Friday, January 25, 2013

Who cares about politics?

Imagine drawing a circle on a white board that is about the diameter of a basketball. Then, pretend to make a dot a bit smaller than the size of a pea in the centre of that circle. If the area inside the basketball-sized circle represents the population, that dot represents the number of people who are involved and care about politics, most of the time.

That's how Gerry Nicholls started his presentation on getting the Libertarian message out, back in April of 2011 to a group of us. He went on to say that if another circle was drawn with the diameter of a softball, inside the big one but centred on the dot, the area within the softball-sized circle represents the population that is somewhat involved in politics (especially during elections). The area from the boundary of the soft-ball circle to the boundary of the basket-ball circle, well, that's the majority of the population and they are clueless about politics most of the time.

I used to think that clueless meant apathetic. But look at it this way. The great majority of car owners, have no idea how their car's engine works, or any other system for that matter, but they certainly are not apathetic about the operation of their car. When it works, they're happy, when it doesn't work, well, you get it.

So it is with politics, very few care or are involved with how things work. Why should they be? They rely or the political pros, who are the mechanics that keep the machine of government working. People are far more interested in political personalities than political issues which actually drive politics. What was Michelle Obama wearing during the recent US Inauguration? Was Barak chewing gum after the Inaugural Address? (Yes) Did you check the link, see what I mean?

So it's not fair to say that people don't care about politics, to continue my metaphor, they are just very reluctant to open the hood and get all greasy. Who can blame them? People are busy trying to live their lives, trying to earn a living to feed themselves and their family, as well as the ever growing government - actually several governments. Its worse that kids, kids may become independent, that is never true about government.

This week I was introduced to a new website called Rate My Government. As a former teacher I'm quite familiar with Rate-My-Teachers, which I found very accurate in my day. If you scroll down this page on the right side you will see a link to rate your doctor, it works pretty well too. Why not Rate-My-Government?

The site itself, still pretty new, has lots of potential, and it should work well even for the clueless, but it looks to be designed for the "involved." That could be a problem, especially since they are relying on many eyes to read many ads, look back at Gerry's diagram.     

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Canadian healthcare shows that human freedom is an individual issue

This week the Fraser Institute released a new book authored by 13 people titled Towards a Worldwide Index of Human Freedom. Contained within the book is a new comprehensive index of human freedom in which Canada places fourth in the world, tied with Ireland and Australia, sounds pretty good.The US places seventh.

Here is what the Fraser Institute says about its report: "Our new report measures the degree to which people are free to enjoy classic civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, individual economic choice, association and assembly—in 123 countries. We also look at indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, legal discrimination against homosexuals, and women's freedoms."

I have a great deal of respect for the Fraser Institute and I'm sure their new report, done in conjunction with Germany’s Liberales Institut, is as accurate and comprehensive as possible.

The problem I have, and have always had with these types of reports is that rights and freedoms don't really apply to groups or countries, they are in fact individual. So you may be free in Canada to do many things, but if you are blocked from doing just one thing, that harms no one else, then you are not really free. For example, the "rules" around healthcare in Canada are simply Draconian.

The video below also comes from the Fraser Institute. In it, Dr. Brian Day of British Columbia, talks about healthcare in Canada. He points out that Canada is the only country on Earth "which outlaws the right of citizens to spend their own money on their own healthcare" when they want to. In fact, in parts of the country, clinics are fined heavily if they treat "uninsured" patients (patients who pay outside the system), and in Ontario, any patient that "jumps the queue" (and there are many, many queues) can be fined $10,000. What kind of freedom is that?

I don't consider either the Fraser Institute or Dr. Brian Day as representing the principles of libertarianism, you will no doubt be able to pick out why in the video. However, the healthcare system is so broken here, that I believe any movement in the direction of a freer market for healthcare is a step that I can support. Dr. Day makes a persuasive argument, and the issue of healthcare freedom will be in front of the courts later this year.    

Monday, January 7, 2013

"I hate Laurel Broten."

Actually, I don't really, but that headline is an exact quote overheard in teacher's lounge at a neighbourhood government school today. That same sentiment was probably echoed across the province by numerous other teachers.

Ms. Broten is the current Minister of Education (probably not for long) and like many Ministers before her, she is coming under fire from the province's teachers. Of course that is part of the problem, why should one person assume all the faults of a broken system? It's not her fault, not entirely.

Today was the first day back to work for most teachers in Ontario after the two week holiday break. Numerous School Boards had no contract agreement with their teachers on December 31, 2012, at 11:59 pm, now they do. A contract was imposed by legislation, Bill 115, which was passed last summer.

But labour peace is not about to break out in Ontario's education sector, far from it. The teachers and their respective unions have been royally pissed off with Bill 115, because it places a series of constraints on their "working conditions" without going through the steps of collective bargaining. Teachers called it undemocratic. I guess it is, of course teachers are forced to join and contribute to a union, then pay heed to that union or be fined. Recent single-day rotating strikes around the province by ETFO (one of the larger more militant unions),  were enforced by fines of $500 to disobedient teachers. In addition Boards may not negotiate with any teacher that is not a member the union, Catch 22, not exactly democratic either. None of that is the fault of the union or the teachers, they are just operating under the Education Act which grants everyone all of their privileges. It's an amazing document that really should be more widely read.

