Monday, December 30, 2013

Eating healthy in 2014 - gluten free?

Correlation is not cause, but note the rise in obesity with low fats.
This is the time of year we promise to change our bad habits. Canadians think they eat poorly when compared to the official government food guide. No one would ever suspect that the food guide may be erroneous. But what if it were?

I've written about this before, most recently here. Since then more evidence has accumulated and more books have addressed the issue. One of the more outspoken writers, a neurologist, David Perlmutter, suggests that both the Canadian and American food guides are upside-down. Rather than whole grains and carbohydrates being the largest component of a good diet, he suggests they be severely reduced or even eliminated from most people's diets. He points to gluten, a protein in many grains as the culprit. Interestingly, food marketers have already ratcheted up the production, distribution and sale of "gluten-free" products in North America. It's the latest fad. Deservedly or not, gluten has become what fat was from the 1970's to the present day, something to be avoided. Perlmutter and others also suggest that the demonizing of fats, and fat-like substances like cholesterol, has been all wrong.

Articles like this one from a reputable magazine, makes the decades long government sanctioned directive against fats sound like evil propaganda. But there is plenty of evidence to support the benefits of fats. That has not stopped the Ontario Liberals in cahoots with the Ontario Medical Association from regulating school cafeteria lunches and even suggesting food warnings on so-called "junk-food."

This brings up questions that need to be addressed about the fallibility of Ontario government policies. This recent Ontario government document (Memorandum 150), severely limits the sale of fats in school cafeterias while heavily promoting the sale of grain products. If this is wrong, one must ask what other government policies are wrong?       

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Climate crapshoot - an Arctic free of ice? Not so fast.

Models diverging with reality but with increasing IPCC certainty
I have written many posts that comment on global warming/climate change. In fact, next to politics, my climate comments are likely the most numerous.

That's no accident, I've always thought that the whole climate issue has become a secular religion, a subset of the environmental movement which also has all the character traits of a religion. I hope I don't need to elaborate on the dangers implicit in religious belief. Any decision or conclusion grounded on faith should not be acted on and certainly no one should be forced to act on faith. Unfortunately in the case of human caused global warming, acting on faith and forcing others has already happened.

This week is the fifth anniversary of one of Al Gore's famous predictions. Five years ago Gore predicted that by 2013, for a few months in the summer, the Arctic oceans will be ice free.

Well, it hasn't happened, not yet anyway. I'm not going to rule out that it won't happen in the future. I believe the data that suggests the volume of Arctic ice has decreased. That seems to me reasonable as an extension of the warming that has been occurring since the end of the last ice age roughly 10,000 years ago. I've always believed that climate changes, and I even believe that humans have been contributing to that change. To believe that humans are the sole or even a major contributor to climate change for me is still a huge stretch. The cliched phrase of "97% consensus of scientists" believe we are the cause, is also a huge stretch.

Science doesn't work by consensus. Galileo was right on the heliocentric model, everyone else was wrong. Darwin was right on natural selection, acts of creation and intelligent design are wrong. Both proposed ideas that were contrarian. Global warming/climate change models don't jive with reality (see chart), and therefore as explanatory theories they seem to be wrong too. The skeptics may prove right. The variables on climate are too numerous and probably not all known, thats why in the chart above the observations diverge from all the models. The error will be magnified with time.

But back to Mr. Gore's prediction. The urgency of his predictions, coincident with hot summers, mild winters, Hurricane Katrina - all that, plus the religious zealotry of environmentalism, gave him undeserved credibility. He still has it. Some governments, Ontario's Liberal government to name one, could not wait to act, so urgent was the belief that something must be done. As a result, Ontario has closed (most, almost all) its coal burning generation facilities and eschewed any fossil fuel alternative (even clean natural gas) for wind and solar power. Burning natural gas of course, still produces the evil CO2. Our electrical grid is in a mess with continually rising prices and a legacy that will take generations to fix, if ever. Meanwhile, real damage caused by humans forcing global warming or climate change may not happen for decades or centuries or ever.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Remembering the wrong message

Governments wage war on people.
It may be disputed, but I think it was George Orwell who said "history is written by the winners." I mention that because a Facebook friend posted a conversation with his daughter today in which she asserted that Hitler could have taken over the whole world. My friend replied, if that happened we would be taught in school that Hitler was a good guy.

Yesterday and over the past few days, Canadian school children were exposed to a deluge of remembrances of wars past. I think teaching and understanding history are important parts of a good education, but as stated in the first sentence, history is almost entirely subjective.

Many of my social network friends think remembering and paying tribute to the fallen of past wars is a glorification of war. Maybe they believe making hero's of the dead encourages yet more belligerence. I doubt that, the human capacity for violence is as much a part of our nature as is our capacity for love. Just watch children (especially boys) playing for a little while.

For me the act of remembering is entirely valid. I wear the red poppy that is sold by Canadian Veterans to symbolize my general gratitude to soldiers, living and dead, for wars fought to preserve our liberties, though I wish I could be more specific. I don't consider nation building or peace keeping as roles that our military should have been involved with. So, while I think war is inevitable and sometimes essential, I also think it should be avoided if at all possible.

I'm sure all of the so-called hero's of war will tell you that they did not mean to be hero's in the moment of their heroic act, war is terrifying for all concerned, and if you don't believe that count all the soldiers that have returned scarred with PTSD, shell-shock.

My problem with the way our remembrances have evolved over the years is that the act of remembering has become the important lesson. Lest We Forget, Never Again, Put and end to war, don't hate etc. etc.

All of those injunctions are the wrong message. War should always be defensive, and self-defense is a virtue that we should practice. As such, a defensive war is an option, but should be a last resort.

Ending hate, is just ridiculous. Hate is a perfectly valid emotion, but no one is compelled to violent action because of hatred, and it's the worst reason to go to war.

