Not-so-nice work, if you can get it

Many Canadians were surprised to hear last year that fully 85 percent of our federal Members of Parliament are divorced. This was the conclusion of a Library of Parliament research study, which noted that this was a bit higher than the 70 percent rate among MPs in the 2008-2011 parliament.

As the Maclean’s article that reported on these findings observed, political life is hardly compatible with domestic bliss.

Few of the 308 MPs live within daily commuting distance of Parliament, and those from the more far-flung constituencies face just as gruelling a commute as they would if their constituencies were located in the U.K. or Nicaragua. Thus, most MPs and their families must live independent of each other.

Those able to transplant their families to Ottawa are only marginally better off. A 2011 study of British MPs first elected in the 2010 intake found that, after six months in office, these newcomers were working an average of 69 hours per week.

This is consistent with reports from other countries on MPs workloads, and is probably very close to the Canadian parliamentary norm.

Combine family separation with the profession’s inevitably high concentration of narcissistic personalities, and the presence of ample opportunities, and you have the perfect conditions for extramarital affairs to start.

While this has come to be accepted with a collective shrug as long as the sex is consensual, it still has the capacity to make a mess of politicians’ family lives.

In addition to the above, a new study out of Norway recently shed some more light on a political career’s corrosive effect on family life.

Heidi Fischer Bjelland and Tore Bjørgo of the Norwegian Police University College studied 112 members of Norway’s parliament. They found that more than one-in-ten had been victims of actual or attempted assaults, and one-third had been on the wrong end of a “serious” incident of some kind.

The Norwegian English-language newspaper The Local also reported:

Seventy percent of the 112 politicians who took part in the study said they had received unwanted and offensive letters. More than half interviewed stated they have experienced someone spreading malicious information about them. Fifty politicians have received unwanted and harassing phone calls.

[ . . . ]

Serious incidents are physical assaults or attempted physical assaults, threats against closely related people, vandalism to property and objects, or threats published on social media.

This is hardly new: public life has always come with some risk of being targeted for harassment or worse.

In past decades, however, political spouses — almost all women then, and still predominantly so today — had little or no financial independence, and could safely be told to “put up or shut up” with the demands of being married to a public figure, no matter how distressing it became. In a world where everyone else seemed to be gaining liberation, political spouses were expected to remain deferential help-meets.

Today, these spouses are more likely to have careers of their own, and the option to dissolve the marriage and seek out a better life for themselves, with the kids in tow, once they find public life too burdensome.

Male or female, they have every right to exercise that option. A lifetime is a finite, non-renewable resource, so there is no point in wasting it away suffering if better options are available.

Yet neither the parties nor the institutions have shown much sign of being responsive to changes in the balance of power between politicians (“actual” and “would-be”) and their partners. It remains a profession noted for its crazy hours, ridiculous amount of travel required, and put-us-first-and-to-hell-with-your-family demands.

But there is evidence that the so-called Millennials are more apt than previous generations to put family ahead of career advancement, which will make it more difficult for parties to find presentable candidates in the years ahead.

As is the case with any scarce commodity, the parties and the institutions will need to sweeten the offer. Not necessarily with more cash, but with a less demanding and more individual- and family-friendly career — or they will need to settle for whoever they can find who does consider the escalating price of public life still worth paying.

Whatever these changes either way lead to, we will deal with it the same way humans have always dealt with change: by adapting to it.

The World’s 10 Best-Managed Countries, 2014 Edition

As leader of one of the world's best-managed countries, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (left) had something to smile about.

As leader of one of the world’s best-managed countries, Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt (left) had something to smile about.

In most large bookstores, you will find a wide selection of ghost-written books in which celebrity CEOs explain the secret of their success, or how they turned a perennial also-ran into an industry-leading corporation.

Alas, it is more difficult to find helpful advice on how to accomplish the same when running a country, even though some good advice widely shared among the world’s politicians would surely improve the lives of billions.

But today’s release of the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index — the final of four sets of annual rankings I’ve been awaiting — brings us a little bit closer to figuring out which world leaders should be asked to write such a book on how their countries came to be the world’s best-managed, and thus the best places to live.

