Bathing suit brouhaha

So there’s this story out of France where the “top court”, the Council of State, has suspended various bans on the burkini, an arguably excessively modest form of swimwear popular among some Muslims. In a characteristic leading paragraph, NBC said “France’s top court on Friday suspended a controversial ban on full-body burkini swimsuits that has sparked heated debate both inside the country and abroad.” And I wonder: Why so much attention to this one?

Now I could write at some length about the way “controversial” is used in the press to mean “thing you should disapprove of”. Or the logic of the ban itself. Or the extraordinary French way of doing things, including that freedom of association is a largely foreign concept as opposed, in the English-speaking world, to a core right that is fast disappearing. (To give another remarkable example, this “top court” of which stories speak, the Conseil d’État, is at once the supreme court for administrative law, that is, for settling disputes about the behaviour of executive agencies, and the legal advisor to the executive branch. In the Anglosphere such an arrangement would be an unthinkable conflict of interest; in France it is seen as commendably efficient in empowering the state to run people’s lives for them.) But for now I want to ask a different question.

Why all this hoo-hah about the French ban, and not a peep about the legal and social restrictions on “immodest” swimwear and indeed clothing generally in much of the Muslim world, including extralegal violence to enforce it? Why are so many people calling the French intolerant on this issue and saying nothing about what goes on elsewhere? Where’s the “heated debate” on bans on infidel attire?

To ask this question is not to suggest that the French ban should not be debated, or that there are not reasonable arguments on both sides. Quite the reverse. And for what it’s worth, as I’ve written elsewhere, I favour considerable freedom of dress provided it isn’t obscene or likely to cause justified public alarm. But I also favour, and indeed regard as inseparable from the former, freedom of association; if I do not like how you are dressed I should be free to shun you personally and, yes, professionally. Especially if you cover your face on the grounds that if I see you, one or both of us will be soiled, which I find deeply offensive. But again, that’s not really the point here.

The point is that we seem to be holding France and the French to a much higher standard than, say, Jordan and Jordanians, let alone Iran and Iranians. For instance, a recent Daily Telegraph Travel/Advice piece said that in Jordan generally, “Women should wear loose fitting clothes, covering the arms, legs and chest area, while T-shirts are best avoided for both sexes. Women’s hair should be dry, as wet hair is said to suggest sexual availability…” What? Are you kidding me?

Obviously I would not want to be judged by that standard. I think we can do better. And the French, for all their foibles and fondness for state direction, generally do better. But for the sake of perspective about such things I also think we should be clear, in going after the French for responding to the menace of radical Islam in their own characteristic way and sometimes getting it wrong, that we are holding them to a higher standard. We might even want to fumble toward an explanation of why.

See, they’re a Western country. And while it’s politically correct to despise Western arrogance, cultural imperialism and so forth, just about everybody knows deep down that… that… that public policy in Western countries is broadly rational and tolerant whereas elsewhere it too often isn’t.

If that’s a “controversial” thing to say, well, I said it anyway.

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Clinton got how much?

Here’s the kind of story that inspires a mixture of rage and bewilderment. NBC reports that while Hillary Clinton has been lambasting “for-profit schools” including Trump University, “Over five years, former president Bill Clinton earned $17.6 million from the world’s largest for-profit education company, Laureate Education, Inc. In his role as “honorary chancellor,” Clinton has traveled the world on Laureate’s behalf, extolling the virtues of the school.” And doing very well indeed. We should be so, uh, lucky.

Now look. I know a lot of people like Bill Clinton, focusing more on the charming than the rogue in his makeup. I am not among them. But a lot of people do.

I also realize that Bill Clinton is a champion schmoozer and makes good connections. He pulls in huge sums for the Clinton Foundation and by no means all of them were people hoping for favours from one H. Clinton when she was Secretary of State. But $17.6 million over five years is over $3.5 million a year. That’s over $9,600 a day, even in a leap year. And it wasn’t the only thing he was doing nor, indeed, the only thing he was doing that brought in vast sums. (For instance The Washington Post says he made $104.9 million giving 542 speeches between 2001 and 2013, an average of $193,542.44 per. And that he was paid $3.13 million in “consulting fees” in 2009 and 2010 by an investment firm whose boss’s charity has given the Clinton Foundation millions more and who did at least try to contact Hillary Clinton for a favor when she was Secretary of State.)

What can anyone do for you on a part-time basis that’s worth nearly $10,000 a day? Per customer? And what has he got to say that’s worth 200 grand a pop, 45 times a year, for over a decade? I mean, we’re out there asking people to support our documentaries and commentaries and other work like the “Ask the Professor” feature with, say, $5 a month, which is about 17 cents a day. That’s less than one fifty-six-thousandth of Clinton’s haul from Laureate Education alone. I’d need 3,226 people to answer that call to make as much in a year as Clinton does for an average speech of the sort he was giving nearly once a week.

