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Published: Mon, 24 Jul 2017 00:00:00 -0400

Last Build Date: Mon, 24 Jul 2017 17:55:35 -0400


Amazon Prime vs. Government: The Private Sector Does It Better

Thu, 20 Jul 2017 14:00:00 -0400

In the U.S., Amazon Prime is just another convenience of modern life. But for many residents of Nunavut, Canada's northernmost territory, it's a lifesaver. Nunavut is roughly the size of Western Europe, yet it has a population of only 37,462. Iqaluit, the territory's capital and largest city, has just 7,740 residents. Nunavut isn't connected to the nation's highway system, so fresh food must be flown in daily at a very high cost. Ships can move larger amounts of freight to the region, but only during the warmest months of the year, when ice does not block ports. Prices in local stores reflect this reality. A liter of Coke can cost CA$10, equivalent to $7.90 in the U.S. A pack of diapers can cost CA$70. But those willing to pay CA$80 a year for an Amazon Prime membership can find items for far cheaper than they would in local stores. That same pack of diapers, for instance, can be found at around half price. Some of Nunavut's smaller settlements are no longer eligible for Prime's free shipping because their remoteness makes shipping there unprofitable, but in larger settlements, such as Iqaluit, Prime is a welcome alternative to the highly expensive goods found in local shops. The Canadian government has for decades tried to mitigate high prices through subsidy schemes that cover "nutritious food" and basic necessities. The first scheme, called the Food Mail Program, subsidized Canada Post's shipping operations in northern regions. This was replaced a few years ago with Nutrition North, a program that directly funded certain retailers. Both programs have been criticized for their cost and inefficiency, yet many worry that without the subsidies, prices would be even more exorbitant. The region's unaffordability rests on decades of discriminatory policies and government regulations. The native Inuit people used to live a nomadic, subsistence lifestyle that was well-suited to the harsh environment. Since agricultural development wasn't possible, mobility was key to finding food. Over 60 years ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) began to kill off thousands of Inuit sled dogs under the guise of animal control, claiming that many of the dogs were diseased or dangerous. In 2010, an Inuit-led truth commission, while critical of the RCMP's actions, stopped short of saying that this was a deliberate effort to "urbanize" the Inuit by taking away their main mode of transportation. But that, nonetheless, was the effect. No longer able to maintain their nomadic lifestyles, those who lost their dogs became "dependent on welfare and store-bought food," according to the commission report. In places like Iqaluit, many residents feel a constant tension between the desires to preserve tradition and to forge a modern Inuit identity. Many of them did not ask to live in these planned communities, but now they must find a way to make it work. One way to make it work was the sealskin industry. Hunting seals has long been part of the Inuit way of life, but it took on renewed importance in the wake of the forced urbanization. The money made from sealskin helped offset the high cost of living in Nunavut and gave people the opportunity to continue their hunting traditions. Unfortunately, this economic boon was short-lived. Environmental activists successfully lobbied the U.S. and Europe to ban the sealskin trade, using disturbing imagery of hunting practices to rally the public behind their efforts. Some exemptions were enacted for the Inuit, but the bans decimated the industry. Unemployment, poverty, hunger, and high rates of suicide are now the norm in Nunavut. Perhaps this is why many residents are skeptical that Amazon Prime's free shipping will last forever. It just seems too good to be true. With all that's happened to indigenous communities in Canada and around the world, such pessimism is understandable. Government food subsidies have never worked well in Nunavut and other northern communities because they fail to tackle the core problem facing many residents: You can subsidize food and other necessities all you want, but if you [...]

