The weekend

Wendy writes about our weekend on the cabin weblog.  It was a weekend of good books, Chuck E. Cheese, some lacrosse, coffee, and a dog that wouldn’t get out of the bed and a son that wouldn’t stop trying to get back in.  Oh right, this happened.

As you can see, it was going good and as I was trying to get a cute video for Wendy, it all went horribly wrong.  Oliver got some sand up his nose but other than that, he was okay.

Tebow won but Sparano has to be fired

First the good news.  Tim Tebow lead the Denver Broncos to a win over the Miami Dolphins.  He looked horrible for 55 minutes, good for 5 and got the win.  The bad news has to be for Miami coach Tony Sparano as he lost to Tim Tebow and an untalented Denver Broncos team, his owner doesn’t support him and his starting QB is Matt Moore.  I don’t know how he isn’t fired in the next week.  If I am Sprarano, part of me would be relieved.  He will do some television on NFL Network if he let go and you have to think that a team will hire him as an offensive coordinator next year and hopefully it will be for an owner that isn’t an idiot.  Part of Sparano’s problem has been that he comes from a three yards and a cloud of dust system his entire career (it ain’t pretty but it works) and now he has an owner that wants Showtime.  It’s not going to happen.

Occupy Saskatoon

After reading a media report that Occupy Saskatoon were housing all sorts of homeless people at Friendship Park, myself, Wendy, and Bert (our caseworker) wandered down their protest.  There was only one homeless person being helped and he wasn’t around so we chatted a bit, took some photos, and then I had to head back for a management meeting at the Centre.

While I agree with some of their ideas, sitting around in cooking hotdogs in a park isn’t solving any of them.  There website has all of this revolutionary images while at the same time the protest itself is… well… an urban camping trip. 

Occupy Saskatoon… brought to you by Coleman and The North Face.

The Bank of Starbucks

I loved this entire article, from idea to even how he came up with the idea.

Starbucks is going to create a mechanism that will allow us citizens to do what the government and the banks won’t: lend money to small businesses. This mechanism is scheduled to be rolled out on Nov. 1. This time, Schultz is not tilting at windmills.

From the start, Schultz’s crusade has been focused on the need for jobs, or, as he likes to say, “the jobs emergency.” Should the government finance a sustained infrastructure program to create jobs? Of course. Should it give tax breaks to companies that hire the unemployed? Yes again. But with an election coming up, nothing of the sort is likely.

With the government a nonfactor, Schultz began mulling other ideas. He knew that small businesses created most new jobs, but that many small businesspeople couldn’t hire because they had lost access to credit after the financial crisis. He thought about Starbucks’s involvement in microlending programs in some of the countries where it bought coffee. He wondered if there was some way that that could be applied to small business lending in this country. Finally, he thought about the nearly 7,000 Starbucks stores in the United States, and its tens of millions of customers. Surely, he mused, there must be some way to take advantage of Starbucks’s sheer size.

In late August, Schultz invited a handful of employees to his home. He told them that they were not there to discuss Starbucks business. “Let’s try to take a big swing at job creation that will be unprecedented and unorthodox,” he said. The meeting went well into the evening. Schultz served pizza.

Here’s the idea they came up with: Americans themselves would start lending to small businesses, with Starbucks serving as the middleman. Starbucks would find financial institutions willing to loan to small businesses. Starbucks customers would be able to donate money to the effort when they bought their coffee. Those who gave $5 or more would get a red-white-and-blue wristband, which Schultz labeled “Indivisible.” “We are hoping it will bring back pride in the American dream,” he says. The tag line will read: “Americans Helping Americans.”


Column: Rent Control is Bad Policy

My column in today’s The StarPhoenix

On a cold day in February, the NDP breached the topic of rent controls in Saskatchewan, with party Leader Dwain Lingenfelter calling for "next generation" rent controls that cap increases or only come into effect when vacancy rates are extremely low.

Justice Minister Don Morgan gave what has become a pretty standard response from everyone who opposes rent controls: "We think it’s a disincentive to having developers put more property on the market."

Despite a lot of opposition to the idea, the NDP has kept talking about the idea, partly because many across Saskatchewan are overwhelmed by the rent they pay.

The Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation points out that rent in Saskatoon increased 10 per cent annually from 2006 to 2010. This brought up the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment to $950 a month in 2011 and will slightly increase to $975 in 2012. While a lot of apartments have come on the market, CMHC forecasts a net migration of more than 5,000 people to Saskatoon in each of the next two years, which means that rents will remain high, driven by strong demand for both new houses and apartments.

