Edward G. Hollett said...

1. Of course, we had the resources, Steve.

It's really just a matter of government setting a clear budget policy other than "spend it all".

In the early 1990s, government was able to set a firm and clear debt management plan that reduced the amount of debt in foreign currency. We couldn't pay much if anything off but government did change the overall cost of servicing the debt.

By 2003, direct debt had actually declined. It then shot up again under the current administration until the last couple of years.

Had resources? Even in 2003, the PriceWaterHouseCoopers report could project steadily increasing revenues from all sources in the years ahead. They just couldn't foresee how much money would flow. And bear in mind PWC took gloomy forecasts and made them even gloomier just to produce a hideous result. They still couldn't forecast falling revenue and keep any semblence of credibility.

We still don't have a firm government fiscal plan for the long haul, including dealing with debt.

In fact the current administration has steadfastly refused to to set a firm, verifiable debt reduction plan. They've rejected balanced budget legislation and they've also categorically rejected setting up an investment fund.

2. As far as the fishery goes, the current administration actually has to pay some attention to it. That would be a start.

They haven't, except to break up FPI. The fishery is one of several areas that haven't gotten any serious attention from the current administration.

I think part of the current problem they are having is that:

a. they have no idea what to do, and,

b. no one with any pull in the administration wants to spend any political capital trying to come to grips with developing a solid fisheries policy.

They likely share the really bizarre view of the fellow in the Telly on Saturday who referred to the fishery as the bog we came from or something along those lines.

Complete lack of understanding, awareness or foresight. But hey, it is still a free country and has the right to voice his opinion.

3. Like I said, some people find WJM's style a little hard to handle but then again, it's but a pale immitation of the "nastiness, ignorance, and sarcasm" that has characterised someone else's entire political career to date.

Truth be told though he just holds up a mirror half the time and lets the cold reality of what is said and done speak for itself.

And when he isn't doing that he is demolishing the cherished myths the Fan Club and others like spread.

That's likely why the Fan Club has such a hard time of it and then resorts to attacking WJM personally.

Steve said...

I won't argue or disagree with your take on the fishery but where should the govt. be taking the fishery? What should the policy entail?

I don't agree that there is lots of money to go around but you are correct in an investment plan. I do think we shall pay the piper down the road.

I have two sons who are only too happy to be out of the province and never want to look back.

Again, I ask, what are your thoughts on re-settlement as means of reducing stress on the economy?

Or is that another question or comment you consider too asinine to warrant comment?

Edward G. Hollett said...

Steve:

The future of the fishery is not for the government alone to decide. That's the same it is for everything in the province: it is not for the government alone to decide.

That said, provincial government policy can change dramatically largely by reducing the level of government interference in everything from prices to licenses.

There are alternatives; which ones work and how everything goes ahead can only be sensibly worked out by a sustained effort.

Resettlement was an old idea that grew as much as anything out of the time in which the island portion of the province was still much as it had bene for 400 years.

These days resettlement is already happening and has been happening for some time. The growth on the northeast Avalon - h/t to Wally for documenting the real demogrpahics - is driven in large part by people moving into the area from other parts of the province south and west of the Holyrood-Bay Bulls line.