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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Note to New Brunswick voter: governments don't create jobs

At least not productive jobs. Liberals and Progressive Conservatives are debating job creation in New Brunswick’s election. Neither party seems to understand that it is not the role of government to create jobs, nor is the government any good at creating real jobs.

Often a government will increase employment by creating subsidies to an industry or hiring extra staff in some crown corporation. These are not real jobs. Sure someone gets paid and that individual benefits, but the economic gain is zero. To pay for that job the government has to take money from other people to produce something that nobody wants.

Such a job does not create anything of any real worth. If it did it wouldn’t need a subsidy to begin with.

It is only the private sector that can create true wealth and it is only the private sector that can create real jobs. All that any government can do to help job creation is get out of the way.

So the New Brunswick Liberals can come up with a strategy to create 20 000 jobs by 2013, and the Progressive Conservatives can come up with their own plan with their own deadline. It doesn’t really matter. Unless they plan to reduce regulation and decrease taxation, any plan that they can come up with won’t actually help the economy.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 31, 2010 in Canadian Provincial Politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Party for the Course

I'm shocked, shocked to find patronage in modern Canadian politics:

At least 20 patronage appointments handed out by the Harper government this month went to political supporters who had given money to the Conservative party or its candidates, the Liberals say.

The political connections of some appointees are more obvious than others: Pat Binns, the former Progressive Conservative premier of Prince Edward Island, was made consul-general in Boston, a position that often goes to party faithful. The Chrétien Liberals had filled the spot with defeated Nova Scotia MP Mary Clancy and, later, former Indian Affairs minister Ron Irwin.

Sian Matthews of Calgary was re-appointed to the board of directors of Canada Post Corp. In 1993, Matthews served as official agent to Stephen Harper and has donated $3,750 to Harper or the party since.

Political patronage is a deep and important Canadian tradition. It predates Confederation. According to some scholars it predates even agriculture. Arguably, it is our first, and among our elected masters, most popular national sport. Yet not everyone can play. Only friends - both fair and foul weather - of the government of the day seem to get these plum positions. From time to time an opposition politico is given a free ticket to pork paradise, just to show we're all in this together, at least among the political class. 

The ordinary proles - that would be we the taxpayers - occasionally get upset at this sort of thing. Getting free stuff without deserving it strikes at the heart of Canadians' sense of fairness. Unless, of course, it's free health care, subsidized university tuition, cheap mortgages and subsidies for our particular ethnic / class / demographic / regional sub-group. But that's different. Because its free stuff for us little guys. It's only appalling for all those rich bastards to be at the trough. 

Frederic Bastiat, whose works should be mandatory reading for all high school students, famously observed that the state is the great fiction, by which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else. Eventually, however, you run out of everyone else. The United States is getting to that stage. The Second French Republic, in which Bastiat wrote, meet with a nasty end at the hands of Napoleon III. 

What drove France toward the arms of the younger Bonaparte, and is steadily undermining our liberal democracies, is pressure group warfare. Each group makes its claims upon the public purse, i.e. everyone else. This pits old against the young, the young against the old, rich against the poor, and region against region. Once the government is bankrupt, it can no longer placate everyone at once. It must favour some groups over others, sometimes openly. That in turn provokes backlashes, sometimes quite violent, as we've seen in Greece recently, and as happened in other southern European states in the 1920s. 

It's easy enough to damn the patronage of the elite. Yet it is small price, borne by all. The patronage of the masses, euphemistically called the welfare state, is applauded as visionary and morally noble. It is the latter, however, which is the far more dangerous. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Where Almost Everyone is Above Average

Who knew the British were so bright?

Figures published by examination boards showed that 22.6 per cent of papers were graded A* or A – a rise of one percentage point in the last 12 months.

Almost three times as many pupils now gain the top grades compared with 1988 when the exams were first introduced.

But that was back in the 1980s. People were dumber back then. Heck, the parents of that generation gave Margaret Thatcher three majority governments. Not like adults today. No, sir. The modern state school educated Britisher sees the light! The generation educated after 1988 could now, thanks to their advanced "critical thinking" skills, see through the glass clearly (spot that allusion kids!). They instead elected Tony Blair to three majority governments. 

With all these new super smart A students about to flood the job market, bringing their "critical thinking" to the challenges of modern business life, the future of Britain is assured. Another Golden Age dawns, to put the petty antics of Shakespeare, Newton, Darwin and Gladstone in the shade. Wider still and wider..

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 31, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Cops 4 Control

The long-form vampire will not die!

The Canadian Association of Police Boards (CAPB) approved eight resolutions when its members met in New Brunswick last week, including one that calls on the government to restore the mandatory long-form census.

The association recognizes “that police agencies throughout Canada depend on reliable, comprehensive demographic statistical information provided by Statistics Canada to establish policing priorities and to determine policing services for their communities,” the CAPB said in a statement released Monday.

In other words, support the long-form, so we can control you more efficiently. Wouldn't it be possible - to say nothing of desirable - for the police to establish priorities based on citizen complaints and routine patrols? Why does the police department need to know:  My marital status? Where I was born? My native tongue? My race? Whether I'm a status Indian? My religion? My parents' birthplace? Whether I finished High School? My income from employment? Method of commute? Whether my dwelling is in need of repairs? These are all questions on the new, and now, voluntary 2011 long-form Census.

Even at an aggregate level, why does the police department need to know that a particular area has a certain race or ethnicity? And if it does, couldn't this be established with tolerable accuracy by, you know, walking around and asking a few polite questions of the locals? Getting out of the patrol cars, putting away the radar guns and actually establishing relationships with members of the community. Just a thought. The Canadian Association of Police Boards call to keep the long-form comes, strange coincidence, at the same time the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police launches a campaign to keep the long-gun registry:

The head of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police says members have endorsed a national firearms strategy that includes the long-gun registry — a program the Conservative government is trying to scrap — at its annual meeting in Edmonton on Monday.

"A resolution for its adoption as the official policy of the CACP was put before the members and that resolution was passed without a single dissenting voice," Toronto police chief and CACP president Bill Blair told CBC's Power and Politics with Evan Solomon.

"I think it's a very strong statement of the commitment of our members to safe communities and for retaining the tools for our police officers that help them do their jobs."

Shelly Glover, Tory MP and former police officer for nineteen years, disagrees, questioning its basic effectiveness. After conducting a survey of front line officers, Edmonton Constable Randy Kuntz noted:

You can’t tell from this registry if someone is going to do anything criminal with a firearm anymore than you could tell if you looked at the registry to see if someone is going to drink and drive.

Even OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino, hardly anyone's idea of a civil libertarian, doubts its effectiveness as well. The historical origins of the registry are well enough known. In panicked reaction to the Montreal Massacre much of the Canadian liberal elite pushed for a long gun registry, handgun registration having been mandatory since 1934. The Chretien government picked up the issue and introduced the registry in 1995. The party has held on dearly to the registry, costing it what remained of its rural support. Calls for maintaining both the long-form Census, and the long-gun registry, have less to do with public safety than a desire for bureaucratic control. Even when the information, obtained at the price of basic civil liberties, is useless the government still wants it. Why? Because information is power. The more they know, they more they can try to control and mould.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 30, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (13)

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Business of Bureaucracy

One of the most discouraging aspects of working in the corporate world is the realization, which comes slowly and surely, that you are not working in a business, but in a bureaucracy. The larger the company, the less like a business it becomes. A business is the line between A and B. The A is the owner, the B is the client. The business works to create value for A by creating value for B. The shorter and more direct that line, the closer the owner is to client and the more closely aligned their interests can become. The longer the line, the harder it becomes to align interests of owner and client, harder to strike the best deal that serves both parties. 

The mom-pop shop is the pure business. The owners face their clients in the flesh. The feedback is instant, and not always polite. In vast organization the feedback mechanism is byzantine. The delivery of a complex product requires hundreds, if not thousands of workers. Co-ordinating such activity means spending more time focused on the internal workings, and politics, of the organization than focused on clients who sit outside the organizational bubble. 

The executive, the proxy for the owner, will try to step outside of the organization bubble with market research, focus groups and customer service feedback. But this is only one element of the data flow that comes to him. The executive is overwhelmed with data. Sorting the trivial complaints from the vital criticisms is challenging. His perception of client needs may vary with others within the organization. He is constantly being distracted by the machine of which he is a part. There is little energy left over for potential client needs, what client doesn't know they might need or want, yet meeting those needs is the future of the organization. Yet the discipline of the market is there, punishing the least able, rewarding the best fitted at riding the albatross. Added to the enormous complexity of the modern private organization is the demands of the modern state.

The power suits and walks belie the fact that the executive is highly circumscribed, by their immediate superiors, and the mass regulations that surrounds and infiltrates the firm. Companies drown in the forms they produce. There are even forms to obtain more forms. Why? Because the auditors want it! Why do the auditors want all these forms? Well to give themselves cushy jobs is the immediate answer. Why do executives keep auditors around? Because they are afraid. Afraid of regulators and afraid of ravenous class action lawyers. Culturally the end product of this fear is bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is the standardization, and routinization, of behaviour so as to minimize risk. The more bureaucracy, the less risk, as well as innovation. A bureaucratized businesses becomes more interested in making sure they don't get sued or fined, than worried about what their clients need or want. 

The executive knows this. They know they can't serve their clients the way they should, so they engage in a elaborate game of distraction, this is called marketing. New products are launched, which no one wants. But the people who launch these products have cushy jobs. The executive who approve them can point to their superiors, and clients, and say that they are doing things. Motion is all important. In what direction? Doesn't matter. Direction is too long range. Purpose is too abstract. Just keep moving and hope you hit something. Hope people don't notice that you aren't addressing their needs or wants, just trying to distract them. 

Look at this bell and whistle, neat, eh? Yes, neat, but no wants it. They want X, but X might cause problems with the auditors, so forget about X. Keep up the song and dance. The link between executive - the proxy for the owner - and the client is no longer simply distorted, it is largely severed in the bureaucracy. The executive, and so the whole organization he directs, becomes rule focused rather than customer focused. An irony since the government controls are often enacted in the name of the customer. 

Without purpose and meaning, a business ceases to be a business, it becomes a game of deception. We pretend to provide value, and the clients pretend that they are satisfied. Sometimes they'll complain, they'll stamp their feet and threaten to take their money elsewhere. The bureaucrats, for at this point they are scarcely recognizable as businessmen, find the complaints amusing. You see the competitors have auditors too. They think the same way that our auditors think, because all auditors are alike, because the laws apply to all. They are the enforcers of the paper pusher world. You certainly need them, like you need traffic cops. But how many do you need? And how many rules are really required to get on with the business of business?  When the rules become all, where is the client? 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 27, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Canadian Medical Association is wrong on MMA ban

The Canadian Medical Association has come out against Ontario’s recent move to allow Mixed Martial Arts. They claim that the sport is too dangerous, but they are suffering from a prejudice against the sport based on faulty assumptions. According to the Globe and Mail:

“It’s savage and brutal. The aim is to disable and maim your opponent. … We should not tolerate this so-called sport in a civilized society,” Victor Dirnfeld, an internal medicine specialist from Richmond, B.C., told the general council of the CMA in Niagara Falls, Ont. on Wednesday.

Savage and brutal? I confess that it can often look that way if you watch it for the first time, but if you keep watching there isn’t really that much brutality. There is rarely any blood spilt, and if there is the fight is called to an end. The opponents are almost always respectful of each other and the game is far more about tactics and strategy than anything else.

Disable and maim? The rules of the Ultimate Fighter are specifically made so that it is unlikely someone would be disabled or maimed. I challenge the CMA to look up the number of people that have been disabled in an Ultimate Fighter match then look up the number of competitive divers that have broken their backs. MMA is not about violence it is about controlled violence. It is certainly not about maiming or disabling.

The truth of the matter is that the opinion of the CMA doesn’t matter, or at least it shouldn’t matter. They may not like the sport but many other people do. And more importantly anyone who enters the Octagon knows the risk that he is taking. Much like any sport, as long as the rules were followed a person who is injured in a MMA match is responsible for putting himself at risk.

It is not the job of the MMA or the government to tell those men what choices they can make.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (25)

Because It Will be Good for the Environment

I don't know if Elizabeth May ever ran for high school class president. Her colleagues, however, seem to be running for that office:

The Green Party of Canada will consider a motion Sunday on whether or not they will push to decriminalize polygamy.

Party members in a workshop on Saturday evening voted to send the motion to the full-Party plenary, where they'll debate and vote on it.

Speakers in the workshop were careful to define polygamy as a marriage between multiple spouses. They made a clear distinction between polygamy between consenting adults and a polygamist sect in Bountiful, B.C., where domestic abuse has been alleged, though charges were thrown out in 2009.

Love is a many splendoured thing. Political amateurism isn't. For the record May is against the idea. Perhaps because polygamous families have larger carbon footprints than monogamous families. Who knows? This all goes back to the whole point of having a Green Party. Is it an environmentalist protest party? Or a genuinely new national party, which happens to have an environmental emphasis? As the NDP skews unionist and working class. 

Talking about polygamy muddles rather than broadens the party's brand. It also adds an unneeded, and additional, "weirdo" level to the public's perception of the party. It's the kind of issue that gets raised at left-wing law schools (I know, an unnecessary qualifier), not by serious parties vying for the mainstream. It isn't just that the issue is extreme, it makes little philosophical sense for the Greens. It's like the Conservative Party arguing for privatizing sidewalks, without the ideological consistently. For those not in the know:

Polyamory is the process of having more than one intimate relationship at the same time, according to the Canadian Polyamory Advocacy Association.

