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November 04, 2007

When is the government going to fix everyone's problems?

I mean, jeez! The Conservatives have been in power for two years now! Well, almost. The Liberal master of windy rhetoric, Ken Dryden, spoke in Parliament Friday:

Mr. Speaker, when I travel across the country, I hear the same thing, from those with disabilities, from those who cannot read, from students, from aboriginals. I ask them what the government is doing and they say nothing or next to nothing: from seniors, from parents needing to work who have children needing to learn, nothing; from the poor, nothing; from people who live the experience, not just formulate life from their own minds, anything big, tough, anything that has to be taken on together, nothing.

When will the government take this special opportunity and really do something?

(Lifted from the Phantom Observer, because I'm not crazy enough to read through those transcripts myself. Follow the link to read about Dryden's Stéphane Dion moment...)

In Dryden's worldview, everyone is just sitting around waiting for some massive new social program that will rescue them from their problems. People are passive, and helpless without government assistance. What a depressing perspective.

November 02, 2007

Prepare for more child care hysteria

I don't want to alarm anyone or start a panic, but letters from -- gulp! -- A CORPORATION have been sent to the owners of some private day-care centres:

Form letters, written by Texas businessmen fronting the Canadian expansion, have been arriving in the mailboxes of dozens of private daycare operators asking if they want to be evaluated with a view to selling.

It's all part of a rapid global expansion by Groves' ABC Learning Centres, which last year added about 1,000 U.S. centres to its empire.

"We represent a large financial/child care group purchasing child care centres across Ontario," the letter reads. "Are you ready to see what your business is worth in today's market? The process is simple and all information is confidential ... If the centre meets our criteria we will make you an offer."

Dozens of letters! Imagine!

Oh, what the heck, let's panic:

These developments threaten a sea change from the child care environment we now know in Canada. Multi-national child care uses economies of scale and corporate integration of services to open the floodgates to commercial care across Canada. (link)

...

"Basing the care and education of our children on the corporate model where the greatest return for shareholders, increasing profit margins and global expansion is the rule of the corporation will hurt children and families," said Bird. "We have a clear message today. Canada's children are not for sale."

"It's a Wal-Martization of daycare in Canada," said Liberal critic Ruby Dhalla. (link)

...

Salma Malik, from Dalhousie Parents Day Care, was alarmed to hear about the poor quality and the high costs of child care for parents in Australia. "Parent fees have risen by 123 per cent in Australia over the past fifteen years. I can't imagine how full-fee families could afford these kinds of increases and think the province should ensure that parents are not left to the mercy of corporate giants jacking up parent fees to increase their profit margins," asserted Malik. (link)

...

“Foreign ownership of Canadian child care will kill the dream of a pan-Canadian child care system,” says Jody Dallaire, chairperson of the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada. “Our children and families deserve quality, accessible, community-based child care not some gigantic off-shore warehouse operation.” (link)

A quick pass through most of the Union sites that are responsible for these dire quotes would leave you with the impression that once ABC has a tiny foothold here, their tentacles will quickly stretch across the country, strangling all competition and leaving no other possible options for parents looking for childcare. Big box daycares will stand next to freeway interchanges, where parents will use an efficient drive-through system to deposit their bar-coded, jump-suit wearing children onto conveyor belts leading to their pens. The media will no doubt report these fearful predictions with little skepticism and will completely overlook the self-interest the unions have in making them. They are greatly invested in creating a vast government run bureaucracy with no place for private operators. Why else -- after years of complaining about the lack of childcare spaces -- did they petition Dalton McGuinty today to (among other things):
- Immediately introduce a moratorium on any further licensing of child care programs;
I complained about Eddy Groves and ABC a couple of years ago:
Eddy Groves is not an 'entrepreneur' in the sense that he developed a useful product or service, he just saw that the government was prepared to firehose money in a certain direction and he positioned himself to get a good soaking. He's a corporate welfare beneficiary.
Still true, but I'd rather his company here, continually having to meet government standards and the expectations and needs of the parents, rather than a monolithic, inefficient, union-run 'early-learning' system.

UPDATE: Now that I think about it, perhaps ABC has some inside information that McGuinty is planning to turn on a childcare firehose in Ontario. Watching the corporations and the unions fighting over the money should be a good show.

