Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Economist

I was an avid reader of the Economist in the 90s. The articles were generally well written and informative which definitely appealed to me. That they reflect a certain form that punches from the top is an immediate observation and after a while one can start reproducing with ease the magazine's trademark literary style. However I grew tired of the Economist and by 2000 or so I ended my subscription. Part of the problem with the Economist (as its name indicates) is that it ten...ds to view every almost all political issues through the prism of finance and commerce. While this can be useful at times I find it overly reductionist, lacking in the human element and dismissive of the complexities of history that almost always extend beyond such a model. I also found their cheerleading of Free Trade as a global panecea - a position that I have very much lost sympathy with - to be tiresome and off base. In a sense the Economist is the voice of right-of-center internationalism. It is the ideas and thoughts of the Davos elite and it reflects a nihlism that at times cynically and unecessarily scoffs at the traditions of Western Civilization.I find this postition odious. Now this is not to say that I won't read the magazine again (in fact I purchased one at the Airport last week) as it is more palatable in smaller doses but there is only so much of its armchair pontificating that I am willing to tolerate on a more consistent level.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

World Cup Rugby - Kiwis take Webb Ellis Trophy

The New Zealanders have managed to repeat as World Cup Rugby Champions after defeating the Aussies 34-17. Hardly a surprise as the level of depth and all around excellence of the Kiwis was outstanding. On a broader level though the 2015 tournament was a much improved version of 2011 with admirable performances by Argentina, Scotland and Japan adding to an electrifying mix. England disappointed but it was partly to be expected given their locale in the Tournament's Group of Death. As for the Boks - they leave the tournament with dignity after a humbling defeat at the hand of the Cherry Blossoms in their opening game. They pushed the New Zealanders to the final whistle and did well to secure a third place overall finish. Full results did well to refelect the order of power in today's World Rugby theatre. Pretty much as you were.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Rugby World Cup 2015 - South Africa goes home.

The Boks lost 20-18 in a game that could have gone otherwise. However in all fairness to the ABs they were the better team. The Kiwis had two tries to South Africas none and except for a brief period at the beginning of the game dominated possession. I fully expect the ABs to win the World Cup however their Achilles heel of penalties shipped to the opposition may be their undoing. From South Africa's point of view the Boks defended very well against arguably one of the greatest teams of All-Time and despite the loss against Japan in the opening round (largely academic) will leave England with their heads held high. Great recovery. As for the match - it was a bruiser battle between the fowards with very little open play. Not a collector's item but intense all the way to the final whistle. Player of the Match - Dan Carter. Inspired substitution - Sonny Bill Williams.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Arguing with Liberals

The following is my response to an American Liberal who insists that Obama ia great economic president, that the stimulus package was not a key contributor to the debt and that Obama should only really be responsible for debt growth consistent with legislaion that he alone introduced.He also thre in 911 for good measures plus the dreaded tax cuts that Liberals love to go on about.

To Jeff

From what it looks like you are attempting to defend Obama by saying that he should only be responsible for added debt that occurred as a result of specific legislation that he introduced. This of course bypasses the full picture. In fact if that were the case then one could argue that the entire Housing Crisis and the subsequent crash rests at the feet of Bill Clinton. Clearly this makes no sense as the executive must take responsibility for all debt levels that grow under their watch. To quote Harry Truman (my all-time favourite President believe it or not) ‘the Buck stops here’.

I had to chuckle at the way you said that ARRA was ‘only’ 800 billion. In actuality an extra 100 billion was added later to this number for a total spending that is greater than the GDP of all but 15 of the 195 nations on this planet. This drove spending levels through the roof. In fact in raw terms this stimulus package accounted for one out of every seven dollars spent that year and was more or less equivalent to the total spending of the much parodied Reagan budget of 1985. Don’t forget that to spend 800 billion greenbacks the US was forced to borrow heavily and this in turn added to debt repayment demands which ultimately impact any future budget. Therefore viewing the ARRA as a once in a life deal is short sighted especially when stimulus money impact recurring initiatives.

