Sunday, September 30, 2007

just for fun

Just for fun, let's break down the Globe and Mail story on the government's new war-on-drugs plan.

There's also a health-care cost element to suggesting to young people that using illicit drugs is OK, the minister said.

"The fact of the matter is they're unhealthy," Mr. Clement said.

"They create poor health outcomes."

Well, we're not doing an outright ban on tobacco, fat, sugar, sedentary lifestyles, alcohol, etc. so I assume that Mr. Clement means that illicit drugs are unusually unhealthy because... err... well, because they're illegal, so there's no way to track down and punish people who cut them with dangerous substances like, say, rat poison. Solution? Make them more illegal!

"We're going to be into a different world and take tackling these issues very seriously because (of) the impact on the health and safety of our kids."

Ah, yes. The children. They need to be kept safe from the criminals who deal drugs! They're criminals because they deal drugs, whether or not they're doing anything that's actually endangering our children... and the gang violence! Yes, the gang violence... funded by the inflated prices of drugs caused by making them illegal.

Hmm.

Mr. Clement said treatment and prevention programs were his key priorities for the health element of the drug strategy.

"Yes, there's a justice issue to that," he said.

"But there's also a treatment issue, there's also a prevention issue."

Look, I think that there are a lot of drug users in this country who need help, but preventing and treating drug use through stricter bans is like controlling excessive drinking in the 1920s by continuing prohibition - it doesn't work... in fact, it does the opposite.

To his credit, it sounds like Clement did say at one point that he was in favour of safe-use sites for drug users... as far as policies within prohibition go, I think this is a relatively positive one, but the fact is that if Canada's government wants to help drug users, protect children and fight organized crime, stricter laws against drugs is the absolute last policy they should be considering.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

credit where credit's due.

I have to echo the thoughts of ALW when he says that he has gained a lot of respect for John Tory, personally, during this campaign.

I suspect that the only things that John Tory and I would agree on policy-wise are the things that everyone can agree on - waste in government is bad, lying politicians are bad, etc... but before this election I would not have pinned him as someone who would stick to his guns in the face of disapproval from the electorate, and he's done just that with his proposal to extend funding to all religious schools.

Personally, I think it's bizarre that he chose to advocate opening up education funding based on religion and not just move straight to a voucher system, but it's obviously more moral and intellectually honest that funding only Catholic schools outside of the public system, and he has stuck by the policy and defended it, and he deserves respect for that.

Politically, though, the PC campaign has been a disaster. Other than a few very hard-working organizers, there's no overall organization to speak of and their message is scattered at best, non-existent at worst. While Tory has proven himself when it comes to sticking by something on principle, he definitely needs to replace what I expect are a group of yes-men and put some real organization around himself if he ever wants to be Premier of this province.

Monday, September 24, 2007

letters to the editor

Letters to the editor are great fun. Here's one I submitted today:

Last week, a letter in the Star attacked the Canadian Medical Association’s proposed changes to the Canadian Health care system, explaining that vested interests shouldn’t be allowed to overhaul the Canadian health care system in the name of profit.

There are plenty of letters like this – “Peoples' lives and well-being shouldn’t depend on their income or anything else!” letters always seem to proclaim, and no system could be beneficial if it is concerned primarily with money.

But this week, letters about Mexican immigrants are all the rage. Unlike the Canadian health care system, though, money is what it’s all about.

We can’t afford these immigrants! Ship them back and all of our problems will be solved. Will they be impoverished? Will they starve? Not our problem! Unless you’re from Canada or you have your paper work in order, all the human rights we claim to believe in go flying out the window.

That’s what we’ve fought for all these years, after all: a country free from discrimination based on anything other than country of origin and completeness of paperwork.

The worst part is that Canadians are so afraid of change that we won’t consider real solutions to either of these problems, and we’ll look the other way when our values become completely inconsistent.

We’ll try to guarantee ourselves a better life by stopping the poor and hungry from coming here the way our ancestors did… but don’t mess with our universal health care!

Talk about a double standard.

props

Props to The Freeway to Serfdom on his concise post regarding examples of Canadian health care problems in Dead Meat, a mini-documentary showing arguments against universal health care that you can watch in its entirety on YouTube.

