Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Monday, October 31, 2005
Just say no!

To UNICEF. Here's why.

Killing the vulnerable

Bill C-407, private members' legislation that would permit the killing of not only the terminally ill, but the vulnerable elderly, disabled, and sick, is scheduled for one hour of debate during second reading before a vote and possible consideration by a House committee. My friend Alex Schadenberg, executive director of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, says, "Bill C-407 is a direct threat to the lives of the people with disabilities, people with chronic physical and mental pain and other vulnerable Canadians. If Parliament supports this Bill in any form it is placing the lives of vulnerable Canadians at material risk" and makes the following points about C-407:

"• Legalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide for people suffering chronic physical and mental pain. Chronic physical and mental pain can be treated.

• Does not require that a person at least try effective treatments for their chronic physical or mental pain. It states that a person qualifies for euthanasia even if they have refused to try effect treatments

• legalizes euthanasia and assisted suicide for people who "appear to be lucid" and doesn’t define what appear to be lucid means.

• allows anyone to euthanize or assist the suicide of a person, so long as they are 'assisted by a medical practitioner'."

The EPC has more about the bill, here. In the statement, Jean Echlin, the Coalition's vice president and a palliative care nurse, makes the point that the state has no compelling interest in the sanctity of life, especially the life of vulnerable patients: "Euthanasia and assisted suicide is a financial, moral and ethical 'cop out!' With financial efficiency and expedience a health care priority, these killing methods may catch on quickly in a system strapped for money and resources. Doctors and nurses should not be killers." And considering that the state has a (near) monopoly on the provision of health care, neither should the state.

Sunday, October 30, 2005
Weekend list

13 Favourite horror movies

13. The Creature from the Black Lagoon
12. The Bride of Frankenstein
11. Pscyho
10. The Birds
9. Alien
8. Dracula (1931)
7. Killer Fish
6. Aliens II
5. Jaws
4. Scream III
3. Scream II
2. Scream I
1. Piranha

Friday, October 28, 2005
NYT on Miers withdrawal

Another break from my blogging break, but I had to note this from the New York Times editorial on Harriet Miers withdrawing her nomination as Supreme Court justice:

"Mr. Bush will compound the Miers disaster if he responds to only the pressure from conservatives - if he tries to placate right-wing Republicans with someone who simply passes their increasingly restrictive litmus test on abortion and is on the fringe of mainstream judicial thinking."

Now note that to the New York Times, the "fringe of mainstream judicial thinking" is just a fancy way of saying "originalist" or "conservative" or "someone who disagrees with us." That Miers, whom the Times did not find qualified for the job of Supreme Court justice, is no longer the nominee is purely a result of the backlash by the conservative base of the Republican Party. Small-c conservatives deserve to be rewarded for their public service in scuddling this nomination. Can we now get Michael McConnell on the bench? Please! (See Ramesh Ponnuru and Hugh Hewitt)

Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Schweitzer on liberal hypocrisy

I know I said I wouldn't blog -- this is just short break from my blogging break -- but this is worth noting. From NRO's Kathryn Jean Lopez's interview with Peter Schweitzer who is promoting his new book Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy:

"Lopez: Tell me the great hypocrisy of that greatest of all public intellectuals according to one recent depressing survey: Noam Chomsky.

Schweizer: Noam Chomsky thinks he's the Moses of this age and even those on the Left who don't agree with him on everything accept his moral authority. But Chomsky is a socialist who practices capitalism, and an anti-militarist who has made millions off of Pentagon contracts. Wonder what his followers would think of that? Then there is his constant lecturing about 'tax gimmicks' and 'tax shelters' that 'the rich' use to avoid paying their 'fair share.' He must have forgotten about that when he set up his tax shelter.

Lopez: And he wasn't a lot of fun when you got in touch with him, was he?

Schweizer: I give credit to Chomsky for responding to my questions. His excuses were something to behold. No wonder he teaches linguistics. It's amazing how he twists his words. By the way, he said it was okay to criticize other rich people for setting up trusts and setting one up himself. After all, he explained, he's been fighting for poor people his whole life."

Relapsed Catholic reviews my book

Kathy Shaidle reviews my book, Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal, for an upcoming issue of the Catholic Register. Here it is:

"I don't need a book to tell me Chretien was a..."

"Why Catholics vote Liberal is still largely a mystery, at least for me. I propose the creation of a special prize for the individual or team that solves the mystery."
-- André Blais, president of the Canadian Political Science Association

In August, the Catholic Register ran an article about Catholic Canadians' baffling habit of voting Liberal, in spite of the party's pro-abortion, pro-same sex "marriage" platform. According to the article, "On average, Catholics in Ontario and Atlantic Canada since 1965 have been 18 per cent more likely than non-Catholics to vote Liberal. The Catholic tendency to vote Liberal in western Canada is a little less pronounced, but still significant with Prairie and British Columbia Catholics MF per cent more likely to vote Liberal than the alternatives."

And this tendency goes back generations: "37 per cent of Catholics interviewed since 1965 said they think of themselves as Liberals, as opposed to only 21 per cent of non-Catholics. Blais says that pattern hasn't changed over 40 years. Nor is it attributable to Catholic ethnicity or immigration patterns."

Paul Tuns is perfectly positioned to win Blais' proposed prize one of these days. The editor in chief of The Interim, Tuns is a Catholic conservative, but he's not a party hack or an ideologue. And Tuns knows more about the corrupt Liberal Chrétien government than almost anyone else does. Or cares to, apparently.

Chrétien won three elections, in spite of a record that makes it look like the Prime Minister's Office was guided less by The Red Book than by The Governor General's Bunny Hop. Tuns' explanations of AdScam, the denial of Lord Black's peerage, Shawinigate -- and how a $2-million gun registry ended up costing $2-billion -- are far more digestible than those I read in the newspapers (or tried to). This alone makes this book a worthwhile investment.

Yet despite Chrétien's scandal plagued record, the Liberals remain Canada's "Natural Governing Party". "They have governed Canada for 80 of the past 108 years, a record unequalled either by the Mexico Party of the Institutional Revolutionary or by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union." Tuns adds that the "Chrétien Liberals interpreted the historical fact of the party's electoral dominance, especially the period from 1993-2003, as proof of its almost divinely-ordained dominance in Canadian politics." And Chrétien didn't seem to desire power as a means to an end, but as an end in itself.

"If you recall the decade in which Jean Chrétien held power, what comes to mind?" asks Tuns. "You would be hard pressed to name any significant new policy initiatives or grand visions that animated the government's actions. (...) Yet despite what was either incorrigible corruption or demonstrable incompetence, Canadian voters re-elected the Liberal government twice. Why?"

The answer is elusive, because the facts of Canadian political life are so paradoxical. We have a de facto "one party system", but also three other major parties that split alternative votes to the winds.

Tuns offers numerous explanations for Liberal hegemony: the Liberals "were perceived to be better than the alternatives;" given the choice between Stockwell Day's "scary" Christianity and Chrétien's sleaze, voters chose sleaze because it was "familiar and predictable." Canadians had "low expectations," says Tuns, and just wanted some "peace" after the Trudeau and Mulroney years. They fell for Chrétien's "little guy from Shawinigan" image even though he'd been a career politician for decades.

None of this is terribly flattering stuff. Tuns is too polite to spell out the obvious conclusion. Canadians, Catholic or not, are shockingly apathetic. They're happy as long as that good old "free" "health" "care" (more accurately described as "costly death rationing") keeps dribbling down the rusty old pipe, and they can feel smugly superior to their "stupid" American neighbours.

At a recent gathering of my fellow political junkies, Tuns' book came up in conversation. One partygoer opined, "I don't need a book to tell me Chrétien was a jerk" (although not in those words). Perhaps not, but it would seem all too clear that most Canadians do. Jean Chrétien: A Legacy of Scandal is the obvious choice.

So, Professor Blais, my answer to your puzzle is one word: apathy. What do I win? A Green Card would be nice.

Sunday, October 23, 2005
Blogging break

I'm going to take the next few days off -- or at least I'm going to try to (blogging is the only thing that comes close to an addiction for me). Most of my evenings are booked this week to watch the World Series. I also have a few busy days at work, a book review to finish by Tuesday and a proposal for an upcoming book to complete. As well, yesterday I bought about 20 books at the Trinity College book sale at UofT that I want to peruse. Two especially worth mentioning: Dr. Madsen Pirie's (Adam Smith Institute) Blueprint for a Revolution, a book published in Canada by the National Citizens Coalition. And speaking of the NCC, I found David Somerville's Trudeau Revealed: By His Actions and Words, that the former NCC head wrote before he joined the organization. Combined expenditure for these two gems: $3.