Based on their overall rankings in the UN’s Human Development Index, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report and Vision of Humanity’s Global Peace Index, Denmark is arguably this year’s best-managed country, with Switzerland and New Zealand close behind. Finland and Norway round out the Top 5, while Canada finishes in seventh place.

Singapore makes a surprise 8th-place showing here, boosted by a strong showing in three of the four indices, the exception being the Global Peace Index.

Since different indexes use different “highest” and “lowest” scores — e.g., the best possible score in the HDI would be ‘100 out of 100′, but ‘7 out of 7′ in the Global Competitiveness Report — I’ve standardized the scores by showing the best performer’s raw score in each category as a “100”, and then calculated the other countries’ proximity to that front-runner.

 

Country Human Development Index 2014* Corruption Perceptions Index 2014* Global Competitiveness Report 2014* Global Peace Index 2014* Average
Denmark 95.3 100 92.8 99.7 97
Switzerland 97.1 93.5 100 94.5 96.3
New Zealand 96.4 98.9 91.2 96.2 95.7
Finland 93.1 96.7 96.5 91.7 94.5
Norway 100 93.5 93.9 86.7 93.5
Sweden 95.1 94.6 94.9 86.1 92.7
Canada 95.6 88 91.9 91 91.6
Singapore 95.4 93.5 99.1 77 91.3
Iceland 94.8 85.9 82.6 100 90.8
Japan 94.3 82.6 96 90.3 90.8

* – Based on best performing country’s raw score = 100

 

While there is significant overlap between the indices, the objective of this exercise is to get a rough sense of which countries have got the balance right in securing a good life for all of their citizens — a life under human rights and the rule of law, enjoying a sense of security without feeling oppressed, and able to benefit from good economic opportunities.

What makes the front-runner countries work? Some hints might be found in this January 2014 chart (and the accompanying post) which showed that employment prospects, quality infrastructure and housing, personal health, personal cash-flow and a solid social support network all contribute significantly to a better quality of life.

These countries also appear to do quite well in all 12 key aspects of economic competitiveness (discussed in a May 2014 post), which included:

  • Reliable political and judicial institutions
  • Reliable infrastructure
  • Macroeconomic stability (e.g., balanced budgets; stable currency)
  • Well-developed Health and Primary Education systems
  • Ready access to higher and continuous education
  • Availability of goods and services from a variety of competitors
  • Good labour market policies aimed at maximizing the employment rate
  • Access to capital through a well-developed financial sector
  • Technological readiness
  • Access to a large (or larger) market
  • Business sophistication
  • Innovative ability

Additional insights might be gained from this timely Dec. 1 post on the World Economic Forum’s blog, which noted that countries with trustworthy, reliable governments and in which citizens feel less “alone” to face life’s challenges tend to make for better places to live.

Indeed, those with a passion for making their city, province, state or country a better place to live will find many good ideas — originating from both the left and the right, and often from neither — on the rest of the World Economic Forum’s blog site.

In Canada’s case, it appears that the one factor we need to work on the most to get toward “number one” is on cleaning up corruption perceptions. Though Canada was (just barely) one of the world’s 10 least-corrupt nations in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index, we lagged behind front-runners Denmark, New Zealand and Finland.

Housing market cool-down, spending cuts and tax rises to be the heated issues of 2015?

This modest-looking house on Vancouver's east side was sold for $774,900. Overvalued, a bargain, or priced just right? (Click for source.)

This modest-looking house on Vancouver’s east side was sold for $774,900. Overvalued, a bargain, or priced just right? (Click for source.)

When the analysts at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) speak, the world’s governments listen — or at least they should. Several IMF staff arrived in Canada recently to give our country a thorough economic check-up, and today they released their findings.

Thankfully, there were some positive comments in their report. The IMF noted that Canada’s economic performance “has been solid in recent quarters”, “economic slack has been gradually declining” and that the country has “an improving labor market”.

The IMF was also particularly pleased with the strength of the Canadian banking system, which they described as being “highly profitable, with favorable loan quality, low nonperforming loans, and improving capitalization.”

But the IMF also saw some creeping problems that they felt Canada should make an effort to fix before they get out of hand.

One such area was the housing market, which the IMF suggested was showing signs of being over-priced. While some of this was driven by normal supply-and-demand factors, such as a growing number of households and land scarcity in larger cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, fast growth in the number of uninsured mortgages was seen as a troubling sign.

