Friday, October 28, 2011

Atlas Shrugged Part One arrives, finally.

Atlas Shrugged the movie (Part 1) has finally made it to Canada more than 6 months after being released in the USA. I have no idea why it took so long to get here, to what the Toronto locals, like me, refer to as "Hollywood North."
So far, its at only one theatre in downtown Toronto, just half an hours drive from my house. I'm not sure I'll even go. The rest of Canada is out of luck, and FYI for my foreign readers, Canada is huge - really spread out.
I'm fairly discerning about movies that I'll actually attend, and this movie has received mixed reviews at best. The last movie that I saw was Moneyball, and it is well worth the price of admission, and as good as the critics have said. I've learned to wait for the reviews and the Rotten Tomatoes consensus, before I consider plunking down my cash for a movie. Otherwise I wait until a movie comes to DVD or to my TV movie subscription channels.
Atlas Shrugged has played a pivotal role in my life and my view of the world, and no movie could live up to that, least of all the one that has been produced from what I read.
Today a review of sorts appeared in the National Post, written by Peter Foster. Mr. Foster is one of my favourite writers on the Post, click that link in the previous sentence and you will see a list of his recent columns. Read some, and you will understand why I like Peter Foster. His front page review today, can be found here. I think the Post understands that many of its readers have a soft spot for Ayn Rand, so does Peter Foster. His review is positive, and he views the story of Atlas Shrugged from the movie, as an allegory to the events in the news today, lots of us do. It's an interesting view, and as he says, its the reason Rand's work remains "eternally relevant" and her books "still well worth reading."  

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Bail out students and everyone with OPM!

Its time to re-examine the real goal of the Occupy Movement, especially from where it began, in New York, USA. The OWS movement has made their point, corporations that are in cahoots with government have received special dispensations (bailouts) using taxpayers money. Everyone knows that, and everyone should realize that the government bears full responsibility for that action. Will they be blamed, will they be punished for recklessly encouraging moral hazard? No, sadly, the OWS movement blames the rich mostly, the 1%. Worse yet, they don't seem to want to stop the occupation. Violence has broken out in some cities. Will it get worse, or will OWS fold up their tents and go home for the winter?
I'm betting it gets worse, and they will be stringing up Xmas lights soon, and I think its become more clear now what their real purpose is, and that is to achieve the very thing that they are protesting.

In the United States, they are creeping into election season (just one year away). On one side will be the Republicans and their Tea Party with their agenda led by one of the dwarf candidates, Perry, Romney, or one of them (likely not Ron Paul). On the other side will be the OWS (that might yet align themselves with the Obama Democrats) with their agenda, that has been until now fuzzy.
The fuzziness is clearing. Obama has announced a bailout plan for many of the student protestors in OWS. Not surprisingly, Rep. Ron Paul doesn't like it, but Obama is POTUS, and wants the job for another term. This could buy some needed votes!
Below, Nick Gillespie appears before the Judge, and doesn't mince words. BTW, OPM...? = Other People's Money.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stopping the Gravy Train

It has been a year since Rob Ford was elected Mayor of Toronto. I point this out because he won a large plurality promising to get rid of municipal government waste, and over spending, without cutting services.
My view is that Toronto, is like any Western democratic government in microcosm. The city  government has grown by leaps and bounds, taking on more and more responsibilities: sewage, water, electric power, schools, transit, affordable housing, waste removal, roads, entertainment, parks, recreation, and on and on. Ford's mantra in the election was to: "stop the gravy train." So, one year in, hows he doing?
Well, yesterday he managed to punish one of the larger municipal unions for having a garbage strike two years ago. One half of the city will now have "privatized municipal garbage collection." Projections are, that money will be saved and the possibility of a city wide strike will be diminished. Chalk one up for Ford.
In many ways Ford has the typical conservative view of government: we need it, we need lots of it, but we can cut the waste and make it efficient too.
He was serious, he hired a large independent auditor to find ways to cut government spending without affecting core services. Well, I've written about that issue, here and here. To me that sounded like having your cake and eating it too, but Ford will beat you to the cake. ;-)
After several months in office looking for the "gravy," Rob Ford discovered that he was standing in it. There was little waste in the actual machinery of government, the waste turned out to be the very services he had sworn not to cut. The libraries, the pools, the theatres, the zoo, and all the "freebies" the citizens of Toronto came to expect, paid for by other people's money. Let's not even talk about the bloated salaries city workers make so that they may have a descent living wage. The city has a fair wage policy where it will over pay workers because it's really not their money is it? Someone else is paying, so we can be magnanimous.
When citizens got wind of Ford's plan to downsize government by cutting their precious "free" services, there was lots of  blowback. His popularity plunged. Even the "Occupy Toronto" protestors, very new on the scene, and with little to actually protest about, decided Rob Ford's plans presented a large juicy target. Indeed it does.
So, will Ford prevail? Does Ford actually have a better idea? Short answer, no. I'm betting he tweaks the system a bit, makes some cuts and declares victory. The unions are starting to target their guns on him, not yet with attack ads, that will come later. Right now they are using media to deliver the message that unions are made of regular people, your neighbours, your friends, and they care! They care about Toronto, soon they will say Ford doesn't.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Penn Jillette: Libertarianism