Dead Meat has been out for some time, but that doesn't make the following any less true, and I couldn't have said it better:

Pay attention to the guy midway through who is stuck on a waiting list for cataract surgery. The reason he's on that list, when LASIK or similar procedures remain private and can be had in a matter of days, is that the former is an "essential" service, while the latter is "cosmetic" only.

That's right, the absolutely necessary procedure is inaccessible and severely rationed, while the elective one has become as ubiquitous as a brake and muffler shop. Just one of the many logical somersaults you Americans will have to get used to performing once Hillary and Obama start ladling out the "free" medicine.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

racists and socialists

It's great to know that in Canada we are free from discrimination based on race, colour, religion, creed, and all kinds of other good stuff... as long as you weren't born outside of our country. After all, the rights you have are based on which side of an imaginary line you were drawn on. Born on the wrong side of the line? Well then if you try to come to Canada, its citizens will apparently say "No."

All arguments against complete global freedom of movement and not against the welfare state are based in flat-out racism.

Is there a problem with the current system? Of course there is. But the problem isn't people taking their children or themselves to a better life, it's that we pay them to come here. In a classic case of unintended consequences, well-meaning socialists have institutionalized racism in many a civilized nation.

(That said, if you think that we should be paying to help disadvantaged Canadians afford food, shelter and big-screen TVs* - and especially if you think that it's an obligation because people have a right to food, clothing and big screen TVs* then I can't think of a consistent argument against helping everyone in a similar manner... unless, of course, you factor in some good ol' fashioned racism again. One of many reasons that I am not into that sort of stuff.)

If Americans have the wool pulled so far over their eyes that they aren't drowning in irony while kicking people out of their country that are fleeing economically or socially repressive conditions for a better life, then Canada should be stepping up to do what's right and protect freedom and human rights by allowing people to live where they choose to make the best lives for themselves that they can.

If we can't afford to run all the programs we have, let's cut off (or modify) the programs - not trap people in a situation because of their ancestry, place of origin or citizenship. Hell, we fought wars to guarantee those rights for ourselves.

h/t: Freeway to Serfdom
cross-posted to: The Natural Society



*OK, so I've only heard of people within 2 degrees of separation from me getting a big screen TV on welfare once, but once is more than enough for me.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

breakin' the law?

There is no surer way to pervert the law than to institutionalize breaking it. So why would there be majority support for breaking the law to fight organized crime?

If you don't see why this is such a scary proposal, consider the following - should the government, the police or anyone consider it a good idea to break a law that shouldn't be repealed? I would argue that the answer to this question is "no" in any case, but especially in the case of government, who has the power to change laws they don't want followed, or the police, who, being entrusted with enforcing the law, should be the last ones to break it.

Further, what laws would have to be repealed in this case? The laws protecting individual rights from the government; laws protecting us from unnecessary search and seizure, protecting our privacy, and protecting us from entrapment. And yes, protecting us - all of us. These infringements on the rights of Canadians always seem to be assumed to affect everyone but the people advocating them, but how long until someone finds something you're doing, without hurting anyone, offensive enough to barge into your house and forcibly stop you from doing it?

(Apparently there is also support for overturning the laws protecting freedom of association, since people want to make it a crime to be a member of some gangs even if you haven't committed any other crime.)

It's also important to look at the crimes that are so serious that we need to stop them by striking a blow against every Canadian, law-abiding or not.

If the government didn't outright create organized crime, they certainly gave them a better boost than they've ever given another industry by prohibiting alcohol, gambling and, to an even greater extent after the legalization of alcohol and gambling - drugs. Taxes and regulations are almost as bad, but certainly don't compare to the effects on price that an outright ban.

Do you think there would be any market for black market cigarettes if people weren't overpaying so drastically that the government was going above and beyond covering the costs of their medical care and making a profit off of them? Would gangs be making millions of dollars selling pot and other drugs that might not even be safe if you could go to the store and buy clean, reliable drugs for a fraction of the price? Of course not. Government subsidizes organized crime more than it subsidizes any other industry.

The scariest part is that people are so willing to have the law broken - and for what? The bans of the mid-twentieth century allowed for big business in organized crime through rumrunning and casinos - two industries now controlled (and, in the case of gambling, promoted) entirely by the government in Ontario.

No wonder we're starting to hear stories about police so frustrated that they tase students or berate folks parked at road stops - what incentive is there for bad cops to show restraint or respect for individuals when there is no expectation that they do so? And how frustrating must it be for good cops to be attempting to enforce laws when we institutionalize breaking them?

