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Saturday, February 27, 2010

A Time for Choosing

A few minor changes aside, every word applies today.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Mexican conference on drug policy says prohibition has failed

Experts, academics, and activists meet in Mexico City as the Mexican drug war continues its bloody viciousness. The conference is hosted by an organization called the Collective for an Integrated Drug Policy.

These are the conclusions that they reached:

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (236)

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Tories Raise Taxes

The Conservative government is increasing flying fees to pay for security at airports. At the same time Minister John Baird is denying that this is a tax increase. His argument is that it is a user fee and thus not a tax.

John Baird was once removed from the Ontario Parliament because he threw a violent fit at Dalton McGuinty for bringing in the Health Premium. I can hardly believe that this is the same person.

Not a tax? It has all the characteristics of a tax. If you want to fly in Canada you don't have a choice but to pay this 'fee.' If you try to avoid paying the fee you will go to jail. Just because it is meant to pay for security doesn't make it not a tax. It just makes it a dedicated tax, much in the way the Health Premium is a dedicated tax.

A friend of mine commented that Mr. Harper should rename the income tax to the "government services fee," thus, by Mr. Baird's argument, eliminating taxes in Canada. I somehow think that the Canadian people won't notice the difference.

I suppose the point is that a flower by another name smells the same, and so does a pile of manure.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (21)

William F Buckley Jr. on Legalization of Drugs

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (32)

"Hey, jackass, get your government off my freedom!"

We could use a man like William F Buckley again:

Jason Mattera was seven minutes into his speech yesterday to the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference when he raised his rallying cry: "We must be that generation that stands athwart history yelling, 'Hey, jackass, get your government off my freedom!' " Sure, it was just a lowbrow reworking of William F. Buckley's famous phrase. But the crowd loved it, just as they had loved his mockery of President Obama's one-time cocaine use, his ridicule of feminists, his gay joke about Rep. Barney Frank, and his description of the "Obama girl" as "slutty."

Say what you will about WFB, but at least he had manners. Now we've got screaming idiots duelling. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

"Let charities rebuild Haiti, not feds"

This is too small a piece of data to make too much out of. Yet it's interesting

But on the question of paying to rebuild Haiti, 44 per cent of those asked said charities should foot the bill over the short term, with 40 per cent opting for government funding.

Asked about the long term, five to 10 years, 42 per cent chose charities, with only 28 per cent saying it should be the government’s work.

It would be an interesting poll question to ask Canadians if they think private charity should replace the welfare state. 44% is enough to win a majority government. We are often told that Canada is a Center-Left country. Yet when has anyone ever make a plain case to the people of Canada for a minimal state? I've found most of the people I've met over the years, even many who describe themselves as left-wing or progressive, who are at least receptive of the idea of private charities replacing social programs. The most common sentiment is that government doesn't work all that well in the field of social assistance, but that the private sector might not work at all, that its efforts would be patchy. Better to have an imperfect state as a safety net, while private charity fills in the gaps and provides high quality assistance. It's not an argument I accept, but one which suggests there is room to convince people of the case for freedom.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Greece should be asked to leave the EU

A week ago I wrote that the Eurozone should kick Greece out. This week I read on the BBC web page that the EU Commission is bringing Greece to the European Court of Justice on a complaint that they have provided tax breaks that were in violation of EU competition rules.

The Achilles Heel of the EU project has always been enforcement. It is difficult to force a member state to comply to edicts if they refuse to do so. The ultimate punishment (besides invasion) that European community could possibly deal out is expulsion. Greece is in violation of theEurozone budgetary limit and the competition rules of the single market. The former is incredibly annoying to the EU, the latter strikes at the heart of the whole mission of the European Union.

Combine this with the natural Greek hostility to Turkey, and Greece has proven nothing but a liability for the EU. Perhaps it is time to simply ask them to leave.

(as a side note you probably shouldn't accuse the people you are begging money from of stealing)

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (21)

Back in My Day

John Robson gets ornery:

Our ancestors had candles and homemade clothes and somehow found satisfaction in life. Fifty years ago they had one car running on low-test gas and a black and white TV and when they were bored they read a book. Today we have two incomes, special low-calorie energy drinks and Facebook and Google Buzz and Twitter and MySpace and YouTube and more than 100,000 iPhone apps and we're desperately convinced the next one will transform us into genuinely radiant beings.

A recent MSNBC story asked if we were getting gadget fatigue. I hope so. If the parade of dazzling breakthroughs we've endured in the last 60 years hasn't given us things worth having, it never will. And if not gadget fatigue, how about debt fatigue? Just how atrocious does your balance sheet have to look before you don't need energy drinks because you're completely jittery from swallowing all that red ink?

Plus ca change. Back in the Roaring Twenties the great bugbear of conservatives were instalment plans. They were even blamed for helping to cause the Great Depression - but then again what hasn't been attributed as a cause of the Great Depression? Profligacy has been inveighed against since The Bible. Remember pawn shops? You probably don't, except as tropes in old movies and books. It was what desperate people used, about two generations back, as a form of revolving credit. These too were denounced by conservatives. The refrain is pretty much the same. O tempora o mores! The former changes, the latter stays the same to a surprising extent. I love dooming and glooming as much as the next guy, unless that next guy is this guy, and the meme about decline and fall is a perennial with me. Still people being in hoc up to the neck is nothing new, it's that more people can do it. Easy credit has allowed whole classes to dig themselves, and their heirs, into a financial hole as never before. 

Yes, impulse control isn't really taught anymore - it inhibits self expression or something. Yes, they do give credit cards to anyone with a pulse. But the existence of pawn shops, which date back to the classical era, and instalment plans suggests something more than the times are at play. If you give some people enough rope, they will hang themselves. Others will start a rope distribution company. Credit is an enormously powerful tool. It allows people to buy homes, start businesses and tide them over financial crises. The broke aren't always the foolish, sometimes just the unfortunate. Imagine a young couple with children, who have just bought a home. Both lose their jobs. To pay for groceries they borrow until they can get back on their feet. Economists have observed for years that people try to smooth out their living standards over their lifetime. Borrowing heavily in their twenties for education and starting a family, and then paying it back in their thirties and forties. This isn't profligacy as much as farsightedness. Assuming you'll be alive and working in twenty years, you plan for today and tomorrow. Material possessions will never bring happiness to those haven't earned it. Lack of them, however, will not return virtue to the land.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sliding Down the Slippery Slope

English Canada is a common law jurisdiction, with a parliamentary government. The glue of both systems is precedent. You justify what you do by what has been done before. It allows for radical change to be made gradually, so gradually that few notice. Thus over many years, in the below case half a century, something utterly unthinkable comes to pass. Like charging mainstream journalists for reporting the news.

The purpose of the original [Human Rights] legislation was equality of opportunity. It sought to achieve this by prohibiting discriminatory practices on the basis of defined factors -- race or colour. In other words, it forbade practices in hiring, renting, etc., that placed one individual at a competitive disadvantage to another because of some innate factor like colour over which the individual had no control. Such was the original equality-of-opportunity model.

Two decades later, the-equality-of-opportunity model gave way to an equality-of-treatment model. The objective here was to identify, and eliminate, structural barriers to equality; it was contended that human rights commissions must superintend not just opportunity but all subsequent consequences, to ensure that social benefits were equitably distributed.

The issue is not that good laws have been badly applied, or noble ends twisted to ignoble purposes, it's that bad laws have gotten worse in their application. A state whose function is to allow its citizen to live unmolested by force and fraud, cannot be allowed to discriminate about who it protects. It cannot say that one class of citizens is exempt from its protection. When the state, instead, goes into society trying to slay monsters - both real and imagined - it ceases to become a protector of rights, but a violator. 

Opportunity is a condition not a right. Forcing someone to give you an opportunity violates his rights to be left alone, to use his judgment in determining how to spend his time and resources. Even the "original equality-of-opportunity model" presumed, a fantastic presumption for the government of a free nation, to decide whether an individual's judgement was sound. Because racism - a more elastic term than often allowed - was deemed to be socially unacceptable, actions that were construed to have been made on racist grounds were now deemed legally invalid. 

In regular criminal law an otherwise criminal act can be excused if the motivations of the individual were innocent. Human Rights legislation reversed this principle, making otherwise legal acts illegal because of the motivations of those involved. Motivation, which was once a possible exemption from legal sanction, now became a litmus for ordinary behaviour. If the exercise of one's rights is conditioned by whether one's motives are pure and saintly, then the individual has no rights. Obversely the remit of the state becomes, in theory, unlimited. The fight against the HRCs is not just about Section 13 or limits on freedom of speech. That's an important first step. But the rights of Canadians will never be secure until the central conceit of the HRCs is removed from the statute books, the belief that the state may play inquisitor over the souls of Canadians. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Canada beats the U.S. (in protection of property rights, not hockey)

Confirming my continuing suspicion that Canada is a freer country than the U.S. -- and probably the freest country in the world, all things considered -- the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, in association with the Washington D.C.-based Property Rights Alliance, released the 2010 International Property Rights Index (PDF) yesterday.

Canada ranked 12th in the world, tied with Ireland and Germany, and ahead of 15th place U.S. The top honours, meanwhile, go to the Scandinavian countries with Finland at the top, followed by Denmark and Sweden tied for second, the Netherlands in fourth, with Norway, Switzerland and New Zealand in a three-way tie for fifth.

While it's nice to see that we do better than the U.S., 12th place is still a long ways off from owning this particular podium. And we should own this podium, rather than trying to own the Olympic podium. We should not be behind Finland, or the Netherlands, or Norway, or anyone.

Here's the press release from the Frontier Centre:

WINNIPEG -- The Frontier Centre for Public Policy, along with the International Property Rights Alliance, today released the 2010 International Property Rights Index. The Index, measures the protection of property rights in 125 countries.

On a ranking of one to ten -- the higher scores reflecting a greater protection of property -- worldwide scores ranged from Finland with 8.6, to Bangladesh with a score of just 2.9. Canada scored 8.0 on the Index as did Germany and Ireland; all three countries thus tied for 12th position.

The scores are based on ten measurements ranging in three broad subject areas:

The legal and political environment (as it relates to judicial independence, rule of law, political stability and degree of corruption);

Physical property rights (protection of physical property rights, ease of registration of property, and access to loans);

Intellectual property rights (protection of intellectual property rights, patent protection, and copyright policy)

Results for Canada:

In 2010, Canada maintained its position as the highest ranking country in the Western hemisphere, with increased scores for increased judicial Independence and the protection of physical property. Canada was 12th, while the United States scored lower at 15th. On the negative side for Canada, copyright piracy levels continue to be somewhat high for a well developed country – estimated at an average of 33 percent.

Frontier’s director of research, Mark Milke, notes Canada’s showing occurred in the absence of constitutional protection for private property. “Canada is lucky to have a certain historical and legal framework of respect for property rights. However, and regrettably, property rights are not yet a guaranteed right. As such, the protection of property in Canada is akin to rule by a monarch. You’re lucky if the king or queen is benevolent, but out of luck if the monarch is unwise, unjust or foolish.”