The right message, the lesson of our remembrances, should be that war is horrible, must be avoided, but may be necessary to protect life, preserve liberty, and protect property.               

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Negating your rights - Canadian Health Insurance.

Most Canadians understand the need for insurance. People buy insurance to avoid catastrophic expenses, major damage or liability in an auto collision, fire damage in a house, or life insurance. It does not make sense to insure routine maintenance. People don't buy car insurance to pay for oil changes or even major expenses like new tires, or a brake job. These need to be factored in with the cost of car ownership.  Car ownership is a responsibility and it includes paying for all associated costs.

Unfortunately, when the Canadian health care system came into existence in the 1960's, those involved in creating the legislation considered health care as a "right," a positive right.  I agree that access to healthcare is a right, and cost is sometimes a barrier. So when healthcare legislation was conceived by federal and provincial legislators 50 years ago in Canada, they realized that catastrophic health events happen over the course of people's lives and these should be insurable. That makes sense, but having the government do it doesn't. The problem was made much worse when legislation was written to provide ALL health care as a right. Even routine medical visits which are on the level of automobile oil changes were covered by insurance. Everything was covered, and the scarce resource that is healthcare became virtually "free," an obvious contradiction. The government even takes pains NOT to make the cost of healthcare known to Canadian consumers. We have no idea what anything costs and they won't tell us.

Nothing is free, and its almost axiomatic that whenever a government gets involved in mitigating an expense, you can be certain that expense will increase, beyond all good intentions.

"Free" healthcare is the number one budget expense in Ontario, and probably every province. Why? Because in the rest of economy free markets and competitive innovation are the primary forces that reduce prices and keep them as low as possible. When a government monopoly takes over any aspect of the economy, the government sets the price and taxpayers have no option but to pay. Every routine procedure is theoretically covered by our Canadian health insurance, which at the same instant tries to control costs, while increasing wages and benefits to employees, and its all controlled by a small cadre of bureaucrats. Exactly the opposite of an innovative free market.

What the government has determined as a "right," actually negates rights. Access to healthcare is a right, but as governments try to control costs they ration care, and access becomes a problem. Canada is exceptional as one of freest countries in the world with some of the poorest access to timely healthcare.

The original intent was to make healthcare available to everyone, even the poorest in our society. The result is that we are all treated as equally poor and our right to timely care is out of our hands.

The video that follows needs to be shared and widely distributed among all your friends. Dr. David Gratzer of the Montreal Economic Institute explains what is good about modern medicine and bad about Canadian Healthcare.        


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Rights versus Duties

People often misuse the term "rights."
Many people, even political parties and governmental or nongovernmental organizations, advocate for individuals to have an assortment of rights other than the commonly held right to life, liberty and property. In philosophical jargon those three are considered negative rights. Yes, you have a right to those three, but no one is required to provide you with anything. That's different from the photo above which implies that the right to an education can be legislated. This means that someone has a duty or obligation to provide it. This is a positive right. In the libertarian tradition, negative rights are the rights that governments should be protecting.
Of course there is nothing wrong with someone volunteering to provide an education to those unable to obtain one. This idea of voluntary charity is a virtue that most libertarians would support. The idea of providing positive rights to individuals usually involves infringing on the rights of those who must provide the rights.
Here is an explanation of that view of Positive vs. Negative Rights:


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Horse manure piled 60 feet high......

There is an apocryphal story about futurologists in 1860 New York City, predicting that NYC would not exist in 100 years because the present (1860) growth rate indicated that 6 million people would need 6 million horses, and that NYC could not handle the amount of manure produced.

Indeed the amount of manure produced in NYC was prodigious. In SuperFreakonomics, this section is worth reading because it graphically illustrates the problem. In 1900 there were 200,000 horses, and each horse could produce 24 pounds of manure or 5 million pounds a day, so manure lined city streets like banks of snow, and up to 60 foot piles of it was stored in empty lots. Summer heat must have been fun. And you thought cars were polluting.

I mention all this because the future is tough to predict and sometimes the errors made are spectacularly laughable in hindsight. There is even a webpage that collects and displays erroneous predictions. Here, have a look.

When governments make these errors which are paid for from coerced taxes and which create huge "malinvestments," it's just that much worse. Lately the Ontario government has made some doozies, from subsidized wind turbines to poorly placed gas generators. Money is wasted.

The newest government craze in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is mass transit. An arm of the city government wants to expend $50 Billion to create a mass transit system to relieve traffic congestion in the GTA over the next 25 years. Given the rate of change of technological development, the problem may be alleviated best with much cheaper solutions. This article by Lawrence Solomon points to solutions that were used in Singapore for similar issues. Building more highways and luring people out of their cars to take transit are both partial solutions at best, and the article continues.."As Singapore and others have shown, software can turn our now-clogged roads into smart roads, creating effective new road capacity that eliminates the need for either major new highways or mass transit." Here is a link to Intelligent Transport Systems used in Singapore.

The collision of smart transport systems in congested cities with self driving cars is likely to happen BEFORE the last mass transit line is in place in Toronto in 2038.

Technology and innovation are disruptive when allowed to happen to solve problems. The City government of New York did not need to find storage for more manure, the free market solved the manure problem and saved New York.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Where are the Atlantic Hurricanes of 2013?

Not that I miss large destructive storms but, there has not been one named Hurricane in the 2013 season as yet. We're half way through the six month June 1 to November 30 Atlantic Hurricane season, a season that was predicted to be "extremely active" last spring. There were lots of warnings in media, but so far nada.

Now its too early to start criticizing the computer models that were used to make this prediction, but things look fairly quiet through to the middle of September. In fact 2013 could produce a record for the latest named storm in the short history of hurricane prediction. That is, assuming a storm happens. Wouldn't it be something if NOAA's prediction was wrong? I guess climate science models need some revisions?   

