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Archive for the ‘International politics’ Category

The newspaper stories coming out of Canada in the past couple of weeks have not been kind to freedom. They could have just as easily come from the U.S. or any other Western country, but they happened to come out of Canada this time, so I’m going to do a mini-link roundup, just for Canada.

  • Headline: “Why do we still subsidize care for the well-to-do?” It is every bit as stupid as it sounds. This dough-faced old socialist wants to make sure that the people who pay the highest taxes don’t get the same healthcare as everyone else by means-testing them. Look, I don’t like government healthcare one bit. But if you made me pay a damn fine chunk of change into the system and then told me I wouldn’t get to enjoy the benefits of it because I was rich, I would surely burst into flames of rage. You already soaked the rich once to get your system, soaking them again to prop it up just makes the crime worse.
  • Welcome to Kelowna, B.C., a beautiful city in the heart of the Okanagan…and now home to a waste collection policy even more draconian than the one infamously employed in Cleveland. They have installed cameras and scanners on their garbage trucks to make sure everyone is being an obedient little serf and sorting his or her garbage properly. See if this sentence scares you: “And while miscreant residents won’t face fines, they can expect a visit from the garbage police, who will offer friendly guidance on separating paper and plastic.” Or how about this one: ‘The on-board cameras’ image resolution “isn’t high enough to look at detailed information,’ he said.” Oh, sort of like how the nude scanners can’t save images? Not only is Kelowna’s program a horrifying little exercise in the slippery slope of personal liberties, but also it completely fails to make sense in the midst of a recession.
  • Headline says it all: “Sorry if progress is hurting the bottom line.” The “progress” they are talking about is the yet-more draconian DUI laws adopted in B.C. In addition to the full DUI awarded at a BAC of .08, cops in B.C. can now give you a mini-DUI at .05, such that you receive a warning point, a 24-hour suspension, and a bill for towing your car. Naturally, people are scared of getting in trouble, such that bar sales may be down as much as 25%. There is nothing that low-margin businesses like more than losing business in a recession! But hey, you silly business owners, you need to shut your damn mouths and salute the flag so we can have some progress around here! I mean, the politicians need to look tough on crime. Screw you for wanting to eat, you obstructionists!!
  • Meet Michael Schmidt, Canada’s leading raw milk advocate and the founder of Cow Share Canada. Fresh off a victory in Ontario, Schmidt is expanding his efforts across the country. The thing I love about this story is that he goes to help some raw milk farmers in Alberta, but leaves as soon as he decides their cleanliness isn’t up to his standards. Huh, what do you know, maybe individual actors can responsibly regulate themselves without the coercive intervention of the state and its cartel buddies!
  • Some idiot who used to work at a vegetarian fashion house in Montreal called Matt & Nat is complaining that the company violated her rights by not allowing employees to eat meat on site. You violent little fool, no one made you work there! If your bacon sandwich is so damn important, find another job! Or just leave the office and eat at a restaurant or in a park, geez! I can’t believe people really think they are important enough to potentially ruin the livelihood of someone else just because they had their feelings hurt. What a doltish thug.
  • Headline: “Canada’s culture can still make its mark on the internet.” Ah, and what intrepid ideas does this editorial offer? Why, by using the Canadian Media Fund to subsidize internet content providers and helping them establish intellectual property rights! Or by using money stolen from taxpayers to achieve the logistically impossible goal of supplying universal broadband access in the second-largest country on earth! It pains me to think that multiple people were paid to come up with this drivel. Do they honestly think the internet needs state support to succeed? Even though it has succeeded in spite of it for the past 20 years? The blind faith in the state baffles me.

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The National Post recently had two good articles on what are called “equalization payments” in Canada. Basically, ever year, the wealthy Western provinces like British Columbia, Saskatchewan, and especially Alberta transfer wealth to the federal authorities, who then redistribute it to have-nots in the East. The worst culprit this year is capitalism-bashing Quebec, which will receive more than $8.5 billion from “greedy” Western oil and timber barons.

The whole system is quite distasteful–to think that people in one part of the country have some claim to the wealth of people in another part of the country. If Quebecers want a slice of Alberta’s pie, then maybe they should move to Alberta. But it is unsurprising in our world of nationalism. Rather than let Quebec go, federal governments have bought them off with equalization payments and allowed them to get by with unsustainable fiscal policies. Rather than respect federalism and let people in Alberta and B.C. keep their money, federal governments act as if they are somehow entitled to arbitrarily redistribute it.