We used to call that being easy. But that was awhile back.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Iggy Why

A nice chap really:

He's tall, intelligent, principled and affecting. He's an internationally renowned scholar of history and public affairs. He is genuinely interested in the condition of his nation. He speaks well, both on the spot and off the cuff. To the camera, he smiles when he must, and scowls when he should. He is, by some standards, the near-perfect candidate.

And yet, Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff, whose approval ratings have rarely broken 30 per cent, is set to make history as one of Canada's great, political underachievers.

This is partly his fault. His peculiar brand of substance and style is so decorous he sometimes strikes his fellow citizens as bookishly inattentive. He can, occasionally, resemble that respectable uncle who shows up on Christmas Day to deliver a homily on the rights of man just as his nephews and nieces are running out the door to test their new toboggans. He's not much fun. Then again, who is, these days, on Parliament Hill?

Yes, but replace the rights of man with the velocity of money, and you've got Stephen Harper. Canadians like their politicians dull. Perhaps at some point, many moons ago, this was a defense mechanism of sorts. A dull politician is unlikely to do anything rash and interventionist, thereby mucking up the daily life of the nation. This is no longer a safe strategy. Lester Pearson was politely dull, and unleashed Medicare, an ahistorical flag and Pierre Trudeau on an unsuspecting nation. Never was so much harm, done by so few, in so short a period of time, than in Mike Pearson's five years in office. Much of what people blame Trudeau for was actually begun by Pearson. But who could hate Mike? He was such a nice guy. He wore a bow tie.

There have been only three genuinely charismatic Prime Ministers in Canadian history: Wilfred Laurier, John Diefenbaker and Pierre Trudeau. John A Macdonald might be a weak fourth, depending on how fond you are of boozy charm. What did they all have in common? What the Elder President Bush disdainfully called the "vision thing." You may not like their visions, but they were about something and attracted a train of almost fanatical - by Canadian standards - followers. 

You can't run into an aging baby boomer in Toronto, they are ubiquitous here, without being bored to tears with their particular Trudeau story. They campaigned for him. They met him walking down some solitary Montreal street. You get the odd Trudeau in the wilderness stories. The funny ones usually involve a disco, a blond and something that happened after the third cocktail. Urban legends used to surround Laurier as well. Dief, as Peter C Newman noted, had the presence of an Old Testament prophet. 

Their vision and their charisma were not coincidences, but corollaries. Just being charming and interesting will get you only so far. That's about as far as Michael Ignatieff has gotten, or will get, barring a massive Harperesque gaffe. After four years in Canadian public life Lord Iggy has yet to explain why he wants to become Prime Minister. With Stephen Harper there was a vague impression, cultivated in the two decades before his entry into 24 Sussex Drive, that he was free market reformer. Some substance to our hockey helmet haired leader. Now he's just a safe pair of pragmatic hands. Paul Martin, without dithering, Jean Chretien with better English (and possibly French). Iggy's bid for higher office has the smell of a curriculum vitae fetishist, just adding one more prestigious entry. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 26, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Having Your Health Care and Eating It Too

I want a mansion, a yacht, a swimming pool, oh, and free health care:

Canadians aren't keen to pay more out of their own pockets to help the country cope with rising health-care costs, nor are they calling for governments to pump more money into the system. Instead, a majority of Canadians think efficiencies should be found in the existing system, with not a penny more thrown in the pot.


The majority of Canadians, 61 per cent, said focusing on finding more efficient ways to deliver health care is their preferred option, while 28 per cent said a bigger piece of the tax-dollar pie should be devoted to health care, which could mean cuts in other government services.

Only 11 per cent said the best way for governments to address rising health-care costs is to provide more opportunities for Canadians to pay out of their own pockets for services, effectively expanding a network of private facilities to offer those services.

Waste! That's the problem! If only we could stop waste then health care would work perfectly! Centuries ago critics of the King would, fearing accusations of treason, blame the King's "evil advisors." Waste is the modern version of the "evil advisors" ruse. Rather than criticizing the system - the most sacred of Canadian sacred cows - politicians and ordinary citizens blame waste. It is as controversial as complaining about the weather. It is also as pointless.

There is, contrary to public perception, no waste in health care. How? Because waste is a relative term. Every dollar spent in an organization is spent on someone, by someone. The receiver of a comfortable salary, or plush contract, certainly doesn't consider his cash flow to be waste. His supervisor probably doesn't consider it to be waste either. The more people, and the more money, someone supervises the more important, and usually better paid, is the supervisor. We all know waste when we see it, but what we do is never waste. This is true of any large organization. In placing health care under ultimate state control, the problem is made worse because the spending has now become politicized. 

Politicization transforms once relatively straightforward economic decisions over staffing, and resource allocation, into political battles. Try firing nurses? Premier Smith is against health care! Try reducing the number of medical administrators. Minister Jones is against health care! The same voter who complains about "waste" is often the same voter who will believe, with little hesitation, the hysterical calls about government "cut backs." Every dollar government spends comes with its own army of vested interests. With socialized health care those vested interests carry about them a halo of altruistic purity, summed up with the holy words: "We heal the sick!" 

The politician, knowing he has little real power to correct the situation, is left consoling the public with platitudes about "patient focused care" and "doctor empowerment." You cannot have patient focused care when the system is not, in any real way, accountable to the patient. Don't like your doctor? Try finding a new one. Don't like the local clinic? Try finding another one without the crowded waiting room. Don't like medications being proscribed? Try obtaining alternatives. So long as it is government health care, it will be bureaucrat focused care. Complaining about waste is simply a convenient evasion.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 25, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (13)

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Divine Right of Statisticians

The long-form Census boosters have hit the bottom of the pressure group totem pole, they have now sought out the mainline churches:

Protecting a harmonious society, care for the poor and vulnerable, and safeguarding religious liberty are at the heart of their complaints. Like Moses’s nemesis the Pharaoh, the federal government has turned a deaf ear.

Church leaders representing 76 per cent of Canadians (according to a 2003 Statistics Canada report) have written eloquent protests, all to no avail. For example, Anglicans said removing the mandatory long-form census would place the government in danger of overlooking the value and complexity of charitable work. Anglican officials reminded Industry Minister Tony Clement how the science of charity works: “In spiritual terms, this loving human response comes by the Grace of God, but in practical terms, it is emboldened and upheld by reliable information and sound methodologies. Statistical information has to help transform thought into action in profound and life-giving ways.

A lobbyist in holy orders is still a lobbyist. The Lord may move in mysterious ways, but Church officials are more obvious in their methods and goals. The Anglican Church of Canada, which once upon a time was referred to as the Conservative Party at prayer, has largely marginalized hum drum activities like preaching Christianity. This has been largely left to the parvenus in the evangelical churches. As aging parishioners grow ever closer to the Lord in the purely practical sense, the mainline churches grow ever more distant in the spiritual sense. Its servants have become, and present themselves, as eccentrically attired social workers. Helping the poor was always part of the Church's mission, but this was in addition to preparing for the world to come. The article finishes with this humdinger:

So while Christians seem to be at risk of losing the scientific data they need to do their social efforts, teaching about giving information to God will go on. That’s what people do when they pray. An important part of prayer is the practice of letting God have your information. Somehow, conclusions emerge in that mysterious practice, conclusions leading to discovery of self, purpose and meaning. Counted or not, that kind of activity has got to be a good thing for nation building.

"[L]etting God have your information." Isn't God omniscient? Maybe the new God isn't like the old God. Like the new Churches aren't like the old Churches. In any case we are not filing out the long-form Census for the Almighty, we are filling it out for the Government of Canada. That's an important distinction. You shall have no other gods before him?

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 24, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Broken Window Fallacy

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Pond Scum

Human nature never changes, though over time human behaviour can. There is always some percentage of the human race that are, and always will be, bastards. In a free society they are a relatively minor problem. The bastard has no coercive power over you. He can threaten to fire you, he can threaten to bankrupt, he can threaten to do many things, but the moment force is threatened, or initiated, it becomes a legal matter for the police and courts. In a mixed economy the bastard has a much wider field of action. He can appeal to the state to wage his battles for him. This seems to have happened to Marta & Lech Jaworski:

Due to an anonymous zoning complaint filed with the local municipality, husband and wife bed-and-breakfast proprietors Marta & Lech Jaworski may be forced to pay as much as $50,000 in fines for permitting their son, Peter, to use his family’s property to host the Liberty Summer Seminar, an annual barbecue in support of liberty.

“Our family escaped Poland for fear of reprisals in 1984 after my mom and dad handed out pro-democracy and pro-freedom literature from under my baby carriage,” said Peter Jaworski. “It’s ironic and upsetting that they may now be facing charges in Canada for allowing me to host an event in support of those very same principles.”

The anonymous snitch is lower, in my humble estimation, than a common mugger. The mugger at least has the courage and honesty, if we can use those terms, to openly reveal his nature and methods. This contemptible creature has decided to run to the government to "even the playing field." I've met creatures like this before. They lack the grandeur to be called evil, but the harm they do is real and big enough. My own parents left a fascist - as it is usually described - tyranny rather than a communist one, but the difference is one of degrees rather than methods and goals. Tyranny is tyranny. In an overall excellent piece in the National Post's Kevin Libin notes:

Today, Marta Jaworski uses language that might seem extravagant to describe what she's going through, talking of being "hunted" by government "bullies." But then, there are fines looming that could put them out of business, or at least steep rezoning costs to face. She breaks into tears explaining how she couldn't bake the special cake she had planned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her son's barbecue. For those who love liberty, even the most mundane tyrannies are intolerable.

Well yes, but if you've ever seen immigrant parents work, and work, and see it all nearly lost in a moment, the language is not extravagant at all. Sweat is sweat, whatever the worker's ideology. The overwhelming majority of Canadians are not self employed. They work for other people, those other people take the risks. The employees get their paychecks and go home. They live well within the lines of our over regulated society. 

This is why so many respond in puzzlement to the complaints of libertarians, and classical liberals, about the overmighty state. It doesn't really impact them. They work for large, or medium sized companies, which have departments that handle compliance. It's all someone else's problem. Perhaps they run afoul of a smoking by-law, or get caught in a radar trap, but Leviathan isn't a reality to them. It gives them free health care and pensions. That moment, however, when you step off the well trodden path, like starting up a small business, then the enormity of the modern state confronts you. The taxes aren't neatly taken out of your paycheck, the zoning ordinances aren't handled by a lawyer in the another office, it's you doing all those things, with time and energy you don't have.

I treasure two things I learned in Sunday School - though I'm not a Christian now. The first is that God helps those who help themselves. A motto that works even better if you're an atheist.  The second is that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. Some mighty fine intentions have been poured into the welfare state, the nanny state and the regulatory state. Zoning ordinances are a case in point. They were - and still are - sold to the public as a government method of protecting property rights. Not allowing smelting plants to go up near residential areas, that sort of thing. 

But to that end zoning laws are redundant. For centuries property owners had remedy in the common law, through the principle of coming to the nuisance. While sometimes cumbersome to administer, this principle allowed private individuals to settle their grievances either through mutual agreement, or by turning to the courts to adjudicate on conflicting rights claims. By the early twentieth century the nuisance doctrine was largely supplanted in law by the zoning system. 

While a seemingly simple administrative solution, it transformed the role of the state from arbiter to regulator. Where once issues of nuisance were private matters between impacted individuals, they became matters of collective interest. Soon enough the urban planner entered the picture, using the new tool of zoning, and playing God over the very physical environment of daily life. Their track record, from Le Corbusier on down, speaks for itself. Zoning laws are a classical example of bait and switch. Tell the people its about protecting their property, then actually use these new laws to assume a sweeping role in their daily life. The use of these laws in trying to destroy competitors isn't a bug, it's a feature. 

UPDATE: Former Western Standard impresario Ezra Levant on the bureaucratic party crashers:

He wasn’t a health officer; he was a bylaw officer. Yet he demanded to know what the guests had for lunch. In the name of the law!

Armed with this devastating information, the officer charged Peter’s parents with running an illegal “commercial conference centre,” which carries a fine of up to $50,000. The officer, a burly, tattooed, six-foot-something man, told Peter’s mom to “be very careful.” She burst into tears.

I phoned that bylaw officer to ask him about the Jaworskis. I found a man on a mission, boasting to me that his next step would be to take down the street sign for the family’s small bed and breakfast.

Petty power luster. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (15)

McGuinty's MMA Flip-flop a Way of Securing Pan Am Stadium for Hamilton?

I'm asking, not telling, but here are the dots.  You can connect them yourself.  

The Pan Am Games is an international sporting event.  The location for such events is chosen years in advance, in a contest.  Entering the contest happens as follows.  A number of good ole boys get together, smoke some cigars (literally), and dream up a scheme in which they will fill their city with new stadiums, track and field facilities, pools...and fresh new transportation infrastructure, like new roads and mass transit.  They are a mixed lot: politicians or former politicians who want to be praised and remembered for what they brought to their city, hotel owners and, of course, construction companies.  They call themselves a "bid committee". 

