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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Making the census less intrusive

Good news from the Conservative government. They have decided to scrap the mandatory long answer form for the 2011 census. This is only a partial move, since the shorter form will still be mandatory. But at least the government is getting rid of the most intrusive part of the census.

Critics say that by making the long form non-mandatory it will make the census information less reliable. This is an issue because this data is used to assign government services. The truth of the matter is that the census was never good at calculating demand. The only way to truly know the level of demand is to look at market signals through pricing, and government simply can’t do that.

All that the census is, and I say this as someone who once worked for Census Canada, is an intrusion into the privacy of the individual. So I applaud the government for at least taking this small step towards ensuring greater privacy.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 30, 2010 in Census | Permalink | Comments (9)

All Hail the Carp Czar

Would someone please stop with the Czars. Even the Romanovs weren't this bureaucracy happy:

As concerns mount about the presence of Asian carp near Lake Michigan, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin today urged President Obama to appoint a carp czar to oversee efforts to keep the invasive species out of the Great Lakes.

"We need to have one person who coordinates the efforts of the federal, state and local agencies that are doing everything they can to keep the Asian carp out of Lake Michigan," Durbin said during a news conference at the Shedd Aquarium. "We believe it's absolutely essential."

 The more czars there are, the less seems to get done.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Germans want to ditch the Euro

As a direct result of Germany being forced to bail out Greece, the German people now want out of the Euro. Before the Greek crisis two thirds of the German people supported the European currency. Now only thirty percent support the Euro and fifty-one percent want to abandon the Euro. If this attitude continues in the long term, this could represent a huge shift in Germany’s relationship with the European project.

It may not be easy to leave the Euro and return to the Deutschmark, but I suspect that it will not be impossible. The real question is if the political elite, who are married to the idea of European integration, will be willing or able to respond to this new demand. Will political parties be able to change their message and grab hold of this new anti-Euro sentiment?

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The story of Ann Coulter and former justice minister Allan Rock

Well this is a surprise: An access to information request from The Canadian Press has revealed that former Liberal justice minister and current president of the University of Ottawa, Allan Rock, was knee-deep in the Ann Coulter brouhaha several months ago.

That brouhaha? Ann Coulter, author of Guilty... and a lot of other things besides, got a letter from provost Francois Houle "reminding" her of Canada's speech laws. "I therefore ask you," Houle wrote, "while you are a guest on our campus, to weigh your words with respect and civility in mind." Coulter made the email public, raised a big stink, and a giant mob predictably descended on Coulter's speech. The talk was, in the end, cancelled.

Our own Terrence Watson was dispatched to the scene at the time, and wrote about his experience in a tersely-worded missive entitled "Ann Coulter and the mob." It's still worth a read, if you haven't yet.

So that was that brouhaha. Now for a new brouhaha. Turns out Houle was being pushed by Allan Rock the whole time. Here's an excerpt from today's Toronto Star:

In fact, the released documents show that it was Rock — not Houle — who asked that the email be sent. Rock even dictated some of the wording.

"Ann Coulter is a mean-spirited, small-minded, foul-mouthed poltroon," Rock wrote to Houle in a March 18 email. "She is 'the loud mouth that bespeaks the vacant mind'."

"She is an ill-informed and deeply offensive shill for a profoundly shallow and ignorant view of the world. She is a malignancy on the body politic. She is a disgrace to the broadcasting industry and a leading example of the dramatic decline in the quality of public discourse in recent times."

At the same time, he argued, "we should not take any steps to interfere with her plans to speak next week on our campus."

Instead, Rock advised Houle he should write to Coulter informing her of the different rules surrounding free speech in Canada compared with those in the United States.

"You, Francois, as Provost, should write immediately to Coulter informing her of our domestic laws. ... You should urge her to respect that Canadian tradition as she enjoys the privilege of her visit."

After seeing a copy of the final email to Coulter, Rock praised Houle: "Quel excellent message! Merci et felicitations. I am sure she has never been dressed down so elegantly in her life!"

Felicitations? After this news makes the rounds, I'm not sure Rock will be so congratulatory.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on June 29, 2010 in Freedom of expression | Permalink | Comments (21)

G20 conservative conundrum: It's complicated to be a law and order conservative

Things are really complicated.

They are complicated, in particular, for law & order conservatives -- conservatives whose default position is to trust certain kinds of authorities.

The connotation is difficult to get at, but maybe the denotation is clear. L&O conservatives like police officers. They also like all branches of the military. By "like" I mean, in any dispute between a particular police officer and a citizen, or a particular member of the military and a civilian, their default position is to trust the former against the latter. If we know nothing else, our gut reaction ought to be to trust the uniformed against the non-uniformed, says the L&O conservative.

The same is not true of judges, especially Supreme Court judges. Judges are often subject to ridicule at the hands of these conservatives. I can't always figure out why we should like authorities in blue uniforms, but not authorities in red Santa outfits. But that's neither here nor there.

As for elected representatives, the instinct appears to be to default to partisan preferences. L&O conservatives in Canada support Conservatives, and Republicans in the U.S. If something is done by Tories, the default is to defer to and support them and their policies, unless there are good reasons on the other side.

Finally, Canadian and U.S. conservatives of all stripes embrace freedom of expression. The Canadian conservative commitment to the libertarian position on speech and expression is remarkable both for its tenacity and (apparent) principledness (they've read John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty'). Conservatives who would otherwise be hostile to the legality of "pisschrist" or other works of "art" depicting Judeo-Christian symbols and personages in, let us say, "disrespectful" ways, recognize the right of jackasses to be jackasses (and recognizing a right is not identical to endorsing what someone chooses to do with that right).

I don't mean to caricature or otherwise mock the L&O conservative. The description above is intended to be an accurate description of the default stance of this variety of conservative. To summarize: L&Os defer to free expression, partisanship, and cops (and the military, but never mind that now).

In the case of this past weekend's shenanigans in Toronto, everything is complicated for this conservative. There's apparent tension between their various default positions.

To see this tension in action, consider the spat over an incident between Kathy Shaidle, BlazingCatFur, and the police in the comment section of Kate McMillan's blog Small Dead Animals, or take a peek at the back-and-forth on our own Mike Brock's post below, where Brock details the apparently unlawful search of his person at the hands of foul-mouthed and aggressive police officers.

It's complicated because the accountability for the police action is diffused between an NDP mayor, a Liberal premier, and a Conservative prime minister. Who's really ultimately accountable? It's hard to tell. It was Harper's conference, in Miller's city, with McGuinty quickly passing temporary enabling laws by cover of night. Small wonder no Party has yet gone on the offensive to demand some sort of investigation into the actions of the police in Toronto. If we had a Conservative premier with a Conservative prime minister, you can be sure the Liberals would be all over this like a police elbow on the back of a Guardian journalist.

And, finally, it's complicated because of the apparent tension between freedom of expression -- including photographing, recording, writing, blogging, and otherwise capturing anything and everything in public -- and the actions of some of the police officers who arrested and/or searched and/or accosted media types (like National Post photographers), bloggers (like our own Mike Brock and Kathy Shaidle), ordinary folk, and countless others.

Since it's complicated, it's not obvious how to reconcile the various default positions. As Jay Currie pointed out to McMillan in her comment thread: "There is a strong cleavage within the conservative interest between people who assert that individual rights and autonomy matters and those who believe in order and an authoritarian state."

It's easier for a libertarian, who ordinarily has a healthy distrust for all political authority (and sometimes even for non-political authorities, like overbearing parents and nagging girlfriends), and consistently defaults to individual liberty in all matters. But the libertarian position is not at issue.

What is, is how a law & order conservative can keep these three balls in the air without letting any of them drop by the wayside. And I just don't see how they could.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on June 29, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (76)

Born to Mooch

Adrian MacNair has a fine rant over a Full Comment:

Think about it. Every single child born in Canada becomes another battery hen in the tax-collecting farm, and there is absolutely no way around it. Whether you want or need health care, education, roads, police, politicians, regional development agencies, employment insurance, old age pension, public transit, or the hundreds of other invented jobs and services designated as an essential taxable service, you’re going to have to pay for them from the moment you earn your first dollar, to the time your estate is seized by government lawyers claiming you owe back taxes.

Well from one battery hen to another, you said it brother. The problem isn't government, it's the electorate. People of all political stripes - yes, even some Dippers - will bitch to no end about taxes. Now tell them to pay full cost for their university education, or take out private health care insurance, and you'll get a look usually reserved for neo-Nazis at an NAACP meeting. The problem isn't the supply - the taxes - but the demand for government services - the spending. Until people learn not to expect government to play Santa Claus, we have nothing to do but cluck.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Meanwhile in Ottawa...

Now what exactly does this have to do with public order?

Protesters representing the Falun Gong, a religious group highly critical of the Chinese government, were on the west side of the lawn, but Huo decided she wanted to get closer to the crowd of supporters. She had three signs on which she had printed several slogan in Chinese, including "Do not be fooled by the Communist Party," and "The Chinese communist regime kills children, forces evictions, and tortures."

"I wanted these people to realize they are brainwashed by the Chinese government," said Huo, a human rights activist from China and a member of the China Democracy Party. "But some people in the crowds were very upset with my presence. They insisted I leave. Some of them pushed me, and one man swore at me."

Never let it be said that the ChiComs aren't a clever bunch. They've spun any opposition to their dictatorial regime as being anti-Chinese. Thus Ms Huo is an Uncle Tom who needs to be denounced, and escorted off Parliament Hill by the RCMP. Most Diasporas from authoritarian countries are anti-government, the Chinese sadly are not. When Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese in 1997, several Chinese friends of mine were delighted at the "reunification." When I pointed out that Britain was a free country, and China was a brutal dictatorship, they couldn't understand my point. 

The obvious evil of the Communist Party was dismissed or downplayed. "It's not like that anymore," I kept being told. "But is it like Canada?"  I retorted. For that they didn't have an answer. I was just a white European, whose ancestors came from an imperial power - i.e. Macau - that had helped dismembered China. The Communist Party was just a dynasty, it too would past. Perhaps, though it is the bloodiest of them all. Chinese nationalism trumps liberty for many Chinese, both in Canada and China. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 29, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 28, 2010

I was just harassed by Toronto Police [updated]

It happened just a few minutes ago. I was sitting down on University Avenue, when a group of police officers approached me and said they wanted to talk to me. Stunned, I opened my mouth getting ready to reply to the request, when one of the officers at the top of his lungs yelled: "I DON'T GIVE A FUCK WHAT YOU THINK!"

Another officer said they didn't want to hear about my rights.

They then proceeded to demand I remove the earphones from my ears, forcing me to get off the phone with my colleague. I told them I was on the phone to which another officer responded, "we don't care."

Then they said they wanted to search my bag, because I was "wearing a black shirt". To which I replied, that I did not consent to any searches. I told them that I would not resist them, and that any search they conducted was under protest. They simply said, "we don't care. We want to make sure you don't have any bombs to kill us with."

They demanded I present identification, once again I complied under protest. To which they told me they didn't care again.

Then one of the officers told me that, and I quote, that I (me) "don't care about the security of the city." To which I protested. They then called me "ignorant".

I asked them why they were using such vulgar language with me, and they simply denied that any such language had been used. Despite having literally sworn at me multiple times, seconds prior.

There was one police officer, who was mostly quiet, who seemed to be looking at me somewhat sympathetically. I sensed that he was not comfortable with what his fellow officers were doing.

But I was just subjected to an warrentless, suspicionless search, contrary to my Charter Rights. And when I protested my treatment, I was repeatedly told that they "don't care". They accused me of not caring about the security of Toronto, and they called me ignorant twice. I should note that I was never given any chance to really say much to them at all, so I can only assume that they had some prior knowledge of who I was.

I assert that I was just criminally harassed by the Toronto Police. And I would swear a legal affidavit on the above facts.

Update: Some additional facts I left out: they demanded my phone number, and they wrote down all my information on some slip. I also can't emphasize the amount of hostility that was directed towards me.

