Monthly Archives: October 2004

On November 2, Americans vote – and vote – and vote

The U.S. presidential election has become so obscure we may not know who’s going to win for weeks afterwards. Its dynamics are unbelievably murky: John Kerry looks weak in some states (Michigan and Hawaii) that should portend a Republican landslide, yet is doing well in others (Ohio and Pennsylvania) that should have Mr. Bush packing for the ranch.

For what it is worth, I still predict a fairly solid Bush victory, based on the children’s and Halloween mask polls among other things. But it’s not the only election on Nov. 2, and may not be the most interesting one.

Americans are also voting for one-third of the Senate and the entire House of Representatives, as they do every two years. Odds are long that the Republicans will regain control of both Houses of Congress, in which case a President Kerry would be unable to implement most of whatever his agenda is meant to be. The president proposes, but Congress disposes (and the nation dozes, as the old saying goes). So George Bush couldn’t bring back the draft even if he wanted to, as the U.S. Constitution vests such legislative matters in, of all things, the legislature. Continue reading

On principle, if this is Friday, it must be Belgium

You know, I have nothing against Belgium. And not much for it. I read once that it has only one forest left, which depressed me. Still, I’d be willing to check the place out if given good reason. But I’m not holding my breath. Any more than I am for an articulate, coherent and salable platform from the Conservative party.

Stephen Harper’s Belgian proposal might have some merit. It certainly won’t do to complain that politics is banal and predictable, then flying body-slam anyone who says anything unexpected. My complaint is that there is no more evidence of political philosophy behind it than behind the Reform party’s kaleidoscopic series of positions on important issues, generally untainted by any reference to established conservative thinkers, principles or tradition.

But listen for a moment to Abraham Lincoln (courtesy of Ted Morton in Daniel Cere’s and Douglas Farrow’s new book Divorcing Marriage) on the worst decision in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1857’s pro-slavery Dred Scott clunker: “I do not forget the position assumed by some, that constitutional questions are to be decided by the Supreme Court; nor do I deny that such decisions must be binding in any case, upon the parties to a suit, as to the object of that suit … At the same time the candid citizen must confess that if the policy of the government, upon vital questions, affecting the whole people, is to be irrevocably fixed by decisions of the Supreme Court, the instant they are made, in ordinary litigation between parties, in personal actions, the people will have ceased to be their own rulers, having to that extent, practically resigned their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal.” Continue reading

America’s Democrats are losing an uphill battle for votes

With the economy slumping and the war in Iraq booming, the Democrats face the Nov. 2 elections with only two significant disadvantages: foreign and domestic policy. It’s enough.

On foreign policy, not since JFK has the electorate dared entrust the White House to a Democrat in troubled times, as the last Democrat not to see the world situation deteriorate badly on his watch was Grover Cleveland. Thus, paradoxically, John Kerry’s attempt to win votes by saying things look bad abroad can only succeed if it fails.

Conventional wisdom says domestic issues favour Democrats. So Wednesday night’s third debate was meant to be Senator Kerry’s big moment. Unfortunately, in the U.S. there are other domestic issues than “give me a dollar” and they do not help his party. Continue reading

Health care is chronically ill from central planning

Man, somebody better prescribe some sedatives here. No sooner did the Ontario government offer an extra $50 million in physician service payments if doctors cut the cost of the Ontario Drug Benefit Program by $200 million than it was denounced as “despicable” and “immoral.” But how can people swear undying allegiance to the notion that governments should set incentives in health care, then hit the hospital roof when governments set incentives in health care?

NDP health critic Shelley Martel fumed about “a bribe” and Tory health critic John Baird about a “kickback.” Health Minister George Smitherman defensively insisted that “There is no bribe here,” that he was just taking “an opportunity to influence policy” by providing incentives for “appropriate behaviour.” I’m no fan of the McGuinty Liberals. But please, before we go any further with the hair-pulling, would someone clarify for me the difference in a central-planning system between incentives for appropriate behaviour and bribes?

One can hardly deny that there’s an over-prescription problem. Canadians, and Ontarians, down an average of nearly 10 a year each, and since I don’t someone out there must have 20. I expect some of you should just have a beer instead. I’m very sure some people who would benefit from any single one of their dozens of mysterious coloured pills are worse off for gobbling them all, often in combinations their doctor doesn’t know about. (Just as you might lower your stress by having a couple of beers, two glasses of wine or two mixed drinks in an evening, but not all of the above.) Continue reading

The best nine cents we ever spent

You’ve gotta love the new $20 bills. I for one would happily accumulate an unlimited supply of these beauties. But even from a distance they offer an instructive lesson in security. And I don’t just mean financial.

It’s a bit weird seeing a newspaper ad for money. “Get some today.” Uh, I think we’re all sold on the concept already. (They don’t use cars to sell pretty girls.) But last week’s glossy adverts of the new $20’s holographs and holograms got my attention because counterfeiting has been on my mind ever since I got my first desktop scanner. No, wait, officer. I just mean I realized immediately that any hacker with a colour printer could now reproduce banknotes. Since then I’ve feared a return to big, bulky coins, perhaps with a goodbye-financial-anonymity chip in them. Of course you could make a bill so complicated it can’t really be counterfeited, but if it costs more than it’s worth it rather defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?

Actually, no. Looking at last week’s ads I realized a $20 bill that costs more than $20 to produce puts counterfeiters out of business, but not government. Counterfeiters only get to spend it once (minus a substantial cut to the people who take the risk of passing all those too-crisp, too-new $20s). But government, unless you live somewhere like Zimbabwe, doesn’t print money to pay its bills. It does it to lubricate the wheels of commerce. A $20 bill that circulates for years, changing hands dozens of times in transactions totalling thousands of dollars, is a bargain at $25. Hey, they got one right. Continue reading

Some things just don’t deserve the old college try

It seems you can now get a carrot in the team colour of Texas A&M University, namely maroon. It doesn’t concern me directly because I’m a University of Texas man and as our colour was orange we always had carrots that matched. But if the lack of purple carrots had become a major quality-of-life issue, it surely raises the old question of whether too much money can be bad for you.

Old, and hence forgotten. In their second debate next week, John Kerry and George Bush probably will squabble about how they can make America richer. I’d rather listen to George Washington who, before there even was Internet pornography, wrote, “It has long been a speculated question among Philosophers and wise men, whether foreign Commerce is of real advantage to any Country; that is, whether the luxury, effeminacy, and corruptions which are introduced along with it; are counterbalanced by the convenience and wealth which it brings with it.” A practical man, he added that as the colonies were certainly going to trade, they should have a government that would ensure it was carried out justly.

Whereas in these sophisticated times we argue about whether trade increases wealth. The Canadian Labour Congress briefly confessed that it did before reverting to industrial strategies and autarky. Hey, it worked for North Korea. Uh, except for the mass starvation. My dusty old Plato’s Republic includes this dialogue: “Socrates: ‘And in the community all mutual exchanges are made on the assumption that the parties to them stand to gain?’ Adeimantus ‘Certainly.’ CLC President Ken Georgetti: ‘Huh?'” No, sorry, that last bit’s a typo. But how far we’ve progressed since that Yankee yokel Benjamin Franklin said “No nation was ever ruined by trade.” Ha ha. Hey buddy, why don’t you go fly a kite? Continue reading