December 21, 2007

 

Support the Freedom to Tell the Truth!!!

From: The National Review Online
http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=M2E3ZTVhNjhlMDY0MzM2NjNlYTE3YzQ3MzU0ODZjYjY=

Free Steyn
By: The NRO Editors

Our readers know Mark Steyn well. His witty and learned commentary appears in every issue of National Review, and in many other English publications across the world. What Steyn’s American readers may not know is that a Muslim advocacy group in his native Canada is doing its best to muzzle him.

On December 4, the Canadian Islamic Congress announced that it had filed a complaint with three of Canada’s “human rights commissions” over an October 2006 article that Steyn had published in Maclean’s, Canada’s leading news weekly. “This article completely misrepresents Canadian Muslims’ values, their community, and their religion,” said Faisal Joseph, an attorney representing the complainants, in a press release. “We feel that it is imperative to challenge Maclean’s biased portrayal of Muslims in order to protect Canadian multiculturalism and tolerance.”

The article in question was adapted from Steyn’s recent book America Alone, which argues that Western society may be irrevocably altered - and not for the better - by unassimilated Muslim immigration. It’s no surprise that this thesis is controversial, probably in part because Steyn makes his points so well. But the real threat to tolerance here is the CIC, which would have the state impose penalties on those whose writings it disagrees with.

In doing so it only provides evidence for Steyn’s thesis. Another group of Canadian Muslims - the Muslim Canadian Congress - has said as much, denouncing the CIC’s complaint for affirming “the stereotype that Muslims have little empathy for vigorous debate and democracy.” But at the moment, the CIC’s push for censorship advances. Of the three human-rights commissions to which it submitted its complaint, two have agreed to hear the case. (The third has yet to decide.)

Since their founding, Canada’s human-rights commissions have done less to protect the rights of minorities than to undermine the liberties of everyone. To get an idea of what they’re like, consider the recent case of Stephen Boissoin.

Boissoin, a Baptist minister, learned that the Alberta Human Rights Commission was funding an initiative that described homosexuality as “normal, necessary, acceptable, and productive.” Boissoin objected to this and wanted to make his views known. As he put it to a Canadian Internet publication: “[I] felt that as a taxpayer, and indirect funder of this initiative through my tax dollars, I had a right to communicate my opinion which is reflective of my religious beliefs. In an attempt to do so, I decided to potentially share my opinion at large by submitting letters to the editor in newspapers.”

The publication of one such letter brought a complaint from a “social justice” advocate, and Boissoin was dragged before the very body he had complained about - the Alberta Human Rights Commission. That was 2002. It took five years of anxiety-filled and expensive legal proceedings for the commission to rule against Boissoin. They determined that he had violated Alberta’s laws because there was, as one commission member put it, a “circumstantial connection” between the publication of the letter and an incident of gay-bashing. “Circumstantial connection” is of course another way of saying that Boissoin had nothing to do with it. One wonders in passing whether the same can be said of the Koran, and which side the commission would take if Maclean’s published a few choice Koranic passages on homosexuality.

Even if the human-rights commissions eventually rule for Steyn and Maclean’s, the proceedings will be costly, and will intimidate others who wish to express controversial views. To his great credit, one conservative Canadian cabinet minister, Jason Kenney, has spoken in defense of Steyn. Some of the Canadian press is coming to Steyn’s defense as well. We hope the chorus swells.

And we hope Americans raise their voices too. So far the U.S. media have paid little attention to the case, but it should matter to us. Steyn’s writings - even those in Canadian publications - have a large and influential American readership. We trust those readers prefer that Canada remain free.

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Copyright 2007 - The National Review Online

 

Another perspective on flat taxation plans...

From: The New York Sun
http://www.nysun.com/article/68160?access=878993

ScareTax, Not FairTax
By:
AMITY SHLAES
December 17, 2007

In the 1990s, it was the flat tax. This time it's the so-called FairTax. As far back as last summer, a FairTax Bus was rolling around Iowa. Supporting the FairTax has boosted Mike Huckabee to such an extent that Rudy Giuliani has felt the need to go around preaching the sanctity of the home mortgage-interest deduction.

Even Ron Paul is playing catch-up. One pro-Paul Web site, www.dailypaul.com, gave Paul supporters an explicit script for challenging the FairTax: "people need to know that we can get rid of the IRS, and have no new Tax."

All this energy is remarkable since the FairTax is a bad idea, so bad you could call it the ScareTax. For voters to like it tells us a lot about their mood as 2008 dawns.

Start with the mechanics. The FairTax does away with the income tax, corporate taxes, estate taxes and just about any other federal levy. It also kills off the Internal Revenue Service. Under the FairTax, Washington would apply a single national sales tax on purchases, whether a DVD player, or a new house. To take the edge off the pain for lower earners, the FairTax offers them a monthly rebate.

Exporters, who now pay more taxes than their foreign equivalents, love the FairTax. It cuts their overall tax burden and puts them on a level playing field with those German companies that are doing so well in China. The FairTax campaigners offer something else: a plan to amend the 16th Amendment, which gave the federal government the power to collect income taxes, to make their change irreversible.

But notice that this catalog of features doesn't mention one thing: the rate. That's because a national sales tax that captures the sort of revenue Washington needs requires a 30% rate.

To be sure, FairTax advocates tout the plan with a 23% rate. But this is beyond disingenuous. The 23% rate is "inclusive," meaning that for every dollar you pay, 23 cents is tax. That translates to a 30% tax on a 77-cent expenditure.

Other warts include a problem of civics. Americans generally pay the taxes they owe, a fact that has long astounded Europeans, who live to evade.

Implement the FairTax, though, and the U.S. will find its tax-scape taking on a certain sleaziness. Vendors will materialize on street corners selling that DVD player without tax.

Even citizens who never thought of breaking the law will snatch up those DVDs. Thirty percent is simply too great a take to ignore. Especially vulnerable will be younger people, who already view property rights as an option, not a given. Think Napster - if you don't pay for downloads, you certainly won't feel the need to pay a sales tax six times the one your state charges.

