Sunday, March 29, 2009

South Africa vs human rights

South Africa's ban of the Dalai Lama is, unfortunately, far from the only incident whereby South Africa has shown excessive deference to powers with dubious human rights records.

As noted by the Economist last November, South Africa has voted against imposing sanctions not only on Mugabe's Zimbabwe but also on Myanmar’s military junta and on Iran (for violating nuclear safeguards). South Africa happens to be leading efforts to suspend the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of Sudan’s president for genocide in Darfur. In the UN Human Rights Council, South Africa has voted to stop monitoring human rights in Uzbekistan, despite reports of torture there, and in Iran. South Africa's behaviour has not improved in 2009, either.

With respect to the Dalai Lama, South Africa's minister of foreign affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma insists that "If there is a sporting event, it must remain a sporting event. We have seen how messy it can be if you begin to pull all sorts of issues into the sporting event." Yet JUST FOUR MONTHS AGO, she declared that "the sports boycott was one of the struggles we waged vigorously”!

Anyone who thinks that it is Canada's Charter of Human Rights that ensures tolerance and not Canadian culture should compare South Africa's human rights record against its constitution, which is widely recognized as one of the most "progressive" and liberal in the world.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Economist sours on Obama

A month ago I detected some ambivalence in the Economist's view of the Obama administration, this coming after an endorsement prior to the election. But now the magazine John Ralston Saul once pegged as the "technocrat's bible" seems to have quite unequivocally soured on the dashing new President's budget.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"bad luck"?

"The royalty retreat is now complete", writes Don Braid in the Calgary Herald. Braid adds that "the whole royalty process has proved to be the most ill-timed public policy launch since the National Energy Program" because of "incredible bad luck".

Apparently the Tory govt is a victim of the fortunes of fate. No doubt the same logic will apply to running the province into deficit. Bad luck. Hugo Chavez is said to be having the same problem, with his brilliant policies at risk of being undone by the "bad luck" of declining oil prices!

Does the fact that the Wildrose Alliance opposed the royalty changes from day 1 that were to bring in an extra $1.4 billion a year and the fact the provincial govt has now pledged to REBATE more than $2 billion not raise questions about the Tory govt campaigning on a populist plank against Wildrose and then ending up coming around to adopting Wildrose policies anyway?

Sadly, this is the way public policy generally works. A government is elected on populist, anti-business rhetoric. It is then ultimately forced by the reality of what works and what doesn't to govern otherwise.

the Singapore "experiment"

I'm currently in Malaysia, but will be returning to Alberta at the end of the month for at least a few days.

I spent close to 2 weeks in Singapore last month, and continued to be impressed by the quality of life there. Meanwhile, I note that stories of crime in Vancouver and Toronto have been getting more press. As a general rule, when it comes to drawing inferences about society, one should stick to statistics because the media generally sensationalizes crime. But a comment on Vancouver's gang wars struck me as nonetheless compelling: "The Vancouver "experiment" in tolerance has proven the coexistence of degradation and lawlessness."
It is compelling because, according to the Economist, "the idea that graffti-spraying and other forms of low-level delinquency promote further bad behaviour has now been tested experimentally". In other words, the social illiberalism of a place like Singapore has an empirical rationale for its policies. Order has its own positive feedback, leading to a upward spiral in terms of security and qualify of life.

This is another element which libertarianism is weak on: the idea of "low-level delinquency". For libertarianism, the world is much more cut and dried, with autonomous, rational individuals. For better or worse, in the real world is quite irrational and individual decision making far from autonomous.