The first article I read was about how equalization payments come not just in the form of direct transfers,  but also much higher rates of federal employment in the have-not provinces. Personally, I think Alberta should feel lucky to have fewer bloodsuckers per capita running around than those on Prince Edward Island, but that’s just me. In any case, this article got my long-established anti-equalization hackles up.

But the second article sort of knocked me back on my feet. Canada’s Atlantic provinces have often benefited from equalization payments, leading Canadians elsewhere to look down on them a bit. And I would have continued to do so myself if not for this article which pointed out that Atlantic Canada had a vibrant trading relationship with the Eastern United States until the mid-19th century, when protectionist industrialists in Ontario and Quebec ganged up on them and obstructed trade with the U.S.

So yes, the equalization payments of today are a gross demonstration of the idea that some people have a claim on the wealth of others just because they happen to live inside the same imagined borders. But the equalization payments of today might not have been necessary if state-allied business owners of a century and a half ago had not used government’s coercive force to protect their interests and crush the productivity of others. Both in the 19th century and the 21st, the state is picking sides and messing things up. As the equalization fatcats in Quebec would say, plus ca change

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Remember when China lost their heads over dissident Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize? The mess remains in progress. His wife, supposedly given the chance to visit him and give him the news of his win, is now under arrest, too.

Then there’s nice, friendly People’s Daily Online, the cute little English-language mouthpiece of the regime. Look at how liberal China is being, they are even letting them write about Liu winning the Prize! Oh wait, they are just writing propaganda pieces that recycle vile commentary from the same bunch of Western useful idiots and reactionary Muslims. One of these useful idiots is especially worthy of our opprobrium:

Meanwhile, Morits Skaugen, chief executive officer of the Norwegian marine transportation service company I.M. Skaugen SE, published an article in the Norwegian-language newspaper Aftenposten on Tuesday, saying that it is China that should get the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Development in China is probably the greatest economic experiment we have seen ever,” Skaugen wrote.

My nostrils are flaring. How do you sleep at night, Morits Skaugen? Do you hear the screams of the 65 million innocents Mao butchered? Do you feel the blood of the Tibetans and the Uyghurs and Falun Gong and the Christians and the dissidents and everyone else brutalized by this regime on your hands? Maybe you would like to try a taste of the Cultural Revolution or the Great Leap Forward. How much I would love to see you live happily ever after in peaceful old late communist China. How much I would like to see you locked up without any rights in a black jail. Some day you will look back on this statement and wish you could have sewn your own mouth shut. You are an awful human.

Do your part to spit in the face of the murderous Chinese regime–read the Charter 08 document (H/T: Tyler Cowen) that put Liu Xiaobo in jail. For people used to living in freedom, it might not read as very interesting. There’s even some rather wishy-washy junk about social democracy that I have no use for. But the point is, people were willing to risk their lives and freedom for this document. It deserves to be read. It deserves to be shared. This regime deserves to be brought to its knees and the murderers who run it Ceausescu’d.

Your time is coming, Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao. Enjoy crushing the people for now. They will crush you in due time.

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Great news today–Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It was just last year that the Nobel committee recognized warmonger and torture-lover Barack Obama, which was probably their worst mistake since recognizing terrorist Yassir Arafat. This year’s result gives me hope for them yet, though I do have to say that some other dissidents are saying Mr. Liu is not a great dissident.

Predictably, China is incensed. They’re even threatening economic repercussions against Norway. Hey guys, guess what? Norway doesn’t care. It’s one of the least-conformist countries on earth. They’re going to have a high standard of living with our without poisonous Chinese baby formula and lead-painted toys. Try threatening Japan again because Norway’s not buying it.

I hope this will be a sign to the Chinese leadership. Yes, there are all manner of useful idiots in the West happy to do your bidding and praise your many construction cranes that rise above the bones of executed prisoners to build more uninhabited apartments that will keep your property bubble going. Yes, everyone does seem to want to study abroad in China these days. Yes, when most people complain about your crimes, they speak only of Tibet.

But that does not mean all of us are unaware of your thuggery and don’t look forward to your downfall.

You can lock up dissidents for now. You can put petitioners in black prisons and execute people by the truckload. You can tell people how many children you will “allow” them to have. You can prop up an even more evil regime next door in North Korea. You can do these things for now, for sure. In fact, enjoy it while you can.

The problem for you is that history is on the side of the oppressed. Your regime will only last so long as you keep driving the standard of living higher. Once that property bubble bursts and all the world sees that the emperor has no clothes, to the dustbin of history you shall go. I don’t like violence, but there is some part of me that hopes you all end up Ceausescu’d. That even means you, Wen Jiabao, you supposed democrat, you smiling butcher. Sic semper tyrannis.

