Monthly Archives: November 2008

Some life lessons for foolish students

Apparently the Carleton University Students Association won’t refuse to raise money for cystic fibrosis after all. Remarkable what they sometimes end up teaching in schools, isn’t it?

Not including the “fact” that cystic fibrosis (CF) primarily affects white men. Although it was the basis of the CUSA’s quickly-reversed decision to cancel the annual fall Shinerama CF fundraiser, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CCFF) swiftly explained that this disease afflicts men and women equally and strikes non-whites significantly, though at a lower rate than whites. The lesson: Politics and science are not natural allies.

Campus political correctness is in the news lately; you probably read about Queen’s University hiring six student “dialogue facilitators” to eavesdrop on discussions in quest of intolerant remarks. But supposedly it’s not meant to intimidate or punish; rather, said an assistant dean at Queen’s, “If there’s a teachable moment, we’ll take it.” So in the spirit of inclusiveness, let me do just that.

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The winter of stupid economics

As the global mental meltdown continues, the wisdom of decades has disappeared in weeks. We are left poorer for it.

Take deficits… please. How long did it take us to learn, or say we’d learned, that they were bad? How many politicians swore while campaigning not to run them? And now look.

From the 1960s through the early 1980s, a lot of smart people really believed deficits stimulated the economy. But we ran them and things got worse, then we got rid of them and things got better. In some ways, I realize, governments of every stripe are now running deficits because they’re helpless before the dynamics of a modern budget. But their insouciance leaves little doubt that the agonizing experiences of stagflation and runaway interest payments gave them only campaign slogans, not understanding.

What the rest of us learned over 30 years is that “government spending” does not stimulate the economy. When used for legitimate public purposes, like infrastructure or defence, it leaves us better off if done reasonably well. But whenever government spends, it spends real wealth that it must take from the private sector. That’s you and me. In hard times, we’re less able to bear any given burden. Hence increased government spending is especially bad in a slump.

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A cross-border health care crisis

If Barack Obama were elected Prime Minister of Canada, how would he fix health care? It is not an idle question.

American politics is necessarily interesting to Canadians for several reasons. It’s inherently fascinating, even horrifying, because it’s so exuberant. In American politics things actually happen, whereas here you get the feeling that if Christ were to return in glory, commentators would assess its impact on Tory prospects in Quebec.

Also, American politics affects what the hyperpower might do next, interesting to everyone but especially its largest trading partner and closest neighbour. And finally, while in many ways unique, the U.S. also shares many traits and some public policy problems with Canada. Including the crippling stress of public health care on the government budget.

I know, I know, people say the U.S. doesn’t have a public health care system. It’s time to wonder what else such commentators don’t know, since Medicare and Medicaid already consume 20 per cent of the American federal budget, with much worse to come.

Don’t take my word for it. I’m cribbing here from a Nov. 4 talk by Dr. Cindy Williams, sponsored by the University of Ottawa’s Centre for International Policy Studies. She’s a senior research scientist in the MIT security studies program and former Assistant Director of the Congressional Budget Office with a PhD in mathematics, so my guess is she got the numbers right.

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It was closer than you think

So that was a decent night for the Democrats. Sort of. I know, I know, Barack Obama “will electrify the world.”

He’s a “supernova.” Of course now the press are also saying he faces difficult challenges and is something of an unknown and we’d all better lower our expectations. But hey, when change has come to America, who wants to quibble?

Me, actually. I agree that the election of a black president is a historic triumph of America’s open society and Americans’ fundamental decency. I’m too right-wing to support John McCain and I think it’s amazingly great that such a thing could happen. Only in America, folks. At least, it hasn’t happened in Canada, Germany, France or Britain where they like to sneer at American prejudice.

Some people claim a substantial hidden bigoted vote reduced Barack Obama’s vote total. In fact he got more of the white vote (around 43 per cent) than the Democratic average in the previous 10 elections (39 per cent). But in any event, if some voters secretly voted against Mr. Obama because of his race, millions openly voted for him because of it, so it doesn’t explain the narrowness of his victory.

Yes, narrowness. And here I must poke many journalists in the eye for covering what they wanted to happen, not what did. The Globe and Mail declared Barack Obama the victor “in a landslide triumph, winning more than 335 of the 538 Electoral College votes, in striking contrast to the wafer-thin victories that sent George W. Bush to Washington in 2000 and again four years later.” Pfui. A landslide is Reagan in 1984, with 525 of 535 Electoral College votes and 58.8 per cent of the popular vote, or Nixon in 1972 (520 and 60.7), LBJ in 1964 (486 and 61), or FDR in 1936 (523 and 61).

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