A snapshot from my Ontario healthcare family album

For the past month I've been watching and negotiating my way through the Ontario healthcare system on behalf of my elderly mother. Fortunately the initial problem was not that critical, but when one is injured in a fall, at 92 years of age, even little problems get magnified.

For all of its faults, and there are so many, the Ontario Health Insurance Plan or OHIP system seems to function, but at such a poor level of service and timeliness, that no one would tolerate it if it were in any other service area. In healthcare, most Ontarians choose to ignore or excuse the long worrying waits, or the pain endured before treatment is available because somehow, they view the system as part of their definition of what it means to be Canadian.

When the paramedics brought my mother to the local emergency department, she was "triaged" rather than "served" even though the emergency room was not busy by any stretch, I was there. Most of the "treatment" she underwent was done by the paramedics en route. When she arrived at the hospital she was viewed as an elderly patient who may or may not survive, and she was treated as a costly liability rather than an opportunity to make profit. What other service industry do Canadians interact with, that treats you like that? Imagine a dentist being so cavalier with someone's pain, how long would they be in business? Of course in dentistry, people have choices. This was a major regional hospital, yet my mother was not even given pain medication for over 3 hours when the doctor on-call finally saw her.

You would think that the supposedly compassionate physicians of Ontario (or anywhere in Canada for that matter) would collectively rise up and challenge the government health care model, but you would be wrong. 

In the editorial introduction to a recent FP Magazine, the editor Terence Corcoran, writes that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has "essentially abandoned their customers," and "Canadian doctors, the state-nationalized victims of health-care delivery, are also its official defenders." This is cronyism of the worst kind, and all Canadian doctors should be ashamed.

I think Mr. Corcoran's editorial was not widely read or discussed, because I've barely heard a peep out of the rest of the media, but it is worthy of your time to read it. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Regenerative medicine and longevity

When I first heard that Steve Jobs had pancreatic cancer I remember hoping to myself that the cancer was discovered early. I knew that survival rates for this type of cancer were low, but this guy was wealthy and could afford the world's best treatment. Little did I know what was revealed this week in Jobs' official biography by Walter Isaacson, that Jobs refused conventional treatment for nine months: "Instead of opting for surgery, he took on a vegan diet, acupuncture, herbal remedies and other treatments he found online, and even consulted a psychic." That revelation diminishes the respect I had for his genius, but not for his accomplishments.
People are funny that way, I guess technological and marketing savvy don't go hand-in-hand with scientific good sense. Maybe it wouldn't have made any difference but you would think the odds favoured the team with the best performance on the field, that is the medical scientists versus the herbalists and psychics.
Medical science of course is part of the reason for the increasing human life span, though most people fail to appreciate that the biggest advances came with the introduction of what is unfortunately called "public health." Simple things really, like separating sewage waste from drinking water, that was huge. Mass vaccination of populations was also huge. Death rates really dropped when those two practices became widespread.
But the big improvements of yesteryear have been replaced by medical tinkering in more recent years, even though the technology exists for human lifespans to take another great leap foreword. See that ear growing from the mouse's back? That's not a new story, that story goes back more than 20 years now - replacement parts.
Below is a recent video from ReasonTV that presents a new book by Sonia Arrison author of 100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith, "because everyone has an interest in living healthier longer." The book purports to show how replacement parts may change things.
After watching the video think about the major impediments to some of this work, especially for the people that really need and want it. This is likely to be expensive treatment and with all of the regulatory barriers set up by various governments, it will become more expensive, not to mention hard to get (probably impossible in Canada unless drastic changes take place). Imagine being given the choice possibly between life and death, as the author describes in the video, and then being told treatment is disallowed by some government rules or bureaucrats? Not funny, right?
The expense side of organ replacement is also interesting and recalls a movie I saw recently called Repo Men. In that movie, people buy artificial organs on credit then fail to make regular payments. The movie puts a whole new spin on "repossession."    