A third and significant FairTax problem also has to do with Europe. Europeans introduced their own version of the FairTax, the value-added tax, while they talked of curtailing the income tax. But when the time came, they retained that levy, generating the double-tax burden that corrupted Europe in the first place.

To avoid such a dual system the U.S. really has to pass that constitutional amendment, and the chances of that are, well, real low. What else? Even the FairTax needs enforcers, so while the IRS may go, another form of tax police will emerge.

So why all the FairTax talk, and why now? The FairTax's popularity can't all be written off to financial backing by Texan exporters. Voters today display a fiscal desperation that goes beyond the housing problem.

Two answers, one having to do with the past, and one with the future.

The simple 1986 tax revision got close to some of the goals that the FairTax aims for. While lowering the top income-tax rate to 28%, the 1986 law promised a simpler, less-taxed future. Yet "everyone knows what that became," says David Tuerck, an economist at the Beacon Hill Institute in Boston. Lawmakers, led by the current president's father, were raising rates within half a decade. Tuerck has done contract work for the FairTax movement and says he is convinced that it "will resist dilution by big government."

The other source of the FairTax's appeal is more subtle. Tax increases are coming one way or another. Medicare Part D, as well as Social Security, will simply require those increases, not only because of statutes but also because Americans expect ever-greater entitlements.

Even a construct as sturdy as the FairTax can't withstand those expectations. Put the federal tax beast in the FairTax cage, and you'll find the states are the ones raising rates. Or that the bill for it is postponed and shifted to younger generations, as the Social Security burden has been.

So the choice is simple. The country can start thinking about reforming entitlements soon, starting with ratcheting down those expectations. Or it can cheer the Fairtax Bus through November and into law. What happens after that is anyone's guess, but one thing is sure. It will not be fair.

Miss Shlaes, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a columnist for Bloomberg News.

Copyright 2007 - The New York Sun

 

Another good point about faith and politics...

Huckabee, Romney, and Church and State
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
By: David Limbaugh

The surfacing of the "religion question" in the Republican presidential primary campaigns of both Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee has raised important issues and exposed much public confusion about the intersection of religion and politics.

Secularists feign sympathy with Romney for having to address the Mormon question in response to alleged anti-Mormon bigots but condemn him for failing in his speech to expressly include nonbelievers among those whose religious liberty he would safeguard.

This particular attack on Romney by the secularist bigot patrol reveals their own religious bigotry, their ignorance or their disingenuousness. It goes without saying that robust religious liberty includes the freedom to believe in any religion or not to believe at all.

But the secularists' attacks on Huckabee are more serious. They have taken him to task for identifying himself as a "Christian leader" in Iowa, with some saying he was exploiting Romney's Mormonism and also violating the spirit of the constitutional prohibition on requiring religious tests for public office.

In a campaign ad, Huckabee says, "Faith doesn't just influence me. It really defines me," and he identifies himself as a "Christian leader."

It's one thing to read the First Amendment Establishment Clause as prohibiting the slightest government endorsement of the Christian religion (while not demonstrating similar angst over government promotion of secular humanism, New Age-ism, Islam, or Native-American spirituality). But it's taking it to an entirely new level to say that it precludes public officeholders from allowing their Christian worldview to influence their policy preferences or governance.

Public officials cannot separate their worldview from their governance without gutting themselves into ciphers. Their policy agenda will necessarily reflect their value system. Voters in turn properly base their decisions on candidates in part on their respective values and how closely they resemble their own.

A friend of mine objects that it's wrong for Christians to impose their values through the laws. He cites Justice David Souter's opinion saying the government can't prefer one religion over another. My friend is merely restating the popular misunderstanding that we cannot legislate morality. All laws are based on morality; the only question is whose morality is being imposed. The pro-abortionist seeks to impose his values by law just as much as the anti-abortionist.

When a Christian legislator votes to restrict abortion, he is not using government to endorse his religion any more than a secularist legislator is endorsing atheism by opposing those restrictions. The Christian legislator is not establishing Christianity but rather certain laws grounded in Christian values - as well as those of other religions.

Our elected public officials can support or oppose laws for whatever reasons they want, provided they don't otherwise violate the Constitution. If they pass unpopular laws, the electorate may vote them out. But to make a constitutional challenge based on their motives for supporting or opposing laws is a scary prospect.

I wouldn't like it if a Hindu, Buddhist or Muslim were passing laws based on certain values with which I disagreed. But I would have no constitutional complaint if their final product - the laws they passed - were constitutional.

My remedy would be to work against their re-election.

So, for Mike Huckabee to advertise his Christian credentials is not only proper but also admirable and quite useful because it helps voters to identify who he is and what he might do if elected.

How can Huckabee define himself while omitting perhaps his most defining attribute: his Christianity? He is saying, for example, "You can count on me not to waiver on the abortion issue because my faith compels me to be pro-life."

It's also unfair to say he is appealing to anti-Mormon bigotry to promote himself as a Christian leader. He is just putting his best foot forward with Christian conservatives whose votes he is seeking. Couldn't we just as easily argue that it bespeaks an anti-Christian bigotry to suggest that merely by promoting his Christian pedigree, Huckabee is attacking other religions or non-religions?

You can be sure that if Huckabee gets the nomination, his opponents will "play the religion card" against him, like they have against President Bush for the last seven years, as in dubbing him a "messianic militarist."

Finally, Huckabee is not implicitly violating the Constitution's bar on imposing a religious test for public office by identifying himself as a Christian leader. The Constitution only forbids us from adopting by law a religious requirement for office. It doesn't bar candidates from promoting their religious backgrounds or forbid voters from considering those backgrounds.

Huckabee is perfectly within his rights to hold himself out as a Christian. Voters are perfectly within their rights to evaluate what that means.

I just hope that fellow Christian conservatives will look beyond the label and not blindly support a Christian candidate who might be way more Christian than conservative. We shouldn't have to choose between the two.

David Limbaugh is a writer, author and attorney. His book "Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today's Democratic Party" (Regnery) was just released in paperback. To find out more about David Limbaugh, please visit his Web site at www.davidlimbaugh.com.

© 2007 Newsmax.