If I breakdown and return to blogging, I will probably do it at The Shotgun. Suggested blogs in my absence: See Burkean Canuck, Let It Bleed, Girl on the Right, and Gods of the Copybook Headings for general politics and current events, Gerry Nicholls and Political Staples for the latest in Canadian Politics, Relapsed Catholic for religious and cultural news and the Globalization Institute blog and Private Sector Development (the World Bank's blog) for economic and international finance isssues. Indeed, you should be checking them out regularly anyway.

Saturday, October 22, 2005
Baseball prediction

I don't have the time to do the full analysis but here's my World Series prediction: the Houston Astros over the Chicago White Sox in six. The 'Stros starting three are each among the top ten pitchers in baseball this year (best measurement of that fact is that all three rate in the top ten in terms of Value Over Replacement Player among pitchers). The teams are evenly matched -- both have smart managers who will do what it takes to score the extra run. I don't expect many of them (runs) but I do expect the most exciting World Series in years. Houston has quality positions players that they can use at DH when playing in Chicago but the ChiSox need all the help they can get to score runs and will miss the DH when they play games three, four and five in Houston. All that said, the series will be extremely close -- both in terms of each game and the overall series. May the best team win.

Friday, October 21, 2005

"A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;
And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke."
-- Rudyard Kipling, "The Betrothed"

The UN is useless, Part 3427

From a UN press release today:

"Expressing its serious concern over the deteriorating situation in Côte d'Ivoire and condemning serious recent attacks on United Nations peacekeeping personnel, the Security Council today called on all the parties in the divided West African country to implement immediately all the peace accords they have signed.

By a unanimously adopted resolution, the 15-member Council demanded that the Forces Nouvelles armed opposition and all militias proceed without delay with the national disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) programme so as to help restore State authority throughout the national territory, reunify the country and allow the organization of the postponed elections as soon as possible."

So let me get this straight: the forces fighting one another have ignored the UN programme to end the violence in Cote d'Ivoire and the UN thinks that the best course of action is to emphasize that there is indeed a programme that the various forces should heed. Perhaps if the Security Council said the "magic word."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

"Anyone who is afraid of suffering, suffers already of being afraid."
-- Montaigne, Essays

Tory leadership race

Here are the second round results:

David Cameron 90 (+34)
David Davis 57 (-5)
Liam Fox 51 (+9)

The British media (Times, Telegraph, Teley columnist Ferdinand Mount, Guardian) is ready to crown Cameron the Tory leader; fortunately it is party members, not the media, that will get to choose the party's leader.

Should conservatives cheer for the ChiSox

Gerry Nicholls points to Andrew Cline's piece at NRO which says that considering the Chicago White Sox have two pitchers who fled escaped Fidel Castro's prison island, the team should become the conservative's favourite:

"... Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez and Jose Contreras. The pair infuriated Castro by drawing attention to the true nature of his police state when they defected in 1997 and 2002 respectively. Every time they take the mound in the World Series, the announcers will have another opportunity to mention their daring escapes from Castro's island prison. If they lead their team to a World Series victory, it will provide the ultimate contrast to the obscurity and poverty in which their countrymen are forced to live — and to which they would have remained consigned had they not risked their lives to escape. And it will enrage Castro, whom El Duque once called 'the Devil' on national television."


I'm in Burlington Friday afternoon taping Behind the Story which will be broadcast on CTS Sunday night at 7 pm. Kathy Shaidle is a fellow panelist. Topics to include murder in the city, fear mongering and the avian flu, fiscal federalism, and, in the lightning round, bloggers and Katrina and bloggers and God.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Called both League Championships correctly

I predicted that the Houston Astros would down the St. Louis Cardinals in six and the Chicago Cubs would beat the Los Angeles Angels in five. Right on both counts after the 'Stros beat the Cards tonight 5-1.

Gerry Nicholls has a new blog

Can be found here.


Send them to paul_tuns [AT]


"Although it was not the chief reason I went to school there, the University of Chicago permitted smoking in classrooms, which I thought a fine thing."
-- Joseph Epstein, A Line Out for a Walk: Familiar Essays

Virginia gubernatorial candidate drops H-bomb

One of the candidates in the Virginia gubernatorial race brings Hitler into the campaign and this time it's the Republican. Jerry Kilgore, the state's attorney general and the GOP candidate, attacked Democrat Tom Kaine charging him of being incapable of carrying out his responsibilities as governor because he opposes capital punishment. The television and radio ads feature victims' relatives recounting the loss of their loved ones at the hands of criminals and at one point one death penalty advocate says: "Tim Kaine says Adolf Hitler doesn't qualify for the death penalty. This was one of the worst mass murderers in modern times." This is scurrilous. Kaine is a Roman Catholic who believes his faith requires him to oppose the death penalty. I disagree with Kaine but Kilgore and Virginia voters must realize that the principled argument against executing criminals -- that all human life ultimately belongs to God, not us and not the state, and that it therefore wrong to take it -- applies to any murderer whether he kills a convenience store employee during the commission of the crime or is the leader of vile regime that killed millions. Bringing Hitler into the campaign was sensationalistic, unnecessary and low. Kilgore should argue the issue of capital punishment and not resort to such tactics. After all, it's a winnable argument.

The UN's priorities

From a UN press release:

"With the aim of strengthening the commitment and accountability of the United Nations to gender equality, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has issued a comprehensive plan for reinforcing and integrating women’s issues into the world body’s peacekeeping and post-conflict operations."

Instead of worrying whether women are getting their fair share of sitting around not doing anything in the world's hotspots, perhaps the United Nations could try to bring an end to the conflict in such places. Just a thought.

(Cross-posted at The Shotgun)

Genocide inconveniences the UN

The UN is complaining that "attacks on civilians in southern Sudan by elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remain a major concern of humanitarian agencies operating in the area," as they are hindering the efforts of the United Nations Assistance Mission, "preventing agencies from forming a clear picture of the numbers of affected populations and delivering much-needed assistance to them, according to the mission." Turtle Bay views genocide as a bitch -- for the UN. The AP has the story on the UN's inability to help people in desperate need of assistance and has some background information on the history of the conflict -- a conflict that not only is the UN unable to end but whose victims it is unwilling to help.

'President' Saddam won't recognize authority of court trying him

The AP reports that Judge Rizgar Mohammed Amin asked Saddam Hussein his name, to which the former Iraqi dictator responded: "Who are you? I want to know who you are." Saddam continued:

"I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect to its people, and I retain my constitutional right as the president of Iraq ... Neither do I recognize the body that has designated and authorized you, nor the aggression because all that has been built on false basis is false."

Saddam repeatedly refused to give his name so Amin read his name for him, refering to him as the "former president of Iraq"; the former president responded: "I said I'm the president of Iraq. I did not say deposed."

Fortunately, the broadcasting of the trial is on delay, sparing the Iraqi people from such silliness that demeans the proceedings, even if it does expose what Saddam Hussein is: an out-of-touch autocrat-wannabe.

Why Niger is poor

Don Boudreaux at Cafe Hayek:

"The people of Niger are poor not because that country is densely populated. (It's not: it's population density is nine persons per square kilometer.) They are poor not because of drought; not because they lack resources; not because Americans and Europeans are rich. They are poor because, for example: 'local regulations stipulate that companies must give all employees six weeks and two days of paid vacation a year. Not surprisingly, there are almost no employers in Niger.'

Commerce is the foundation of civilization, the font of prosperity, and the key to peace. Niger's government -- either because of foolishness or evilness (take your pick) -- squashes commerce in that country. No amount of aid, mosquito nets, op-eds by Sachs, or serenading of Bono and Paul McCartney will do Nigeriens any good until commerce is allowed to flourish there."

And speaking of Bono, the AP reports that he has trouble criticing President George Bush considering all W. has done for Africa although he has privately pressed the president to reinstate full funding for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (a very worthwhile project).

Time's 100 best novels of the century

It's mostly predictable. I was excited to see links to a good number of original reviews (Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited) but that quickly disappeared when I clicked on them only to find that you have to pay to read beyond the first paragraph. That said, click on the title and the editors explain the book's signficance -- or, sometimes, provide an not very insightful precis. Anyway the list is in alphabetical order (cowards!) and there are a few questionable choices but not many indefensible ones (Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara; The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood; The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs; Rabbit, Run by John Updike).

A month ago I would have disagreed with the inclusion of Jack Kerouac's On the Road but apparently I misunderstood it, just as the book's fans have. Stephen H. Webb, writing in Touchstone, says:

"Thanks to the sixties, Kerouac’s novel, which was published in 1957, has become a cliché, but the damage it caused should not be underestimated. On the Road has inspired countless young men to make excess and self-fulfillment their cardinal virtues and thus to remain mired in their immaturity. It has also prevented many young writers from advancing beyond the aesthetic stage of pouring their hearts out in confessional dribble.

