Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics, and sports by Paul Tuns. I am editor-in-chief of "The Interim," Canada's life and family newspaper, and author of "Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal" (2004) and "The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau" (2015). I am some combination of conservative/libertarian, standing athwart history yelling "bullshit!" You can follow me on Twitter (@ptuns).

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Wednesday, June 19, 2019
 
Conservative leadership vote
Boris Johnson has 143 votes -- as much as the next three combined. Jeremy Hunt has 54 MPs supporting him, Michael Gove has 51 and Sajid Javid won the backing of 38. Rory Stewart fell off the ballot with 27 votes. Stewart lost 10 votes between the second and third ballot and 14 of Dominic Raab's 30 supporters publicly declared for BoJo. It is fair to assume that Stewart's backers will not be going to Johnson. With talks between Stewart and Gove to combine forces becoming public, it is probably fair to assume the Environment Minister will get most of the International Development Minister's backers (indeed, some of Stewart's backers probably jumped ship while he was still on the ballot) and that Gove will leapfrog Hunt to face Johnson in the vote by party members. I think Johnson will have a slightly harder time against Gove than he will Hunt.
Two quick Tweets that are wise observations, one about why Conservatives (I would add, particularly Johnson) needs Stewart and the other about why the (I think now inevitable) Gove-Johnson race is bad for the party.


 
Ratcheting up the rhetoric
The New York Post editorializes on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's recent comments on the US border, invoking memories of the Holocaust:
Democrats don’t like the camps but refuse to OK funds to upgrade them or to expand the immigration courts to speed up resolution of the claims — and won’t even think about updating laws that never anticipated this situation.
The only “answer” that leaves is to just wave the migrants on in — and, presumably, allow them to collect public assistance just like citizens or legal immigrants do.
If you won’t go along with that, AOC believes you’re just like Hitler.
Fascist. Concentration camp. Never Again. “I don’t use those words to just throw bombs,” the congresswoman insisted. Yet that’s exactly what she’s done.
Many on the Right want to focus on the appropriateness of comparing detention of illegal aliens to genocide, and that's a fair discussion to have. But what seems to be lost is the way in which AOC and some of her allies on the Left are trying villainize political opponents by turning a legitimate and complex policy difference into something that cannot be debated because one side is literally Nazis. This not only cheapens the historical analogy, but is fundamentally anti-democratic by placing some topics off limits in what should be a deliberative democracy.


 
Conservative leadership race
I agree with the Daily Telegraph's Daniel Capurro that Sajid Javid won the debate yesterday, but disagree with his notion that Michael Gove performed poorly because he was making his pitch too directly to his fellow MPs; that's who Gove must win over immediately. Can't campaign for the votes of the membership before you make the final two, and he's in a three-way race for that privilege. BBC is reporting that Gove and Rory Stewart are talking about joining forces. Gove would probably lead the ticket with Stewart promised a plum post, although perhaps Gove shouldn't be trusted. The BBC quotes an unnamed source that Stewart wants to lead the combined forces of the two. Perhaps any deal is dependent on who finishes ahead in the next round (that would make sense). Stewart admitted on TV that they are talking although Gove sources initially denied the reports. Key sticking point in negotiations according to Stewart is how to approach Brexit negotiations. Of more than 1200 respondents of Conservative activists to the ConservativeHome poll, more than 61% want Boris Johnson as leader. That looks like a prohibitive favourite now (Gove is a distant second at just under 15%), but will look less so once he faces a single opponent in a poll.


