On the foolishness of adoption laws

November 30, 2008 at 02:27 | Posted in adoption, children, law, parenting | Leave a comment

Court says Internet baby to be taken into care 

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A Belgian baby bought over the Internet for adoption by a Dutch couple must be placed in the temporary care of the Dutch authorities, a court ruled on Thursday.
According to media reports, the couple bought the boy in July from a Belgian couple in Ghent. One TV report said between 5,000 and 10,000 euros ($6,450 to $12,900) was paid. The Dutch couple denies buying the baby, saying on Dutch TV that they only paid the pregnancy costs incurred by the parents. The court in the Dutch city of Zwolle said the couple had broken the laws for adopting foreign children, and had to hand the baby over to child welfare authorities. The Council for the Protection of Children, part of the Netherlands’ Justice Ministry, had asked the court to place the baby boy into temporary custody until a decision was made by the Belgian authorities on what to do with him. “Clarity over your family history is of fundamental importance for a child growing up. Obscuring your true identity is harmful,” the council said in a statement. The public prosecution office in the Netherlands has started an investigation into the case, while Belgian authorities are also making inquiries, Dutch news agency ANP reported. (Reporting by Catherine Hornby and Aaron Gray-Block)

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What really annoys me about this story (and the comments by readers below it), is this: why shouldn’t the couple who ‘bought’ the baybe be allowed to keep it? To argue that they didn’t follow proper procedures and broke the law begs the question: why are the laws there to begin with? 

Adoption laws create two classes of children: those whose parents need a license, and those whose parents do not need a lincense. If a person who by all objective standards is unfit to take care of a child wants to have children, all s/he has to do is have sex, wait nine months, and be done with it. S/he couldn’t get a child through the adoption process, but it’s no problem doing it the natural way. 

If this is really about child welfare, wouldn’t it be more logical to have laws that require the same high standards of birth parents as of adoptive parents? The penalty for not meeting these standards and acquiring a child through illegal birthnonetheless would be the same as for acquiring a child through illegal adoption: the state takes the child away and gives it to people better fitted to have children.

Of course, in my opinion there is no question about the solution to this conundrum: there should be no adoption laws in the first place. If somebody wants to take care of a child, s/he can either do so by having sex and hope for the best, or acquire a child from somebody who has one but does not want to take care of it. 

In either case, the chances that the child is going to end up with good parents is pretty much the same. Arguably, the chances are better in the case of acquisition through non-sexual means. After all, it takes a bit more effort this way, and is probably more costly, too. 

One way or the other, the child would not be the property of the parents – natural or adopted. All a parent has is the righ/obligation to take care of the child s/he has acquired. In other words, one could not ‘buy’ a child, one could only buy the privilege of taking care of a human being. 

Anybody who believes there is a difference between acquiring a child through sexual means and non-sexual means is simply the victim of a primitive prejudice that assigns special legal status to biological accident. 

Or maybe just too cocky

November 29, 2008 at 04:28 | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

So Harper blinked and took out the line on party funding. In other words, I was wrong. No evil genius plan, just trying to kick the Liberals while they are down. Or not? It remains to be seen. If this goes down to the point of election, then taking out the line on party funding was stupid. Oh well, they know what they are doing.

If the Opposition forms a coalition government, we are in for quite a bit of fun….
Stay tuned. 

Stephen Harper’s Evil Genius

November 28, 2008 at 02:40 | Posted in Canada, Elections, Stephen Harper | Leave a comment

So Stephen Harper decided to pull the rug from under the feet of the Liberals: the Conservatives announced today that all public funding for political parties will cease early next year. This will hurt the bottom line of all Canadian parties, except that the Tories have a build up a really amazing funding machine that manages to collect more money through voluntary donations than any other party in Canada. Some folks within the Conservative party joke that they have enough money to finance at least two more elections out of pocket. The Liberals, however, have no such cushion. Historically, they got most of their money from big business – ironically enough – while the Tories are much more of a grassroots financed party. 