Canada Claims Authority to Censor Your Internet Searches

Wed, 28 Jun 2017 16:15:00 -0400

The Canadian Supreme Court today ruled the country has the authority to demand Google censor and remove links to certain web pages or online content. The idea that governments can force Google to deindex links to pages is unfortunately not new (see the European Union's "right to be forgotten"). What matters internationally in this case is the government is forcing Google to remove links from searches regardless of where the Internet user is. That is to say: Canada is demanding the authority to censor the internet outside of its physical borders and control what people who are not Canadian citizens can find online. Today's court ruling declares that because the Internet doesn't have any borders, when Canada decides Google has to censor content it should be a global order: "The Internet has no borders — its natural habitat is global. The only way to ensure that the interlocutory injunction attained its objective was to have it apply where Google operates — globally." The case involves copyright and intellectual property claims. A tech firm was accusing another firm of stealing and duplicating one of its products and selling it online. Google was asked to deindex the links to the firm accused of stealing so that it wouldn't show up in search results. Google complied with court orders, but only for searches from within Canada. Canada's Supreme Court sees geographical limits (even virtual ones) on its ability to censor speech as "facilitating" illegal commerce rather than a speech issue. Here's a paragraph from the ruling that should give folks pause: This is not an order to remove speech that, on its face, engages freedom of expression values, it is an order to de-index websites that are in violation of several court orders. We have not, to date, accepted that freedom of expression requires the facilitation of the unlawful sale of goods. Canada has hate speech laws. Does it follow that Canada should require Google to deindex pages containing what it deems "hate speech" in the United States? If Canada does not because it acknowledges limits to its reach as a nation is it "facilitating" something unlawful? The court notes Google removes links due to court orders based on content and still doesn't seem to see an issue in a country's boundary of authority: [Google] acknowledges, fairly, that it can, and often does, exactly what is being asked of it in this case, that is, alter search results. It does so to avoid generating links to child pornography and websites containing "hate speech". It also complies with notices it receives under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Pub. L. No. 105-304, 112 Stat. 2680 (1998) to de-index content from its search results that allegedly infringes copyright, and removes websites that are subject to court orders. The court, in justifying its ruling, is unwittingly bringing up problems with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The DMCA is intended as a tool for fight online piracy and intellectual property theft by making it easier to remove copyrighted material through an ownership claim process. It is also prone to abuse. People abuse the DMCA's "take down" process in order to try to censor speech, critiques or commentary, they find objectionable. It can be as minor as trying to censor critical video game reviews, or extend as far as criticizing another country's leaders. Ecuadorian officials once attempted to use the DMCA to censor criticism of government actions. Google itself has stepped in to try to help users fend off abusive DMCA take-down requests. Invoking other forms of legally recognized internet censorship is not, perhaps, the defense Canada's Supreme Court is looking for. A closer examination highlights the potential for abuses. And claiming the authority to censor Google links everywhere in the world is a decision begging to be abused. Read the court's ruling here. France has attempted similar international censorship methods.[...]

Cory Doctorow on Cyber Warfare, Lawbreaking, and His New Novel 'Walkaway'

Thu, 25 May 2017 09:37:00 -0400

Cory Doctorow, author of Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, Little Brother, and Makers, is a three-time Prometheus Award winner, an honor bestowed on the best works of libertarian science fiction. In his most recent book, Walkaway, the super rich engineer their own immortality, while everyone else walks away from the post-scarcity utopia to rebuild the dead cities they left behind. Reason Editor in Chief Katherine Mangu-Ward spoke with Doctorow about cyber warfare, Uber-style reputation economics, and that most overused and poorly understood of sci-fi themes: dystopia. Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Mark McDaniel and Krainin. Subscribe to our YouTube channel. Like us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Subscribe to our podcast at iTunes. This is a rush transcript—check all quotes against the audio for accuracy. Katherine Mangu-Ward: Do you think that the underlying conditions of free speech as it is associated with dubious technologies, are they getting better or worse? Cory Doctorow: There is the—there is a pure free speech argument and there's a scientific argument that just says you know it's not science if it's not published. You have to let people who disagree with you—and who dislike you—read your work and find the dumb mistakes you've made and call you an idiot for having made them otherwise you just end up hitting yourself and then you know your h-bomb blows up in your face, right? And atomic knowledge was the first category of knowledge that scientists weren't allowed to freely talk about—as opposed to like trade secrets—but, like, scientific knowledge. That knowing it was a crime. And so it's the kind of original sin of science. But there's a difference between an atomic secret and a framework for keeping that a secret and a secret about a vulnerability in a computer system. And they're often lumped together. I was on a family holiday. We were on like a scuba resort in the Caribbean, in a little island called Roatan in Honduras. And there was this family of D.C.-area spooks. Like multigenerational. And Grandpa what had been like with USAID when the tanks rolled on Hungary and in Budapest. And all of the kids worked for undisclosed three-letter agencies. And so we're like sitting in in the pool one day and talking about cyberweapons and cyberwar. Katherine Mangu-Ward: Like you do. On vacation. Cory Doctorow: On vacation. That's what I do. That's my idea of a good time. So the guy said like, "Well what about cyber weapons? Like why shouldn't we develop cyberweapons? Why shouldn't we a cyberwar?" And I said, "There's a difference between a secret bomb and a secret vulnerability in a computer operating system." Because if I invent the h-bomb, it may be unwise. But keeping the physics of the h-bomb a secret does not make Americans more vulnerable to atomic attack than disclosing it. Maybe it would help them at the margins build slightly better bomb shelters. But it's really—it's not the same thing as me discovering a vulnerability in Windows and saying, "It would be great if I could attack former Soviet bloc countries or countries in Middle East or jihadis or drug runners by keeping this vulnerability a secret and assuming that nobody else discovers that vulnerability and uses it to attack the people I'm charged to protect." That mistake calls into question the whole scientific enterprise. Because we really only know one way to make computers secure and that is to publish what we think we know about why they're secure now and see what dumb mistakes our enemies and friends can locate and help us remediate. And so you end up in this place where these vulnerabilities—that you are blithely assuming won't be independently rediscovered by your adversaries and exploited against you and yours—end up getting exploited against you and yours. And not just by state actors but by petty criminals, too. And this is one thing we're learning after the Vault 7 leaks. It's that a lot of those vulnerabilities were independently rediscovered and weaponized not [...]