Update 2: More illegal search and seizure in Toronto. This guy was actually treated nicer than I was. Probably because he had the benefit of witnesses and people video taping him.

Update 3: A Creative Revolution muses: "Just want to say that Conservatives have been fucking away our rights for a few years now, and Mike supported this erosion by simply being a conservative and voting for it." -- this is one of a few left-wing blogs that is accusing me of being a Conservative Party supporter. Not sure why. I mean, I've been publicly criticizing Stephen Harper now since... I don't know... 2006 or something. I'm too lazy to go back and compile a list of posts. Google's pretty good at that.

But in any case, we might want to pay some attention to all three levels of government that, on the face of it, represent all three political parties. The cheers of support seem to be pretty unanimous from our NDP mayor, to the Liberal Premier.

Anyways, a note to uninformed lefties: libertarianism and conservatism are not the same thing.

Also more from: Stageleft, Jay Currie, Ghost of a Flea, Blazing Cat Fur, Kathy Shaidle, Quotulatiousness, Bene Diction Blogs On, The Galloping Beaver.

Posted by Mike Brock on June 28, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (111)

G20 Toronto: What happened on Saturday?

There's a lot of talk from both political leaders, police leaders, labour leaders, protest leaders, and a whole bunch of leaders about what really went down on the streets of Toronto this past weekend. Two groups, ideologically entrenched so, that their ability to see objective reality materializing in front of their own faces, have two very different sets of conclusions on what happened. But perhaps surprisingly and encouragingly, the vast majority sees the obvious.

It all started Saturday afternoon when a group of protesters from a labour rally broke formation to begin what can only be described as a street riot.

I watched as two police cars came racing Westbound down Queen Street, towards Spadina at dangerously high speed, only to have the officers driving the cars abandon them moments later, much to the excitement of the balaclava-clad vandals who promptly began to destroy the abandoned police cruisers.

One of the things that stuck me immediately, was the sudden and complete retreat of the police officers. It was almost like they'd just delivered them two police cruisers and said: "hey guys, maybe smashing these two police crusiers will keep you busy!"

But the group pushed forward, most of crowd filled with members of the labour movement. Most not directly participating in the wantless destruction of property, but most cheering at the sound of every shattering window. This caused me to lose my temper, naturally. And instead of focusing my anger on the anonymous tyrants running around destroying the street, I confronted a group of "labour activists" who I had just observed cheering and laughing.

A kind and gentle young woman placed one hand on each of my shoulders and said to me, and I quote: "It's just 'stuff' they're destroying. Some of these companies destroy 'people'." She was a member of CUPE, as I discerned by the flag that her compatriot was carrying, and more obviously, the button she was wearing attached to the strap of her bag.

I admit, that despite her gentle demeanour, I pulled violently away from her, removing her hands from my shoulders and began screaming in her face, causing a small escalation of the situation; flailing my arms around, pointing at the destruction, I yelled at the top of my lungs, "this doesn't serve your f***ing cause!" -- among other things.

Multiple other labour protesters approached me and at this point and started being a little more -- let's say -- negatively engaging.

Despite the fact they were now swearing and yelling like myself, they almost seemed to be desperately pleading with me to see their worldview; "fucking windows can be replaced, dude!" one very tall man yelled, holding an Ontario Federation of Labour placard.

It was clear to me at this point that I was witnessing he mentality of "diversity of tactics" in plain view, as the woman who initially approached me yelled.

"I don't support this destruction. But it's not that big of a deal! It's just glass!" She proceeded to say that "we're on the same side." But I'm not sure where she got that impression. Perhaps because at some point I said that I too, was against the G20 being held in Toronto.

Moving down the street, trying to keep up with what was going on, I would then witness a private security guard attempt to restrain one of the hoodlums kicking the window on a storefront, only to see some of those peaceful labour activists render their assistance with about four or five running up and pulling the security guard away, allowing the hoodlum to continue his senseless rampage.

It was very clear that many of the union activists, while personally "against" property destruction, somewhat endorsed other people engaging in it simultaneously. Even acting as a personal protectors and human shields for them. I'm sure the hoodlums were appreciative of the support from CUPE. The cheering was a dead give-away on it's own.

As we began crossing intersections, there were lines of riot police forming lines adjacent to the direction of the rioters. And at no point did these police make any attempt to intercede. They just watched it all unfold in front of them.

At some point, an exasperated individual ran up to one of the riot police and yelled, "why don't you do something!?" -- only to have about five or six of the riot police start banging their shields and yell "get back! get back!"

Watching bystanders beg the police for help, only to see them treated like any other protester, threatened with beating and arrest was certainly stomach wrenching. At this point, I think my eyes actually watered over somewhat, as I took in a momentary sense of helplessness.

There was an elderly woman not far off, who'd been somewhat more overcome than myself, had wholesale broken down into tears.

The insanity of it was sort of hard for me to take in; hoodlums in balaclavas, union activists defending the destruction while pretending to be against it, the police doing nothing, and treating frightened bystanders like security threats.

I'll never forget Saturday afternoon.

This is the first part of multiple posts I intend to write on this. I certainly have A LOT more to say about the police.

Posted by Mike Brock on June 28, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (36)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Political ads that make your head explode

While I enjoyed the ads Peter posted recently, he left out one that deserves special attention. Rick Barber is running to be the Republican candidate in Alabama's second district.

Also, he apparently has access to a time machine:

But his second ad, posted below the page break, is probably just a little over the top...

 

Dale Peterson, enemy of all yard-sign stealing thugs and criminals, makes a cameo.

Why post ads from American political races? First, it's interesting to think about whether ads like these would work in Canada (I'm guessing not; they may be too much even for the Americans.)

Second, you have to admire the sheer audacity of a man who doesn't just quote the Founding Fathers in his ads, but actually appears beside them

Posted by Terrence Watson on June 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Hot Day in the Imperial Capital

So what did you do this weekend? Several thousand people in Toronto decided to ransack stretches of downtown. Me? I just watched. From several miles away, but still within the city limits. 

Not everyone was so lucky. Several of my co-workers live near or within The Zone set up to protect the G20 leaders, as does Shotgun blogger Mike Brock. I know downtown Toronto very well. I lived near Little Italy (College Street) for many years. I spent much of Saturday staring at a TV screen watching one familiar landmark after another be shown on national and global television. The intersection of Bay and King, the very centre of Canadian capitalism, was briefly flashed on the BBC World Service. This was not for any M&A activity, or the comparative strength of our financial system, but for the seen of two Toronto police cruisers ablaze. I woke up Sunday morning to see a building, adjacent to where I had once taken classes, become the site of a police raid.

It was almost exactly a decade ago that I was a student at the University of Toronto. One Thursday afternoon, I entered the fortress like John P Robarts Library to study for an exam. Seated by a window I looked up for a moment and saw a puff of white smoke over nearby Queen's Park. I thought nothing of it. I later found out it was a cloud of tear gas, fired to disperse a riot that had taken place that afternoon. The distance between me and the riot was about three blocks. When I stepped out onto St George Street later that day, nothing was remiss. All was normal and orderly. Typically Toronto. It was one of the largest riots in the city's modern history. June 15 2000 and June 26 2010 were two very out of the ordinary days in this city's history.

Whereas as the Queen's Park riot was homegrown, part of the overtop reaction to the Mike Harris reforms of the mid to late 1990s, this past weekend's events came, mostly, from elsewhere. The use of Black Bloc tactics, pioneered a decade ago at the Seattle WTO conference, suggests the presence of free ranging semi-professional activists that follow these international summits. This is not to say that some Canadians are not among them, but that what we witnessed this weekend was largely an imported phenomenon. 

Blazing cruisers are not Toronto. Police officers in riot gear are not normal here. In having decided to hold the G20 Conference in Toronto, particularly in the city core rather than on the islands or the nearby Exhibition grounds, an engraved invitation was issued to the scum of the earth. For this we have, ultimately, only one man to blame: Stephen Joseph Harper. He is not to blame for the acts of violence, he did not commit a criminal act. No, the charge against our Prime Minister is a simple one of gross incompetence. For this he must be held accountable. Wiser and less vain figures would have chosen other sites and perhaps other times. The Toronto Police Service, and the municipal government, was handed the thorniest of public order problems this weekend. They should not have been.

To many worried relatives and friends of Torontonians, the chaos which took place Saturday was mostly isolated to the area south of Bloor, east of Bathurst and west of the Don River. The very core of the City. But the rest of Canada's largest urban centre functioned much as usual for a late June weekend. Traffic was unusually light on many highways, many having fled on Thursday or Friday. Toronto is a big city and the overwhelming majority of its 2.5 million denizens behaved as their usual peaceful selves. As Mayor David Miller noted at a press conference on Saturday afternoon, there are protests almost everyday in Toronto, most in front of the American consulate on University Avenue, or in Nathan Phillips Square (at City Hall). 

The media has insisted, with some exceptions, on using the term protestors. The word is an honourable one. There is nothing wrong with peaceful protest, it is an essential aspect of a free society. Even the galling sight of seeing banners displaying the images of Marx and Mao, which were quite visible during the TV coverage on Saturday, is acceptable within the bounds of free speech. The goons at the HRCs notwithstanding, freedom of speech can accept the peaceful expressions of nonsense. Force, however, is where every civilized person must draw the line. 

Shortly before the summit, upon the apparent request of the Toronto Police Service, the provincial government passed a special regulation by Order in Council, empowering the police to detain anyone who did not identify himself within five meters of the G20 perimeter fence. The regulation is temporary and expires on June 28th. It is a sweeping and arguable draconian regulation. The tactics of the police, by ordinary standards of conduct, have been aggressive. There were dramatic take downs of individuals, some arrested without making obviously provocative acts, though no word as to their previous actions. There has been the expected, and exaggerated, descriptions of Toronto becoming a police state. 

Our civil liberties exist within the context of a peaceful and orderly society. It is sometimes necessary to suspend or restrict these liberties, albeit temporarily, when order collapses. This is as galling as it is necessary. Insisting police conduct themselves with the same restraint during a riot, as they would on an ordinary day, is suicidal nonsense. Because arbitrary power is easily abused it must be granted sparingly, and its use monitored closely. 

The police, by the nature of their function, must be granted some measure of arbitrary power, they must exercise discretion in dealing with the public day-to-day. In times of crisis, as this weekend, sometimes additional powers must be granted to help maintain order against violent actors. Pierre Trudeau was correct to invoke sections of the War Measures Act, an admittedly ancient and cumbersome piece of legislation, to help maintain public order in Montreal four decades ago. Today the provincial and municipal governments have been, for similar reasons, essentially correct in their conduct. 

The danger two generations ago was insurrection, in hindsight this was an exaggerated threat, but the then federal cabinet did not have the benefit of hindsight. The danger now is of widespread rioting, a few hundred organized thugs can easily breakdown public order, allowing countless opportunists to loot and burn at will. This can happen even in the best run, and most peaceful of cities. A week, a month or year from now the conduct of the Toronto police may seem excessive. What should be recalled is not only what happened, but what might have happened.

It is easy enough to find fault with the conduct of the police, either for doing too much or too little. The Golden Mean of peace, order and good government is hard enough in ordinary circumstances, and this weekend has not been ordinary. Excessive force and or ill planning can easily cause death, as occurred at Kent State. Too much restraint can invite violence rather than preventing it.

In moments of crisis emotions run faster than reason, we fall back on our instincts. Images link with emotions. The alien sight of police in riot gear is fearful, as is the sight of a violent mob. Divorced from their context they are, however, meaningless. The police in police states do behave in similar ways to the conduct of the Toronto Police Service this weekend. But in police states the media are not allowed to film demonstrations, protestors are beaten without mercy on the streets and disappear forever. These things have not happened in Toronto. Given a near impossible task the police have done what they could. Given that public order collapsed only briefly, and in limited areas of the city, that has been no mean feat. The price of freedom is indeed eternal vigilance against the state, but the price of civilization is eternal vigilance against barbarism.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 27, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (10)

Meme that needs to be selected against: "Don't let the thugs determine where we host the G20!"