Cross-posted (a first!) at the Broom. Darcey is planning a big box domination of the Canadian blogosphere. Resistance is useless!

October 30, 2007

Don't forget the ponies, John

Down in the States, John Edwards has big plans:

Edwards, a former Democratic senator from North Carolina, says the federal government should underwrite universal pre-kindergarten, create matching savings accounts for low-income people, mandate a minimum wage of $9.50 and provide a million new Section 8 housing vouchers for the poor. He also pledged to start a government-funded public higher education program called "College for Everyone."
He is also claiming magical powers:
Like other Democrats, Edwards named his top three priorities as ending the war in Iraq, enacting universal health care and overhauling the American energy system. "Those are three things instantly I would do," he said.
So far he's said nothing about the ponies. But there's still many weeks of campaigning to go...

October 29, 2007

Modern Diplomacy

In the Star today, former diplomat Harry Sterling has some advice for Stephen Harper on the delicate art of international relations:

Leaders of governments who confuse their own personal viewpoints with those of their countries' national interests can cause unwelcome and even dangerous consequences for their fellow countrymen.
In particular, Sterling feels Harper's stubborn insistence on meeting whomever he wants is very provocative and insensitive to our Chinese friends:
Harper will meet the Dalai Lama openly with the media in attendance. The forthcoming encounter has already been criticized by the Chinese authorities as interference in China's internal affairs.

Beijing's unhappiness with Harper's meeting the Dalai Lama is thus not unexpected. Nor is China's growing displeasure with the pro-Taiwan stance of many prominent members of Harper's Conservative party.

Although Members of Parliament have as much right as anyone else to be favourably disposed towards the Dalai Lama – or Taiwan for that matter – totally ignoring the possible negative trade fallout is another matter, especially since China is now Canada's fourth-largest export market.

As much as some would praise Harper for standing up for his principles in such cases, others see such actions as potentially undermining important national interests, a concern that even the Canadian business community has voiced in the past.

Certainly this is very good advice. Maintaining good relations with our trading partners should be the primary goal of our foreign policy. So what if the Chinese openly support the brutal regimes in Sudan, Myanmar, North Korea, and Zimbabwe? And so what if they're pretty brutal themselves? Requiring our Prime Minister to consult with an oppressive foreign government on what he can say or who he can meet with is a small price to pay to avoid any risk to the supply of merchandise for our dollar stores.

And Sterling has more advice:

The fact Harper has remained remarkably silent about the violation of international law and human rights covenants by the Bush administration – President George W. Bush countenancing practices considered torture – has only reinforced the view of those who regard his support for human rights and religious freedoms as highly selective. As well, Harper seems indifferent to the imprisonment at the notorious U.S. prison at Guantanamo, Cuba, of Canadian teenager Omar Khadr, incarcerated since July 2002 when he was captured at the age of 15 in Afghanistan.
Wait... huh?

October 26, 2007

On the other hand...

I've praised Flaherty's laissez-faire attitude towards the dollar discrepancy issue because it's the right approach. Change happens when people demand better; it's not up to the government.

And things are starting to change. The Collected Works bookstore in Ottawa is allowing their customers to pay the US price on items with both prices marked (hat tip: Kateland). I've never been there, but I'll have to take a look the next time I'm in the area. Dell.ca is now showing prices in line with their American parent. Companies that have been slow to adapt (like Chapters) have been deluged with complaints. Meetings are being held, buyers are being harangued, and slowly, slowly, more progress will happen.

But the government shouldn't be smug about this. Government is the main reason people in Canada pay more than Americans, and why we will continue to pay more, even after the currency fluctuations have been accounted for.

The Conservatives still stand by the policy of 'supply management' for many agricultural products -- controlling supply by allowing only so many 'rights' to produce, while preventing any imports -- which has the effect of driving prices up considerably. The ironic thing is that the supposed 'reason' for this scheme is to maintain a vibrant agricultural sector. But what it does is decrease new investment and innovation, block new entrants to the business, and lower yields and consumer consumption.