Brickbat: Fascinating

Wed, 03 May 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) In Winnipeg, Nick Troller has had a personalized license plate on his vehicle that reads "ASIMIL8" for the past two years. Around it he has a frame that says "We Are the Borg" and "Resistance is Futile." But now, Manitoba Public Insurance has demanded he return the license plate. It says two people have complained the word "assimilate" is offensive to indigenous people.

Trump Targets NAFTA, But Will an 'Update' Just Be an Excuse for More Government Meddling?

Thu, 27 Apr 2017 15:45:00 -0400

(image) President Trump's push on trade and NAFTA this week appears more motivated by the symbolic 100 day mark emphasized by Trump and the media than any coherent approach to trade neogtiations.

The Trump administration followed up the imposition of a 20 percent tariff on Canadian lumber—a long-standing stalking horse for the timber industry—earlier this week by floating the idea that the U.S. would withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which liberalized trade between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Shortly after, the White House announced that in phone calls with Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto, President Trump "agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time" and that the two leaders " agreed to proceed swiftly, according to their required internal procedures, to enable the renegotiation of the NAFTA deal to the benefit of all three countries."

As Republicans alarmed by the prospect of a NAFTA withdrawal speculated yesterday, the threat was a "negotiating tactic" to bring Mexico and Canada to the table or otherwise extract a better deal. Yet there's little indication either Mexico or Canada needed such a push for new negotiations. The election of Trump, who campaigned on a protectionist platform that was one of a few principles he's held on to consistently for decades, sufficed.

The perception of bringing Mexico and Canada to the negotiating table over NAFTA can be chalked up as a victory, but it doesn't contribute to any clarity on what might happen next. Trump has not articulated what kind of "improvements" he wants to negotiate. His trade views are mostly based on the idea that foreign competition is bad, and that returning Americans to factory jobs would make America great again. The whole thing could just more noise signifying nothing, a tactic explained in the Art of the Deal.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told senators the administration was interested in "updating" NAFTA, not not withdraw from it, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told Politico. Given the prevailing anti-trade mood in Washington, it's doubtful that such an update would involve reducing government interventions instead of increasing them.

The troubling migration of anti-trade rhetoric from left to right is nevertheless unsurprising. It's easier to convince people their problems are caused by foreigners than by their own government's policies, and more politically beneficial for those deploying such rhetoric in a quest for public office, especially when politicians who understand that free trade benefits everyone are unwilling or unable to articulate it effectively.

Related: Have Republicans Turned Against Trade? We Asked Them.

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Trump's Lumber Tariff Shows He is a Depressing Continuation of the Status Quo