Exploiting the worker

Just to follow up to my Labour Day post. One of the primary reasons for the existence of unions was to prevent workers from being exploited by capitalists. If markets were free, does that make it inevitable that workers are exploited? Not according to the video below:

In fact, the chances of workers being exploited are far greater in the present situation where free markets do not exist. Today in most Western democracies (including the US and Canada) governments do favours for capitalists and capitalists provide donations to political parties on the "understanding" that favours will be done. This crony capitalism is far more exploitive than a free market would be as explained here:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labour Day & the Zombie Apocalypse?

Labour (Labor US) Day traditionally celebrates the contributions of workers in the US and Canada. Nothing wrong with that. It's become an annual parade event, celebrated mostly by unionized labour, especially in Canada.

Unions are in trouble all over the world. In almost every OECD country there has been a decline in union representation since the mid-1980's. In some countries the decline has been huge over the last 30 to 50 years, in others things have changed little. In the US 30.9% of workers were in unions in 1960, only 11.6% by 2007; in Canada, 29.2% in 1960, 29.4% in 2007. In almost every OECD country recent trends have been downward. Lately Canada has up-ticked because of a growing public sector. Globalized labour markets have shifted jobs to lower wage centres around the world. The unions see the writing on the wall, their position has been made even worse by the financial crisis after 2008, followed by recessions and austerity moves in Europe and elsewhere.

So how are unionists and zombies related? Zombies are difficult to kill, they frequently operate in large groups, seek brains to consume, and most compelling, they seem mindless with respect to their opposition. 

The strength of unions in Canada makes them virtually indestructible without an act of Parliament. Their ability to collect fees, and control labour markets are enshrined in a variety of arguably illegitimate and ill-considered laws that have accumulated over the years. Today most of the reasons for these protective laws have been enshrined in other laws, which makes them unnecessary, redundant. The fact that union membership represents 30% plus (extended family) of the electorate, makes it political suicide for any government Party to contravene union legislation. They are unstoppable.

Lately, noises made by some Canadian governments, and unfriendly legislation by others, have forced unions to amalgamate into much larger groups; strength in numbers.

But underlying much of the thinking amongst union leadership, both public and private sector, and transferred to their masses, is a distorted theory of value. What is the actual worth of the labour provided by their workers public or private?

When I was a young teacher, I spent enormously long hours trying to work out effective lessons for my students. This went on for years. I often thought that if I were paid at the hourly rate of my actual teaching time, I'd make a lot of money. But I knew I was not worth it. My job was protected by my union, and the teaching job market was controlled by the union together with the government. No one could have my job without their say-so, and I would have to screw up pretty badly to get booted out of teaching. This is typical of government monopolies.

Was I even worth what I was being paid? How was that determined? That number was determined by negotiations in what is called euphemistically collective bargaining. If someone was a better, more experienced teacher than I, but lacking certain credentials, applied for my job, they were out of luck even if they tried to underbid for my job.

The compensation for my job had little to do with reality, it was contrived. I understood that as a young teacher, very few of my colleagues did. The entire government public school teaching profession is based on the Labour Theory of Value. The worth of your job is based on the effort you put in to get the credentials (the years of schooling etc.) plus your experience. That sounds fair, but its wrong.

It would mean that each job could be assigned some objective value unrelated to the market place. That's the way union shops and their leadership think. If that were true, my junior years should have been my best in terms of effort expended and salary paid.

Zombies seem mindless and unwilling (unable) to even acknowledge those who appose them.

The truth is my job should have paid, much, much less if it were bid for by parents in a competitive market place. This should be the way to think about value in a job. How much would a competitive marketplace of parents looking for teachers actually pay for the service of teaching their children. It's a purely subjective value, worth something to some, and nothing to many others. This Subjective Theory of Value, makes every union negotiated settlement (by collective bargaining), a distortion of the labour market in that field or market place.

It's early days yet, but the Zombie Apocalypse is coming.      

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Church of Atheism?

Here is an example of how unnecessary government interventions create unintended consequences.  According to this newspaper report, atheism is a creed that requires protections much the same as other religions do. So, atheism is equated to religion. In the actual paper copy, on the front page (see photo), the National Post makes light of this. I guess to pander to their social conservative patrons.

I'll skip over whether religions need protection, I don't think they do. I'd like to examine atheism as a creed.

According to "creed" is defined as:

1. any system, doctrine, or formula of religious belief, as of a denomination.
2. any system or codification of belief or of opinion.
3. an authoritative, formulated statement of the chief articles of Christian belief, as the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, or the Athanasian Creed.

As far as I know, to be an atheist one is not required to join a group that has an atheist code or formula. Atheists typically don't meet regularly to fulfil belief obligations. They don't construct massive buildings as places of worship, nor do they get tax breaks from local governments for doing so. Calling atheism a belief system is a huge stretch and distortion. If I don't believe in fairies, is that a belief system? Hardly!

The news story above, reports on a decision by the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (HRTO), a superfluous arm of government if ever there was (theoretically in Canada, Charter Rights are already protected). It seems a Mr. Choinard of Grimsby Ontario, wanted to match the Gideon's of bible distribution fame as a protest. He wanted to hand out an atheist text “Just Pretend: A Freethought Book for Children,” and of course was, as expected, refused. He made a case to the HRTO alleging that the District School Board of Niagara has “discriminated against them … because of creed.” Making such a protest is simple and costs nothing to the complainant, there is no barrier to frivolity, not that I think this is a frivolous complaint.

As a result, earlier in August, the HRTO ruled on the complaint saying that the school board's policy was biased.
“The policy was discriminatory because its definition of acceptable materials violated substantive equality by excluding the kinds of materials central to many creeds.”
The school board policy blocked atheist books and other “emerging or non-traditional creeds.”