The ACA did not contribute to debt in 2009 but it has certainly added to spending ever since its rollout (failed websites and all). In fact the Urban Institute and Brookings (hardly right wing organizations) expect spending to increase by a full 1.1 trillion between now and 2020 if current trends hold. The ACA will no doubt impact this.

The tax cut argument had some merit circa 2001-2003 when tax revenues dropped below the two trillion mark but by 2005 they were up to levels that far exceeded the Clinton years (2.5 trillion versus 2.0 trillion under Clinton). However the tax cut argument simply carries no weight in the long run and if anything it helped accelerate a more rapid recovery from the 2001 recession than did the far more intrusive and wasteful ARRA whose efficacy may have even delayed the 2008-2009 ‘mini-depression recovery’.

911 and the Iraq war did increase spending and I will not deny this but that is a debate for another time. Should the US have acted as they did? Perhaps yes? Perhaps not? Would Al Gore have acted differently? Who can tell? Obama has had his fair share of foreign exploits as well. Libya comes to mind as have some of the limited and ineffective forays into Syria.

As mentioned in an earlier post spending still remained high between 2010 and 2014 (long after 911 and Iraq were dominant items). Also one cannot dismiss increased welfare spending. It eats up a considerable amount of tax revenue and has grown considerably in the Obama years as U6 unemployment has soared.

Nevertheless thanks for the rebuttal. I appreciate a good counter-argument. Quick question - Any thoughts on Solyandra and Cash-for-Clunkers?

The kid with the clock in a briefcase...

I stand corrected. This kid is a genius. After duping both Obama and the Liberal establishment (arguably not that difficult a task) with a half-baked clock in a briefcase, that looked suspiciously like a bomb, he now has a scholarship in Qatar to boast of. Add that to his tea time meeting with the Sudanese Butcher of Darfur (a war criminal by every measurable standard) and it appears as though the lad is on a role. Great news for him, tough work for the next sod who has to deal with a real threat in the future. CAIR must be loving this. Nothing like advancing the Stealth Jihad by paralyzing your opponent's ability to react.

Early thoughts on Canadian election results 2015

In a way it feels as though Canada wanted its Obama moment and in Trudeau they may have that. He certainly came across as the most charismatic of the three leaders and if glib superficiality is a yardstick he played the card with remarkable prowess. Now we will see how he governs.

Based on a historical record of broken Liberal promises I expect Trudeau to drop, or at the very least backpedal, on the notion of a tax increase for the wealthy. While such promises makes for great election fodder, when forced into real application rarely bring to the fore the desired effect. Trudeau knows this as do the Laurentian elites who have been guiding Grit politics for the last century. His recent pull back from military action in Syria is consistent with an election position but is somewhat meaningless in a theatre where the Russians have already forced themselves onto the stage as the leading act.

However our new man from Montreal will have his greatest hands filled with a strong Quebec caucus who helped turn the tide against the NDP and will certainly demand their share of paybacks as they have done with all recent PMs of Québécois extract - PET, Mulroney and Chretien. Expect the once dormant sovereignty issue (three backburners removed under Harper) to resurrect itself. Anyway we shall wait and see - if nothing else it will make for some great spectator sport.

On Climate Change - What Most bothers me.

In my opinion the greatest tragedy of the climate change debate is science itself.

To begin with Science is never settled...period (sorry Al Gore, David Suzuki, George Monbiot, Naomi Klein et al). Even if the overwhelming consensus of opinion points in a certain direction one can never close the book on science itself (hell even Newton's seemingly rock solid Law of Universal Gravitation had to be reworked using the better model of General Relativity).

In fact any scientific position is at least one verified experiment away from a possible reduction to the trash heap of bad ideas. Ideas once believed to be sacrosanct - caloric theory of heat, organic vitalism, blended inheritance, impossibility of heavy than air travel - confirm this reality. Each of these had popular support and were in vogue amongst the 'consensus' but failed to stand up to the evidence. Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) may be another example. The jury is still out on this one.

As somebody with a science background my biggest criticism of AGW is that the hysteria around it has been driven by a tremendous faith in scientific mathematical modelling. While successful in certain areas mathematical modelling is highly dependant on the parameters and boundary conditions that the modeller inputs into a system. Tweak these parameters in different ways and one can obtain virtually any result you wish. In short they are subject to the bias of the scientist who in many a case are not as objective as they should be (are any humans for that matter?).