We certainly aren't doing the officers willing to put their lives on the line to protect us justice.

If we're going to advocate repealing a law (institutionalized breaking of a law is just stupid) then why aren't we talking about freeing the markets funding organized crime?

As it stands, the financial incentive is far too large for any crime-fighting initiative to ever stand a chance of putting a real dent in organized crime, so why not take it away? Would being able to go to the store to buy some product containing cocaine (basically extra-strength caffeine) or pot cigarettes to smoke on a Saturday night really be worse for society than a watered-down police state?

(cross-posted to The Natural Society and Bureaucrash)

Monday, September 17, 2007

semantics vs. facts

I suspected that this might become an issue with the PC and NDP messaging calling the health tax the biggest tax increase in Ontario's history. It will be interesting to see how/if the PCs respond.

(As for the NDP response that you need to talk about inflation-adjusted dollars, the Liberals were using percentages of GDP, income and government revenue, not real dollar amounts, so unless it's a result of me missing my coffee this morning, I'm not sure how the amounts could be considered nominal.)

Saturday, September 15, 2007

how to keep the honesty issue from resonating

It's really interesting that John Tory has decided to make the main issue in this election leadership/honesty.

When the PCs make no substantial promise regarding fiscal policy other than more honesty, it means that almost all of the rest of their promises are the same as the Liberals, except "we'll keep them."

Well, when you're both promising to increase spending, I have no trouble believing that any Liberal will keep the promise. (The main reason I've never been a Liberal.) It would be different if they were fighting over who could reduce spending and lower taxes, but it's simply not the case.

If you're trying to stand apart from someone by saying you'll keep your promises, they have to be making promises no one believes they will keep. By promising spending increases, (and promising to keep the promise. What have elections come to, anyway?) Tory helps McGuinty keep his credibility and stops the PCs from controlling the issues.

One of the many reasons you will be hearing way more about the school funding issue (winning some Jewish votes in TO, but not too popular with others I've heard talk about it) than about honesty and accountability.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

to MMP or not to MMP? that is the question.

In an unexpected turn of events, I've found myself undecided on a political issue. It's weird for me - usually I have a "gut reaction" and with a little thought, can logically back up my position on an issue.

Quite frankly, if the vote was for a single transferable vote system, my problems would be solved and I would gladly vote and campaign for the change.

But not so with MMP.

On one hand, MMP would offer Ontarians better choices on which parties to vote for. I wouldn't have to forego voting for the party I really believed in simply because they weren't running in my riding (perhaps because the FPTP system has kept the party small, and there would be more candidates within a few elections of MMP, but maybe not). It is a remedy to the disparity between popular vote and actual representation, and the likely result of fewer majorities would (hopefully) result in legislation that better met the wants of voters.

On top of all that, the major reason that the no-MMP crowd seems to be against the reform is that it will make it harder for whatever party they're in to have complete power after an election. Think of all the minority governments! Coalition governments! Etc, etc. I'm not interested in whether or not the voting system we use preserves the ability of the Liberal or Conservative Party to govern as they see fit more often.

There are a lot of really good reasons to vote for MMP and a lot of really bad reasons to oppose it... but I have one major problem that's holding me back from making my decision:

I think MMP would likely strengthen party lines and increase further the number of political hacks we have representing us. With the current system, there is at least a chance that someone who is simply a good candidate could be convinced to run and win even if the party didn't like the guy. Changes can be made by the grass roots, even if it's not the norm. (look at the Common Sense Revolution)

Of course there is always interference by the party - in some cases the Leader might mandate certain qualities in their candidates (Dion wants 1/3 of his candidates to be women, so, in my riding, for instance, rumour has it that male Liberal candidates are being told to not bother running), they might not allow a nomination to take place until conditions are favourable (I'm sure we'll be released for nomination once the Jeff Watson-friendly membership is high enough), or they might simply send their people to go down and run a campaign for their favoured candidate, giving them more outside resources than a grassroots favourite might be able to muster locally. But at the end of the day, it's local memberships that matter, and someone with strong local support can overcome the will of the party with enough organization and hard work.