I'm beginning to hear a lot of people argue that we shouldn't allow the protestors, thugs, and sociopaths determine where or when we have events like the G20. Even Andrew Coyne -- the man I usually think of as rational in the economic sense -- is spreading this meme:

Acoynememe

But this is irrational. The value of not allowing sociopaths to determine where we host these things is surely not worth $1 billion dollars plus property damage. If we could have hosted the G20 somewhere else, or kept the costs down in some other way, we should have. Hosting the G20 in Toronto, at such an enormous expense, is a mistake. There may be good reason to refuse to be rattled by goons and thugs, but whatever that reason is, it is surely dwarfed by the price.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on June 27, 2010 in Canadian Politics, G20 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Does the G20 deficit agreement go far enough?

Good news from the G20 meeting. The member nations of the Group of 20 have agreed to cut their deficits in half by 2013 and to stabilize their debt. Such a move is so obviously needed that you could say that this is basically people agreeing to acknowledge the existence of reality. But considering the track record of some governments for ignoring reality, I would say that this is a positive step.

My question is: what happens after 2013? Will the governments of the G20 be satisfied with having achieved this goal and go no further? Will a similar consensus be reached to when member countries should have no deficit at all?

Half of a deficit is a good thing, in the same way that dying of cancer in a year is better than dying in 6 months. You are still screwed in the long run but it will take a little longer to get there. That is to say, that a smaller deficit is better but a deficit is still bad.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 27, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Video round-up: U.S. campaign advertisements with spoofs

As we follow the destruction and craziness in Toronto, I thought I'd bring a little levity to the day by aggregating some of the better recent political campaign advertisements from the U.S. along with three spoofs worth watching.

Let's begin with Dale Peterson, who ran for, but lost, the position of Agricultural Commissioner in the great state of Alabama (home to the Crimson Tide, national college football champions):

Not surprisingly, Peterson's ad was spoofed:

Peterson's loss did not dampen his spirits. Here he is endorsing one of his competitors for Ag Commish:

The above adverts clash with the generic political advertisements we're used to seeing during the election season. Still, most ads follow the formula of the satirical send-off below. You might call us cynical for thinking that the advert below hits close to home, but we prefer to be called "political realists":

The race for Alabama governor became national news when Tim James insisted that driver's license exams should only be provided in English, instead of the 12 languages that are currently available for exam takers. Notice how James makes it sound as though English-speaking Alabamians might have to take the exam in Spanish on one day, and Japanese on the next:

Here's the best spoof of James' political ad. I especially like the pumpkin pie with the word "MATH" in it, so that we all know it's the math version of pie, rather than a regular pumpkin pie, which is delicious and makes children hungry:

Here's a nice send-up of Tim James' campaign ad. We read with our eyes, after all, and Braille costs money. Maybe it's the businessman in this guy, but getting rid of Braille would save money, and it just makes sense. Does it to you?:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on June 27, 2010 in WStv | Permalink | Comments (0)

You are not an anarchist, you are a thug

As I sit here in my scholarly exile in Edinburgh, I find myself deeply concerned for the safety of my brother-in-law and my friends who live in downtown Toronto (thankfully my sister and her two year old fled the city before the violence started). I also feel a deep and fiery disgust for the idiotic self centered fools that are terrorizing an entire city. Make no mistake, these people are not anarchists. I sincerely doubt that many, if any, of the violent protesters have an intellectually consistent world view.

I have met many anarchists in my day (for some reason we tend to go to the same parties). I have not met a single one that was violent or irrational. In fact the whole basis of their ideology is founded on ideals of non-violence and rationality. True anarchists believe that we can all live peacefully without the coercion of the state. True anarchists would feel every bit as disgusted at these protesters as I do, perhaps more because they are corrupting a word that they hold dear.

I don’t think that anarchism would work for reasons that I won’t get into now. My point is that anarchism is not only a valid philosophical position, it is also rooted in ideals that are completely contrary to the behaviour of these so called anarchists in Toronto. Smashing up a coffee shop and burning cars does not make you an anarchist warrior, it makes you a thug.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (22)

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Mike Brock and Stephen Taylor at the G20 protest

Policecaronfire

News from Mike Brock's and Stephen Taylor's twitter accounts is that the protest is turning into a bit of a riot just now. The picture on the right was retweeted by Stephen Taylor just a few moments ago. This is the second police cruiser on fire that I'm aware of.

What follows are the live tweets from both Mike and Stephen:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on June 26, 2010 in Crime | Permalink | Comments (33)

Why are there so many rent seekers?

Rent seeking is a term used by some social policy scholars to refer to special interest groups that lobby the state for special privileges or subsidies. A less polite term would be parasite. A rent seeker is someone that uses the coercive power of the state to gain economic advantage. They are takers not makers; they take from the productivity of others. They take a share of what Frederic Bastiat referred to as plunder.

To live by forcing others to pay for you is clearly immoral, and as Brian Lee Crowley recently argued in his book Fearful Symmetry, it is also detrimental to a person’s happiness and sense of self worth. So then why do so many people do it? Even people that would otherwise be inclined to be self sufficient often hire lobbyists and try to win favourable treatment. No matter how wrong someone may think it is, rent seeking is usually a necessity in the modern economy.

Mr. Crowley provides three reasons why someone would become a rent seeker: 

  1. Free money: the reward of seeking government subsidy is so high that it is practically free money. The cost of paying high taxes is already lost and if you do not get the subsidy someone else will.
  2.  Competition: if you are the only one that isn’t getting government support you are at a severe disadvantage. It is practically self defence to ensure that your interests are heard when the government is handing out the loot.
  3. A sense of fairness: people have a sense of fair play, and some individuals being given an artificial advantage is almost always seen as unfair. In that spirit you may seek your own advantage from the state so that the playing field can be more level.

If you are a business man and all your competitors are getting an advantage it is hard to remain virtuous and refuse government assistance. For this reason I never look down on businesses or any special interest group that gets government assistance. Ultimately it is not their fault.

The fault lies with government for allowing a culture of rent seeking to flourish. If the government had refused to hand out tax dollars or make regulation designed to protect particular interests then there would be less of a reason to rent seek.

At the end of the day the reason that so many people become rent seekers is because the government gives out the rent.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

We should cut down on the number of G8/20 meetings

Polls show that Canadians feel that the cost of the G8 and G20 meetings are too high. At the same time the polls show a general support for the international clubs as well as support for Canada hosting the meeting. Evidently the Canadian people don’t mind being the centre of global negotiations but reasonably feel that the price tag should not be too high.

This eminently reasonable position is undermined by a report made by Kevin Page that the cost of the summit is not ‘out of line with other countries.’ It appears that the numbers that have been used to compare the cost in other countries are not measuring the same factors. The Americans, for example, only reported in 2009 the cost of overtime and visiting military and police forces. The $19 million reported cost is hardly comparable to the more complete accounting of the Canadian government.

As Dr. Roy points out on his blog, Kevin Page is hardly a hack of the Conservative Party. I think it is therefore fair to say that Mr. Page’s report is accurate. There are some painfully obvious places that the government could have saved money, but the overall cost of having these meetings is still demonstrably high.

The question then arises, is the advantage of face to face meetings among the most important global leaders worth this cost?

It is hard to measure the benefits of the G8 and G20 meetings. The meeting that took place during the 2008 economic crisis is often cited as calming the market, but the long term benefit of that meeting is doubtful. The policies that are announced after these meetings are often laughable and usually ignored by the same governments that supported it. Often these meetings feel like nothing but an excuse for foreign travel and for anti-capitalist protests.

Some have claimed that the solution is to have the world leaders video conference with each other. Really that would be pointless. It isn’t like the heads of governments don’t already talk on the phone on a regular basis. That isn’t the point of the meetings. If there is a benefit at all the benefit comes from the face to face discussions between high level officials. There just isn’t anything that can replace being next to the person you are talking to.

Perhaps the solution is instead to not make G8 and G20 meetings a regular event. If the meetings are restricted to times of a clear need for discussion, such as some global economic crisis, then the member countries will not have to bear the cost of so many meetings. This would also bring more value for money because it will cut down on the pointlessness of some of the G8 meetings we have seen in the past.

If we assume that there is indeed a point to having these meetings at all, then for the sake of the taxpayer’s money, leaders should ensure that they actually have something important to talk about.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 26, 2010 in G20 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Watson: The trial of Vigna v. Levant

Yesterday and today, Terrence Watson and myself took in a bit of court room drama. Ezra Levant, former publisher of the Western Standard and author of Shakedown, is being sued by Giacomo Vigna for defamation.

The trial provided enough drama for Watson to provide a detailed account of it in "Vigna v. Levant: Serenity, nausea, and red underpants.."

Here's an excerpt:

“I'd put my sainted father against your private investigator any day!" replied Ezra, pounding the table.

There were several moments during the trial when I felt like banging on the table, like when Ezra denounced Vigna as a “political bully.” Or when he made reference to the “whack of neo-Nazis working at the HRC.” Or pretty much every time the judge chastised Vigna for jumping off the pier of relevance into the swamp of raw innuendo.

Or when, in response to Vigna's suggestion that he used “controversial language,” Ezra retorted: “Censorship is controversial, Mr. Vigna.”

Read the rest here

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on June 25, 2010 in Freedom of expression | Permalink | Comments (2)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Free Trade at Home

The proposal now before us [Confederation] is to throw down all barriers between the provinces—to make a citizen of one, citizen of the whole." - George Brown, 1865

Any public policy study that begins with a quote from the Greatest Canadian, has got to be good. Written by those well-known, and doughty, free marketers Brian Lee Crowley, Robert Knox and John Robson, Citizen of One, Citizen of the Whole launches a wide-ranging attack on interprovincial trade barriers. While it is scarcely the sexiest of topics, these barriers constitute a significant part of the regulatory apparatus that is strangling Canada's economic potential. 

While the MSM focuses much of its time and energy covering trivial partisan maneuvering, the public is left in happy ignorance about laws which hurt them in the pocket as surely as taxes. Frederic Bastiat observed that the difference between a good economist, and a bad one, was that the former looked at the "unseen" factors of economic life. Anyone could observe that a broken window pane generated economic activity, the money paid for a new window and wages paid to the installer. What was unseen was how the money spent on the broken window pane might have been spent on something else. 

The "unseen" aspect of public policy is regulation. Various think-tanks of Left and Right detail elaborate spending or tax cutting proposals. These fiscal issues dominate policy discourse. Regulation is the largely ignored ugly sister of these debates. The laws being studied are convoluted and usually of little interest except to their beneficiaries. The typical person taking a cab in downtown Toronto has little knowledge about the intricacies of how fares are set, and taxi licenses dispensed. At best we can provide only an educated guess about how much more his fare costs because of these regulations and controls. These petty acts of gouging  - the technical economic term is rent-seeking - add up over time, and over the length and breadth of the country. Just as taxi licensing blocks new entrants into a local market, so interprovincial trade barriers perform the same function on a larger scale. Their end result is wasted resources and a lower standards of living. Take some of these bizarre and outrageous examples of inter-provincial rent-seeking detailed in the study:

Yet the solution to this provincial protectionism is fairly simply. The federal government has the power, and the responsibility, to enforce trans-Canadian free trade. It has, however, so far lacked the will. Beyond attacking this cavalcade of statist featherbedding, Crowley, Knox and Robson offer a vision of a freer Canada being a greater Canada. They claim no originality in making this argument, it was the vision of our Fathers of Confederation. Contrary to generations of statist historians and myth makers, the founders of this country believed in freedom just as ardently as the founders of the United States. Different circumstances seemed to require a less vehement approach. The Americans fought for their rights, we simply asked for them. The methods were different, the essential freedom-loving vision was the same. It is the vision we need to return to. Allowing Canadians to trade freely with one another would be one important step in that direction.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Canada needs a Ron Paul

According to this Financial Post article, stimulus spending has lost support in the USA. Polls show that the public do not feel that it has created jobs and the White House is having trouble passing increased spending that was introduced in February. Even the rhetoric of President Obama has shifted from a need for stimulus to a need for fighting the looming debt crisis.