In Canada, governments can still expropriate at will with no constitutional protection for family assets. This has occurred over the decades in almost every Canadian province notes Milke.

Examples of property right infringement in Canada:

In 2005, in British Columbia, the City of Coquitlam widened a local road which caused the nearby creek to encroach another 24 metres upon a privately-owned parcel of land. The entire 1.5 acre parcel was eventually declared “sterile” which meant no development could occur. The land was thus worth little in practical terms for an area that previously could have been subdivided into ten lots. Coquitlam offered compensation – $38,000 – but only for the portion of the land altered by the stream. No compensation was offered for the rest of the property declared sterile.

In Manitoba, in 2007, the Rural Municipality of Ellice attempted to expropriate a significant portion of an 87 year-old farmer’s farm that had been in his possession since 1955. The attempted expropriation was not an incidental occurrence but the first test of a Manitoba Municipal Government Act, rewritten in 1996 to expand the uses for which municipalities can expropriate land. The vaguely written law allows municipalities to expropriate land for initiatives like tourism operations that would compete with private land uses

In 2005, the Government of Ontario introduced a 1.8 million acre “Green Belt” around greater Toronto but offered no compensation for the portion of 1.8 million acres of private land which it put off limits to development.

The above examples and more show the importance of property rights, notes Milke. “Property protection shelters the savings and investments of families, be it their home or other property; property rights also protect risk-taking by individuals and companies, activity that is critical to a country’s general prosperity. Canada needs a constitutional amendment to ensure property rights become a Charter right.”

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on February 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Fighting Fascism with Fascism

Durham University in the UK was scheduled to host a formal debate with the proposition: This House believes in Multiculturalism. The debate was going to take place with political commentator Kulveer Ranger and Conservative MP Edward Leigh on one side and British National Party (BNP) member Andrew Brons and BNP Member of European Parliament Chris Beverley.

The Durham Union of Students (DUS) was forced to cancel the event by the UK’s National Union of Students (NUS). The NUS sent a threatening letter to the DUS. In the letter the NUS said that if the event was to take place they would mobilize and send “coach loads” of students to protest the event. They then added, “If any students are hurt in and around this event, the responsibility will lie with you.”

So the NUS are using intimidation and the threat of violence to prevent a political party and elected representatives from speaking in public. There reason to do so it because the BNP has often been, rightly, connected to fascist philosophy. Fascism is bad, among other reasons, because it encourages the use of intimidation and the threat of violence to prevent people from speaking.

Well at least the students of Durham University do not have to worry about that sort of thing.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Canada should stop funding athletes

Some in sporting community are in an uproar because the federal government is declining to increase its spending on the "Own the Podium" program by $11 million. It seams that private and provincial funding is going to end soon and the Canadian Olympic Committee is trying to pressure the Federal Government to make up the short fall.

I applaud Minister of Sports, Gary Lunn, for saying that “You shouldn't just always reach to government and say ‘Oh, it's your problem.'” In fact I think we should extend this idea and cut all spending to Olympic Athletes. If you want to spend your life perfecting your going up and down big hills technique, then you should have to do it on your own dime.

I never fully understood why the government would fund the Olympic Games. Oh, that isn't exactly true. I understand it, I just do not like it. The only reason why our money is being given to these people and their hobbies is petty nationalism.

I respect people who want to spend government funds to help the poor. I agree with their generally good hearted intent even as I disagree with their methods. But funding Olympic Athletes does not even have the virtue of a positive moral desire. It is pure tribalism; some misguided attempt to make people happier that they are Canadian.

I am proud of Canada, and I am proud to be Canadian. I truly feel that Canada is one of the best places to live. Canada is one of the freest most open societies, not just in the world but in human history. I am eternally grateful to have been born in the time and place that I was.

Not one ounce of that will be diminished because some fellow Canadian can not skate as fast as someone else. I will not feel any less satisfied with my home of birth because the US team scores more goals than the Canadian team. Seriously does anyone feel less Canadian due to any defeats during the Olympic Games?

In a time of crippling deficits and ever growing debt, I would think that this would be the obvious place to make cuts.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (23)

The Smell of National Bankruptcy

And environmentalism. The British government wants to change garbage pick ups to once every two weeks:

Only special containers for food waste and recyclable material such as paper, cardboard and glass will be collected weekly from outside homes.

Councils hope that the move will encourage residents to recycle more, reducing the amount of waste dumped in landfill sites, where it is taxed by the ton. Taxpayers will face fines if they do not place their rubbish in the correct bins.

Polls show that nearly three quarters of householders are opposed to having “black bag” rubbish collected fortnightly.

Imagine a private company trying to pull that stunt and getting away with it. Despite the decreased service don't expect British rate payers to get a rebate on their taxes. Note the partially sincere argument that this is done to encourage recycling. I'm not saying that it will, but the drive of western governments over the last twenty years in reducing waste is getting more desperate. To reduce garbage means reducing living standards, which short of a major war people are not willing to do. That governments are running out of ways of disposing of garbage is no excuse. As with calls for energy conservation, the mantra of reducing garbage is a confession of incompetence. Just as no private company, in a field where competition was free and open, would dare dramatically reducing service and maintain price, no private company would tell its consumers to stop using its product, because it can't keep up with demand.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Everything Old Is New Again

So for the last year - at least - you've been telling your friends that Stagflation is coming back. All that funny money is going to come back and haunt us. But the CPI has stayed as flat as Saskatchewan the whole time. Now, as I pointed out earlier, CPI doesn't take into account changes in asset prices, such as housing and stocks, thus it often only picks up inflationary crises long after they're underway. Well, inflation has just appeared in the British CPI numbers. What happens in Mother England, soon happens in her former colonies:

Crack open the champagne. Inflation is back up to 3.5 per cent. The reason an economist might consider this a cause for celebration is that by common agreement inflation is a lesser evil than deflation, and a year ago, it was the latter which was considered the bigger risk.

There’s not much sign of deflation in these latest numbers. In his letter of explanation to the Chancellor, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, blames the overshoot on three factors – the restoration of the standard rate of VAT to 17.5 per cent, the rise in oil prices, and the depreciation in sterling. I’m not sure that provides much of an excuse for missing the inflation target. The next thing is the Governor will be saying that food prices and wages lie outside the Bank’s control too, so don’t blame the Bank when they start rising. The Bank seems perfectly content to take the credit for low prices, but won’t accept any of the blame when inflation spirals out of control.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Guy Earle and Ezra Levant on Free Speech

Comedian Guy Earle and Ezra Levant talking about the Human Rights Tribunal and free speech on a CBC show. Mr. Earle is a comedian who is being taken to theHRT because he insulted a couple of hecklers at a stand up show he was acting as the MC in.

Read a blog post I made back in 2008 describing the incident.

Listen to the podcast here.

(Thanks to Dr. Roy for posting this podcast on his blog.)

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

It was Danny Williams' choice

The Premier of Newfoundland has laid out his ultimate defense for avoiding wait times and going to the United States for his medical care. His defense is that it was his health and it was his choice.

He is absolutely right, and frankly who can blame him? In such a situation I would want the best care that I could afford as well. Anyone who would say otherwise would either be lying to you or lying to themselves. So no, I hold nothing against Mr. Williams for his quite reasonable decision.

I do, however, point out that this illustrates a truth about our healthcare system that has long been ignored by policy makers. We have a two tiered health system, the Canadian system and the American system. The idea that our system is somehow universal and egalitarian is a myth. If UniversalHealthcare was brought to Canada to make sure everyone got equal care than it has failed.

So instead of perpetuating that failure why don't we take a serious look at reform? Why don't we give up on what is clearly an unreasonable goal of equality and instead try to figure out the best way to deliverhealthcare? Too much of this debate is filled with foolish rhetoric and thoughtless assertions.

It is time that we all get a chance to make choices in healthcare.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (23)

"Black Folks We'd Like To Remove From Black History"

OJ Simpson, Idi Amin, Marion Barry, John Allen Muhammad (the D.C. Sniper) and,,,,Clarence Thomas. Yeap. Thomas isn't an upstanding member of the black community because he opposes big government and supports a limited interpretation of the constitution. Instead he is fit to be mentioned in the same breath as murderers, tyrants and crooked politicos. There are also digs at GOP Chairman Michael Steele and Alan Keyes. While Steele can legitimately be criticized for his inept handling of the party, he and Keyes are really being attacked for not being Obama fawning Democrats. From Roots:

Although he's only the second man of color to serve in the Supreme Court, the Backstreet Boys have more standing in the black community than Clarence Thomas. That's because he looks to the Constitution as "colorblind," says he's a man who just happens to be black and opposes government programs intended to help minorities. I'm not sure if the late Thurgood Marshall would want to pop Clarence 'side his head with his gavel, but there are plenty of blacks who would volunteer to do it for him.

Freedom and individualism, it seems to the authors, is a white thing. Wandering off the Democratic welfare state plantation earns you a designation as an Uncle Tom. The Democrats party elite appreciates this political tribalism. The party consistently trades the interests of blacks for those of more important groups within the Democratic coalition, particularly the white dominated middle class teachers unions. But it's Clarence Thomas and Alan Keyes that are the sell outs? Collectivism at its dumbest.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (50)

Gay rights

The most heartening part of this video is the large amount of booing:

Way to try and use philosophy to justify your prejudice. But fortunately his propositions do not hold up to much muster. Natural rights are not rooted in human nature in a biological sense but in a sapient sense. That is, we have rights because we are rational.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (23)

Counting the Money Anyway

They are shocked, shocked to find waste and inefficiency in the government.

The Census Bureau wasted millions of dollars in preparation for its 2010 population count, including thousands of temporary employees who picked up $300 checks without performing work and others who overbilled for travel costs.

Federal investigators caution the excessive charges could multiply once the $15 billion headcount begins in earnest next month unless the agency imposes tighter spending controls, according to excerpts of a forthcoming audit obtained by The Associated Press.

On a positive note, investigators backed the Census Bureau's decision to spend $133 million on its advertising campaign, saying it was appropriate to boost public awareness. The spending included a $2.5 million Super Bowl spot that some Republicans had criticized as wasteful.

Waste? As I've been saying for years there is no waste in government. None at all. I mean that sincerely. Waste is time and resources spent on something which fails to achieve its objective. The complaining about government waste is born of a misconception, the strange notion that governments seek to provide for the public good. It is impossible to define the public good with any more precision than love, happiness or the perfect sunset. There is no one Canadian public good, there are thirty-three million individual goods in Canada. This is one of the reasons that classical liberals advocate minimal government. 

Placing aside the hazy nonsense about public good, the actions of governments are driven by a mixture or necessity and belief. The necessity of staying in power, and the beliefs - if any - of those who wield that power. Spending money for little, or no, work seems like a waste. But that lucky recipient of largesse is far more likely to vote for the politician handing out the goodies next election time. It's not waste, it's just a difference of priorities. A desire for power is not always the driver of political action. Old Publius is realistic, not cynical. Politicians are people too. Just like you and me. Except with access to other people's money. They have ideals. They have visions. Just like you and me. But they only have to convince just enough people to elect them, to get everyone else to pay for those visions. One of those once again fashionable visions is Keynesianism. The master, sadly, has returned. Among his pearls of wisdom:

If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with bank-notes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal-mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well-tried principles of laissez-faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is.