Without a real leader – their effete Stephane Dione was merely a compromise after all the frontrunners had knocked each others out – the Liberals have been to scared to risk an election until now. Every time the Tories called a confidence vote, the Liberals folded, refusing to engage in an election. Then Harper called an election – even though he had promised not to do so – and while he didn’t get his majority, the Liberals suffered their worst defeat in Canada’s history. The only reason they are still around is because of Canada’s weirdly confusing first-past-the-pole election system
Ok, enough of political theory, here’s the beef:
The opposition parties are threatening to somehow topple the government by either 
– forming a triple etente against the Tories, and asking the Governor General to give them a mandate to form a new government – which won’t last more more than a few months at best, ending up in an election sometime in spring.
– or they could vote against the government as soon as the Tories try to make the economic statement a matter of confidence. 
OR – the Liberals could do nothing, pass the statement, and risk having their financial kneecaps broken come once the funding runs out. 
In either case, the Tories will probably win:
In any case, this whole thing puts the Liberals into a real dilemma: ever since the Tories came to power as a minority government back in 2004, the Liberals have voted with them on everything that really mattered. Against their principles, against their stated objectives. They passed everything.
Only now that their finances are in trouble will they develop the guts to vote against the government. Not that anybody can blame them for it, really, but… the Tories will hang them with it: it’ll make it really easy for Harper to make them look like they are only interested in their own welfare, and like they couldn’t care less about the welfare of Canadians. 
Forcing an election NOW? In this economic crisis?
And on what platform? More stimulus? They just accused the goverment of not being financially prudent enough. They Liberals would run a deficit just like the Tories – if they claim they wouldn’t, nobody in their right mind could believe them. 
They COULD accuse the government of attacking ‘democracy’ by removing public funding – but, that’s an easy accusation to refute. After all, the Tories won’t get funding, either, and if this is a matter of democracy – what’s more democratic: people donating to a party, or the state giving money to them? 
The Liberal’s are screwed big time. I’m not saying they are doomed, but royally screwed for sure. 
For an economist who entered politics almost by accident, Harper is certainly a smart operator. Not smooth, but smart.

Why the Big Three Need Money

November 27, 2008 at 04:14 | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Just found this, and couldn’t resist stealing it. 




The British Government’s War on Real Estate

November 26, 2008 at 02:49 | Posted in government, real estate, taxes | Leave a comment

As if anybody really needed more proof that the only thing goverments can do better than private enterprise is destruction, the Globe and Mail – not known for its libertarian bias – published a curious little article on the effects of British property taxes on real estate. 

In a nutshell, the tax code makes it more profitable to tear down perfectly fine buildings during the current market conditions than to keep them standing empty until better times arive. 

Tax code fuels London’s second blitz

Many buildings are being demolished to avoid steep taxes, leaving neighbourhoods looking bombed and hollowed out

From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail

LONDON — In the real-estate industry, they’re calling it “bombsite Britain.”

You can see its effects in a windswept lot in west London, where a mountain of red bricks and broken timber sits. Until recently it was a historic pub called the Lightning, but its owner, unable to find a tenant to get the beer taps flowing again, has demolished it to avoid paying steep property taxes on an empty building.

Or at the other end of London, where an enormous, 35-year-old public-housing complex is in the midst of a total demolition, and maybe a permanent one. The company hired by the government to replace the 2,000 homes with a more attractive development was struck by the economic crisis and may not be able to find financing to finish construction. Officials say the site is likely to become a field, its tenants seeking homes.

Or in the middle of downtown Leeds, where construction of a block-wide office building has ground to a halt, probably permanently, as its builder has failed to find commercial tenants or financiers for the project. The dreary unfinished foundation has helped give a gap-toothed expression to the downtown core.

To many observers, Britain’s urban areas are beginning to resemble the years of the Blitz.

But this time, the empty lots are being caused not by bombs but by a freak combination of disasters in the financial system, the real-estate market and the tax code that have turned one of the world’s largest real-estate booms into a recipe for derelict and abandoned properties.

“We now have almost a million houses that are abandoned, even though there’s a housing shortage, and the economy is not providing any way to match them with occupants, so a good proportion might be slated for demolition,” said David Ireland, chairman of the Empty Homes Agency, a housing charity.

Four in five of those houses were owned by private individuals, often working-class Britons who took advantage of easy credit rules to withdraw equity from their homes and use it to put down payments on second “buy-to-let” houses for rental income. The economic downturn created a domino effect where many people have lost both of their houses in a storm of foreclosures and evictions.