 

Human Rights Commissions MUST be stopped...

From: The National Review Online
http://article.nationalreview.com/?q=NWU2MzgxZGY1MDA4MWFlODJkOWRlZWIxZGE3MzI5N2Y=

Confronting the Speech Police: The spectacle of Canada’s Human Rights Commission.
By: Rebecca Walberg

A peculiarly Canadian institution, the Human Rights Commission attracted attention beyond Canada’s borders last week when the Canadian Islamic Congress filed several complaints against author and commentator Mark Steyn, and Maclean’s, the newsweekly that excerpted his bestselling America Alone last year. There is no substance to these complaints, but that is no impediment in the eyes of British Columbia’s commission, which has agreed to investigate the case. The degeneration of Human Rights Commissions into forums for nuisance suits, and their current abuse by the CIC, among others, is indicative of the growing political and cultural gulf between the U.S. and Canada, especially concerning freedom of speech and of worship.

Human Rights Commissions were established throughout the 1960s and 1970s as Canada’s answer to the American Civil Rights Movement. While the U.S. government was involved in the latter, the primary driver of the movement was the widespread conviction that segregation and discrimination were harmful and un-American, and must be made obsolete. The great civil rights activists insisted that people of all races be treated as individuals, and not barred from any privilege because they belonged to a given group. The approach of Canada’s HRCs was, and remains, precisely the opposite, since the commissions exist explicitly to reframe conflict between individuals into a matter of group politics. That one party to a private conflict can - through these commissions - gain access to the resources of the state, adds a huge power imbalance between the parties that would not exist if the complaint were pursued through litigation.

In the words of the federal Human Rights Commission, the institution is committed to “vindicating [the] human rights [of victims] and... trying to prevent future acts of discrimination.” The presumption that a complainant is a victim, made at the start of any complaint by the commission, is problematic for those who expect a degree of impartiality from the state when it involves itself in private disputes. Equally troublesome are the expansion of a government agency into the business of providing vindication, and the undertaking of social engineering without the legitimacy of elected legislatures or the judiciary. The diffidence displayed by the Canadian public when these commissions were first established is being eroded in light of complaints that are at best frivolous, and at worst dangerous to genuine freedom - but getting rid of Human Rights Commissions, and reversing the damage they have done, will not be easy.

Many of the intellectuals and activists who helped shape the commissions are themselves aghast at the uses to which they are currently put. Alan Borovoy, the head of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, helped to draft HRC charters decades ago. He now objects to such uses of the commissions on classical liberal grounds, believing that speech codes and anti-hate laws, which concern themselves with statements rather than conduct, invariably devolve into censorship. “A free culture cannot protect people against material that hurts,” he wrote in response to another attempt by a Muslim group to stifle discussion last year. Whatever the architects of the commissions envisioned as the proper role for these bodies, censorship by well-meaning bureaucrats was not it. The Canadian Islamic Congress, in its complaint against Steyn and Maclean’s, speaks the language of victimhood well. According to their lawyer, the complainants are acting “in order to protect Canadian multiculturalism and tolerance.” Their passion for defending Canadian values came about only after Maclean’s declined to give four Muslim law students editorial control over a rebuttal, but this is omitted from the CIC’s account. This elision is telling. Having failed to bully the publication in question into ceding control of its own content, and without recourse to any kind of civil or criminal action (since no laws were broken) the plaintiffs are using the Human Rights Commission to do what the courts, the legislature, and the marketplace of ideas will not: coerce publishers into silence on the subject of Islam.

They can be forgiven for thinking this will work. In the summer of 2006, after the now defunct Western Standard magazine published the Danish Mohammed cartoons, another Muslim lobby group, the Islamic Supreme Council filed a complaint with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The complaint was the very picture of a frivolous petition, presented in hand-scrawled form. As proof that the publication had led to hatred against Muslims, the plaintiff, a Calgary imam claiming direct descent from Mohammed, cited hostile emails that he had received, most of which predated the Western Standard issue in question. Incredibly, the Commission agreed to pursue the complaint, which to date has not been resolved. The Western Standard, which stopped publishing due to financial constraints, will end up spending tens of thousands of dollars defending itself, whatever the outcome of the complaint, while the Islamic Supreme Council will have its cause advanced at taxpayer expense. If Maclean’s endures something similar, what media outlet will have the courage to risk provoking Muslim anger in the future?

Needless to say, not all religions can rely on Human Rights Commissions to suppress criticism they find hurtful. In 2005, a 70-year-old Christian marriage commissioner in Saskatchewan, Orville Nichols, declined to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. Nichols later stated that he has no objection to same-sex marriage, but because of his personal religious beliefs, he could not officiate. In fact, he referred the couple to another marriage commissioner who married them. When all civil marriage commissioners were instructed that they must perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, Nichols filed a complaint with the provincial HRC, arguing that his right to practice his religion was being violated - the case was dismissed. The complaint filed by the couple in question against Nichols was accepted, and the commission’s disposition of their suit is still pending.

Even when the principles at stake are less lofty than freedom of the press or freedom of worship, Human Rights Commissions are used to expand the state and to inconvenience ordinary Canadians in pernicious ways. Canada's Wonderland, a Toronto theme park, was forced to pay damages to a Sikh man who was asked to wear a safety helmet on a go-kart ride, as required by government regulations. Since this required that he remove his turban, the man filed a complaint with the Ontario HRC, which agreed that he had suffered religious discrimination. And last week, a complaint was filed in Ontario on behalf of a handful of school children with food allergies, who want their school to inspect the lunches of all students for peanuts and eggs. Their lawyer argues that since their allergies constitute a disability, they are being discriminated against.