Now I think that's a waste. But for many politicians and commentators, including it seems the Prime Minister of Canada, the above makes perfect sense. Even the current government would not be so brazen as to try burying bank-note filled bottles in coal mines. Such waste is so obvious that even members of the NDP could grasp it as such. Instead the same principle is applied to public works, social programs and administrative bodies. That building roads to nowhere has the same effect as burying bottles, which was Keynes' point above, but people see roads as being useful. Much of the welfare state expends vast resources to little practical benefit. Private charities could do much of the work more cheaply and fairly. Volunteers replacing unionized social workers. People turning to family and neighbours, before the general public. That web of voluntary arrangements that, once, did much to simply and cheaply help the helpless, while keeping parasitism to a minimum. But spending billions on social services makes a large number of voters feel good, and keeps certain dependent classes loyal to the parties of big government. It is waste only in the objective sense. In political terms, there is no waste in government. Every dollar spent helps achieve a purpose, either power or the politicians' personal idealism. The form of the state follows the functions desired by the statists. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Keeping You Safe in 1920s America

Your friends and mine: (HT)

Frustrated that people continued to consume so much alcohol even after it was banned, federal officials had decided to try a different kind of enforcement. They ordered the poisoning of industrial alcohols manufactured in the United States, products regularly stolen by bootleggers and resold as drinkable spirits. The idea was to scare people into giving up illicit drinking. Instead, by the time Prohibition ended in 1933, the federal poisoning program, by some estimates, had killed at least 10,000 people.

Although mostly forgotten today, the "chemist's war of Prohibition" remains one of the strangest and most deadly decisions in American law-enforcement history. As one of its most outspoken opponents, Charles Norris, the chief medical examiner of New York City during the 1920s, liked to say, it was "our national experiment in extermination." Poisonous alcohol still kills—16 people died just this month after drinking lethal booze in Indonesia, where bootleggers make their own brews to avoid steep taxes—but that's due to unscrupulous businessmen rather than government order.

The author, who discovered this remarkable story while researching a book on early forensic medicine, then goes onto detail US government efforts to spray Mexican marijuana plants, the goal of which was, in part, to deter consumption by adding a mild toxin. Sadly the "chemist's war" took place under the watch of Calvin Coolidge, one of the more pro-freedom President's of the last century. Amazingly this was not done covertly. The New York City medical examiner publicly denounced the poisoning shortly after they began. Sometimes the worst crimes are done openly with, as the article suggests, some popular support. There is no mention of anyone having been charged with what was, in effect, the cold blooded murder of several thousand people.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (34)

The Courtiers and the Court

Into the Ottawa Valley ride the 600:

In his report on the sponsorship scandal, Justice John Gomery singled out ministerial aides for scrutiny and said their roles should be clarified in a code and the jobs professionalized. Gomery's proposals were never implemented. In late 2008, there were more than 600 ministerial aides working for the Prime Minister's Office, ministers and secretaries of state.

"It's time to define the role of exempt staff and impose some prescription on what they do and how they do it," said Donald Savoie, the University of Moncton professor who headed Gomery's research team.

"Government has become too complex, especially with access to information. We need to get a handle on them so they aren't loose cannons flying around issuing orders without someone living with the consequences. It's not the public service's fault. I think they are the victims."

For once I pity the bureaucrats. Their grey eminences shaken by the veiled threats of twenty-something whiz kids, many armed with that most oxymoronic of qualifications, the political science degree. Politics is an art, and as it is often noted a fairly black one at that. Being clever with words can get you pretty far at a young age, if you're in the right place at the right time. Clever does not mean wise. There is a certain reverence for parliamentary tradition that is necessary for a free society to function, for politicians and their flacks to know their place as servants and not masters of a nation. 

A Conservative government should be concerned about an unsympathetic civil service, the Pearsonalities as Diefenbaker called them, that concern does not permit staffers to treat civil servants like disobedient children. The danger here, as the author notes, is that this regiment of political aides is utterly unaccountable. They are paid from the public purse, but are "exempt" from usual public service hiring and firing procedures, they serve essentially at the pleasure of their ministerial employer. They are expendable and allow the minister plausible deniability when the heat is on. Like Blackberry wielding covert agents. A Leviathan state is bad enough, one where power is wielded by this high-flyer on Monday, and some other on Wednesday, becomes intolerable. It is another step away from the principle of a government of laws and not men. The defenders of the Tory apparatchik class will point to necessity. How else can Tories govern, except by cowering the civil service? Well, perhaps by reducing it. The power of political aides, like those of courtiers of a different age, stems from the size of the state. The smaller the government, the more accountable the government.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Joe Pantalone vs Sam James

Cap Joe Panatlone, Toronto city councilor and deputy mayor, is running for mayor of Toronto. Regardless of 
your political stripe, everyone should oppose Pantalone because he could destroy Toronto. As councilor he has given a lot of trouble to local business owners, specifically restaurants, bars and cafes. While I may not agree with it, I can understand why many politicians on the left try to block big box stores such as Wal-Mart from opening up. Pantalone takes his anti-business crusade further, to the small business owners.

One small business Pantalone tried to prevent opening is the amazing Sam James Coffee Bar. Sam James is a young Toronto barista, who has previously worked at Manic, Hanks Cafe and Dark Horse, and wanted to open up his own coffee shop. He found a small spot on Harbord Street that he thought would be perfect. Sam James was obviously taking a risk opening up a business, but he didn’t need the added trouble that Joe Pantalone was going to give him.

Pantalone’s problem seemed to be that he didn’t think the business could work, therefore, it shouldn’t be allowed to open.  The coffee shop is just 200 square feet, but Sam James thought that was good enough for him (isn’t that all that should matter?). Pantalone was quoted as saying, "I wouldn't call them stores. I'd call them cubicles. We're not in Japan here where people can rent cubicles." Aside from the mild racism against the Japanese, where does Pantalone get the gall to oppose a small business owner from taking a risk? When has a coffee shop opening ever hurt a community?

Cities need small businesses, such as Sam James Coffee Bar, to open up and thrive. They do not need an anti-progress mayor, such as Joe Pantalone, to try and stop them at every step. Luckily, in spite of Pantalone's best effort, Sam James did get his business license and his shop appears to be thriving (read reviews here, here and here). Any coffee lover (or Pantalone hater) should definitely check it out if they haven’t already. I promise you will get one of the best cups of coffee you've ever had in Toronto, if not the best.

As Pantalone was trying to prevent another small business from opening (I'll post on this later), Sam James said, "As a mayoral candidate he has left a negative impression on a lot of people as far his support of small business and community. It is something you do not expect from a politician of that tenure. But to each their own, everyone is welcome to dig their own grave." Couldn't have said it better myself.

(pictured above is a cappuccino I had made by Sam James back when he worked at Hank’s Cafe)

Posted by William Joseph on February 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Friday, February 19, 2010

"far more terrifying than any monster"

Doctor Who and the Plot to overthrow Mrs Thatcher:

McCoy, now 66, who took over as the Doctor three months after Thatcher's third election victory in 1987, said they brought politics into the show "deliberately" but "very quietly".

He said: "We were a group of politically motivated people and it seemed the right thing to do.

"Our feeling was that Margaret Thatcher was far more terrifying than any monster the Doctor had encountered," he told the Sunday Times.

Cartmel said it was almost a job requirement to detest Thatcher.

When asked by John Nathan-Turner, the producer, what he hoped to achieve in being the show's script editor, he recalled: "My exact words were: I'd like to overthrow the government.

Yeah, sure.

Cartmel lamented that such satire never reached its intended audience.

"Critics, media pundits and politicians certainly didn't pick up on what we were doing. If we had generated controversy and become a cause célèbre we would have got a few more viewers but, sadly, nobody really noticed or cared."

He said nobody further up in the BBC such as Jonathan Powell, then controller of BBC One, knew about their plan.

Or perhaps no one cared enough to say anything. Long before Bush Derangement Syndrome infected the American Left, the British Left went kooky denouncing Mrs Thatcher. You couldn't walk through the West End in the 1980s without falling over an unemployed actor peddling an anti-Thatcher play. Henry V was endlessly butchered as an anti-Falkland War diatribe, a bizarre distortion for an obviously patriotic play. The sum of human evil in 1980s Britain, for the Left, was a middle aged woman trying to cut taxes, balance the budget and place grossly mismanaged government industries in private hands. The murderous thugs running the Warsaw Pact were just overly enthusiastic social workers by comparison. The horrible "social injustices" of the era consisted of cleaning up nearly four decades of exactly the sort of progressive thinking McCoy & Co were preaching. Had Doctor Who succeeded in overthrowing HM's ministers, and installing a government like that in A Very British Coup, Britain today would be Argentina with fog. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Ultraright?

Well at least someone thinks Stephen Harper is right-wing. Even if he is a flack for would-be dictator Hugo Chavez.

The government of Hugo Chavez has responded to Canadian criticism it was "shrinking democratic space" in Venezuela by saying it will take no lessons from an "ultraright" government that "closed " Parliament to avoid an investigation into the handling of Afghan detainees.

In statements made this past Wednesday during a meeting of the Organization of American States, Venezuela's ambassador to the organization, Roy Chaderton Matos, accused the Canadian government of supporting "coup-plotters" and "destabilizers" seeking to upend the South American country.


Posted by Richard Anderson on February 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Civil Asset Forfeiture

Radley Balko finds his way onto the pages of Slate, exposing a nasty little habit of the US government.

Civil asset forfeiture, an outgrowith of the drug war, rests on the legal theory that property can be guilty of a crime. Once authorities establish a nexus between a piece of property and criminal activity—most commonly drug cases, but also prostitution, DWI, and white collar crime—the owner must prove his innocence or lose his property, even if he's never charged with an underlying crime. In most jurisdictions, seized cash and the proceeds from the auctioned property go back to the police departments and prosecutors' offices responsible for the seizure. The scheme, which creates unsavory incentives for public officials, became popular because of a 1984 federal bill designed to encourage aggressive enforcement.

Don't you love the War on Drugs? One infringement on our rights soon leads to others. What began as dictating to adults what they can do with their own bodies, has slid into plain old fashioned looting. To undermine one right is to undermine them all. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (91)

Winning Scotland by selling out Thatcher

The Conservative Party of the United Kingdom has a reason to smile today. According to the Times they have a good chance of winning more seats than the separatist Scottish Nationalist Party. At the very least they are showing the same level of popular support as the SNP in the lead up to the election.

If the Tories achieve some sort of breakthrough in Scotland, the SNP and Labour Party will no longer be able to accuse them of being the "English Party." Furthermore, the more seats that they win in Scotland the closer they will be to gaining a majority government (at the moment pundits are predicting a 'hung Parliament').

Sadly this was achieved by selling out the great hero/monster of the past: Margaret Thatcher.