Higher rents are not always a bad thing. For a long time, Saskatoon had rent that was well below the national average. Increasing rental rates gave property owners a chance to make some needed improvements to their properties.

The quality of apartments has increased dramatically since the boom started and we started to see rental increases. Those improvements did come with a price for those living in the rental units. Apartments that rented for $650 five years ago are now more than $1,000. Even CMHC points out that Saskatoon has become a much more expensive place to live, which hurts our competitiveness as a city.

Rent control is the quickest way to solve the problem, and versions of it have been used in growing cities across North America.

To promote investment in new apartments, rent control often exempts new construction. New York City exempts apartments built after 1974 from rent control. The idea is that landlords can recoup their investment long before the rent is capped. For buildings constructed after 1974, landlords can opt into the program in exchange for tax breaks.

The problem with this is that, at the point where a building needs reinvestment as well as new revenue to pay for it, it loses that option and older buildings often deteriorate quickly.

Another approach is rent stabilization. Landlords are free to set prices of empty suites at whatever rent they can get. Once an apartment is rented, future increases are capped at a set rate. The idea is that it gives some security for both tenants and landlords.

This protects renters from unrealistic and unexpected rental increases, and it benefits landlords by providing tenants an incentive to stay and be responsible. Rate equalization also serves as an incentive for improvements in many cities. Landlords in many cities can apply for rental increases above the equalized amount if they make improvements to buildings. This can cut both ways, as tenants can apply for rent reductions if their apartments are not kept up to code.

Sadly, it never works that way in the real world.

As has been documented in San Francisco and other booming American cities, landlords were holding formal interviews or demanding credit reports (something we now see in Saskatoon) before choosing tenants because there are never enough rent-controlled units to meet the demand. Those who are most likely to benefit from a rent-controlled apartment are often the last to get it. Economist Paul Krugman put it this way: "In uncontrolled housing markets, landlords don’t want grovelling. They would rather have money."

Even if you are lucky enough to get a rent-controlled apartment, you also have some landlords looking for ingenious ways to evict clients so the apartment can be rented out at a higher price.

In Saskatchewan, rent control may solve a shortterm political problem, but it doesn’t solve longer term housing and economic problems. With rental increases predicted to rise incrementally in 2012, it may not even be needed.

What is needed is a continuation of the programs that address the supply issue. Existing programs such as the capital grants for affordable rental units, tax abatements for multi-unit housing, and forgivable loans for the creation of secondary suites have paid off. The rental supplement helps meet the gap between high rents and lower income families.

Rent control may be good politics, and in the middle of an election campaign that is important. However, it remains poor economic policy. There are better alternatives for both renters and our cities.

© Copyright (c) The StarPhoenix

When Your Nintendo Wii Won’t Turn On

Mark went to turn on the Wii today and it was a brick.  Instead of panicking, I found this FAQ from Nintendo and it came back to life.

    Most power issues with the Wii can be fixed by resetting the AC adapter. You can easily reset the AC adapter by following these steps:

    1. Unplug the Wii AC adapter at both ends (from the back of the Wii system and from the wall outlet or power strip).

    2. The AC adapter must remain unplugged at both ends for a full 2 minutes.
    3. We also recommend you unplug anything connected to the USB ports and the Nintendo GameCube Controller ports (such as LAN Adapters, keyboards, Nintendo GameCube controllers, etc.).
    4. While you’re waiting, check the AC Adapter for the following:
      • Make sure that the word "Wii" and the model number "RVL-002 (USA)" molded into the AC adapter. Unlicensed products are not fully compatible and may not work correctly.
      • Check the AC Adapter for physical damage. Physical damage, such as frayed wiring or a cracked housing can cause the system to shut down. If your AC Adapter shows signs of physical damage and needs to be replaced, you can purchase one from Nintendo’s online store.
    5. After you’ve waited 2 minutes, plug the AC adapter into the Wii system and directly into a wall outlet, not a surge protector or power strip. If the power light comes on and stays on, then it appears resetting the AC Adapter worked.