To many astute readers, the novel seems more like propaganda for the permissive society than a work of art. It is a deeply flawed novel, both stylistically and morally, but the sixties should not be given the last word on its meaning and significance. On the Road is a surprisingly melancholy book, and its originality renders every subsequent expression of youthful angst derivative and cheap. It is not an advertisement for the sixties version of personal freedom, but a warning against it."

Latin eruditio

For a particular kind of conservative (me), these tidbits from the Hartford Courant seem promising:

"In 2004, 7,297 [Connecticut] high school students were enrolled in Latin programs, a 48 percent increase from 1995."


It's doing well nationally, also. Almost 135,000 students took the National Latin Exam this year. That's 4,000 more than last year, and participation has increased each year since the American Classical League first offered the exam in 1977.


At the Modern Language Association's last count, in 2000, 177,477 high school students took Latin. That's a far cry from the nearly 900,000 enrolled in 1934, but about 18 percent more than 1976 figures.

In fact, after Spanish, French and German, Latin is the most enrolled in foreign language class in high school. The decline in the interest in Latin, the paper argues, can be attributed to the Catholic Church (or more properly Pope John XXIII) and hippy counterculture but it is good for both education and the soul that students have a rejuvenated interest in the language. As my son's Latin teacher explained to parents earlier this school year, the benefits of learning Latin are many. I recall three: it leads to a greater appreciation and aptitude for our own language (English) considering that at least 55% of our words are directly or indirectly descended from Latin (and that number is actually growing since the 1960s); it helps develop a student's faculty for logic; it connects students to ancient civilization and deepens their interest in them. None of this can be a bad thing. And if it means undoing a little of the '60s counterculture, all the better.

Helping the developing world or prepping for oil-for-food II?

Claudia Rosett has a good piece in Opinion Journal on why aid and debt relief for Congo is not a good idea -- in short that the assistance doesn't benefit the poor but rather dictator Denis Sassou-Nguesso and his crony elite. The corrupt leaders have plundered the nation's oil wealth to enrich themselves. So if the country were to see its debt eliminated, does one seriously expect that freed-up money would be used for the benefit of the Congolese? No. Her conclusion is bang-on, warning about the general limits of debt relief and foreign aid:

"What jumps out here is that such policies as debt relief may sound good, but in practice they can prove far from simple. And our global aid institutions--the U.N., the IMF, the World Bank--however eager to celebrate Poverty Eradication Day, Week, Month or Decade, are in no way equipped to cope with, or even care about, some of the more complex realities and byways of modern global trade and finance. Somewhere between the heartfelt impulse to help the poor and the complexities of tracking the actual money, there has to be a better distinction made between dollars for dictators, and policies that actually help the poor."

My thoughts on blogs and the gag law

Can be read at The Shotgun.

One step forward, five steps back,
Or bad strategy on the part of the White House

From David Frum, whose NRO diary is the daily must-read on the Miers nomination:

"In its eagerness to regain faltering conservative support for the Miers nomination, the White House has suggested that her religion and her personal views on abortion be treated as relevant information. Indeed, since there is so little else to recommend Miers, the White House is arguing that Miers' religion and personal views on abortion be treated as the most relevant information.

But if this information is relevant for Miers, it is relevant to all judges. Which would mean, if this unwise nomination goes forward, that from now on, every Catholic nominee, every Evangelical nominee can legitimatly be quizzed about their faith and their personal views of morality. And it won't be just abortion that will be fair game. They can in that case be expected to be asked about their view of homosexuality, their attitudes toward prayer, and on and on.

With every passing day, this nomination is laying down precedents that conservatives will regret for the next half century. Conservatives have put themselves on record saying that brains don't matter on the Supreme Court, but religion does; that judges should not be evaluated on the basis of their knowledge of constitutional law, but can be evaluated according to whether their position on abortion accords with that of the current majority in the US Senate.

This is reckless and self-destructive folly. The arguments used today to put Miers on the Court will be gleefully exploited by Democrats tomorrow to keep religious Catholics and Evangelicals off."

Reforming UN dues

The Financial Times reports that Japan is upset that it pays 19.5% of the UN budget whereas permanent Security Council members France, Red China, Russia and the United Kingdom pay a combined 15%. Japan's foreign minister told the paper that based on gross national income, Japan should pay only 14% and that the American contribution should jump from 22% to 30%. Not going to happen. But the relative free ride that France, Red China, Russian and the UK needs to come to an end.

That didn't take long

During the election campaign, Christian Democratic Union leader Angela Merkel vowed to reduce the basic tax rate in Germany from 15% to MF% and the top rate from 42% to 39%. But according to the Financial Times, the chancellor-in-waiting made a policy U-turn by ruling out large-scale tax cuts any time in the next four years. Reaction was negative. FT reports that Eckart Tuchtfeld, an economist with Commerzbank in Frankfurt, said: "[It is] alarming that, from the very beginning of the coalition negotiations there was agreement on what cannot – rather than on what can – be done. This is a very defensive approach." And German business federation BDI said, "Tax cuts are necessary, especially for business, in order to receive a positive signal from the grand coalition to encourage new investment in Germany." CDU types said compromise on tax cuts was necessary so the new coalition government could focus on spending cuts. Was it a necessity, however, that it be an either/or?

Surprising Yankee news

I didn't think General Manager Brian Cashman would be back. I thought he would take the fall for the team's inability to make the World Series for the second season in a row. Fortunately, it appears that the New York Yankees want him back. This is a good move on part of the team because the failings of the team were not his doing -- although he is the GM, he is not the person who assembles the team. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner does that and, of course, The Boss isn't going to fire himself.

Sweetest part of Pujol's heroics

St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols didn't just extend the series (although I think the Houston Astros' march to their first World Series is unstoppable), but also provided the opportunity for at least one more game in Busch Stadium.

Tory leadership race

Kenneth Clarke is out! Here are the first ballot numbers:

David Davis: 62 votes
David Cameron: 56 votes
Liam Fox: 42 votes
Ken Clarke: 38 votes

The MPs will vote again on Thursday to decide which two will square off in a December vote by the party membership. If the Daily Telegraph is to be believed, many small-c conservative supporters of David Davis are considering jumping ship to Liam Fox because their candidate looks mortally wounded. Political experts said before the ballot that Davis would need 67 or 68 votes to remain the clear frontrunner for the second round of balloting; the six-vote difference between the two Davids was much closer than expected and should be considered virtually tied. The London Times reports that Cameron may have an unstoppable momentum as the young modernizer is expected to pick up almost all of Clarke's 38 votes; indeed, many Clarke supporters have already announced they are moving to Cameron, including Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

"I will try to raise a question in your mind as to the value of reading. True, the desire to read is an insatiable desire and you must read. Nevertheless, you must also think."
-- Wallace Stevens to Jose Rodriquez Feo, in The Letters of Wallace Stevens

Torre back?

It appears that New York Yankees manager Joe Torre will be back at the helm of the Bronx Bombers. AP reports that Torre, one of the worst managers in baseball (his regular season record is a product of North American sports' largest payroll not his managerial ability), says he wants to return. Yankees president Randy Levine told Torre that the team wants him back. I guess that means another season with divisional title with 95 wins and quick exit in the post-season. The one thing that may get in the way of the 95 wins is the imminent departure of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre who has said he will not return for an 11th season. It won't hurt as much if they can sign departing Atlanta Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who is estimated to better a pitching staff's ERA by a half-run.

JKN on a condom ad that sends the wrong message

J. Kelly Nestruck on those silly LifeStyle condom ads:

"Have you seen these ridiculous LifeStyles condom ads with the picture of a man and a woman with their heads on fire and the slogan "Condoms to Spark Your Imagination"? Worst advertisement ever.

First of all, what kind of marketting genius thinks that images of burning will sell condoms? I mean, here you have a product that you can legitimately sell with sex, and instead you choose to depict two heads in flames? If I had no fear of fiery pain, I wouldn't need your damn condoms..."

The Culture of Death was busy in New Orleans

Let's see if the MSM makes as much hay out of this story as it did the fictional accounts of shooting at rescue helicopters. USA Today reports:

"A state investigation into whether critically ill patients were left to die or were euthanized at a New Orleans hospital during the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is part of a probe into an estimated 215 deaths at nursing homes and hospitals across the area, according to the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.

The Louisiana attorney general's office, which is overseeing the inquiry, has launched a 'monumental investigation' that is examining what happened to patients and residents at 19 hospitals and nursing homes, spokeswoman Kris Wartelle said. The scope of the probe - which now includes 21% of the 1,035 Louisiana deaths linked to the Aug. 29 hurricane - came to light after a doctor at New Orleans' Memorial Medical Center alleged that some of the 45 patients who died there might have been euthanized to end their suffering."