In the last couple of years David Cameron, the Tory leader, has distanced himself from Lady Thatcher. Proclaiming that he is no Thatcherite and giving credence to the harshest critics of her Premiership. Thus leaving no major political party to defend the legacy of the best post 1945 Prime Minister in Great Britain.

It reminds me a little of how John Tory tried to distance himself from Mike Harris. It did not work. All he managed to do is piss off his own base. It may, however, work for Mr. Cameron.

And that makes me sad. 

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

The Economist on the Wildrose Alliance

The Economist covers the recent development in Alberta party politics. The magazine suggests that there is an echo of the Tea-Party movement in the Wildrose Alliance. Besides a similar agenda of smaller government this claim is pretty unsubstantiated. But the rest of it they got about right.

It is impressive that a political party with only three seats is receiving international press. According to the CTV, Premier Stelmach is unconcerned, or at least he says he is.

The truth is that he should be concerned. Unless the PCs dump Mr. Stelmach at their next party conference, the Progressive Conservative dynasty is coming to an end.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Global bank tax or "Tobin Tax" is dead

The Financial Post is reporting that Canada plans to oppose taxing global bank transactions at the G20. This destroys any possible chance that such a tax would be implemented, though the chances were pretty slim even before. The UK Conservative Party opposes the Tobin tax and they are the most likely winners in this Spring's General Election (though they do have stupid ideas of their own).

I am glad that the "Tobin Tax" has not been able to get off the ground. Gordon Brown looked silly proposing it. Yet the danger is not over. There is a political appetite for this sort of proposal and whatever idiocy they come up with next might be moreplausible.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

U.S. Libertarian Party criticizes CPAC conservatives

The U.S. Libertarian Party has sent out the following press release. They sound like fighting words to me, but they also highlight an interesting inconsistency in so-called "small government" conservatives. Read the release, and you'll understand:

WASHINGTON - As the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) holds its annual conference, Libertarian Party Executive Director Wes Benedict offered the following statement:

I'm sure we'll hear an awful lot about "limited government" from the mouths of CPAC politicians over the next few days. If I had a nickel every time a conservative said "limited government" and didn't mean it, I'd be a very rich man.

Unlike libertarians, most conservatives simply don't want small government. They want their own version of big government. Of course, they have done a pretty good job of fooling American voters for decades by repeating the phrases "limited government" and "small government" like a hypnotic chant.

It's interesting that conservatives only notice "big government" when it's something their political enemies want. When conservatives want it, apparently it doesn't count.

If a conservative wants a trillion-dollar foreign war, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants a 700-billion-dollar bank bailout, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants to spend billions fighting a needless and destructive War on Drugs, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants to spend billions building border fences, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants to "protect" the huge, unjust, and terribly inefficient Social Security and Medicare programs, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants billions in farm subsidies, that doesn't count.

It's truly amazing how many things "don't count."

Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh can't ever be satisfied with enough military spending and foreign wars.

Conservatives like Mitt Romney want to force everyone to buy health insurance.

Conservatives like George W. Bush -- well, his list of supporting big-government programs is almost endless.

Ronald Reagan, often praised as an icon of conservatism, signed massive spending bills that made his the biggest-spending administration (as a percentage of GDP) since World War II.

Some people claim that these big-government supporters aren't "true conservatives." Well, if a person opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, opposes the War on Drugs, opposes border fences, and opposes mandatory Social Security and Medicare, it's hard to believe that anyone would describe that person as a conservative at all. Most people would say that person is a libertarian (or maybe even a liberal).

Obviously, most liberals don't want limited government either. It's just that their support for big government leans toward massive handout and redistribution programs.

The fact is, liberals and conservatives both want gigantic government. Their visions sometimes look different from each other, but both are huge. The only Americans who truly want small government are libertarians.

An article posted at CNS News, linked prominently from the Drudge Report, noted that the Obama administration is on track to beat the Franklin Roosevelt administration in terms of average federal spending as a percentage of GDP. However, the article failed to note that the Reagan Administration already beat the Franklin Roosevelt administration easily. Roosevelt's average was 19.4 percent of GDP, while Reagan's average was 22.3 percent of GDP. (Source: White House OMB data)

The LP is America's third-largest political party, founded in 1971. The Libertarian Party stands for free markets and civil liberties. You can find more information on the Libertarian Party at our website.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on February 18, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (7)

Bring the UFC to Ontario

PC leader Tim Hudak is urging Premier McGuinty to lift the ban on Mixed Martial Arts in Ontario. This is the best proposal I've heard in a long time. The argument that Mr. Hudak used was that it would boost tourism dollars, which it might. But a more important argument is that it will allow people a little more freedom in their personal choices.

Mr. McGuinty seems unhostile but uninterested, claiming that it wasn't a priority. Really? You don't have time to get this done? How long could it possibly take? You are assured the support of not only your own caucus but the Progressive Conservative caucus. Which means that 88.7% of theMPPs would pass this on the nod. What on Earth could be the possible hold up?

I think Mr. Hudak has an explanation:

Hudak said McGuinty seems more interested in banning things — like candy in schools and pit bulls — than he is concerned with bringing tourism dollars to Toronto and Ontario.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (22)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Poverty of Standards

Radical libertarians be warned: (HT)

If Haiti has any building codes, I was unable to ascertain exactly what they amount to or where they apply. A project that was ongoing in 2007 under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS) put up a website that stated Haiti has no national building code, and was focused on developing one. According to news reports, any building codes that exist are merely on paper, and people use cinder blocks that are basically home-made, reportedly weighing only about 12% of what the same size block would weigh if it was made under U. S. standards. Reinforcing bar is used sparingly, if at all, and when people need more room they just go down to the homemade cinder-block store and pile another story or two onto their house. Radical libertarians might do well to study Haiti as an example of what happens when government absents itself completely from the supervision of private and even public construction. Things can go well for a while, but when an earthquake hits, the devastation is nearly total.

The author then stumbles onto the real source of Haiti's woes, but keeps walking.

The average Haitian in a country with the lowest per-capita income in the Western Hemisphere cannot afford to pay that much, unless he wants to live in an earthquake-proof building the size of a phone booth. 

What will have to change if the next earthquake is not to produce equal devastation?

Clearly, the people will need to demand that the government get serious about building codes. 

OK. The problem is that people can't afford better built homes, so the government should force them to build better built homes? Haiti could have possessed the most elaborate building code in the world, fully compatible to American standards, and that would only have made the situation worse. Most people in Third World countries do not build shoddy homes, or fail to hire qualified engineers, out of childish stupidity. They can do no better. 

Living in cinder block death traps may not seem especially wise to Canadians, living in a country far richer than Haiti, but it is probably a rational choice for people living in that society. Doesn't seem that way when whole cities collapse in seconds, but life is about risk and return. In Haiti and Canada. The risks a desperately poor person takes may seem suicidal to the better off, but for the poor they can be perfectly reasonable. Living in a shoddy cinderblock house is probably a step up from a tin or wooden shack. It's probably far safer due to a more obvious and pressing concern, fire. A collapsed wooden shack is less dangerous to the inhabitants than cinderblock, but a wooden shack is more likely to catch on fire from an overturned stove or carelessly discarded cigarette. Massive fires happen all the time in cities built of wood, much of London was destroyed in 1666 and Toronto's downtown core in 1904 from out of control fires. Magnitude 7.0 quakes happen only rarely. Allocating your very scarce resources, in such a way as to stave off a more likely danger, is perfectly sensible.

I began by saying that had Haiti possessed and enforced a building code, as the quoted author advocates, it would have made the situation worse. People build poorly mainly because they are poor. Building regulations are followed in Canada or the United States because people can afford to follow them. If the choice is between living in tents or wooden shacks, or breaking the law then common sense thing is to break the law. Which is what most people do in Third World countries. 

Since out of the necessity they break the law, they are perfect prey for the government classes. As the author, and practically every observer of Haiti notes, the country is fantastically corrupt. For many people corruption is some sort of pharaohonic plague delivered upon certain countries, perhaps for having annoyed the Gods of Regulation. The source of corruption, however, is often the law itself. When laws lack popular support, or as in the case of Haiti would be too onerous to follow, ordinary people will seek to circumvent the law.

Corruption is when the state is saying one thing, and the ordinary man in the street is thinking and doing something else. Had the government of Haiti rigorously enforced stringent building codes, which its citizens could not have followed, this would have generated yet another enormous engine of corruption. In addition to devoting their meagre savings to building a ramshackle home, they would have to spend extra resources on paying off government inspectors to leave them alone. Otherwise an inspector would have stopped construction, or ordered the demolition of whatever was built, out of concern for 'public safety.' Another gross misallocation of resources in an already poor country. The author suggests near the end of his post that building codes could be adjusted for Haiti's level of economic development. 

This assumes that the people of Haiti could have built better, they were just too short-sighted to do so. Government, which is some how to be more far sighted than the people it governs, is asked to strike a fine balance between what modern engineers deem safe and what can be afforded. Regulation is often a lagging indicator of building standards. The private sector generates new ideas and processes, these gradually become standard and then government mandates a certain process or technology. Regulation is only effective when the vast majority of practitioners already adhere to the principle embodied by the regulation. If a standard is mandated before it is widely accepted, it is either ignored, or forces consumers to remain in older and lower quality housing stock. Practically any building code for Haiti, given its very low level of economic development, would either be non-binding (people would ignore it), or it would curb only the most egregious practices and have a limited impact on the quality of existing and new housing stock. The root of the problem is Haiti's low per capita level of productivity. The rest, so to speak, is only a symptom. Haiti doesn't suffer from too little government, but from a government that fails to protect its citizens from force and fraud. Which is not surprising, considering the government of Haiti is the country's leading generator of both.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

The Maple Syrup Flavoured Bubble

Peter Foster on the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation:

In a free market, if banks felt a housing bubble building, they would simply tighten standards themselves, either by demanding higher credit qualifications, hoisting rates, or shortening amortization periods. Hoisting rates is out of the question, since rock bottom mortgage rates are now considered by the Bank of Canada to be essential to national economic recovery and protection of our export industries. That leaves Morrie Haz waiting there to insure mortgages, and gives the banks every incentive to hand out any loan that can get insurance.  However, they obviously grasp that such cosmic policy fecklessness will ultimately come back to haunt them.

Just because we've avoided America's mistakes in housing policy, doesn't mean we can't make some of our own.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

The strongest beer in the world

Brew Dog Brewery is a controversial brewery in Scotland. They have been attacked for the amount of alcohol in their drinks and for their labels. Yet these fine men are not detoured. When Alcohol Focus Scotland tried to pressure them they responded with a beer that is 1.1% called Nanny State.

The only people that seemed capable of stopping these beer loving Scots were the the Germans. Brew Dog was proud of having the strongest beer in the world but a German brewery raced forward to release a beer that was even stronger. Never fear though, the Scots have counter attacked.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Licensed to Blog

For rather obvious reasons, this strikes rather close to home:

The American blogosphere is going increasingly “viral” about a proposal advanced at the recent meeting of the Davos Economic Forum by Craig Mundie, chief research and strategy officer for Microsoft, that an equivalent of a “driver’s licence” should be introduced for access to the web. This totalitarian call has been backed by articles and blogs in Time magazine and the New York Times.