The IMF’s openly expressed worries about “overvaluation” and “vulnerabilities” in the housing market increases the probability that the federal Finance department will push for even tighter rules in 2015 to prevent higher-risk mortgages from ever being approved — a sound move, but one that wouldn’t necessarily be popular with rejected applicants or the real estate industry.

Even more controversial changes in 2015 could come from the IMF’s displeasure with the provincial governments’ difficulties in balancing their budgets — a task complicated by the growing number of older people who both pay less in tax and are more reliant on government services.

The most controversial proposal of all is cleverly concealed in what might appear to the reader as bureaucratese:

Consolidation plans at the provincial level should proceed, especially in provinces with higher levels of public debt. While adjustment plans rely on ambitious expenditure restraint, raising concerns about their durability, it would be essential for provinces to successfully pursue strategic spending reviews. Still, the adjustment plans may need to be complemented with revenue measures to meet balanced budget targets.

A rough translation into Plain English would go something like this: “Governments are naïve if they think they’re going to balance their budgets by ‘getting rid of waste’ and ‘finding efficiencies’. They are going to have to say ‘no’ to some spending requests, including indirect spending such as tax credits, even if this makes them unpopular. If that doesn’t cover the shortfall — and it likely won’t — they’re going to have to find ways to pull in more money, such as through fees, fines, taxes, and ‘unbundling’ some of their services.”

 

Canada’s strengths heading into 2015:

  • The IMF notes that the job market has been heading in the right direction during most of 2014, and that inflation, while inching upward, remains under control.
  • Household debt has stabilized — though it is still high, at more than 150 percent of disposable income.
  • The U.S. economic recovery and a lower Canadian dollar should be good for Canadian exports and business investment in 2015.
  • A profitable, stable banking system “resilient to credit, liquidity, and contagion risks”. Yet the IMF cautions that Canadian banks face risks from capital markets and their own foreign operations, which should be kept an eye on so that problems are fixed early on.
  • The federal government’s expected return to a balanced budget in 2015-16  should make it easier for Ottawa to pursue useful goals such as increasing the amount of research and development that takes place in Canada, encouraging businesses to invest more and to improve their productivity, or reducing federal income taxes.

 

Canada’s weaknesses heading into 2015:

  • The IMF notes that Canadian businesses have been slow to invest in recent years, and much of their job-creation has been of the part-time and temporary variety.
  • Overvalued housing, driven in part by normal supply-and-demand, but complicated by high-end buyers and a growing use of poorly insured mortgages. Reforms to prevent buyers from taking on mortgages that might later turn out to be unaffordable would be a good idea, even if controversial.
  • If oil prices continue to drop, the economies of the oil-rich provinces (particularly Alberta) will begin to slow down. The IMF notes, however, that this might be partially offset by better growth opportunities in manufacturing and services.
  • More could be done to improve oversight of the financial services industry in Canada, with this job now being split between federal and provincial regulators. While progress has been made in closing these gaps, federal and provincial regulators need to work more closely together.
  • The provinces remain prone to running deficits, and the growing number of older people in the population adds to the financial pressure. They will sooner or later have to make tough choices that could include both cutting spending and getting their hands on more money.
  • Productivity could be better. Contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean spending more evenings and weekends at the office; but it might mean making some controversial choices such as entering into more international trade deals, opening protected industries to more competition (which could include scrapping foreign ownership limits) and getting energy exports to market more quickly (think Keystone XL Pipeline).

 

Ha ha — you want to commercialize what?!

KUSW tried, without luck, to make money playing rock music on shortwave radio from 1987 to 1991. It was purchased in 1991 by a religious broadcaster alleged to have unceremoniously held a bonfire to burn KUSW's "sinful" music library.

KUSW tried, without luck, to make money playing rock music on shortwave radio from 1987 to 1991. It was purchased in 1991 by a religious broadcaster alleged to have unceremoniously held a bonfire to burn KUSW’s “sinful” music library.

Years ago, television advertisements encouraged Canadians traveling abroad to take their shortwave radios along so that they could tune in Radio Canada International, a division of the CBC, to keep up with the news from back home. In the pre-Internet era, it was a useful public service that not only kept vacationers in the loop, but was also used by Canadian diplomats and other expatriates living abroad, and to reach foreigners keen to learn more about Canada.