To emphasize, euthanizing vulnerable patients may account for as much as one-fifth of Hurricane Katrina's deadly toll. Of course, the hurricane didn't kill these people, doctors and nurses and other hospital staff did.

LIB on the Toronto Star

Let It Bleed's description of the Toronto Star: "Clinton-fellating newspaper." But at least it got the full story about President Bill Clinton's comments on the softwood lumber dispute, unlike the Globe and Mail. LIB explains.

Liberal cookie cutter solution to a non-problem

LifeSiteNews reports that the Liberal government is ready to spend $5 billion on a childcare scheme that only a small minority of parents are qualified or even really want to use:

"Last week, Human Resources Minister Belinda Stronach was in Saskatchewan to re-announce government funding for childcare training. The Liberal government has promised to spend $5 billion dollars to build a national system of institutional childcare. The Liberal plan supports only one choice - 9am to 5pm institutional childcare - that leaves thousands of parents behind, such as shift workers, parents who live in rural areas and stay-at-home parents

Local Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott regrets that Stronach did not use the opportunity to make a commitment to the priorities and values of all Canadian parents. 'The Liberal government thus continues to discriminate against 85% of Canadian parents,' said Vellacott.

In a Vanier Institute study this year, daycare centres ranked a distant 5th when Canadians were asked who they would prefer to care for their pre-school children. A parent, grandparent, another relative and home daycare all ranked higher. 'Does the Liberal government believe in freedom and choice or is it trying to coerce Canadians into their discriminatory funding scheme?' asked Vellacott."

The press release for the Vanier Institute of the Family's findings on the parental priorities for child care can be found here. As it notes, "Regardless of parents' choices, there is a great need to recognize the wide diversity of existing child care realities and possibilities." The Liberal solution -- subsidizing morning to evening child care centres so that they can create new daycare spots -- ignores the various child care aspirations of parents: stay-at-home parents, neighbourhood home care arrangements and flexible child care to name just a few.

Why is the Liberal government so intent on funding institutional daycare? (And in all likelihood that means only not-for-profit or government-run daycare centres.) Cynics would suggest that they want toddlers and their impressionable minds influenced by the propaganda by unionized workers so that they can become good citizens of Trudeaupia. Another reason might be that creating an entitlement used by even 15% of Canadians helps solidify that 15% as dependable Liberal votes.

Regardless, when Ken Dryden says that the use of daycare is a "reality" in Canada, he is of course correct but he also exaggerates the extent that parents use institutionalized child care as just one in seven families with pre-school children use such care. More importantly, Dryden ignores the reality that even according to the liberal-leaning Vanier Institute, most parents would prefer not to use institutional daycare. The federal government should be making it easier for parents to pursue their child care aspirations -- staying at home or using part-time care or making other arrangements -- by reducing taxes to make it easier for families to make ends meet or, if the feds are intent on subsidizing child care, establish a system that does not discriminate against parents who prefer other child care arrangements.


In a previous post on Ken Wiwa, I said of his uncle Owens: "Indeed, despite Hunt's attempt to paint Owens Wiwas a hero, he comes off as a stereotypically naive and pliant African, used by western liberals for their own purposes and utterly unaware of it until it caused him and his wife great strife." That should be "compliant African" although "obliging African" is the line I use in an upcoming review of The Politics of Bones. I mis-typed. The original post is now corrected after numerous readers sent me angry emails to the effect that I was a dunce. I'm glad my readers are so attentive but the volume and tone of the email over a relatively minor error confirmed that I am correct in not having a comments section.

Assessing privatization policies in the developing world

Reality Check: The Distributional Impact of Privatization in Developing Countries, edited by John Nellis and Nancy Birdsall, will be released October 20 but available online now. The gist of the book is that privatization has had a generally positive affect (although there are more skeptical chapters), including on the poor. Many chapters, though, note the difficulty of assessing the effects of privatization because of poor data in many developing countries. One area in which western aid agencies, universities and ambitious grad students may want to assist the developing world is to help they develop and maintain meaningful statistics so that future programs and policies can be better evaluated. Otherwise the debate about development will rest on nothing more than ideological arguments.

America's debt

Total debt (debt held by the public and intragovernmental holdings) to the cent from the Bureau of Public Debt:

October 14: $7,986,677,006,850.36
October 13: $7,995,462,387,011.49
October 12: $7,990,630,428,327.25
October 11: $7,991,115,238,572.24


Send them to paul_tuns [AT]

UK Tory leadership race

The London Times reports that David Cameron contiues to have momentum, gaining the support of three more MPs: Peter Lilley, Maria Miller and Graham Stuart. He looks all but certain to place second in the first round of MP balloting. The paper also reports that Dr. Liam Fox, the race's truest conservative, and Kenneth Clarke, the race's most experienced loser, are battling for third. David Davis is still in the lead but appear worried that if Fox places third, some of their conservative support could bleed to him in the belief that Fox might be viewed as the stronger candidate against Cameron.

Another Times article focusing on Fox implies that Cameron has as much to fear from Fox's rising fortunes and consistently conservative message as does Davis:

"Many MPs who support Mr Cameron said that they fear a head to head with Dr Fox more than with Mr Davis. The doctor’s strong Thatcherite medicine for the country, combined with a dose of his sugary charm, could prove highly effective when the Conservative membership make the final decision in December.

'Fox is more difficult to beat,' one Cameron supporter said. 'He has that youth and freshness that Cameron has, but he is more politically aligned to the party than Davis, and he has a really worthwhile hinterland'."

In a Telegraph story on Fox's and Clarke's fight for third place on the first ballot, there is this interesting (and telling) comments from Clarke:

"Clarke acknowledged his vulnerability when he said there would be 'a great deal of ill-feeling' if he did not make the final round. He claimed that rank-and-file party members wanted to be able to make a choice between him and Mr Cameron - as they plainly had 'overwhelmingly more public support than the other two'."

What does Clarke mean by "ill-feeling"? Is he threatening to leave the party? or not work for it? or what?

The same Telegraph story has the latest tally of MP support, not including 42 undecided and undeclared MPs:

Davis: 66
Cameron: 39
Clarke: 29
Fox: 21

This Guardian article, ostensibly about Clarke's battle to not get eliminated on the first ballot, notes that Cameron, Clarke and Davis are all trying to convince their fellow MPs and the party faithful that they hold conservative views on issues such as smaller government, taxes, Europe and school choice.

The first round of balloting is on Tuesday and the top three make it to a second ballot on Thursday. The two leadership contenders who end up with the most support among their fellow Tory MPs after the second round of voting will be on the ballot for party members to choose between in December.

European farmers win out over the impoverished of Africa

Despite all the talk about Africa at the G8 meetings in July, European Union nations continue to restrict the opportunities for poor African farmers through rising (domestic) farm subsidies. Alex Singleton notes at the Globalization Institute blog:

"While a billion people live on less than a dollar a day, it was revealed in today's Guardian newspaper that Europe's cows have had a pay rise. Each European cow used to get $2.20 a day, but the figures for 2003 show the average cow received $2.62.

... But by resisting globalization and retaining the Common Agricultural Policy, they're holding Europe's economy back, reducing investment in science and technology - and restricting opportunities the world's poorest, too."

Admittedly, these are numbers based on 2003 subsidies -- the last year for which Oxfam, which did the calculations, had data -- but they still say something about the thinking of the Eurocrats. Shame on Europe.

Mader on Layton's threat

NDP leader Jack Layton has vowed to bring down the Liberal government unless Prime Minister Paul Martin protects medicare, settles the softwood lumber dispute with the United States and promises to protect the environment. On the lumber dispute, David Mader says:

"Layton is demanding, upon threat of bringing down the government, that the most incompetent and incapable prime minister in twenty years solve a trade dispute that's been festering for twenty years and that far more domestically-competent leaders on both sides of the border have been unable to solve. And by Christmas! Thanksgiving, in fact."

Not going to happen. And about the other two items -- propping up medicare and protecting the environment -- Mader says it would be entirely meaningless. For example, "What would constitute an 'improvement' of the environment according to Jack"? wonders Mader -- and presumably Martin.

Monday, October 17, 2005

"And finally there is the emotion of simple, sensible fear, as when one of our futurist experimenters tells us not to worry about the devirilization of man and the defeminization of woman, because needful revolutions in sex are in the making at his laboratory. We can have generation without paternity, propogation by cuttings, test-tube pregnancies, and for kicks 'chemical adultery, a form of command over the sexual instinct. Man will become artificial, scientific, biological man.' Anywhere but in science, that final adjective would rank as sardonic wit."

