Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Innocence of YouTube

An incomprehensible YouTube posting called the Innocence of Muslims has created a furor in the Islamic world, I'm sure you are aware. This incident and previous such provocations show that it doesn't take much to incite violent protests in that part of the world. So when I first heard of the posting and the reaction, all I could think of was 'here we go again.'

I tried to watch all of this 14 minute video, but couldn't make it through without fast-forwarding to different scenes just to see if it got any better. It didn't. Is it an insult to a religion, Islam? I suppose it is, but the reaction that ensued is an insult to humanity that makes the video's purpose (if there was one) pale by comparison.

Our humanity, the central thing that makes us human, is our ability to use reason, and in many ways all religion is an insult to humanity. Humans have the capacity to reject blind faith (the foundation of all religions), to control their violent emotions, to act in their own rational self interest. The reactions to this video, are so much more damaging than the video itself, yet those protesting see themselves as defenders of the faith. It's a head shaker.

But worst of all were the calls to squelch the video, pleas to both Google and YouTube to remove or review it. Those calls came from some people sworn to defend freedom, but of course the freedom to speak out, to disagree, needs to be most safeguarded in times of turmoil. Sadly that reminder too often needs repeating.
Here is ReasonTV's take on YouTube freedom.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why American Pizza tastes better...

I know that's a generalization, and of course it may not always be true. But that has been my experience when visiting my relatives in New Jersey over the past almost 40 years.

The pizza seems richer, more flavourful, definitely cheesier! I never understood or thought about why until now, and I have theory.

This week the CBC ran a story where members of the Niagara Regional Police Service will be charged for smuggling large amounts of mozzarella brick cheese across the US-Canada border.

Cheese smuggling!! Why would anyone smuggle cheese across the "NAFTA free-trade border" between two of the largest trading nations on Earth? Good question.

I have written about this before (here), Canadians pay a premium for dairy products because of a monopoly granted to dairy farmers in Canada, which is outside of the NAFTA agreement. This distortion in the dairy market occurs because the federal government allows farmers to collude on the price of raw milk by agreeing to limit production to allotted quotas. The government also creates a tariff wall that effectively prevents cheaper foreign dairy products from competing in the Canadian market. If milk is pricey, cheese will be too. What does this have to do with pizza?

Apparently after removing labour costs, 80% of the price of Canadian pizza is due to the mozzarella cheese. Who knew? Of course getting cheaper cheese allows the local pizza shop to either use more cheese or make more profit, or both. That is my theory, that is why those New Jersey pizzas are so much cheesier. Unlike their Canadian counterparts, Americans can be generous with their cheese without hurting their bottom line.  This story from Niagara Falls Ontario explains some of the cost realities involved. A pizza shop in Ohio spends $90 on cheese every day, a similar shop in Niagara Falls Ontario spends $290 for the same type, quality and roughly the same amount of cheese. Starting to see why there is a cheese smuggling racket?

Again the unintended consequences of government intervention in an economic area, has spawned a black market criminal class of cheese smugglers, the "mozzarella mafia." According to the CBC, a cheese smuggler can earn up to $2000 per shipment, so it's not as lucrative as drug smuggling, but neither are the penalties as onerous. This story has received wide publicity in the US and Canada, here is a report from NPR in the US.

When will things change? Only when Canadians become cheesed-off enough with how they are treated by their various governments.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to create farming jobs by spending more of your money.

Or else.....
"If every one of our families were to spend $10 more every week on Ontario foods, that would have a $2.4 billion impact on the economy and create 10,000 jobs." That sort of brilliant reasoning can only come from the mind of an overbearing politician. Most elected politicians have the view that YOUR money is theirs to spend anyway. And they justify that position because this is how they can create jobs.

The quote above comes from the Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty, but the rest of what he said is more ominous:

"So we've got a new bill that we will shortly be introducing, the Local Food Act....We're buying the food anyway right now, for example, in our public institutions. It's just a matter of ensuring that we're using our purchasing power to support local agriculture."

You don't have to be a mathematician to realize that $10 more per week adds over $500 to the annual family budget, which would be fine if it were your choice to do that or not. There is nothing wrong with supporting local industry if you think it helps the economy. Typically it does not, and the extra money spent often means that other parts of the economy will suffer. The ominous part is that a Local Food Act, prepared with the help of a lobby group, to "encourage" people to buy locally, well, that sounds like a tax of sorts. It's the kind of thing that hurts the poor the most, because any additional cost subtracts from their meagre discretionary income the most. There are almost 5 million family households in Ontario, and at $500 a family, you can see where McGuinty gets his figures in the first paragraph. 

In Canada we already have a system that forces citizens to buy locally grown produce at additional costs for eggs, poultry and dairy products, its called supply management. I've already discussed this here and here

You might wonder how Canadians feel about paying more for local produce, wonder no longer. Despite  the "politically correct" comments that you may hear from your neighbours, the fact is Canadians are voting with their feet in greater and greater numbers to avoid uncompetitive food prices. Check out this article from Jesse Kline in the National Post.