In the end, according to the news article, the HRTO descision was:
“If [the school board] is prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of Christian texts to committed atheists, it must also be prepared to distribute permission forms proposing the distribution of atheist texts to religious Christians.”
The school board has six months to draw up a new policy “permitting distribution of creed and religious publications in its schools.” So atheism is a creed.

Throughout the process Mr. Choinard maintained his primary goal was to critique the board's policy and point out that government public schools should not be in the business of supporting a religious agenda. I absolutely agree, and that illustrates the real problem. If parents had the (affordable) option to send their children to their school of choice, religious or not, this entire case would not exist.

Ideally schools should be an extension of the home. The values that parents want to instil in their children should be a parental responsibility. Busy parents should be able to obtain a service, at an affordable price, that fulfils this need consistent with their values in addition to educating their children for the modern world. To have government public schools try to be all things to all people is impossible and undesirable; and to require an HRTO to enforce this is ridiculous. Here are two arms of the Ontario government that can easily be reduced or eliminated.      

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Attention Shoppers...

Out doing a bit of food shopping this afternoon. I spent the first few minutes trying to liberate a shopping cart with my quarter. That comes from habit, the cart thingy would not budge, then I read the instructions (see photo).
I did not get the memo that things had changed at my local food store.

Two observations:

1. A quarter seems no longer worth as much as it was. I've noticed this on previous shopping trips. People don't return their carts to the right spot sometimes because their time is worth more than a quarter, OR it's raining, and again, not worth it.

2. The "Cart return islands" in the parking lot had disappeared, now shoppers have to march the cart all the way back to the store. That means that the entry level job of moving carts back to the store is gone. Casualty of the minimum wage? Maybe.
How long will it be before it takes a "two-ny" ($2) to liberate the carts?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Facebook - please "Like"

This week I created a Facebook page to highlight this blog TBL, soon to be in its fifth year. 

The Facebook page ought to allow more discussion and feedback, and I can post smaller items that do not warrant a full blog post but are still very interesting.

If you are already a Facebook user, I would appreciate a "like" (in jargon of Facebook) or a (civil) comment. 

You can find the TBL page here

If you don't use Facebook, but have libertarian leanings, why not air them out in the classic libertarian way, the dreaded online argument thread. Join up. Arguing on Facebook is not quite as interactive (or funny) as the video below, but fun nevertheless. 


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Gas (plant) pains

Flooded Highway 427
By now the story of the big rainstorm that caused flooding and power outages in the western part of Toronto, earlier this summer (July 8, 2013) is old news. Certainly the severity of the storm was unusual, and with that much rain, flooding was to be expected. But most of the flooding was cleared by the following morning leaving behind considerable damage to property.

What was unexpected was that electrical power remained offline to thousands of homes and businesses for nearly two days which added (unnecessarily) to the destruction of property in freezers and refrigerators across the region. The Mayor of Toronto even appealed to citizens to conserve electricity because the city was “hanging by a thread.” Was this a surprise to authorities, an unnoticed flaw in the system? Who is in charge?

The Ontario Power Authority (OPA) is in charge of Ontario’s electricity infrastructure, and the disruption in service after the recent flood was foreseen years ago.

A report issued in October 2007, recommended “the siting of new gas generation in the southwest part of the Greater Toronto Area (Southwest GTA)” and that OPA intended to “procure such generation by 2013…to address capacity needs…expected by 2015 in the western half of the GTA.” Of course the proposed Oakville and Mississauga gas power plants that were supposed to mitigate the problem were canceled for political reasons.

The same report foreshadowed the recent power failure: “Extraordinary events or major failures on the transmission system could lead to inadequate supply capacity or voltage stability issues. The risk of such events is significantly reduced with internal generation capacity. As an example, New York City requires an installed generation capacity that is 80% of the city load.” How does Toronto, the financial capital of Canada, compare? Only about 10% of its electricity is generated locally. The city is on tenterhooks.

The best available guess is that the cancellation of the two aforementioned gas power plants cost about $600 million. The recent economic ($850 million) and societal losses during the power failure should to be added to that estimate. Indeed, the cancellation of those plants was not the decision of experts, and not done in the interests of the people of the Southwest GTA. It was a calculated decision designed to save two political seats weighed against the best interests of hundreds of thousands of hard working citizens.

In a recent committee hearing on the gas plant debacle, Dalton McGuinty reiterated his position that the power plant cancellation was “the right thing to do.” Yes, it was for the Liberal Party, but what about the ratepayers and citizens of western Toronto, and the rest of the province?

This is the Libertarian platform plank on electrical energy generation.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Convenience Cartel

 Most people think that the government sells all alcoholic beverages in Ontario. That's not exactly true.

The Beer Store (TBS) is a government sanctioned cartel (they call it a consortium) of three private companies (two of which are 98% owners of TBS). TBS is controlled under Ontario's Liquor Control Board Act which gives the LCBO the power to set price floors, set how much beer may be discounted during a "sale," and just about everything else to do with sales and distribution. TBS's employees are all members of United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Recently OCSA (Ontario Convenience Stores Association) paid for a study that showed "that the average price difference in a 24-bottle case of beer between (Ontario and Quebec) is about $9.50, or 27 per cent lower in Quebec.  This was blamed on the Ontario cartel, and the study implied that allowing convenience stores to sell beer would lower the Ontario price by creating "efficiencies." What a good idea I thought, at least a start to move away from government imposed monopoly. So I called up a spokesperson for  OCSA to see if they would be interested in providing a speaker and supporting a conference that I'm organizing. I told him the conference was apolitical but would have many libertarians that will support his cause. "No, not interested," and he went on to explain how liquor and beer sales are important income to the provincial treasury, about $1.7 billion in 2012. Right. It was a short phone call.