Tuesday, June 18, 2019
 
Tory leadership vote
A lot of the coverage says that Rory Stewart had a good result, jumping ahead of Dominic Raab, with 37 votes compared to 30 for the Member of Parliament for Esher and Walton. Stewart nearly doubled his vote among his colleagues (from 19 to 37). As ConservativeHome's Andrew Gimson noted, that's a real bandwagon. Two others gained at least 10 votes: Boris Johnson (14) and Sajid Javid (10). Michael Gove gained four MPs and Jeremy Hunt three. Those are small but real gains but the story might be that they lack momentum which could become self-fulfilling. The Daily Telegraph has good snapshots of each candidate, and it reports that bookmakers put BoJo at an 88% chance of winning the leadership -- to be decided by the Conservative Party membership after the MPs whittle the field down to two candidates -- followed by Stewart (10.3%), Hunt (6%) and Gove (3%). The bookmakers may like Stewart (10.3%) more than anyone but BoJo, but that percentage takes into account the fact Stewart has a difficult path to facing the membership vote. It seems unlikely he will jump ahead of Hunt to get on the final ballot. Most of Raab's votes -- which are hard Brexit votes -- are going to go to Johnson and it's highly unlikely any will be headed toward Stewart, who is only nine votes behind second-place Hunt, but has two others he must also jump ahead of. Indeed, it is hard to imagine Stewart picking up more votes from either Sajid Javid's suporters (33 votes) or Gove's (41), than would Hunt, who is currently at 47 votes. Stewart will have to gain four more MPs from Raab and Javid voters in the next two rounds than does Gove to remain on the ballot. I'd bet against that happening.


 
Leadsom backs BoJo, and other Tory leadership news
The (London) Times has the report. No surprise here. That makes three former opponents. That is a bit of surprise and takes the wind out any Stop BoJo campaign.
Of note from the Times report:
Mr Johnson’s camp deny that he will seek to manipulate the contest by “lending” votes to Jeremy Hunt, the candidate he is said to be most confident of beating when Tory members choose between a final two selected by the parliamentary party.
Of course, Boris Johnson would say that. It might even have the virtue of being true. As strategic as it might be to face Hunt, it is also a good strategy to have as strong a victory going into membership portion of the campaign.
The second round of the Conservative MPs voting is this afternoon.


Monday, June 17, 2019
 
Because Sweden and Canada are not socialist
Toby Young: "Socialism always begins with a universal vision for the brotherhood of man and ends with people having to eat their own pets." Great quote, but that describes Venezuela and Ethiopia, not Scandinavia and Canada. Ego Sweden and Sweden is not socialist. Nor is the mixed-economy, fundamentally Western European, vision of Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.


 
Boris Johnson promises to tackle the digital divide
Conservative leadership contender and Daily Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson uses his perch in the esteemed paper to do some politicking:
I was speaking to some Lincolnshire Conservatives the other night, and there was one thing those farmers wanted me to do to improve their lives – and they wanted it done as fast as possible. Yes, they want a good Brexit by October 31, and if I am elected, that is certainly what we will do. Yes, they want a government that will champion British farming and British food production; and as someone who partly grew up on a family farm (milked cows, dipped sheep) I am totally committed to supporting farming and rural life.
But when I mentioned another priority of mine – almost casually – those farmers smote their weatherbeaten hands together and roared their assent. They want better broadband. They are indignant at the current failure to provide it – and they are absolutely right.
A fast internet connection is not some metropolitan luxury. It is an indispensable tool of modern life. You need it for your medical prescription, for paying your car tax, for keeping up with the news and with your family and friends. It is becoming the single giant ecosystem in which all economic activity takes place. It is the place you find bargains. It is the place you find customers. It is not only the place you can find a job. It is the means by which you can be interviewed, and your talents uncovered, without incurring the cost of a rail ticket. If your area has a truly fast broadband connection, that area will be a better place to live, to invest, to set up a business; and that area will have a better chance of retaining talented young people, and allowing them to start up businesses and bring up their families.
It is therefore a disgrace that this country should suffer from a deep digital divide, so that many rural areas and towns are simply left behind. They can’t rely on teleconferencing. They can’t skype properly. Sometimes the coverage is so bad that they can’t even email properly. This is 21st century Britain – the country that helped to pioneer the very idea of the world wide web – and yet we have only seven per cent coverage of full fibre broadband.
To fully participate in modern life -- or more accurately, for the opportunity to fully participate in modern life -- people must have access to high-speed, reliable internet. The private sector has determined that it is not worth the cost to bring high-speed to rural areas at a cost that people are willing to pay. Free market purists would say that is the end of the story, and it might very well be. But if there was a public utilities case for state interference in delivering electricity and indoor plumbing to the masses outside major cities, it might be applicable to high-speed internet. It might well be in the public's interest to bring the opportunities of the internet to isolated or otherwise economically depressed areas. As parts of England -- and Canada and the United States -- reap the economic and cultural rewards of a deep and rich internet, other parts have only meager access to components of the digital world while being excluded (by technology) from the experience. That is why BoJo vows "full fibre in all the towns of Britain" by 2025:
It cannot go on like this. The government has just set a new target for the 100 per cent roll-out of full fibre broadband – by 2033! Tell that to rural Lincolnshire. As a deadline, that is laughably unambitious. If we want to unite our country and our society, we should commit now to delivering full fibre to every home in the land not in the mid 2030s – but in five years at the outside ...
It is outrageous that places such as Boston and Mansfield and Bishop Auckland and Newcastle-under-Lyme are currently being asked to wait until the mid 2030s to have a speed and richness of internet connectivity that, say, Londoners take for granted.
In some ways, BoJo is pandering. He wants to win over rural voters to his leadership bid and the Conservative Party. But in other, more important ways, he is trying to bring those back-row, left-behind, outsiders closer to the front and inside. A digital divide is a wall separating modern haves and have-nots. BoJo wants to tear down that wall and strengthen the bonds of community amongst groups that haven't felt them in a while. Also, while Esther McVey did not address internet access, this fits nicely with her Blue Collar Conservatism.