-- Jacques Barzun, Science: The Glorious Entertainment (1964)

Conservative petition urging Miers to withdraw

NRO's petition urging President George W. Bush to withdraw the nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court of the United States. As David Frum said last week when the petition was launched: "This nomination is an important test of the principles and integrity of the American conservative community. The web creates new opportunities for those of us care about politics to reach out to one another directly - and communicate our deeply felt convictions to our leaders, both when we agree with them and when we must dissent."

Is Inhofe really the best senator?

The American Conservative Union has a list of the top ten current senators. Good list other than for the omission of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell (2004 American Conservative Union rating of 96, career rating of 89) who fought valiantly against campaign finance interference, er, reform. Senator James Inhofe (R, OK) was ranked number one and a good case could have been made for that until he helped shepherd the pork-laden transportation bill through Congress earlier this year. Consider this from the March 11 Washington Post: "The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is scheduled to take up a transportation bill next week. Chairman James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.) has called $284 billion 'totally inadequate' and vowed to exceed it."

CWF: Ottawa's rep in Alberta

In the Calgary Sun, Ezra Levant takes the Canada West Foundation to task for increasingly representing Ottawa's interests to Alberta rather than publicizing ideas and polities that would benefit the west.

The failures of government

The Fraser Institute, using (mostly) the Auditor General's reports, highlights the myriad ways in which government fails. It is worth reading even if nothing there is new and for the authors' suggestions on how to reduce government failure (pages 44-46), namely rationalization, privatization, P3s, outsourcing and internal control and monitoring mechanisms. In other words, if government were to do less, it would fail, mess up and wreck things less often.

Birds vs. green energy

Turbines are green until they tear up little birds. Quotulatiousness has the latest, a story from Wired, and notes: "This is one of the "known unknowns" of the alternative energy business: turbines — in addition to being ugly — are extremely dangerous to birds. Unfortunately, many of the best locations for wind turbines are in locations which will endanger huge numbers of migratory birds." A fight between animal rights activists and radical environmentalists would be fun to watch.

Sunday, October 16, 2005
Free trade but not free markets

Samizdata pointed to this article at Reason on globalization and wine and how the growth of choice in libations is a good thing. There was nothing in the article about something I read in The Spectator a few years back, namely the fact that New Zealand is the only country in the world that does not subsidize their wine at any point of production or sale (the growing or purchasing of grapes, distribution, marketing, bottling, etc...), so I did a search and found this from the Sydney Morning Herald:

"Under the Australia-New Zealand free trade agreement, produce from either country has to be treated the same in the other nation.

New Zealand growers argued that a rebate to Australian wine producers, but which was not available to Kiwi producers, breached the trade deal.

Kiwi producers will now be able to claim the WET [wine equalization tax] rebate. It is expected to cost Australian taxpayers $7 million in 2005-06, $8 million the following year and the same in 2007-08."

One of the problems with regional trade agreements are clauses that apply one nation's standards to another, with, it seems, the side of government intervention always winning out over an increase in the applicability free markets.

Baseball predictions

I was right on the money with the ChiSox-Angels series. I said the Sox in five and they won it four games to one. While I predicted a Houston Astros-Chicago White Sox finals, I hadn't said publicly who I thought would win the World Series. I thought the 'Stros would but Ozzie Guillen's team looked amazing this series. I'll have my World Series predictions up shortly after the Astros finish off the Cards. However, it is worth noting that the Astros are 0-4 in games to clinch the League Championship.

For a quick baseball read, check out Joe Sheehan's Baseball Prospectus brief article describing how, "The story this year hasn't been managers or the late-inning moves and heroics and failures of recent memory. This year's story is starting pitching, and lots of it."

Latest entry into the Idiot Hall of Fame

Here's Let It Bleed on one of the biggest idiots of Canada's punditocracy, Ken Wiwa:

"I've said it before, but it bears repeating: there must be some reason the Globe and Mail thinks it makes sense to devote column space to Ken Wiwa, but it remains darn obscure (free access here). Today, he queries "how many disasters will it take before we start to reclassify natural disasters as man-made?" Probably a whole bunch, but I'm just guessing."

Here's what Wiwa said:

"One question that has been preying on my mind lately is: Why has south Asia become the epicentre of natural and man-made disasters? I wouldn't have put much money on that part of the world being the scene of two major earthquakes in the space of eight months.

Sitting in my home in Nigeria this week, watching CNN's coverage of the destruction in Kashmir, I asked my uncle about this. My uncle is a doctor; I expect him to be the font of scientific wisdom in the Wiwa home. My uncle also has a forensic understanding of international politics. When he quipped, almost as an aside, that Kashmir is where he would have expected Osama bin Laden to be hiding out, I didn't laugh it off. Rather, there was a kind of pregnant pause as his aside gave birth to a conspiracy theory or two."

I assume the uncle he is talking about is Owens Wiwa, the subject of a horrible and misnamed book, The Politics of Bones: Dr. Owens and the Struggle for Nigeria's Oil. (I read it for a review I'm finishing up tonight for the Halifax Herald. The bones in the title refers to the remains of Ken Wiwa's father who was executed, perhaps in a typically sham trial that tyrannical regimes are want to use against dissidents.) Author J. Timothy Hunt never demonstrated the "forensic understanding of international politics" Ken Wiwa talks about. Indeed, despite Hunt's attempt to paint Owens Wiwas a hero, he comes off as a stereotypically naive and compliant African, used by western liberals for their own purposes and utterly unaware of it until it caused him and his wife great strife. That Ken Jr. would be prone to think highly of his uncle, who has, admittedly, gone through a lot, is understandable; that Junior would be prone to such stupid conspiracy theories that ascribe every natural disaster to some nefarious governmental plot, is inexcusable. Were there no natural disasters before the combustible engine and President George W. Bush? Ken Wiwa Jr. deserves his place in the Idiot's Hall of Fame.

Podesta blasts Freeh

The Washington Post gives President Bill Clinton's last chief of staff and current Center for American Progress president John Podesta space to rip into former FBI director Louis Freeh's book My FBI. Podesta claims that Freeh wrote the book to defend his record because "no one else would" because that record was nothing more than a "series of blunders and failures" that harmed the Bureau and threatened American safety. Podesta accuses Freeh of "shameless buck-passing." But isn't that what Podesta is doing: passing the buck from the president, the one who is ultimately responsible for his administration, to Louis Freeh?

Satisfying the thirst for vengeance

The New York Daily News reports:

"In an exclusive interview on the eve of Saddam Hussein's trial, the country's prime minister told international journalist Daphne Barak executioners were lining up to administer justice."

In an interview about the trial, safety precautions, etc..., Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari said: "Many people already volunteered. Many people would love to do the job. This is a man who does not deserve any mercy." This is not surprising. In the literature on theories of punishment, vengeance is understood as the desire for retribution, not a mere revenge. Taking the life of a murderer, especially a mass murderer, is a powerful symbol of society's unequivocal denunciation of the taking of innocent life. David Gelernter, the Yale professor maimed by the Unabomber, says in his book Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber, that "we show our respect for the dead, and proclaim the value of human life, by taking the trouble to execute murderers." Executing killers is a public good, a necessity and a duty. To not execute Saddam Hussein would not be a sign of new Iraq's enlightenment but its barbarism and decadence.

It got past the state censors

Colby Cosh notes that in 2004, three male babies were given the name Anakin. I thought the province had veto power over parents in the names they gave their children and yet Anakin makes it. I'm not saying that I'm in favour of a bureaucrat nixing baby names, I'm just surprised that Anakin gets through.

Another go-read-when-you-have-the-time blog to read

Tucker Carlson is doing one for MSNBC.

Everything you ever need to know about Tony Clement

Grumpy Young Crank is reading Steve Paikin's The Life: The Seductive Call of Politics (2001) and has thrown up some enlightening quotes from the book on his blog. Here's former Ontario Tory MP and always leadership candidate Tony Clement discussing his role in creating the Canadian Alliance: "Moments like that are better than sex." I wonder what Lynne Golding thought of Tony saying that.

U2 v. Hillary

Bono has taken exception to Hillary Clinton, the New York senator and presumptive 2008 Democratic presidential candidate, using a U2 concert in Washington DC as a political fundraiser. The Telegraph reports:

"[Clinton] is charging 18 guests $2,500 (£1,400) a head to join her in a luxury box for the sold out show in Washington on Wednesday. Despite U2's public criticism, she is pressing on with the fund-raiser, which will bring in $45,000 for an outlay of about $7,000 on the box, and her staff are unapologetic."

An "associate" of Bono says the U2 frontman is upset because, "U2 concerts are categorically not fund-raisers for any politician. They are rock concerts for U2 fans." Granted, they may not be fundraisers for pols but neither are they categorically rock concerts for U2 fans; Bono has been known to promote fashionable left-wing causes from on stage. What was Live8? And I recall in the 1990s he once called Jacques Chirac a "wanker" on stage because of the French president's support for nuclear testing in the Pacific.