The bad news is this type of legislation is likely to pass because of the composition of the legislature, there is no good news.   

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Authoritarianism evolves suppressing internet freedom

Traditionally the "soapbox" was the tool used to promulgate radical socialist ideas in societies that were not socialist. The physical box acted as a raised platform for the individual activist to be heard above the crowd ranting revolutionary thoughts in places like London's Hyde Park.

Things have changed. The new and improved soapbox is the internet, and the rants of activists of all stripes can now potentially reach all corners of the world. That is a problem for local governments that wish to control the flow of information to their citizens.

Immediately places like North Korea or Cuba may come to mind as jurisdictions that wish to control the flow of information to their citizens. The poverty of those people is likely the most effective filter. China is another place where information is filtered, but the burgeoning middle-class there is becoming an issue for the authorities and they are evolving to deal with it.

How safe are we from arbitrary filtering of information? Maybe not as safe as you might like. A new book about that is discussed on ReasonTV.

Monday, September 10, 2012

A memorial to other people's money...

Tomorrow is Sept. 11, understandably a traumatic day for all New Yorkers and all the relatives of those who died in 2001.

But when comments in the New York Times are critical of the gross overspending by various levels of government to rebuild the World Trade Center and honour the dead, well, you know it must be bad.

Here is ReasonTV's take on the matter:

Election by stealth

One of the biggest lies that elected politicians foist on citizens is their call to vote during an election. When they say "go vote," they really mean "only if you are a supporter." The fact is, they do everything in their power to minimize the turnout of the opposing side while maximizing their own support. That is understandable of course, but it makes their appeal to voters totally disingenuous.

This week, elections in Quebec and Ontario demonstrated just how duplicitous elected politicians can be and still almost succeed.

In Quebec a general election was called in the dog-days of August and set for September 4th, the day after Labour Day. In Ontario two important by-elections were called within a fews days of the Quebec call, and set for September 6th. In both cases the idea was to sneak the election past the electorate, and it almost worked.

The Liberal government in Quebec has been under public scrutiny for charges of corruption, protests from hordes of disaffected students, and for being a bit long-in-the-tooth for a Quebec government. You would think they would be solidly trounced as the pollsters and pundits had predicted. But that's not what happened. The actual difference between the elected PQ and the ousted Liberals was just 0.7% of the popular vote, not exactly a rout, and that's the point.

Similar events happened in Ontario. The Liberal government here (where I live), was in a minority situation according to the Westminster rules, just one seat short of an effective majority government and thereby in jeopardy of losing a vote of confidence at any time.

In the spring of 2012, the government Leader, Dalton McGuinty, offered a plum job to a sitting member of the opposition. She accepted the offer, resigned her seat and that necessitated a by-election to replace the member. That was delayed for months, until a representative of the government conveniently resigned his seat in early August. Just days later, two by-elections were announced to fill the vacancies. As in Quebec, the campaigns occurred in the depths of summer and the actual voting took place during one of the busiest weeks of the year, the first week of school and work after the summer. One could imagine that few voters would be interested or involved, and few would be voting. That's exactly what happened in Ontario. In the riding (Kitchener-Waterloo) where the sitting member was bribed out of her seat, there was some anger that translated to a staggering 47% voter turnout, down a bit from 50.5% just six months earlier in the general election. The anger resulted in a socialist, or should I say 'more socialist than the others' being elected. In the riding where the government member resigned (Vaughan) there was total apathy; just 26% of eligible voters bothered to vote, down from 41.1% in October 2011, likely because everyone thought the government would hold the seat, and it did.

That didn't happen in Quebec, voter turnout was significantly higher (nearly 75%) than in previous elections. But Quebecer's wear their politics like a badge, and in this country they come closest to exemplifying Frederic Bastiat's famous line: "Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else." Quebec has the highest tax rates, gets the most in equalization transfer payments, and in many ways they have the most repressive laws of any province in the country. They certainly are distinct, but not in a good way.

Now both the Ontario and Quebec governments are in minority positions, more elections will follow, maybe soon. What was accomplished by these elections? Even more cynicism. How is freedom or democracy served by manipulating the timing of important events like elections? They are not.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Putting Teachers First....

"Its just for a couple of years, we're doing it in a way that protects teaching jobs." That is Dalton McGuinty speaking on the first day of school about the wage freeze being imposed on Ontario's teachers this week.

I believe him, in that moment he is actually speaking the truth, without spin. The goal and purpose of the wage freeze is to help wrestle down the huge budget deficit and stop the  monstrous debt from increasing. McGuinty has largely created both over the last nine years. This freeze saves almost half a billion dollars this year alone. Of course that's not how he is spinning it, he is calling it "PUTTING STUDENTS FIRST," but the statement at the top is really closer to the truth.