All of these complaints represent an attempt to circumvent the courts and the legislature, and to impose obligations and restrictions on other Canadians that these legitimate bodies will not. Publishing controversial articles and adhering to one's religion can now lead to time-consuming, stressful, and expensive dealings with Human Rights Commissions. So, apparently, can enforcing safety regulations, or failing to police the lunch bags of school children. These commissions are fundamentally undemocratic, and unjust, since HRCs do not answer to voters, courts, or the government. They impose a high cost on those who must defend themselves against a complaint, while attaching no cost to bringing a nuisance suit. More broadly, they promote a culture of victim-hood and identity politics. If ever there were a time to shut these commissions down, it would be now, with a Conservative government in power and increasing awareness among the Canadian public of the insidious nature of such extra-judicial bodies. The complaint against Maclean’s and Mark Steyn could be the catalyst for such a change. If it isn't, and if the BC Human Rights Commission allows itself to be used to stifle discussion, the future of political and religious freedom in Canada looks increasingly grim.

Rebecca Walberg is a policy analyst at Canada’s Frontier Centre for Public Policy, an independent think tank.

Copyright 2007 - The National Review Online

 

Breaking down Moore's "facts" ...

From: Sicko Op-Ed by Mark Steyn

"So what?" says the caring crowd. “We’ve got to do something about those 40 million uninsured! Whoops, I mean 45 million uninsured. Maybe 50 by now.” This figure is always spoken of as if it’s a club you can join but never leave: The very first Uninsured-American was ol’ Bud who came back from the Spanish-American War and found he was uninsured and so was first on the list, and then Mabel put her back out doing the Black Bottom at a tea dance in 1926 and she became the second, and so on and so forth, until things really began to snowball under the Bush junta. And, by the time you read this, the number of uninsured may be up to 75 million.

Nobody really knows how many “uninsured” there are: Two different Census Bureau surveys conducted in the same year identify the number of uninsured as A) 45 million or B) 19 million. The first figure is the one you hear about, the second figure apparently entered the Witness Protection Program. Of those 45 million “uninsured Americans,” the Census Bureau itself says over 9 million aren’t Americans at all, but foreign nationals. They have various health care back-ups: If you’re an uninsured Canadian in Detroit, and you get an expensive chronic disease, you can go over the border to Windsor, Ontario, and re-embrace the delights of socialized health care; if you’re an uninsured Uzbek, it might be more complicated. Of the remaining 36 million, a 2005 Actuarial Research analysis for the Department of Health and Human Services says that another 9 million did, in fact, have health coverage through Medicare.

Where are we now? 27 million? So who are they? Bud and Mabel and a vast mountain of emaciated husks of twisted limbs and shriveled skin covered in boils and pustules? No, it’s a rotating population: People who had health insurance but changed jobs, people who are between jobs, young guys who feel they’re fit and healthy and at this stage of their lives would rather put a monthly health-insurance tab towards buying a home or starting a business or blowing it on booze ’n’ chicks.

That last category is the one to watch: Americans 18-34 account for 18 million of the army of the “uninsured.” Look, there’s a 22-year-old, and he doesn’t have health insurance! Oh, the horror and the shame! What an indictment of America!

Well, he doesn’t have life insurance, either, or homeowner’s insurance. He lives a life blessedly free of the tedious bet-hedging paperwork of middle age. He’s 22, and he thinks he’s immortal – and any day now Hillary will propose garnishing his wages for her new affordable mandatory life-insurance plan.

So, out of 45 million uninsured Americans, 9 million aren’t American, 9 million are insured, 18 million are young and healthy. And the rest of these poor helpless waifs trapped in Uninsured Hell waiting for Hillary to rescue them are, in fact, wealthier than the general population. According to the Census Bureau’s August 2006 report on “Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage,” 37 percent of those without health insurance – that’s 17 million people – come from households earning more than $50,000. Nineteen percent – 8.7 million people – of those downtrodden paupers crushed by the brutal inequities of capitalism come from households earning more than $75,000. In other words, if they fall off the roof, they can write a check. Indeed, the so-called “explosion” of the uninsured has been driven entirely by wealthy households opting out of health insurance. In the decade after 1995 – i.e., since the last round of coercive health reform – the proportion of the uninsured earning less than $25,000 has fallen by 20 percent, and the proportion earning more than 75 grand has increased by 155 percent. The story of the past decade is that the poor are getting sucked into the maw of “coverage,” and the rich are fleeing it. And, given that the cost of health “insurance” bears increasingly little relationship to either the cost of treatment or the actuarial reality of you ever getting any particular illness, it’s entirely rational to say: “You know what? I’ll worry about that when it happens. In the meantime, I want to start a business and send my kid to school.” Freedom is the desire of my human heart even if my arteries get all clogged and hardened.

Copyright 2007 - Mark Steyn

 

Countering the sick in "Sicko"

From: Name Withheld
Sent: November 21, 2007 1:03:14 PM
Subject: Sicko the Clown - A useless film from Michael Moore.‏

I made the mistake of watching another Michael Moore film. Don't worry, he didn't get any of my money. Here's the rough brass of what I thought of it...

Ok, it's a little roasty at points. Very rambly, but here's a first take an hour or two after watching this thing... and of course taking a look around to check out what he says...

The first thing I noticed about this film is that Moore has departed from at least some of his earlier ways of doing things. There is less content to judge one way or another. It is much more like a late-night "infomercial" where the key points are hammered home using repetition of the juiciest points - i.e. - "health care is 'free' in Canada," "Health care is 'free' in Britain," "Health care is 'free' in France" "free free free, etc." "how much do you pay? Nothing." "What was your bill? Nothing." and so on.

Where I will credit Mr. Moore is that he does underline some very disturbing and possibly unfair specific cases from his own country. They are examples of horrible situations that we must work, be it privately or publicly or somewhere in between, to prevent from happening to anyone in our country.

I don't approach this film as somebody who approves of the systems or the overall interconnection of those systems in the US. It's not because I have a problem with private sector involvement in health care... far from it. It's because I think the incentives are slack and the patchwork has caused problems.

I am informed enough to realize that Moore is being extremely selective in what he shows in his film. I have dozens of relatives living in the U.S. They do just fine with their insurance companies and health coverage.

Still, I don't mind Moore pointing out real, serious, and legitimate faults that exist. He's right to point out the cracks and those who fall through them. We should remember to look for similar cracks here and fix them in the best ways we know how. As usual, Moore tries to make it seem as if the Americans are all on death's door or forced into the poorhouse by the systems there.

Where Moore ticks me off, as usual, is when he still feels the need to misrepresent the situation and even lie.