The other problem with the AGW hypothesis is that some of the early work on which it rests has been driven by shoddy science. Michael Mann's Hockey Stick graph is the obvious example (it has been debunked) but so are the flawed understanding of cause and effect that put the cart before the horse in misinterpreting the carbon dioxide/temp lag time. IPCC reports are often filled with errors and contrary to the voice of its apologists does not represent the consensus that its advocates would have you believe.Many of those who signed on to it often didn't read the report in its entirety.

This is not to say that one should deny AGW but at the very least we should challenge those advancing AGW as the key driver for Climate Change to provide better evidence. At present they are lacking in this regard and this is unfortunate. As voting citizens we are all entitled to this as the issue appears to dominate much debate and decision making with respect to contemporary Environmental Policy.

Contrary to the voices of derision you are not being 'anti-science' and are in actuality more in step with the natural sceptism that ultimately makes science successful as an enterprise. Deference to authority is after all not a characteristic of modern science. Nor should it be.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

More thoughts on Stephen Harper and the Canadian election 2015

When push comes to shove I have found that most opponents of Stephen Harper (at least those at the center of the Canadian political spectrum) can rarely put their finger on the specifics of his policies that they don't agree with. Most (and I have spoken to many) simply tell me that they believe its time for a change and that there is 'something' about the man that they don't like.

Fair enough. One is not obliged to like everyone (I know that there are several individuals who initiate a gag reflex in me) but change often carries with it a double-edged sword.Change can be negative and one should be careful for what one wishes as there is always the risk of getting it.

Despite the rhetoric to the contrary, Canadians are still well respected throughout the world. The country boasts a strong education system, solid healthcare (although not perfect), a high level of economic freedom and is still regarded in survey after survey as one of the best places in the world to live. Everyday I thank my good fortune for having immigrated to this country.

In addition the recent budget showed a worthwhile surplus and while the Canadian dollar is relativity low compared to the greenback I don’t believe that Harper and co. have much control of this - just as Jean Chretien and the Liberals were not to blame for the low loonie during the late 90s. Such a value is a consequence of a global free currency market. On the flip side at least it encourages export of Canadian produced goods and resources.

Now it is true that all is not perfect but then again when has it ever been? The Pierre Trudeau years were rocked by economic mismanagement, regional fighting and a constitutional crisis that almost brought the country to its knees. The same (although somewhat to a lesser extent) personified the era of the pseudo-Conservative Brian Mulroney.

Jean Chretien’s tenure in office saw us waiting anxiously into the wee hours of the night, wondering if we would wake up in a united Canada after the closeness of the Quebec referendum (Thank G-d for the island vote). Many are quick to forget this, just as they overlook the sponsorship scandal, the helicopter boondoggle, the Suharto debacle, the kick backs to Shawinigan and other all too frequent low points that coloured the Liberal years.

Stephen Harper is not some kind of reactionary. His economic policies are no different on a grand scale from either Mulcair or Trudeau Jnr. and he is essentially a Neo-Keynesian in outlook (albeit with a smattering of Freddy Hayek thrown in for good measure). In short he is not a Canadian supply-sider and while he has used economic incentive (such as tax refunds) to stimulate growth he is certainly falls far from the mark in being a Milton Friedman caricature . In fact on many an economic issue he is not all to different from....dare I say it.… Hillary Clinton.

One could of course argue that Harper is a bit aloof and he certainly is not in any danger of winning a personality contest but why should that be the guideline for a PM? The country needs leadership and commitment to principles – not Canadian Idol points. Looking good in boxer shorts is not a requirement. Nor is the politics of class warfare that seem great in speech but are very divisive in practice and all too often define Liberal politics (at least on the surface).

Yes Harper runs a tight caucus but so did Jean Chretien. I will never forget how John Nunziata was shepherded out of the Grits for having the temerity to question Chretien’s about-face on the GST which he had originally opposed during the Mulroney years. Sheila Copps also stepped on some toes over the same issue.