The bid committee chooses a front man.  He is usually someone well connected with elected officials, because the bid committee wants almost all of their self-congratulatory infrastructure orgy to be paid for by people who would not invest their money in it voluntarily: taxpayers. 

Getting elected officials to spend hundreds of millions or billions of dollars on new infrastructure for the Pan Am Games requires that the bid committee do a good job of selling the idea to the public.  The usual route is twofold.  First, the bid committee tells the media (some of whose members may be part of the bid committee itself) that the Pan Am Games will bring thousands of tourists and millions or billions of their dollars into the city.  Second, the bid committee grossly under-represents the anticipated cost of hosting the games.  After convincing the public that the Games will be a money-maker, elected officials are relieved of any fear they may have that they will lose votes by sticking the taxpayer with the bill for the Pan Am Games.

Sticking the taxpayer with the bill for a Pan Am Games does not always work.  In 1984, a London, Ontario based bid committee was formed.  It wanted the 1991 Pan Am Games to be hosted in London.  A Hamilton, Ontario bid committee was formed too.  Each wanted the federal government and the Ontario provincial government - i.e., the taxpayer - to pick up the tab for the vast majority of the cost of the games: hundreds of millions of dollars.  Angered by what he heard, London bookstore owner Marc Emery wrote a letter to the editor of the London Free Press explaining that Olympic and Pan Am hosting ventures are always money losers when they are funded by the taxpayer, and demanding that his governments not fund the London bid.  The letter was not published.  Emery was, at the time, Action Director for the then newly-founded Freedom Party of Ontario.  So Emery and Freedom Party distributed thousands of copies of his letter, followed by thousands of copies of a more detailed guide to the folly of sticking taxpayers with the cost of hosting international sporting events.  They also formed a non-partisan committee to oppose taxpayer funding for the games (chock full of news coverage of the day, all five issues of its newsletter are available here: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5).  Within about one year, Londoner's were taking the side of Emery and Freedom Party.  The Progressive Conservative Minister of Sport at the time, former Olympian figure skater Otto Jelinek, suddenly announced a 5-year freeze on the funding of international sporting events.  Unable to stick the Canadian taxpayer with the tab, the London committee's bid was dead (so, for that matter, was the Hamilton committee's bid).  The 1991 Pan Am games ended up being hosted by Havana, Cuba.

At the time all of this was going down, London was home to the man who soon would be the Premier of Ontario: David Peterson.  Peterson was not only an elected MPP in London.  He was also, at the time, the leader of the Liberal Party of Ontario, which was then the official opposition in the Ontario Legislature.

Now, fast forward to 2008.  A bid committee of good ole boys and girls - probably without the cigar chomping, because times have changed in that respect - is formed in Toronto.  Like the London bid committee of 1984, the Toronto bid committee of 2008 wants to stick the federal and provincial taxpayer with the lion's share of the cost of their self-congratulatory, self-serving infrastructure orgy.  Who leads the Toronto bid committee?  None other that former London MPP and former Ontario Premier, David Peterson

The Toronto bid committee would take steps to avoid another failure.  London is much like an island: a city surrounded by farm land for as far as the eye can see.  Being so contained, it was relatively easy for Londoners in 1984 to get the word out to other Londoners and to build opposition to the bid.  So the Toronto bid committee put together a plan spreading out sporting events over an absolutely immense area of Ontario, including numerous cities, from as far away as Welland and St. Catherines (which are found even further away from Toronto than Hamilton, on the other side of Lake Ontario) and to as far north east as Minden (which is 2.5 hours drive from Toronto).  Co-ordinating a successful movement to oppose the bid would be nearly impossible in the time provided and, in all likelihood, the Toronto bid committee knew it.  A No Tax for Pan Am Committee was nonetheless formed - again in co-operation with Freedom Party of Ontario (I assumed the role of Chair of the Committee) - and it did get press (especially in Hamilton newspapers) but successfully opposing a bid stretched out over so large an area, in the short time available, proved to be too massive a task.  In November, 2009, Toronto - with a bid estimating total costs to be $1.4B (the committee initially put the price tag at $1.7B, an amount almost certain nonetheless to be grossly understated) - was selected to be the host of the 2015 Pan Am Games.

One of the more expensive and high-profile parts of the Toronto bid committee's infrastructure plan is a stadium to be built in Hamilton (see the bid book at page 92).  Funding for the building of the stadium is dependent upon the existence of an "anchor tenant".  Until very recently, it was imagined that the Hamilton Tiger-cats football team would relocate to the new stadium once it was built, and would be the stadium's anchor tenant.

Beginning in early July 2010, Hamilton city council began studying two possible locations for the stadium, one of which was a downtown West Harbour location championed by Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger.  A mayor favouring a downtown location for a city like Hamilton is no surprise.  It's empire building 101.  To see what I mean, consider the example of Thomas Jefferson.  The government of Virginia gave Thomas Jefferson money to build the University of Virginia.  Jefferson spent all of the money building residence rooms for the students, then came back to the government for more.  When the inevitable "But we already gave you money" was shot at him, Jefferson shot back "We have residence rooms, but nowhere to teach the students".  Jefferson got his additional money.  In a similar fashion, I fully expect that if Eisenberger gets a committment to build the stadium in downtown Hamilton, it won't be long before he's crying the blues so as to get the federal and provincial governments to build new transportation infrastructure to and through Hamilton, so that people can actually get to the stadium.  And note that if the stadium is built downtown, it will have little in the way of parking spaces.  This implies that there will probably be a call not merely for new and better roads, but also for the building of mass transit infrastructure (by now, you should be getting a sense of why the costs associated with the taxpaxer funding of international sporting events always spirals out of control).  

Hamilton Tiger-cats owner Bob Young sees the downtown location as one in which his team could not operate.  Months ago, he explained, in voluminous detail, that the stadium would not be "economically sustainable" were it built in the downtown Hamilton location.  Young believes that his team can be economically sustainable in Hamilton if the stadium is built at the other, East Mountain location in Hamilton, where it will be easy to get to, and where parking space will be ample.  So, prior to the Hamilton council's decision on the stadium's location, Young advised the council that if the stadium were built downtown, the Tiger-cats would not sign on as the anchor tenant for the stadium.

On Monday, August 9th, 2010, Bob Young wrote to Mayor Eisenberger a letter announcing that his team was pulling out of negotiations with Hamilton city council.  The following day, the council voted overwhelmingly to build the stadium at the downtown, West Harbour location.  That decision left the proposed stadium without the "anchor tenant" that it must have if the stadium is to get the funding it needs to be built.

Now, before going any further, let us turn back the clock slightly to take a look at an another sport-related issue facing Ontario: the question of allowing mixed martial arts (MMA) events to be held in Ontario.  Last February, Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters that allowing MMA events to be held in Ontario is "just not a priority", and that "We have higher priorities when it comes to developing those jobs and strengthening the economy".  Then, in late March 2010, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) president Dana White came to Toronto to promote the idea of allowing MMA events in Ontario.  McGuinty having opposed the idea, Progressive Conservative opposition leader Tim Hudak reflexively sought to seize upon the issue as a wedge issue, saying "If I were premier, this would have happened by now".  McGuinty didn't take the bait, and MMA remained something that was not a priority for the Ontario government.

The Hamilton council's decision to build the stadium at the downtown site, leaving the stadium without an anchor tenant, hit the papers big time.  The Pan Am organizing committee had laid down a deadline of August 12th, 2010 for the making of a viable decision regarding the stadium location, though even that deadline was seemingly subject to some wiggle-room.  If the stadium was not to be taken from Hamilton altogether, and if neither Young nor the city council would budge, it would be necessary to find another anchor tenant for the downtown Hamilton stadium.

The MPP for Hamilton Mountain is Sophia Aggelonitis.  Aggelonitis is the former president of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce (which favours the downtown location for the stadium).  She was elected as a Liberal in the 2007 provincial election.  In January of 2010, McGuinty appointed Aggelonitis Ontario's Minister of Consumer Affairs.  That ministry is responsible for the administration of the Athletics Control Act, which governs boxing and related sporting events in the province. 

On August 14, 2010, just four days after the council voted for the downtown West Harbour location for the stadium, with the Hamilton bid for a stadium endangered by the lack of an anchor tenant, Aggelonitis delivered the news that the McGuinty government would allow MMA events to be held in Ontario afterall.  Among the cities listed as benefitting from the decision: Hamilton.  And what did she say were the reasons for the decision?  According to the Canadian Press (CP), Aggelonitis said that "My other goal is to provide an economic boost for communities who want to hold MMA events".  The same CP report stated that "The UFC will also look at holding shows in other Ontario cities such as Hamilton, Ottawa and Windsor."

Later that day, the Hamilton Spectator reported that, to get the government to change its mind about allowing MMA in Ontario, the UFC "...engaged former Ontario premier David Peterson and his Cassells Brock & Blackwell law firm to help on the provincial front".  A page at the Cassels Brock & Blackwell web site states:

David Peterson and Noble Chummar Represent UFC

On November 21, 2009, The Toronto Star noted that David Peterson and Noble Chummar are representing Ultimate Fighting Championship as lobbyists. UFC is lobbying for legal acceptance of the sport in Ontario. UFC is currently banned in Ontario because it contravenes Section 83 of Canada's Criminal Code which bans "prize fights" except for sanctioned boxing.

David and Noble are members of the firm's Government Relations Law Group.

That's the same David Peterson who was a London MPP and leader of the Liberal opposition party in 1984/5, when Emery and Freedom Party managed to get the London Pan Am bid killed.  It is the same David Peterson who chaired the Toronto Pan Am bid committee, which committee dreamt of a new stadium for Hamilton. 

Four days after Aggelonitis announced the McGuinty government's reversal on MMP, McGuinty shuffled his cabinet.  With all of the talk of the shuffle being related to eco fees and HST gaffes, few major league commentators noticed, or paid much attention to the fact, that Aggelonitis was quietly shifted out of the Consumer Affairs ministry in that shuffle.  She was instead made Minister of Revenue, where she will now spend her time hopelessly selling the benefits of the HST prior to the October 2011 election: a job that has no particular geographic tie to Hamilton, and no particular economic tie to stadiums or to MMA.

Two days after the cabinet shuffle, on August 20th, CP reported that Ontario's New Democratic Party (NDP) had that day filed a request that the province's integrity commissioner "investigate the possibility that illegal lobbying may have played a role in convincing the governing Liberals to allow mixed martial arts in the province."  The CP report stated that the NDP's request included concern about reports suggesting lobbying by David Peterson, but also stated that "Peterson has denied he did any lobbying".

It's interesting.  When the Hamilton Spectator was covering Freedom Party's renewed No Tax for Pan Am Committee's efforts to block taxpayer funding for the 2015 Toronto bid, Peterson was quoted as saying: "You are always going to have splinter groups, although I have never heard of these people".  "Never heard" of the party and campaign that torpedoed the London bid in 1984?  Pardon me for finding that hard to believe.  The campaign was the stuff of national CBC coverage, as well as countless reports and letters to the editor in London area media.  As leader of the opposition and as an MPP for London, not knowing about Freedom Party or the No Tax for Pan Am Games committee would be an act of political self-sabotage.  But don't take my word for it: watch the movie.  The history of Freedom Party's 1984 No Tax for Pan Am Games campaign in London is documented in the second segment of my movie "The Principle of Pot" (Part 1).  See below, or watch it at my youtube channel. Incidentally, if you keep watching, you will also learn about the Emery/Freedom Party national headline-grabbing Sunday Shopping campaign in London that occurred while Peterson was Premier, and that forced his government's hand into making numerous changes to the law that then banned Sunday Shopping (ultimately, he made the grossly unpopular decision to download to municipal governments all key responsibility for bans on Sunday shopping).

Will the UFC become an "anchor tenant" for the new stadium?  Was McGuinty's flip-flop on MMA a way to secure a stadium for Hamilton in the 2015 Pan Am organizational process?  Will Ontario taxpayers now be stuck with billions more in transportation infrastructure to take people to a two week sporting event in the downtown of Hamilton...and then to the occasional MMA fight there?  And might we now be looking at a rooved stadium in Hamilton, rather than an open air one?

Those are the dots.  Connect them if you will, and as you will. 

"The Principle of Pot" (Part 1 - Segment 2)
To watch the whole movie, visit http://www.youtube.com/paulmckeever#g/p

Posted by Paul McKeever on August 23, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (10)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Harper the Tyrant (ii)

Elisabeth May claims that the Conservatives are dangerous to democracy. Unfortunately I wasn’t there for her speech and the only MSM report I could find about the speech is this Sun article. From this article it appears that she thinks that Canada’s democracy is under threat because elected officials are directing policy against the advice of unelected officials.

Somehow I don’t think Ms. May understands what democracy means.

She could argue that the independence of some officials has come under threat. But that is hardly a democratic value. This is just another absurd hyperbole of an attack against the government that serves to do nothing but undermine the credibility of the attacker. It is reminiscent of comments by a Liberal MP earlier in the summer calling Stephen Harper a tyrant.

At the same time there are plenty of valid complaints that can be made against the Conservatives. This piece by Andrew Coyne accusing them of being anti-intellectual is a good example. So why do so many opponents of the government feel compelled to make such silly remarks?