This mirrors much of what is happening in Canada. Here too the Canadian people are doubtful of the benefits of the stimulus package. Economists are likely to debate the validity of this doubt for years, but that is no surprise considering that the pros and cons of government stimulus have been debated for a century. Ultimately, from a politician’s point of view, it doesn’t matter what the economists say, the voters don’t think it worked.

The main difference between the political situation in America and Canada is that in the US there is a small cadre of politicians that always opposed the stimulus plan. Politicians such as Ron Paul and Jeff Flake can stand up and say that they were right all along. Now that public opinion has shifted their way they can reap a political reward for their principled opposition.

In Canada you will have trouble finding a politician that openly opposed the government’s spending. The opposition parties lack credibility on this issue because their main criticism at the time was that the government wasn’t spending enough. There was also a lack of provincial premiers rejecting the money the way that some Republican state governors did in the USA. And of course even if some Conservative MPs didn’t like the stimulus package, the oppressive nature of our political culture would have prevented them from saying so anywhere near cameras.

This means that as the country loses faith in the Keynesian strategy there is no one for Canadians to look towards as the proponent of the alternative. There is no Ron Paul for Canadians, and it cannot be said that there is no appetite for someone who will shake up the debate. Stephen Harper receives the best marks in polling data for being trusted with the economy, but even his grade is pretty low. The people just do not trust the current political leadership on economic issues.

The fundamental problem here is not that there is not dissenting opinion among Canada’s political class. The problem is that the political culture stifles debate. Without a healthy and full debate about our economic future, the Canadian people are left with no options when they tick their choice at the ballot box.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (19)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

There Ought to Be A Law

Play ball:

A ban on ball hockey on Toronto roads is getting a second look, after councillors directed staff to report back on ways in which the city could legalize the activity.

Ball hockey is played on streets across the city, but many people may be surprised to learn it’s not allowed.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker certainly was. He looked around the room today at the public works and infrastructure committee, which he chairs, and pointed out that he was likely surrounded by “bylaw violators”.

He said banning the sport on roads is “just plain silly”. (HT)

No, actually within the context of municipal governance the law makes perfect sense. The law is not silly, it is, unfortunately, a necessary act for efficient road management. The law, incidentally, has never been enforced and carries only a $55.00 fine. The law, however, is made necessary not because of heedless ball players, or reckless drivers, but because the roads are publicly owned. 

Most ball hockey players are courteous enough to get out of the way of cars, and most drivers courtesy enough just to put up with the minor inconvenience. It's only kids playing and the games improve the livability of residential areas and promote a sense of community. It is also an activity that is ripe for abuse. Not all eleven year olds are taught common courtesy, and a decreasing number of adults practice it consistently. It's not hard to imagine children or adults failing to yield for traffic. Since ball player and car cannot occupy the same space at the same time, and the roads are intended for the flow of traffic, the cars must be given priority. The only way to enforce that priority is with a municipal by-law - since they are municipal roadways.

For the law to be practical it has to be written in as simple and direct a manner as possible. If you place too many restrictions or qualifications the law - i.e. ball hockey is prohibited only in certain circumstances - becomes a dead letter, the abusers can simply exploit the loopholes. Thus a blanket ban is the only practical way such a law could be written. In practice the law is left to the officer's discretion, though few Toronto police officers would stoop to ticketing children playing ball hockey. Though not necessarily for other harmless acts (i.e. smoking marijuana, jaywalking across an empty street). What irks most people, however, is that very discretion, the idea that an officer could charge children for behaving like children. 

The problem isn't children playing balls, or drivers driving cars, it's the ownership of the roadways. Being public property they belong to everyone - in theory - and thus in practice to no one. As a matter of necessity the state must play arbiter on the use of public property. Thus the passage of bizarre and draconian laws, such as banning ball hockey. 

The only logical alternative to public roads are private ones. The idea is often dismissed as impractical, especially in an urban setting, or as overkill in solving relatively minor urban issues. While private roads may not be on the top of most libertarian / classical liberals' reforming wish list, it is still an important frontier of the state that needs to be rolled back.

Since roads by their nature are for traffic flows, any given section of roadway is used mostly by people who do not live near that section. The users of a section of roadway have no real relationship to nearby residents, unlike say patrons of a commercial establishment or guests at a private residence. That lack of a relationship suggests obvious free rider issues. If the roads are owned by nearby residents, the benefits accrue to unrelated users and the costs to the residents alone. A simple and obvious solution is bringing in a third party to manage costs and benefits. Since the largest and most obvious third party in any society is the government, governments have been given control of most roadways. 

That this approach is perhaps the simplest, does not make it the best. Governments allocate resources based on political calculations. This is the central problem with any state managed economic venture, be it roads, hospitals or schools. A skilled pressure group can easily convince a politician, and enough of the general public, that the issue of the day is funding for a particular cause or program. To win votes money is diverted to those sectors which are currently popular with the electorate. Opening a new windmill or school will attract positive media attention. Spending a similar amount on fixing potholes will tend to attract less, if any, media attention. 

A privately owned road would not suffer from such politically calculated neglect. It would, retort most critics of private roads, suffer instead from free rider problems or be too complex to manage. The free rider problem is easily dealt with, unauthorized use of private property is trespass. Owners of residential roads would probably discourage heavy traffic or lead footed drivers, and restrict access accordingly. Owners of arterial roads would be interested in heavy traffic volumes and faster speeds in order to maximize profits. Roads in commercial zones would probably favour lower speeds and more road space dedicated for street parking. Some commercial areas might become completely pedestrian.

Private ownership would probably take one of two forms, depending on the make up of the surrounding area. For arterial roads and highways a toll system could easily be manage. The imposition of such a system would be no more onerous that the current toll roads in existence, or the various obligations imposed on motorists by the various provincial traffic acts i.e. requirements for license plates, insurance and driver testing.

For residential areas a condominium style approach would probably be more suitable, perhaps with each city block, or neighbourhood, being made its own condo corporation. Just as condo boards manage common areas and facilities in an apartment complex, these "block condos" could handle sidewalks and roads. Rules on hockey ball playing, or any use of common areas, would not be determined by City Hall, which by necessity must often impose blanket regulations regardless of local or personal circumstances. A block condo with young families would probably have fairly lenient regulations on ball playing or similar activity, another block with a predominately senior population might ban such activity outright and enforce it rigorously. Free markets and private property allow for a wide diversity of responses to varying needs. One size never fits all, yet governments legislate and regulate believing it does. Even when governments take into account exceptions, this simply increases the complexity of the laws and their enforcement. 

One of the most common objections to private roads is that obstinate owners might, as a matter of whim or cynical calculation, block off a section of roadway. As suggested above, it would be impractical for every owner of lot of land to also own the section of roadway immediately adjacent. Instead the roads would be owned by a condo style corporation, or a roadway operator, that would have no vested interested in blocking the flow of traffic. This objections is also somewhat amusing. The imaginary road blocker is seen as an absolute impediment to private roadways, but politicians cordoning off large sections of public highways, all for the sake of political aggrandizement, is not an devastating criticism of public ownership. In the world of private relations the obstinate and the anti-social are common, though not insurmountable, obstacles to efficient and harmonious co-operation. These obstacles pale in comparison to the damage that can be done even by low level bureaucrats, or ministers of the crown, of a certain frame of mind. 

In his first inaugural address, Thomas Jefferson noted: 

Sometimes it is said that man can not be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

If I was forced to explain the advantage of a classical liberal polity, over its alternatives, in a single paragraph the above is what I would quote. It explains the whole of our position as succinctly as possible, and from the mouth of one of liberty's greatest advocates. Its wisdom applies to high matters of public policy as well as to small ones. Whether health care, education or street hockey, we have not found angels in forms of kings (or bureaucrats) to govern us. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (31)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Obama the anti-immigration President?

Alex Nowratesh of the Competitive Enterprise Institute is arguing that Obama’s reputation of being pro-immigration is undeserved. In his article he points out that the Obama administration has increased restrictions and costs to legal immigration as well as increased bureaucracy targeting enforcement of the migration laws.

This is despite Obama’s opposition to Arizona’s recent immigration reforms as well as his support for an amnesty for illegal immigrants. Significantly, the Obama administration is setting new records for expelling immigrants.

I suggest you read the whole article here, or Reason Magazine’s summary of the article here.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (10)

Why Can't The English Teach Their Children

What would Henry Higgins do?

After reading a dozen or so papers, it seems to me unarguable that the old JMB O-level was a superior exam to the modern GCSE (first introduced in 1986). And the Oxford board O-level, I discovered, was tougher even than the modern A-level. The paper was a simplified version of the exam the university set its undergraduates, and students were required to translate lines from Chaucer. The Oxford A-level was commensurately superior and clearly designed as a stepping stone to an elite university. It contained three long extracts from Shakespeare (mainly the tragedies, but also romances and histories). Questions often consisted of a great critic quoted on a great author: Johnson on Milton or Eliot on Marvell.

Other questions that stand out for the range and depth of reading they demanded are: “Has Spenser any merit as a storyteller?” “Do you consider that ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ shows the majesty and power of God as successfully as it shows His mercy?” “Why do you read the Bible?” And my favourite: “Write a close critical account of the work of literature you have most enjoyed reading apart from works recommended for examination.”

The modern A-level looks very different. This change in approach can be traced back to the early Nineties when sections entitled English World Wide and A Woman’s World started to appear on the syllabus. For the first time, authors began to be grouped by their racial background or gender.

Back in the pedagogical dark ages - i.e. pre-1990 - the people who ran the British education system held to some notion of objective and historical truth. You taught Shakespeare not because he was "representative" of late sixteenth century England, because geniuses are never, in the narrow sense of the word, representative of anything but their own talent. They are certainly fed by their culture, and in turn help feed back into that culture. Shakespeare took a modest grammar school education, the life experiences of an actor and theatre impresario, and transformed them into monuments of human understanding. The Greats were great because they spoke to man qua man. They are as relevant to Tudor theatre goer as to the Japanese farmer, the American factory worker or the African bushman. That might sound absurd, none of the examples I cited would, typically, be interested in Shakespeare, or even in serious literature. Being human, however, they would have known jealous, hatred, love, hope and betrayal. A great artist conveys those eternal themes with superlative skill. 

Let's say, however, that you reject the idea that human beings have a universal nature. That it is the same flesh, whatever its form or pigmentation, put to different purposes by different minds and wills. Instead you argue that truth depends entirely on the speaker. Not that each of us has our own context, and when we speak we speak within that context, but that context is irrelevant. Absolute truth is impossible, one cannot step out of one's self and imagine another person's condition, or an objective reality. This is not a new argument. Take the below quote from Ludwig von Mises' Human Action:

Neither the Marxians nor the racists nor the supporters of any other brand of polylogism ever went further than to declare that the logical structure of mind is different with various classes, races, or nations. They never ventured to demonstrate precisely in what the logic of the proletarians differs from the logic of the bourgeois, or in what the logic of the Aryans differs from the logic of the non-Aryans, or the logic of the Germans from the logic of the French or the British. In the eyes of the Marxians the Ricardian theory of comparative cost is spurious because Ricardo was a bourgeois. The German racists condemn the same theory because Ricardo was a Jew, and the German nationalists because he was an Englishman. Some German professors advanced all these three arguments together against the validity of Ricardo's teachings. However, it is not enough to reject a theory wholesale by unmasking the background of its author. 

Human Action was originally published in 1940, and its English language version in 1949. Mises was a classical liberal, he even wrote a book called Liberalism. For a man so deeply influenced by the Enlightenment, polylogism was a throw-back to a more primitive era. 