For example, one of the large unions, OSSTF, withdrew all extracurricular activities from schools as a sign of their discontent with Bill 115. But no where in the Education Act are teachers required to perform extracurricular activities. In Section 264 of the Act, Duties of Teachers, there is no mention of extracurriculars. Why should their be? If you work for any service industry are you required to organize your clients into competitive teams after work and supervise them? No, of course not, its voluntary, as it is with teachers. But since it is such an integral part of the school "experience," why is it not a contracted duty?

What is more surprising is what are the contracted duties, here is a part of the duties from the Education Act:

264. (1) It is the duty of a teacher and a temporary teacher,
 religion and morals
(c) to inculcate by precept and example respect for religion and the principles of Judaeo-Christian morality and the highest regard for truth, justice, loyalty, love of country, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, purity, temperance and all other virtues;

Alas, nothing about love of liberty.

Notice that in everything I have said so far there is not a word about the clientele in this business of education. No word of the students or the parents, they are less than irrelevant in this story, even though they foot the bill. There is no "opt out" of taxation during a public sector labour tiff. Yet this is a service that parents MUST send their children to, or face penalties in the Education Act (Section 21 Compulsory Attendance)

21. (1) Unless excused under this section,
(a) every person who attains the age of six years on or before the first school day in September in any year shall attend an elementary or secondary school on every school day from the first school day in September in that year until the person attains the age of 18 years; and...etc

Ironically there is a new section that includes bullying, but I won't bore you.

So, how can this be fixed? Andrew Coyne, whom I usually don't agree with, points in a direction in a column he wrote this week, I recommend it. He ends with the quoted paragraph below, I like it.

"So the question becomes: if we want to change the culture, are we prepared to change the model? The alternative, of simply carrying on as before, in a sullen war of attrition with an increasingly embittered teaching corps — union leaders have suggested the boycott of extra-curricular activities might remain in place for the whole two years — is hardly appetizing. Will anyone grasp the nettle of fundamental education reform, taking power away from bureaucrats and school boards and union leaders, and giving it to schools, and parents, and individual teachers?"

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Bang, bang! Something must be done!

Police-reported crime rates, Canada, 1962 to 2010
On the morning of Friday, December 14, 2012, a young man walked into an elementary school in Newtown Connecticut and committed an atrocity. He shot and killed 20 children, all just 6 and 7 years old, and six teachers of the school, I'm sure you all know the story.

I've been reluctant to write anything about that, not because I was not affected, just the opposite.

My wife and I have spent Friday's with our grandson for the past 7 months now, and many more to come I hope. We entertain each other. Our house is his plaything and we just supervise, its always fun and lots of work. I know we treat this little one differently than we did our own children years ago, wisdom does come with experience.

So as I heard news reports of the shootings that day, while our little guy was playing at my feet, I knew what kind of reaction to expect from the media and the talking heads on TV. The presence of my grandson made the pain of this story much more acute for me. I tried, but could not imagine the pain of the grandparents and parents of those children killed in Connecticut. There are no words.

As expected the debate and the discussion around the Newtown killings centred on how to prevent a future occurrence as if that were possible. Of course that means removing guns from people. The reaction was reflexive, and from the highest levels. The US President visited the town and made assurances that something would be done.
Of course, its for events just like this that laws are enacted by the political class. Good laws come from rational discussion and debate, where the rights of individuals are protected, where unintended consequences are considered, where time is taken without the emotion or trauma of events to cloud judgment.

After 9/11 and many orders of magnitude greater, the same kind of reflexive reactions among the political class and the media happened. Did that improve things? Are we safer, more certain that events of that sort won't ever happen, or are things worse? Have freedoms been lost? Have unnecessary wars been fought? Bodies heaped on bodies in far off lands, with a generation of afflicted children there, now sworn to vengeance. It has been made far worse by clouded judgement.

Newtown is not the same as 9/11, but the cries to do something are just as loud in proportion and the political class just as eager to appease irrational demands.

So lets be rational, is there a correlation between guns and crime? This Harvard study says no in the conclusion: "the burden of proof rests on the proponents of the more guns equal more death and fewer guns equal less death mantra, especially since they argue public policy ought to be based on that mantra....To bear that burden would at the very least require showing that a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that have imposed stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide). But those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared across the world."

The media and political class seem to imply that mass shootings such as Newtown and crime in general is on the rise, is that true?

No, not in Canada anyway, the graph above (from here) clearly shows that crime did rise until the early 1990's, but has been falling steadily ever since. The severity of crime is down in almost every jurisdiction in Canada, and crime rates in 2011, the most recent year for data, is the lowest in 40 years. The reasons probably to do with aging boomers.

To appease critics in Ontario, where we already have stringent gun controls, Premier McGuinty recently announced a locked door policy for schools. About time, I always lock my door at home, don't the children in government schools deserve the same consideration?

So how about the US, are things just getting worse and worse there? Is crime on the rise? Are shootings an every day occurrence? Watch this short video for an interesting analysis, you may be surprised.

Postscript: Obviously this is a complex and controversial issue, there is no simple single answer. I have some experience with firearms, but not nearly enough, certainly not as much as I would like. But I found a blogger who is very experienced and has an opinion that I can support, here.