Government standards on many products effectively prevent imports or allow them only through licensed middlemen. A couple of days ago I read the story of a man who found all the appliances for his new house in the US at half the price of what they were selling for here. He thought he had a great deal: his warranties would still be honoured and after paying the duty he would still be far ahead. But then he was informed that because these new appliances were not CSA approved, he would not qualify for house insurance -- even though they were exactly the same make as what he could buy in Canada! I was never a fan on the EU merging their currencies, but I did think it was smart that they merged their various standards on all products, painful as it no doubt was. These standards often operate as de facto trade barriers, while offering governments indignant deniability. "Lower our standards? Would you risk the lives of your children to save a few dollars?"

The government also prevents competition in alcoholic products. Living near the border with Ontario, I have the luxury of choosing from two expensive and unresponsive monopolies (neither of which will carry Laphroaig) but other Canadians aren't that lucky. And in many other markets, such as mobile phones and banking, the government restricts the foreign competitors that would force the incumbants to lower prices.

But probably the biggest reason Canadians pay more is just the border. It takes a long time to cross, a long time to cross back, and long waiting periods before you can bring back anything that would make the trip worthwhile. If Flaherty really wants to see Canadian retailers get competitive, work to make the border crossings more streamlined, and eliminate all those restrictions on foreign purchases. Canadian businesses could adapt or die.

There's about as much chance of that happening as Elizabeth May becoming Prime Minister. In fact, I'll bet that the next 'mini-budget' to come out will offer compensation to those poor Canadian businesses that are losing money to customers going to the States. And you can expect border hassles to actually increase. That's how this country works; the consumer is the least important part of the economy.

October 24, 2007

Who could possibly think something like this could work?

If Mr. Flaherty is serious about stopping consumer gouging, spurring capital investment and attaining more balance in global markets, then he'll need much more than jawboning. He'll have to regulate retail margins to stop the current exchange-rate rip-off
The answer? Jim Stanford, economist with the Canadian Auto Workers union, who helpfully (though needlessly) points out:
I am a socialist
No kidding. Imagine a government department trying to monitor each transaction between two parties to determine if it is 'fair'. Imagine them trying to determine the 'real cost' of the simplest item while accounting for all the special discounts, extra services, and incentives that accompany many sales. Trying to create a 'carbon budget' would be simpler...

It's a real shame that the Globe and Mail has fallen to such low standards in who they let write for them. It's almost like they have no standards at all, really...

Okay, let me seriously answer Stanford's argument. The rising Canadian dollar has invisibly raised the prices on all goods and services in the country. Stanford believes that it's pointless to ask the evil, bloodsucking corporations to lower their prices, as Jim Flaherty has done, because, well... they're evil, bloodsucking corporations that only care about draining your pockets. That price rise is theirs, and they're going to keep it, and there's nothing any of you can do about it. [insert evil laugh here]

While I don't think they're evil, I do agree that companies would like to extract as much margin as they can in each transaction. That's the nature of business, and I think it's a good thing. But... those companies have competition. Consumers have choice, and they can look at price, and they can send a message to businesses that continue to overcharge. They don't have to shop there, and businesses that don't react to the changing currency situation will start to earn a bad reputation that will be very difficult to erase.

Of course, consumers will only be able to send this message if they're aware of what's happened themselves. There's been some grumbling for a little while, but the story hadn't made it into the mainstream. But Flaherty has now done that. What Stanford doesn't understand (beyond everything about economics) is that Flaherty was speaking to the consumers, not the retailers. He reminded them of their power and their role in the economy. People are talking about this issue. They will now be reevaluating their brand loyalties, and smart businesses will act quickly, as Walmart is already doing:

In a press release, the company said it has been negotiating with suppliers for more than a year to have wholesale prices better reflect the strengthening Canadian dollar.

"Canadians are not satisfied, Wal-Mart Canada is not satisfied, and negotiations continue," Mario Pilozzi, Wal-Mart Canada's president and CEO, said in the release.

"We are the agent for our customers, and will continue to work proactively with suppliers to negotiate lower prices. We are committed to turning our negotiations into many pleasant surprises for our customers between now and the New Year."