As bloggers have not been slow to point out, the system being proposed is very similar to one that the government of Red China reluctantly abandoned as too repressive. It was inevitable that, sooner or later, the usual unholy alliance of government totalitarians and big business would attempt to end the democratic free-for-all that is the blogosphere. The United Nations is showing similar interest in moving to eliminate free speech.

From the horse's mouth. The HRC inquisitors must be salivating at the thought. The nearest historical parallel to blogging is pamphleteering, which were often signed as nom de plumes. Two of the most famous were Junius, who is quoted in The Globe and Mail's motto, and of course Publius, the collective pen names of John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers. The blogsphere is a revival of a very old free speech tradition. People being able to speak freely because they can enjoy anonymity. That anonymity is not absolute. Bloggers have been sued for libel, so the bloggers' veil can be pierced when necessary. A license to blog is nothing more than a tool in the hands of authoritarians of all parties. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Iceland may be planning to become a "free speech haven"

Some countries are tax havens. Set up a company there, or transfer your money, and pay less in taxes. Switzerland is renowned for being a good place to open a bank account if you want your money to be ultra-safe and ultra-secret. Now, if some Icelandic MPs have their way, Iceland might become the world's first (and only) haven for journalists and a preserve for freedom of speech.

Some time today, a proposal will be put forward in Iceland's parliament that will resemble, but may not be identical in every respect, to this proposal, put up by the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (the full proposal is below the fold):

Proposal for a parliamentary resolution for Iceland to strongly position itself legally with regard to the protection of freedoms of expression and information. Parliament resolves to task the government with finding ways to strengthen freedoms of expression and information freedom in Iceland, as well as providing strong protections for sources and whistleblowers.

In this work, the international team of experts that assisted in the creation of this proposal should be utilized.

To this end,

the legal environment should be explored such that the goals can be defined and changes to law or new law proposals can be prepared.

the legal environments of other countries should be considered, with the view to assemble the best laws to make Iceland leading in freedoms of expression and information.

the first Icelandic international prize should be established, The Icelandic Freedom of Expression Award.

With the goal of improving democracy, as firm grounding will be made for publishing, whilst improving Iceland's standing in the international community.

The proposal was co-written with several parliamentarians. They state the goals of the initiative as follows:

The legislative initiative outlined here is intended to make Iceland an attractive environment for the registration and operation of international press organizations, new media start-ups, human rights groups and internet data centers. It promises to strengthen our democracy through the power of transparency and to promote the nation's international standing and economy. It also proposes to draw attention to these changes through the creation of Iceland's first internationally visible prize: the Icelandic Prize for Freedom of Expression.

Just as countries, like Canada, are in the midst of what can only be called a crisis with respect to freedom of expression, it is good to hear that there is a chance -- a good chance -- that freedom of speech and expression will find a refuge, if necessary, in Iceland.

For more coverage, see reason's Hit & Run blog, the P2P Foundation, wikileaks, a BBC story (with video) about the proposal, and the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative.

The full proposal:

Proposal for a parliamentary resolution for Iceland to strongly position itself legally with regard to the protection of freedoms of expression and information.

Parliament resolves to task the government with finding ways to strengthen freedoms of expression and information freedom in Iceland, as well as providing strong protections for sources and whistleblowers.

In this work, the international team of experts that assisted in the creation of this proposal should be utilized.

To this end,

the legal environment should be explored such that the goals can be defined and changes to law or new law proposals can be prepared.

the legal environments of other countries should be considered, with the view to assemble the best laws to make Iceland leading in freedoms of expression and information.

the first Icelandic international prize should be established, The Icelandic Freedom of Expression Award.

With the goal of improving democracy, as firm grounding will be made for publishing, whilst improving Iceland's standing in the international community.

This parliamentary resolution proposal is written with the support of parliamentarians from all parties. Numerous respected specialists, both foreign and local, have consulted on the work and have promised continued support for the Icelandic government if this proposal is accepted.

A vision for Iceland

Freedom of expression, in particular, freedom of the press, guarantees popular participation in the decisions and actions of government, and popular participation is the essence of our democracy.

- Corazón Aquino

democratic President of the Philippines (1986-1992)

The nation is at a crossroad that call for legislative change. At such times we should not only address our past, but also adopt positive plans for our future.

The legislative initiative outlined here is intended to make Iceland an attractive environment for the registration and operation of international press organizations, new media start-ups, human rights groups and internet data centers. It promises to strengthen our democracy through the power of transparency and to promote the nation's international standing and economy. It also proposes to draw attention to these changes through the creation of Iceland's first internationally visible prize: the Icelandic Prize for Freedom of Expression.

The world's media is moving to the Internet, allowing publishing from any location. Whether a newspaper like The Guardian is published online out of Reykjavik or New York is indistinguisable to its readers. At the same time, there is a recognized crisis in quality journalism.

Where to publish is now decided by factors such as distance and communications capacity, server costs and legal environment. Iceland has the first two covered: it has fast undersea cables to some of the world's largest consumers of information, and its clean green power and cool temperatures are attractive to those running internet services.

We can create a comprehensive policy and legal framework to protect the free expression needed for investigative journalism and other politically important publishing. While some countries provide basic measures, Iceland now has an oportunity to build an internationally attractive legislative package built from the best laws of other nations.

Examples of successful laws include the following: recent legislation from the state of New York to block the enforcement of U.K. judgments constricting freedom of the press, a 2005 Belgian law to provide strong protection for the communications of journalists with their sources; and the Swedish constitution's Press Freedom Act.

A legislative package based on these and other protections would attract a wide range of media and human rights organizations that routinely face unjust sanction. For example, British press agencies are currently forced to redact an increasing amount of information from the historical record in a futile attempt to ward off secret gag orders and other abusive legal actions taken by litigious billionaires and corporations trying to conceal corrupt behavior. Similarly Transparency International and other human rights groups are routinely sued for exposing corruption on their web-sites.

These influential groups would be inclined to promote and protect the proposed legislation, and through it, the long term strength of our own democracy. It is not only other countries that need access to such supportive laws--let us not forget that RUV nightly news was gagged by the Kaupthing bank on Aug 2, 2009.

The potential is already clear. Many important newswires and human rights organizations have moved to Stockholm on the strength of the existing Swedish Press Freedom Act. Similarly, Malaysia Today relocated to the United States after having been persecuted in its own country. As legal costs for participants in the information economy have begun to spiral out of control, the world is looking for an internally consistent set of rules that place clear limits on the risks faced by publishers.

Not all the benefits of this proposal can be counted in kronas: like the Reagan-Gorbachev summit, the indirect effects of weaving together the interests of the Icelandic people with the interests of the world media should not be underestimated. The proposal that has been described above would make Iceland unique in the global discussion and would engender the goodwill and respect of other nations.

It is hard to imagine a better resurrection for a country that has been devastated by financial corruption than to turn facilitating transparency and justice into a business model.

Transforming vision into law

Below we trace some outlines of the laws that would have to be carefully evaluated and adapted for this protective legal framework to emerge. In some cases the need for legislative change is clear, in other cases more study is needed and we merely point to potential problems and offer possible solutions for consideration. Given the number of different laws affected and the required consistency between the various measures, we call for further study to be initiated as soon as possible.

Source Protection

Current protection of a journalist's sources is defined in the law on the treatment of criminal cases no. 88/2008 and the law on the treatment of private cases no. 91/1991. The current media bill contains articles protecting a journalist's sources. It however states that journalists have a right to refuse to expose their sources except when a court ruling states otherwise, as per art. 119 of the law on the treatment of criminal cases no. 88/2008. This seems an overly broad exception to such an important principle and it may contradict principle 3 of Council of Europe recommendation R (2000)7, upon which the media bill's source protection statutes are based. Given the consensus nature of CoE recommendations, we should strengthen source protection to far exceed this recommendation.

Whistleblower Protection

Where statistics have been collected, internal whistleblowers account for most revelations of corporate and government corruption. The rights of the people to benefit from these disclosures should not be abridged and just like in many other countries, specific mechanisms to encourage the reporting of unethical practices should be considered. One could envision, for example, an absolute right to communicate information to a member of the Icelandic Parliament.

The USA Federal False Claims Act (31 U.S.C. §§3729-3733) provides model protections and incentives for those who report frauds made against the government. According to the Government Accounting Office (2006), $9.6 billion was recovered for the government under this act, which protects and encourages the reporting of frauds against the government in a number ways. For instance, by providing employment guarantees that preserve seniority status and salary, as well as providing 15 to 30% of the monies recovered as a compensation and reporting incentive.

The proposers suggest that changes be made to laws regarding the rights and duties of official employees (no. 70/1996) such that official employees be allowed to break their duty of silence in the case of extreme circumstances of public interest. Similar changes could be made to municipal governance law (no. 45/1996) regarding employees of municipal governments. Suggestions for such changes have been made in three proposed bills, parliamentary documents 41 from the 130th legislative assembly, 994 from the 132nd legislative assembly and 330 from the 133rd legislative assembly. It may also be appropriate to make changes to article 136 of the general criminal code (no. 19/1940), such that the interest of the public must always be weighed in procedures against public servants who have disclosed classified information.

Communications Protection

Belgian law since 2005 was designed to explicitly protect all communication between sources and journalists, with both groups defined broadly. But such protections may have limited effect if protected communication records between journalists and sources are automatically stored by third parties.

Currently Icelandic telecommunications law no. 81/2003 implements EEA mandated data retention. It applies to telecommunication providers and its current implementation mandates the retention of records of all connection data for 6 months. It states that communications companies may only deliver information on telecommunications in criminal cases or on matters of public safety. It also states that such information may not be given to others than police and public prosecution.

The European directive that caused this law to come into effect, 2002/58/EB from 12. july 2002 regarding privacy and electronic communication, is up for review in the autumn of 2010 and the German constitutional court is expected to rule whether or not data retention is at odds with the European Human Rights Treaty. Given these developments and a general trend towards more privacy awareness, the Icelandic data retention laws may need updating to address these concerns.

Another aspect of communications protection comes from chapter V of the currently implemented law 30/2002 on e-commerce and electronic services, which provides indemnity for "mere conduits", such as telecommunications networks and Internet hosting providers. There are few and mostly well defined exceptions to this indemnity, but the exception for general court orders without further definition is worrying. This should probably be improved by clarifying which exact circumstances can trigger such exceptions.

Limiting prior restraint

Prior restraint is any legal mechanism that can be used to forcibly prevent publication. Such restaints have a significant negative impact on freedom of expression. Most democracies place strong and in some cases absolute limitations on prior restraint. Methods for guaranteeing that existing laws not be abused in the attempt to limit the freedom of expression should be explored.

