1. Payday loans and the vampire squid
The Utility and Review Board is holding a hearing on the payday loan industry. The industry is trying to get the UARB to do away with the requirement that payday loan operators have a physical brick-and-mortar storefront in the province, arguing that they are being replaced by unlicensed offshore loan operations that operate over the internet.
Consumer advocates, meanwhile, are asking that the UARB rein in Nova Scotia’s payday loan rates, which are the highest in Canada. Reports the CBC:
David Roberts, a consumer advocate, argued the charge of $25 — per $100 borrowed — needs to be lower. He said it should be between $17 and $23, which are rates available in other provinces.
I may have missed it, but in all the reporting I saw yesterday and this morning on the payday loan issue, none of the reporters calculated actual interest rates, as Bruce Wark did last year, for The Coast:
In 2011, Nova Scotia reduced the maximum payday lenders could charge from $31 to $25 per $100, still the highest rate in any province that has passed regulations. As a result, a $300 payday loan for 14 days could cost up to $75 and carry an annual percentage rate (APR) of 651.8 percent. The same loan on a line of credit would cost about $5.81 with an APR of seven percent; bank account overdraft protection would cost $7.19 with an APR of 19 percent and a cash advance on a credit card would typically cost $7.42 with an APR of 21 percent.
The changes the consumer advocates are arguing for — reducing the repayment charge on a $100 loan to $17 in 14 days — would still result in an effective annual interest rate of 443.2 percent.
Payday loans prey on poor people and people in desperate straits. As Wark says, it’s legalized loan sharking.
Moreover, the payday loan industry is itself a result of the financialization of everything. We are seeing the pernicious effects of the financialization of everything, unsurprisingly, everywhere.
It largely explains soaring university tuition rates, I think: with the broad acceptance of ready credit, politicians have offloaded one of their primary responsibilities — funding education — onto the finance industry, arguing that the primary benefactors of education are graduating students, so they should pay for the costs themselves. But this formulation is all wrong because it does away completely with the very concept of the public weal; while individuals may achieve a more comfortable station in life by getting a university degree, the primary beneficiary of education is the entire community, not the individuals within it. A broadly educated citizenry makes us a wiser, tolerant, hopeful, and just plain more interesting society. By privatizing the costs of education, we are giving up on those shared values and responsibilities. But even in terms of the direct impact on students, the financialization of higher education doesn’t work for the finance industry unless the principal and loan payments steadily increase, year after year — so those who administer the universities, from the politicians to the university board of governors, to the presidents and right down to the admission officers, in effect become agents of the banks; they certainly don’t think of it this way, but once the costs of university are financialized, their most important role is to saddle graduates with the most debt possible.
And if university students, who can be (not always, by a long shot) some of the most privileged people in our society, are suffering from the effects of the financialization of everything, just imagine what the effects are on the least privileged in society. It used to be, the biggest day-to-day threat to a poor person was potential violence in their lives; thankfully, the violent crime rate is coming down, but now that threat has been replaced by the predatory finance industry: Real Estate Investment Trusts set the rent payments for their apartments, and more importantly, the late fee schedules; car loans have interest rates also in the hundreds of percent annually; the rent-a-centre is the go-to place for furniture and electronics for far too many; even court fees have been financialized.
The finance industry is the “vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity,” and the payday loan industry is simply its most ugly tentacle.
In the 1990s, Halifax police investigators at least twice hired psychics to look into cases that had been frustrating the investigators. Psychic Noreen Renier told me yesterday that she had been hired in 1995 to look into the disappearance six years before of Kimberly McAndrew , the 19-year-old woman who vanished after leaving her job at the Quinpool Road Canadian Tire:
The psychic read to me a note Constable David MacDonald had sent her: “‘I’m enclosing the following items’ — which I would have sent back — ‘a hand-written note, Kimberly’s black belt, lipstick, a Bryan Adams tape’ — I don’t know who Bryan Adams is — ‘and a photo of Kimberly.’ I didn’t need a photo.”
MacDonald had also hired a second psychic for another, unnamed case. Psychic Dorothy Allison had previously worked on cases involving the Patty Hearst kidnapping, the Son of Sam murders, and the Jonbenet Ramsey murder. Allison died in 1999, and so was unavailable for an interview (you never know, with psychics).
In the investigation into the death of Holly Bartlett, the blind woman found dying under the MacKay Bridge in 2010, police investigators suggested to Bartlett’s family that they should consult a psychic. But yesterday, a police spokesperson assured me that the department doesn’t now hire psychics, but they’ll talk with anyone, including psychics, who claim to have knowledge about open investigations.
3. Tax review
Rather than sitting in front of the fire with a nice bottle of scotch, last night I went to the tax review public consultation at the NSCC. I don’t know what I was expecting, but what I got was a highly managed affair, such that no one present could make their voice heard by everyone else present. I’m told the NDP’s tax review consultations had the exact same format, so I guess this is how government works now: public consultations are designed to prevent the public from talking.