So what is OCSA trying to accomplish? They have a campaign on Facebook, and here, which purports to argue "Free Our Beer." They're plying the idea that most people want convenience and a bit of a lower cost, which is certainly true. As for competition, they don't really want to "free our beer" they want to get in on the action and become part of the cartel.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Celebrating our Liberty

Today, of course is Canada's 146th birthday, and this week our American cousins will be celebrating their birthday too.

I've been reading some of the postings on social media by my libertarian "friends," both Canadian and American. Many of the wishes are genuine expressions of hope that everyone has/is having, a "Happy Canada Day." 

There are a few of my friends who look at this as a celebration of the "state," so they are resentful that such a day exists. They say that this is an arbitrary celebration of a piece of property, divided from other properties by imaginary lines, where the people are forced....etc. etc. etc. I get it, in some ways it's a bit like saying that each of our personal birthdays should be viewed as being one year closer to death rather than of a celebration of birth. I'd hate to be a their birthday parties.

I'll be the first person to tell you that there is something wrong with our "state," our country and our various governments as they exist now. 

But, is it wrong to commemorate the actions of a group of people who came together voluntarily to enact a law (a constitution) designed to protect the natural rights of individuals? 

Is it wrong to have imaginary lines that delineate the territory where those individual rights can be protected and defended?

Is it wrong to set aside one day each year to celebrate that event?

It would be wonderful if there was no need for an arbitrarily delineated state, no boundaries, and the whole planet would be our country. Alas, that is not reality.

What would NOT be wonderful is, if laws that protect individual rights did not exist, and it would NOT be wonderful if people had to fend for themselves to protect their own rights, unassisted.

There is a purpose for our "state" at this point in human evolution, that purpose is to provide the framework for each of us to enjoy our liberty free of unwanted intrusions by others. Maybe one day we will evolve beyond that. 

Yes, we live in an imperfect state, but here in Canada, we still possess the freedom to fix it and that gives each of us purpose.

Be happy celebrating your liberty. Happy Canada Day!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

WHIPPED: Just a more obvious flaw in our democracy.

Sean Holman is shopping around his documentary WHIPPED, The secret world of party discipline.

I saw it in Toronto (June 22/13) and stayed for the panel Q&A that followed.

Mr. Holman is a passionate well meaning individual with a clear idea of how our Democracies in Canada should operate. He used his journalistic training and nine years of experience covering the Legislature in Victoria B.C. to produce this documentary. It's very well done, as far as it goes. Mr. Holman will be on The Current (CBC) this Wednesday, and the documentary may be viewed on CPAC at some point.

Though the entire documentary is set in British Columbia, the concept of whipping and the party whip are common to all Westminster style legislatures in Canada and around the world (in Britain there is a bit more freedom). By way of contradiction, Canada has two exceptions: Northwest Territories and Nunavut, no parties, no whips.

During the Q&A, Mr. Holman pointed out he has no bias as to whether whipping is a good or bad thing, which I found disingenuous. Why bother making the documentary? Going to the trouble of making an exposé uncovering a "secret world," seems to me to be taking a side.

Mr. Holman, the Q&A panel, and the sponsor of the showing, all had an obvious bias. In fact I found the representative from the sponsor, Duff Conacher, somewhat biased toward the new Federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, but maybe that's just me.

By the end of the evening it was obvious that whipping occurs in most of Canada's legislatures and is not necessarily in the best interests of Canadians as voiced by the panel. Wherever it happens, MP's, MPP's, MLA's, MNA's whatever, all the elected representatives of the various legislatures, vote along party lines because they are coerced (whipped) into doing so. The coercion takes the form of ostracism from the party caucus, or having the possibility of advancement within the government or party hierarchy blocked if the party line is not toed. The general belief voiced by the panel and the audience at this viewing was, legislators should be able to vote their conscience or at least vote in the best interests of their constituents without coercion.

Sounds reasonable, wouldn't you say?

Of course this begs the questions what are the best interests of constituents on any given Bill presented by a government in a legislature, and how would a legislator know this? I suspect that most of the people present for the viewing would be satisfied and resigned to accept Churchill's famous comment that: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” But I wonder is that the best we can do? I prefer this Churchill quote: "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." My view is, that practiced as it is now, democracy is overrated.

For example, in the most recent Ontario election only 49.2% of qualified voters bothered to vote, and the elected Liberal minority government attracted 37.62% of those that cast ballots, or just 18.5% of qualified voters. What kind of democracy is that? It was not quite a majority mob that formed this government, but a small cobbled together bunch of special interest groups that are dependent on the spend-thrift ways of the governing party. Clearly in Ontario at least, government is not really democratic at all, along with being apparently unlimited in its reach. Maybe the whole idea of being whipped is mere small potatoes? But its nice to know that the advocates of our democracy (at this viewing) can spot this flaw. There may be hope.

A Facebook comment from my Party colleague Jim McIntosh, sums up the situation that legislators are faced with very nicely: "[I]t isn't clear to me that your representative knows what is in your best interest, let alone what is in the best interest of all his constituents, or even the ones who voted for him. Typically any Bill he must vote on may help some constituents and hurt others. That is why the (Ontario) Libertarian Party advocates that the force of government only be used to protect life liberty and property of residents."

So maybe Sean Holman's next documentary should be about limiting the size and scope of government rather than unleashing legislators. That would really be in the best interests of all Canadians.

A Postscript: Just to be clear, as leader of a political party (Ontario Libertarians), if we had elected representatives in the Ontario Legislature, I would require those MPP's to vote along party lines. We advocate limited government and would expect those members of our Caucus to vote against any Bill that reduces choice or increases the power of government. However, in the present context, I would hope that any libertarian members of any other party make their position known to their Caucus and either vote against or abstain from Bills that reduce the liberty of citizens.