Mr. Harper is not a tyrant and he is not a threat to democracy. He may be a bad Prime Minister though, so let’s talk about that instead.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 22, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (9)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Another Great Wine Find

If you find yourself bored this weekend with what you have in your wine cellar, or that dingy spot under your stairs where you keep your wine (probably just as good if you aren't storing $1000 bottles), swing out to your local wine store and try to get a bottle of Amador Foothill winery's 2005 Katie's Cote, a blend of 54% grenache and 46% syrah (red wine if those grapes are new to you) produced at this family-owned winery East of Sacremento, an area not well-known for producing outstanding wines. 

The wine is features a refined blast of blackberry and plum, with a little of the syrah's spiciness thrown in for balance and good measure.  This is a rustic wine, unfined and virtually unfiltered, yet it is has balance and was enjoyable from the first sip to the last.  The catch (as was the case with my previous Blue Shadows music post) is that this wine may be hard to find.  Only 300 cases of the 2005 bottling were produced.  I found mine in Calgary at Britannia Wine Merchants.  If you're in the neighbourhood, pop in and see if they have a bottle, or go to their website, where I note that the wine is still listed as being for sale at $29.95, whether or not that is still the case.

Off to open another new bottle......hhhhmmmmm......what to open?

Posted by Knox Harrington on August 21, 2010 in Food and Drink | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 20, 2010

Knox's Can-Con Gems (That You've Probably Never Heard) - Volume 3 - The Blue Shadows

There's been a great deal of hype lately about the recent re-issue of the deluxe edition of the Blue Shadows' debut album - On The Floor Of Heaven.  While I was delighted to see the Shadows, an "ahead of their time" Canadian alt-country band, get their due, I've been a little disappointed that their best work has remained largely unheralded.  That best work, obviously, was the Blue Shadows' Lucky To Me album. 

Sure there was some degree of critical acclaim back in 1995 and a young Knox Harrington grabbed the album while in his undergraduate university days, but for most critics, Knox included, the gravity of this album went unrecognized.  It was a catchy toe-tapping album at the time and Billy Cowsill (God rest his soul) and Jeffrey Hatcher impressed right off the bat, but I have to admit that while I enjoyed the album, I didn't really, fully get it back then.  That has changed.

While this post is shorter than most of my usual droning rants (a good thing to some I'm sure), I just need to tell you all to get your hands on the album's best tracks - "Let The Cowboys Ride", "Riding Only Down" and "Lucky To Me".  Better yet buy the whole damn thing.  I goddamn guarantee you that it will be some of the best stuff you have ever listened to.  Here's the trick - it's hard to find.  It may even be out of print. From Lucky To Me, branch out to the rest of Cowsill/Hatcher's great harmony vocals, stellar guitar work and downright catchy numbers on On The Floor Of Heaven and the other stuff that's out there.

Enjoy.  Happy hunting.

PS - for more on the Blue Shadows and the amazing Billy Cowsill in particular, start here.

Posted by Knox Harrington on August 20, 2010 in Music | Permalink | Comments (0)

Your Full Service Nanny State

De Tocqueville noted:

Over these is elevated an immense, tutelary power, which takes sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate. It is absolute, attentive to detail, regular, provident, and gentle. It would resemble the paternal power if, like that power, it had as its object to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks, to the contrary, to keep them irrevocably fixed in childhood … it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principal affairs…

I don't think he ever would have imagined something like this:

One local authority is using its budget to pay for the services of a prostitute in Amsterdam, while others have said visits to lap dancing clubs are permissible under new policies which transfer funds directly to those who receive care from social services.

Holidays abroad, subscriptions for internet dating and driving lessons have all been funded by the taxpayer under a national initiative introduced by the last Government.

The £520 million scheme promised to give elderly people and those with disabilities more control over the care they received, by passing on cash so individuals could choose the services they needed, such as home help, or mobility aids.

An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph can disclose that exotic holidays, internet dating subscriptions and adventure breaks, as well as visits to sex workers and lap dancing clubs have been permitted under the system.

Why not? Once you admit that government has a responsibility for "taking care" of its citizens, the rest is quibbling over details. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 20, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (7)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Economical With the Truth

Oh, Brian! Did you do some lying?

Cabinet documents obtained by the Winnipeg Free Press through an access-to-information request show Mulroney was briefed regularly throughout the summer of 1986 about the matter, which saw Manitoba-based Bristol Aerospace ultimately lose a 20-year, $100-million contract to Quebec-based Canadair.

Memos suggest he was heavily involved in figuring out alternative plans and consolation prizes to reduce the outcry he and his government knew would result from favouring a Quebec-based firm that hadn't actually won the competition on merit.

But [former Manitoba Premier] Pawley said that when he spoke by phone to Mulroney about the contract on Oct. 23, 1986, Mulroney assured him not only had a decision not been made, Mulroney hadn't even been brought up to speed on what was happening.

"He said he hadn't even studied the file," said Pawley.

The problem with playing both sides against the middle, is that eventually the middle gets fed up. Keep in mind that this is Pawley's word against Mulroney's, regarding private conversations. I'm doubtful Mulroney would have been so rash in his wording. That said, there are ways, known to skillful politicians, how not lie, yet also not tell the truth. "He said he hadn't even studied the file." That depends on your definition of the word "studied" doesn't it? Assuming Mulroney used that word, nearly a quarter of a century ago.

The one fact that is obvious today, just as it was then, is that Bristol Aerospace had the superior bid and that it was, in every sense of the word, shafted by a federal government beholden to Quebec. Such are the ways of government, even when engaged in a perfectly legitimate activity like defense spending. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 19, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Sky High

Proving that in Obama's America, the liberal upper classes still have the upper hand:

The Federal Housing Administration agreed in March to insure mortgages for apartments at the 98-unit Gramercy Park development, known as Tempo. That enables buyers to make a down payment of as little as 3.5 percent in a building where apartments range from $820,000 to $3 million.


The FHA, created in 1934 to make homeownership attainable for low- to moderate-income Americans, is providing a lifeline to new Manhattan luxury condominiums after sales stalled. Buildings featuring pet spas, concierges and rooftop lounges are applying for agency backing to unlock bank financing for purchasers. The FHA guarantees that if a homebuyer defaults on his mortgage, the agency will pay it.

Give me your tired, poor and huddled masses of i-bankers, yearning to mooch free / I lift my lamp beside the legislative door.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (2)

Canada in minority government for many elections to come

The Bloc Québécois makes it nearly impossible for a national federal party to form a majority government. With a lock on around 50 seats neither the Conservatives nor the Liberals are likely to win enough ridings to gain complete control of Parliament. So Canada is stuck with minority governments and the resulting constant threat of elections and instability.

There are only two ways for a majority government to become possible again.

The first way has been recently pointed out by Jane Taber. The plan to create new constituencies in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario will change the regional balance of Parliament. Quebec’s population compared to the rest of Canada has been in steady decline, and so it only makes sense that Quebec’s weight in Parliament will also decline. With more seats outside of Quebec, the Conservatives and the Liberals will be able to win enough ridings to form a majority government.

The problem is that the balance is not changing enough to make majority governments that much more likely. If we assume that the BQ can rely on winning 50 seats, this means that in the current seat distribution they will make up about 16% of the House. If the proposed changes come into place the BQ will still make up about 15% of the House. So there will still be a large bloc (if you excuse the pun) of seats that are out of reach for the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party. In the long run Quebec will likely continue to decline in population, but it could take decades for the seat distribution to change enough that majority governments will again become plausible.

The second strategy is to try and win the support of “soft-nationalists” away from the BQ. This is the strategy that the Harper government attempted in the first 2 years of power. They called Quebec a nation within Canada, and funnelled ever more money into Quebec provincial coffers. But when Election Day came Quebec voters did not award the Conservatives. Instead they voted for the BQ again.

So evidently the so called soft-nationalists aren’t in the mood to be wooed. Which makes sense, the BQ are best able to lobby for Quebec in a minority Parliament, so why would they vote for anyone else? What does the Liberal Party or the Conservative Party have to offer that the BQ can’t give the nationalist voter?

Going after the nationalist voter with more Quebec subsidies has proven to be a bottomless pit strategy anyway. There is no amount of funding that will be enough.

So both paths to majority government are, for the moment, out of reach. The reality is that we are now in a time of prolonged minority governments. We should all readjust our thinking accordingly.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 18, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

No European Tax

Good news from Europe is that the proposal for allowing the EU Commission taxing power has been rejected. Giving the Commission tax powers would have been dangerous at best and disastrous at worse. Governments in the EU can at least claim democratic legitimacy when they raise taxes. If the people do not like taxes being raised, then they could at least theoretically vote for a lower tax party.

But the EU Commission is not directly accountable to the people that pay taxes. The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament are supposed to keep tabs on the commission but compared to other legislative bodies both the Council and Parliament are relatively weak. Europeans should be looking at ways to take power away from the Commission not giving more power.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Bloc to Block

Twenty years of ingratitude and treason. But was it all for nought?

No doubt, Duceppe’s feelings will be mixed on this anniversary. For a political party to have just three leaders in 20 years — him and Lucien Bouchard, and Michel Gauthier for a year — represents an impressive bit of political longevity. But the Bloc’s drive to achieve sovereignty is still a far off dream. They’ve failed colossally at their primary objective: to no longer need to be sent to Ottawa.

Primary objective? Perhaps, better to term it as the Bloc's initial objective. If independence was indeed Giles Duceppe and the Bloc's primary objective, then he and they would long ago have retired - like Lucien Bouchard - and gone to work in the private sector. But who in the private sector is going to give Giles - or any other of the federally funded traitors - a gold plated pension? Wind whistles through the trees. So what is the purpose of the modern Bloc?

The party stays popular for two reasons. The first is Duceppe himself. He’s admired and trusted by friends and foes alike, and Quebecers like federal leaders from Quebec. The second is that the Bloc’s presence in Ottawa acts as an insurance policy against the rest of Canada, virtually guaranteeing “concessions” to the province by the governing party in the (futile) hopes of trying to pull support away from the Bloc.

Ah, yes, "concessions." I will destroy your country, unless you keep funnelling vast quantities of money into my bank account. The more precise term is extortion. The equalization racket has rested less on sound public policy, and more on two vague emotions shared by many Canadians: Pity and Guilt. 

The pity is directed at the less developed parts of the country, those regions that never quite made the transition properly to an industrial economy, in the early decades of the twentieth century. The other element is guilt, this comes in two parts. The first comes from the knowledge, the pleasant rhetoric of mid-century economic nationalists aside, that part of the reason the Maritimes and bits of the Prairies are relative poor is because of Ontario. 

The Jupiter of Confederation, courtesy of Kingston's own John A Macdonald, imposed a tariff wall on the whole of the Canadian economy. When Wilfred Laurier attempted some modest reforms to this economic barrier to national development, he was promptly overthrown by Quebec nationalists and Toronto industrial interests. Forcing Saskatchewan farmers to buy overpriced Ontario goods was a tax, imposed on those least able to pay by those most likely to profit. Equalization was something of a kickback to keep the poorer provinces supportive of the scheme as a whole. I take from you, give you back a bit, and the bureaucracy takes its cut too. Everyone's happy.

The other element of guilt, however, is completely unearned. Many English speaking Canadians of the immediate post-war era felt guilty about Quebec. The guilt was not related to any specific moral transgression, aside from Wolfe's victory, it was this vague uneasiness that somehow Quebec's relatively backward status was the fault of Ontario. It wasn't. Quebec's industrial base, and Montreal finance, benefited mightily from the tariff wall as well. The dominance of the province's business elite by Anglos was less a product of bigotry, and more the result of a lacklustre education system that turned out priests and lawyers. It's touch and go understanding of civil liberties, a product of a society where church and state were thinly separated. If Quebec was a backward society in, say, 1960, they had only themselves to blame. 

Bloc's success, so far, has rested not on the Quebec electorate, but on the guilty souls of English speaking baby boomers in the ROC. They are, however, now passing from the political scene. That fear which Quebec nationalists were once able to spread is gone, it has been replaced by apathy and contempt. The more modern attitude is this: If you want to leave, take your debt and don't let the door hit you on the way out. 

For centuries we have been lectured about the French Fact in North America. We are now confronted by the Ethnic Fact. The immigrant, or his descendants, from Pakistan, Italy or Brazil doesn't give a fig about the Plains of Abraham or Lord Durham, assuming he has heard of either. You can't guilt trip those whose ancestor played no part in the millennial struggle between English and French. The Bloc will last so long as the ROC of Canada tolerates it. Once it becomes clear that English speaking politicians will not bargain with traitors, that the spigot is off, the Bloc is finished. The Quebec electorate will then understand that they can bargain in only one way with the ROC, as Canadians with other Canadians.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 17, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Canadian real estate bubble officially pops

Last October on Twitter, I made a simple statement. I said, "By Fall of 2010, it will be clear to everyone the real estate bubble has popped".

The thing is, I don't have psychic powers. But I've never been a follower. As even many libertarians have seen, I'm quick to challenge conventional wisdom, wherever it lies and even if I tend to agree with it.

The prediction I made was based on several months of analyzing rent-to-price ratios in the Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto markets. It was becoming clear, despite the fact that prices were rising, that there was something very amiss in the real estate market.

Real estate investors were pouring in, buying up condos in major cities -- representing about 40% of buyers, bidding prices up and up, while the rents they were getting were stable at best, to edging downward.

When I made the claim on Twitter, a flurry of real estate agents challenged me, making various claims like: "the Canadian real estate market is very healthy" and "rent-to-price ratios do not matter all that much really".