I’m not saying I’m in the wrong business. But I am saying if this news bugs you as much as it bugs me, and if you think it’s important to keep the voices that matter to you audible, please do try to find that 17 cents a day for us, and for other groups like Ezra Levant’s The Rebel, Dave Reesor’s Let’s Do It Ourselves, Danny Hozack’s Economic Education Association of Alberta (and yes, I’m professionally involved with two of them) and other similar outfits like the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Constitution Foundation and the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (who helped us enormously with our Fix the Constitution documentary project).

Unlike the Clintons, we’re never going to get rich doing what we do. But that’s kind of the point.

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And that’s an argument against it?

The Daily Telegraph reports a warning from Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Loefven that if Britain cuts corporate taxes it will make its discussions with the European Union over a Brexit “more difficult.” He insists that his own country will keep taxing heavily and spending (no, sorry, “investing”) because “Tax cuts are not the future.” Dude, the whole point of the Brexit is that Britain won’t have to keep implementing bad policy because European politicians condescendingly tell them to.

It’s even odd that Loefven believes the EU has leverage to dictate policy to a member whose citizens have voted to leave, let alone that threatening to will make them less determined to get away from such things.

Oh, and while I’m on the subject, the Telegraph also notes (you have to read down a bit in the story) that, as if deliberately seeking further to persuade Britons that the Brexit vote was a good idea, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker wants all EU members to open their borders entirely in a gesture of solidarity with the refugees now causing EU members to tighten border controls. Juncker went so far as to say “Borders are the worst invention ever made by politicians” which is a mind-boggling fatuity given the horrors governments have inflicted on people from tax rates over 100% to concentration camps. I know, I know, you’re not meant to end every discussion by invoking Hitler. But in this case Juncker’s claim invites the retort from Bertrand de Jouvenel that, as Milton Friedman recounts it, “said he had always been an ardent advocate of world government until the day he crossed the border into Switzerland ahead of the pursuing Nazis.”

Borders exist to protect people from the excesses of big government, from the petty to the ghastly. And Britain is correct to assert within its own the right to have tax policy that favours private initiative over a smothering state.

Hence the Brexit. Obviously.

 

 

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Glavin strikes again

In today’s National Post Terry Glavin has another excellent piece on Canada’s troubling relationship with China. He’s not only very clear on the sinister nature of the government in Beijing and the aggressive style as well as content of its foreign policy. He’s also one of the few commentators I know who understands that we are cozying up to an “increasingly decrepit” as well as “belligerent Chinese police state”.

It is remarkable how wrong the conventional wisdom is about the nature and dynamism of this regime. And Terry is much to be commended for seeing through it.

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Up the Brocks

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Brigitte at Petawawa for Stalwart Guardian in 2005

For over a decade I’ve had the privilege of being associated with the Brockville Rifles, despite my own complete lack of military service, thanks initially to Brigitte and I spending a weekend “embedded” with the Brocks as journalists on an urban warfare exercise at Fort Drum and then both of us being made honorary members of their officers’ mess.

It’s a remarkable experience and one I wish more Canadians knew about. The Brocks are a “reserve” regiment. They train citizen-soldiers who, if they see active service, will do so seconded to other regiments. Even in World War II, with massive mobilization, the Brocks were “feeders” to the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, themselves now also a reserve unit. But that doesn’t make them second string.

In the first place, members of Canada’s dozens of reserve units are a vital supplement to the regular forces in places like Afghanistan, serving on equal terms. But in the second, they are a crucial link between citizens and the military.

It is impossible to overstate the importance, over many centuries, of that link. In the free countries of the Anglosphere, security has never been primarily the responsibility of military professionals, dedicated as they are. Indeed it has always been understood that for the military to see itself as separate from society, an elite answerable to the state not to their fellows, is a dangerous step toward tyranny. By contrast for citizens to see the military in themselves and vice versa, as with the police, is part of a healthy body politic.

The reserve-based citizen-soldier connection is also important because it helps maintain awareness and appreciation among citizens of the need for readiness in an uncertain world and an understanding that national defence is not “someone else’s problem” but that of their neighbours, their colleagues, their relatives and themselves. Including readiness to respond to domestic emergencies whether natural or man-made.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about the reserves on a number of occasions including in Reader’s Digest after another embedded exercise, at Petawawa, in which Brigitte and I even got to ride in helicopters and wave honey-soaked rations at a mama bear. (OK, that was just me, and not on purpose.) And I’ve been privileged to speak to the Brocks’ annual mess dinner. But it’s difficult to convey the special world of the reserves to those not familiar with it.