Whereas the German racists of the past "refuted" David Ricardo's insights based on this personal background, the modern bigots practiced "positive racism." They praise work not because it is good according to some objective or universal standard, but because it is representative of a class, race or nation. The scribblings of semi-literate sharecropper have merit because of who that person is, not what was said. While such writing may have historical value, they do not have literary or artistic value simply because of who that person happened to have been. 

The elevation of identity above, at the very least, an aspiration toward truth, reduces education to a stream of disconnected data. A skilled teacher could help a student identify themes in the Bible and classical authors, that recur in Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden and Dickens. A literary theme is a concept, a universal abstraction that subsumes many concrete points of data. If you understand the concept, you can organize the data in your mind. If that data is simply random bits, you have to memorize in order to retain what is taught. Data point A is black woman writer from Jamaica, data point B is white male writer from Saxony and so forth. 

Such memorization is tedious and seems, and is, irrelevant to the student. It also makes evaluation more difficult. Asking someone to demonstrate they understand a concept is relatively easy, as seen in examples cited by the author of the first quote. Asking someone to regurgitate data is also easy, it is also obviously pointless in the age of Google. Thus the examinations become easier in the face of protests from students and parents. The educator cannot go back to teaching "great" authors as that would imply that truth and value is something apart from demographic categorization. Unable to teach and test ideas, educators instead slip back into their old role as task masters of memorization. In a more deferential age such an approach might work, though only in keeping the students and parents quiet. In the modern age the simplest way out of the educators problem is to dumb down. Since little of value is taught, little can be tested. The generations thus pass, ever more schooled and ever less educated.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Your Tax Dollars At Work

Every time I'm told, almost always solemnly, about how in Canada we have a right to free health care, I remember stories like this:

A small outbreak of bedbugs has hit a hospital in suburban Toronto and officials say they are fighting it back vigorously.

The tiny critters first surfaced at Etobicoke General Hospital, in the northwest region of the city, late last week when a staff member complained of a bite.

Hospital managers called in Toronto Public Health, which sent sniffer dogs on Monday to find where the insects were living.

Live bedbugs were found in a staff lounge, while dead bugs and eggs were discovered nearby in the emergency room.

Now maybe this is a common occurrence in American and European hospitals. I rather doubt. A few cousins of mine worked as nurses in Lisbon hospitals for decades. Those who have found themselves in a Canadian hospital have been less than impressed. 

It wouldn't take too much imagining to see how the CBC / Toronto Star would play this story if it happened at a hospital in, oh say, Buffalo or Chicago. Greedy insurance companies / doctors / HMOs conspire to let safety standards drop. Never, overpaid and unaccountable medical bureaucrats reduce safety standards to shovel more money into bloated union contracts. Medicare isn't a government policy, it's a national mythology invincible to hum-drum things like facts, no matter how hard they bite.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Sun TV News: Conservative or conservative?

Now that the new potential news station has a name, Sun TV News, we can thankfully stop calling it ‘Fox News North.’ The problem with the constant comparison with the American conservative network is that it has led to a lot of pre-judgement of what the new network will be like. It is doubtful, if indeed impossible, for it to be exactly like Fox News. So it would be more sensible to wait and see what Sun TV News will be like, rather than jump to conclusions.

Perhaps the most important question is if this news station will be ‘Conservative or conservative.’ Meaning: will it merely be a mouth piece for the Conservative Party or a true vehicle for conservative thought?

It seems that some have already assumed that the man in charge, Kory Teneycke, is a Harper stooge. There is a lot in his background that suggests that this is entirely possible. After all, he not only worked as the Harper government’s communication director, he has also worked for various political parties his whole life. If he has working experience outside of partisan politics I have not heard about it in any of the extensive articles on the man and his mission.

Still, I think people are jumping to conclusions. It doesn’t really matter how friendly Mr. Teneycke is with his former employers. His main mission is to make a successful business venture, and frankly even partisan hacks would get bored watching a network that did nothing but repeat Conservative Party press releases.

Mr. Teneycke’s attitude was partly revealed in his interview with Maclean’s:

“Do I think that the market space for political commentary is more oriented toward conservatism for the most part? Yeah, I think it probably is. But I think that’s for the same reason that talk radio in Canada tends to orient itself more toward conservative opinion than not: because it’s a jumping-off vote for a brasher, less politically correct discussion of issues.

“Do I think that there will only be conservative views represented? Absolutely not. It’d be bad television, it would be uninteresting for anyone to watch.”

The first and foremost mission of Sun TV News will be to make money.

Thus I suspect that it will be more conservative than Conservative, but I think we should all reserve our judgement until more is known.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Landowner Association president running for nomination in the PC Party

According to an article that appeared in the Ottawa Sun on June 17, Jack Maclaren, president of the Ontario Landowners Association, is looking to get the nomination to run in the next provincial election as a Progressive Conservative candidate. If he is anything like Randy Hillier, the founder of the OLA, I think that this is great news. The more advocates that we have for property rights in Queen’s Park and the PC caucus the better.

It appears that the riding association Carleton-Mississippi Mills is uncomfortable with his candidacy, which is understandable considering that part of Mr. Maclaren’s strategy is to take control of the riding association’s executive. This has been characterised by the sitting riding president as being ‘bullied out.’ Personally I would call it democracy.

I’ve seen it happening a few times, and I’ve heard of it happening a dozen times; a new up and coming politician wants to put people who are personally loyal to him or her in positions of trust in the riding association. If the existing executive can’t mobilise the membership to safe their position, then well, that’s politics.

Of course there are always tricks up the sleeve of an incumbent to stave off a potential threat, especially in the rough and tumble of local politics. One of these tricks is being applied by the Carleton-Mississippi Mills current executive. They are putting off holding an AGM pass the constitutional deadline. The hope it seems is that Mr. Maclaren will either go away or the executive can use the extra time to put up a decent fight.

With a reported 600 new members signed up by Mr. Maclaren it doesn’t seem like either eventuality is likely. The members of the current executive should instead be thinking ahead for ways that they can best work with the new team.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, June 21, 2010

Sex and the City did not ruin you

Yesterday this article came out claiming a connection between the famous television show ‘Sex and the City’ and the destructive spending habits of some women. The idea is that Sex in the City showed a life style that was beyond the realistic financial reach of most women, but they still wanted it. So to try and attain the life of their unrealistic cocktail drinking heroes, women from all over spent more than they had and crippled themselves with debt.

This is a load of crap.

Television did not make those women do anything. They were not manipulated, tricked, brainwashed, or otherwise coerced by any sitcom to behave in any way. They made their own choices and blaming a fictional reality for their bad decisions is only an attempt to try and avoid any sense of responsibility.

Dexter has not turned me into a serial killer, the Wire has not turned me into a drug dealer, and Rome has failed to turn me into an ancient Roman soldier. This is for the same basic reason that Sex and the City has not turned anyone into a ‘shopping addict’:

You are in charge of your own choices.

Take responsibility for them.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (17)

Well, at least someone likes him...

Even if he is British. The otherwise sound Daniel Hannan:

I’m delighted that my party has caught up with this blog’s hitherto niche interest in Canadian Toryism. Canada is the only truly successful G8 economy, having determinedly lived within its means. George Osborne is reported to be interested in the record of its previous Liberal government, but the record of the excellent Stephen Harper – perhaps the most Anglophile leader anywhere in the world – merits just as much attention.

Harper is a magnificent fiscal conservative, but he lacks an overall majority, and so has had to rely on Liberal support. The Liberals have insisted on a number of measures that have increased spending, and then turned around and complained about the ensuing deficit. George Osborne should study that experience.

Yeah, things are pretty bad in the mother country when a self-described "Whig" calls Stephen Harper "a magnificent fiscal conservative." It's like calling Gordon Brown "a brilliant and charismatic leader," or Jean Chretien "a visionary and articulate statesman." In politics, at least practical politics, all truth is relative. 

Compared to most G8 leaders Stephen Harper does look like a genius. This is, as you've guessed, damning by the faintest of praise. Barack Obama is an avowed socialist, who described his one real job in the private sector as working "behind enemy lines." Japan has been governed by a series of interchangeable non-entities for the better part of the last decade. In most of Europe, and certainly the English speaking world, Silvio Berlusconi would be awaiting sentencing. Angela Merkel rivals Helmut Schmidt in the visionary department. Sarko is a living embodiment of every mistake the French have made since Diem Bien Phu: A domestic policy summed up by the quintessentially French term "dirigiste," and a foreign policy consisting of German guilty tripping and sophomore anti-Americanism. If Stephen Harper looks taller than others, it is because he is standing on the shoulders of midgets. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 21, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Further thoughts on Aqsa Parvez

Yesterday, I was really hard on Christians in a post that was meant to draw attention to the fact that all religion is wrought with intolerance. But today, I'll leave the Christians alone, because there's actually a group of largely secular atheists that I want to pick on today: feminists.

Now, full disclosure: I'm married to feminist. I consider myself a feminist, and I've angered many social conservatives in the past by bringing feminist arguments to the forefront.

I do think sexism exists in our society, that it's systemic, and creates real barriers for women in society. But that's not what this article is about. It's not about feminism. It's about feminists. And not just feminists. But specifically the youthful, activist type. The feminist organizations. You know, the third-wave feminists who decided to take up the cause of anti-Islamophobia after 9/11 as one of the most pressing feminist issues. Yeah, them. Some who've actually helped organize and participated in, "Wear a Hijab Day". Seriously.

You can imagine that I've asked these atheist feminists how they could get involved so virulently with defending a sexist religious tradition like a Hijab, and the answer involves something about the "complex intersection of race, ethnicity and gender". Basically, post-modernist nonsense.

Some atheist feminists actually defer comment on matters such as the honour killing of Punjabi women and Muslim women, and instead say, that it's the responsibility of feminists "within those communities" to speak out. Once again, because of the "complex intersection" of race and gender. I'm being serious here. I'm not making this up.

The end result of this deafening silence from the feminist community, has resulted in it's shape taking on a form that largely upholds and re-enforces gender stereotypes outside of the European (white) communities.

Women's Centres at some universities are now dominated by Hijab-wearing women. Islam has become a new raison d'être for secular feminism. Because feminism isn't just about women any more. Rather it's about "all oppressions". With the oppression of greatest concern being that of Muslim women. Not by the sexist practices of their cultural import, but by the lack of acceptance for those practices, by those with liberal values.

How is it that feminists have become such walking contradictions? From burning bras, to defending a symbol of female oppression.

The frightening trend among secular, self-styled "progressives" in this regard has even been noted by outspoken atheists such as Richard Dawkins and the irrepressible Christopher Hitchens.

It is actually an area where conservatives such as Mark Steyn are on to something, hyperbolic as their statements may sometimes be. As secular "progressives" are at the forefront of tearing down the values of the Enlightenment. Even the Western value for science is under attack by these people, being dismissed as too "Occidental".

The attack on reason, science, and the embrace of medieval and mystical nonsense is not just limited to the Bible thumping Christians, or the Ayatollahs of Iran. No, it's a goal that many on the progressive left actually share. Especially among feminists. It's a troubling trend and one that cannot be ignored by those who value the power of reason, and more importantly, the value of liberty.

Posted by Mike Brock on June 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (69)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

On Aqsa Parvez

We have now learned what most of us knew in our hearts all along. That, Aqsa Parvez, was killed by her father. for the crime of violating religious orthodoxy. She was brutally strangled her to death, while her despicable mother was simply expecting a daughter with broken arms and lengths. She didn't think he'd go that far.

But in the end, Aqsa's mother blamed her daughter's intransigence with the religious customs she demanded of her, for her bloody end: "Oh god, oh god... Oh my Aqsa, you should have listened,” she would say aloud to police in a secluded interrogation room. “Everyone tried to make you understand. Everyone begged you, but you did not listen." Indeed.

The evil of orthodox religion has shown it's tooth with Aqsa, and while Christians use this as an opportunity to espouse the superiority of Christianity, it's worth pointing out that honour killings/beatings/exclusion among Christians are not completely unknown to the modern world. You need not look far to find examples, particularly in regards to homosexuality.