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There were two unrelated but equally weird and disturbing Facebook-related cases I saw out of Quebec recently. In the first case, police in Montreal did an overnight, guns-drawn raid on a man accused of posting death threats on Facebook. The man-child–28 years old and still living at home in a bedroom filled with video game paraphernalia–claims it’s all a misunderstanding and that he was just trash-talking about video games. His parents support his story. Are you ready for the creepy part? Police seem to have been encouraged to make the raid because they were able to use Canada’s recently-renewed federal gun registry to match the IP address up to a gun-owning home.

The statists would say this is evidence the gun registry works. I’d say it’s evidence that it just leads to paranoia, violations of privacy and anti-gun profiling.

Elsewhere in Quebec, a court upheld an $873 million fine imposed by a California court on Adam Guerbuez, a prolific Facebook spammer. How’d they reach they $873 million charge? By imposing a fine of $200 per spam message sent.

Let’s establish some facts. #1–I hate spam even more than most people. #2–This guy hacked accounts to make the spamming possible. #3–He sounds like a real slug who has tried to exploit his infamy for the past two years.

But $200/message? $873 million for spamming people? He will file for bankruptcy and Facebook will get only a pittance out of him, but just the idea of it is nasty and to see such excessive damages awarded cheapens our court system. On second thought, go ahead and award excessive damages. Cheapen the biased system away, yes!

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A judge in Ontario did something pretty cool this week and took a machete to Canada’s federal anti-prostitution laws, effectively decriminalizing prostitution in that province. Federal government officials are already preparing an appeal. If the decision stands, it could have a rapid trickle-down effect across Canada since precedent would effectively be set for the remaining provinces.

Here’s hoping it stands. It makes no sense that we accept consensual, mutually beneficial economic exchanges of any number of goods and services, yet we hold some puritanical prejudice against doing it for sex. We allow it to be given away for free, sure. But put a dollar figure on it? Exercise control over your own body and do with it what you want? Heavens no!

The only thing that I don’t really like about this decision is that the judge did it not because she agreed with the principles I just established–namely, the idea that we are sovereign over our own bodies–but because she researched the issue enough to come to a pragmatic decision about sex workers’ health and safety. The benefits to their health and safety are tremendous secondary pluses and should not be discounted, but this is not a pragmatic issue. It’s a philosophical, ethical issue about who holds sovereignty over our bodies. Right conclusion, wrong logic, judge.

The Canadian papers have covered the issue quite a bit this week. My least-favorite article was a glowing profile of Swedish prostitution laws, where sex workers are not penalized but the customers who solicit them are. The logic behind the Swedish approach is that violence and other crimes enter the sex trade through the customers, not the providers.

Ugh. I’d love to know how many of the johns who have been charged were chubby-faced middle-aged businessmen versus those who were woman-beating gangsters. My suspicion would be that the businessmen are amateurs dumb enough to get caught, whilst the gangsters operate far enough underground that they don’t have to worry. Even if I’m wrong, it’s still a gross principle for a law. So long as violence and exploitation are not entering into the equation, neither the customer nor the client is at fault in a prostitution transaction. It’s just two consenting adults setting a mutually agreed-upon price for a service.

Did you hear that, state authorities? Mutually beneficial. Consensual. No violence. No force. Maybe you should try following those principles in your relations with us, your slaves.

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The Western media has actually done a pretty decent job of reporting on the recent dismissal of seeming-may0r-for-life Yuri Luzhkov, the ex-Mayor of Moscow. I’m still surprised it happened. The guy had been mayor since 1992. He was close to the people in power. He was a nasty man who loved corruption, banning gay pride parades, tweaking the collective nose of Ukraine and encouraging destructive attacks on nature (another example and another). I am not sad to see the schmuck go. You can read more about his legacy here.

It seemed like Putin was ok with him sticking around and this battle was entirely about Medvedev. Maybe that was just good cop-bad cop. It would be nice if this did turn out to be a sign of a newly-assertive Medvedev capable of defeating Putin in 2012. Medvedev is no great liberalizer, either, but he seems better than Putin.

So you’ve already heard those storylines. What you haven’t heard is who has replaced Luzhkov as acting mayor and who are the leading candidates for the permanent job. The acting mayor is Vladimir Resin. Moscow Times provides us five facts about this guy, one of which is the delightful disclosure that someone who has never risen higher than deputy mayor already owns the most expensive watch in Russia, a $1 million Swiss piece. Well, at least it doesn’t sound like he is corrupt!