A few examples: He claims infant mortality is higher in Detroit than in El Salvador. Putting aside the fact that it's somewhat problematic to compare a country to a city, I don't think his claim is correct.

The 2006 UN Human Development Report shows that El Salvador's Infant Mortality Rate is 24 per 1000. The US rate is 7 per 1000. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/hdr06-complete.pdf

Detroit's is indeed considerably higher than the US average, but it is well under 20. http://detnews.com/2004/specialreport/0412/20/A15-36503.htm

This probably points to some other serious social problems and there could be a whole other discussion about the best way to address some or all of those...

There are similar disparities right here in Canada too: http://www.statcan.ca/Daily/English/041109/d041109c.htm

Infant mortality in places like Nunavut and rougher Canadian cities are as bad or worse than Detroit's. Funny how Moore gave them all a miss...

My curiosity was also piqued when Moore started to make a series of conclusions based on the anecdotes he filmed plus the state of "50 million" Americans without health insurance...

Depending on who you talk to, the number appears to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 million, maybe more depending on your definition. Still, that's a lot of people. In this film, Moore seems to be constantly re-enforcing, or at least asserting, that uninsured Americans WILL forgo preventive care or receive a lower quality of care.

Yesterday, I stopped off at the land of Google and a few reputable university websites and publications to see if anyone had actually looked into what might seem intuitive and even gospel "post-sicko."

Helen Levy from the University of Michigan's Economic Research Initiative on the Uninsured, and David Meltzer of the University of Chicago, couldn't establish a "causal relationship" between health insurance and better health. There is, to use their words, "no evidence," that expanding insurance coverage is a cost-effective way to promote health. http://www.jcpr.org/wpfiles/levy_meltzer.pdf

Check out the New England Journal of Medicine - a study in there from last year found that although many Americans were not receiving the appropriate standard of care, "health insurance status was largely unrelated to the quality of care."
http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/full/354/11/1147

Also, many death rates, including those for cancer in the US, are continuing to drop. This may be indicative of many things, but since Moore took time and chose to put faith in such indicators, he should paint a fuller picture...
http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/10/15/us-cancer.html

I guess the point is - there are problems and there are people whose problems should be addressed but aren't being addressed in the US, but we would be likely wrong to make too many of the so-certain assumptions that Moore makes about insurance and the like.

I will say this for Michael Moore - he's getting a little more transparent with age. Large portions of his film depart nearly completely from the subject of health care policy and law and go over into the sort of stuff you usually see from one or another left wing flyer-distributing group... attempts to link everything from Nixon to pills to multi-job economy to changes in unionization together.

It doesn't quite go together, and one can be driven mad if one first takes his word that this isn't about ultimately socializing everything, but then asks oneself whether he thinks it's cool that the Brits are able to get all those drugs, including all the nasty supposedly unnecessary pharmaceutical products at a flat drug plan rate... and other such paradoxes...

During the part where he goes to Britain, it's like he took a break in the middle of the film to go speak to Tony Benn and film some old (and now largely discredited) Labour Party junk. Even Tony seemed more focused on solid (albeit twisted) values.

And if the objective was to get a credible Brit aimed at winning skeptical Yanks over to some version of NHS, why the hell would you go to Tony Benn?

Why not someone from New Labour? I'd bet even some Tories would love to speak on it too. But for Moore, that would be too limiting. He's still actually much more interested in driving at something else beyond health care.

It comes up in his trip to France too - where he spends as much time fawning over a system where they all but send someone to raise your youngsters for you and wipe your arse (if Moore's film is to be believed) at no cost of any sort, in any way, ever... then shows clips of people out in the streets bawling for more...

He seems to think France is idyllic because of its statism. Quite frankly, I found a lot of the things he claimed to be "good" to be almost offensive. Are families obsolete? I remember Bill Gairdnier warning us in one of his books from about 15 years ago about the senior Swedish civil service who were less than guarded about that being one of their goals.

All in all, I think Michael Moore lost an opportunity to have a film more specifically directed at fixing the problems he outlines and helping the people who fall through the cracks that he found. Instead he stayed true to character. He tried to paint the US system in that light, generalized it all (I guess to widen the audience appeal?), and then proceeded to make some comparisons to other countries.

I was most disappointed with his trip to Canada. If I was going to find some average Canadians and I was Michael Moore, I wouldn't go to my relatives. And I don't know if it's fair to suggest or imply that the average Canadian is terrified to enter the US without insurance. But Moore plays it that way anyway.

His wide travels within Canada apparently took him to two cities in Ontario. We can all appreciate the hilarity of this... then again he visited a low crime part of one town in Canada in Bowling for Columbine and pretended as if it was definitely representative of all of Canada, so that trick isn't new.

As for the wait times for people in Canada - not sure he's getting the full story. I had to attend a hospital outpatients non-emergency clinic the night before last and had to wait for 3 hours or so to see about basic prescription matters and other conditions. I have been trying to get a family doctor in CornerBrook since February 2007 and I still don't have one. Given the triage system, I think 3 hours - even in a crowded waiting room - isn't too bad, but it's certainly longer than the 20 minutes that Moore was trying to pass off as the 'Canadian' norm.

Wait times in Canada are much much higher than Moore would like to have us believe - http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2007/10/15/waittimes-fraser.html

In fact, they have become such a concern that when the federal government changed hands, a wait-times strategy was put into place to try to address the problem.

I also think it's unfair (and unnecessary) to play up "it's free." I realize he's selling in the US where patient pays is more common, but is he really going to pretend as if there isn't a cost paid elsewhere? Does he believe the Yanks won't ask about taxes and fees and levies?

I think that Canada has a system that needs improvement, but I wouldn't pretend as if it doesn't cost me money or us money. In fact, the cost of the Canadian system continues to increase each and every year. The projections put the cost of health care at well over 50% of provincial revenues in over half the provinces in this country by 2020 or so.

Canada, France, and Britain have considerably higher taxes. I'm not saying that they don't all go to pay for certain services, but I think Moore should have gotten more specific.