Leftists constantly want to take individual responsibilities away from people. I don't think it's really because they want the power for themselves -- though it is a nice bonus-- but because they think individuals are incapable of properly making decisions and are helpless at spurring change. Usually the powers they seek are minor, though they are numerous -- as the term 'creeping socialism' implies. But giving government the power to monitor and control consumer transactions would impose a totalitarian system almost instantly.

October 10, 2007

The Lesson Not Learned

One simple lesson. But they never do learn, do they?

When Andrew Coyne is not writing about MMP, he's Canada's best columnist. In today's piece he smacks around those politicians that think their targeted industrial strategies, supply management programs, and regional development initiatives do any good at all. Actually, 'those politicians' are pretty much 'all politicians'. It's pretty hard to find one that doesn't believe that taking money from some and giving it to others (accompanied by a photo-op, of course) is not a good idea. Read the whole thing, but I especially enjoyed this paragraph:

All of economics is devoted to the proposition that there is no such thing as a free lunch. All of politics is devoted to the opposite conviction. All economics teaches that you can’t get something for nothing. All politics supposes that you can -- or that you can at least persuade other people that you can. Economics is about scarcity, universal and inescapable. Politics is about limitless plenty.

August 04, 2007

What have you done with my Laphroaig?

Laphroaig Scotch from the Isle of Islay off Scotland is unique. It advertises itself as 'the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies' and that is undeniably true. It's smoky and salty and peaty, and there is a little something else there that is hard to define. The tiniest of sips fills your mouth with its awesome, earthy flavour. It has its own unique look as well, using the same green bottle with the plastic cap and the same imprecisely glued black-on-white label that has been around since the 60's. Those elegant, faux-Victorian labels found on most other Scotches are so pretentious.

But the monopoly liquor supplier in Ontario has recently discontinued the Laphroaig 10 yr old single malt. And since it's never been available from the Quebec monopoly liquor supplier, I now have no source for my favourite Scotch, and only a couple fingers left in my last bottle.

I'm not sure why they got rid of it. Every Scotch drinker I know is familiar with it and rates it highly. For those who appreciate a peaty Scotch, only Lagavulin rivals its experience. But Lagavulin is twice as expensive; I could never justify buying it. Laphroaig is a connoisseur's Scotch at a working class price -- which, now that I think of it, is maybe why the LCBO dropped it.

But I'm not worried. The friends of Laphroaig will not let the LCBO get away with this. Right now, the LCBO switchboard is probably jammed with angry Laphroaig drinkers, their servers are clogged with angry emails, and letters have arrived from all over Ontario denouncing their short-sighted decision. With a provincial election coming up, I don't think Dalton McGuinty can afford to alienate such a large part of the voting public. You can write to complain to the LCBO (as I have done) at infoline@lcbo.com.

And in case I haven't completely convinced you of how special and unique this Scotch is, I present this video. Though the creator says he adds ice to Laphroaig and pronounces the name wrong, he is clearly passionate about it. I salute him.

July 29, 2007

Criminal prosecutors

This story is making the rounds, but if you haven't heard about it yet you can find out about the whole sordid affair from Mark Steyn:

Do you know Cory Mashburn and Ryan Cornelison?

If you do, don't approach them. Call 911 and order up a SWAT team. They're believed to be in the vicinity of McMinnville, Ore., where they're a clear and present danger to the community. Mashburn and Cornelison were recently charged with five counts of felony sexual abuse, and District Attorney Bradley Berry has pledged to have them registered for life as sex offenders.

Oh, by the way, the defendants are in the seventh grade.

Messrs Mashburn and Cornelison are pupils at Patton Middle School. They were arrested in February after being observed in the vestibule, swatting girls on the butt. Butt-swatting had apparently become a form of greeting at the school – like "a handshake we do," as one female student put it. On "Slap Butt Fridays," boys and girls would hail each other with a cheery application of manual friction to the posterior, akin to a Masonic greeting.

And then an authority figure found out, and decided to ruin a few lives. Read the whole thing.

June 23, 2007

Your chance to help the government!