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Anarchy and libertarianism

If you were asked to distinguish between anarchy and libertarianism (are they different?), how would you approach it? From an economic viewpoint or a law and order position? I would start with economics because that is where I see the most massive intrusion by government. This is very apt in view of the "Occupy (fill in blank) Protests" that have sprung up in North American cities over the past few weeks, where economic ignorance abounds.

Whenever I try to explain to someone that a free enterprise economy is self regulating (given a chance), I invariably get asked a series of "what if" type questions. What if an entrepreneur has a monopoly, charges exorbitant prices and rips people off? What if an employer is exploiting his workers with low wages and long hours? Shouldn't government step in and regulate the price, or the hourly wage or do something? My answers range from a curt "no" to a pointless attempt at explaining Austrian Economic theory in 30 seconds. My answers invariably leave the listener thinking that I am an anarchist, even though nothing could be further from the truth. The big problem is, that this disagreement often shuts down any further discussion.
True laissez faire capitalism, the kind advocated by most libertarians, has an uncanny resemblance to anarchy for any one who believes that economies must be regulated, that governments must intercede to control prices and wages; in other words for anyone who advocates a "mixed" economy such as we have. This is true of anyone who is a socialist, or fascist, a Liberal, or Conservative, all of them are statists of some form or other. All would agree that some level of coercion is necessary for governments to function. In general, libertarians don't agree. So it's no accident that the libertarian idea is confused with anarchy. 

The spontaneous order of a free market is as impossible to understand for a brainwashed statist, as evolution by natural selection is for a brainwashed theist. 

Notice I haven't even mentioned the "law and order" aspect of government yet, the statists usually can't get past our economics to even hear about our ideas on a military, police, courts, and justice system that includes restitution.
Virtually all libertarians of my acquaintance including myself are minarchists of some sort, not anarchists

Minarchists believe in limited government, government whose sole purpose is to protect the negative rights of individuals, life, liberty, property, and personal security. These are the rights we were born into or were created by our own individual effort, and to a libertarian these are our only government entitlements. 

Libertarian anarchists believe the state is immoral and they would advocate stateless societies, just voluntary associations without a hierarchy. Doesn't that sound like some regular libertarians you may know? It does to me.   

My point is, there is some difference between a libertarian minarchist and a libertarian anarchist, but I would venture to say they are more similar than most libertarians are to conservative statists.

If we libertarians are attempting to bring about a new world order, one person at a time, then we must include everyone within our fold, anarchists, statists, and collectivists of all stripes, and everything in between. Libertarian persuasion should be universally applied.   

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Warp Factor

“We don’t allow faster-than-light neutrinos in here,” says the bartender.

A neutrino walks into a bar.
(That's a joke circulating on the web - explained below)
There was nothing more confusing than a Star Trek story where time travel was used as a plot device, and there were lots of them. 
Of course TV and movie screen plays and books don't need to conform to reality. So the idea of time travel has been very common in science fiction plots from the days of Jules Verne to well, the other night on TV.
This is an example of reality that doesn't conform to theory. A major scientific group discovered that neutrinos "seem" to travel faster than light, that seems to break some "theoretical rules" discovered by Prof. Einstein over there.
Relativity theory predicts that things that approach the speed of light develop infinite mass. Neutrinos aren't very heavy to begin with - mass is non-zero, so, that leaves lots of room for speculation. 
This discovery, if its true, is not yet support for Star Trek's warp speed, but it makes you wonder about neutrinos getting kicked out of taverns they have not yet entered, and it upsets most of modern-day physics.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Something is wrong - Occupiers with no Occupation