School is not about the students, it's really about the teachers. Ontario has 115,000 teachers and administrators. That represents a good chunk of voters, and does not even count auxiliary staff and families. It's a hefty voting block dispersed over the entire province. McGuinty wants to placate them, and assure them this is temporary....he hopes.

Will it work? It has worked up until now because it is a well lubricated machine, lubricated with money and there to appease the public sector unions that are in cahoots with the government. Thats not just true in Ontario, the video below from ReasonTV illustrates that the Machine behind teacher's unions is widespread throughout North America, and works in much the same way, for the benefit of teachers:

Monday, September 3, 2012

Labour Day: who is exploiting whom?

Sign in Toronto Labour Day Parade 2012....
Labour day was never my favourite holiday. Since schools, of one sort or another, were always part of my life, first as a student, then as a teacher, well, I'm sure you get it.

Labour Day is primarily a labour union holiday commemorating significant events in the labour history of both Canada and the USA. The big difference in the holiday between the two countries is that a "u" is found in the Canadian holiday name. And there are more than twice as many unionized employees (as a percentage of workers) in Canada versus the USA.

Once upon a time there was good reason for labour unions. In the past workers in North America felt exploited by their employers and needed a remedy that provided them with leverage to rectify their grievances. The right to associate peacefully is fundamental to the freedoms in both countries, and unions played a major role in improving the safety, wages and benefits of their members.

However, in most of the States and Provinces the "remedy" aspect of union function has been usurped by government regulation and adjudication. In Ontario, for example, the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) says this: "The OLRB's mandate is to provide, as an independent tribunal, excellence in administrative justice through the effective resolution of labour and employment disputes."

So whats left for the unions? Well, wages and benefits primarily, and that's part of the problem.

Trade across the planet is now less constrained and more widespread than ever. Competition has forced large corporations to seek out the cheapest labour world wide while maintaining quality. As a result private sector manufacturing done by unions is shrinking rapidly in places like Canada and the USA. Their past union agreements cannot compete with present day offshore workers, so they have priced themselves out of the market. They may yet recover, but they will need to face the new reality, increase their productivity or do something else.  

Over the same time span as labour unionists became more powerful, governments in Canada and the USA grew by usurping more and more responsibilities from their citizens. The growth of government translated to increases in the number of government employees and the unionists formed huge, powerful, public sector unions. In most cases in Canada the public sector unions are closed shops, meaning, in order to be employed workers must join the union and pay dues. That aspect has been rapidly changing in the USA with the advance of "right-to-work" legislation in various States. But not in Canada, at least not yet.

In the past and especially in recent years, the government of Ontario has pandered to the public sector unions. That shortsightedness backfired and created the massive deficits and debt today, and worse still, there are unfundable liabilities in the future, to meet those previous obligations.

Recently Ontario teachers unions were told by the government that their salaries and benefits will be frozen through emergency legislation to help control the deficit (never mind the debt). Some of the smaller teacher unions actually acceded, but the major unions did not. Strangely, not that long ago, these same unions were supporters of the government, now they have turned, and are vehemently apposed the government's action.

Given the current state of affairs in Ontario, something must change or the Provincial financial situation will get far worse. Recently, their have been downgrades in Ontario's debt by two ratings agencies. The sad truth is that politicians can NEVER be truly held accountable for errors in judgment made 10, 20 or 30 years ago; errors that we must all now live with cannot be adequately punished, memories are too short.

Public sector workers have a high degree of job security, a well supplied union war-chest for media ads and potential strikes, a monopoly agreement with the government eliminating non-union replacement workers, excellent benefits like defined benefit pension plans, ample sick leave, medical and dental insurance, and on-and-on. Should they also have the right to be in unions that can hold an entire province hostage if they choose to strike? I don't think so. I think the public sector unions are adequately protected by agencies like the OLRB, and that they should NOT be free to strike, nor should they have the right to prevent non-union staff from competing for their jobs.

While exploitation of workers has happened in the past, the shoe is now on the other foot. We, the citizens of Ontario are being exploited by the public sector unions, and it has to stop.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

RNC shuts out Ron Paul

Probably the most "balanced" news from the Republican National Convention this past week, was from the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Yes, thats right, truth in comedy.

But even they missed the back-room shenanigans that involved fundamental changes in the rules of the convention, preferring instead to focus on things like Clint Eastwood's appearance with an empty chair.

Canadians may view Jon Stewart's last report from the RNC here. If you are reading this from a US location, you will have to see that episode here. Aside from being funny, Stewart does what he is expert at, and for that you will have to watch.

For the past year I naively believed that Ron Paul would get to speak at the Republican Convention if he just hung in and followed the rules, but it didn't happen. The rules were changed, and Ron Paul was literally ostracized from the RNC. Ben Swann of WXIX in Cincinnati explains how the RNC rules were changed to ignore the Ron Paul delegation here.

Where will libertarian supporters of Ron Paul cast their vote considering the debacle in Tampa? This report from ReasonTV may shed some light on that.