      If resetting the AC Adapter did not fix your power issues, please continue reading:

      • Avoid the use of unlicensed products such as memory cards, controllers, and cheat devices. Some of these products are poorly manufactured and may result in damage to your system. If one of these products is attached to your system, remove it and try resetting the AC Adapter (see above).
      • Check any accessories that connect to the Nintendo GameCube Controller ports or the USB ports of the Wii — whether licensed or not — for physical damage. Physical damage, such as frayed wiring or a cracked housing can cause the system to shut down. Remove any damaged products and try resetting the AC Adapter again (see above).
      • Make sure the Wii has good ventilation. Avoid operating the Wii while it’s on carpeting or inside an enclosed space. If you have the Wii placed in a vertical position, make sure the vent on the bottom is lined up properly with the hole in the plastic stand and no foreign material is obstructing that hole.
      • Check the vents on the back and side of the Wii for dust build up. The system will shut down if it cannot vent properly to prevent overheating. If there is a build-up, remove it using a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment.
      • Make sure that your wall outlet works. To check it, try plugging a lamp into the same outlet where your system was plugged in. Turn the lamp on the verify the outlet works. Also, make sure you are not using an outlet that is operated from a wall switch. If you do, make sure the wall switch is in the ON position.
      • Make sure the AC adapter is attached properly. Firmly plug your AC adapter into the back of the Wii (the port is labeled 12V IN) and into a working wall outlet (not a power strip or surge protector). Click here for detailed instructions.
      • Once plugged in, check the power light on the Power button to see if the system is receiving power.

    If the power is still continually shutting off regularly, please click here for repair options. For this particular symptom, it is best to include your Wii console’s AC Adapter with your system. This will help our technicians ensure they are able to resolve your issue.

I posted it here as I had a huge problem finding it via Google and several game boards I found linked to a dead URL.

What a mess

The Mountain West and Conference USA are merging to form a really big mediocre conference.

The Mountain West and Conference USA are planning to join forces to secure their future in the rapidly changing college football landscape.

The two leagues expect to merge their football operations into one mega-conference that will probably have between 20 and 24 teams in it when it finally gets going in 2013.

The name? They’ll come up with one.

Will Boise State and Air Force, among others, stay? They hope.

“I’m just trying to create stability—greater stability—so we’re not talking about membership issues,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said Friday night on a conference call. Both commissioners, Thompson and Conference USA commissioner Britton Banowsky, said the new arrangement will provide the security that top programs need to keep them from jumping ship.

That’s clearly the reason for the merger announced Friday, shortly after it came out that Boise State and Air Force—two key Mountain West programs—were being courted by the Big East.

Down to six teams of its own after Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced a pending departure to the ACC, the league generally viewed as the weakest of the automatic qualifiers for the Bowl Championship Series looks set to poach some of the top mid-majors.

A Big East official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the conference had not authorized anyone to speak publicly about its plans, told The Associated Press that the conference plans to invite Boise State, Air Force and Navy as football-only members, and Central Florida to compete in all sports.

“It’s a viable option and it creates stability and that’s what they’re looking for,” Thompson said. “I can’t answer what Air Force will do or won’t do, but we’re going to put a very attractive opportunity on the table for the United States Air Force Academy.”

So the Big East is in shambles, the whatever it is called conference will stretch from Hawaii to the east coast (obscene travel costs anyone?) and what have they accomplished? 

Have the Liberals Passed the Point of No Return

Chantal Hebert asks some hard questions about the future of the Liberal Party

Moving from east to west the NDP has pushed back the frontiers of its territory in every region of the country over the past decade. More often than not it has done so at Liberal expense.

In the early 90s, the NDP had little presence in Atlantic Canada. But today the New Democrats are well on the way to become a force to contend with in every province of the region except P.E.I.

They make up the government in Nova Scotia. On Tuesday they came within one seat of beating the Liberals to the title of official opposition in Newfoundland and Labrador.

In Quebec, the federal NDP has gone from one seat to 59 over the span of a single decade.

The Liberals under Jean Chrétien used to sweep Ontario throughout the ’90s. Last May, the NDP elected twice as many MPs as the Liberals in Canada’s largest province.

In the Prairies, the Liberal party is virtually extinct.

Out of 254 federal and provincial seats in the three provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, the Liberals currently hold 12.

Only two of those are federal seats and personal popularity has more to do with the survival of a lone federal Liberal flag-bearer in Saskatchewan and Manitoba last May than party brand.

The same is true in Quebec where most of the seven Liberal survivors of the federal election — MPs like Marc Garneau, Stéphane Dion, Denis Coderre, Irwin Cotler and Justin Trudeau — owe their survival to who they are (or who they have been).

Watching the receding Liberal tide, one can reasonably wonder whether the party as a major national presence has reached the point of no return.

The current Liberal establishment — rooted as it is in Ontario and somewhat blinded by its proximity to Queen’s Park — will swear that it is not so.

To shore up their faith in a brighter future for their party, diehard federal Liberals point to the leadership travails of the NDP and the resilience of their provincial cousins in Ontario.

There was a time not so long ago when the federal Tories drank the same bathwater.