I became an adult in the 1960's (although some may argue). During those years, protests were served up on the nightly news as frequently as people had cereal for breakfast. It was standard fare. Anti-Nuke, anti-war, anti-draft, pro-choice, pro-life, femme-lib, racial strife, assassinations, just-society, war on poverty, war on drugs (still happening) we had it all, day after day after day. Don't get me wrong, there was a lot to complain about, and interestingly, in almost every case I tended to side with the protestors, never with the government program or solution. That hasn't changed.
What is going on in the Occupy Wall Street Protests, well, I sympathize with that too, maybe not the way you think. Something is wrong, the protestors know that, I know that, if you don't know that, well its time to wake up and smell the coffee. This is not a simple issue, there will be no simple fix, no bailout to make it go away, and make no mistake, there will be blood. The system is broken.
The protestors are themselves products of the broken system. Most went to typical state-run schools, and were indoctrinated by people of my generation with the progressive-collectivist bullshit ideas common these days. The neo-cons and conservatives in the media are criticizing these young people for biting the hand that has fed them. I understand that view, its well illustrated in the picture (top left) that has made the rounds of social media. If that saying: "you are what you eat" is true, then surely you are what you wear, carry, play with, or use to communicate. The conservatives or Republicans, whatever you call them, look at these protestors as a whining minority. Well, so were the anti-draft, anti-Vietnam war protestors, look what happened.
The protesters bought into the broken system and are expecting the system will somehow care for them, you know, like we are all supposed to care for each other. Help each other realize our own potential, stay in school, get that degree in Psychology, Women's Studies or English Lit. But now we just have school debt, no job, no prospects and we're tired of living in our parent's basement. Something is wrong. Why aren't we getting that job, big salary, big benefits, why? They lied to us!

My friend Rod Rojas, knows something is wrong and in a recent article published in he tries to pin the blame in this phrase: "The big problem with the honest Left is their absolute and obstinate refusal to learn the most basic economic principles." I like that. We're not talking financial literacy folks, we're talking Economics, one of the youngest and least understood of the sciences. It needs to be explained, Rod's article is simple and an excellent start. Who better to continue the explanation than Tom Woods, Misean Scholar, interviewed by Stefan Molyneux:

Monday, October 10, 2011

Libertarian Election results and the future

That chart is an unofficial tally of the Oct. 6, 2011 election results for the Ontario Libertarian Party. Compared to the last election in 2007 when the Party had 25 candidates, this time there were 51 candidates, and we received 19,695 votes, slightly more than twice the vote count of 2007.
Many of us were satisfied that we had made progress, the party had grown, more members, twice the candidates and more interest. Three of our candidates even beat the Green Party candidate in their particular ridings. Yes, we made inroads, but if looked at in perspective, our provincial total was roughly the same as the winning candidate, the incumbent Liberal, in my own riding. One person, the same as our total. We still have a long way to go.

Many of our Libertarian candidates took comfort in the fact that we beat the Freedom Party (FP), our disaffected and embittered kinfolk. Yes, they were once libertarians, and yes we beat them by a large margin (more than two to one), even though our real differences (based on those members that I know) are virtually nonexistent. They took a different approach in this election, deciding to pander a little more to popular appeal, and thus make themselves look less scary. Their leader was aggressive, obnoxious, a bit of a braggart, and not very nice to us (he called us "a scraggly bunch of anti-government protestors" even though he has the full beard). He got lots of free press (as you can see in the previous link), they had more candidates (57), a flashier website, more money, generally more exposure than we had, and yet, very disappointing results compared to us. I wish them no malice, their goal is very similar to ours, but when you act, and look just like a conservative, people will vote for the conservative party or candidate they feel has a better chance to win, in this case the oxymoronically named Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. That's what happened to FP, and they will need to rebrand themselves or rejoin us, because we are not going away.
There is a lesson for us here, we can't make ourselves less scary, because we lose what little credibility we have now, and we no longer become an alternative protest vote. The Libertarian brand is becoming established here in Canada, just as it has been in the US. This is not the time to change the formula or the packaging. Nor is there any chance we will be elected, not in the near or even distant future. We can change the conversation, and the Overton window in Ontario, without getting elected. Our socialist friends have done exactly that.
In 4 weeks we have a Convention, where new leadership may be chosen, and where we decide our future. There are noises among some of our new members that the time has come to get serious, to cast off our "debating society," modus operandi, and become a "real" political party. See that chart up there, we are real, we are also not the same as any other party, its time to accept that fact. Maybe thats what the noises are about. Is it time to look and act like the other parties, maybe? However, for a scraggly bunch of anti-government protestors, I think we are doing as well as can be expected, given how few of us are actually doing something, and how little our resources are. Size does matter folks, and we can only grow if people start pulling in the same direction.       