Take Jerry Lee Segar of Florida, who killed his daughter's lesbian lover after learning of their three-year affair. Or Ronnie Paris Jr. who killed his three-year-old son because he thought his son was gay.

While Christian honour killings pale in sheer numbers to those that happen in the Muslim world -- and that's not a point that's lost on me -- the simple fact is that organized religion is a force of conformity and intolerance that can, at worst, lead to honour killings, and -- while less morally repugnant -- all too often leads to disownment and exclusion of those who step outside the boundaries of the orthodoxy.

Disowned gay and lesbian children is certainly a common theme in Christian circles. I know of several. One is the case of a Starbucks assistant manager in Toronto's Greek Town. Coming out gay to his parents resulted in a beating by his father that left him hospitalized for three days, with multiple broken fingers and the extreme psychological trauma of being severely beaten by one of your own parents as a grown man, for doing nothing more than being honest and true to himself.

I reject religion, in general, because contrary to it's pedlars, religion is not a force of tolerance. It is a force of conformity, and often, outright hatred for those who do not conform.

No religion is innocent on these issues. From Buddhist Monks to Hindus, violence has been an omnipresent facet of religion. From Northern Ireland, the West Bank, Kashmir, to the ultra-catholic South America, religion is the reason for so much violence and hatred against those who do not conform.

There is no moral equivalence to be drawn, say, between Western Christianity and fundamentalist Islam. If you wanted to get down to sheer numbers in a pissing war, I think we can all agree that the latter wins hands down. But the idea that this fact validates other religions is laughable at best. I am, after all, unfamiliar with any cases of atheist honor killings.

Posted by Mike Brock on June 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (111)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Don't talk to the police.

I think I've posted this before in the comments somewhere, but it's something everyone should watch when thinking about talking to the police -- for any reason.

Bottom line: Talking to the police can never help you. Especially if you're innocent.

Posted by Mike Brock on June 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (45)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Why are people so afraid of a conservative tv network?

I’ve decided not to get too excited about the prospect of a conservative news caster in Canada. It seems to me that it has as much potential pitfalls as it does potential. Yet it is fascinating to see so many act so scared by the mere mention of a conservative media outlet.

Don Newman is openly admitting that he is prick to anyone who thinks it is a good idea. NDP MP Pat Martin is calling it ‘frightening.’ Then there are liberal bloggers that are writing like they are in a panic. And that just scratches the service of the hysterical response that has been bouncing around the internet.

The question I want someone to answer is: what are they so afraid of? Are they afraid that a conservative newscaster may actually convince people to be conservative? Are they scared to actually engage in a genuine debate? Are they so insecure in their own ideas that they want them to go unchallenged forever?

You can disagree with someone but that is no reason to try and exclude them from a debate. In fact that is even more reason to include them. The more diverse the perspectives are in public debate the healthier and more fruitful will the debate be. Having more broadcasters of any bias or ideological bent will be good for democracy and good for Canada.

So even if this new network takes a shape that I cannot support or approve of, I will still welcome it to the great public dialogue of Canada.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (80)

Friday, June 11, 2010

The problem with government regulation

A recent study, done by the Fraser Institute, shows that government regulation has not made medicine cheaper in Canada than the United States. The National Post reported on the findings here:

"Our conclusion is that government intervention in prescription drug markets does not produce overall cost savings for consumers compared to free-market-based approaches in the United States," said Mark Rovere, associate director of health policy research with the Vancouver-based, right-wing think-tank.

"The main reason for this is because the potential savings from low-cost generic alternatives could not be had in Canada because they are incredibly inflated because of government policies."

Personally I’m not surprised that government regulation has not had the intended effect, most government regulation doesn’t accomplish what civil servants and politicians hope it would accomplish. The problem with any government regulation is aptly demonstrated later in the same article:

Noting the focus on drug price is "significantly misplaced," the Canadian Pharmacists Association is instead pushing for more investment in pharmacy services to ensure governments and individuals are getting value for their money.

So the association of pharmacists wants the government to spend more money on...pharmacists.

And there lies the problem. Governments are too vulnerable to interest groups such, as the Canadian Pharmacists Association. Any regulation that is ultimately created is more likely to benefit such interest groups than the public as a whole. It may not be a bad thing for the public but it certainly would not be optimal.

I don’t really blame policy makers. I am not one of those that think politicians and bureaucrats are some sort of evil cabal. They are simply lessoning to one particular group of experts, never mind that the same experts have an obvious stake in the outcome. It is simply the way that all governments work.

It is inevitable.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (25)

Government should not be funding cultural events

The Toronto Star is reporting that Minister Tony Clement made the decisions on which festivals should get funding and which should not. The opposition MPs, and indeed the tone of the article, suggest that this is outrageous. And I agree but I doubt for the same reasons.

It is outrageous that one man gets final responsibility for deciding how $100 million of taxpayer’s money is spent. This is money that has been taken directly out of our pockets and is now at the disposal of a man who is a stranger to most of us. Under most circumstances that would be called theft

The problem is how else should the government make such decisions? Do you want this to be decided by some committee? That would mean that no one would be directly accountable. If there was some sort of problem or corruption it would be difficult to know who to fire or who to arrest. By putting the power in one man’s hand at least we know who to lynch. Besides the very principle of Westminster democracy is built on Ministerial responsibility. If you start messing with that you don’t really know what you are going to get.

No, the real issue isn’t that Mr. Clement was allowed to make these decisions. The problem is that these decisions are there to be made in the first place. Government money has no place funding cultural events. If people want these events to take place they will contribute to it voluntarily not be forced by the government to give them money.

It should always be kept in mind that the only true way to prevent the abuse of power is not to give the power to begin with.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (22)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In support of the HST

Opposition parties in British Columbia and Ontario are accusing the governments of both provinces of attempting a tax grab with the HST. But what is the real story of the HST? Niels Velduis of the Fraser Institute provides a strong argument for harmonizing sales tax in British Columbia. You can read the full details here, but I will provide a quick over view:

HST is far from a tax grab. It just makes good economic sense and opposition parties should take a deep breath and take an honest look at this policy.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (23)

The Tide Goes Out

Remember?

The journey will be difficult. The road will be long. I face this challenge with profound humility, and knowledge of my own limitations. But I also face it with limitless faith in the capacity of the American people. Because if we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs to the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last, best hope on earth. This was the moment—this was the time—when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves and our highest ideals. Thank you, God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.

Barack Obama, June 3 2008

After almost exactly two years the words still induce choking. There was a custom, long honoured among American Presidents and candidates for that office, of making megalomaniacal statements to only close friends and advisors. Sure they knew their presidencies would be epoch making, but they kept the bragging to those with a front row seat to history. To the general public, at least, they played the role of modest citizen-politicians seeking the common good, whatever that might have been in their minds. Gerald Ford, in his brief moments of conservatism, used to tell audiences that a government big enough to give your everything, could take everything away. Under George W Bush the government got so big that his successor could, with a straight face, claim that the very forces of nature could be altered by his presence in the Oval Office. The tide, however, has gone out on Obama-mania, with even many of his once ardent supporters distancing themselves from the President.

The ladies of The View, the liberal-dominated morning talk show moderated by Whoopi Goldberg, spent a lot of time last week sympathising with Mrs Obama about how difficult it must be to argue with a husband who never shows any fire or emotion.

Even the liberal chattering classes are deserting Obama. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times jeered that his "Yes we can" slogan had been downgraded to "Will we ever?", while fellow colunnist Frank Rich blasted his "recurrent tardiness in defining exactly what he wants done".

Perhaps Obama's toughest critic over the BP oil slick has been James "Rajin' Cajun" Carville, the mastermind of Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign and one of those Democrats who represents the beating heart of the party. He blasted Obama's "political stupidity" and "hands off" attitude, concluding: "It seems the President is madder at his critics than he is at BP."

Perhaps even the Left will begin to realize that there are limits to the power of government. But not likely.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

The doom of Stephen Harper

Bob Hepburn at the Toronto Star is predicting the end of Stephen Harper. I think just about everyone can roll their eyes at such a statement. It would be an interesting study to look at how many times someone from the Toronto Star has predicted the doom of Stephen Harper since 2002. I am willing to bet that the number is impressive. The problem is that Mr. Hepburn is partly right. Stephen Harper should be doomed, but somehow he is not.

Mr. Hepburn puts forth two reasons for why Mr. Harper’s downfall is eminent: $1 billion spent on the G20 and G8 meetings; not including abortion in foreign aid funding. The second reason is silly. This has been an issue in the public sphere for months. If it was going to hurt Mr. Harper’s standing in the polls it would have done so already, but it didn’t. It is simply not an issue that the Canadian people as a whole care about.

The first reason is far more valid. Stephen Harper has positioned himself throughout his public career as a fiscal conservative. From his days in Reform to his days in the NCC and back again into Parliament as the leader of the Canadian Alliance, Stephen Harper was an advocate for limited government spending. Having built his reputation on such advocacy it was the fiscal conservatives that made him leader of the Conservative Party and ultimately the Prime Minister of Canada.

So you would think that a massive overspending project like this would cripple his government. The basic foundation of Mr. Harper’s support should be eroding underneath him. But really he still looks pretty secure. Sure he is slipping in the polls, but there is still little chance that the Liberal Party would be able to get it together enough to take him on. Also the prospect of a caucus or cabinet uprising is so laughable that it makes me want to weep for Westminster democracy.

The reason for this lack of destruction is simple. Any fiscal conservative who is likely to abandon Stephen Harper has already done so. The Harper government has increased spending at a rate that Pierre Trudeau would have envied. So why would any true believer in fiscal conservatism still support him?

No, the truth is that his real power is based on being the better option than the Liberal leader. As long as Mr. Harper can point to his opponents and declare that they would be far worse, the ranks of the Conservative Party will stay in line. So far he has been lucky that Mr. Dion and Mr. Ignatieff have set the bar so low. That luck may run out one day, but I think anyone of sense would hesitate to declare the end of Stephen Harper.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (14)

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Canada's looming fall from grace

2028_picture_of_a_nervous_man_sinking_into_the_quicksand_of_debtWho would have thought, that all these years later, a libertarian capitalist like myself could long for the days of the Chrétien Liberal's? It's not an endorsement of the consummate Liberal platforms of yesteryear, but a culture of fiscal austerity -- although, not far enough did it go -- that incontrovertibly laid the foundations to Canada's relative strength in the world today.

Certainly, there was waste in government. Certainly, the Liberal Party had it's objectionable policies for both conservatives and libertarians. But the idea that Canada's position has strengthened under the Conservative Party is a myth. We live in the afterglow of the competitive foundations that were laid in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Stephen Harper's Conservatives have managed to come within a swinging distance of out-doing Pierre Trudeau's increase in the size of government. By sheer numbers, the Harper Conservatives have increased the size of government since they took power by somewhere in the range of 26%. And they are also running the largest deficit in Canadian history, to boot. Adding insult to injury, conservatives have made a wholesale embrace of neo-Keyensianism, kicking fiscal conservatives and libertarians to the curb. Literally.

The running story amongst conservatives is that the situation would have been far worse under the "tax and spend" Liberals. And they may be right. It does seem that fiscal responsibility has lost it's sheen in the Liberal Party. Indeed, the Grits believed that Canada's Economic Action Plan(tm) didn't go far enough; they would have preferred much higher spending (read deficits) levels than Jim Flaherty was pushing for.

The problem for Canada is now daunting. Neither the Conservatives or the Liberals have any genuine interest in fiscal responsibility anymore. At least, not if it gets in the way of their political agenda.

Canada's economic performance and "relative" health of it's public finances, sans provincial debt, has led many to believe that fiscal responsibility is no longer a priority. It won't be treated as a priority and it is unlikely that you will again see balanced budgets in Canada again for over a decade.

The reality is, that a united left is becoming a political necessity for the Liberal Party, and as a party that is more addicted to power than principle, it's move to the left and eventual merger with the NDP is, despite current appearances, all but inevitable within the next few years.