Okay. So how did they do, and how did I do?

Canada’s housing market stalled in July as sales sank 30 per cent from the same month a year earlier, the Canadian Real Estate Association said Monday.


“We expect a downward correction of nearly 10 per cent in the monthly average prices, followed by several years of stagnation of price growth at the rate of inflation, in order to bring Canadian house prices back to balance,” TD Bank economist Grant Bishop said.

(read the rest at the Globe and Mail)

Ouch. and...

In July, the picture turned negative. The Toronto Real Estate Board said last week the number of sales in the city fell 25 per cent compared with June. While prices have yet to waver, anecdotal evidence of a slowdown is rife. Bay Street office workers point out that many of the newly opened condo towers in the downtown core appear to be devoid of all signs of human life.

(read the rest at the Globe and Mail)

Double ouch.

You know, it's not just rent-to-price spreads that's the problem. It's consumer debt load -- at all-time highs. Canadian consumers have the highest levels of consumer debt in the OECD.

You might also wonder that when inflation-adjusted wages have only increased ~10% in the last fifteen to twenty years, how the hell real estate prices have managed to rise by over an order of magnitude. But most people don't wonder such things. They make silly assumptions based on trends.

Most financial experts rely on the fallacy of analysis by analogy. A perfect example would be: "for the past ten years, real estate prices have risen by about ten percent. Therefore, you can expect that over the next ten years, housing prices should rise about ten percent a year".

This is not an exaggerated example, either. This is exactly what financial analysts on CNBC, Fox Business and Canada's BNN have been saying, leaving myself screaming at my television on more than one occasion.

Naysayers like myself have paid attention to factors that the analysis by analogy financial bimbos have ignored. Like rising consumer debt, rising public debt, and an exceptionally low interest rate environment, making borrowing far too easy.

When I've argued with some financial experts and quote-unquote "real estate experts" on this point, their retort has often simply been to just state that I don't know "how real estate works". A claim that seems somewhat absurd given my track record vis-à-vis theirs. Especially in light of today's news.

And if you're wondering if I take a teensy-bit of pleasure in being right on this, then the answer is -- sort of. It always feels good to be vindicated. But this is a stark reminder of people's ability to get caught up in the moment and ignore obvious warning signs.

The warning signs that a severe housing crash in Canada was coming, is coming, and is now unfolding were numerous, easy to understand and very stark. Yet, instead of consider them, we chose to believe -- without warranted reason -- theories that immigration-led demand, and Canada's "resilience" could sustain the trend. But these were silly pipe dreams.

Posted by Mike Brock on August 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (42)

“I’ve got 1,100 lawyers standing by and they’re looking for someone to sue.”

AGs gone wild:

Unfortunately, many state attorneys general now ignore these constraints. Over the past 15 years, many state AGs have increasingly usurped the roles of state legislatures and Congress by using lawsuits to impose interstate and national regulations and extract money from out-of- state defendants who have little voice in a state’s political processes. A classic example is the 1998 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA). It settled lawsuits against the big tobacco companies by creating what is effectively a national tax on cigarettes, giving at least $15 billion of the resulting revenue to politically connected trial lawyers hired by some of the state attorneys general. The MSA’s costs are borne by smokers—the very people the state AGs claim were victimized and defrauded by the tobacco companies.

Government by legislative fiat was bad enough, government by lawsuit and executive degree is worse. One of the main benefits of the legislative process is its relative transparency. Bills had to be introduced, debated and voted upon, with a record of who voted for what usually being kept. Citizens had time to petition or lobby government, if they disliked a proposed piece of legislation. Legislators who backed unpopular bills could be targeted at the next election. It was never a perfect system of accountability, but it was a system. How do you hold government backed trial lawyers to account? Or obscure government bureaucrats? Many of whom are charged with interpreting or enforcing laws, with sometimes terrifyingly wide discretion.

Frederic Bastiat observed that the difference between a good economist, and a bad one, was the ability to distinguish between what is seen, and what is not seen. In other words, a talent for grasping the unintended consequences, or causes, of government action. One of the consequences of the nanny state is the slow, but steady, subversion of the traditional democratic means of keeping government accountable. What is seen is the growth of government, what is unseen is the myriad of regulations and controls that strangle our daily life. The regulatory state, and AG activism is simply a type of regulatory state, is perhaps just as bad as the welfare state. 

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

When Saul Met Barry

Opposites attracting?

An even more surprising revelation is that Alinsky admired Sen. Barry Goldwater, whose libertarian objections to the proposed 1964 civil-rights act he shared. Countervailing power from organizations, not decisions made by courts, Alinsky thought, was the only way to achieve permanent change. Thus, von Hoffman tells us, “he was less than enthusiastic about much civil-rights legislation,” and during Goldwater’s run for the presidency, he had at least one secret meeting with the conservative senator, during which they discussed Lyndon Johnson’s civil-rights proposal. “Saul,” von Hoffman writes, “shared the conservative misgivings about the mischief such laws could cause if abused,” but would not publicly oppose the bill, since he had no better idea to propose in its place.

This makes somewhat more sense when you consider this:

Although Alinsky is described as some kind of liberal left-winger[,] in actuality big government worried him. He had no use for President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society with its War on Poverty. He used to say that if Washington was going to spend that kind of dough the government might as well station people on the ghetto street corners and hand out hundred-dollar bills to the passing pedestrians. For him governmental action was the last resort, not the ideal one.

In other words, Saul Alinsky may simply have been skeptical of bigness, and an advocate of low-level civil society building. I don't know enough about Alinsky to pronounce on his alleged libertarian credentials, but it is an interesting take on a controversial figure.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 16, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Tipping Point for Pot

From Reason TV.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 15, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (47)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Renting vs. Owning

A few days ago I posted an article by Steve Lafleur on home ownership. Here is Mr. Lafleur talking about his article on Fox Business:

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (21)

A penny abolished is a penny earned

A new survey shows that 60% of Canadians support the abolishment of the penny, and for good reason. Getting rid of the penny would be a benefit to the economy. David Watt, the VP for RBC Capital Markets, explains the reason why in this Ottawa Citizen Article:

Production costs for the penny would be saved and, more importantly, it would put more money back into circulation.

Watt explained that many people hoard pennies, keeping them in jars at home or in a box in the basement.

If the government decided to give people cash in exchange for their old pennies, that money might be spent or put in a bank account. Either way, the money is back in the economy, he said. 

Sometimes I don’t wait for change if all that I’m going to get back is a penny. If I see a penny on the ground I rarely bother to bend down to pick it up. 1 cent is often not worth the effort of waiting half a second or bending my knees.

There was a time that a penny was worth something. You could buy candy with a penny or leave a penny as a small but respectable tip. Now a penny is useless. Pop machines don’t accept them and there is literally nothing you can buy with a penny. All that a penny is good for is taking up room in your pocket and infantile drinking games. Thanks to inflation the penny has become a thing of annoyance rather than value.

So I am among the 60% who say that we should get rid of the penny.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (13)

Government regulation keeps empty school from closing

If you are ever looking for an example of the insanity of government regulation, all you have to do is remember the case of Capel Iwan Primary School:

The last 12 children left in July, but due to legal red tape education officials have said the school must be ready to open in the autumn, even though there will be empty desks.

The Welsh Assembly government has told the local authority it must go through the correct procedures before the school can be shut.

Those included a lengthy statutory consultation period with people in the area, before the issue can be fully discussed by Carmarthenshire council. The whole process could take more than a year to complete.

In the meantime, it would be illegal for the school to shut, even though not a single pupil will be taught.

Carmarthenshire council said it had set aside a budget of £110,000 last year for the school, on the basis that it would officially remain open until at least the end of March 2011.

Do you remember that episode of Yes Minister when the civil servants refused to shut down a hospital that had no patients? Suddenly it’s not as funny.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 14, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 13, 2010

This week's popular posts

(5) Mike Brock: My first and only thoughts on the Ground Zero Mosque

(3) Hugh MacIntyre: Poll shows Michael Ignatieff has recovered from the Spring

(2) P.M. Jaworski: Unexpected: Strippers decide to counter-protest church

(1) P.M. Jaworski: Greg Gutfeld: I'm building a gay bar next to the Ground Zero Mosque

(4) PUBLIUS: The redeeming social benefits of the Sunshine Girls

Posted by westernstandard on August 13, 2010 in Freedom of expression, Humour, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The American dream

Listen up, America: you're bankrupt. You just haven't clued into this yet. The policies pursued by both Republicans and Democrats, aimed at keeping asset prices "stable" are precisely the reason why US home foreclosures are accelerating.

I know that it's passé to look at economics from a classical point of view, in a time where the economic consensus is that central banks should be printing lotsa-lotsa money until the economy has a "sustained recovery". But call me foolish for thinking that well, money actually matters.

The US government has actively been involved in propping up housing prices through direct supply-management, taking the form of different "relief" programs, ranging from providing direct mortgage payment assistance, having the US government just buyout the mortgage, to buying up idle supply on the market. You see, because according to the powers that be -- Bennie Bernanke, Timmy Geithner and Blackberry Barrack -- the absolute worst thing that could happen is, wait for it ... housing prices falling significantly. Because by god, that would lead to the world's most horrible economic, sabre-toothed, fire-breathing, baby-eating, skull-screwing economic disaster: price deflation.

You know, that thing where prices actually fall and your savings become worth more. Where, you're actually rewarded for your prudence while others are punished for their callousness. And most importantly, a funny thing happens -- and it's really quite incredible: housing becomes more affordable without the assistance of government subsidies.

But let's say times are really tough; you're just not making as much money as you were last year, and you just can't afford a house right now. So you might have to do the most embarrassing thing in the world: rent. Even worse, you might not be able to afford a three-bedroom rental. Your budget is only looking like it can afford a two-bedroom if you want to be reasonably close to work and still afford the car payments.

So what are you going to do? You're going to demand the government subsidize your mortgage so you can "stay in your home" and avoid the absolutely humiliating outcome of having to give up your f***ing American-dream backyard. No, you're going to demand all those other people, who saved for a rainy day, instead of getting in way over their head with a giant stucco-finished, two-garage, monotonous piece of shit house in the suburbs of Atlanta help you pay the bills.

F*** you. No really, I mean that.

Full disclosure: in 2004-2005, I was on the verge of bankruptcy due to some unfortunate circumstances. And you know what I did, after having lived the luxury of living in a beautiful modern, luxurious apartments in Charlotte, Tyson's Corner, and Toronto? I cut my losses and moved into an $850/month piece of shit near Bloor and Dundas St in the West end and got myself back onto my feet. So yeah, f*** you.

I don't mean to completely take this all out on you, Mr. Homeowner who's in over you head. It's not like the powers that be aren't doing their darndest to keep this whole charade playing out like a sad, slow-moving, melodrama starring Susan Sarandon (but actually far more boring). But I just want you to know how the world truly is -- beneath the covers of the debt-bubble-economy -- and how it should be. You know, a world where prices reflected demand, central banks didn't fart out money at velocities that exceed the limits of physics, and Paul Krugman was appreciated for his true calling: being a mostly generic, partisan hack.

Posted by Mike Brock on August 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (71)

Breakfast of Moochers

Most of Canadian politics can be explained by one word: Quebec.

Equalization is supposed to allow the six recipient provinces to provide “comparable services” to the four donor provinces.

But Quebec, which received $8.3 billion or 60% of all equalization transfers in the last fiscal year, provides services as a have-not province that are nowhere available among the haves.

There is no other province where publicly funded daycare is available for $7 a day, when its total cost is seven times that, $49 a day.

This is why Quebec, with only 20% of the daycare-age kids in the country, has about half the daycare spaces in the country. Thanks, Alberta.

There is no other province where university tuition fees are $1,800 a year for undergraduates, allowing Quebec residents to attend McGill, the country’s most renowned university, for about half what it would cost to attend the University of Alberta, the biggest donor province.

Quebec is a have-not province in the sense that a psychosomatic is sick. From time to time members of the mainstream media ask, genuinely perplexed, why some in Alberta want to separate. The above is the answer. Quebec is not like Newfoundland, which is a small island far away from the economic heartland of North America. It is not like Saskatchewan, with a population of only a million people, deep in the interior of the continent. Quebec has a superb strategic location, vast mineral resources and a highly educated workforce. If it is indeed relatively poorer than Ontario, than it has only its own policies to blame. 

Whatever the well intentioned rhetoric at the start of the Equalization program, in practice it has become a colossal bribe to keep Quebec in Canada, and the Atlantic provinces voting for the government of the day. With the sole exception of Medicare, there is no other government program that does more to promote statism in Canada as Equalization. It has distorted the political cultures of at least five of the ten provinces. It grants the advocates of big government a permanent natural base of perhaps 30% of the national electorate. 

To break Equalization would mean breaking the culture of dependency across much of this country. It would be a dramatic victory for freedom in Canada. We have seen the yelping generated by making the Census long-form voluntary. Any politician who would dare challenge the Cult of Equalization would face a barrage ten times worse than Tony Clement now faces. Stephen Harper, we can be sure, doesn't have that kind of guts.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 12, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (26)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My first and only thoughts on the "Ground Zero mosque"

I can't take it anymore. Conservatives are full of crap. It's beyond my faculties to continue to try and understand the degree to which these people are able to take a blowtorch to even the most simple of logical concepts.