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/43/63/1942474.xls
http://www.oecd.org/document/60/0,3343,en_2649_34533_1942460_1_1_1_1,00.html

It's a rough road to take when you start making claims of miracles about a system - especially the Canadian System.

Our systems are in flux. We had a ban on choice/access to private care that was unique to us and communist countries. It was overturned, rightly, because it affected our rights in a very very very serious way.

As our Supreme Court Justices (a generally very lefty liberal bunch) said: " ...The evidence in this case shows that delays in the public health care system are widespread, and that, in some serious cases, patients die as a result of waiting lists for public health care. The evidence also demonstrates that the prohibition against private health insurance and its consequence of denying people vital health care result in physical and psychological suffering that meets a threshold test of seriousness... "
http://csc.lexum.umontreal.ca/en/2005/2005scc35/2005scc35.html

Of course, Moore ignores this too. He ignores anything and everything that gets in the way of what he wants idealized. He did it when he tried to imply that all Canadians keep their doors unlocked. He did it when his representation of pre-2003 Iraq was kids happily playing in the streets in a free and safe country... he's doing it here again with health care.

His Cuban-approved portrayal of Cuba, while good in that it led to care for some select individuals he brought along, was very misleading.

First off, I think he should speak to Cuban exiles - of all 'classes' and means about what freedom meant pre-Castro versus post before he just assumes that the regimes pre and post "revolution" were comparable. He doesn't do that. He ignores the fact that even the basic internet liberties we enjoy right here on this forum are restricted in Cuba. It is hard to believe that this care would be given in this way without some careful direction and consideration of what would happen to all people portrayed should they do anything except showboat the country to the world.

What's even funnier is that even though Moore at one point cites the WHO study to point out that the US is ranked 37th in terms of its health system, he later tries to claim that CUBA has one of the best in the world, EVEN THOUGH, USING THE SAME RANKING, IT RANKS LOWER THAN THE US!
http://www.photius.com/rankings/healthranks.html

Moore also claims that Cubans have a longer average lifespan than Americans. According to the UN Human Development report, this isn't true. Americans have a higher average life expectancy than Cubans and infant mortality rates are different by 1 per 1000. Maternal Mortality rates (per 100,000) are 8 in the US and 34 in Cuba... Canadians DO live longer on average than Americans, but not quite as long as Moore claims...
http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/hdr06-complete.pdf

Canada only makes it to 30 on that WHO list. I'm sure many of the Public Monopoly Health Care Sacred Cow cultists are still scratching their heads on that one! Many of the countries ranked higher still have systems that allow private sector involvement. Moore ignores them too.

To be fair (and I have a hard time with such an unfair SOB on the other side) Moore also points out a few very quickly addressable problems in PARTS of his own country:

Senior's Care - this is a group that is defined relatively easily and even many of the Americans who might oppose state medicare could see why there needs to be an immediate effort and series of reforms aimed at making sure that each and every senior citizen is cared for somehow.

9/11 rescue workers - Though given that there are probably days when Moore would protest that the people at GITMO aren't getting fair treatment, etc. his Gitmo stunt was a little hypocritical.

I think the film also revealed something that is under-considered in Canada - the Brits have incentives and bonuses for doctors with patients they shift to better health practices and/or improved health indicators, etc. This may be something that health care providers should consider exploring.

No doubt, not unlike 'F-Height 9/11' and 'Bowling,' this film will be very popular with Canadians who want to have their belief that their system is significantly better than the American system or some other smug piece of perception of moral superiority. I think the most incorrect and ridiculous thing we could do is to fall into the trap of watching a film like this in this way and/or assuming that any move towards involvement of the private sector in any way must equal out to the bogeyman Moore-portrayed "US System."

Putting aside the fact that there are few generalizations we can honestly make about the "US system," there are countries that Moore didn't talk about that have indeed had private sector involvement, contracting out and other such things.

Even France, one of the ones he mentioned, didn't dare go so far as to try the ill-fated Canada private-hating ban on private service.

Norway, Sweden, and other countries have had even better health indicators and have at times done quite well with partnerships that realize some benefits in parallel systems.

We shouldn't rule out using more contracting or specialization or diagnostic clinics within the single-payer model. Heck, after our own Supreme Court pointed out the rights abuses of our system, the single-payer monopoly is probably not even a go.

So we're changing too. And so we should. Moore's film can tell us almost NOTHING about the Canadian system and maybe a few small things about parts of the "US system."

All in all, I wasn't that impressed.

 

The future of taxation?

From: The Wall Street Journal

The Supply-Side Solution
By: STEPHEN MOORE

November 9, 2007; Page A18

I recently spoke with Mart Laar, the former prime minister of Estonia and the godfather of that nation's flat tax. The major opposition to his tax reform, he explained, was not the citizenry; rather it came from the economists and the other Wise Men of government.

"I was told, We cannot do a flat tax. It is untested. It will not work. It will cause budget deficits," Mr. Laar recalls. However, he believed it would work because of what he'd read about it in Milton Friedman's classic, "Free to Choose." And so, in 1994, Mr. Laar ignored the economic pundits and snapped into place a 23% flat tax. Estonia has since experienced one of the most rapid growth spurts of any nation in the world.

There's a lesson here for our country: Revolutionary ideas in economics, especially if they don't leverage the power of the state, are often resisted by the intellectual elite. Ronald Reagan discovered this in 1980 when he was ridiculed by the establishment for proposing cuts in marginal tax rates as a cure for the high inflation and economic malaise of the 1970s.

Gardner Ackley, a former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, famously told Congress that it would be "a miracle" if the tax cuts worked to reduce inflation and increased growth. But reduced inflation (with an assist from Fed Chairman Paul Volcker) and increased growth is what happened in the 1980s.

Here we are 27 years later - with 40 million more jobs and a nearly $50 trillion higher net worth - yet the left intelligentsia is still obsessed with discrediting supply-side economics. In recent weeks, the New York Times, the New Yorker, the New Republic and many other liberal publications have devoted great space and attention to attacking the entire theory that lower tax rates can increase incentives for investment, saving and work.