Tue, 25 Apr 2017 16:20:00 -0400

The Trump Administration announced yesterday that it would be slapping tariffs averaging 20 percent on soft-wood lumber coming from Canada (they're not sending us their best trees you know), marking the first substantive protectionist action taken by the Administration. The dispute over Canadian lumber exports to the US is a long simmering one between the two NAFTA partners. But to read some media accounts of the event, one would think this was a unique triumph of Trumpain aggression. The news aggregator Axios described the move as a "big win for Steve Bannon." The Huffington Post, while saying the tariff was expected, still managed to find itself shocked at "the enthusiasm with which the new American administration flung itself into the lumber hostilities." Even the New York Times ran with a headline describing the lumber dispute as a "new trade front." In fact, cheap Canadian lumber is one of the oldest boogeyman in the US timber industry, right up there with the fiendish agropelter. As such it makes more sense to view this latest action by Trump as another case of the president being a depressing continuation of the status quo, as opposed to a nightmarish departure from it. As far back as the 1980's US timber interests have been raising their old saw about stumpage fees charged to Canadian loggers. In Canada, most logging is done by private companies on public land, for which they must pay a "stumpage fee" to the government. The US timber industry's claim has always been that these stumpage fees are artificially low, and as such amount to an unjust subsidy to Canadian lumber. The first investigation of these fees by the US Commerce Department in 1983 found that they did not amount to an unjust subsidy, temporarily thwarting the US lumber industries plan to impose countervailing duties on their northern competition. But following a toxic combination of a more aggressive Commerce Department and a better funded, better organized industry effort, the US government started to see things a different way. In 1986, the Commerce Department reversed itself and sought to levy a 15 percent tariff on Canadian wood. That decision 1986 action has since set off some three decades of US tariffs, Canadian protest, and international arbitration before both NAFTA and WTO courts, who have mostly sided with the Canadians. Full-blown trade war has generally been avoided through bi-lateral agreements that see the Canadians voluntarily reduce their exports in exchange for the US lumber industry agreeing to not pursue countervailing tariffs. However, these bi-lateral agreements have always been temporary band-aids on this long simmering trade dispute, and their expirations has seen the reapplication of US tariffs in both 1992 and 2001. The latest of these bi-lateral agreements expired back in October 2016. In June 2016, President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a joint statement saying that they were committed to finding a "durable and equitable solution" on the issue of lumber imports, but despite the two's supposed bromance, no deal was forthcoming. Thus when the US-Canada deal did expire in October, the US Lumber Coalition fulfilled its historic role of filling a countervailing duty claim with the US Department of Commerce. And now the Trump administration is sticking closely with historical precedent and siding with US lumber. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross released a short statement yesterday saying that his department had found it necessary to levy some $1 billion in import duties on Canadian lumber, adding that "his is not our idea of a properly functioning Free Trade Agreement." Also true to form is the Canadian response, in which their Ministers of Natural Resources and Foreign Affairs have promised to "vigorously defend the interests of the Canadian softwood lumber industry, including through litigation." So while it is right and proper for free trade advocates everywhere to bemoan [...]

New Bill Will Make Canada the Second Country to Legalize Marijuana

Fri, 14 Apr 2017 10:01:00 -0400

(image) Yesterday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau kept a campaign promise by introducing a bill that will make Canada the second country in the world (after Uruguay) to legalize marijuana for recreational use. The government expects legal sales to begin by the middle of next year.

Trudeau's bill, which will be managed by Liberal M.P. Bill Blair, a former Toronto police chief, closely tracks the recommendations of a government-appointed task force that delivered its report in December. The national government, which already licenses more than 40 producers of medical marijuana, will regulate cannabis growers, while provincial governments will decide the details of distribution. Advertising and marketing will be stricly regulated at the national level, as with tobacco.

Trudeau's bill sets a minimum purchase age of 18, but provincial governments can set a higher age if they choose. Every U.S. state with legal marijuana has picked 21 as the cutoff, tracking the drinking age, which in Canada is 18 or 19, depending on the province. Adults, however defined, will be allowed to carry up to 30 grams (about an ounce) at a time and grow up to four plants per household.

"The production of cannabis outside the regulated regime remains a serious criminal offense," Blair said yesterday. "Trafficking of cannabis outside the regulated distribution system...will remain a serious criminal offense. And this legislation...creates a new offense, a very serious offense, with a penalty of up to 14 years, for trafficking cannabis to a youth." Blair argued that a legal distribution system in which retailers are held accountable for verifying that their customers are adults will be more successful than the current policy of uniform prohibition at preventing sales to minors. "Today the decision to sell or not to sell to that child is often being made by a gangster in a stairwell," he observed.

National legislation allowing nonmedical use of cannabis seems to conflict with anti-drug treaties, which demand strict regulation of marijuana. "These conventions require that parties employ criminal sanctions for the possession, distribution, and consumption of non-medical cannabis," notes a new report from the Global Health Law Clinic at the University of Ottawa. "In the current Canadian context, legalizing cannabis would violate these conventions." The report argues that legalization in Canada could qualify for a "scientific purposes" exemption from treaty obligations if it is framed as a scientific experiment.

