Archive for June, 2009

Viva Canada

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

A wit once remarked that Canada was a large and diverse country, united only in their belief of moral superiority over Americans. While there is some strain of that in the Canadian disposition, for the most part Canadians (if they have any common trait) are exceedingly polite. They seek to avoid conflict by drowning contention in as sea of good cheer and cordiality.  Some of thus cordiality has been codified in a misguided attempt to limit offensive speech through Human Rights Commissions (HRCs). The job of these commission is ostensibly to maintain a culture of civility by limiting what can be printed and broadcast. Because of  cultural pleasantness is so much part of the Canadian character, it is hard for them to recognize when this pleasantness is being exploited.

A small fraction of Islamic radicals in Canada have turned these commissions into government sponsored inquisitions seeking to eliminate criticism of Islam. While it costs nothing to make an accusation, if a Canadian Human Rights Commission begins an inquiry it can cost the accused thousands in legal fees, even if the case is one that is ultimately dismissed. The net effect is to chill free expression.

One of the most conspicuous cases of this type was brought against Mark Steyn. Steyn wrote the bestseller America Alone, which made the case that declining birthrates would cause the substitution of traditional Western values for Islamic ones, particularly in Europe. An article “The Future Belongs to Islam” in McCleans caused Steyn to be brought up before the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The Ontario HRC claimed that it did not have jurisdiction over the national McCleans. It did not hold a hearing but nonetheless “strongly condemn[ed] the Islamophobic portrayal of Muslims.” Without due process, Steyn’s reputation was tarnished by a government body.

The National Human Rights Commission acquitted Steyn, saying that when taken as a whole, the article was not extreme. However, the ruling left open the possibility that a Human Rights Commission could punish more extreme views. The National Human Rights Commission retained on to itself the authority to regulate speech

More recently Ezra Levant, a Canadian political activist of Conservative conviction, was able to turn the tables on an HRC. Levant in the Western Standard magazine republished the Danish cartoons depicting Mohammad that caused violent clashes in Europe and elsewhere. Syed Soharwardy of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada filed a complaint to the Alberta HRC because they found Levant’s publication offensive.

When Shirley McGovern a member of the Human Rights Commission interviewed Levant, he had the presence of mind to record a video of the meeting and to post in on YouTube. Levant eloquently stood up to the clearly dazed commissioner and challenged the right of the commission to dare restrict the rights of a free citizens to publish whatever he wants without answering to any government authority. The video was a YouTube hit embarrassing the Alberta HRC. In light of the publicity, Soharwardy withdrew the complaint. One wonders whether that would have been the final disposition if there had been no video.

Levant is a true hero for freedom and Canadians should be proud to have so eloquent a spokesperson.

By the Numbers

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Unless you are Babe Ruth, it is risky to point to the fences to predict a homerun. Economic predictions are even more precarious then baseball ones. especially when made by politicians. Nonetheless, in the course of selling their stimulus plan early this year, Obama’s economic team confidently argued that without Obama’s Recovery Plan, unemployment would peak in 2010 at about 9%. If, however, the country adopted the Obama approach, unemployment would peak this year at less than 8%. Why would anyone oppose the Obama Recovery Plan? Congress, dominated by Democrats certainly did not stand in the way and the stimulus package passed.

The evidence is in. As of May 2009, the unemployment rate reached 9.4%, above what the Obama team claimed would be the case without the Recovery Plan at all. The economic predictions were way off even over the very short term. The blog Innocent Bystanders has been following the numbers carefully. The plot below is a reproduction from The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, published January 9, 2009, by Christina Romer, Obama appointee to the Council of Economic Advisors, and Jared Bernstein, from Vice-President Joe Biden’s office. The two lines indicate the Obama team’s prediction of unemployment, earlier this year with and without the Recovery Plan. The points plotted in red are the actual number published recently by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Clearly, the Obama Team overestimated the positive impace of the stimulus plan. Despite this pathetic performance, the Obama Administration is still claiming that they are creating jobs. One wonders how one can make any assumptions about the effect of policy over a year a two when predictions for a few months ahead were so wrong.  Even a straight line prediction would have been more accurate than the considered modeling of the Obama economic team.