MT also did a cheat sheet on likely contenders for the office. They say the likeliest is Vladimir Kozhin, head of the Office of Presidential Affairs. Also mentioned are the deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. It is an appointed office, of course. I tend to agree with opposition man Boris Nemtsov, who is quoted in that story as saying the new mayor will likely be “dull, weak, dependent and loyal.” Yep. It was insubordination that started this, so I can’t see Medvedev giving what is probably the third most-recognizable office in the country to a troublemaker or even just a personality who might steal popularity.

I wish there was better news to report. At least Luzhkov is gone. Let’s hope the unintended consequences of getting rid of that jerk don’t end up being even worse for Russia.

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One of the biggest stories I kept track on these past few weeks was America’s continuing descent into torture, secrecy and runaway authoritarianism. It breaks my heart that this is very clearly not a Bush problem anymore. If this had been about Bush and Cheney, fine, they were horrible human beings, but we got rid of them two years ago. Instead, what we have is a systemic failure. Our country is off its common law, due process, human rights, civil liberties, stuff-that-makes-America-America rails.

Just this month, HuffPo reported (H/T: Andrew Sullivan) on how one of the CIA torturers worked as a contractor and trainer for the intelligence community after leaving the CIA. Der Spiegel reported that the torture accusations laid against this same man, alleged to have taken place at a black site in Poland, have now been confirmed for the first time.

But worst of all, in a shockingly disappointing, cowardly, immoral, unethical, stomach-churning decision, a federal court of appeals ruled that victims of CIA torture could not sue the U.S. because it might lead to secrets being aired. The ACLU will appeal the case to the Supreme Court, but can we really expect a different outcome there, with friends of power like John Roberts and Elena Kagan coming up with new feats of casuistry? And the thing is, this case shouldn’t have needed to go as far as the Supreme Court. If the court system was really fulfilling its constitutional role as a check on the excesses of the other branches of government, the case would have been over as soon as the words “state torture” were uttered in court. I hope this 6-judge majority never sleeps a peaceful night again. Let their dreams be haunted forever by the screams of men tortured and killed and held without charges in secret prisons most Americans will never hear of above the din of American Idol.

Andrew Sullivan did some inspired reporting on the topic. My favorite was this essay (money quote: “And this means almost certainly that torture will return. The GOP base loves it, as long as it is done against people with dark skin and funny names in places they can look away from. And they know now something they didn’t know in 2008. They will always get away with it.”) He turned up this Washington Times story right after the court decision, featuring a little bit of horror from former CIA director Michael Hayden:

“You’ve got state secrets, targeted killings, indefinite detention, renditions, the opposition to extending the right of habeas corpus to prisoners at Bagram [in Afghanistan],” Mr. Hayden said, listing the continuities. “And although it is slightly different, Obama has been as aggressive as President Bush in defending prerogatives about who he has to inform in Congress for executive covert action.”

My God, people–he said those things approvingly! It is a heart-breaking day for our country when “respected” officials can praise this sort of inhumane, unconstitutional, evil behavior in public and not be burned in effigy for it.

Of course Glenn Greenwald was fighting this battle on a daily basis, most nobly in this post. Long-quote:

So, to recap:  the U.S. creates a worldwide regime of torture, disappearances and lawless imprisonment.  Then, the Bush administration, the Obama administration, and the American federal judiciary all collaborate to shield the guilty parties from all accountability (Look Forward, Not Backward!), and worse, to ensure that not a single victim can even access American courts to obtain a ruling as to the legality of what was done to them, let alone receive compensation for their suffering, even while recognizing that many of the victims were completely innocent and even though other countries have provided the victims with compensation for their much more minor role in what happened.  Our courts even ensure that Blackwater guards are shielded from prosecution for the cold-blooded murder of Iraqi citizens.

But we invade, occupy and destroy Iraq — while severely abusing, torturing and killing their citizens — and then demand, as a condition for our allowing the end of crippling sanctions, that they fork over hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to American torture victims, even though it all happened 20 years ago, under an Iraqi regime that no longer even exists.  They hate us for our Freedoms.