Monday, June 17, 2013

If you see something, say something....but don't worry its just the government.

By now, unless you live under a rock, you have heard or read about Edward Snowden. Just as likely, you have formed an opinion, he is either a traitor, a hero, or you aren't certain/don't care. That's the way people are lining up. Predictably the neocons think he is a traitor, the libertarians believe he is a hero, and most people don't give a rat's ass.

Edward Snowden is also either very brave, very naive, or possibly something more sinister that we aren't privy too yet. He has given up a healthy six figure salary at the age of 29, with a comfortable job while living in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Who would do that? Well, we don't know the whole story yet, but its got the makings of a book, or maybe a screenplay/movie eventually.

Is anyone surprised by Snowden's revelation?

I wasn't, it just confirms my belief that if something is possible, it's likely being done. My trust of government, let's say is non-existent, but you have probably gathered that by now.

I was on a family trip at the time that the NSA/PRISM story broke open, travelling to the New York City metropolitan area, the megalopolis that ranges between New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

Ten years ago, on a similar trip I was impressed by the number of magnetic "ribbons" attached to the all sorts of motor vehicles, flags flying on front porches, and yellow ribbons tied to trees. America was at war in Iraq and at war against terror. Today those magnetic ribbons are less obvious, faded with time, and far fewer flags fly on homes, people are tiring of the never ending war. Who can blame them?

Visiting rest stops on the Interstate highways I saw signs on the rest stop doorways - "If you see something, say something," followed by a phone number - a snitch-line. The whole thing is positively Orwellian or worse.

In fact that metaphor is probably lost on an entire generation or two who are now rapidly catching up, the proof being that Orwell's 1984 is a hit again. I wonder what the Google stats on Orwell are like these days?

We here in Canada must think ourselves lucky not to be spied on by all these acronyms. Not so fast folks, it's happening here too. Have you ever heard of Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC)? Neither have I until this past week, now its all over the web. Watch what you say, and to whom you say it.

Edward Snowden has done us all a favour, he said something. The Hollywood movies that depict government agencies spying on everyone are no longer fiction, maybe Shia LaBeouf was right.          

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Political Gang Warfare

Whenever unpopular political decisions need to be made its best to overwhelm opponents, thats another rule of politics. Also, make sure you get some bipartisan support and the sheeple will think this is the ONLY way.

Take a look at that logo, any clue what it means?

It's the logo of the Greater Toronto Civic Action Alliance. In any political fight, another rule is: make sure your public face gives no clue to what you are really about. So, just looking at the name, its impossible to discern what these people are being active about. And the logo, well it's a freaking mystery.

Here is what its about. An agency of the Ontario government called METROLINX, has been tasked to build and run  an integrated a transit system in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area, the GTHA. All they need is $50 billion over 25 years - $2 billion per year, or about 1.6% of Ontario's current budget, chicken feed in government lingo.

Oh, the 32, what's it about? Well, currently the average commute time in the GTHA is 82 minutes per day, among the longest in North America. The Metrolinx experts say that will rise to 109 minutes in 25 years, but if you spend $50 billion, you will shave off 32 minutes, down to just 77 minutes. Yes, just 5 minutes less than we have now. Whoop-dee-doo!

Another part of the gang of political elites involved in railroading this idea through can be found here. That is their press release from the other day, explaining the "investment" strategy. Here is their video, which features some of the political elites and shows everyone just how bipartisan and diverse they are.

I hope after that you are ready to fork over the money. It should only cost the average family of four with two cars about $20,000 in fees and taxes over the next twenty years or so. You don't need the money anyway. Remember, in 2038 you will be saving 32 minutes off your commute, if you can afford a car by then.   

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Big Move Tax Grab

One of the first rules of politics is to try to minimize or at least obfuscate unpopular events or decisions.

Today, an agency of the Ontario government - Metrolinx - came out with their bag of "revenue tools" - taxes by any other name, to pay for a massive 25 year plan that will cost $50 Billion (at least).

So this could become one of the largest single tax grabs in Ontario, since Dalton McGuinty said he would not raise taxes, but instead created the Health Premium, a new "tax" in the 2004 budget.

What I find interesting and funny is this, in the week or so before the Metrolinx revenue tools announcement, the two most consistent opponents of these revenue tools - the Ford brothers Rob and Doug - were attacked by two of the largest newspapers in the country, and accused of various drug offences: smoking crack and pushing dope. Not only did those allegations create local headlines with daily ramifications, but Toronto politics became a joke on North American late night TV shows. So, I'll ask, is there a connection? Is this a smoke screen (pun intended) for Metrolinx?    

Metrolinx is supposed to alleviate the gridlock in the Greater Toronto - Hamilton Region. The average commute time in the area is now 82 minutes. When (and if) the plan gets done, that commute time will be 77 minutes - 5 minutes saved! Of course, the CEO of Metrolinx says that if it isn't done, his crystal ball says the average commute will be 109 minutes. Could it possibly be 108 or maybe 100 minutes? How can this guy predict what things will be like in 2038? Maybe we'll get those flying cars I've been waiting for. But with even more taxes piled up onto poor Ontario, who will be able to afford a flying car?

Political Scandals

The mayor of my hometown, the largest city in Canada, is alleged to be in a video where he is smoking a crack pipe. Neither the video (which only a very few have witnessed) nor the owners of the video can now be found. The mayor's brother, an elected councilman of that city, is accused of pushing dope in the 1980's, but none of the ten or so people who were accusers would step forward and make the charge.

Several Senators in Ottawa (not the hockey players) have been accused of being less than forthright (lying) about their principal residence and as a result they received large sums of public money, which they now must repay. Two of them were once prominent respected journalists and the scandal has reached into the office of the Prime Minister of Canada.