A united left would waste no time in fast-tracking their social justice pet projects, such as national universal daycare, which will add tens of billions of dollars to government program expenditures. They mistakenly reason this will actually improve the economy, and therefore, pay for itself. Like in Quebec, where, it actually hasn't paid for itself. In fact, Quebec's fiscal position is worse than Spain's, sporting an impressive 94% Debt-to-GDP ratio, with apparently no end in sight for it's ever increasing debt load.

Couple all this with average household debt in Canada rounding out the worst in the OECD, coming it at around $42,000 and the available fiscal room for the necessary tax increases to balance out a "progressive agenda" is questionable at best.

Today, Canada's future is not bright. Rather, it's living in the afterglow of yesterday's prudence. We are now a nation of both public and private excess, of debt and a complete lack of appreciation for the risks associated with the future. Think of Canada as the Western world's last gasp.

Posted by Mike Brock on June 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (15)

Top of the Charts

Guess what 66 year old economics classic is currently topping the best seller list at Amazon?

First published by the University of Chicago Press on September 18, 1944, The Road to Serfdom garnered immediate, widespread attention. The first printing of 2,000 copies was exhausted instantly, and within six months more than 30,000 books were sold. In April 1945, Reader’s Digest published a condensed version of the book, and soon thereafter the Book-of-the-Month Club distributed this edition to more than 600,000 readers. A perennial best seller, the book has sold 400,000 copies in the United States alone and has been translated into more than twenty languages, along the way becoming one of the most important and influential books of the century.

This dovetails quite nicely with the sales surge in copies of Atlas Shrugged seen last year. To paraphrase a well known Canadian blogger: "Barack Obama, is there anything you can't do?" HT

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (3)

Why are the Poor Still With Us?

Then and now:

When, in the Victorian era, Britain began to focus for the first time on the problem of poverty, it was largely down to the work of two great social scientists: Charles Booth, the shipping magnate, and Seebohm Rowntree, the chocolate manufacturer. Both, in their different ways, believed that poverty was essentially about money. In time, as prosperity increased, it could be abolished.

They would be shocked to learn that more than a century later, in a country six times richer than when they began their work, where government spends 48 per cent of national income, the poor are not only still with us, but their numbers have multiplied beyond all expectation.

Booth and Rowntree were perfectly correct. The poverty of the Victorian era was due to low per capita productivity. Once sufficient capital had accumulated, productivity increased and living standards rose. Just before the Great Depression there was still plenty of extreme poverty in old England, but it was increasingly confined to coal mining regions and certain industrial districts. Coal was then being displaced by oil as an energy source, and the overvaluation of the pound after the First World War had priced many British exports out of international markets. Better monetary policy, peace and economic freedom would have in a generation or two have reduced extreme subsistence poverty - those barely able to feed and house themselves - to a tiny minority easily handled by private charity. Another world war, three and a half decades of socialism and poor were still with us, in even greater numbers. The poor in a poor land are very different from the poor in a rich land. The former is the rule, the latter is the exception to the rule.

In rich countries the poor are poor because they lack not money but ability. Some lack the mental or physical capacity for self-sufficiency, and are thus the proper objects of charity. They are victims of nature or accident and wholly or largely blameless for their position. A small minority is simply very unlucky, a series of personal disasters finding them broke and often with dependants. It is the particular sin, however, of the welfare state to have recreated a class of poor that were once on the decline, the unskilled. Most of these unskilled workers have been schooled, in the manner of the less efficacious public schools, but have acquired little in the way of practical skills. 

Faced with an series of unpleasant employment prospects, mostly involving menial work, the path of least resistance is dependence on the state. Canada is still mostly a free economy, with a consequently low unemployment rate compared to continental Europe. There is no reason those who are fit to work cannot accept those jobs. They make a choice not too. It is the easy choice in the short-term. What they have volunteered themselves for, encourage by teachers and social workers who preach victimhood, is decades of living purgatory. It is far too crude to describe such people as lazy. Their state goes beyond mere idleness. It is the excruciating state of never ending boredom, a purposeless existence mitigated by alcohol and often hard drugs. The temptations of gang life, which offers power and a pseudo sense of personal self-worth, are ever present. This is the "compassionate society" which generations of statists have preached and fought to achieve. Callous indifference might have been kinder.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (54)

Free trade, good or bad?

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Zero Max

Stop it already, I'm getting weepy.

If we have to have an inflation target, I believe the best and most realistic alternative at this point would be to set it at 0%. It is true that this would diminish the ability of the Bank of Canada to artificially stimulate the economy. There could not be negative real interest rates as we have now, since the Bank’s official interest rate cannot go below 0%. But as I said, I think that too much monetary manipulation is the problem, not the solution.

The Bank would need to have a much more prudent and sound monetary policy to keep price inflation at 0%. That would really preserve our purchasing power. That would help prevent the cycles of booms and busts that we have experienced. It would reduce the price distortions that inflation causes throughout the economy. It would facilitate the financial planning of individuals and businesses and increase the efficiency of our economy.

At some level I think the MP for Beauce makes statements like this just to annoy Stephen Harper. Nothing flashy like saying abortion is murder, which would get him kicked out of the caucus, just something an MA in Economics would understand and be disturbed. Monetary policy is not sexy, which is why it is safe to say heretical things, but it probably gets under the Prime Minister skin very nicely. 

All this red meat tossing by Maxime Bernier is seen by many as political positioning for when Mr Harper puts on his fluffy blue sweater and goes back to Calgary. Perhaps. Or he might be just be counting down until the next election, and deciding to do something fun to pass the time, like saying what he actually believes. A dangerous approach in our Cult of Greyness political culture. In Canada, principles are for Americans and artists, the latter of which is usually subsidized. I'm not sure Max would make a good Prime Minister. I do know that he'd make a fantastic Leader of the Opposition. When the Liberals decide to ditch that empty suit of theirs, they might also want to rediscover the original meaning of their name. If they do, there is a perfectly bilingual leader on the other side of the House for them.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Ignatieff on bilingualism

Michael Ignatieff spoke about how bilingualism is part of the Canadian identity. Since identity is a rather loose concept that relies almost entirely on the feelings and attitudes of individuals, I think I can let that one slide. I would disagree but he can define the country however he wants.

What I find puzzling is why he feels the need to spend everybody’s money to enforce his concept of Canada. If this is who we are as a people, in the sort of fundamental way that Ignatieff speaks of, then why do we need government funding to enforce it? If we are a bilingual people by nature shouldn’t we be, you know, bilingual by nature?

That isn’t even the most puzzling part of his speech. Mr. Ignatieff claims that bilingualism is the reason why Canada has been united for “hundreds and hundreds of years.” I have to believe that this is a quote taken out of context because I find it hard to believe that the man was this silly.

Two things come instantly to mind:

1. Official bilingualism has been enforced for less than half a century.

2. Canada hasn’t been a country for more than 143 years. So how could we have been united for hundreds and hundreds of years?

I suppose we can put this comment down to Mr. Ignatieff being to enthusiastic. But really that is the whole problem with this idea of government promoted bilingualism. It is too enthusiastic.

It creates a picture of Canada that doesn’t exist and frankly never will exist. We are not a bilingual people. There are many languages spoken in Canada, and many people speak more than one of them. But English and French are not at the heart of every Canadian.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (25)

The Rights Game

Jean Charest plays at Solon:

 Four years after Jean Charest arrived from the federal Conservatives to take over the Quebec Liberal Party, when he was still a stranger to many in his new party, a former Liberal leader came to Charest's assistance.

Claude Ryan published a booklet on the party's values, including an attachment to individual freedoms, and declared that Charest was part of a Liberal tradition going back to the party's founding in the early 19th century.

That was eight years ago. Now Ryan is dead and the only trace of his booklet left on the party's website is a brief, selective summary.

And under the leadership that Ryan helped to consolidate eight years ago, the party's attachment to individual freedoms has never been as tenuous.

The article focuses on Charest's steady erosion of English "language rights." In arguing over "language rights," we are long way from John Locke's conception rights, or indeed those of his classical liberal descendants in the Victorian era Rouges (predecessors of the Quebec Liberal Party). Liberalism was, in many ways, a victim of its own success. By popularizing the idea that there were certain things a government could not do to individuals, the idea of individual rights revolutionized government. The more consistently rights were advocated, and enshrined in legal systems around the world, the more steadily the Leviathan of the state retreated. 

Individual rights, however, are extremely annoying to professional busy-bodies, may they be priests, bureaucrats, sociology professors or statist themed economists. Allowing individuals to live their lives in peace, so long as they respect the rights of others, means allowing them to live as they choose. To drink too much alcohol, or too little. To worship God, or sleep in on Sundays. Even to spend money on sports, rather than something ennobling like avant-garde choreography. There may not literally be a moralizing or paternalistic instinct in the human species, but the itch to rule others seems well enough ingrained at this point in history. Employers have at best a tenuous right to fire workers, even for blatant and persistent incompetence. Consenting adults are legally barred from smoking a harmless weed. Alcohol in most of Canada, and parts of the United States, is sold by a government owned agency. If only for a few generations, this sort of paternalism was kept to a minimum. A century ago, however, a gradual shift began in the popular understanding of rights.

Before Locke's conceptual revolution, and the largely peaceful political "revolution" of 1688, rights were a mixed concept. They included both ancient individual rights, such as trial by jury, as well as group rights such as those of the medieval guilds (which still survived into that era), and the right of the Anglican Church to levy taxes (tithes). Through out the eighteenth century a clearer distinction was developed between rights and privileges. Individuals had rights, endowed by their nature and their Creator. Groups had privileges, granted them by the state as a matter of public policy. It might be socially desirable, say, to have an established (tax supported) Church, but it was no natural right. It was imply useful. Once the proper conceptual distinction had been established, between rights and mere privileges, the Georgian and Victorian classical liberals (known originally as Whigs), began to dismantle the privileges of Church, guild and the aristocratic classes. Even when they mistakenly expanded the state, virtually all liberals of that era wanted state financed schools, they never claimed that people had a right to education, merely that an educated electorate was important in sustaining a free society. "We must educate our masters," said one British politician of that era.

Having rolled back the frontiers of the state, the triumphant liberalism of Victoria's later reign then repeated the old mistake. Privileges were again confused with rights. A few generations later, and an ocean away, Franklin Roosevelt, picking up what was left of the liberal tradition, declared that all men and women had four freedoms: Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Two natural rights - freedom of speech and belief - were conflated with a "freedom from want," which was code for the welfare state. The "freedom from fear" was a vague suggestion in the direction of world peace, and one of the first steps toward the creation of the United Nations. Through out the western world the rot has sufficiently set in that in Canada the concept of "language rights" has been enshrined in the constitution. This is something quite apart from simply adopting a policy of bilingualism in government, a policy having the legitimate aim of allowing speakers of both founding languages to access government services in their own language. Instead "language rights" include having a "right" to an education in French, a right to having private companies provide products and services in French, and denying English speaking parents the right to have their children learn in English. So-called "language rights" are privileges which violate individual rights. The right of free speech is suppressed by Bill 101, which mandates that all commercial sign in Quebec contain French. The right to trade and contract is suppressed by laws mandating bilingual labelling (a federal and provincial infringement). 

The real historic difference between the Two Solitudes is not religion, language or whatever Wolfe and Montcalm did or did not do a quarter of a millennium ago, it is the collectivism of the French in Canada. A collectivist believes that the privileges of the group supersede the rights of the individual. The "security" of the French language trumps the right of individuals to decide for themselves. The Quebec nationalists who have forced through the anti-liberty language laws - the anti-right of language rights - are busy bodies. They fear their youth will be absorbed into the English speaking societies of North America. Rather than trying to persuade the young of the value of French language and culture, they insist on forcing it down their throats. 