Process protection

Equal access to justice is an important part of democracy. Even in countries with strong constitutional protections for the press, such as the United States, there is weak process protection, and as a result it may be financially infeasible for publications to participate in legal battles. Even in the cases where the publications have the capacity to defend themselves, it may be against their economic interests. An example of this is the case where Time Magazine was litigated in the United States for running a cover story on financial corruption in the Scientology cult. Although Time magazine eventually won the case, it had to spend $7 million in legal fees taking the matter all the way to the Supreme Court--effectively a multi-million dollar "fine" against Time magazine for engaging in quality, research based journalism. It would have been impossible for a smaller publication to mount such a defence, and it would be impossible for Time Magazine to take on many such battles, creating a "chilling effect" on quality journalism and interferring with the democratic process.

It should always be cost effective for a small publisher to stand up against a well financed litigant whose goal is to cover up the truth, and, in general, it should be possible for small entities to defend against large entities. One way to accomplish this is through a measure similar to California's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Litigation against Public Participation) statutes. Under such a system, a defendant may request the presiding judge to view the case as a freedom of speech issue. If the move is granted, a number of protections are activated during the case itself, and should the case be successfully defended, the plaintiff must pay all legal costs associated with it.

History protection

On the 9th of March, 2009, the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg issued a ruling against the Times of London which has generated great uncertainty for European publishers. The Court confirmed that, for the purposes of the law of libel, an Internet publication should be considered to be ‘published’ afresh every time a reader views it. The ruling also found that libel proceedings brought against a publisher after a significant lapse of time may well, in the absence of exceptional circumstances, give rise to a disproportionate interference with press freedom…’. The court left open to member states what, if any, limiting period may be applied to archives.

The view that an electronic archive is 'published' every time it is viewed has been extensively abused to remove important articles on corruption from online newspaper archives long after they were published. For example, The Guardian, inorder to avoid unending legal costs, removed several such articles in 2008, originally published in 2003, which reported, the conviction for corruption of a billionaire involved in the Elf-Acquitaine scandal.

To protect the historical archive and give certainty to publishers, we propose that, following the model used in France, that lawsuits related to publishing must be filed within two months of publication and that a ceiling for damages be set to 10,000 Euro (France: three months, 15,000).

Libel tourism protection

The abuse of British libel law has been much discussed in recent years and has recently been counteracted in New York with the New York Libel Terrorism Protection Act. A law with the same intent took force in the state of Florida on the first of July 2009 (Act relating to grounds for nonrecognition of foreign defamation judgments). A similar proposal has been made on a federal level, but has not passed into law yet. The method used in the United States is, on the one hand, to refuse to honour any court verdict that contradicts the first amendment of the US constitution, and on the other hand provides a framework for retaliatory cases against such lawsuits.

Chapter XXV of the Icelandic general criminal code, law 19/1940 ("Almenn hegningarlög") contains the implementation of libel law. Problems have arisen when courts in other countries have claimed jurisdiction over publications or remarks that have been published or made in Iceland. A libel suit against Hannes Hólmsteinn Gissurarson in the United Kingdom received considerable attention, partly because of the jurisdiction claims and the strict libel law in the United Kingdom.

The supporters of this proposal wish to implement a law similar to those in place in New York and Florida. The rules of the Lugano Treaty on jurisdiction and enforcements of judgment must be carefully considered in this relation. They also believe that Icelandic defendents should be enabled to sue the original plaintiff for reparations in cases where the judgment is considered to be in breach of the general rule of law.

Freedom of Information Act

The Icelandic Freedom of Information law (Upplýsingalög, 50/1996) was enacted in 1996 and has since been amended six times to various degrees. It is mostly modeled after the Danish and Norwegian laws from 1970. The current Icelandic FOI law does not conform to CoE convention, and it does not match the standards set in the Aarhus treaty for environmental information. This presents the opportunity to create maximum transparency by means of of a newer, better and more internationally compliant Icelandic FOI law.

Any new framing of Icelandic FOI law should only be done after taking a close look at the 2009 CoE and OAS recommendations as well as particularly good and modern elements in the FOI laws of Estonia, Scotland, the UK and Norway. The standards with regard to speedy response, a limited number of exemption and rapid access to administrative complaint procedures from the environmental Aarhus treaty ought to be the standard for all information.

It may make sense to make sure this law applies to all government bodies and all non government entities operating on behalf of the government, as well as entities that fulfill a public concession/task paid from public funds. The extent to which businesses can prevent the release of documents that concern them should be strictly limited. The current act does not apply to anything covered by the public administration law, international agreements, etc. The limitation regarding public administration law is by far the most far-reaching of the current limitations, and would likely need to be reconsidered.

There currently exists no central registry of documents held by government bodies, and there is no standardized FOI document request form. One feature that may add greater transparency is an actively internet-published central register of all documents held (as opposed to merely produced) by an institution. At the same time document access should be possible by subject, requesters should not need to know of the existence of a document.

Framers of a new Icelandic FOI law should consider making sure the law applies to classic [paper] and modern [digital] documents in the same way. One might also want to consider raising the level of the administrative complaint to the more internationally compliant form of an information commissioner with binding execution and sanction power. Having such a serious complaint procedure will reduce the workload of the court because it is expected that fewer requesters will go to court after the complaint at the information commissioner.

It would be best if limitations on the release of documents were never absolute and the public interest should always be weighed as well. Privacy-related limitations should not be applicable to any work-related information. Exemptions should expire in as brief a time as is reasonable. One could consider a regime under which the fact that any exemptions were used to successfully prevent release of a document would be published on the internet immediately and where all such exempted documents would automatically published after the expiry of the exemption.

As a general rule documents released should be made available online for all citizens to access. This will increase transparency, prevent requests from being filed more than once and will invite government bodies to disclose documents pro-actively. The law should be based on the notion that government documents are in principle public unless an exceptional reason prevents publication.

The Icelandic Prize for Freedom of Expression

Unlike other Nordic countries, Iceland currently hosts no internationally acclaimed prize. Iceland should create a yearly prize that promotes Iceland and the values represented in this proposal, by giving recognition to those who, through their actions in the past 12 months have most advanced humanity through courageous acts of free expression. It is envisaged that the prize would primarily be awarded to journalists, whistleblowers, human rights activists and publishers.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on February 16, 2010 in Freedom of expression | Permalink | Comments (8)

Cato: Tea Partiers Should Get Serious

This article came out today from the always interesting Cato Institute:

Tea Partiers Should Get Serious

Anyone who's been to a Tea Party rally knows this is no Astroturf movement. These are ordinary citizens, rightly furious that the federal government has sold the country a junk mortgage on its future, sticking America with an unsustainable debt.

Yet there are those who doubt the new activists' sincerity, asking, in effect, "Where were you when George W. Bush was spending faster than Lyndon Johnson?" It's a fair question.

The Tea Partiers insist they're nonpartisan, devoted only to staving off our looming fiscal apocalypse by any means necessary. If so, they can prove their authenticity by backing substantial cuts in entitlements and defense.

Read More

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Eurozone should kick Greece out, not bail them out

The Greek economy is in danger. They have a debt burden larger than their economy and a deficit that makes the Obama Administration appear to be prudent. Things are so bad that if Greece was not already currently a member of the Eurozone, the Euro wouldn't touch them with a ten thousand kilometre long stick.

This poses a problem for the common currency countries. The Greek economy is disastrous enough that it is dragging down the Euro, thus creating potential problems for the other sixteen Eurozone countries. They are forced to contemplate a bailout of the Greek economy to save themselves from being dragged under with them. They are being rather hesitant on what form that bailout will take, but they have at least tentatively pledged support.

Bailing out Greece will be a mistake. Yes the financial crisis has hurt the Greek economy just as it has hurt everyone's economy, but that is not the source of their problems. The Greek political leadership has constantly acted irresponsibly and have continually refused to rein in spending or reduce debt. The Greek government has no one but themselves to blame for their predicament.

If the Greeks are bailed out this creates a dangerous precedence. Countries with similar debt level, such as Italy, will take note. If a politician feels that they can do whatever they want and turn to the Eurozone to avoid the consequences, then the Eurozone will suffer from moral hazard.

Today Greece, tomorrow Italy, perhaps the next day will be Spain. Where exactly will it end? Where would Germany, the country that will bear the greatest cost, draw the line? I suggest that they draw the line not at Greece but before Greece. That is to say, do not bail out the Greeks.

Instead kick them out of the Eurozone. This would cost the remaining members nothing of significance (in fact it would likely increase the value of the currency) and it will serve as a sharp lesson.

The lesson will be: even in Europe, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Useful Idiots and Philosopher Kings

His father campaigned for Laurier. John Kenneth Galbraith ruled over the whole of the American economy for a brief time, a kind of Wesley Mouch with an aristocratic bearing. The sad decline of liberalism encapsulated in one intellectual's career.

The great responsibility that Roosevelt gave Galbraith during the war was fixing the prices of products for the whole of the United States, and I think Galbraith regretted that this highly rational system of allocation according to need (as determined by him) eventually came to an end, for it was clearly, in his opinion, superior to the chaos of pricing by supply and demand. “Having stopped the sale of all new tires,” he writes, “we had now to find some way of selling them again but only to the necessary and needful.” The technocrat, Galbraith, comes to the aid of society, helping it define and achieve its ends. But I don’t think he ever recognized that total war, in which most of national life is subordinated to a single, easily defined end—namely, defeating a powerful enemy—is not a normal state of affairs. On the contrary, he thinks that societies should always have a single goal and that it is the function of government to direct them to that goal.

As you might guess, he wasn't a big fan of Ludwig von Mises. He was also blind to the sins of Maoist China, trying to pass off this humdinger:

Fifteen years later, in 1973, Galbraith went to China—in the slipstream of President Nixon, as it were—and wrote A China Passage. This was in the middle of the Cultural Revolution, in which perhaps a million people died and tens of millions were horribly persecuted, and only a few years after the greatest man-made famine in human history. Nevertheless, Galbraith quotes the Sinologist John K. Fairbanks, who wrote as if he had learned his style directly from Galbraith himself: “The big generalizations are all agreed upon: There has been a tremendous betterment of the material life and morale of the common people.”

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

The Rise of Toyota and the Fall of Britain

From Oldham?

The helping hand provided by British money and technology offers a further graphic insight into the change in the balance of power in manufacturing industry. Eighty years ago Britain had foreign companies knocking at its industrial door. Now the motor industry in Britain is dominated by three Japanese manufacturers, Toyota, Nissan and Honda. The textile machinery industry has all but disappeared along with other vast tranches of uncompetitive manufacturing.

But the writing was on the wall as Sakichi Toyoda shrewdly observed in 1929 when visiting Manchester, then the centre of the textile industry, to assess the competitive strength of Platt’s in world markets. Toyoda, designer of a loom that allowed one worker to control 30 of them, wrote: “On first seeing Manchester, I realised that making our industry the biggest would be a fairly easy task.”

Aside from bombing Pearl Harbor and seizing Hong Kong, the Japanese spent much of the next eight decades avoiding British mistakes. No Clement Attlee, no Harold Wilson and no Red Robbo. The Japanese may have practiced a form of dirigisme all their own, but they at least understood being productive requires that you to produce, and produce something others will buy. A truism which the geniuses at British Leyland, on both sides of the labour-management divide, failed to grasp. 