With list members being chosen by the party at large, I can only see this getting worse. In politics people often aren't rewarded for talent or good intentions, but for sticking it out longer than the other guys in any way necessary. Back stabbers, yes-men, complete incompetents - think of some sort of undesirable and I can probably think of an example that's been rewarded for nothing but sheer endurance and even just superficial devotion to a party. (In fact, for every example of an undesirable I can think of, I can probably think of a good person who's been dumped at the whims of the faithful. But I digress...)

List members, without a specific constituency to appeal to, would be appealing to intra-party interest groups, and most likely the ones who would win would be the ones supported by the leader. (Members who don't support The Leader have a funny habit of disappearing until the next leadership race.) This would strengthen the party line without even the use of the party Whip - who wouldn't be going anywhere, either, by the way.

Imagine this scenario:

A number of candidates from Party A come out against a proposed bill by an incumbent Party B government because it would hurt the constituents of their ridings in a very real and unfair way. Now let's say that these candidates are all elected based on their opposition to this bill. On top of the election of these candidates, Party A is underrepresented and their seats are topped up with list members equal in number to the bill-opposing seat holders.

These list members were chosen because they are loyal to the party leader, who is strong in a part of the province where the bill is not unpopular. As a result, the list members, who don't really represent any specific group of people, favour a bill that's worth opposing in order to keep the favour of The Leader, who happens to care more about polls than the rights of Ontarians. So three good MPPs, who would have been representing their constituents, have their votes canceled out in favour of the party line.

Sure, it's far-fetched, but MMP makes it possible. And list members seem to take the worst parts of our candidate selection process and institutionalize them, eliminating the possibility of new, good representation from sneaking through the system. That's really not something I'm comfortable with.

On top of that, the proponents of MMP seem to be very naive when it comes to exactly how politics works. Maybe if they weren't, we could have seen a better system (*cough*STV*cough) proposed by the citizens' assembly.

That said, to anyone who's actually read this far, my extensive, neurotic concerns about the implications of MMP shouldn't be interpreted as far outweighing the good parts of the system - if that was the case, I'd be decided.

I do think we need change, I just have concerns about this kind of change. I really, really want to be able to support MMP, but the threat of even less independence for our representatives, or more effective silencing of independent viewpoints, is really something that worries me about the system.

So, there you have it. An undecided voter. Anyone who cares enough to speak up for one side or the other, have at it.

cities pay farmers!


Am I the only person who is going to absolutely lose it the next time I see one of these signs?
The signs are, I'm assuming, supposed to remind us how lucky we are to have farmers, who produce our food.

Well, first of all, I don't depend on the benevolence of farmers to provide me with food - nor do they expect me to. They want cold, hard cash as compensation for the service they provide... but they don't stop there.

Canadians more than pay for our farmers. We pay for their produce, we pay to subsidize them, we pay more for their goods because of supply control, and there is a moral cost that we pay when we increase the cost of milk and eggs for our poorest citizens, when we perpetuate the use of large tracts of land that could be reclaimed by forest cover as inefficient farm land, when we flood poor economies with our subsidized food products, putting their farmers out of business and perpetuating starvation and poverty in the third world.
(Even the Make Poverty History crowd figured that one out.)

So stop trying to remind me how lucky I am to pay for all you do time and time again so that you can keep working in an industry that would go under without my financial support. Stop reacting with indignation because we might not want to give up even more of our money or sacrifice more of the most vulnerable to perpetuate this insanity. At the very, very least, there should be signs thanking the taxpayers of Canada for making all these sacrifices, rather than trying to send them on some messed up guilt trip.

Maybe the rest of us should start our own campaign. "Cities pay farmers!" Would probably be the least offensive. I'd buy that t-shirt.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

think, then talk.

So apparently this ad spending nonsense is going before Parliamentary committee. Gary Goodyear tried to block the investigation by saying it was out of order, but when that failed,
Tory MP Pierre Poilievre quickly moved an amendment to have the study include the expenses of all parties for every election since 1997.

"If they vote to hide their books from the public, then they should explain what they have to hide," Poilievre said.

Seriously... think these things through before you say them. If you're using points of order to try to hide the expenses from investigation, shouldn't you explain what you have to hide?

staffing change needed.

What is up with the Ontario PCs' signs this time around? They look like they were:
a) designed in MS Paint, or
b) messed up and fixed with stickers... by an amateur.


(Not meant to pick on Michael Harris specifically... although what a name to be running under John Tory... he's just the first one that comes up under a google search.)
Believe it or not, they look worse in real life.