Former Ontario Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty accepts the blame for moving two Gas Power Stations in order to save two Liberal political seats in the 2011 election. He didn’t know it would cost in excess of $600 million – which the province had to borrow. He resigned and closed the Ontario Legislature for four months to let things cool off.

If you “Google” the phrase “political scandal,” you would get about 257 million results – even more than the phrase “political corruption.”

Political scandals seem to be what politics is about. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that less than half the eligible voters of Ontario bothered to vote in the 2011 Election.

Apple Computer has been accused of dodging taxes for years, another type of scandal.

William Watson, in a column in the Financial Post has a great suggestion on how to reduce scandals here, I recommend it.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Cheesed off yet?

I'm fairly certain it was not my blog posting of Sept. 26, 2012 that prompted the Canadian Dairy Commission, a legal and government approved cartel in Canada, to lower their mozzarella prices.

Back then I wrote about "Why American Pizza tastes better." My theory was it's because of the cheese, mozzarella prices in the United States are about half what they are in Canada, so American pizza makers are more generous with their cheese. More cheese, tastier and less pricey pizza, it's not rocket science.

About four-fifths of the price of Canadian pizza is because of the cheese. Who knew?

That blog post also pointed out that members of the Niagara Regional Police Department (no less) were caught smuggling cheese across the border. Yes, cheese, mozzarella cheese, not drugs!

Yesterday, Terence Corcoran in the National Post wrote about this dramatic price drop. He pointed out that the price of a kilo block of mozzarella cheese at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (not that far from Niagara) is about $4.20. In the Niagara area of Ontario (and the rest of the country) it's $8.50 a kilo!

After you've exclaimed WTF!, your next question is why, isn't it? Now you're asking the right question, unfortunately the answer requires you to wade through some government gobbledygook on Supply Management. Good luck with that.

The short answer is, you remember supply and demand, where demand usually determines the price of a scare commodity? Well, in this case dairy farmers and the government are in cahoots controlling the supply and setting a quota for the production of all milk products while at the same time, screwing over all consumers in the country. Milk products are probably one of the most common items in the kitchens of the country - so this is a big screw over.

Corcoran's article is worth the read, even funny in spots, he pulls no punches. The National Post saw fit to make this topic (by Chris Selley) their editorial today here.

Oh, by the way, the price drop of mozzarella cheese in Canada, all the way down to $7.80 a kilo, whoop-dee-do.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bitcoin Bubble?

The exponential rise and sharp drop in the value of the "virtual" currency Bitcoin has made it into the mainstream media this past week. Even the CBC, official voice of the statist media in Canada, had a reasonably (for CBC) unbiased story here.
The value of a Bitcoin has been extremely volatile of late, possibly because of the European monetary crisis and the little wrinkle that Cyprus created.
This commentary in Forbes magazine addresses the volatility. Of course, there has also been considerable volatility in gold lately, but I'm not going to pretend I know why. I think like gold, Bitcoin is not going anywhere, it definitely serves a purpose and has a niche like the Forbes article suggests.
Will Bitcoin become a widely accepted and used currency, something you might use to pay for your dry-cleaning? Who knows?
Below is an interesting interview with an Austrian School business professor that my daughter posted here.

The rise of the Bitcoin: At what point should we take this seriously?
As one of the world’s first online currencies gains momentum and headline counts, Dr. George Bragues, Acting Vice-Provost and Program Head of Business at the University of Guelph-Humber, offers his thoughts on the viability of virtual mining.
We know that these coins are ‘created’ through a series of complicated computer programs through a sort of digital mining process. How does money emerge spontaneously?
This speaks to the idea that there was no great person who consciously decided, let’s have money. Throughout history, money has emerged spontaneously, through an unplanned process. It started when people first specialized in a trade, or made something that they could then use to trade for something else they needed. And eventually, without any central authority’s designation, people came to converge on a class of objects, like precious metals, that everyone was willing to accept in exchanges.
Whatever object that’s agreed on as currency ultimately needs to have a few key features for it to work. It needs to be divisible, it can’t be perishable, it needs to be portable, and it needs to be relatively scarce so that it doesn’t lose value. The Bitcoin ultimately has these key features.
Despite Bitcoin currency having been developed a few years ago, it’s become a sensation in recent weeks as the exchange prices have surged and plummeted, with fingers pointing toward the financial instability in Cyprus as government there has been interfering with peoples’ savings. What’s the significance of this?
The Cyprus situation basically raises questions about the integrity and safety of the fiat currencies of the world. It suggests that if you have all this money in dollars or euros or pounds stashed in banks somewhere – that if and when these banks get into trouble, you could suffer a big financial hit. So against this backdrop lies a demand for another form of currency that would not be subjected to this problem. And that’s the Bitcoin.
The Bitcoin is not managed by a central bank, like the euro or the US dollar. Its supply is also limited to 21 million, with about 11 million currently in circulation. This essentially replicates a gold or commodity-type of money – meaning, the supply is limited by its availability. And just as gold needs to be mined, so, too, does the Bitcoin. The main difference obviously being that with gold, the mining is a physical process, whereas mining a Bitcoin is intellectual where you have evermore complex mathematical problems that need to be solved.
The supply of this currency – instead of being managed by central authority that could potentially lead to Cyprus-like problems – is left to a market process, where people will mine it to the extent that they see profit in it. There’s already been commentary among respectable analysts that Bitcoin currency should be a part of your financial portfolio.
It’s been recently reported that the Winklevoss twins – infamous in their battle against Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg – have been building up their stock of Bitcoins, adding to the idea that this currency seems to have surpassed the experiment phase and is now accepted by professional investors. Yet it seems despite all the hype, the big question remains: Should this currency be taken seriously?
Perhaps not too seriously. I hate to use the cop out line, ‘only time will tell’, but at this point I find it very intriguing. In order for it to be taken more seriously, we need to see that it can embody the characteristics of a true spontaneously-emerged money. Which means first and foremost, it needs to be more widely accepted.
We need to reach a point where the dry cleaner says, ‘that’ll be three Bitcoins, please’, and we’ll pull out our phones with our Bitcoin app – and ultimately walk away with our dry cleaning. That’s theoretically possible – we’re probably already there from a technology standpoint. But for now, it’s really more of an investment vehicle. In order for it to be really taken seriously, it will need to become a consumer goods vehicle as well.
Are virtual currencies here to stay?
For e-commerce purposes, I think virtual currencies are here to stay; they’ve already proven the test of time. But for them to go into the physical world? Wow. I think governments would have a real problem with that. I think we have to recognize that it’s no accident governments today control the money supply. The major reason for this is because it allows them to influence the economy in politically preferred directions. So to have a virtual currency getting accepted out there would mean a loss of control on the part of the government over a key lever over the economy.
The Bitcoin’s decentralized nature would ultimately be the big problem governments would have; and given what’s going on in the world, the same reason why people seem to be liking it. All that to say – I haven’t mined for any.