RCI and other government-owned shortwave broadcasters, such as the Voice of America, the BBC World Service and Radio Havana Cuba, operated in a now-obscure part of the radio spectrum between 5 and 20 megahertz, well above the 530-1700 kilohertz AM band and below the TV frequencies that begin at 54 megahertz.

Though the sound quality on the shortwave band was mediocre at best, the signals could travel several thousand miles under good conditions, well beyond the range of AM and FM stations.

But shortwave listeners were too few and far between, and reception was too reliant on the vagaries of atmospheric conditions, for the frequencies to have much commercial value. Thus, shortwave long remained the domain of dull state broadcasters, and God-casters promoting Jesus to whoever happened to be listening.

Not that a few didn’t try to make money on shortwave.

Superrock KYOI set up operations on the tiny U.S. Pacific island of Saipan in 1982, and broadcast American rock music to Japan, China, Australia, New Zealand and the Soviet Union’s Far East; but gave up in 1989 and sold the station to a religious broadcaster.

But the real death of commercial shortwave radio seemed to take place on Dec. 16, 1991 when KUSW Salt Lake City, another rock station targeting Canada and a small domestic audience, left the air for the last time after a four-year run.

Its new owners, a California-based religious organization called Trinity Broadcasting, not only bestowed the station with a new set of call letters — KTBN — when it returned to the air two days later, but is alleged to have perversely held a public bonfire to burn the late KUSW’s music library.

Twenty-three years later, however, a Florida broadcaster believes that shortwave commercial broadcasting’s time might have finally come.

At 7 p.m. Eastern time on Oct. 31, Global 24 — no relation to Canada’s Global Television — took to the air as a 24-hour news and entertainment station targeting the Americas, Europe and Africa from a transmitter site in southern Florida.

“Global 24 represents another step in the long overdue commercialization of shortwave radio,” the manager of the company that owns and operates Global 24’s transmitters said in an Oct. 21 news release. “We are excited to be working with them on their ambitious program to engage and entertain a global audience.”

“Shortwave radio is a medium for the 21st century. No other medium provides for global access of information on a handheld device without access to an infrastructure, satellite, internet connection or membership fee,” the station notes on its web site as its rationale for using 9395 kHz (9.395 MHz) — a frequency few North American households have the necessary radios to tune in.

The station’s programming is eclectic to say the least, ranging from the left-leaning “Democracy Now” public affairs show to a musical program called “Global Music and Turkish Talent Box”, an arts program called “Shakespeare on Shortwave”, and a weekly science program called “Exploration”.

A program on “Survival, Homesteading and Off the Grid Living” is said to be in the works.

If nothing else, Global 24’s launch is a gutsy move, as even government-owned and religious broadcasters have dramatically reduced or eliminated their shortwave presence in recent years, viewing it as an old technology made obsolete by the Internet. (Radio Canada International maintains a small online presence, having closed down its shortwave radio operation in 2012.)

Yet Global 24 isn’t necessarily hostile to the Internet. If you’re one of the many who doesn’t own a shortwave radio — or even knew what “shortwave” was before reading this post — the station also broadcasts online.

The fall of the Berlin Wall: An official’s blunder, or a calculated move?

Gunter Schabowski on Nov. 9, 1989: A bumbling apparatchik who accidentally opened the Berlin Wall, or a shrewd malcontent who knew exactly what he was doing? (Click for source.)

Gunter Schabowski on Nov. 9, 1989: A bumbling apparatchik who accidentally opened the Berlin Wall, or a shrewd malcontent who knew exactly what he was doing? (Click for source.)

It is not a particularly long walk from the German Bundestag, or parliament, to the former site of the now-demolished Palace of the Republic, as the former East German seat of power was called: a little over 20 minutes on foot. In Winnipeg terms, it would be akin to walking from the University of Winnipeg to the Concert Hall, or from the Manitoba Legislature to the bars and restaurants on the Corydon Strip.