Their paternalism will, in the end, be self-defeating. A collectivist society is intolerant of outsiders. Over the past generation and a half, hundreds of thousands of Anglophones and Allophones have been driven out of Quebec. The vast majority of new Canadians make their homes in more welcoming spots, such as Ontario, having little interest in being second-class citizens in their country of adoption. Even among the more ambitious Francophones, the economically and socially stagnant Quebec of their birth has little appeal, moving them to seek greener pastures elsewhere. If Quebec's nationalists really want to preserve French culture in North America, they need to begin by liberating the talents of their citizens and welcoming the contributions of other societies. A commitment to an autarkic economy and culture are death knells for any society.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (14)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Oh, Please

Along with the perfectly idiotic chatter about a merger of the NDP and Liberals - as if the latter's Blue Liberal core would tolerate it - comes talk of bringing Papa Jean out of well-heeled moth balls. Both memes are really a product of a deep and long-standing disease in the Liberal Party, damn laziness. As Hugh alluded earlier, the Grits need to learn how to fail intelligently and gracefully. Since Mackenzie King took over the party in 1919 - crystal ball, ruins, mother, dog and all - the Grits have been known as the Natural Governing Party. The essential strategic insight King brought to the table, which was the same insight that Laurier and Macdonald had, was that the key to winning a majority government was to keep Quebec on side. Convince the political leadership of la belle province that the Liberal Party could best serve their interests, and a solid phalanx of about 50-60 Quebecois MPs would be at their disposal. Pick up about half to two-thirds of the seats in Ontario - its industrial base being persuaded by a mixture subsidies and adjustments to the tariff schedule - and a scattering of seats in the West and Atlantic Canada and, voila, you have a majority government. Repeat for the better part of eight decades.  

Papa Jean is many things, most of which cannot be printed in a family publication, but he is as shrewd a political operator as we've seen in this country in many years. If you're a die-hard Liberal partisan, like this guy, the pinning for the glory days of the 1990s must be painfully strong. I don't blame 'em. A succession of comically weak leaders, of which Stephane Dion was simply the most obviously absurd, leaves one yearning for Chretien's sure hand. He knew when to fold 'em, knew when to walk away, knew when to run. He's too clever, and probably too tired, to go back into the fight. He is not de Gaulle waiting to be recalled to save the nation. He's a highly successful pol, who's catching up for all those ill-paid years working as one of the Queen's Ministers. Let the kids worry about the politics. Papa Jean also has a keen sense of opportunity. His largely undisturbed reign as the top, that close call in 1997 aside, rested on a historical disaster of which he was co-author.

In his efforts to patriate the constitution, and tack on the Charter, Trudeau was blocked by eight provincial premiers, his only supporters were Bill Davis' Ontario and Richard Hatfield's New Brunswick. The Gang of Eight, led by Alberta's redoubtable Peter Lougheed and Quebec's Rene Levesque, opposed patriation on Trudeau's terms. They demanded instead a clause allowing provinces to opt-out of federal programs (with equivalent funding), and dropping the entire idea of a Charter of Rights. The deadlock was resolved by Trudeau tossing the most brilliant gambit of his career, an offer of a referendum on the issue. It was bait that Levesque, a committed democrat if nothing else, was bound to take. This startled the other Premiers who knew Trudeau had national support for his position, especially the idea of a Charter. This allowed the then federal Attorney General Jean Chretien to strike a deal. Negotiating with his counterparts from Ontario and Saskatchewan, Chretien convinced the Anglophone provinces to drop their objections to the Charter and their support for an opt-out provision. In exchange Chretien conceded, much to the annoyance of Trudeau, the Notwithstanding Clause, to assuage provincial fears of federal judges trampling on provincial rights.

An honest political deal, or the usual political skullduggery, the so-called Kitchen Accord sealed patriation and enshrined the Charter. At least that's how English speaking Canada saw it. Encouraged by lurid nationalist fantasies, the myth of the Knight of the Long Knives was born. The English premiers had conspired with the vendu Trudeau and Chretien to betray Quebec. Levesque was the poor innocent victim of Anglophone mendacity. It was nonsense, but a powerful nonsense, destroying the Liberal Party in the province. They have not yet recovered. The immediate aftermath of patriation saw the Quebecois turn to their usual second choice in federal politics, the Tories. The Mulroney coalition held on for nearly a decade, but ultimately blew apart, seeing soft nationalists walk into the waiting arms of the Judas Iscariot of Canadian political history, Lucien Bouchard. Since then that reliable block of 50-60 Quebec MPs has been denied to both leading federal parties, frustrating attempts to form a majority government. Chretien's reign was a product of his skill, but above all his great fortune in having a divided Right. With the conservative coalition returned its status ante Mulroney, strong in the West and Ontario, weak in Quebec and the Maritimes, the country is caught in permanent stalemate. The major problem with the Liberal Party isn't their leader, it's that they've lost their central political pillar and have no replacement. Having alienating the rising West, and distrusted in about half of Ontario, the Grits have nowhere to go or grow. It's a bigger issue than Iggy's lack of charisma or substance.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Cruel to Be Kind

Exposing the homeless shakedown:

Then there is the young guy who joins up with an older fellow and the scam is asking for money for cab fare to get his "dad" to the hospital or a medical clinic or to get something to eat. Anything that will elicit your sympathy. I do not fault these people; they are in the grip of a disease, and addiction is a disease.

So are the lies they tell you a form of stealing? If someone convinces you to give them money for a specific purpose and then they take that money and spend it on something else, that is fraud. And fraud is stealing. So what do we do?

The answer is stop giving them money. You're killing them. They need to hit the proverbial brick wall so they will reach out and get help with their problem, addiction. In the long run, tough love is kinder than allowing them another day in addiction hell. So when a panhandler asks you for money, perform a true act of kindness, and just say No!

Homeless is a classic anti-concept, which Ayn Rand defined thusly:

An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. 

In other words, it is a sort of intellectual bait and switch. Homelessness is suppose to refer to people who are forced to live on the streets of urban areas, due to adverse economic circumstances. The term implies that those who are homeless simply cannot afford housing. This is true as far as it goes, but ultimately unenlightening. It does not explain how people became homeless. In poor countries the answer is fairly easy to grasp, the typical worker has a very low level of productivity (compared to his rich country counterparts) and even small financial difficulties can leave him, or her, wanting of basic necessities, including housing. In such countries a fairly substantial portion of the population is without housing, or without adequate housing (even by the standards of such countries). 

By contrast, even the most generous estimates put the number of Canadian homeless at less than 1% of the overall population, and this is a level which fluctuates greatly from season to season. In a rich country homelessness is a rarity, which is harder to explain with the presence of a generous welfare state. Homelessness is also overwhelming a phenomenon of native-born Canadians, very few immigrants find themselves living on the streets. The term implies economic factors but in the context of life in modern Canada, economic factors are unlikely to be a major causes of homelessness. If poor communication skills are a factor, why are so few immigrants impacted? If lack of money is a factor, why are the homeless unable to avail themselves of various provincial and federal social support programs? If the high cost of housing is a factor, why don't they move to cheaper areas? The last question is, admittedly, somewhat dicey. Urban renewal projects and rent control have done much reduce the stock of affordable housing in major Canadian cities. Yet over the last three decades, when homeless populations exploded, millions of immigrants have arrived in Canada and very few have found themselves unable to afford even basic shelter. Affordable housing is a certainly a challenge for low-income earners, but as the stories of millions of new Canadians suggests, it is not a insurmountable one.

Given the sentimental gauze wrapped around the issue of homelessness, to say nothing of the vested interests among professional activists and government agencies, obtaining reliable numbers on the size and composition of the Canadian population is extremely difficult. In the broadest sense the population can be divided into about four causal groups: The mentally ill, those addicted to drugs or alcohol, runaway youth and those who are voluntarily homeless. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Personal circumstances can vary widely. There are no doubt genuine hard luck stories of successful people who, through circumstances beyond their control, find themselves on the street. These are, however, a minority of cases. Most otherwise functioning members of society can usually avail themselves of personal resources, family, friends and if need be charitable institutions and government social programs. The mentally ill often lack the capacity, at least on a consistent basis, to seek help. The addicted are too unstable to receive help, unless their addiction is brought under control. The young are often too inexperience or afraid to seek help, and are easily manipulated by a wide cast of professional exploiters. The most controversial group are the voluntary homeless. 

They are often the most adept at appealing to the pity of pedestrians. Some are skilled fraudsters, others simply social drops, people who were productive members of society but grew weary of the responsibilities of day to day life. This group is probably the smallest, but also the most skilled at attracting attention and resources. Those who give to the homeless are often not giving to those most in need, or in need at all. Homelessness is a term spun by the homeless industry as way of agitating for more funds. More funds for social workers, more funds for the affordable housing industry (including contractors and developers) and more funds for various low-level NGOs that are adept at obtaining government funds. It is not that these groups are necessarily harmful. So far, however, as they practice what they preach, describing the condition of the sick and weak as primarily the product of economic factors, usually with a soupcon of statist rhetoric, they do little good to those they purport to help. Lincoln spoke of the "better angels of our nature." It is often those angels that are used to blackmail us into things that serve neither ourselves, or those whom we are intending to help.

Posted by Richard Anderson on June 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (13)

The Liberal Party should stop acting like it is doomed

Dan Arnold (aka Calgary Grit) wrote an amusing piece, sarcastically suggesting that the Liberals and Conservatives should merge. One paragraph in particular struck me:

Believe me, I too see how bleak the future looks for the Liberals. After all, we have been out of power for four years, while Harper sits with a towering 34% in the polls. I cannot imagine a more hopeless situation.

In his tongue and cheek manner, Mr. Arnold makes a good point here. The Liberal Party should not be this demoralized. In 2006 they lost due mostly to the biggest scandal in Canadian politics for a generation. In 2008 they lost because of a single bad policy proposal and a weak leader. The Liberal Party may be in trouble for a variety of reasons, but it certainly isn’t hopeless. The Liberal Party is still an important political force in federal politics.

By the way you hear some Liberals talk you would think that it was 1993 and they were Kim Campbell’s PC Party. Remember 1993? The Progressive Conservative Party of Canada was all but wiped out and it still took them 12 years to decide to merge with their political opponent. Yet some in the Liberal Party seem willing to pack it all in after just 4 years of a Conservative minority government.

The real problem with the Liberal Party is that they don’t know how to lose. Losing in politics, or at least losing constructively, is an art that every political party needs to master. I mean by this, the ability to internalize within the institution of a political party the lessons of a defeat.

The Liberal Party hasn’t done this. They are still looking for a quick fix. As James Travers points out, the Liberals seem to be in the search of an easy way back to victory. They are looking for a new leader that will grant them victory, a merger with the NDP, or even a return of Jean Chretien. All of these ideas are nutty but they are being talked about seriously by way too many people.

Instead the Liberal Party should take a deep breath, realize that sometimes you lose elections in a democracy, and figure out how they are going to win next time.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Layton should reread the Constitution Act

Jack Layton hopes that he can make Health Care an important issue in the next election. This is surprising because he is talking about a federal election and not a provincial election. Is Jack Layton confused about the constitution of Canada? Did he somehow miss the fact that health care provision is a provincial power?

I read an academic journal article a week ago that argued that Canadians are ignorant about Canada’s federal system. I found the article unconvincing but after reading Jack Layton’s proposals I am willing to give it more credence. Would it be any wonder if Canadians don’t know what is federal jurisdiction when federal party leaders seem to have no idea?

Seriously Mr. Layton, if you want to fix health care run for the leader of a provincial party.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

No regulation or new tax is needed

Stephen Harper has announced what he feels should be the key objective of any united G20 policy towards the banking industry:

The key objective, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Paris on Friday, is to ensure that taxpayers, in Canada or elsewhere, will never be on the hook to bail out big banks.

Here is a crazy and radical idea: why don’t we just not bail out big banks?

There seems to be a myth that someone or something forced governments to bail out their banking industries. The truth is that it was a policy decision that they all took and it was a bad one. The global market would be better off, in the long run at least, if all those banks had been allowed to die. They could have been replaced by smaller banks who had not lent money to people who couldn’t possibly pay them back.

Mr. Harper, objective achieved.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on June 5, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)