Brickbat: Shame on Your Name

Thu, 30 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) Nova Scotia's Registrar of Motor Vehicles says Lorne Grabher's last name is "socially unacceptable." Lorne had a personalized license plate made with his last name for his father back in 1991. Since then, the plate has been used by three generations of the family. But the registrar's office say they got a complaint about it last year and have told Lorne he can no longer use it.

The Nativist Bias in the Welfare State

Wed, 29 Mar 2017 10:30:00 -0400

The central project of the liberal welfare state is to build a society based on a high-minded ethic of altruism rather than narrow self-interest. The whole point is to create a new kind of person whose humane commitments are driven by a more cosmopolitan sensibility beyond his parochial attachments to self, family, and clan. But the opposite has happened: Protecting the welfare state from foreign moochers has become the single biggest stimulus for nativism in the West. That's true in America, Europe, and, most surprisingly, the paragon of compassion to America's north, Canada. The more the welfare state has tried to elbow self-interest out of our accepted understanding of a "just society," the more this self-interest has asserted itself — and in ever-more vexing ways. In America, the notion that immigrants are a drain on social welfare programs is as popular as it is fallacious. Literally every credible study shows that compared to similarly situated natives, not only do fewer immigrants use welfare, but the average value of the benefits they receive is lower too, including for low-skilled immigrants (many of whom are undocumented). Indeed, the taxes and economic contributions of immigrants — including the low-skilled — dwarf what they consume in public services. This is partly because the 1996 welfare reform act barred immigrants from most means-tested benefits. But the bigger reason is that immigrants come to America for jobs, not welfare benefits. The labor force participation rate of foreign-born men in 2010 was 80.1 percent, a full 10 percentage points higher than that of native-born men. Furthermore, immigrants tend to gravitate to states with the lowest per capital welfare spending — maybe because they have more jobs. Nonetheless, the mere fact that the welfare state exists and that immigrants may theoretically become a drain on it has been enough to trigger a bad case of us-versus-them in this Land of Immigrants. It has become the gateway argument that seduces people to a more general nativist suspicion of foreigners — which is why nativist outfits such as the Federation for Immigration Reform and quasi-nativist ones such as the Center for Immigration Studies constantly pump out studies about immigrant welfare use. One of President Trump's leaked executive order drafts contemplated not only barring immigrants likely to use public assistance, but deporting those who do, perhaps even if no fraud is involved. The situation is even worse in Europe, where nativist politicians have made even deeper inroads — and this despite the fact that many European countries need immigrants even more than America, thanks to their below-replacement fertility rates and aging populations. Austria, Spain, and France — which have never been super-friendly to immigrants — are tightening up. And so are more open nations like Denmark and Sweden, which have introduced a complex set of measures to control their borders. The latest example of this anti-immigrant trend came in the recent Dutch elections, where the incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte defeated the ultra-restrictionist Geert Wilders — the Dutch Donald Trump — but only after promising to impose stiff restrictions on migrant benefits to stop alleged welfare tourism. Likewise, although Germany has been heroic in its commitment to absorbing refugees fleeing the war-ravaged Middle East, it is also seeking to expel EU citizens who remain jobless for six months out of fear that they are simply hanging around for welfare benefits — never mind that there is little evidence of mass welfare abuse. Sweden, which prides itself on its cradle-to-grave welfare social programs, is flirting with new restrictions on immigrant benefits — as is England. But the nation that takes first prize in welfare-state protectiveness is the putative paragon of human kindnes[...]