Today I saw this sign in the vacant field opposite the new Canadian War Museum in Ottawa:

Governments today don't make their decisions based on anything as old-fashioned as need, they do things the proper way. They get as much money as they can and then divide it up amongst various departments and other interested parties to decide where it should go. It's a delicate balancing act that aims to keep whining to a minimum but isn't really concerned with doing anything useful. Usually spending the money isn't a difficult task for the recipients, but sometimes it comes so fast that it's hard to know what to do with it. It's this difficult position the National Capital Commission finds itself in. They have a pot of money to spend on a new 'national cultural institution', but they can't figure out what it should be!

To help them out, I suggest the employing the decision-making tool closest to perfect democracy: an internet poll. Answer the question below and help our government spend this money wisely!

The Canadian Government has announced its intentions to build a new 'national cultural institution' on the LeBreton Flats in Ottawa. What should it be?
Canadian Peace Museum
Museum of Multiculturalism
Canadian Curling Hall of Fame
History of Women Discovery Centre
National Shrine to Pierre Elliot Trudeau
Canadian Hunting and Fishing Museum
Temple to Gaia
Canadian Centre for Aboriginal History
Other (use comments)

current results

June 21, 2007

Freedom Vs Environmentalism

Vaclav Klaus addresses the critics of his theory that the modern environmentalist movement is the greatest threat to freedom today:

To say that “the supporters of capitalism demand that they are free to dump their waste on their neighbours lawns without consequence” has the beauty of communist propaganda I had a chance to “enjoy” during the first 48 years of my life.
He's a little nicer to most of the others.

January 09, 2007

The Financial Post's War on Environmentalism

Personally, I'm a skeptic when it comes to fight against global warming. I have my reasons, which I have yet to detail on this blog -- because I'm generally very wary of the subject. Everyone I know seems to be a passionate believer in it, and the party I belong to has embraced it and is taking advice from the most vocal crusaders for it. It's the great motherhood issue of our time, and I feel that I would ruffle too many feathers if I said my piece.

The Financial Post Comment page (part of the National Post) does not have a similar fear. Almost every day for the past few weeks, there has been a story kicking holes in the theory or examining the true costs of Kyoto. Obviously, the editors are in the pockets of Big Oil. Still, as a member of the small cohort of heretics still left, I appreciate seeing arguments being made about the issue when many people would just like to declare global warming -- and its solution -- to be beyond debate.

Today's piece, Climate action would be suicidal, pulls no punches and is a fun read:

Even if one were one to agree that the scientific case for potentially catastrophic man-made climate change was closed, which it is not, there would still be three unavoidable facts about the pretensions of climate policy. Each of these facts is assiduously avoided by fans of draconian action. The first is that Canada could not meet its obligations under the Kyoto Accord without decimating the economy. The second is that if it were to achieve this suicidal goal, the impact on global climate would be zero. Finally, even if all the signatories to Kyoto were to meet their targets (which they won't), the impact on global temperatures would be minimal. Kyoto was just one draconian step towards a much more draconian future.
Read the whole thing.

October 06, 2006

Free speech doesn't include a free megaphone

Over at the Progressive Bloggers site, there is great sadness that funding has been drastically scaled back for Status Of Women Canada (SWC). They are especially dismayed that no longer will the government fund advocacy or lobbying activities by SWC. 'Skdadl' at POGGE sums up the indignation in a post entitled the CPC sniggers at liberty and democracy:

Just before I launch into my usual rant about democracy and the anti-democratic tendencies of our New Government of Canada, I will make one historical observation that may complicate things a bit. Certain especially elevated notables of our federal civil service, most famously the grey men/persons of the Finance Department and RevCan (or whatever the hell we call it these days), have been committed neo-lib slashers of social programs for generations. Their encroachments on our social consensus are what pamused is referring to when she mentions the difficulties that Canadian charitable organizations already have in obeying "the rules." Whoever the first movers were of the recent CPC government assault on funding for women's programs, aboriginals, museums, the Court Challenges program, and so on, their socially conservative ideology would have dovetailed very neatly with the ideological pathologies of the most powerful (often Liberal) members of the mandarinate in Ottawa, who have had many earlier successes in denying creative housing programs in Canada, eg, or in making sure that you never get a disability pension or even a disability tax deduction unless you are at death's door. Charming people. They probably feel bad about the museums, though.