Maybe there’s a way back for us, but I’m not optimistic. The roots of this problem reach far back in our history, probably to the Alien & Sedition Acts under Adams, certainly to the suspension of habeas corpus under Lincoln and then right on down through WWI, the Palmer Raids, the FBI, Japanese internment, HUAC and up to the present. Andrew says the only way to get back to our ideals is by an “enraged citizenry.” It’s taken 30 years for maybe close to half of the people to get mildly uncomfortable about a drug war that is being waged in their own backyards. And yet we place our hopes in this same citizenry getting more enraged about abuses being committed against people they hear smeared as enemies half a world away, when they hear of them at all. I won’t be holding my breath on it.

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NYT:

About 7.5 percent of Estonia’s 1.35 million people are stateless. Their “alien’s passports” allow them to enter many European countries without visas, just like Estonian citizens, though they tend to face more bureaucratic hurdles. In Estonia, they cannot vote in federal elections or hold some jobs.

And why are they stateless? The vast majority are ethnic Russians who didn’t leave Estonia when the USSR crumbled and haven’t passed Estonian language and citizenship tests. Estonian is a Finno-Ugric language and not an especially easy one to tackle for speakers of Indo-European tongues like English or Russian, but I’d agree with the ethnic Estonians that a lot of the ethnic Russians haven’t given it much of a good faith effort, either because they are too old or because they’re too stuck in a one-way “our older brother Russia” bilingualism that predominated in the Soviet Union.

But the idea that Estonia finds it productive to keep nearly 10% of its permanent residents disenfranchised and carrying stateless passports two decades on seems ridiculous.

So how does this apply in the American context? Imagine that the stateless ethnic Russians in Estonia are the children of illegal immigrants born in this country if Lindsey Graham has his way and gets rid of birthright citizenship. Is it going to benefit the U.S. when 10% of our population consists of people carrying Mexican passports by birth who have never even set foot in Mexico, or people who don’t have a state at all? Will they riot like the Russians do in Estonia or will they just be unable to participate in society and sit around and rot?

Estonia could stand to incorporate its Russian citizens better, but no matter what, let its example of convoluted citizenship laws serve as a lesson to those who would seek to get rid of a constitutionally-protected system that works here in America.

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CBC’s The Current is a wonderful little twice-daily news journal on issues of the Canadian day that I recommend. I was excited to see that they were covering Ontario’s new zero-BAC law for drivers 21 and under today, even featuring an interview with the 20-year-old activist who has filed the first challenge against the law.

The podcast didn’t get off to a fun start. It turns out that one of the primary movers behind the discriminatory bill is a guy whose teenager died drunk behind the wheel. It bothers me when people can’t separate their decision-making processes from raw emotion. It bothers me even more when people decide that their own shortcomings and failures provide a reason to circumscribe the freedoms of others–i.e. this guy didn’t give his son a clear enough message about DUI and didn’t monitor him closely enough, which helped contribute to his death, so he now wants to pass this law to take the responsibility away from parents. Of course, all of this rests upon the spurious notion that passing this zero-tolerance law will really even keep drunken youth off the roads.

The interview with Kevin Wiener, the kid filing the challenge, was decent enough. His motives must be at least somewhat political since he is a Conservative activist challenging a Liberal law, but partisan political motives do not a bad challenge make. It was when The Current brought on Ontario Transport Minister Kathleen Wynne right on the heels of Wiener that things began to go downhill.

After a patronizing comment about how good it was for young people to get involved, Wynne began defending the law. Pretty boring stuff until she made a comment about not being a lawyer and not worrying about the legal implications of the bill. The host came back with something like, “But you are a legislator. Surely you considered the constitutional impact of it all?” Her response, as I remember it, was something like, “Well, we considered the evidence and we’ll let the courts handle everything else.”

My iPod nearly went flying across the room at that point. She essentially admitted that she hadn’t even considered the constitutional implications of her law, how it might affect the civil rights of young people. Instead, she focused on statistics and the public policy fetish of doing something as intrinsically better than doing nothing. Yes, there are courts to challenge this law and others and the courts do help protect our rights, but no politician operating in good faith should knowingly pass imperfect bills that might violate constitutional guarantees and test the resolve of the courts in striking them down. The court system needs to function as the arbiter of last resort, not the legislative improvement and harmonization clearinghouse.

I’m not even going into how discriminatory and dumb this bill is because I think those things are self-evident. I was just appalled that a politician would admit to being more concerned with poll numbers than one of the foundational, rights-guaranteeing texts in a free society.

But hey, at least the last word in the segment was reserved for a college professor called Frank Furedi who made the point that preemptive anti-crime measures such as this one are straight out of Minority Report and that a democracy only works well so long as we consider the implications and consequences of our laws and actions, and not just the volume of tears or the magnitude of the screams loosed both in defense of and in opposition to prospective bills.

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