So when I got a newsletter concerning the 150th anniversary celebrations for the regiment, I thought “This really is a remarkable window into the community of the Brockville Rifles.” Not just the community within the regiment, but the larger community of current and former members and their civilian friends and supporters. So I contacted them to ask whether it would be appropriate to share it and they said to go ahead. Here it is: (you can also view it here)

150th-Mass-email-letter_June-2016_Final

If you read the letter, I think most of you will get a sense that something unfamiliar but clearly wonderful and important is going on here. And I hope you’ll consider getting to know the reserves in your own town, city or area, and to understand just how important the citizen-soldier is not just to our defence but to our way of life. Up the Brocks! And happy 150th.

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If that’s your idea of fun…

OK, this is pretty grim. I just got this email from the federal NDP with the implausible subject line “One fun thing together”. Fun? NDP? Intrigued, even baffled, I read on and after some tedious preliminaries this is the excitement on offer:

I want you to meet our fellow progressive Canadians fighting for equality with you, and I have a fun way to make that happen. When you take this one-question poll, you’ll let other Canadians know what issue makes you stand up and fight – and you’ll also see what your community is saying about their top issue.

Really? That’s your idea of “fun”? That’s how you kick back, loosen up and get jiggy in high summer? Evidently so. For after what I think was meant to be stirring prose about a “community of progressive Canadians”, it wrapped up with this “gosh, how can I refuse?” thrill-o-rama offer:

let’s all do this one cool thing together – share your “big issue” with the NDP’s community of progressive Canadians and see who’s fighting with you.

Ooooh. Party time. Unfortunately political party time. I know the NDP can be a stridently serious bunch and that as a rule social justice is about as light-hearted as a root canal. But I thought when they actually tried to have fun, if they ever did, there might at least be hats and balloons, activities, forced merriment, maybe even beer. Instead there’s a poll and fighting.

It reminds me of an observation by G.K. Chesterton, a profoundly serious person who found life enormously fun in the normal sense of actually having a good time, that:

Socialist idealism does not attract me very much, even as Idealism. The glimpses it gives of our future happiness depress me very much. They do not remind me of any actual happiness, of any happy day I have ever myself spent…

Exactly. This email certainly had me thinking if this is how they whoop it up I’d rather listen to them complain. Except it seems to be the same activity. So if your idea of “fun” is sitting alone at your computers saying what annoys you most, I do not want you designing my future.

It sounds awful.

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Today you actually get paid

Woot. Today is Tax Freedom Day in Canada. That’s right. June 7. That’s the day, according to the Fraser Institute, that the average family stops working for the state and starts working for itself. And that was the good news.

The bad news is that if governments paid for everything they took, that is, if you count deficits as if they were covered by taxation now instead of later, it still wouldn’t be tax freedom day until June 18. (This methodology I believe relies on mean averages for income and taxation.)

You can find the depressing details including a provincial breakdown in their study. But here’s a question to ponder as you do so. How can it be that, with Canadians so much wealthier today than they were thirty or sixty years ago, we can possibly need so much more help from government?

Remember, as we get richer, government could keep getting bigger while tax freedom day got earlier. Why isn’t it happening? If it’s too much to ask that government actually get smaller as our private means, including for charity, get larger, couldn’t it at least take a smaller share?

Instead the total tax rate (see p. 9 of the Fraser study) is higher in every province except Alberta and BC today than in 1981. So where does it all end? And why does current political debate take so little notice of the relentless expansion of the state relative to citizens, talking instead about all the wonderful things we could get if only government finally became truly big and busy?

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Operation Feeble

The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain is under American pressure to send an extra 100 troops to Afghanistan. How did it come to this?

I’m not judging the merits of the Afghan mission at this point. I’m just noting that this is a protracted, difficult discussion between the two leading powers in the Western alliance about a company of soldiers. One hundred troops. One company.

The Telegraph says the deployment would make a difference to the American ability to deploy troops elsewhere in the country and bolster U.S. commanders’ arguments with their own president about further reducing the American presence.

A hundred soldiers? I can see how the decision to send three regiments might signal serious allied commitment to a cause. But if it still matters, sending 100 soldiers should be a minor administrative decision not a major strategic issue.

Consider that in April 1940 in a failed attempt to rescue their Norwegian ally, the British put 3,500 men into a minor action at Namsos, despite having 200,000 in France and deployments worldwide, from the Caribbean to Burma and Hong Kong, in the midst of a major war. Yet such a deployment would strain the capacity of the far richer and more populous UK of 2016 in peacetime, with few other demands on its armed forces, and entirely exceed our own. How can we have let such a situation arise in a clearly turbulent world?

Look, the Afghan mission may have been misconceived from the beginning or badly executed. I don’t think so, except in the unrealistic expectations for transforming the country through military action rather than just removing a regime dangerous to us. But it may be time to withdraw. It may be impossible to prevent a Taliban resurgence. The major terrorist threat may be elsewhere now. Or showing weakness once committed might be perilous. All these things can be debated.

What it seems to me cannot be debated is that when the two most powerful nations in the Western alliance are having protracted high-level discussions over 100 soldiers, both our military establishments and our will are dangerously weak.

 

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