In many ways the British were victims of their own success. It's difficult today, with the United Kingdom largely in hock to foreigners, to recall that the country was not simply a world power, but THE world power. The nucleus of its vast empire was a small island, half the land area of France, whose natural resources consisted of tin and coal, the later of which, until the industrial revolution, was seen as a poor substitute for wood. Despite its small size in terms of land area and population, historically Britain's population has been about half that of France, the very high productive of British labour placed the country in a league all its own. 

As a more recent example, not more than a decade ago thirty million odd Canadians generated more wealth than nearly a billion Indians. Now imagine a world in which only one country holds such an astonishing edge. Until the emergence of German and American industrial rivals, in the very late 19th century, in a wide array of products and services the British had no serious rivals. Emergence of two formidable competitors should have sharpened British entrepreneurial skill. Instead the country began retreating behind a tariff wall, abandoning its traditional policy of free trade. Using its preferential access to colonial markets, it was able to prop up its increasingly obsolete industrial base. The economic shock of two world wars, a depression and imperial collapse weakened the country further. Three and a half decades of Labour Party style socialism finished the job. By the late 1970s Britain was the sick man of Europe. A sad example of decline our American friends should keep before them.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Unhyphenated Canadian

Olympic Athlete Pierre Lueders

"My parents came to Canada and they are proud Canadians, and I am a proud Canadian and I represent Canada and I am going to do well for Canada and I really couldn't care less about the other countries," Lueders said. "Just because I have relatives and friends [in Germany], and that's all fun and wonderful...and it just so happens that my parents wanted to come to a better country."

Cheers to Mr Lueders, and the best of luck in the Games.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

The alcohol debate in Scotland

In Scotland they are debating setting a minimum price for some alcoholic beverages. This is meant to fight the Scottish culture of binge drinking.

The theory is that with higher prices people will be less likely to buy so much alcohol. This theory is, however, unproven. Even the expert proposing this policy admits that there is no evidence that it will actually work.

Dr. Petra Meier, the expert, told a Scottish Parliamentary Committee:

The idea of modelling is you haven't introduced a policy, you're trying to project what is going to happen. It's like the weather forecast, you don't evaluate it afterwards, it's a model.

She also said that the world will be "looking to Scotland" to see if this policy will work. It's nice that she is willing to use the coercive force of the state to test out her theories. I mean really that has worked so well in the past.

I like how the whole debate here is disregarding one simple truth: price floors hurt poor people more than rich people. Any time the price of a good goes up without wages increasing it hurts the purchasing power of everyone in the society. Thepeople that can least afford to lose purchasing power are the people that have the least power to purchase.

That is to say, the supposed "social democrat" SNP are pushing hard for a policy that will do damage to the demographic they claim they want to protect. Or is it simply that they want to control our lives?

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (15)

Schmidt fights for food freedom and raw milk

Michael Schmidt has been charged with distributing raw milk. He was found guilty and then appealed the decision, and then he was found innocent. Now the government of Ontario is appealing this decision to the Supreme Court.

A few things have to be made clear here. First of all, as the article I posted above says, it is not illegal for a farmer to drink his own milk. Second of all, those that drank the milk were all part owners of the cow. This may or may not be characterized as a loop hole, it doesn't matter. That is the law.

Second thing that has to be made clear is that the health risks involved in drinking milk is doubtful. Ontario's lawyers failed to demonstrate anyone has been made sick by this practice. So the damage that is being done here is likely zero.

The final thing I want to point out is that the first two points don't matter. The question here isn't if this man is guilty or if it is healthy to drink raw milk. The question here is about an individual's right, or perhaps duty, to make his/her own decisions. The government should not be telling people what they can or cannot do.

If I decide to drink this milk, who am I hurting? At the very worst I am hurting myself.

Just myself.

No one else.

Do you see? I am making a decision that only affects me. What business is it of some government official?

In short this is about freedom; the ability to make your own decision. And I wish Mr. Schmidt all the luck in the world.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 13, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (44)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Politics as pathology: A series.

I'm increasing convinced that most political commentators on the left and the right are suffering from a collective psychological pathology that reinforces itself and worsens with time. Instead of the openness of online dialogue leading to more intellectual debate, the effect has been principally anti-intellectualist.

Those wanting to actually talk about facts and scrutinize the world around them as objectively as possible, are increasing being relegated to what the neoconservative and ultraleftist fringe call "armchair philosophizing", "intellectual masturbation", or "utopian fantasy".

In fact, a growing number of people on the left and the right balk at intellectualism in general. Believing instead, that their intuition, their feelings and their faith provides them with a more robust framework for evaluating the world around them.

It really doesn't.

What it does, is leave them with a black and white interpretation of the world around them where it's so increasingly clear that "the other" is the source of all of their and societies problems as a whole.

A good example is to look at Islamic terrorism, and how the left and right both evaluate it's cause and it's solutions. Here's how the right basically explains it:

1. Caused by belief in violent religion that advocates for genocide of all non-Muslims; and
2. allowed to fester by left-wing, politically correct policies. In fact, left-wing ideologies are held to be nominally supportive of Islamic terrorism; and
3. Left-wing politicians (like Bill Clinton) neglected to address the Islamic threat because of their politically correct, leftist world view.

... and the left:

1. Caused by military conflicts in Muslim countries due to neoliberal imperialist agendas to secure oil resources; and
2. a result of poverty brought about by right-wing capitalist agendas that impoverish entire nations to the benefit of rich countries; and
3. the right-wing explanations for the cause of Islamic terrorism are racist, as Islam is a peaceful religion where people just want the same thing as everybody else.

Now, both sets of explanations contain grains of truth. Except, you'll never find a rightest or leftist admitting that. And it's not what set of truths and falsehoods regarding the Islamic terrorism issue that I'm trying to tease out, but rather the common thread of thinking: that the right blames the left, and the left blames the right. When in truth, they're probably both to blame.

Like a sports fan who's emotionally incapable of seeing the faults with his own team, and usually takes to blaming the rules, the coach, or unfair practices on the part of the opposing players, political pundits see the game of politics in the same hyper-polarized way.

They have completely rationalized why their own worldview is perfectly infallible, and how the opposing viewpoint is completely and utterly insane. They believe they've unlocked universal truth, which actually makes them both insane.

For conservatives, even asking the question of whether or not US foreign policy has contributed to religious and political movements against it, culminating in the attacks of 9/11 is immediately shut down with claims that you are blaming the victim. This despite the fact, that there's plenty of good evidence to suggest that US foreign policy played a fairly significant role in galvanizing Islamic extremism against America. Even the CIA had concluded this prior to 9/11, specifically that US foreign policy was contributing to rising opposition against it around the world and predicted the increasing likelihood of terrorist strikes against America, referring to the whole phenomenon as "blowback".

But try saying that to a neoconservative. You will be labeled an apologist for Islamic extremism. You will be called a far-left extremist. You will be told that you're on the side of evil. Which ends up being the crux of the matter for neoconservatives; there's two very well defined black and white buckets of good and evil. Essentially anything that falls outside the neoconservative doctrine at any given time is evaluated as an evil position. Here's a few examples:

1. Against the Iraq War = On the side of evil.
2. For "enhanced interrogations" = On the side of good.
3. Support universal due process rights, even for arrested terrorists = On the side of evil.

It's a very simple dogma, and it's easy to understand. The delusion that neoconservatives have convinced themselves of, is that this all represents an intelligent position.

Conversely, try telling a ultraleftist that poverty is not the primary cause of terrorism, or even that many Islamic radicals legitimately are motivated purely by conservative theological doctrine, and they'll call you a racist and an apologist for imperialism.

So over the next few weeks, I will choose various right-wing and left-wing examples from the Canadian blogosphere and dissect their logic, and build a case for why they both ultimately end up being their own worst enemies. We'll also look at how they rely on each other's extremists to reinforce their worldview.

There will be a lot of well-known names in the blogosphere dragged through the mud, a lot of feelings will be hurt, and I'll probably firmly establish myself as one of the most hated bloggers by both the left and the right. But I'm up for the challenge.

Watch this space.

Posted by Mike Brock on February 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8)

"I don't think it's for me to say right now."

Sure Preston. You're just looking and talking. Elder statesman not taking sides.

Small-c conservatives meeting in Edmonton on the weekend to brainstorm about the province's political future gave Alberta's performance in a number of critical areas a resounding thumbs-down.

About 100 people took up Reform party founder Preston Manning's challenge to evaluate Alberta's fiscal responsibility, health care system, environmental record, and national leadership ability, and came up with a report card containing D's and F's.

"There was a fairly low rating on our performance, or put it the other way, that we could do better," Manning said, noting participants were nonetheless pleased by the province's record in education and economic development.

This is all part and parcel of the Alberta PC Death Watch. The Iron Law of Alberta Politics states that every thirty to forty years Albertans stop voting overwhelmingly for one party, and then start voting overwhelmingly for another. Not a single member of the Stelmach cabinet showed up at Preston's confab. Why would they? The point of the meeting was to rubbish, and rightly so, the drift of the Alberta PCs toward bigger and bigger government. 

Manning is too polite to openly state what most are thinking. Eddie Baby, go Right or get lost. My own hunch is that Manning, and other senior figures in the western conservative movement are giving the Stelmach government another shot at cleaning up their act. Destroying a long entrenched political party is nasty business. It wastes time and resources better spent elsewhere. It creates grudges and vendettas that weaken the effectiveness of a political movement. The Wildrose Alliance is a useful club to reform the PCs. If reform fails, we'll probably see Preston and Danielle having a pleasant chat, in public, real soon. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Conservatives Discover Freedom, Sort of...

To those who say I only ever criticize the Tories, well here is something positive:

It seems logical that the Conservatives will now make the de facto situation de jure, by implementing the recommendation of the Wilson panel, which endorsed a phased liberalization of the foreign investment rules for telecoms and broadcasting. In the first phase, for a period of five years, foreign investment would be permitted for new entrants such as Globalive, or for the acquisition of Canadian telecoms with a market share of 10% or less. Full liberalization would follow at the end of the five-year period,

But these are Harper Conservative, so change is incremental to the point of being measurable only through geological methods.

Some of the Wilson panel's recommendations -- a review of the "closed" regulatory system governing cultural industries; a policy statement on whether foreign investors should be allowed to establish separate domestic airline carriers; and, the removal of the ban on bank mergers --may be less palatable to the government.

But the kicker of John Ivison's piece is:

Yet as the Wilson report clearly establishes, foreign control of Canada's assets is lower now than it was in the 1960s and '70s. In fact, the number of Canadian-owned and headquartered firms that rank in the top five of their respective industries has grown from 15 to 40 over the past 20 years.

Maude Barlow and Margaret Atwood, Brian Mulroney is waiting for your apology letter. To those old enough to recall the 1988 General Election, its most prominent feature was the spectacle of the country's intellectual classes deriding Prime Minister Mulroney as a traitor to Canada. The Americanization of Canada has been postponed indefinitely, though the Canadianization of America continues apace with President Obama leading the charge. Having been routed on the field of basic economics, Barlow is now spreading wild conspiracy theories about the takeover of the world's water supply. Any bets on world wide floods breaking out circa 2030?