The original champions of these ideas, men such as Arthur Laffer and George Gilder, are not just misguided, they are, according to the New Republic, "deranged," "crackpots," and even "possibly insane." James Surowiecki complains in the New Yorker that supply-side tax prescriptions for the economy are the equivalent of "saying that the best way to treat sick people is to bleed them to let out the evil spirits."

The quality of this discourse rarely rises above the level of trash talk. Nevertheless, some arguments are repeated with such regularity that they need to be addressed. One is that supply-siders dishonestly claim that tax rate cuts increase tax revenues. Now, we can argue forever whether tax revenues would have been higher or lower without the Bush 2003 tax cuts. But one stubborn fact remains: Tax receipts are up, not down, by $745 billion in four years since the 2003 tax cuts.

It's one thing for the supply-side critics to have predicted four years ago that the Bush tax cuts would increase the budget deficit. But Mr. Surowiecki tells us, today, that "myriad studies" find that the Bush tax cuts "led to bigger budget deficits."

Bigger deficits? After the second Bush tax cut of 2003, the budget deficit tumbled to $163 billion in FY 2007 from $401 billion in FY 2003.

Supply-side economics is also denounced as a flim-flam whose sole purpose is to give jumbo-sized tax handouts to corporations and high-income earners. Since so many upper-income and wealthy Americans are Democrats, however, it's not clear why Republicans would be so preoccupied with helping them.

In any case, the share of taxes paid by the top 1% and 5% income earners has consistently risen from 1980 through 2007, even as tax rates declined. Today the highest income tax rate is half what it was in the 1970s. Yet the share of taxes paid by the top 1% of income earners is twice (39%) today what it was then (19%).

Regardless of what one believes about the distributional effects of the Reagan and Bush tax cuts, there's no expunging the reality that the economic growth rate surged after each of these changes - just as they did in the 1960s after President Kennedy's tax rate cuts. Robert Rubin and others reply that the economy boomed in the 1990s too, after Bill Clinton raised taxes. But supply-siders never argued that only tax cuts matter. Trade matters. Sound money matters. Regulations matter. In the 1990s, monetary, trade and spending policies were all leaning in a pro-growth direction, possibly offsetting the negative impact of the Clinton tax rate hikes.

What the critics have no plausible answer for is this: If the supply-side tax rate reduction model is truly so abhorrent, why are so many nations around the world latching on to it? What explains the Irish Miracle? Why are Germany, France and the U.K. slashing their corporate tax rates? Why are there 18 countries with flat taxes? Are their leaders deranged, or been bamboozled by crackpots? Perhaps a better explanation is that they know intuitively what a new National Bureau of Economic Research study has found: Nations with low tax rates on business have statistically significant higher rates of new business formation, investment and income.

History is clearly not on the side of the antisupply-side attack dogs, and they're losing the policy debate every day in political capitals around the world. Poland just announced it wants to implement a 15% flat tax by 2009. But the American left's obsession with the notion that tax rates don't matter tells us something important about the future. They are preparing the ground for massive tax increases if and when they capture control of the presidency.

I asked Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, a leading economic policy maker in the GOP, how many of the Democrats he works with buy into these screeds against supply-side economics. "Are you, kidding?" he replied. "Every one of the Democrats who sits in the front row of the Ways and Means Committee does. They've already got Charlie Rangel's tax increase baked into the cake."

Estonia, anyone?

Mr. Moore is senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal editorial board.

Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal

 

Oh, Canada...

From: The Globe and Mail

If previous inquiries are any guide, perverse fallout is a-comin'
By: JEFFREY SIMPSON
November 16, 2007

Between them, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien served as prime minister for almost 19 years. Their governments, therefore, helped define modern Canada.

But each has been, or will be, subject to a public inquiry - in Mr. Chrétien's case over the sponsorship affair, in Mr. Mulroney's over his dealings with Karlheinz Schreiber.

The very fact of these inquiries, the media coverage, the conclusions reached in the sponsorship inquiry, and the perfervid political accusations could not help but deepen cynicism about politics.

In the sponsorship affair, the Gomery inquiry unveiled a parade of shady Quebec characters who had been bottom-feeding on federal contracts and/or Liberal contacts.

The overwrought response to these revelations was the Conservatives' Accountability Act, which created a series of new mini-bureaucracies, and a further swelling of the Auditor-General's power and office.

These represented the classic hammer-to-hit-a-fly routine, since the sponsorship scandal had not been about the lack of rules, regulations, procedures and checks but about the deliberate decision by a handful of people to circumvent them.

New mini-bureaucracies, more paperwork, fresh regulations and over-the-top requirements to report who spoke to whom outside government are already having the perverse effect of making an already cumbersome government more cumbersome, and an already form-and-procedure-driven bureaucracy even more bureaucratic.

The effect of the Gomery inquiry, therefore, was to flush out shady characters and dubious, even illegal, actions but, over the longer term, to make even less effective the operations of the federal government and less attractive that government as a place to work.

These post-Gomery requirements, however, were part of the response to the overall cynicism about government that had previously produced, under Mr. Chrétien, new financing rules for parties. Among other changes, these restricted private donations to $5,000 and banned union and corporate contributions.

The avenging Conservatives, creators of the Accountability Act, then sliced the limit to $1,000, in part for their own political gain, since their ability to hit up people for small donations eclipsed considerably that of the Liberals.

But, again, the law of unintended consequences played itself out. The one party that now barely tries to raise money is the Bloc Québécois, because the public subsidy it receives (largely from outside Quebec) is so large. Thus, taxpayers in the rest of Canada are hugely subsidizing a party whose ambition is to break up Canada, allowing separatists to channel almost all of their fundraising efforts into supporting the Parti Québécois.

Moreover, the $1,000 limit will discourage serious people from running for party leadership positions, since who would want to be saddled with enormous debts, as are Bob Rae, Michael Ignatieff and other candidates for the Liberal leadership almost a year ago?

It is too soon to know what effects the Mulroney inquiry will have, but we can be sure, if previous inquiries are any guide, that some of the fallout will be perverse.