Unfortunately this is how politics works in Canada especially when one has a merging of the executive and the legislative arms in the construct of a majority government. The alternative can be worse. Mulroney ran more of a loose caucus and paid the price in seeing his party splinter along several fault lines (I suspect the same would happen under Mulcair in the unlikelihood of the NDP taking power, as his support comes from several disparate factions)

Now this is not to say that I am completely taken by Harper. I for one would have liked to have seen more positive changes to the nature of our Senate (an elected body is necessary) and greater tax reduction initiatives under his tenure (not just the smoke and mirrors that all three parties advocate). I would have also opted to see a sell off of the CBC and less big government spending overall. Welfare reform, especially designed to curb the abusers is most welcome, but was sadly pushed to the sidelines.

Nevetheless the PM did great work with the income splitting initiative and this he should be commended. He also stood firm in not pandering to the demands of social conservatives and thereby avoided giving life to the now failed ‘Hidden Agenda’ argument that the Left shrieked about before Harper took office.

However what I most like about the PM is that he actually believes in Canadian exceptionality. He understands that Canada is a society that has been built on the fundamentals of western liberal thought and has certain non-negotiable hallmarks that define it as a consequence of its history. He does not need to compromise to placate some moral relativism. He realizes, that even though our nation is driven by an expanding immigration base, we will only survive as a people if we have key principles that rise and take precedence over all else. This is not to say that we don’t celebrate our distinct cultural differences, but that when they clash with values that define the essence of what Canada is we must go with the standards that have made our great nation the entity that it is. I therefore applaud him for making this front and center of his policy in office and wish him well on October 19th.

Free Market Liberals - some thoughts

Many Free Market 'Liberals' (not be confused with Classic Liberals) are in a sense the followers of a right wing version of universalism.They tend to be trapped in the now, with an eye on the future, but with complete disdain for the past. Its though they were birthed and set running on the spot. History is negated as it overcomplicates a convenient way of thinking and 'hard work as an ideal' is substituted as it reinforces the paramountcy of economics as a the ultimate driver. However my experience with free market Liberals is that they are often rooted in a self-centering impulse that appears to place them above all that there is. I am not sure if this reflects a reluctance to explore issues on a deeper level or to just place themselves in a position where they can shoot darts at all sides of the political spectrum. Nevertheless they have much pull on a global level as their way of thinking is consistent with the Davos Elite and those who champion the 'apparent' pragmatism of Free Trade and Open Borders.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Gun Control, Mass Shooting etc.

The tragedy at Oregon’s Umpqua College last week is yet another diabolical example of the all too common mass shooting that seem to grip the nation with unfortunate regularity.
Predictably there is the expected fallout. One side will argue for greater gun control as panacea while the other with do its best to negate such a stance. Such posturing from both sides only distorts the issue and detracts from the essence of the problem.

While it is critical that individuals be allowed to defend themselves it is also important that due diligence be carried out to safeguard against the acquisition of weapons by those whose motivation and psychological profiles could potentially pose a risk to society. While no predictor test is perfect, requiring those, who are intent on purchasing a firearm, to pass a background check system makes sense.

Such a system currently exists in the US and goes by the acronym NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Check System). It was launched by the FBI in 1998 on a mandate from the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993).

When researching this topic I was under the impression that the background system itself was not thorough enough. In fact one often hears about how easy it is to acquire a gun in the US (Michael Moore loves this meme). This all begs the question – Who in fact is a prohibited person? Or on what grounds is the Federal Firearms Licensee (FFL) rejected?

Both the NICS and Brady Act are very clear on this issue.
A prohibited person is one who:
· Has been convicted in any court of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
· Is under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
· Is a fugitive from justice;
· Is an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance;
· Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
· Is illegally or unlawfully in the United States;
· Has been discharged from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions;
· Having been a citizen of the United States, has renounced U.S. citizenship;
· Is subject to a court order that restrains the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of such intimate partner;
· Has been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence

· In addition persons are prohibited from:
· Shipping or transporting any firearm or ammunition in interstate or foreign commerce;
· Receiving any firearm or ammunition that has been shipped or transported in interstate or foreign commerce.
So indeed the Act appears to be fairly exhaustive on the surface and should with all intent of purpose deny a firearm to those with problematic backgrounds. Why then does it appear to be failing?
Well for one its practical application is subject to the foibles of human oversight and poor implementation at the grassroots level. Both the Charleston Church shooter and the Lafayette killer appeared to have slipped through its systems of checks.
Also the law is not universal in that it does not impact the sale or transfer of guns between private parties. Nor does it appear to prohibit the stockpiling of weapons by a singular person for distribution at a later date. It also has limited efficacy in the transition of legal weapons to the illegal kind, which in turn fuels the criminal market.
So what is the solution? Its not easy. Human error in background checks seems to be a function of processing volume which in turn relates to overall demand. The same is true of the flow through to criminal elements. So the bigger question is how does one reduce demand? Levelling higher taxes on guns make partial sense, but it has the potential to be drastically undercut by the black market and if not handled properly will needlessly impinge on legitimate gun owners. Combining this with greater restrictions on third party sales is a better option, as is the establishment of a tax refund program for the return of weapons. Required gun training upon the purchase of a new firearm is an avenue which should be looked at as well.
Despite the rhetoric gun deaths across the US have dropped overall in recent years (although it still stands at over ninety deaths per day) but the frequency of the mass slaying by ‘wannabee’ fame seekers’ is on the rise.
This reflects more of a deeper rot in society that although made easier by access to gun does not capture the broader issue. What most certainly drives these killers is anger, vengeance and the personal failure of an individual to place in perspective their unique struggle. Couple that to a society built on the trappings of crassness, contempt for the other, perceived victim hood, a glorification of violence and its virtual legitimization (in some quarters) and you have a recipe for such unfortunate incidents.
While it is easy to blame guns this often side steps the more important (although not currently in vogue) notion of human responsibility. The individual committing the crime must be called out. At the end of the day these killers made the conscious choice to pull the trigger and the fault, although aided by externalities, should be placed squarely at their feet.
These incidents will continue to occur so long as both sides focus obsessively on guns as the key driver. What is most needed is a realization by all parties that each needs to moderate their polarizing positions and allow greater flexibility for meaningful discussion and action on an issue that is crying for compromise and a greater depth of useful analysis.

The Martian - A Review

I finally saw the movie The Martian which on one level seems to be the third part in a trilogy of space movies that have been made over the last three years (the best of these was Interstellar – 9/10 - the worst Gravity - 6/10).

As far as movies goes it was a solid effort that spoke well to the subject matter even if some of the science appeared to be somewhat suspect.

The cinematography was excellent and although I did not see the movie in 3-D (which doesn’t bother me) I was still captivated by the design and operation of the mother ship that did well, in true 2001 Space Odyssey mode, to capture the rotating system necessary to produce the sensation of gravity.

Matt Damon is an average actor but he did well to carry off a role that portrayed him as cool, rational and humorous under pressure. This diffused tension when it was most needed. None of the other actors stood out but then the movie did not lend itself to any brilliant individual performance.

As a champion of Space Exploration, I take heart from The Martian as it worked in earnest to show the dynamism of a NASA space program as it COULD be – not how it actually is at the moment which is a story of pathos.
Science solved problems and overcame obstacles and the movies did its best to depict this even if some of the solutions, such as the blast off from Mars and the link up in space, were unrealistic.

While the necessary elements of International cooperation were stressed (a joint effort with China for example– which seems unlikely in today’s context) The Martian (although overly pc in its depiction of ethnic diversity amongst the NASA elite) did not extend into the realm of scientific preaching that often runs as a common theme in movies that all too often center on such issues as Climate Change for example.

In short it was a film worth viewing and despite its length (well over two hours) I believe that it met the necessary expectations.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Mad Max Remake

I hate it when a cult movie of decent enough standing is wrecked by a pathetic remake. Such is the case with Mad Max- An orgy of over-the-top violence, bad direction and a story line that led straight to oblivion and stayed there. I am a sucker for Post-Apocalyptic movies but this one (despite the presence of Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy) left me disappointment and begging for an infusion of need I say it....Jane Austin. In short It reminded one of what would be produced if the David Lynch Dune Movie had an offspring with the makers of Grand Theft Auto. Not pretty.