I’m a big fan of how we used to do public consultations: a microphone would be set up in front of the stage, and all the angry people could get up one at a time, and everyone in the room would hear their point of view, whether it be words of wisdom, a point of view no one had considered before, a good joke, or just some crank going off about nonsense. I’d say this is the whole point of public consultation: to allow the public to actually express themselves, well, publicly, to government officials, to other citizens, to reporters, to the entire world.
But some years ago this became unacceptable. Now, as happened last night, the “public” is divided into little groups around tables and given pre-arranged questions to answer amongst themselves. At each table a person was designated the notetaker, and he or she would scrawl all the answers to the question on a page taken from a giant flip chart, and then that page was posted on the windows of the room.
This process is employed to drown out the crank going on about nonsense, but also to prevent a politically undesirable opinion from being shared with the entire room. The questions were no doubt written by a communications person, and the answers were not shared with the group, save for one two-minute recap from a “facilitator” who deemed to give us the “high level” takeaway from the smaller group conversations. Was his recap accurate? Who knows? There were 56 flip chart pages posted on the windows, and not a single line from any of them was read aloud to the group. They were all collected up at the end of the evening, and taken to points unknown, while the Liberals will decide whatever changes they will make to the tax system with no public record of exactly what the public said.
I’m not hopeful. Here was one of the four questions asked of the tiny groups:
Would you be willing to accept fewer programs and services from government in exchange for lower taxes and to improve competitiveness?
There’s so much wrong with that question that it’s hard to know where to start. How ’bout here: no one wants fewer programs and services from government for themselves — there’s this nasty notion that other people are getting too many government benefits, and those are the things we gotta cut. Hell, one of the primary aims of Laurel Broten’s tax report is that people like her deserve more government benefits (a tax cut) while those dirty poor undeserving people deserve to have their consumption taxes increased.
Secondly, but more important, the notion that fewer government services results in “improved competitiveness” is simply tossed out there as a truism, an unquestionable fact of life. But it’s all wrong. On the very far end of the spectrum, the place that has the fewest government services and the lowest taxes on Earth is the free market paradise of Somalia, which last I checked isn’t particularly competitive on the world stage. On the contrary, one could argue that Nova Scotia has a shortage of government programs that would make us more competitive — for example, universal day care, which would free up the labour market like mucking around with the tax code never could. That’s just one example of many.
And they wonder why I drink.
4. Here we go again
Drink Lots of Green Tea, White Tea and Red Tea, says Frankie. For myself, I’m going to eat one of those special cookies and watch Frankie’s lava lamp for a few hours.
1. Mug shots
Stephen Archibald shows off his collection of coffee mugs, including a special one there at the end.
2. Travel by politicians
In the wake of the Andrew Younger kerfuffle, Graham Steele takes aim at the poor reporting of MLA travel expenses:
Ministers’ travel expense reports are available at the legislative library. Yes, it’s 2015 — not 1915 — but the reports are only in hard copy in a single location in downtown Halifax.
To make it worse, these reports are sometimes incomplete and usually months late.
Travel by MLAs who are not ministers is not made public anywhere. I’d love to see a list, but there isn’t one.
The solution is simple: post all out-of-province travel plans, in advance, on a publicly available website. Include destination, dates, purpose and cost. The only exception would be a vacation. That kind of system wouldn’t prevent MLAs from travelling, but it would require them to defend their travel to a skeptical public.
The New Glasgow News takes a bold stand against a Sydney man who was ticketed for driving 226 km per hour on a ice-bound Highway 104: “We would hope that drivers by and large maintain a speed within the bounds for the sake of their own safety and of other people on the road.”
4. Cranky letter of the day
It will always be Viola Desmond Day, no matter what the Liberals try to call their February family holiday after this year, so they may as well just stick with that, unless they’d like to alternate years with Portia White Day. It occurs, after all, during African Heritage Month.
Valerie Bradshaw, Dartmouth
No public meetings.
Public Accounts (9am, Province House)—the committee will be reviewing the auditor general’s report on the Tri-County Regional School Board. Committee members will question Sandra McKenzie, the Deputy Minister of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and Lisa Doucet, the Superintendent of the Tri-County Regional School Board.
Synthetic Antibodies (Wednesday, 4pm, Theatre A, Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building Link)—Bryce Nelson, Director of the Antibodies and Phage Display at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, will talk about “Structure-Guided Design of Synthetic Antibodies.”
Conversation About Dying (Wednesday, 7pm, Room 104, Weldon Law Building)—rescheduled from last week’s snow day, but perhaps even more relevant in the wake of last Friday’s Supreme Court decision, Jocelyn Downie will talk about the law on assisted dying.