Back to democracy. We all remember John Baird's rationale for cutting the Court Challenges program, the rationale that presumably also pretends to justify any refusal of federal funding to groups that "advocate" on behalf of women still facing legal structural disadvantage:

I just don't think it made sense for the government to subsidize lawyers to challenge the government's own laws in court.
Now, there is a man who has not grasped the difference between a particular elected representative government and the state -- ie, the people, all the people, all the time, their protective symbol in Canada being the Crown, but never doubt: the Crown are us, all of us -- and the responsibility that the one owes the other.

A democratic government always owes all the people free access to study, to criticize, to organize against, and to resist laws or institutional structures that can be shown to discriminate against citizens in ways that violate our constitution. It is a frightening state, certainly not a democracy, that would suddenly declare that no better law is possible than the ones it has conceived of. [bold in original]

Well. Excuse me if I just don't understand where the assault on democracy is here. How are people prevented from studying, criticizing, or organizing against laws? Who in government is saying that there are no laws better than the ones it has conceived of? Is she saying that no dissent is possible unless the government first cuts the dissenters a check? That doesn't say much about the dedication to the cause.

Politics is about organizing, fundraising, and spreading a message. If you want to change something, you have to work. You have to be dedicated. You have to make sacrifices. 'Skdadl' thinks it's all about money:

No one advocates through our courts or to our elected representatives without money. A tiny but powerful minority in our society have always had that money privately, but it has been our civil consensus until now that we will support other groups fighting for liberties that our laws do not yet protect effectively. It seems to me little short of an attempt at a coup that the current CPC government would declare an end to all advocacy and lobbying except by those who are rich.
Which is a bogus argument. The opponents of gay marriage have gotten their message out very effectively without being 'rich' or getting government handouts. I don't agree with them, but at least they're not taking my tax dollars to do their lobbying.

Politics is also about listening. If you want to get people to donate their money or time to your cause, you have to listen to them. And sometimes they're not going to agree with you. Being so long on the government teat, I think this is something that SWC has forgotten how to do.

UPDATE: Befogged Londoner Lisa has a few more choice words.

October 05, 2006

Compare and contrast

Colby Cosh compares two reviews of a free concert held in Toronto: one by an enlightened critic in the Toronto Star, and the other by an attendee tapping out his her thoughts on his her cellphone. Guess which one gives a better picture of what the event was really like?

August 31, 2006

Childcare in Quebec - going out of business

As of tomorrow, private daycares that had been operating in Quebec's subsidized system will no longer be able to charge supplementary fees over the $7/day base. Up until now, daycares could charge for extra services. For example, the all-natural daycare Max and Talia had been going to charged $9/day extra for 'organic' food and 'educational activities' -- most of which seemed to consist of learning various yoga positions. Whatever. I'm pretty much against the 'organic' movement and am agnostic about yoga, but I didn't mind paying the extra money because I knew spots in the subsidized system were very hard to find, and I knew the providers were good people running a difficult business. The money they got from the government was just enough for them to make ends meet. And to get that money, they had to perform an enormous amount of paperwork.

Last month, they gave up and moved out of the community. Other, more lucrative and less insanity-inducing opportunities were taken. But it may also be that they heard about these new regulations. As might be expected, the Quebec government has rationalized preventing people from voluntarily negotiating a price for services by appealing to the common good and claiming those greedy daycares already have enough money:

Family Minister Carole Theberge insists that the total funding available to day cares is sufficient to provide a quality service to Quebec's children.

"They have all the money they need to absorb the costs of running a day care for children zero to four years old, and meet all the educational requirements and social development of the children," she told the Canadian Press.

Theberge said the new regulations were designed, among other things, to ensure the universality of Quebec's day-care system.

Of course, price controls always, always cause shortages. Expect an already limited supply of subsidized daycare spaces to shrink even more. But beyond that, money was invested and business plans were made based on carefully laid-out government funding regulations. With a stroke of a pen, the Quebec government has destroyed those plans, likely resulting in bankruptcy for many small businesses.

August 02, 2006

It's a wonder there's any small business at all

From the London Fog: the tale of a ruthless government shakedown. At least with the mob you can be sure they don't really think they're offering you protection. And they don't have as much paperwork...