But from Aug. 13, 1961 to Nov. 9, 1989, to walk that short distance in Berlin was to cross the boundary between two completely different societies: a free and democratic West Berlin, representing the areas of the German capital captured by the U.S., British and French militaries at the end of World War II, and Communist-ruled East Berlin in the areas captured by the Soviet military.

In fact, it was impossible without passing through East German border controls — which included detailed questioning, careful examination of travel documents and thorough searches — or climbing over the Berlin Wall and risking being shot by border guards.

In 1949, when it became clear that a jointly U.S., British, French and Soviet-ruled occupied Germany was not going to be practical, the two sides each set up rival German states based on their own occupational zones: the western-backed Federal Republic of Germany was the first to emerge from the U.S., British and French-occupied zones on May 23, followed by the German Democratic Republic in the Soviet-occupied zone on Oct. 7.

They respectively came to be known by the monikers “West Germany” and “East Germany”.

Berlin remained an unresolved matter: by mutual agreement, Berlin had been carved up into occupational zones much like the rest of Germany. But while it was relatively easy to turn an arbitrary line across the German countryside into a heavily patrolled international boundary between West Germany and East Germany, enforcing an international boundary running right through the middle of a city was a more difficult matter after a Soviet blockade of Berlin failed to dislodge the western powers in 1948-49.

The austerity and constant surveillance that came with life in East Germany didn’t prove itself popular. As the gap in quality of life between East and West continued to widen in the late ’50s and the beginning of the ’60s, thousands of East Germans fled across the relatively open urban border to West Berlin, and from there to West Germany, where they were entitled to automatic citizenship.

East German leaders were becoming desperate to do something — anything — to prevent either their own loss of power or East Germany becoming an economic basket case as its own citizens voted with their feet for a better life in the west.

On Aug. 13, 1961, in a carefully planned move, the Soviets and East Germans began sealing this urban border in the middle of the night, first with armed guards and barbed wire — and then with a wall and a “death strip” straight through the city.

The East Germans would spend much of the rest of the next 28 years defending the Berlin Wall as an “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart”, protecting the Workers’ Paradise from the corrupting, fascist influences of the West — but even few East Germans were fooled. The wall, and the rest of the heavily militarized border, was there to prevent East Germans from leaving.

Things began to change in October 1989.

Days after presiding over East Germany’s 40th anniversary celebrations, and threatening to use force against East Germans who were now protesting for the same kinds of democratic reforms they saw happening in the Soviet Union and other communist countries, the 77-year-old Erich Honecker was deposed by the East German Politburo as the country’s leader after 18 years in office. Fifty-two year old Egon Krenz, Honecker’s long-time heir apparent, was installed in his place.

Attempting to convey a softer image in contrast to Honecker’s hardline reputation, Krenz instructed Gunter Schabowski, a member of the ruling Politburo, to start holding regular media conferences to tell the world’s media about all the changes that were going on in post-Honecker East Germany.

On Nov. 9, three weeks after Krenz came to power, the Politburo approved a new policy that would provide East Germans with a limited right to travel to the west, subject to government approval on a case-by-case basis.

As legend long had it, nobody had bothered to tell Schabowski that the policy wasn’t supposed to come into effect until the next day, and he had carelessly gone into the press conference without reading or fully understanding the changes. The result was summed up by Michael Meyer in his book 1989, The Year that Changed the World:

Schabowski scanned the memo while being driven from party headquarters. It seemed innocuous enough — just a short press release. At the news conference, he read it out as item four or five from a list of the various announcements. It had to do with passports. Every East German would now, for the first time, have a right to one.

For a nation locked so long behind the Iron Curtain, it was tremendous news. At the press conference, there was a sudden hush, followed by a ripple of whispers. Schabowski droned on. Then, from the back of the room, as the cameras rolled, broadcasting live to the nation, a reporter shouted out a fateful question: “When does it take effect?”

Schabowski paused, looked up, suddenly confused. “What?”

The reporter repeated the question, his voice almost lost in a cacophony of shouts from others seeking similar clarification. 

Schabowski scratched his head, mumbled to aides on either side. “Um, that’s a technical question. I’m not sure.” He perched his glasses on the end of his nose, shuffled through his papers, then looked up again . . . and shrugged. 

“Ab Sofort,” he read aloud from what he saw written on the press release. Immediately. Without delay.