Double Indemnity (Wednesday, 8pm, Dalhousie Art Gallery)—the 1944 Billy Wilder film.
Mining meets visualization (Thursday, 11:30am, Slonim Conference Room, Goldberg Computer Science Building)—Rosane Minghim is a visiting prof at Dal, hailing from the University of São Paulo. The abstract of her talk:
Coming from the viewpoint of visualization research, a few techniques will be mentioned (such as dimension reduction, multidimensional projections, tree-based visualizations), and we will present some of our previous work on developing and employing these techniques to generate visualizations and to support mining tasks. We hope to finish the seminar with a discussion on ways that visualization can move forward as a supporting tool for data mining of increasingly complex, and on ways to continue research on integration between these two fields.
The Cork Group (Thursday, noon, Room 406, Dalhousie Arts Centre)—Jerry White will talk on “Choral Music, Filmmaking, Poetry, and the Irish Language: Getting to know ‘The Cork Group’.”
Bad wine in a sturdy bottle (Thursday, 12:30pm, University Hall, Macdonald Building)—Globe & Mail columnist Doug Saunders will talk about Europe:
This is a terrible moment for Europe: a currency crisis created rising inequality and a “lost generation,” ethnic and religious conflict is at record levels, including in the political system; national conflicts are shattering established countries; and something resembling the Cold War has taken shape on the continent’s eastern flank. A region fraught with crisis has managed to avoid turning any crisis into an existential one in large part because its much-derided institutions have worked. Doug Saunders, who has reported extensively from all 28 EU member countries and most of their periphery states, describes a continent where dizzying destabilization is combined with an eerie sense of stability — and what lessons can be taken from this dilemma.
Elliptical Instability of the Moore-Sa man Model for a Trailing Wingtip Vortex (Thursday, 2:30pm, Chase Building, Room 319)—no shit, that’s the title of this talk by mathematician Jan Feys from McGill University:
The first half of the talk consists of a short introduction to vortex dynamics. Then, the elliptical instability exhibited by two counter-rotating trailing vortices is considered.
This type of vortex instability can be viewed as a resonance between two normal modes of a vortex and an external strain field. Recently, numerical investigations have extended earlier results in the absence of axial flow to include models with a simple axial jet such as the similarity solution found by Batchelor (1964).
In the second half of this talk, we present growth rates of elliptical instability for a family of velocity profi les found by Moore & Sa man (1973). These profi les have a parameter that depends on the wing loading, and are therefore better suited to model the jet-like and wake-like axial flow present in a trailing vortex at short and intermediate distances behind the wingtip. A direct numerical simulation is performed using an efficient spectral method in cylindrical coordinates developed by Matsushima & Marcus (1997).
Cuban medicine (Thursday, 6pm, Room 2198, McCain Building)—John Kirk, from the Department of Spanish & Latin American Studies, will talk on “The world’s best-kept secret: understanding Cuban medical internationalism.” Says the abstract:
In late 2014, the first country to respond to the U.N. call for medical support in the face of the Ebola outbreak was Cuba, and 15,000 medical personnel volunteered to go to West Africa. This is the latest example of a policy of medical cooperation that dates back to 1960. At present, some 55,000 Cuban medical personnel are working in over 60 countries of the developing world, and 20% of Cuba’s doctors are working overseas. To put this in context, Cuba (pop. 11.2 million) has more medical staff working abroad than the World Health Organization and the G-7 countries together. This presentation, based upon research in Cuba and Central America for nearly a decade, examines two central questions: a) what are the Cuban medical personnel doing?; and b) what is the reasoning behind this long-term policy?
Planetarium show (Thursday, 7:15, Room. 120, Dunn Building)—Tony Schellinck will present “Love is in the stars”:
The first soap opera was not aired on radio or TV, but was displayed in the night sky.
The Greeks and Romans created a drama of the gods, the main characters are visible each clear night and the show has had a run of over two thousand years! Come to the planetarium to catch up on the love life and shenanigans of the gods, while learning about the night sky. It will make your nights under the stars far more entertaining. Rated PG13.
Five bucks at the door, leave the screaming kids at home.
Brewed in Japan (Thursday, 7pm, Atrium 101)—Jeffrey Alexander, from the University of Wisconsin, will talk about “What happens when a country (Japan) goes from beerless to beer-loving in a single century?”
The folks on Halifax Cycle Chat (a closed group, so no link) have been talking about the travails about cycling in Halifax the last couple of weeks, on our ice- and snow-bound streets. This prompted me to look through the archives to find historic pictures of people cycling in the snow, but could find none. So here’s a 1905 photo of two comfortably warm models in A.R. McCleare’s Halifax studio. I can only conclude that our cyclists are bad ass.
In the harbour
I’ll be on the Sheldon MacLeod Show, News 95.7, at 4pm.