They too clung to their party’s hold on provincial capitals such as Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto as proof positive of their own inevitable triumph over the Reform/Alliance.

Not to shine on Hebert’s rainy parade but the federal Tories changes, adapted, and merged and became… the federal Tories and the last time I checked, were in power nationally.  The Liberals may or may not do the same thing but they are not in the same boat as the Progressive Conservatives, even if they are in a rut right now.  Will they survive?  Not sure but did anyone see Peter McKay and Stephen Harper in power after the disastrous 1993 campaign? 

Derek Rope on Transportation

Derek Rope has a great position paper on public transit.  You can read the highlights on City Hall Notebook.

Moreover, Melbourne, Australia provides an innovative approach to making transit more reliable: in Melbourne, the operator of the tram system posts benchmarks and its performance against those benchmarks on the tram for passengers to read. If the tram misses its targets, then passengers are compensated. Ultimately, if we can make public transport convenient, efficient and reliable, we will go a long way toward relieving congestion on the roads of our growing city while minimizing our environmental impact.

Most of the Chilean miners are still off work

It’s a sad story.

But today Mr. Sánchez, like many of the 33 miners who survived 69 days nearly a half-mile underground, is jobless and at wits’ end. Twice a month, he boards a bus to Santiago, Chile’s capital, traveling 11 hours each way for a short visit with a psychiatrist. He is one of nine miners receiving sick-leave pay for prolonged post-traumatic stress; a handful of others say they are seeing private therapists.

“Most of us are in the same place with emotional and psychological problems,” said Mr. Sánchez, 20. “It was the fear that we would never again see our families, that we were going to die. We just can’t shake those memories.”

One year after their globally televised rescue, after the worldwide spotlight faded and the trips and offers have dwindled, the miners say that most of them are unemployed and that many are poorer than before.

Only a handful of them have steady jobs, they say. Just four have returned to mining. Two others, Víctor Zamora and Darío Segovia, are trying to make ends meet by selling fruits and vegetables, one from a stall, the other out of his truck.

10 Empties U.S. Cities

Anyone home?  Anyone at all?

One of the unfortunate results of a bad housing market is an increase in vacant homes, which has grown by 43.8 percent since 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Homes can be vacant for a number of reasons, but are defined as both rental inventory that are unoccupied and “for rent,” as well as homes that are unoccupied and up for sale. As of the 2010 Census, there were approximately 15 million vacant housing units in the country, with an 11.4 percent gross vacancy rate nationwide.

Related: Detroit is on the rise again and 100 Abandoned Houses

The shame that is the NCAA

Excellent article on the NCAA in The Atlantic

“I’M NOT HIDING,” Sonny Vaccaro told a closed hearing at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., in 2001. “We want to put our materials on the bodies of your athletes, and the best way to do that is buy your school. Or buy your coach.”

Vaccaro’s audience, the members of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, bristled. These were eminent reformers—among them the president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, two former heads of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and several university presidents and chancellors. The Knight Foundation, a nonprofit that takes an interest in college athletics as part of its concern with civic life, had tasked them with saving college sports from runaway commercialism as embodied by the likes of Vaccaro, who, since signing his pioneering shoe contract with Michael Jordan in 1984, had built sponsorship empires successively at Nike, Adidas, and Reebok. Not all the members could hide their scorn for the “sneaker pimp” of schoolyard hustle, who boasted of writing checks for millions to everybody in higher education.

“Why,” asked Bryce Jordan, the president emeritus of Penn State, “should a university be an advertising medium for your industry?”

Vaccaro did not blink. “They shouldn’t, sir,” he replied. “You sold your souls, and you’re going to continue selling them. You can be very moral and righteous in asking me that question, sir,” Vaccaro added with irrepressible good cheer, “but there’s not one of you in this room that’s going to turn down any of our money. You’re going to take it. I can only offer it.”

William Friday, a former president of North Carolina’s university system, still winces at the memory. “Boy, the silence that fell in that room,” he recalled recently. “I never will forget it.” Friday, who founded and co-chaired two of the three Knight Foundation sports initiatives over the past 20 years, called Vaccaro “the worst of all” the witnesses ever to come before the panel.

But what Vaccaro said in 2001 was true then, and it’s true now: corporations offer money so they can profit from the glory of college athletes, and the universities grab it. In 2010, despite the faltering economy, a single college athletic league, the football-crazed Southeastern Conference (SEC), became the first to crack the billion-dollar barrier in athletic receipts. The Big Ten pursued closely at $905 million. That money comes from a combination of ticket sales, concession sales, merchandise, licensing fees, and other sources—but the great bulk of it comes from television contracts.