At this, the room erupted. Schabowski, we now know, didn’t appreciate the full significance of his announcement.

In the hours that followed, both West and East Berliners descended on the border crossing, demanding that the confused border guards — informed of nothing and unable to confirm what they heard from the crowd to be true — let the Easterners cross freely into the West.

At about 11:30 p.m. local time, about four and a half hours after Schabowski’s surprise announcement, an East German border guard named Harald Jäger at Berlin’s Bornholmerstrasse crossing made the decision to open the border.

It was effectively the end of East Germany, which no longer had the will — and without Soviet support, the means — to secure its own borders. With its citizens still entitled to automatic West German citizenship after fleeing through the once again open Berlin border, from that night East Germany had little choice but to seek reunification on the west’s terms.

That duly followed on Oct. 3, 1990, officially known as The Day of German Unity, when East Germany officially ceased to exist and the divided country became a single polity again for the first time in more than 40 years.

For the past 25 years, the legend has held that it was all the result of a bumbling Schabowski who accidentally inflicted the fatal wound to a corrupt and ailing regime in a final fit of incompetence.

Schabowski did little over the years to dispel that story, though he has long since renounced the former East German regime (his role in which briefly landed him in prison) and embraced reunification.

Now elderly, in poor health and living in a Berlin care home, his wife Irina has taken to speaking for him. In her own bombshell announcement this past week, she told a reporter that her husband’s “bumbling” was, in fact, no accident; that he was “very aware” of what he was doing.

“As he read the note, he wanted the wall opened immediately,” Irina Schabowski apparently told a reporter from Germany’s Bild newspaper. “You can not say, in a few hours, the border is open,” she continued, suggesting her husband feared that the delayed relaxation of border controls envisaged by the Politburo would lead to chaos and violence.

“The border had to be opened immediately.”

Gunter Schabowski is, as noted, no longer able to speak for himself. But if his wife’s comments are true, the long-standing image of the bumbling communist apparatchik might actually have been a mask for a more shrewd and calculating politician who spotted an opportunity to make history and seized upon it — but who left himself room to backtrack as having misspoken in case he found himself in trouble with his superiors.

Pairing option brings YouTube to your regular TV

La Nipote

From the 1974 Italian comedy “La Nipote”. If the icon in the lower right hand corner is present, it will be possible to send the video straight from your computer or wireless device to your TV set. (Click to enlarge.)

If the broadcast regulators at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) are worried about the impact of unregulated Internet video streams on the Canadian broadcasting system, CRTC chairman Jean-Pierre Blais wasn’t showing much of that chagrin when he spoke to the Vancouver Board of Trade earlier today.

“Despite the mountain of media stories about Netflix, and Shomi, and HBO online, and CBS online and Bell’s Project Latte, let’s not lose sight of the fact that about 60% of Canadians do not stream TV programming,” Blais told the audience today. “Canadians still watch on average 28 hours of traditional TV a week.  And the hours of viewing to online video services, including cute kittens on YouTube, is only 1.9 hours per week.”

But YouTube is interested in making its vast online video library part of your regular prime-time viewing.

The traditional living room TV set was a large, heavy box that could only use one video source at a time. Today’s newest TV sets are relatively lightweight panels that can alternate between a cable or satellite connection, free over-the-air digital TV (which offers superior picture quality), HDMI computer connections, USB drives and Wi-Fi — all using just one remote control.

These so-called “Smart TVs” are gaining in popularity. A 2013 forecast expected worldwide Smart TV shipments to reach 141 million units in 2015, up from 66 million in 2012.

These TVs often include self-updating software that downloads apps you can use to access streaming video services. YouTube, BBC News and TED offer free access to their services; while the Cineplex Store and Netflix offer pay-TV options.

One of the particularly handy features of the YouTube app is that, if your computer and your TV both use Wi-Fi, you can now easily send any videos you find on your computer straight through to the TV set.

Here’s how it works (Wi-Fi enabled Smart TV required):

  • Open the YouTube app on your Smart TV, and look for the Settings option.
  • Look for the “Pair Device” option on the TV screen.
  • On your laptop or wireless device, go to youtube.com/pair
  • By this time, there should be a 12-digit code on your TV screen. Back on your laptop or wireless device, enter this code in the “Enter pairing code” field, and wait for the connection to be made.
  • Start the video on your computer and, when prompted, choose the “Play on your TV” option. Or, look for the play-on-TV option in the lower right hand corner of the video.