Oil Sands Pipeline from Canada Is in U.S. National Interest

Fri, 24 Mar 2017 09:45:00 -0400

After dithering for most of his term, President Barack Obama declared on November 6, 2015 that the construction of the Keystone Pipeline was not in the national interest. His declaration was just three weeks before the convening of the Paris climate change conference at which the universal climate agreement was adopted. In his statement, President Obama said: ...if we're going to prevent large parts of this Earth from becoming not only inhospitable but uninhabitable in our lifetimes, we're going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them and release more dangerous pollution into the sky. To what extent would keeping crude from Canada's oilsands in the ground prevent man-made global warming? In 2012, climatologist Chip Knappenberger who works with the libertarian Cato Institute calculated that doing so would reduce the annual increase in global temperatures due to carbon emissions by "0.0001°C/yr, that is, one ten thousandths of a degree Celsius of temperature rise from the Canadian tar sands oil delivered by the Keystone XL pipeline each year." The pipeline would transport 800,000 barrels per day from Canada's oilsands production fields to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Canada had llittle interest in keeping that oil in the ground, so Prime Minister Justin Trudeau approved last year the construction of another pipeline would transport the crude to Canada's west coast for export abroad. (Actually, only persistent low prices would keep that oil in the ground.) Just days after taking office, President Donald Trump ordered the State Department to review the application asking for approval of the Keystone Pipeline and decide if its construction is in the national interest. The State Department will reportedly issue today the finding that it is and the relevant permit to cross an international boundary will be forthcoming. So will construction proceed? Maybe not. First, getting oil out of oilsands is a costly endeavor and oil prices have declined substantially since the pipeline was proposed. Secondly, the pipeline faces implacable opposition from activists and landowners in Nebraska who will seek court orders to stop or slow construction. Bloomberg News reports: Sara Shor, a campaign manager for the climate advocacy group, vowed to "raise hell at the national level" and recruit millions of people to fight the project, including by highlighting their concerns during lawmakers' town halls during a planned congressional recess next month. "We're going to continue to make Keystone XL a political issue and push every elected official to come out against this project if they care about communities, local rights, eminent domain, air, water and climate," Shor said by phone. "It just touches so many issues." In other news, the Trump administration-approved Dakota Access Pipeline is supposed to begin transporting oil this weekend; that is, if it's not sabotaged. Disclosure: Back in 2011, I took a junket to report on the Canadian oilsands that was sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute. My travel expenses to visit Alberta's oil sands were covered by the API. The API did not ask for nor did it have any editorial control over my reporting of that trip. For more background see my articles, The Man-Made Miracle of Oil from Sand and Conflict Oil or Canadian Oil?[...]

Brickbat: Thrown for a Loop

Mon, 13 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) For almost a decade, Montreal has hosted the Canadian championship in Brazilian jiu jitsu. But organizers had to cancel this year's tournament at the last minute after cops told them it would violate a Canadian law that says that only combat sports recognized by the International Olympic Committee are legal. The police threatened to arrest every athlete who took part in the event. Making things even more confusing, the law cops cited defines combats sports as those involving striking with the hands or feet. Brazilian jiu jitsu is a grappling sport that doesn't allow strikes.

Brickbat: Kingpin

Wed, 08 Mar 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Newfoundland Youth Bowling has agreed to return gold medals to a team that won a recent tournament but not to overturn a ruling which disqualified them after the tournament was over. The team was disqualified because one 7-year-old bowler was wearing pants that were not the proper shade of black.

Trump Trots Out Canada's Obsolete Immigration Policy For America

Wed, 01 Mar 2017 13:40:00 -0500

It was the mother of all presidential bait-and-switches. The advance billing before President Trump's address to Congress last night was that he was going to pivot on immigration and call for a bipartisan reform bill that offered a path to full blown citizenship for Dreamers (undocumented aliens who were brought to the US as minors) and legalization for undocumented non-Dreamers in exchange for his enforcement crackdown. Instead, what Trump offered were the same old bromides to: stir up xenophobia ("the vast majority of individuals convicted of terrorism and terrorism-related offenses since 9/11 came here from outside the country"); demonize immigrants as criminals by displaying families of Americans killed by illegals; spread falsehoods about immigrants as welfare queens ("our immigration system costs American taxpayers billions of dollars a year"); and insinuate that immigrants took American jobs ("what would you say to the American family that loses their jobs" due to undocumented workers). These claims are completely or almost completely false: Immigrants don't strain the welfare state; they are less crime-prone than natives and gateway cities like El Paso that have a heavy undocumented presence have among the lowest crime rates in the country; and they boost American wages and jobs. Oh and Americans have better odds of being struck by lightning than being killed in a terrorist attack by a foreigner. None of that of course deterred Trump from doubling down on his plans to build his silly wall; ejecting all undocumented from the country, not just bad hombres; impose a Muslim ban and – his favorite -- extreme vetting. The only new – or rather, quasi-new -- idea in Trump's otherwise tired and trite immigration agenda was calling for a merit-based immigration system along the lines of Canada (and Australia). Trump simply tossed out one sentence without offering any details so it is hard to know exactly what he has in mind. But presumably it is something along the lines of Canada's point-based system that both deemphasizes family-based immigration and low-skilled immigration – and emphasizes specialized skills. In other words, Canada awards young techies and STEM graduates more points -- and farmhands and older people fewer points, making it easier for the former to reach the minimum threshold required for admission and harder for the latter. It is a sort of industrial policy approach to immigration that privileges some sectors over others (something that, unfortunately, George Bush's ill-fated reform proposal also succumbed to). Given that Trump's Attorney General Jeff Sessions (along with Tom Cotton, his heir-apparent in the Senate) is an implacable foe of all immigration and wants even the H-1B program for foreign techies scrapped, this may count as progress. Nevertheless, this kind of credential fetish is becoming obsolete even in Canada where it has produced serious distortions at multiple levels. For starters, at the macro level, it has bred a mismatch between the skills that the economy needs at any given time and the ones that Ontario's central planners anoint. Indeed, at one point, far more foreign techies were being admitted than high-tech companies could employ, generating a whole army of under-employed people with advanced degrees. (I once hired a cab in Toronto with a Russian driver with a PhD in Physics.) At the same time, jobs were going a begging in the farming and construction sectors. But at a micro level, it generates different problems for different provinces. So, for instance, while Ontario, where the high-tech sector resides, experienced an over-supply of foreigners and over-crowding, remoter areas like Saskatchewan and Newfoundland with more agrarian needs experienced wo[...]