From an historic stand point, it is interesting to compare this recession with previous ones. The plot below shows the unemployment rate for the 48 months following the minimum unemployment point for the pass recessions back to 1960. The line for the current recession is plotted in bright yellow.

This recession has experienced a far sharper increase in a shorter period of time from previous recessions. Now, we can never know what would have happened had the Obama Recovery Plan not be implemented. It is not persuasive or even plausible, however, for the Administration to argue that in face of an unprecedentedly rapid rise in unemployment, that its policies are working. Maybe they will sometime in the future. Maybe, the economy will recover in spite of the Administration.  But given the recent evidence, the Administration’s economic crystal ball is opaque.

To even have drawn the first plot above, projecting unemployment rates for a few years, with its implied precision, required an overabundance of arrogance. Prediction is hard, yet Obama’s economic advisers cavalierly assumed that they could make such predictions, and that these predictions could guide them as they expertly steer the economy. As the government seems to be running an ever expanding portion of the economy, we hope that Obama’s adviser’s hubris has been alleviated in the face of evidence of just how complicated and hard it is to predict future of the economy. Somehow, we doubt it.

The Italy I Love is Dying

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

It is impossible for all but the most regimented authoritarian mind not to fall in love with Italy. I was reminded of as much on a recent visit. We all know of the heritage of magnificent works of art and beautiful architecture from the Roman Empire, through the Renaissance, to the present. A dolce vita is manifested in leisurely dinners, evening strolls, and the conspicuous warmth of friends and family. One has to admire any country where a kiss and embrace substitute for a handshake and where women accept no contradiction between independence, intelligence and ambition on the one hand and stylishness, elegance, and beauty on the other hand. The fact that someone may fairly or unfairly judge them on their appearance is not an excuse in the perspective of Italian women to eschew the disciplines of beauty. Rather the care of appearance is a moral good as is intelligence and learning. I suspect that Italian men adhere to the same aspiration, but I could not appreciate it as much.


Save for the fateful decision by my American-born father to bring my Italian-born mother to the United States, I could easily been raised in Italy. Despite an appreciation for Italian culture and style, every time I visit Italy and my parents hometown, I am ever more grateful that I am an American. Judging from my contemporaries and their children, the opportunities continue to be far greater in the United States. My children have managed a level a success: wives, jobs, and homes in their early twenties, that none of their Italian cousins have achieved. It is not because these relatives are less smart or less ambitious than those in the US, but the opportunities in Italy are significantly curtailed. Education usually lasts several years longer and it is not uncommon for many to wait until their thirties before they experience significant levels of achievement. Moreover, the dependence of young people well into their twenties, by necessity, on parental support, stunts growth and delays adulthood.


In the United States, the current economic downturn has significantly increased levels of unemployment. Nonetheless, this is situation commonly viewed as an aberration from which we will recover in time. In Italy, a culture of unemployment induced by a generation of lost opportunities, has diminished expectations. Young people have reconciled themselves to small families, if indeed they can support families at all, resulting in a fertility rate that is far from replacement. The Italian culture we love may be a remnant of a more energetic and vital past.


Another consequence of diminished opportunity is a corrosive cynicism that sees the common person as a victim of elites of the government or of business. This helplessness robs people of ambition, undermines government legitimacy, nurtures a culture of corruption, and stunts economic growth. Thus is created a land of unresolved contradictions.


On the next ridge near the town of my ancestry a modern wind farm of a dozen turbines has been installed. Most people are simultaneously convinced that the installation is hideous (I disagree), a waste of money that went largely to insiders, and an important contribution to alleviating global warming. The only problem was that the turbines were not turning because payoffs to local organized crime have not been made in a timely manner.


For whatever, the reason the modern European welfare state is correlated with the withering of the Italian family and middle class aspirations. It is sad.