University of Guelph Humber Business Program

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Home Opener 2013 recalls 1977 weather

Yesterday (April 2, 2013), was Opening Day for the Toronto Blue Jays. Lots of hype, it seems the Jays are going to make a run of it this year in the AL East and I wish them luck.

I remember the first home opener, April 7, 1977 - a generation and a half ago. In true Canadian fashion it snowed, the picture here shows a whitening of the field before the game at Exhibition Stadium 36 years ago. The snowed was "squeeged away" during the opening ceremonies.

I mention this because it snowed yesterday too, it was cold and windy, not unusual for early April. Around here that snow is called an off-lake (Lake Huron - likely) snow squall. It whitened the ground, but the strong April sun melted it in just hours - no squeegees required. It didn't make any difference in last nights ball game - the Blue Jays now have the option of playing their games under a roof in a climate controlled stadium, and the roof was closed.

My point is the weather hasn't changed much in 36 years, April is still April, and sometimes it snows.

An article in Forbes Magazine this week, made me think about the weather outside my window. The author of the Forbes article and I are roughly the same vintage. I'm not sure if he is a baseball fan, but we seem to share many memories and a point of view.

He wonders where global warming is because its was the late '70's when the doomsayers (he calls them "warmmongers") first broke into the news headlines trying to save the planet. Here is a quote from his article:
"Climate panic, after all, is fear of dramatic, life-altering climate changes, not about tenths of a degree. We are told that we must “take action right now before it’s Too Late!” That doesn’t mean: before it’s too late to avoid a Spring that comes a week earlier or summer heat records of 103 degrees instead of 102. It was to fend off utter disaster that we needed the Kyoto Treaty, carbon taxes, and Priuses."
Yes, I know weather isn't climate, but I also know that since the climate panic was ignited the political and economic repercussions have had much, much greater impact on humanity (on each of us in Ontario) than either climate change or weather. It's a good article, he asks the right questions.

Oh, the Blue Jays lost last night 4 to 1 to the Indians of Cleveland - where it also snowed. Only 161 games left to try and make the playoffs. Go Jays!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Supply and Dental Demand

Maybe the graphic is a bit over the top, but give it time. A story on the front page of the National Post last week - "Too many dentists, too few mouths" highlights an interesting development. The supply of dentists across Canada exceeds the demand. As the article suggests patients will have "more purchasing power than ever." Thats how supply and demand works.

It seems Dental schools are graduating more dentists than ever and "price wars and discount offers" have started in "hyper-competitive markets like Toronto." Good news if you have bad teeth - or just teeth in general.
“Over the next few years, these numbers (dentists and hygienists) will grow. This means that competition within the profession will become more intense and individual dentists are going to try to find ways to attract and retain patients.”
What a shock for those young people - they're going to have to compete for patients on price and quality.

In Ontario, every single health practitioner is regulated in minute detail, right down to who may use what instruments and into which human orifice the instruments can be inserted.

Dentists, however, must also be business people. They fend for themselves mostly, they are self-employed. So when it comes to billing, overhead expenses, and ultimately trying to make a good living they are on their own. Many people have dental plans through employment, and that is a great help to dentists as well as their clientele. Of course thats what the issue is about in the Post story, too many dentists. By-the-way, the private group insurance plans are no doubt pleased that dental prices may come down, or at least not rise because of this competition. Strangely, in Ontario, dental care is not considered vital to one's health, and is NOT covered under the "universal healthcare" plan called OHIP.

While dentists and dental schools have some leeway, physicians are regulated to death. Every physician in Ontario is effectively, by law, an employee of the provincial government through OHIP. All their bills are paid by OHIP through agreements with the Ontario Medical Association. And every physician is granted the right to practice by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO). CPSO and the provincial government together play a role in how many physicians are graduated each year. The supply of physicians is controlled, the prices they are paid are controlled - so it's no wonder that Ontario (and all the other provinces) have shortages of physicians, long line ups at emergency wards, and among the longest wait times for medical care in the world.

Have you ever had to wait for dental work? I once broke a tooth on a Saturday morning, it was repaired by 1 pm that same day without a lengthy wait in a waiting room and I was able to enjoy a dinner meal. One quick phone-call was all that was required.

So lets dream for a moment, lets pretend that medical school graduates were NOT regulated in numbers, so that those who wished to be a physician and had the grades and the money, could enter medical schools. Lets pretend that physicians could be part of OHIP, and they could also accept patients privately if they wished, even charge them the OHIP fee (for residents of Ontario) and more (or less for non-residents). In other words, imagine if the government did not set the price or control the supply of physicians. Don't you think that might be a move in the right direction toward better service? Like my dental experience above.

A tiny move like that, a simple start, could change the whole supply-demand thing for physicians. It's your health.