I've been watching many conservative friends bitch, moan and fumigate over the "Islamic community center" being established a few blocks away from the former World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan like it's the most important national development since the Emancipation Proclamation.

Now, in all honesty, I'm not beyond understanding why said people are offended. It's not very difficult to understand. Another question is about whether I care that they're offended. I don't care that they're offended for the same reason I don't care if Richard Warman is offended by swastikas. Or whether Marlene Jennings is offended by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog making jokes about Francophone Canadians.

Do you see this piece of dirt on my shoe? I care about it as much as I care about how much you're offended.

Jokers to the left of me, jokers to the right, indeed.

I'll be honest with you, I haven't researched the "facts" in this case. Nor do I have to. All I know, and have to know for that matter, is that a group of individuals who hail from one of the major Abrahamic religions, worshipping an invisible man in the sky, have bought some land or signed a lease, or come to some memorandum of understanding to build an "Islamic community centre" within a few minutes' walk of the former World Trade Center site in Manhattan.

Some have noted that there's really no Islamic community within the vicinity to warrant such a venture, and that the whole exercise amounts to being the placement of an "Islamic victory mosque", despite the fact that it's not actually a mosque.

Now, considering that I've known many-a-conservative-Muslim to be pretty batshit crazy, I wouldn't put such a conspiracy past some in that community. But they have a right to be batshit crazy, as much as Jack Van Impe -- winner of the Ig Nobel Prize in Physics for allegedly determining that black holes are gateways to hell -- is batshit crazy. And I'd put real money on the fact that Jack Van Impe wouldn't do well in a psychological evaluation. Or Rexella for that matter.

But seriously, this underscores why conservatives and libertarians just can't get along. And while I've taken note of some of my quote-unquote "libertarian leaning" conservative friends who've pretty much thrown in with the crowd of "please, government, please, make it illegal for Muslims to open a community centre near these hallowed grounds" -- I won't name any names, because well, I value my friendships with one or two of them.

But let's break down what we can deduce about conservative views on property rights and freedom of association. It seems this is the definition of property rights in the conservative lexicon as far as I can tell: Property rights should be protected as sacrosanct. Unless the owner of such property is a Muslim, or some other person or group who elicit cultural or political offence in the eyes of the Judeo-Christian majority. In such cases, these people's property rights should be abridged. After all, if we were in Saudi Arabia that's what the Muslim animals would do to us! Fair is fair!

Conservative readers, correct me if I misinterpreted your view, worthy of someone with the intellectual development of an eight-year old.

When Ezra Levant was dragged before the Alberta Human Rights Commission, you sure espoused the values of respecting a plurality of religious and political views. It was a convenient argument then. Now the convenient argument is to base legal calculations on the sensitivity of Christians, Jews, and assorted other people who happen to dislike Islam.

I can count myself in that latter category, but I'll spoil your brief reprieve by informing you of my dislike for Christianity and Judaism, too.

If a group of Muslims want to set up a "community center" and spend over a hundred million dollars on it, let them. The location is apparently over a 20-minute drive from any sizeable Muslim community, and on such prime real estate, you can rest assured that this "symbolism" is coming at an extremely high cost. And if it really bugs you, that you're willing to fork out a few hundred million yourself, you can set up a bunch of restaurants in the immediate vicinity that serve only pork dishes during Ramadan. Or a gay bar.

Truth be told, I won't care either way. You can all waste your money for all I care. But the magic of the free market leaves these childish options open to you.

Posted by Mike Brock on August 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (21)

Economic mobility and home subsidies

A friend of mine, Steve Lafleur, argues that subsidies for home ownership are not good public policy. In today’s economy many young people require mobility in their profession. It is becoming more and more common for people to live in multiple cities throughout their lives. So home ownership can often act as a anchor holding down someone’s progress, since so much of an individual’s economic resources goes into a house.

Here is a section of the article:

Home ownership has been considered an integral part of the American Dream for as long as anyone can remember. Now it has come under scrutiny, notably in a June Wall Street Journal piece by Richard Florida, which claims that that home ownership reduces employment opportunities for young adults, since it limits their mobility. To support ownership, others — particularly Wendell Cox — have argued that home ownership levels do not correlate with the economic productivity of cities, and cite the rapid suburban development in the Sunbelt as evidence that home ownership is as valuable as ever.

My inclination is that the truth lies somewhere in between the two sides of the debate. For the sake of simplicity, I'll refer to them as New Urbanist supporters versus Smart Growth opponents (I realize these are broad generalizations). While they disagree on the merits of home ownership, there's an interesting point of agreement: both sides oppose subsidies to homeowners. I'd argue that both sides should focus on getting the issue of discontinuing subsidies onto the national agenda.

Read More

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (8)

The rise of the nanny state

It always amazes me that people seem so unwilling to respect the choices of others. Two examples appeared today in two separate newspapers of the total lack of regard for personal responsibility.

In the Chronicle Herald we have the classic example of experts lobbying the government to force adults to wear helmets when on bikes.

In the Ottawa Citizen we have Health Canada looking into more regulation for caffeine and alcohol mixed drinks.

Do we really need the government to tell us what we should drink and what we have to put on our head? Yes we will be safer with a helmet, and yes caffeine and alcohol together is a combination that a friend of mine once described (in the morning) as being ‘deadly.’ But still isn’t that our personal business?

I doubt that there is an adult out there who is unaware of the risks involved in biking without a helmet or consuming the ‘deadly brew.’ So if somebody makes the decision to accept the risk for whatever reward he/she perceives, isn’t that really his/her own choice? Wouldn’t it be his/her own fault if he/she gets his/her head smashed in?

By allowing the government to make this sort of decision for us, we are giving up our responsibility for own actions. We are sacrificing the very thing that makes us adults and full members of society. We are becoming nothing but a nation of wards of the state.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (5)

Myth of the Arrow

Chris Taylor, aviation nut, neatly dissects the myth of the Avro Arrow:

The Arrow doesn’t lead the pack.  It has good top speed and an acceptable service ceiling, but a thoroughly mediocre radius of action.  Radius of action being the distance an aircraft can travel from its base and return, without refueling (this figure also includes a measly five minutes of combat engagement).  The Arrow would have been the last to achieve IOC—whereas the very similar Convair F-106 had comparable speed, a slightly higher service ceiling, almost twice the radius of action, was available four years earlier, and was several times cheaper ($2 million per F-106 versus $8-10 million per CF-105.)

The F-106, incidentally, remained the backbone of USAF’s interceptor fleet until replaced by the F-15 Eagle.

As Col. Larsen makes clear, the Arrow died because of multiple factors.  The RCAF had already accrued some bad experiences with the Avro-built CF-100, and they didn’t like the support they were getting from the company on that product.  The RCAF’s senior brass very much doubted whether Avro could build an even more complex aircraft and still make it reliable and easy to maintain.

It is difficult for non-Canadians to grasp the power of the Avro Arrow myth. A Canadian built and designed 1950s era jet fighter, it was one of the fastest aircraft of its day. With a top speed of 2.3 Mach, it was certainly a world class fighter. But plenty of other countries turn out world class military and civilian aircrafts, none have acquired the mystique the Arrow has in Canada. The myth of the Arrow has its origins not in the talented crew of engineers and designers who built the CF-105, but deep within the Canadian psyche. 

We are a small country, living next to a very large one. In the 1950s we were also a new ex-colony of Great Britain. Living in the shadow of the English speaking world's two great powers, Canada has struggled to differentiate itself. The Arrow was a remarkable technical accomplishment for so small and so new a country. It suggested that despite our size, we could compete and succeed in the wider world. However, the plane's cancellation, rather than the plane itself, was the real myth making moment. 

While Canadians are proud - in our typically understated way - of their country, they feel it has fallen short of its potential. Famously Wilfred Laurier declared that the twentieth century would belong to Canada. Instead we ended it as a well respected, and well run, middle power. Not very flashy, rather dull but the sort of place you'd want to live in. Like the suburbs with excessive amounts of snow. That good but not brilliant sense of ourselves breed a strange envy (especially toward America) and uncertainly. Human beings need explanations, even bizarre ones. The "fall of the Arrow" became Exhibit A in trying to explain our not quite world class status.

Why the Diefenbaker government cancelled the Arrow project has been source of endless speculation for half a century. Explanations stretch from the conspiratorial - the jealous Americans forced the cancellation - to the contemptuous - our government was too stupid to realize the Arrow's importance - the hum-drum reality has been conveniently ignored. It was a very good plane, just too expensive and impractical for the military needs of the time. The RCAF made a military decision that the project was unfeasible and asked the Cabinet to cancel the project, diverting funds to a more practical, albeit American, plane. 

Looming over the discussions about the Arrow's future, and referred to in some discussions of the fighter's demise, was the widespread prediction that the manned fighter had been made obsolete by the unmanned missiles of the era. It was a grossly premature assessment, but not an absurd one for the time. The logical explanations, however, are not always the believed ones. It is far more comforting to imagine that the Arrow was a victim of that unfathomable force, whatever the preferred explanation, that has held back Canada, rather than to believe it died a bland and sensible bureaucratic death. For the generations of Canadians - including yours truly - that were raised on the Arrow Myth, to question that myth is to question a part of our Canadian childhoods. The questioners should expect no gratitude. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 11, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (17)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

California Dreamin': Knox's Summer Sojourn To Southern California

Usually I hate to take trips during Canadian summers.  What's the point? Summertime is one of only two bearable seasons in this sometimes grim nation and a guy might as well stick around for it in my view. That has been my traditional view.  This year however, I was compelled to embark on a summer journey. A journey to sunny (usually) Southern California.  San Diego to be precise.  Promises were made to me involving great beaches, good food and drink, and a host of family amusement parks that while not usually my style, were said to provide countless hours of surefire delight for the little people making the trip with me - children that is.  Not the Roloffs of TV fame.  Sounded like some good 'ol family fun.  The kind that conjured up visions of Clark W. Griswold and his ill-fated trip to Wallyworld.  How could I resist?  

Flights to San Diego are reasonable and are short, if you live in Western Canada.  That is indeed a plus. The beaches, as promised, are nice - at least those such as Moonlight Beach in Encinitas or the various state beaches in Del Mar and Solana Beach.  The sand is soft and fine and apart from the typical North American bans on open-liquor, they provided a nice setting for a sunny afternoon.  Sure, the water is colder than in Hawaii or the Caribbean, but it's warm enough.  Beaches are packed, but not body to body like Waikiki.

The food and drink however, was surprisingly average.  In anticipation of my trip to California, I dreamt of endless restaurants serving the now well-known "California cuisine", centered around fresh, local ingredients and fantastic California wines, served by fantastic waiters under the watchful eye of a skilled sommelier.  Man, was I disappointed.  Much of the greater San Diego area, like much of the United States, is the land of box stores and franchise, fast food outlets (McDonalds to Chili's to Pizza Hut).  My first couple of days had me wondering whether it was possible that "California cuisine" was nothing more than a sham (like North American "Chinese food") and that Californians really lived off of burgers, pizza and mexican food.  Then however, I decided to try harder, and my efforts were rewarded.......sometimes.

The first legitimate restaurant we tried was Blanca in Solana Beach.  The attraction was that it was close to our hotel, but also that it was specifically said by some to represent "California cuisine".  Could this be it? Had I found it? Kind of.  Blanca features new chef, Gavin Schmidt, formerly of San Francisco's Coi, which is, or at least was, a Michelin two-star restaurant.  Promising.  It also features a nice room, adorned with a ceiling full of lanterns and cozy, yet fancy, booths, that an obviously "new" couple was making full use of.  I digress.  For dinner, I started with the Burratta Agnolotti, a pasta (ravioli) dish featuring smoked corn, guanciale, and epazote according to the menu.  I have to admit that I have no idea what those last two things are, but damn was the dish good.  Bursting with balanced flavour,  A great start.  My dinner mate started with the Albacore Tuna Sashimi, which I sampled.  Fantastic.  Ultra-fresh ingredients (the pickled radish was unreal) made the dish.  Then things went a little sideways.  My entree, the Willis Ranch Pork - A Day At The Farm was, again, well-prepared, but was overly fatty (just the particular cuts of meat) and was enshrined in an overly French style of preparation.  Well-prepared, good ingredients, but not my thing.  My dinner mate had the Crab Porridge, which she described as "ok".  Well-prepared, but just not her thing.  All in all, great ingredients, great cooking, in a great room, but not consistently a mind blower.  Maybe Chef Schmidt is still finding his way in his new environs.  Great service by the way.  Should have mentioned that.

Our second attempt at finding a great restaurant on the San Diego coast was aimed at Market - San Diego chef Carl Schroder's Del Mar outpost, said to be a "contemporary American bistro".  Now this is a cool room.  Half sushi bar and half bistro and full of beautiful people.  We got right at it upon arriving.  For me, the Organic Local Corn Soup.  Probably one of the Top 3 soups of my life.  Unbelievable.  Fresh, fresh, fresh.  Delicate, yet full of corny goodness.  My dinner mate had an equally good soup and followed it up with a King Salmon and Asian Noodle dish that was featured that night.  She loved it.  Despite my pro-Alberta beef bias, I had a dynamite beef dish with a great glass of Washington Cabernet suggested by Market's amazingly friendly and talented sommelier, Elias.  All in all, a great night, a great meal and a great expression of California cuisine.