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Steve Jobs

"Selling lead weights to swimmers" Operation Twist

Among other things, the Ontario election has diverted my attention from general world foolishness. A most foolish thing I have not commented on lately, is the US Fed  FOMC "action" to buy long term bonds and sell shorter term bonds, called Operation Twist.
Bonds are debt instruments, and can be thought of this way: when sold in huge amounts,  money is made available, increasing money supply and reducing the cost of the money, interest. When bonds are purchased in huge amounts, supply is reduced, increasing the cost or interest. The length of time to repay a bond is important. Short term bonds would generally cost less, because risk is less, its more likely the bond will be repaid - maybe. Longer term bonds generally cost more because the risk of repayment is greater, because the time is greater.
Operation Twist is designed to keep interest rates lower for longer, thereby "stimulating the economy." Will it work? Here is a quote: "It works in the sense that it is perfectly possible to sell short-dated bonds and buy the long-dated variety and in the process change the make-up of the Fed's bond portfolio. Beyond that, the picture is murkier." And. "The last time the Fed tried something similar was in 1961, when it managed to lower long-term rates by only 0.15 of a percentage point. That is the estimated effect according to some economists. In a 2004 paper, Fed chairman Ben Bernanke downplayed the strategy's significance as a tool for promoting lower long-term rates." 
Sounds like a lot of trouble to lower rates by such a small amount. Mr. Tugwit's bears are back to voice their opinion.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Political Power for Sale - here is the list of buyers

Sadly, another opportunity to change the political reality in Ontario is coming to a close. Tomorrow is Election Day. The jostling for power will be decided "the people will choose and get the government they deserve." The whole cliched charade will come to a crashing end.
Cliched? Of course it is, who says the people will choose, only the politicians say this, and maybe some dimwitted media reporter.
Charade? Again, of course, this election was bought and paid for well before the writ was dropped, we've just been going through the motions for the last month.
Am I being cynical? Not at all, look at this link from where the posted graphic was taken. The National Post printed that graphic in today's paper showing contributions to the three major political parties in Ontario this year, BEFORE the rules changed on Sept 7th, 2011,  when the writ was issued. Spending during an election campaign is strictly regulated, spending before the campaign, not so much, not that it needs to regulated, I'm not advocating that. The Post commentary, describes the big donations, including their source, but no reasons for the donations or any explanation or speculation is offered. That is left entirely to the reader.
So, one is left to speculate exactly why would construction industry donations be the largest of all? The construction industry even favoured the Hudak Conservatives with more money, possibly believing the pre-writ polls that gave the Tories an edge. But they are not stupid, they hedged that bet with almost the same dollar amount to McGuinty's Liberals, and less than a fifth of that to the NDP. Clearly they speculated the NDP had virtually no chance of forming a government. Does the construction industry give this money with no strings? Do you believe in the tooth fairy? My answer, no to both questions, and importantly the largest construction industry donors, the unions and Aecon Group must be expecting some sort of favourable treatment from the next government otherwise why donate.

Of most interest to me, were the top donors, the teacher's unions (I was a conscripted member once). Unions in general tended to favour the Liberals first, then the NDP, and far behind were the PC's. But the teacher's unions have a love affair with the Liberals, and why not? The teacher's had labour peace, for the entire eight year Liberal mandate. McGuinty touts himself as the "Education Premier," his wife is a teacher, and he has grown the Ministry of Education and the teaching payroll by instituting all-day kindergarten in Ontario, whether we need it or not. They love him. How much do they love him? During the entire one month election campaign, ETFO a teacher's union, produced and funded a radio and TV campaign called "Refuse to vote against kids." This was a poorly disguised attempt to tell voters to vote for the Liberals, yet the money spent was not registered as part of the Liberal spending limit. How convenient is that? That's not all, as you can see here.
So, why am I going over this now with just hours left before the polls open? Simple. Neither we Libertarians, nor our disenchanted brethren the Freedom Party (FP), had any hope of winning or even making a dent into Ontario politics this time. FP even has 57 candidates (we only have 51), and they boasted that they have a sufficient number to form a majority government. Right. That would mean the tooth fairy does exist. But neither of us will elect even one candidate or come close, that's my bold prediction. Why? Because this election was bought and paid for by the groups listed in the Post graphic above, and the voters are not sophisticated enough to understand that. Here is a more realistic prediction. Don't forget to vote, anyway, we need the numbers.         

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Ontario Libertarian Message 2011

Well, after three different schedule updates, the CBC free time broadcast of my Libertarian message happened rather unexpectedly. I was ready to record the broadcast so that I may post it to my blogs, but as I did that guess what? There I was on TV (at 1:03 am), so I quickly hit the record button but missed the first part of the message. With the magic of some editing, and the little bit I've learned about video making, I present to you the entire message, optimized for audio volume.
The important part of the message is, we need government monopoly less, and competitive choices more. Whether that change comes from a libertarian legislator, or one from another party, is of no consequence. What's important is that governments move toward controlling our lives less and less, and giving people the economic freedom to choose what is best for themselves and their families, more and more.