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Dunkirk of Hockey

At a certain angle, you kinda have to squint, Phil Esposito does sort of look like Winston Churchill. Something in the chin I think.

He also noted that he was recently “chatting” with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev about the game, noting that they come from the two coldest countries on Earth and “not by coincidence, the two best hockey countries.”

Indeed, he reflected on the 1972 series between Canada and Russia, saying that his father told him it was “sort of like the experience of the Allies in the 1940s, feeling as soon as the shots were fired this thing would be over [but then] find we’re scrambling out of Dunkirk. That was very similar.”

“The Canada-Soviet series had an overarching reality of Cold War confrontation as well, which really nothing today can replicate,” he told Mr. Farber.

That was Stephen Harper chatting with Putin's shadow. While the article highlights the Prime Minister's awshucks remark about how he'd rather be playing hockey than politics, which is probably sincere, it kind of glosses over the humdinger above. Dunkirk? Really? There were Canadians, albeit peripherally, at Dunkirk. I kind of get the folksy analogy. You think this is going to be a cakewalk and then, wham, the Wehrmacht finds its way through the Black Forest, or the Central Red Army hockey forwards find their way through whatever defense thing hockey people do. 

Never understood the game myself. Yeap. Don't like Medicare, hockey and can barely stand the smell of Tim Horton's coffee. I'm amazed they haven't deported me yet. Just a note to the CanCon immigration goons, when they show up, please send me to Australia. I have a certain attachment to freedom, warm weather and the monarchy. That and I just like Aussies. Thanks. But seriously. I grew up hearing people telling me, some quite solemnly, that the 1972 Summit Series was Canada's contribution to the Cold War. 

Huh? Now if I'd spent a few years manning CFB Lahr, or guarding the Fulda Gap, I might be a wee pissed at such a suggestion. I think most Canadians realize the Summit Series as Our Bit for the War theory was always a half joke. It's the non-joke half that's always frightened me. The elevation of a single sport as a substitution for a sense of nationality, and by extension eight hockey games in the early seventies as a serious country's contribution to the vital geopolitical struggle of the post war era.

It would all have perplexed the Fathers of Confederation, only one of whom the average Canadian can name. So would the obsession with a mediocre brand of coffee, and a dysfunctional health care system. Somewhere in the woolly nonsense that was the Pearson-Trudeau Era, Canada stopped being a serious country. In response we began clinging to cultural and political trivia. Pierre doing a pirouette was a landmark moment. In any other country then, and in Canada at any other time, that stunt alone would have ended his political career. Imagine George W Bush, assuming he was nimble enough, doing something similar behind the Queen.

But the Canada of the 1970s was not the confident end product of a thousand years of Anglo-French tradition, instead it was a gawky adolescent impressed by a middle aged hipster who actually wasn't afraid of girls. Or I should say the English parts of Canada. Joining the post-war mantra that British is bad, we deliberately effaced our British heritage. It was an act of cultural self-immolation. One which the British are now eagerly undertaking themselves. Robert Menzies, Australia's stout Anglophile PM, used to remark that he was British down to his bootstraps. The British now have done away even with the footwear bit, as seen in spectacle of bobbies handing out plastic sandals to drunken slobs on high streets. What remains? Football hooligans there, and hockey players and waiting lists here. One of the more astute critics of the twentieth century, C.S. Lewis, observed:

Where men are forbidden to honour a king they honour millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison.

I've got no problemt honouring millionaires, athletes or film stars, depending on how they acquired their position, but you get Lewis' point. Human beings need ideals. Denied something noble they worship the banal, or even the perverse. Being a Christian apologist Lewis' angle was that by junking the Church man had bankrupted his spiritual nature. Not being a Christian I still agree with the end point, but not how we got here. We rejected ideals as such and embraced nihilism. What was, was bad. In Canada it meant rejecting our own history and embracing the trivia of our national life, hockey. In embracing Medicare we gobbled the poison.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Ted Morton is prejudice against flowers

The Wildrose Alliance has released a seven page document outlining what their budget would look like if they were the government. This is a good move on their part because it helps demonstrate that they are a party capable of being the government. It is also a good way for a party with few seats in the legislature to participate in the budget debate.

In response Alberta Finanace Minister Ted Morton takes aim at...the WA's name?

According to the Edmonton Journal he said:

"Any party that has the name of a flower and the adjective of wild in the name isn't going to get elected."

What is in a name? Would a rose by any other name be so wild?

Frankly I don't care if Danielle Smith is leading the Chicken Fetus Party. She is the best person to be the next Premier of Alberta, and the PCs are unlikely to convince anyone otherwise by making dumb comments like that.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on February 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (6)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dear Leader: The Bigot

Hitch:

Here are the two most shattering facts about North Korea. First, when viewed by satellite photography at night, it is an area of unrelieved darkness. Barely a scintilla of light is visible even in the capital city. Second, a North Korean is on average six inches shorter than a South Korean. You may care to imagine how much surplus value has been wrung out of such a slave, and for how long, in order to feed and sustain the militarized crime family that completely owns both the country and its people.

But this is what proves Myers right. Unlike previous racist dictatorships, the North Korean one has actually succeeded in producing a sort of new species. Starving and stunted dwarves, living in the dark, kept in perpetual ignorance and fear, brainwashed into the hatred of others, regimented and coerced and inculcated with a death cult: This horror show is in our future, and is so ghastly that our own darling leaders dare not face it and can only peep through their fingers at what is coming.

Hitch's article highlights the shift in ideological justification for the North Korean regime; away from communism and toward a militant, and militaristic, system justified by racial superiority. Contrary to the naive assumptions of many westerners, non-whites can be just as racist as whites. Part of the rationale of Japanese Imperialism was that that the subjects of the Emperor were inherently superior to decadent white Europeans. It's one of the reasons North American POWs suffered far more at the hands of the Japanese than the Germans. The Japanese viewed themselves to be of a superior race. 

This may seem as only so much ancient history, and in the case of North Korea a bleak and modern bit of national eccentricity, yet it suggests possibilities. Hitch's particular concern is what North Korea might do in the near future, with its small cache of nuclear weapons and outsized conventional army. More worrisome is what its quasi-official patron, China, might do. It too is a post-communist country. While its leadership is far more skillful than that of the sociopaths installed in Pyongyang, like all governments it requires some kind of philosophical, or pseudo-philosophical, justification. 

Brute terror will take you only so far. Eventually the starving peasants don't really care about their own virtually worthless lives, and assume the all too predictable risks of revolt. Dictatorships fervently propagandize to provide them that patina of legitimacy; a rationale to the starving peasants that their suffering is for a higher cause, however perverse. China is practically another planet to North Korea, yet its regime's need for legitimacy is no less great. Racial superiority, though probably of less fanatical kind, is always a potential tool in the kit of the ChiComs.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Rudeness as Principle

Mr Coren goes to Kingston:

What you think of the issue is up to you — we live in a free society where difference of opinion is respected. Or at least is supposed to be.

The organizers of the event were obliged to hire security guards after threats were made.

These were taken seriously as pro-life speakers have been shouted down, meetings broken up and people assaulted several times in recent years.

All that happened this time was a dozen people stood up holding posters, some reading that I was shameful. I could have told them that myself!

What was most apparent, however, was the contrast between the pro-life and the pro-abortion students. The former were attractive, bright-eyed, compassionate. The latter dull, angry, so lacking in humanity and, it has to be said, intelligence.

Now, you're saying, to Old Publius, why the heck are you taking Michael Coren seriously? He's a Christian apologist! He's a 'pro-life' fanatic! So on and so forth. What he says, however, is true to life. Pro-abortion activists tends to belong to the militant Left on university campuses - there are, of course exceptions. The militant Left has since the 1960s adopted the tactics of the fascists. Shouting down and mocking your opponents is standard operating procedure. 

The point is not debate, they are not interested in debate, they are interested in power. One of the ways of obtaining power is by projecting it, even if you don't in fact have any. By shouting down your opponents, by suggesting physical force, you insure the supremacy of your opinions. Many, perhaps even the majority, may not agree with you, but they will regard any opposition as at best futile, at worst dangerous. I'm not quite willing to accept Coren's soft focus view of the anti-abortionists. I've met a few snarling "pro-lifers" as well, but they are usually the minority. 

Whence comes theses humourless fanatics that Mr Coren met at Queen's? The typical university undergrad will have spent the previous fourteen years of his, or her, short existence within the confines of the public education system. They have existed in a self righteous echo chamber since knee-pants, alternative opinions are alien to them. The very word "conservative" in modern universities is a synonym with racism, cruelty and oppression. To be a conservative is the same thing as being a member of the KKK, I was told more than once. Few of these victims of public education have meet a real, decent and intelligent advocate of an opposing view. An education system that idolizes diversity in all the non-essentials of life - skin colour, ethnic background - while insisting on rigid conformity with one set of ideological principles. Like deep sea creatures brought to the surface, they cannot survive when faced with an intelligent critic of their long-ago taught mantras.

Posted by Richard Anderson on February 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Alberta Wine? You Mean Moonshine, Right?

When our fearless publisher sent me what he described as an "Alberta wine", I was sure that I had misheard him.  Once he confirmed for me that he had indeed said just that, my nearly automatic reply was "oh, some of that home-made swill that people make in their basement, bottle and call wine, right?". Wrong again.  What he laid on me was indeed a bottle of actual wine made in Alberta, that did not come from a kit.  It was......wait for it......a bottlle of Field Stone Fruit Wines' 2006 Strawberry Dessert Wine from Strathmore, Alberta, the apparent nerve center for the Alberta wine industry.


I have to say that my initial reaction was one of rapt funeral amazement, followed by the horrific notion that I would actually have to sample the "wine", given that our publisher had asked that I do so and that I provide my comments here.  As I looked closer at the long, cylindrical bottle so typical of dessert wines (which incidentally, I am usually not a fan of) I had visions of "Pastel Peach", "Strawberry Angel" and the other super-sweet wines/elixirs that had formed the core of the famous punch that my roommate and I made in our college dorm room and which, along with some low-grade fruit punch, made many a reveller state "you can hardly taste the liquor".  Exactly - but I digress.

WIth guests at my house, I pulled the bottle forth and poured everyone present a small sampling and apologized in advance that they had become caught up in my web of wine responsibility, as they would have to be my guinea pigs.  I put my glass to my lips, cringing at the thought of what reaction my palate would have to this frightening serum.  Hazah! Not bad at all! In fact, quite nice.  While I expected a super-sweet blast that would make one eye close as a reflex reaction, instead the strawberry flavour was subtle, the wine smooth with no boozy after-taste, and my guests and I poured another glass.  Not only was the wine a source of instant discussion, but nearly everyone present liked what they tasted.  Sure, you wouldn't want to drink this product every day, or every week, but after the right meal, maybe in the summer in your backyard after a barbecue, this wine would work.

I was all geared up to really take a run at this wine, but sadly, I cannot.  At worst, this wine is ok and at best, it is pretty damn pleasant.  A drinkable wine from Alberta? What's next? A decent ski hill in Saskatchewan?   

Posted by Knox Harrington on February 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)