Finally, we hit Kitchen 1540 at the L'Auberge Del Mar resort in Del Mar.  A lot of hype about this one.  As it turns out, undeserved hype.  A room full of trendoid people desperate to be seen, a terribly paced meal (3 courses in 40 minutes), terrible wine service (glasses of wine took forever, such that they missed their intended courses - strange given the overall duration of the meal, but true nonetheless), a clueless waiter and cold, seemingly pre-prepared food (at the pace it was whisked out of the kitchen, it couldn't have been made to order - could it?) made for a disappointing last meal.  Avoid this one and don't be sucked in by false praise.

Oh, before I forget, it might be worth airfare just to hit the Leucadia Donut Shoppe in Encinitas.   Simply put, apart from a now closed donut shack run by a couple of Mennonite kids who lived across from the Pheasant Release Site in Millicent, Alberta, these were the best donuts of my life.  Fresh and tasty enough to run naked through Encintas for.  1000 times better than the freezer burned "donuts" that Tim's is selling these days (more on Tim's later).

Speaking of Encinitas, if you were once a hardcore, old school skate punk like I was, check out old school skateboard legend Mike McGill's skate shop in Encinitas.  Great shop.

In closing - the amusement parks.  Apart from the San Diego Zoo's Wildlife Park outside of San Diego, don't waste your time.  $80 per person to enter and unparalleled lameness once inside.  The only highlight was the beer everywhere at Seaworld, driven by Anheuser-Busch's ownership of the park I presume. Damn, I love those new aluminum beer bottles. 

Moral of the story? If you're Canadian, stay home in the summer, and don't waste your time visiting San Diego - even in the winter.  There are many better places in this big old world of ours.  Knox out.

Posted by Knox Harrington on August 10, 2010 in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink | Comments (1)

Poll shows Michael Ignatieff has recovered from the spring

Talk of election has been sparked by a poll that showed Conservatives just below 30% and Liberals only 1.3% below the Tories. Now a second poll shows that the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party are still close, but the gap has widened with the Tories at 34% and the Grits at 31%. The questions that are now on the mind of the political class are: Is this the beginning of a new trend? What caused this to happen?

The first question can only be answered in time, but I think we can piece together evidence to explain these numbers.

Throughout the Spring and early Summer the Conservatives have been enjoying support in the range of 34%-36%. Meanwhile the Liberal Party has been suffering down at 26% or even 25%. If you compare those numbers to the most recent poll it is obvious that it is the Liberal Party’s support that has changed and not the Conservative Party.

We can then rule out explanations such as the census long-form and G20 controversies. The previous poll number of 29.7% for the Conservatives can be explained by either the month of bad press in July, or perhaps the poll itself was faulty. Either way the Conservatives have bounced back to their traditional level of support.

Normally opposition numbers drop in the summer months, but the Liberals have had a good summer. Their leader was highly visible while Stephen Harper has been reclusive. Michael Ignatieff’s bus tour had a few bumps but for the most part the media has given him positive reviews. Even his communication skills seem to have improved a little. So it appears that the bus tour actually accomplished its mission and Michael Ignatieff’s Liberals have recovered from their abysmal spring.

Ultimately this means that even if there isn’t an election the fall will be crucial. Having numbers that are 3% below your opponent is better than 10%, but a Liberal victory is still a long way off. Mr. Ignatieff now has to not only hold on to the summer gains but use the Parliamentary session to expand upon them. History has shown that Parliamentary strategy is a weak spot for Mr. Ignatieff, but if he ever wants to be Prime Minister he now has to prove that he looks good in Ottawa not just okay on a bus.


Another poll shows the Conservatives at 34% and the Liberals at 28%. This shows that the Tories have indeed returned to their traditional support level. The Liberals could be slipping but it could also just be due to the difference in methodology.

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

All at Sea

Ruling, little bits, of the waves:

Some libertarians, though, are concerned with neither standard politics nor educational missions. The larger libertarian movement has always had members who just want to create as free a life for themselves as they can in a statist world, whether through such expedients as black market countereconomics, survivalist escapism, or, in the most recent and best publicized example of what is sometimes called “libertarian Zionism,” heading for the high seas in artificial floating countries. That’s the goal of the Seasteading Institute, which I profiled in Reason magazine back in July 2009.

Not really a practical solution for the sea-sick prone freedom lover. Seasteading is one of those zany ideas which very creative people, who often live mostly with other very creative people, find immensely attractive. It has a kind of salt tinged romanticism about it. There is not a libertarian, or classical liberal, alive who has not a one point wished he could leave the statist drudgery of modern life behind, imagined getting on a ship and sailing to some deserted isle, inhabited only by Adam Smith quoting, Ayn Rand reading, natives in grass skirts. Sunshine and freedom, baby. 

Dreams die hard. Particularly the sunshine and tanned goddess variety. The dreamers forget that their very comfortable material existences, from lattes to laptops, are the product of a globalized division of labour. Much of that supply chain snakes its way through countries governed by nasty men, as well as the blow-dried statist mediocrities of our own societies. 

Being as free as Robinson Crusoe, would mean living like Robinson Crusoe, albeit with a satellite connection. It's not a trade-off most of the market minded are willing to make. Oliver Wendell Holmes was certainly right, though not in the sense he imagined, that taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Putting it in another way, taxes are what we have to put up with to live in this civilization. They are the price of admittance, though an arbitrary one.

Even if seasteading was able to, within reasonable limits, replicate a land-based standard of living - which is doubtful - what would the reaction of the world's governments be? A few eccentrics living on converted oil platforms is one thing, but should these statelets become threats to the powers that be, their leaders could wind up like Marc Emery. To obtain a standard of living above basic subsistence these statelets would have to trade with the rest of the world. Whether free banking, or innovative software, or marijuana cultivation, that trade would undermine the power and authority of the world's major nation states. These seasteading states would be too small to defend themselves military, but if they thrive, too dangerous to be left alone. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 10, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (11)

Monday, August 09, 2010

If Life Gives You Lemons...

...the government has no intention of allowing you to sell lemonade:

So when Multnomah County shut down an enterprise last week for operating without a license, you might just sigh and say, there they go again. 

Except this entrepreneur was a 7-year-old named Julie Murphy. Her business was a lemonade stand at the Last Thursday monthly art fair in Northeast Portland. The government regulation she violated? Failing to get a $120 temporary restaurant license. 

Turns out that kids' lemonade stands -- those constants of summertime -- are supposed to get a permit in Oregon, particularly at big events that happen to be patrolled regularly by county health inspectors. 

"I understand the reason behind what they're doing and it's a neighborhood event, and they're trying to generate revenue," said Jon Kawaguchi, environmental health supervisor for the Multnomah County Health Department. "But we still need to put the public's health first." 

I shall never know how mankind survived, for millennia no less, without a single health inspector. How it shall survive the coming centuries, with their numbers so abundant, I will not hazard a guess. As Dr McCoy observed at the end of Star Trek IV: "The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe."

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

Premier Dad McGuinty

An interesting revelation has come out that reveals a bit about how Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty views the universe.

Tim Hudak, the leader of the Ontario PCs, has taken to referring to Mr. McGuinty has ‘Premier Dad.’ This is a great bit of messaging because in only two words the PCs can sum up everything that is wrong with the current Liberal administration. It brings up images of paternalism, control, and even a bit of oppression. I’m convinced that if the Liberals lose the next election it will be because of the successful labelling of Mr. McGuinty as ‘Premier Dad.’

And it turns out that Dalton McGuinty likes being called Premier Dad. He thinks that the PCs have really captured his essence.

Premier Dad is forgetting a few things though:

1. Most of us already have dads.

2. We are all adults.

3. Adults tend not to like being told what to do by some stranger who thinks he is our dad.

The fact that Mr. McGuinty has latched onto the title of Premier Dad, tells us what we already suspected. He thinks that the role of government is to control every detail of every individual’s life (ironically Premier Dad is a more strict father than my actually dad. I’m pretty sure dad would have let me go watch a UFC match).

We can only hope that he starts describing himself as Premier Dad in public.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (23)

A complete history of the Soviet Union, to the tune of Tetris

Posted by Kalim Kassam on August 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Little Mosque in the City

John Moore conflates libertarians and conservatives:

The true test for a libertarian is when he must defend the rights of his real or perceived enemies. The plan to build a Muslim cultural center complete with sanctuary for worship in New York City two blocks away from the footprint of the former World Trade Center is proving to be just such a test.

The term libertarian is a highly elastic one. Libertarians, however, believe that there should be a government - unless they are anarcho-libertarians - whose ultimate purpose is to defend individual rights. If someone is your enemy, i.e. someone who intends you bodily harm, defending their ability to harm you does not make you a libertarian, it makes you suicidal. Someone whom you simply dislike, or is a rival, is not really your "enemy." 

The only appropriate response to enemies is to restrain, or if necessary, destroy them. A Muslim cultural center is not, necessarily, a den of enemies to be destroyed. There are, after all, Muslim libertarians, albeit very few of them. Opposition to the construction of a Muslim cultural center, or mosque, the reports vary, has precious little to do with libertarians. It instead comes from some conservatives. Their logic runs something like this: Muslims flew plans into the World Trade Center, putting a Muslim center / mosque (of which there are plenty in New York City already) near Ground Zero is a powerful signal of surrender to the Muslim world. But Moore seems to believe that this is a line widely held by libertarians:

Libertarians believe in holding government to an absolute minimum of control over just how much freedom citizens enjoy. So when government starts withholding rights from some but not others, Libertarians usually sound the alarm.

On the matter of the New York mosque the political right is not only on the wrong side of the issue but demonstrating the kind of self contradictory doublethink that has come to define much of the Repubican and Tea Party movement. Sarah Palin who uses the word “freedom” more often than a Hawaiian airport greeter says “aloha” infamously urged moderate Muslims to “refudiate” the idea of constructing the Muslim center. Newt Gingrich insists that until a church can be built in Saudi Arabia the mosque is a non-starter, a line of reasoning that allows the world’s most repressive regimes to set the bar on American liberty.

The political Right is not the same thing as the libertarian movement. Just ask any libertarian opponent of the Drug Wars. Only the more imaginative denizens of the Left would describe Sarah Palin or Newt Gingrich as libertarian. Conflating libertarians with conservatives is plain sloppy.

The construction of the near Ground Zero community center / mosque is seen through the prism of the cultural wars. Liberals, who regard Islamist terrorism as a mere criminal activity, do not see the project as a threat, and view opposition as an expression of bigotry. To many conservatives, who subscribe to the Clash of Civilizations thesis, it is a woeful concession to an avowed enemy. Islam, or variant of Islam, is the enemy, and if only for symbolic purposes, a mosque at Ground Zero would be a triumph for the other side. A modern day version, in reverse, of the Marines hoisting Old Glory over Iwo Jima. 

Libertarians tend to focus little of their energy on foreign affairs. With some notable exceptions, it is a blind spot for the movement. This is typically justified as fighting for freedom at home, before you go fighting for it abroad. Having a naturally jaundiced view of government action, libertarians lean toward regarding Islamic terrorism as another one of those unfortunate side-effects of big government. 

In this light, the narrative of a bumbling, and grasping, oil driven foreign policy creating, or exacerbating, terrorism seems quite plausible. The big government as bad approach is usually understood as a one way street. Big American government is bad, and it causes nasty things at home and abroad. Strangely the logic is rarely used on other countries, that really big and bad governments in other countries might be generating terrorism, Islamic themed or not.

This blind spot in libertarian foreign policy analysis dovetails with another, and broader, shortcoming in how many libertarians view politics, the fallacy of economic man being universal man. Human beings are certainly motivated by money. It is not for pleasure that commuters fight their way through heavy traffic each morning and evening. But along with economic man, who carefully strives for profit maximization, there is also social man, romantic man, spiritual man and dozens more like him. We are driven by many things, including our ideas and beliefs. 

The believer in economic man assumes that violence is simply an expression, albeit a perverse one, of this profit maximizing tendency. Thus some libertarians subscribe to the poverty-causing-terrorism theory. This round peg, however, has a very square hole to enter. How is a suicide bomber behaving economically? Bits of flesh have a hard time enjoying the material benefits of life. Such fanaticism cannot be explained in economic terms, it can only be understood philosophically. 

The bulk of conservatives understand that we are engaged in an philosophical struggle, one in which symbolism is indeed important. An Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, however, isn't that important a symbol. The most important symbol of our Clash of Civilizations is that after nine years there is still a hole in lower Manhattan. It took less than seven years to build the original twin towers. Yet, nearly a decade after primitive religious fanatics scarred the skyline of New York City, it remains scarred. A confident culture would have, and very quickly, rebuilt the World Trade Center, to a new and better standard. That symbolism is far more powerful that a mere mosque two blocks away.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (17)

The consequence of the Conservative Party abandoning conservative economic theory: who will stand up for Hayek?

Almost two years ago a remarkable thing happened. Stephen Harper, the prime minister who once wrote a dissertation describing why deficit spending couldn’t possibly help the economy, declared himself a Keynesian. Mr. Harper once would have described himself as a classical liberal, a student of Hayek and Friedman. Suddenly he abandoned his own intellectual history and embraced policy formulas that he once railed against.

Many have said that he did it for pragmatic reasons. The opposition parties and the political climate in general conspired to force Stephen Harper to act against his will. I have never really been convinced by this argument but even if it is true it does not explain Mr. Harper’s full hearted embrace of the flawed ‘stimulus’ theory.