In part, the fallout will depend on the terms of reference and, of course, the person who presides. Mr. Mulroney wants the widest possible terms, because he has apparently decided to turn the inquiry into a massive platform from which to expose what he believes has been the campaign against him by political and media foes, bureaucrats, lobbyists and, of course, Mr. Schreiber.

He could have offered a simple, public explanation for the questions that have been raised about his conduct vis-à-vis Mr. Schreiber. But he opted for the inquiry and will live with the consequences.

As for Mr. Schreiber, he has already fulfilled his ambition to remain in Canada and escape extradition to Germany, where his disbursements of money have made him a wanted man by German authorities. This result was precisely the one he sought. Another result is how asinine Canadian laws are to have allowed him to avoid extradition for eight years - and counting.

Maybe something good can come from this miserable affair before the inquiry even starts - provided someone reviews how Mr. Schreiber parlayed the laws into an eight-year delay. Lawyers, judges and justice ministers might wish to study how this happened, so the law ceases being such an ass.

Contact: jsimpson@globeandmail.com

Copyright 2007 - The Globe and Mail

 

Loonie getting loony...

From: The Wall Street Journal

Loonie's Rise Yields Splitting Pain for Canada
By: JOANNA SLATER and DOUGLAS BELKIN

November 12, 2007; Page C1

The Canadian dollar's strength is shifting from a point of pride to a source of economic anxiety after the currency spiked to a level not seen since the 1870s.

At one point last week, the Canadian dollar bought more than $1.10, a modern-day record. Late Friday in New York, one Canadian dollar - known as the loonie for the bird pictured on coins - fetched $1.06.

That means the loonie has strengthened about 24% against the U.S. dollar since the start of the year, far more than the euro or the British pound. Much of its ascent is attributable to a robust Canadian economy. As the U.S. has struggled with an ailing housing sector and credit woes, Canada has surged ahead. High commodity prices have boosted demand for its natural resources, especially oil. The country boasts a trade surplus and unemployment is at a 33-year low.

Now the loonie's rise is sharpening the line between those in Canada who will benefit from a stronger currency and those who will struggle with its impact.

For Canadians traveling overseas or Canadian companies prowling for acquisitions abroad, the pumped-up loonie is a bonanza.

Still, it is causing increasing discomfort for certain parts of the economy, such as exporters, who have to contend with a currency that makes their goods less competitive. It also is sending shock waves through the tourism industry and hitting retailers, as Canadians head south to shop.

Already the impact is reflected in the latest trade figures. Friday, Ottawa said the Canadian trade surplus dropped 38% in September as the strengthening currency and flagging demand from the U.S., Canada's largest trading partner, undercut exports.

When the loonie hit parity with the dollar in September, "we had our little celebration," says Ted Carmichael, chief economist at J.P. Morgan Chase in Toronto. "Now, we're trying to look more realistically about how this is going to affect the economy."

Mr. Carmichael says the strong currency will crimp economic growth by lowering exports and will contribute to higher unemployment as manufacturers shed jobs - as many as 150,000 in the next year, he predicts. At the same time, a slower growing U.S. economy will reduce demand for a host of Canadian exports from lumber to auto parts.

As a result, while Canada averaged 3.5% economic growth in the first half of this year, that figure will likely fall to 2% to 2.5% in the next few quarters, says Stephen Malyon, a currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Toronto.

That is turning the loonie into a hot political issue. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper took the unusual step of commenting directly on the currency's ascent, calling it unprecedented. "With weakness in some of our export markets and the rapid appreciation of the [Canadian] dollar, we are living in challenging times," he told an audience in Toronto last week.

In Windsor, Ontario, just across the border from Detroit, Mayor Eddie Francis can see first-hand the effects of the strong currency. Fewer American tourists are coming to shop or to gamble in his city's casinos. On top of that, the stronger loonie is exacerbating problems in the region's auto-making sector. Lastly, local retailers are suffering because of the proximity of significantly lower prices 20 minutes to the north.

"It's a perfect storm," says Mr. Francis, who can see cars lined up to cross into the U.S. from his office.

The loonie's brawn is a painful twist for U.S. companies such as General Motors Corp. that use Canada as a manufacturing base. One of the reasons they built plants there to export to the U.S. and elsewhere was to take advantage of the formerly anemic Canadian dollar. Those lower costs have now turned into higher ones.

On Nov. 7, GM announced its largest quarterly loss ever. Fritz Henderson, GM's chief financial officer, said the stronger loonie was a "major head wind" for the company.

Canadian manufacturers themselves are bracing for tough times. At Dofasco Inc., a steel company in Hamilton, Ontario, higher energy prices are translating into a big increase in electricity costs. At the same time, revenue is taking a hit because the steel industry is so highly integrated across North America that the company generally is paid in U.S. dollars. "We're just waiting to see how this plays out, but yeah, it's very challenging," says Andrew Sloan, a company spokesman. "We're just trying to stay focused on innovation and productivity." Dofasco is a unit of ArcelorMittal.

For every penny the loonie rises above parity with the U.S. dollar, local manufacturers lose about 1.5 billion Canadian dollars in profit, estimates Jay Myers, president of the Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters, a trade association.

As the critical Christmas shopping season approaches, retailers are nervous, too. The Retail Council of Canada estimates retailers have lost about 5% of their sales as Canadians head to the U.S. to take advantage of their new purchasing power. In response, retailers in Canada from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to independent bookstores have slashed their prices to match those prevailing south of the border.

Among the biggest losers are Canadian auto dealers. So many Canadians are heading to the U.S. to buy cars that the Canadian Border Services began offering classes on how to navigate the bureaucracy upon their return. Registration for nearly all of the 30 initial classes filled up quickly.

Meanwhile, currency experts say the Canadian dollar has traveled beyond what is justified by economic fundamentals, possibly because of speculative investors who piled in looking for a quick profit.

Not everyone is complaining. "I've put a moratorium on shopping in Canada," says Mr. Malyon of Scotia Capital. Next month he is headed to California for a business trip and is taking "an extra big suitcase."

Write to Joanna Slater at joanna.slater@wsj.com and Douglas Belkin at doug.belkin@wsj.com

Copyright 2007 - The Wall Street Journal

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