Canadian Effort to Bring Patients Banned from U.S. Faces Restrictions on Sick People Entering Canada

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 20:15:00 -0500

Among the people banned from entering the United States for at least the next six months are many patients who had arranged for healthcare services in the country. The United States has among the best (and still the freest) healthcare systems in the world, and is the destination for many sick people with the need for specialized care often not available in their home countries. More than 30 patients have been identified by hospitals around the country as being now unable to travel to the U.S. to receive care for which they had arranged. Canadian officials are stepping in, ostensibly to help these patients, especially those that are children, access healthcare in Canada instead. "These children are being turned away solely because of where they were born," Ontario health minister Dr. Eric Hoskins said in a statement, according to Buzzfeed, which in its headline characterized Canada as stepping in despite Hoskins being a provincial minister. "As Ontarians, we have an obligation to respond when we know we have the ability to help." What Buzzfeed doesn't mention is that Hoskins will likely have to get some kind of exemption from the Canadian federal government to actually get the patients into Canada. That's because Canada bans entry by foreign nationals who are sick, not only when they are "likely to be a danger to public health or public safety" but also if they "might reasonably be expected to cause excessive demand on health or social services," meaning if your illness is pricey you may not get in. This has led to a number of high-profile immigration rejections by Canada, including of a South African doctor who wanted to settle in Canada but was denied because her child's autism would cost taxpayers too much money, and a Costa Rican family whose child had Down's Syndrome. Canada's draconian immigrant health policies are a reminder of what makes the American system so special, on immigration and healthcare. The U.S. has historically been more open to immigrants than countries like Canada that know how to posture when a political opportunity is present. A largely still private, if not heavily regulated, healthcare system means the government does not have to find itself making decisions on how to treat human beings based on how much their ailments cost. President Trump's executive order, largely built on previous troubling policies and ideas, challenges America's special systems. His immigration policies are centered around the idea of "America First." For now, many people find that palatable, that the U.S. should "take care" of Americans before it takes care of foreigners. This is the start of a slippery slope, one neither party has been shy about before but which Trump approaches with unique non-chalance and without even lip service to the idea of America as a free country. First the government insists it'll "take care" of Americans first, eventually it will insist on which Americans to "take care" of first, relying on criteria like what you "contribute" to society or the State, and eventually, as the Canadian example illustrates for us, how much you cost the government. The idea that government owes Americans something other than staying out of their way and not violating their rights has been popular in the U.S. for a long time—Trump embraces this nanny state paternalism unabashedly and without pretense to higher ideals. Patients unable to access healthcare for which they had already arranged are also an example of how President Trump's travel ban interferes not just with the lives of foreigners but Americans too—a government action has thwarted contracts into which free people entered voluntarily. The history of U.S. government, especially in recent decades, has lar[...]

Brickbat: Cracked

Thu, 02 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) A police officer in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada gave Dave Balay $465 ticket for having a cracked driver's license. Balay notes the crack is a small one and does not obscure his photo or any information.