The universal desire for democracy

The Observer reports:

"Millions of Iraqis went to the polls yesterday, defying sporadic violence, as Sunnis, Shias and Kurds decided to use the ballot box, rather than the bullet - for a day at least - in a historic attempt to shape Iraq's future."

Notice that nasty "for a day at least." Even if that were true, and for the most part it is a gross exaggeration, isn't "a day" progress? For as the Sunday Telegraph reports, there was gunfire but it was the good kind of gunfire:

"There were no major acts of violence on the day. William Patey, British ambassador to Iraq, told The Sunday Telegraph that he heard gunfire from outside the heavily fortified Green Zone after polls closed at 5pm. 'I thought it was an attack at first but it seems it was celebratory gunfire from people happy about the referendum,' he said."

The constitution may not be perfect but it is progress. Consider this from Roman Martinez who wrote at NRO on Friday about last-minute negotiations:

"The final version of the document was only completed this past Wednesday, as Shia and Kurdish negotiators scrambled to make concessions to their Sunni counterparts in an effort to win backing for the charter."

Some in the media portray this as a story of divisiveness but isn't continued negotiations better than the alternative (talks breaking down)?

Unstoppable Chelsea

They beat Bolton 5-1 today as they continue what the Telegraph calls their "season-long victory march" by going 9-0.

Islam, Religion of Peace (c)

Asia News reports that Islamic "extremists" attacked a group of Indonesian Catholics praying the Rosary and threatened to burn down the house they were gathered in if they continued. The Islamic Defender Front also forced the members of the prayer group to sign a declaration that will not say the Rosary together in any house in the area.

Tax cuts and Canadian politics

The Globe and Mail reports that the Conservatives see targeted tax cuts for the middle class as the path to electoral success. I would like to think this is true but based on every conversation I've had with "undecided" voters, I've come to the unhappy conclusion that when Conservatives talk about tax cuts the average Canadian hears gutting health care. The challenge for the Conservative Party is to communicate a policy of tax reform (Canadians like reform better than cuts) in a way that alleviates any worries that taking care of Johnny's sore throat won't bankrupt the family.

Thursday, October 13, 2005
ABC link and China's one-child policy

Red China brutally enforced one child policy (which includes promotion of abortion to the point of forcing them upon women when "necessary") has coincided with the incidence of breast cancer increasing by 39%.

Filling Greenspan's shoes

The Economist and Larry Kudlow weigh in. I agree with Kudlow -- I hope that "my Bush will choose the best person with the free market supply side model that has governed our economy so successfully, really over the past 25 years." As Kudlow notes, two of the most often mentioned replacement, Roger Ferguson and Donald Kohn, don't quite fit the bill.

Some assigned reading

In case I can't return to blogging tonight (baseball, wife has me cleaning the main floor, catching up on three weeks of The Spectator (not to mention the October issues of Commentary and First Things), etc ...), here are two articles worth reading.

Johan Norberg returns to his favourite theme (things are getting better) in The Australian:

"I am not just saying that the glass is half full rather than half empty. I am saying that it used to be empty. Just 200 years ago, slavery, feudalism and tyranny ruled the world. By our standards even the richest countries were extremely poor. The average chance of surviving your first year was less than the chance of surviving to retirement today.

The glass is at least half full and it is being filled as we speak. And if I had it here before me, I would propose a toast to the creativity and persistence of mankind. In other words: Don't worry; be happy!"

Martin A. Sullivan examines the growing popularity (globally speaking) of the flat tax, especially in formerly communist countries but comes to a disheartening conclusion: it is not an end in itself but a (limited) part of a larger trend of tax reform. Tax reform is good but flat taxes would be a nice end to pursue in reforming many nations' awful tax policies -- they are not only economically attractive (less incentive to avoid taxes if the rate is set low, less cost to comply, etc...) but are also the most morally defensible taxes.

Another Nobel, another leftie

Playwright Harold Pinter wins the Nobel Prize for literature.

Zakaria on India

Outlook India has an interview with Fareed Zakaria. In light of Asia geopolitics (Chinese and Russian ambitions on the continent and US relations with those countries), Zakaria said the US should encourage free enterprise and trade with India:

"The United States helps India enormously by doing one crucial thing, keeping its market open for Indian goods and services. That is worth more than all the foreign aid and technology tie-ins in the world. The rest is really up to India. And India should focus on what it can do to prosper. For too long, the Indian government has looked to others to deve-lop economically. The answers are all at home."

After outlining the alleged down-side of globalization (pollution, urbanisation, sprawl, the destruction of community), Zakaria warns:

"The danger in India is that this becomes an excuse for protectionism and political payoffs. Giving rich farmers free electricity is not a shock absorber. It is a bribe for votes. It means the poor get less attention and resources. The great tragedy in India today is that the rhetoric of poverty alleviation is used to justify policies that benefit the rich and well-organised. What the poor need more than anything else is a functioning economy and a government that is not bankrupting itself in buying votes."

Who gets what

Finance and Development, the official magazine of the IMF, contains these handy charts of who gets official development assistance (foreign aid). Question, why is aid still going to Brazil, China, and Thailand. Indeed, nearly one out of every three aid dollars go to such low middle-income countries. Furthermore, approximately 3% is given to upper middle-income countries such as Argentina and Chile. The top aid recipients, in order, are: Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Pakistan and India. Yet, still nearly one-third of all aid goes to sub-Saharan Africa. There are also charts of who gives what.

More on that Syrian 'suicide'

Yesterday I implicitly questioned whether Syrian Interior Minister Ghazi Kanaan died of suicide. As AKI reports: "Kanaan died in a Damascus hospital of gunshot wounds to the head." Hmmm. How many bullets can a suicidal person shot into one's own head?

(HT: The Right Angle)

Good news in Africa

Sorry this is late, but seldom is there good news for Africa. The World Bank reports that, "The Swiss Government is returning to Nigeria $458 million stolen by the late military dictator General Abacha and deposited in Swiss banks." According to some reports, Abacha may have stolen between $2-$4 billion of Nigeria's wealth. After his death in the late 1990s, his wife was caught at the airport with suitcases full of money.

The return of funds from the Swiss banks is a good start and it sends a signal to all corrupt regimes that a Swiss bank account is not a place to squirrel away funds for post-dictatorship retirement. Lets hope the money goes to develop an infrastructure that will help the average Nigerian and not end up in the hands of the current regime or their cronies. The current Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, says the money will fund anti-poverty programs but Nigerians do not need welfare -- they need good roads, sanitation facilities, rural hospitals, and the government to get off the back of independent schools. Nigeria needs to enable their people to succeed, to develop their potential and sell their products within their country and within the global marketplace.

Latest evidence of UN uselessness

According to a press release from the United Nations two-thirds of the UN Missions in Sudan that were providing humanitarian assistance have been suspended due to "security reasons." In other words, the very reason that UNMIS is in Darfur -- to assist those affected by the violence perpetrated the Sudanese government and its genocidal allies against its own people -- has become the reason why it cannot help. Sadly but predictably, the announcement comes just two days after United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Juan Mendez found that there was an "escalation of violence against civilians" in Darfur. Yet, despite the fact that the man's job is to determine whether or not genocide is taking place, the UN will only say that the situation has "not turned the corner" on "preventing genocide from either happening or happening again – depending on the perspective – in Darfur." Depending on your persepctive? This inability to call genocide what it is without equivocation is a symptom of what's wrong the UN: it lacks the political will to do what is necessary and has become nothing more than a giant soapbox for fashionable causes, yet utterly unable to do anything to fix the problems it identifies.

Further proof that Sinclair Stevens is an idiot

CP reports that Red Tory Sinclair Stevens is trying to get the Federal Court of Appeals to quash the merger of the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties in order to resurrect the old Tories. Stevens's lawyer Peter Rosenthal noted that the parties were given official approval to become one Conservative Party of Canada on December 7, 2003, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour. Doing Stevens' bidding, Rosenthal said that Elections Canada giving its okay was like the Japanese attack on the American military installations in Hawaii: "It was like Pearl Harbour in a way. It was a surprise attack." How was it a surprise, exactly? The announcement of a deal between the party leaders was made on October 15 and the merger was debated within both parties for nearly two months before the parties' membership voted overwhelmingly to support the agreement. Stevens, I recall, even campaigned against the merger. So how was anyone surprised by Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley's official approval?

More freedom key to economic growth

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has urged all nations to work toward greater free trade, especially in the areas of agriculture and services. But free trade is not enough. To take advantage of open markets, the OECD points out, countries must also permit, "flexible labour markets, efficient but not over-burdensome regulation and macroeconomic policies that promote stability and growth." The full "benefits" of globalization can only be realized when a national economy "facilitates the entry and exit of firms, allowing labour and capital to move from declining to expanding areas of activity." The best economic growth agenda, many of us have long known, is a program that promotes individual liberty.