Maybe all the graphic designers worked for Klees and Flaherty?

err...

Parents in the Panhandle may face jail time if their children continue to skip school.

Officials in Escambia County are weighing a tough new penalty that says if children have 10 unexcused absences in 90 calendar days, their parents would be put behind bars.

Officials said children who miss that much school put their entire futures in jeopardy.

Yeah... I'm sure it has no lasting effects on kids to have their parents spend time in prison. I mean, it can't possibly be worse than missing 90 days of school. Right? Right?

Legislators make my head hurt.

h/t: Bureaucrash
x-post: The Natural Society

Monday, September 10, 2007

freedom of speech and responsibility

I've been thinking a lot lately about freedom of speech. It is something that everyone in Canada and America values, or at least claims to value.

Ask a Canadian if they'd be willing to give up their freedom of speech, and they will likely tell you that in Canada we believe in free speech. Ask an American to support a candidate for president who's running on a promise to repeal the first amendment and they'll likely laugh in your face.

We are two of the freest countries in the world, and for all of our flirtations with socialism, free speech is something that average Canadians and Americans continue to have at least a strong superficial belief in.

So why is it that so often we hear the words "I believe in free speech, but..."

But what?

Well the one I hear most often is, "We believe in free speech, but freedom of speech is not freedom from responsibility."

OK, so we need to make sure that people are responsible for their actions.
Let's examine this argument against free speech. (And it is an argument against free speech - unless you have complete freedom of speech, you do not have free speech. Is it freedom of religion if you can be any religion but pagan/Catholic/Jewish? Same deal.)

"You can't yell fire in a crowded theater!" Someone will almost always say. Well, actually, you can - but we hold you accountable for it. The offender must compensate the theater owner for lost business and property damage, the injured for their injuries, and must be held accountable by all the folks inconvenienced and anyone else who thinks that they're a jerk for messing with everyone's night out. Freedom of speech, coupled with the protection of property, will force responsibility on the offender.

Hate speech? Allow it. If someone is an outright racist or bigot, I'd rather know so that I can deny them business, avoid them, give them dirty looks, and so that their community can follow suit. Let's unite behind whoever is under attack by the bigots and show them support in a way few other events can. Everyone loves to hate a villain. Again - freedom of speech forces responsibility on the offender.

"But what about death threats?" someone else will ask. Well, to quote Ian from Ianism (which appears to be down - what a shame), if someone is going to try to kill me, the last thing I want to do is take away their ability to warn me.

And what about free speech that doesn't physically hurt or coerce any person or property? What about the overtly moral attempting to "protect" us from what they find offensive and therefore "damaging" to, well, who knows who. Probably the children.

Who decides what's offensive? Those busybodies trying to ban it? Well, let's say said busybodies are very religious. Should they be able to stop me from saying "There is no God?" Let's hope not.
But let's ignore that very important point for the sake of getting to the "responsibility" argument. Regardless of who's deciding what's OK for me to see or hear, what does censorship of this type accomplish?

Well, people aren't offended by, for example, turning on their TV at 5:00 in the afternoon and hearing a curse word or seeing a partially naked woman. But what does this do? It takes away the responsibility of those watching the TV to mind what channels they go to, the responsibility of parents to watch their children or teach them about the things they hope they will avoid.

In the case of offended sensibilities, freedom is curtailed specifically to avoid responsibility. Is mass irresponsibility really something that we want to be encouraging? According to the people lobbying for censorship, that's exactly the kind of mindset we should all be trying to avoid.

(cross-posted to Bureaucrash and The Natural Society)

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

hypocrisy, thy name is...

Conservative Party spokespeople are claiming that the transfer of funds from the national party to smaller, poorly funded campaigns to increase national advertising through the local level is an issue of freedom of speech:
Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre says it boils down to the right of candidates to spend money as they see fit.
Oh, well that's fantastic! Candidates have the right to spend money as they see fit during an election, but individual Canadians or third party groups? Well that would just be silly. Heck, the Conservative government outright banned corporate donations, completely ignoring corporations' freedoms of speech and association.

But when the people passing all these laws actually have to obey them? Well, that's an infringement of their freedom! And we can't have that.

I felt a lot better about the rampant destruction of free speech in this country before I knew that a few politicians - the ones in government no less - understood that it includes the right to spend your money to promote a certain message.

Disgusting.