A lot more have simply not been sold because British banks, many of which are still struggling to rid themselves of credit risk after a major government bailout, are now wary of giving mortgages to consumers at any rate. And a spiralling unemployment crisis is making people wary of putting their money down on a house they may be unable to afford.

This has left developers, who built like mad during the boom, stuck with thousands of properties they can’t sell.

You can see that happening on the edge of Birmingham, where a year-old subdivision of handsome red-brick houses, Nether Hall Park, has streets mysteriously devoid of cars or pedestrians. The handful of people who bought houses there a year ago for $800,000 now say they have to walk past blocks of empty houses on the market for half that price before they can find a single neighbour. They wonder if the developer will soon turn them into fields.

Compounding the huge glut of empty homes and business offices is a tax system that requires owners to pay property tax on empty buildings based on their size, with only a six-month grace period to find tenants. This provides an economic incentive to demolish buildings.

“This is like putting income tax on the unemployed … some of our members are taking desperate measures and actually knocking down buildings before they’ve reached the end of [their] useful life,” said Liz Peace of the British Property Federation, which represents builders. “Developers who might be rebuilding city centres just won’t do it now, because they don’t want to be in a situation where they can’t find a tenant and have to pay the tax, and then have to destroy the building.”

Such demolitions have become commonplace. On the outskirts of Newcastle this month, an entire industrial park of 116,000 square feet was demolished because its owners couldn’t find enough tenants to compensate for a property-tax bill of $240,000 a year.

On top of that, many British local governments have given the redevelopment of huge public-housing projects and downtown units to private developers in exchange for the right to build for-profit condominiums.

As the condo market has disappeared and mortgage lending has shrunk 40 per cent, these companies have lost their sources of financing, and there is a real possibility that huge stretches of downtown cores will be unbuilt and left as half-demolished stretches of wasteland.

“This is really a set of circumstances that is unique to Britain, and it is creating a really serious waste of valuable property,” Mr. Ireland said.

Many property builders are simply unable to build anything because they lack funds. Taylor Wimpey, Britain’s biggest builder, has seen its value collapse from $11.4-billion last year to $210-million this month. Most other builders have seen similar falls.

Britain is in the midst of a major housing shortage, with the government estimating that 400,000 extra houses will need to be built to fill existing demand. Of the million empty houses, at least 300,000 are private units that have been empty for more than six months and will probably never be able to fill that demand.

As a result, one of the few growth areas in the British economy has been in the field of property guardians: People, often young adventure-seeking men from Australia and South Africa, who are paid a small sum to live in empty buildings and protect them from being ransacked, stripped, vandalized or squatted.

Those companies are now desperately running advertisements seeking young people willing to live in office buildings, housing projects and stately homes that can’t seem to find buyers in today’s market. It used to be a short-term job to guard a building between tenants, but now it seems to have become a form of palliative care – keeping a building warm until it becomes another hole in the gap-toothed face of the city.

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Frankly, not everything in this article makes complete sense. Particularly curious is the part about the adventurous foreigners who are hired as care-takers for buildins apparently slated to be taken down one way or the other. Why not hire Brits? They can hardly be more prone to drunkeness and other irresponsible behaviour than Australians or South Africans. 

My guess is the poor sod of a reporter felt he add to some more colour to what already is a pretty hairraising piece. 


Peter Schiff was right (of course)

November 25, 2008 at 03:49 | Posted in economics, Peter Schiff | Leave a comment
Any questions?
My particular favourite here is creationist apologist Ben Stein. How often does a man have to be wrong before he will shut up?

Welcome to the Blog of Prefaces

November 23, 2008 at 19:54 | Posted in editorial | 1 Comment

Since there’s nothing new under the sun, I cannot promise that anything you are reading on this blog is in original. There’s not going to be a coherent theme to any of my posts – I have tried that before, and it didn’t work out. Writing about the same topic over and over again becomes tiring after a while – not just for the writer, but also the reader. And if I begin to bore my readers, they will simply stay away, and that just won’t do it for a blog.
So I will make every effort to post on as wide a range of topics as possible – with the possible exception of my personal life, which is really none of my reader’s business.
I will try to leave the comment section unmoderated – unless it gets out of hand with too much trolling. Please keep comments on-topic as much as possible. Or at least interesting. Or at the very least avoid being offensively stupid.
So without much further ado, I present to you my Blog of Prefaces.

JR

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