As long as you are signed in to YouTube when you do the setup above, the two systems should be able to communicate with each other again in the future. If not, repeat these steps

This brings the whole YouTube video library to your living room TV, and gives you the freedom to “geek out” on whatever interests you: full ABC coverage of the 1972 U.S. presidential election, silent movies from the ’20s or racy Italian comedies from the ’70s, video compilations of drunken politicians, the evening news from Ghana or even some historical Winnipeg TV clips courtesy of RetroWinnipeg, drbpony and this site.

Why online voting is not like online banking

A security analysis of Estonia's online voting system found, among other things, that Wi-Fi credentials had been posted on a wall opposite a video camera. (See "Security Analysis of the Estonian Internet Voting System" link below.)

A security analysis of Estonia’s online voting system found, among other things, that Wi-Fi credentials had been posted on a wall opposite a video camera. (See “Security Analysis of the Estonian Internet Voting System” link below.)

No sooner had Winnipeggers gone to the polls on Oct. 22 to elect a new mayor and city council than did demands begin to emerge for the whole voting process to be moved online — as is starting to become traditional after just about any election.

Often, the comparison to online banking is made. If people can use the Internet to shift thousands of dollars around in the comfort of their homes, why can’t they use the Internet to choose their councillors, mayors, school board trustees, MLAs and MPs while clad only in their underwear?

This question was effectively responded to in a 2011 Elections B.C. discussion paper on Internet Voting.

In Section 3.0 of the paper, Elections B.C. includes a comment that might come as a slight shock to online banking users. “Online banking was not introduced with the expectation that it would be a fraud-proof means of conducting banking transactions,” the report says.

“The business case for online banking rests on the assumption that the degree of fraud is off-set by reduced operating costs and convenience benefits to clients.”

In short, a bit of fraud here and there is essentially a cost of doing business — something that would not (or at least should not) be tolerated from any elections agency.

Service reliability is also critical. “If an Internet banking service is unavailable, clients can simply try again later,” the report notes. “In the case of an election, a service disruption for any number of reasons (e.g. denial of service attack, hacking, software bug or hardware malfunction, power or network outage) could disenfranchise voters by delaying or invalidating their votes.”

Elections and banking transactions are also subject to completely different kinds of accountability standards.

“Banking transactions are identifiable from end-to-end. They require user authentication through passwords and PINs and the client’s identity follows the transaction through to its completion.”

By contrast, “a voting transaction must begin by authenticating the identity of the voter to confirm their eligibility,” the report notes.

“To preserve secrecy, the vote transaction must then be disassociated from the voter’s identity . . . This [secrecy requirement] makes it much harder to protect the system against fraud and to detect fraud that has occurred.”

“If evidence of tampering with an Internet vote comes to light, there is no ‘before state’ to return to in order to resolve the issue. By contrast, in the existing voting system, ambiguous results are resolved by having voter-marked and verified ballots reconsidered and counted again by another individual, such as a judge.”

The report also goes on to note other more obvious differences between online banking and online voting, such as that online voting would provide easy opportunity for the open buying and selling of votes, and would shift voting activity away from the scrutineers and election workers who are tasked with ensuring that the entire voting process is beyond reproach.

So let’s put to rest the argument that being able to bank online is any indication that being able to vote online is a good idea. They are two totally different processes held up to radically different standards.

Those with a further interest in this topic might enjoy reading:

  • Security Analysis of the Estonian Internet Voting System, which found stunning deficiencies in that country’s online voting system, such as that “operators used a PC containing other software, including PokerStars.ee, to build the official voting client for distribution” and that “on occasion the operators appeared to be deliberately evading us.”
  • Online Voting: Rewards and Risks, produced by the Atlantic Council in cooperation with Intel Security and McAfee. This report includes the caution that “the twin goals of anonymity and verifiability within an online voting system are largely incompatible with current technologies,” and that, “unlike paper ballots, electronic votes cannot be ‘rolled back’ or easily recounted” in the event of a disputed outcome.
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