Basically the 2009 budget was the Conservative Party of Canada winning by surrendering before the battle could be fought. Instead of presenting a conservative position in the tradition of intellectual thinkers such as...well such as Stephen Harper, and negotiating a compromise with the Liberal Party, the Conservatives skipped the negotiations. They simply presented the position of welfare liberalism and faith in the government’s ability to fix all problems to win Liberal support. In the process the Conservatives abandoned any defence of conservatism.

The consequence of this has been profound.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has lately been saying that a second round of ‘stimulus’ may be needed. Harper’s government is meanwhile sticking to March 2011 as the deadline for all stimulus spending. Mr. Ignatieff makes the point that the government doesn’t know what the economy is going to look like in March so how can it rule out any new spending?

Mr. Ignatieff’s position makes a certain amount of sense, or at least it smacks of intellectual consistency. Once you accept that deficit spending can be a good thing, you can never automatically rule it out. The Conservatives don’t really believe in this stimulus notion and they truly want a balanced budget, so they do not want to leave a door open for more spending.

Yet by publically embracing Keynesianism they have stripped themselves of any coherent argument against stimulus spending. If it was a good idea in one recession why wouldn’t it be a good idea in the next recession? Or the recession after that and the one after that one? Canada has drifted back into the 1970s and a political dynamic that blindly calls for the government to spend Canada into prosperity with no dissenting voices.

We have two Keynesian parties with no one standing up for Hayek.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 9, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (12)

Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Redeeming Social Benefits of the Sunshine Girls

I try to avoid pot posting, if only because it is so very well trodden ground. Still, once in awhile, you read something that truly heartens you. Something inspirational. A simple confession of the intellectual bankruptcy of the anti-legalization forces in this country. In this case it is an Ottawa Sun anti-pot editorial that is so clumsy and ham-fisted, you wonder how it found its way into publication. All the prohibitionist tricks are there, the drug addled driver who killed someone's son, the cheap cracks about potheads (none of which have gotten any funnier since the Nixon-era) and the vague references to "social benefits." 

But just because alcohol is legal doesn’t mean Canada would benefit from decriminalizing marijuana. Turning the feds into a super drug dealer is no answer. Surely by that pretzel logic, we could solve all crime simply by legalizing all offences.

This is not actually a paragraph. It is three sentence strung together in sequence. If marijuana is as dangerous and addictive as alcohol - it isn't - wouldn't that be a salient point to argue for legalization? I quite agree that turning the Feds into a "super" drug dealer is not the answer, but who - aside from some misguided conservatives - is advocating for this? Legalization would mean the government would treat pot as it would any other consumer good. 

Surely by that pretzel logic, we could solve all crime simply by legalizing all offences.

I guess so, but that's not really the issue. If we made jay walking a criminal offence, we could also shoot up the crime rate. But that would be neither here nor there. The issue instead is that the criminalization of private acts, where neither force nor fraud is involved, is immoral. It is simply none of your business what I do with my money, on my property, by myself or with friends.

No, turning Canada into the new Holland is not the way to go.

Holland? Seriously? Since when is the spectre of turning Canada into Holland going to scare anyone? Oh, no! A nation of sensible, tolerant people with low tax rates! Someone save us from a fate worse that Dutch! 

Marijuana for medicinal use is proving to be a benefit to some people. We have no issue with that as long as it has the same tight control of any other drug your doctor might prescribe.

But for recreational purposes? Please, we see no redeeming social benefit to allowing people to smoke up whenever they want to.

And there are quite a few feminists who don't see a "redeeming social benefit" to allowing the Sun chain to run pictures of scantily clad young women. What is the social benefit of allowing men - well, mostly men - to spend their time ogling women? It objectifies them, it demeans them, it gives young women in particular an unrealistic body images to aspire toward. All to justify some primal male urge. 

When arguments like this have been made against the Sun chain, the papers have stood on their right to free speech. The girls are willing, the photographer is willing and the Sun readers are willing. So what business is it of the government? If the feminist don't like, then they shouldn't buy the Sun. Political correctness run amok. Quite right. But the editorial board then says that consenting adults can't smoke pot because it has no "redeeming social benefits." By whose standard? If our rights are to be decided in so collectivistic a manner, we will have no rights. Today the editorial board of the Sun declares pot should remain illegal, tomorrow a feminist lobby pressures the government to ban Sunshine girls, the day after perhaps the anti-homosexual lobby will have a crack at re-criminalization.

The editorial is eloquent in only one way, it expresses very clearly the mindset of the prohibitionists. They want pot banned not because it is dangerous, but because they personally disapprove of its use. They are attempting to pass off their own personal tastes as universal principles, and demanding they be enshrined in law. More than pot itself, it is the users of pot that the prohibitionists despise. The cliched image of the habitual pot smoker is of a middle aged, unwashed, inarticulate hippie, or a equally clueless young college student. These are people whom most prohibitionist hate for having different lifestyles and values. It is bigotry expressed in a socially acceptable manner. While not a single piece of genuine evidence is presented in the editorial, there are plenty of very old, and very tired, hippie jokes. The piece concludes:

Life is not a Cheech and Chong movie and we have to have sober discussions about making pot laws more lax. For now, we just can’t dig it, dude.

After decades of killing and jailing in the name of the Drug Wars, all they can come up with is a cheap joke? I know its summer, but allowing Conservative Party interns to write your editorials is never a good idea. A craven and tawdry appeal to unthinking prejudice. No life is not like a Cheech an Chong movie, it is also - thankfully - not like the authoritarian universe espouse by the editorial board of the Ottawa Sun. The more editorials, columns and political speeches like this, the better. They will discredit the prohibitionists at a far faster rate than even their best critics. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (12)

The government’s crime strategy makes no sense

Terrence Corcoran at the National Post is making a point that we at the Western Standard have been making for a while. The sorts of crimes that the Harper government are targeting are victimless crimes. Gambling, prostitution, and drugs are all voluntary exchanges that do not require the use of force. So people who decide to engage in such activity do not need the protection of the state.

The only victim that proponents can point to here is society as an abstract victim of what they consider to be crass behaviour. I would be happy to engage in that debate, but even if you agree with the society as victim idea, shouldn’t victims of assault and rape be the highest priority of the police? Shouldn’t you be concerned that resources are being shifted over to lower priority crimes?

Mr. Corcoran also makes the point that the new government proposal to upgrade these victimless crimes targets the low end providers of drugs, gambling, and prostitution. These people will spend at least 5 years in jail and come out doing what? Really, after more than 5 years being locked up with other criminals they are going to come out and be what?

They are going to be criminals, except worse criminals because they have no other option in life. In the United States this created a permanent underclass of criminals and it is certain to do the same here. In the long run, these tough on crime proposals will institutionalize violence on the street. This is not mere speculation; it is evident by the ever worsening ghettos of the United States.

The truly bizarre thing is that there is no clear reason for why the government is doing this. Polling data shows that Canadians on a whole are not really worried about crime. Bringing out more and more crime legislation is doing nothing to increase the support of the Conservative Party.

So what is the political gain? Why is the government doing this?

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (45)

Lady Humphrey on the census reform

The Globe & Mail has dragged out of obscurity yet another opponent of the government’s plan to make the long-form census voluntary. Dr, Sylvia Ostry is a retired senior civil servant and she has this to say about the proposal:

“I think it’s ridiculous the government would intervene and tell Statistics Canada how to collect its information,” Dr. Sylvia Ostry told the Couchiching Conference on public affairs after being presented with an award for public policy leadership.

She thinks it is ridiculous that the Minister of the Crown would be the one to set policy? The census issue is not one of pure science; it is a moral issue and a question of the proper relationship between government and its citizenry. That is exactly the area that elected officials, not unelected bureaucrats, should be in charge of. I am not surprised that Lady Humphrey Appleby here thinks that civil servants should rule the world, but the fact that she would say it so bluntly is shameful to her former profession.

I am a bit perplexed by the closing remarks of this news article:

Jail terms have never been imposed, and Dr. Ostry said that, when she was chief statistician, she instructed her officials to be flexible and sensitive with people who refused to fill out the form.

What exactly does flexible and sensitive mean? Is this civil servant speak for not enforcing the law?

I recall from my own experience as a census data collector that we were told to ‘warn’ people that they could be jailed or fined. We were also told that realistically practically no one was fined and absolutely no one was jailed. So the threat of jail is merely used as an intimidation tool to get more people to fill out the census. And this sort of intimidation, no matter how flexible or sensitive, is not acceptable coming from the government of Canada.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 8, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Premiers reveal an ideological divide on the census

The Premiers of Canada have not agreed to stand united against the rather moderate census reform that is being brought forth by the federal government. It is interesting to look at which Premiers are on what side of the issue.

On one hand we have the Premiers who are crying out about the injustice of the reform and making worried noises about the collapse of civilization:

New Brunswick’ Shawn Graham (Liberal)

PEI’s Robert Ghiz (Liberal)

Ontario’s Dalton McGuinty (Liberal)

Quebec’s Jean Charest (Liberal)

Manitoba’s Greg Selinger (NDP)

On the face of it, this looks like a pretty partisan list. But in Canada there is little or no connection between parties on the provincial level and federal level. None of these people care what federal Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff will think about their position. So you should ignore the partisan labels and look at what these people have in common.

They are the Premiers that put the most faith in the ability of the government to run the economy.

Now let’s look at the Premiers that say that the issue is not important:

Alberta’s Ed Stelmach (PC)

BC’s Gordon Campbell (Liberal)

Saskatchewan’s Brad Wall (Saskatchewan Party)

These are the premiers that have shown the most faith in the free market. Yes none of their track records are perfect, but compared to the last group of politicians these three are stalwarts of the free market.

The ideological division is clear. Those that believe in big government are for the census, those that believe in at least somewhat freer markets do not think that it is an important issue.

This underlines the fact that you only really care about the census if you think that government has the ability to run society. And the truth is that government can’t run society, so why should we care about the census?

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 7, 2010 in Canadian Provincial Politics, Census | Permalink | Comments (3)

Water is not a right

The UN has passed a non-binding resolution declaring the access to clean water a human right. But what exactly is a right and what does it mean to have that right violated? A right is something inherent within any rational adult human being. A right is not something that can be given it can only be taken away.

Think about the classic example of the right to free speech. You have the ability to speak whatever you want. No one gave you that ability, you have it on your own. As long as no one uses force to stop you, anything that you want to say you can say.

By calling free speech a right nothing is being given to you except the protection of the courts against the government taking away your freedom. Basically, calling something a right is the leviathan limiting what the leviathan can do. Your rights are violated when the state ignores its own restriction and uses force against you for saying whatever you want.

How exactly does water fit into the same category?

Having water is not something inherent within the human ability. For millions of years our ancestors have had to struggle to find clean reliable water. Yet we are all born with the ability to express ourselves freely. Free speech is something within us and water is something we have to try and find.

Now think what it means to violate a ‘right’ such as water. If a man is stuck in the dessert with no water, according to the UN his rights are being violated. But who is violating his rights? Who is responsible for taking from him? God? Nature? Pure blind bad luck? Do you think we will be able to take any of them to court?

Jacob Mchangama makes clear what is really behind the water resolution:

For rights to have meaning, it must be clear what they are and who is responsible for upholding them. Take free speech: If a government arrests a dissident for peaceful statements or thoughts, it is breaching its obligation to uphold a clear human right. Courts would then be responsible for upholding this right.

The right to clean water and sanitation is far less definable and depends on economic development, technology and infrastructure. Above all, if people have a right to water and sanitation, other people must provide it – in practice, governments using public money. Such privileges are called “positive rights,” as opposed to “negative rights” that cannot be taken away from you. So this is really a call for state intervention, at the expense of other priorities and freedoms – and water is no more a practically enforceable human right than other essential commodities, such as food, clothing or shelter.

This resolution follows naturally from activists’ ideological resistance to the privatization of water. This ignores the countless examples, from Bolivia to Egypt, where governments have failed to provide clean water due to corruption, cronyism, mismanagement and waste. It also ignores successful private models in Bolivia, Chile, Denmark and elsewhere. Giving governments ultimate control over the supply of water may even be dangerous, because authoritarian regimes can use their power to punish the recalcitrant and reward their supporters.

Rights are about what a government cannot do, or about limiting government control. The UN resolution on water is about giving more government control. It is the opposite of what a true right should be.

Posted by Hugh MacIntyre on August 7, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (4)

Friday, August 06, 2010

The Making of a Nation

Their lives, fortunes and sacred honor:

Alexander Hamilton, eulogizing the renowned general Nathanael Greene in 1789, claimed that without the American Revolution, Greene’s true genius might never have been revealed. Jack Rakove, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian at Stanford University, applies Hamilton’s insight about Greene to the entire cohort of Revolutionary leaders in his elegantly written new book. Part collective biography, part narrative history of the years 1773 to 1792, “Revolutionaries” adeptly explores the factors that led these remarkable men to reject British sovereignty and create a new nation. “The Revolution made them,” Rakove asserts, “as much as they made the Revolution.”

We are nothing without opportunities, even slender ones. But similar opportunities were given to the founders of the various Latin American states. They left their nations nothing comparable to the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution or the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions.

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 6, 2010 | Permalink | Comments (1)