July 11, 2006

Another rock uncovered

Yesterday, Industry Canada released the results of an audit on a sampling of companies that received 'loans' from the Technology Partnerships Canada program. This was a program that handed money out to tech companies promising products so dubious they couldn't find any other source of funding, and were conveniently located in strategic ridings around the country. The program had such a bad stench that it was the Liberals that decided to close it down last September -- unless the needy technology company involved aerospace or defence. In which case the gravy train was still rolling.

The audit only looked at whether the companies broke the terms of their contracts with TPC with regards to paid lobbying. It was found that almost a third of the sample had used lobbyists to get their hands on the cash, paying between $100,000 and $900,000. The audits didn't look at whether the projects funded made any sense, or what work was done. They also didn't look at the chances that Canadian taxpayers would ever see any of these 'loans' paid back. So far it doesn't look good, out of the roughly $2.15 billion paid out since 1996, only $156 million has been paid back. Hopefully more rocks will be uncovered in the near future and more information will be revealed on how the Liberals spent our money.

Many of the companies that cashed in were legitimate, but we can also assume that some small companies whose major assets were slick PowerPoint presentations and the phone numbers of good lobbyists were able to loot millions from the taxpayers. This should be big news, but it isn't. We all knew this kind of stuff was going on and we collectively shrugged our shoulders. That's why this story is relegated to the business section of today's paper and will soon be forgotten.

July 10, 2006

The best of a bad situation

My friend Pato and I often have little clashes about politics. But maybe the libertarian in him is starting to come out. He wanted to build a tennis court on his large plot of land and applied to his municipality for a building permit. They told him to forget about it (apparently because it's on a flood plain; but then, so is his house), so he decided to do it anyway. After spending many thousands of dollars clearing the land, flattening it, and bringing in the sand and rock for the foundation, he was discovered and told to immediately halt work -- or else. A conservative is a liberal that's been mugged, and a libertarian is a liberal that's had a dispute with their local government. I've got high hopes for his future development.

But on the bright side, the blasted landscape that was left (and evidently must remain) is a wonderful place for preschoolers to play. Max and Talia spent a happy couple of hours getting dirty driving toy trucks and digging for treasure.

July 09, 2006

Reform in the UN...

...is meaningless. The old UN Human Rights Commission has been replaced by the new and 'reformed' Human Rights Council. The fact that Iran sent a known human rights abuser to be their representative was a bad sign, but now the Council has met for two weeks we can see just how similar to the old corrupt Commision they are:

The widespread misrepresentation of the Council made its self-immolation in its first two weeks of operation even more striking. The Human Rights Council is the UN's lead human rights body, and examples of egregious human rights violations should not have been hard to find.

In Darfur, there are three quarters of a million people beyond humanitarian reach, 2.5 million people displaced by the violence, 385,000 people in immediate risk of starvation, and over two million dead in 22 years of violence and deprivation.

But it wasn't genocide in Sudan that interested the Human Rights Council. Nor was it a billion Chinese without civil and political rights. Not 13 million women in Saudi Arabia whose lives depend on hiding from sight in public places and never being caught behind the wheel of an automobile.

Not the dire human rights conditions of 23 million people in North Korea. Not Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's incitement to genocide or his country's legal system, which includes crucifixion, stoning and amputation.

No, there was only one country singled out by the UN Human Rights Council, and that was Israel.

The Council decided that the program for the first session should focus discussion on five issues; the first one being the "human rights situation in the occupied Arab Territories, including Palestine." (The rest were "support for the Abuja Peace Agreement," and three thematic subjects.) The Council placed criticism of Israel permanently on the agenda of all future sessions. It gave only the special investigator on Israel what amounted to a permanent mandate. On its final day, the Council passed just one resolution condemning human rights violations by any of the 192 UN members, and directed it at Israel. When it was all over, the Council decided to hold its first special (emergency) session within the next few days - on Israel.

You'd think that with everyone watching, and with so much being made of the 'fresh start' that the Council was going to provide, they'd try a little harder to take their role seriously. But no; they can't help themselves. It's all they know.