Taxing private enterprise

The Financial Times reports that an OECD study has found that companies are paying the largest share of taxes (9%) collected by industrialized countries since the 1960s. Still, social security contributions and personal income tax makes up the largest portion of tax revenues for governments at 26% and 25% respectively, on average.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005
Who would have guessed

Eve Tushnet doesn't like dolphins, which she calls, "smug, smiling Hippies of the Sea."


"The sort of atheist who does not so much disbelieve in God as personally dislike him."
-- George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

Unsustainable Social Security

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby presents some numbers for politicians (and Americans) to ponder before they come to the conclusion that Social Security reform is dead:

"Because it is a pay-as-you-go scheme, with current retirees' benefits paid from current workers' taxes, it can remain solvent only as long as the ratio of workers to retirees stays comfortably high. But that ratio is plummeting -- from 17-to-1 in the 1950s to only 3-to-1 today. In little more than a decade, payroll taxes will no longer be enough to cover benefits. Social Security's deficits will rapidly explode. By 2020, it will be losing $72 billion a year. By 2030, losses will be $275 billion a year. To keep the system from collapsing, Congress will have no choice but to massively hike taxes, slash benefits -- or both.

That isn't the only way in which Social Security is getting worse over time. When the program began, payroll taxes consumed a tiny fraction of American paychecks -- just 3 percent of the first $3,000 of income, or a maximum of $90 a year. On that investment, workers could expect to earn a very handsome return, assuming they lived to retirement age.

But over the years, payroll taxes have been relentlessly raised -- the rate is now 12.4 percent of the first $90,000 earned, or as much as $11,160 a year -- and the return on those taxes has dwindled to almost nothing. According to Stuart Butler of the Heritage Foundation, the average male worker about to retire today will realize only a 1.27 percent return on his lifetime of payroll taxes -- less than he would have gotten from a savings account. For younger workers, the outlook is even worse. A 25-year-old employee can now expect a lifetime return of minus 0.64 percent -- a net loss. And the more Social Security takes out of Americans' paychecks, the less Americans have left to save for themselves."

British Tories

The London Times reports that David Davis' clear challenger for the Tory leadership race is David Cameron. Davis has 65 MPs firmly supporting him according to the Times survey, followed by Cameron with 32, Kenneth Clarke with 23 and Liam Fox with 19. Davis has four others leaning his way, Cameron 6, Clarke 5 and Fox 3. About 40 are undecided or undeclared. (The Guardian reports that the number of undecideds and undeclareds is between 60 and 70.) Interestingly, Cameron's growing support is coming from the party's right flank including former Defense Secretary Bernard Jenkin, Douglas Carswell and Shadow Culture Secretary Theresa May. The Guardian also reports that right-leaning MPs are planning to vote tactically for Fox in order to vote Clarke out first. But Davis operatives are beginning to worry that genuine conservatives might opt for Fox on the second ballot instead of their man, potentially tipping the scales to Cameron's favour. The race is really getting interesting and this no longer appears to be a Davis coronation.

Most needless government job

Marni Soupcoff writes in Regulation about the most useless, feel-good government job there is: White House Tee Ball Commissioner. As Soupcoff says, at least when government spends on other projects, there is the pretense of usefulness. Waste money on a missile system or superjail, she says, and there is still the "potential to defend people's rights by deterring force."

World Cup qualifying

Reigning European Cup champions Greece failed to qualify for the World Cup to be held in Germany next year. Interestingly, Denmark, the 1992 European Champions failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States. Those that did qualify: Croatia, France, England, Poland, Sweden and Serbia. Those that must wait 'til next month to know if they have ticket to Germany include Norway, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Spain and Switzerland, all of whom must get past a second round of playoffs as second-place winners in their divisions. A division-by-division round up can be found here. It is quite amazing that Serbia beat Spain for the division title and automatic birth. Italy, the Netherlands,Portugal and Ukraine had already qualified.

Sign of the Times

Playmobil has a airport security set.

(HT: Buzzmachine)

American League Championship Series (Los Angeles Angels - Chicago White Sox)

Series overview: On paper, the teams are evenly matched. Both have solid starting and bullpen pitching, both play one-run-at-a-time ball, both have only one player who can alter the game with a swing of the bat. But the game is played on the field not on paper (sorry Strat-O-Matic fans).

Chicago White Sox: While the Angels edge out the ChiSox on hitting (270 BA compared to 262), the Sox had the power advantage, driving in 200 homers, good for fifth in the majors, compared to the Angels' 147 (21st overall) and a slugging percentage of 425 compared to 409. The ChiSox power hitters -- 1B Paul Konerko and RF Jermaine Dye have owned game two starter Jarrod Washburn. Dye has a 447 career BA against him and Konerko has hit 378 with four homers and 11 ribbies this season agaisnt the Angels' number two starter. Despite the power, the team depends on getting on base and advancing the runners. Almost everyone is called upon to bunt and there is ample speed: six players had at least 11 SBs and CF Scott Podsednik had 59 (the team ranked fourth overall with 137 SBs). But the running game could be shut down by Angels C Bengie Molina who is one the best at throwing out baserunners. Still, ChiSox manager Ozzie Guillen is a smart and bold manager who will find ways to get runs on the board with the team he has.

The idea behind the Sox this season was that they didn't have to score many runs because the pitching staff would prevent the other team from scoring many. The Sox had the best ERA (3.61) in the AL and third best overall. They strike out opponents and don't walk many batters. Jon Garland (18-10, 3.50 ERA), Mark Buerhle (16-8, 3.12 ERA), Jose Contreras (15-7, 3.61 ERA and unstoppable down the stretch), and Freddy Garcia (14-8, 3.87 ERA) is a mighty fine foursome. The bullpen ensures that if they have a bad start, the team remains in the game. The four best ERAs on the team belong to relievers: Neal Cotts (1.94 in 60.1 IP), Cliffe Politte (2.00 in 67.1 IP), Dustin Hermanson (2.04 in 57.1 IP), Bobby Jenks (2.75 in 39.1 IP). Furthermore, left-handed reliever Damaso Marte has a 1.17 ERA in 17 career IP against the Angels. Guillen must be prepared to use the best pitcher for the situation (Cotts in an amazing leftie, Jenks a rightie with overpowering stuff) instead of settling on one closer (Dustin Hermanson, 34 saves).

Los Angeles Angels: RF Vladimir Guerrero has the most amazing swing, gets to hard to hit pitches and possesses the strongest and most accurate arm in the outfield. He can change the complexion of a game with one swing of the bat. The rest of the lineup hits when it counts. The Angels beat the New York Yankees in the Divisional Series because they strung together key hits (CF/3B Chone Figgins, SS Orlando Cabrera, DH/OF Garret Anderson). The Angels also have great speed, finishing first overall in the majors in SB (with 161). Figgins led the majors with 62 and five others stole at least 10. Furthermore, ChiSox C A.J. Pierzynski is awful at throwing out runners (22%). But the team has major liabilities in their lineup: CF Steve Finley is no longer productive and 1B Darin Erstad is looking his age. The decision to play Erstad is puzzling considering that 1B Casey Kotchman and his power is riding the bench, collecting just two at bats against the Yankees in the five-game divisional series.

On paper, the pitching is in better shape. The team sported the third best ERA in the AL (3.68) and fifth best overall. Angels led the AL in K's with 1126. Their starters are good: Bartolo Colón is a Cy Young candidate, Jarrod Washburn had the league's 8th best ERA (3.20) and John Lackey is a dependable big game pitcher. But the bullpen is stronger, anchored by the most frightening strikeout reliever Francisco Rodriquez (2.67 ERA, 45 saves, 91 Ks in 67.1 IP) in baseball today. Scot Shields (2.75 ERA) and Kelvim Escobar (3.02) fill out the bullpen but the team doesn't have a left-handed reliever, although that is less of a liability against the ChiSox who have no threatening left-handed batters.

The Angels beat the ChiSox in their final four regular season meetings. But the team has also traveled 4,700 air miles to play three games on three consecutive days in three different time zones. That schedule and the questions about the state of their starters -- Colon is injured, Lackey may have to start on three days rest for the second time in a row, Washburn is recovering from a fever and sore throat -- may mean the end of the run for the Angels.

Prediction: White Sox in five. They are refreshed, have fewer question marks, and have the edge on starting pitching. Both can manufacture the needed runs but the ChiSox are motivated by the need to overcome their World Series-less run that began when the team threw the 1918 World Series.