For me, NCAA football and to a lesser extent basketball is my passion.  I started playing football the year that Notre Dame went undefeated and won the 1988 National Championship.  Tony Rice, Lou Holtz, Michael Stonebreaker, Andy Heck, Rocket Ismael all became heroes of mine as Notre Dame steamrolled over amazing opposition that year.  I still love watching an option offense being run.

It pains me to see age old rivalries destroyed, conferences falling apart, and the nature of the game being changed all for more lucrative television contracts worth billions of dollars and yet athletes aren’t paid a dime.

Don Curtis, a UNC trustee, told me that impoverished football players cannot afford movie tickets or bus fare home. Curtis is a rarity among those in higher education today, in that he dares to violate the signal taboo: “I think we should pay these guys something.”

Meanwhile football coaches average $2 million a season (plus shoe contracts that are generally paid to them), speaking gigs (which they are often allowed to use the private university jet), and endorsement fees, all because of the success of the athletes that play for them.  It’s a sick system.

I can’t help but wonder if the issue is not football but money starved universities desperate for television revenue to pay the bills, cover buildings, and keep on going through recessions.  Underfunded universities and tapped out state governments put university administrators in the tough situation if keeping tradition means the cutting of programs.

I don’t know what the solution is but it’s hard to even pretend that big time college football is anything but a professional sport when you see universities like Nebraska, Missouri, Texas, Texas A&M, the Pac-10, Oklahoma, Syracuse, and others all go crazy for the money and care about very little else.  As a fan of sports, it’s sickening to say the least.

The Staycation

A couple of weeks ago I realized that I hadn’t taken any vacation days in 2011.  I have three weeks and over a week of flex time to use so I decided to take some this fall.  With Mark playing Kinsmen Football, I can’t really get away or he doesn’t get to practice so instead of getting to the cabin, I stayed in Saskatoon.  The plan is to go to the cabin this weekend for Thanksgiving.  Arlington Beach does a huge fall/Thanksgiving supper which is great and we’ll eat well out there.

The week started with hanging out with Jared and Kathy Siebert who moved out from the GTA.  Having a denominational stooge around is occasionally useful and it will be fun to have Jared, Kathy and their kids in Saskatoon.  Somewhere in our conversations with them Jared said that he wanted to clear out some trees around his house so on Monday I went logging.  I took over our chainsaw and we cut and cut and cut and we were still cutting the same horrible tree.  It had about 50 large branches coming from the ground and I think it was regenerating itself as fast as we were cutting it.  When we were about halfway done, Wendy and Kathy came out and said there was a lot more light coming in the bay window (why do people plant trees in front of bay windows?)  We also managed to cut down two cedars that were a couple of stories tall.  Both went down pretty much as we intended which kind of freaked us out.  I honestly figured, Jared, myself, or a tree would be going through a window.  In honour of my new skill I am growing a lumberjack beard and am wearing more plaid.

I also managed to chat with Cam Broten.  Most of it was off the record but it was also a good discussion on the issues in my own riding.  While Cam has been campaigning pretty hard for a while, I haven’t seen any signs of the Saskatchewan Party candidate in my travels.  Campaigns matter but I can’t see this riding going to the Saskatchewan Party.

The highlight of Mark’s week was practicing with the Saskatoon Hilltops on Thursday night.  Mark came home bloodied, bruised, muddy and in a bit of pain but really enjoyed himself.  The Hilltops ran them through the same drills they ran with the Hilltop coaches and players giving tips and yelling encouragement.  To be honest Mark was relieved.  As a 4’10” receiver, he was at a loss on how to get open against a 5’10 defensive back who is taller, stronger, and faster than he is.  The most important thing he learned was the intensity that the Hilltops practice with.  I remembered how cool it was when a Saskatchewan Blade would come to my hockey practice but actually practicing with the Hilltops on their field was amazing for all the kids.

We are headed out to the cabin on Saturday after Mark’s football game in Martinsville.  He is done at 3:00 p.m. and I hope to be on the road by 4:00 p.m. and be at Arlington Beach for a late supper time.  Lee and Brittney are coming up on Sunday for the big Thanksgiving dinner with family, the Sieberts and about 300 other people.  Wendy doesn’t have to cook, I don’t have to do dishes so we all win.  I bought Mark a great flashlight and a headlamp this week with the intention that him and I are going to go for a late night hike.  If I don’t post here at all next week, there is a chance I was eaten and killed.  Check with Wendy.  I am back to work on Tuesday.  Not that motivated to be back but I have another couple of weeks to take before the end of 2011.