July 05, 2006

More justification for Neo-Imperialism

Rule of law, adjudicated by even-handed justice, simply does not exist anywhere in the developing world and this is the real culprit that stifles development and condemns the poor to live in zero-sum societies. All developing countries are failed states to one degree or another and most of their citizens are miserably poor. In fact, calling them "developing" is misleading because it suggests an upward spiral. But these people are the great grandkids of folks who were poor a half century ago when we started giving out foreign aid in large chunks.

Without laws -- and the institutions to administer them fairly -- people make up their own rules. Society requires predictability to function and so absent national law they create informal rule-sets. But rules without the force of law can only be sanctioned through bribery or physical force. If the beat cop has no rules, he follows the local norms, the neighborhood rule-set. But to use his monopoly of force on behalf of the neighborhood rule-set he will extract a price. A bribe.

When that happens, the law comes to mean corruption. And since this system is not just accepted but actively reinforced by a network of beneficiaries, corruption becomes the organizing principle of society. At that point, demands by aid donors that governments control corruption are not just impossible to meet, but could even be dangerous and destabilizing for recipient governments and so are largely ignored.

Peter F. Schaefer sounds like a decent guy, and details his extensive knowledge of corruption in the Third World. It's not a very optimistic look, because he sees corruption as being too deeply entrenched in these cultures to stop. His only advice is for aid donor nations to take a harder line on this corruption and freeze the ill-gotten plunder as soon as it reaches the Western banking system. Good luck on that -- and even if it could be implemented it would do nothing to stop the low level corruption the people in these countries endure every day.

What these countries really need is a fair legal system and civil protection, coupled with a smaller, less intrusive government. The problem is that most of these countries model themselves on Western governments, with our big sprawling bureaucracies. This is not as much of a problem in the West, because our bureaucracies are, for the most part, not corrupt. But it's disastrous in countries where the ruling principle is, "What's in it for me?"

I read an interesting article in the Economist a while ago, and it described the efforts a reporter had to make to visit a train station in some God-forsaken country in Africa. He had to get numerous authorizations and pass through many check points -- each autorization and checkpoint requiring a bribe. When he finally got to his destination, he found the building and all the trains deserted, and looted of everything that was not too heavy to carry.

What happens is, the rulers of these countries sell portions of their power to underlings, who further divide up and sell their powers to others, who resell it again and so on -- creating a vast tentacled network of suckers, each using their tiny portion of the power of the state to feed on the public.

But imagine an occupying Imperial force, free from the stifling PC conventions of the day, occupying a country like this, cutting off the leeching network at its source, and providing security and a system for resolving disputes. Wouldn't everything be perfect from then on? No, of course not. But it would be a start, and allow the stability and safety people need to improve their lives. And it would be much better than the hopeless situation that stands today.

Unfortunately, I think the political climate in the world is a just a little unready for this kind of thinking. Better to just support whatever's the latest fashionable idea for saving the Third World -- what was it again? Oh right, debt forgiveness. That'll work, for sure.

July 04, 2006

Well this is pretty monstrous...

The enormous cocoon of unnecessary government services that the British people are being enveloped in keeps getting more constraining:

Mr Ternouth's thriller flooded back to me this week when I read of the Government's plan to spend £224million of your money and mine on setting up a database, recording details of the lives of all 12 million children in England and Wales.

Among other things, the Children's Index will record whether a child's parents are providing a 'positive role model', how the child is performing at school — and even whether youngsters are eating the daily five portions of fruit and vegetables recommended by the Government.

Presumably, children will be questioned at school each morning on what their parents fed them the night before.

The database, we are told, will be made available to social workers, teachers and doctors, who will have the power to flag up 'concerns' when they think that children are not meeting the criteria laid down by the state.

I can imagine Ken Dryden endorsing a similarly intrusive registry to 'care' for the nation's children (no, they'll not be yours anymore) should the unthinkable happen and he winds up sitting in the Prime Minister's office.

(via Small Dead Animals)

June 09, 2006

Putting the parodists out of business

The Ontario government seems intent on creating the goofiest and most extreme nanny-state the world has yet seen. Today I spotted an ad campaign that admonishes citizens to wash their hands.

What's next? Telling us to change our underwear regularly because you never know when you'll get hit by a bus?