National League Championship Series (St. Louis Cardinals - Houston Astros)

Series overview: This will be the best series of the post-season, featuring two
good pitching staffs. Indeed all final four teams have pitching strengths: the Cards, 'Stros, Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels had four of the five best ERAs in the majors this year, all were among the best eight in walks given up and each of the teams has a WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) within 1.23 and 1.27, compared to a league span of 1.22 and 1.57. This rematch of last season's NLCS, however, is quite different from last year's series: the Cards don't have power-hitting 3B Scott Rolen (injured) or SS Edgar Renteria, 2B Tony Womack or C Mike
Matheny (all signed elsewhere) and Houston doesn't have power-hitting CF Carlos Beltran or 2B Jeff Kent. The 'Stros do have, however, Andy Pettitte (injured last year) and the Cards have a better middle infield.

Houston Astros: A great pitching staff in baseball this year who were second in the majors with a 3.51 ERA, they have the best threesome of starters in the post-season if not the majors (Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Roy Oswalt), a fine bullpen and the best closer left in the playoffs (Brad Lidge). Clemens is 43 and seems to be carrying the team on his back. He wants to leave the game on top of it, and he pitched like that on Sunday, throwing three innings of one hit relief ball in the 18-inning marathon session against the Atlanta Braves. Clemens defies his age, finishing with a
miserly 1.87 ERA this year; his 13-8 record was deceiving because his team was shutout in nine of his starts. Pettitte was hot during the second half of the season and never game up more than three runs in a start after mid-June. Furthermore, he gave up only three runs against St. Louis in 20 IP this year. Here are some statistics to consider for closer Lidge worth considering: one run allowed in 16.1 career post-season innings and no runs allowed (and just four hits) in 25.1 IP against the Cards in the last three years. Furthermore, unlike many closers forced to
pitch two innings to close post-season games, Lidge has ample two-inning experience.

Houston has a serious weakness: scoring runs. They were shutout 17 times this year and failed to score more than two runs in nearly one-third of their games. The team has the fourth worst BA in the majors and ranked 24th (out of 30 teams) in runs scored. St. Louis had a 270 BA compared to their 256. In terms of power, the teams are equal (170 HRs for Houston, 161 for St. Louis). On the plus side, 3B Morgan Ensberg and LF Lance Berkman hit one sixth of their combined 60 homers off the Cards
and Ensberg had a 339 BA against the Cards this year. Berkman is hot: he hit 12 homeruns in the final 34 games and added three in the divisional series against Atlanta. Berkman also nails Cards' ace starter Chris Carpenter hard, averaging a homerun once in every five at bats against him. But the Astros real advantage is in baserunning: third in the NL with 115 stolen bases compared to the Cards' 83. It will be a matter of getting on base -- a big if. They have a 322 OBP compared to 339 for the Cards. Fortunately manager Phil Garner is smart, adept at manufacturing runs and he has the players to do it with.

Houston became the second team -- and the first since 1914 -- to overcome a 15 game deficit (15-30) to make the post-season. As Ensberg recently said, the team has been "playing playoff baseball since April." The Astros have shown they have the character and drive to win, not to mention the talent.

St. Louis Cardinals: This team is not a great post-season team as their 100-62 record would indicate. Yes, 1B Albert Pujols is the best (position) player in the game and they have a much improved middle infield in SS David Eckstein and 2B Mark Grudzielanek (who combine for a 294 BA), but they'll miss 3B Scott Rolen, OF Larry Walker is uncertain and CF Jim Edmonds (263 BA, 29 HRS) is slowing down in centerfield and slipping a bit at the plate. Reggie Sanders may replicate his Divisional Series output (10 ribbies) as he has owned the Astros this year (429 BA, five homers, 13 RBIs). Pujols hit four homers off Astros pitching this year. Furthermore, five Cardinal position players are hitting better than 350 in the post-season this year. Hitting shouldn't be a problem although several players (Pujols and Edmonds) can't hit Pettitte (Edmonds is 3 for 30 in his career against the leftie).

Pitching isn't a problem either. A solid lineup achored by Chris Carpenter who not only sported a 21-56, 2.83 ERA record this year but who went 4-0, 1.85 ERA in five starts against the Astros this year. Mark Mulder is a solid second starter (16-8, 3.64 ERA). Closer Jason Isringhausen is impressive (2.14 ERA, 39 saves) and the rest of the bullpen is great (although leftie Ray King is coping with his father's death). That said, the bullpen has been atrocious in this post-season, with a collective ERA of 11.88 against the San Diego Padres, whom the Cards swept in the first round.

Prediction: Astros in six. Their pitching is superior and they'll do it for Clemens.

Review of Rogue Regime

This review of Jasper Becker's Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea recently appeared in the Halifax Herald.

North Korea’s communism

It is for good reason that journalist Jasper Becker describes North Korea as the “quintessential rogue regime.” It blithely ignores international standards of decency as Pyongyang enables a terrible famine, turns North Korean society into a slave state and threatens neighbours and enemies by supporting terrorists and developing weapons of mass destruction.

As Becker says in Rogue Regime: Kim Jong Il and the Looming Threat of North Korea, it is only by understanding all the regime’s sins that one understands the challenge and limits of the current international negotiations. These negotiations which include North and South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia have erroneously focused on the North’s nuclear weapons program.

First and foremost, there is an ongoing famine that officially began in the mid-1990s but which really started much earlier in large part due to the country’s collectivist agricultural policies.

Despite a famine that has cost perhaps as many as four million lives (out of a peak population of 24 million), crippled the economy, created a refugee crisis and led to familial cannibalism as parents try to avoid death by starvation, Kim Jong II still prohibits private farms, household gardens and even unsanctioned leaves from the city to prevent inhabitants from eating any “unsanctioned food.”

The collapse of the Soviet Union, Pyongyang’s financier, hurt North Korea but not as much as the regime’s continued fidelity to the failed communist ideology and reviling of individualism.

“It was determined to find ways to keep people eating in canteens at their workplaces and schools,” Becker writes, in order to control the population.

However, with food rations tied to production at factories and factories not producing, “workers” were ineligible for rations, which the state could not provide anyway. Most of the food the regime could get its hands on was given to the military while state TV encouraged citizens to eat tree bark and corn husks indigestible food with little caloric value.

At the same time, Kim enjoyed large feasts sometimes lasting days. Kim is something of a gourmand who had his chef travel to Uzbekistan to purchase caviar and to Denmark to buy bacon. Kim also “indulged in collecting French wines.”

Why did North Koreans starve while Kim feasted on the best food and drink? And why did North Koreans let it happen?

Becker explains that there is a cult-like worship of the Kim dynasty. Kim II Sung was installed as the North’s leader in 1945 by the Soviets and immediately began creating a mythology, including the circumstances of his birth and his rise to power propaganda disseminated in state-run schools and media. Even Kim Il Sung’s name is not real. It was taken from a Korean nationalist who fought the Japanese prior to the First World War.

Becker describes how, often, the Korean peninsula has been influenced, if not controlled, by foreign countries: China, Japan, Russia and America. And it was the Kims’ determination to avoid becoming a vassal of a foreign power that led the father, who died in 1994, to embrace a dynastic form of communism and his son to pursue nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s homemade brand of total communism, its suicidal attempt at self-sufficiency and even its acquisition of weapons of mass destruction can only be understood if one appreciates this nearly xenophobic and isolationist mentality.

In his description of the famine and slave state Kim has foisted upon his people, Becker has illustrated that the leader cares little for the well-being of Koreans, leading the author to one conclusion: Kim has used and is willing to use the plight of his people in tandem with his development of nuclear weapons to extract payments and technological assistance from the United States and aid from the United Nations.

Becker doubts that Kim plans to use nuclear weapons against his enemies abroad, and therefore the most logical reason to have them is to extort payment and aid from the rest of the world. During the Clinton administration, Kim was able to bribe the U.S. with promises not to develop such weapons in exchange for humanitarian aid and assistance building North Korea’s atomic energy program.

Kim broke that deal when he resumed the weapons program and withdrew from the Nonproliferation Treaty in 2002.

Of course, the possibility of nuclear retaliation also serves as a deterrence to international efforts to liberate North Korea, therefore keeping Kim securely in power.

But short of military action, there are few options in dealing with Kim. As Becker notes, North Korea “has proved uniquely impervious to both sticks and carrots.” Becker himself has no solution other than the disappointingly vague suggestion for a “new framework in international law . . . and a method to enforce these laws through the legitimate use of military force.”

Still, Becker’s book is helpful. Looking beyond proliferation, he has demonstrated that North Korea “poses a moral question.” Having killed more than seven million Koreans through war, famine and political murder, the Kims must be seen as loathsome and genocidal. Becker has made a strong case for humanitarian intervention, but also a record of the injustices committed by the Kim dynasty.

Paul Tuns is a freelance writer who lives in Toronto.