 
Cowen on the Balkans
Tyler Cowen likes Marie-Janine Calic's new book The Great Cauldron: A History of Southeastern Europe and concludes his brief post thusly:
I think about the Balkans a great deal (and enjoy visiting there), if only because they are one simple alternate scenario for what the rest of world history will look like.
Cowen's eccentricism sometimes gets the better of his analytical side, and this might be one of those times.


Thursday, June 13, 2019
 
Conservative leadership: First round to BoJo
The Daily Telegraph reports:
Rory Stewart, who had been expected to fall short, scraped through with 19, followed by Matt Hancock on 20 and Sajid Javid on 23.
Jeremy Hunt, Mr Johnson's closest rival, appeared to fall short of expectations, securing 43 votes, whilst Michael Gove finished third with 37.
Dominic Raab, initially expected to challenge Mr Johnson as a hard Brexiteer candidate, secured 27 votes.
Commenting on the result, Mr Johnson said: "Thank you to my friends and colleagues in the Conservative and Unionist Party for your support. I am delighted to win the first ballot, but we have a long way to go."
At the next round of voting on June 18, candidates will need 33 votes to remain in the contest.
Before the vote, ConservativeHome estimated Johnson had 84 MPs backing him followed by Hunt with 37, Gove 34, and Dominic Raab with 23. Johnson exceeded expectations by quite a bit, while the others were pretty close to the estimated level of support.
It's too bad that Esther McVey, a principled and articulate conservative, finished last with nine votes, just behind Mark Harper (10) and Andrea Leadsom (11). Some of McVey's potential supporters certainly were backing Johnson and Raab on the first ballot. That might have been true for Leadsom, too. I assume that some commentators will note that the only two women in the 10-person race were eliminated on the first vote. Contra the Telegraph description Rory Stewart did not merely "scrape through" but finished well ahead of the trio at the bottom.
Henry Zeffman of The (London) Times explains what is likely to happen next, with the next round of MP balloting coming June 18:
It is probably fair to assume that Ms McVey’s nine votes will head towards Mr Johnson, although some of them might take a detour via Mr Raab. Backers of Mrs Leadsom, who received 11 votes, are likely to flow to one of those two Brexiteers too, while Mr Harper’s ten backers are fairly diverse and will move in different directions ...
The game for Mr Gove and Mr Hunt is to jostle with each other for second place in Tuesday’s ballot, while the rest will hope to catch light and surge ahead of them.
Matt Hancock, a distant sixth with 20 votes, and Sajid Javid, fifth on 23, face the dilemma of whether it is better to stay in the race and risk their supporters abandoning them for more obviously viable candidates or to pull out and endorse another candidate quickly in order to exert influence and display clout. The fear for Mr Javid and Mr Hancock is that if they stay on to the second ballot they could be embarrassed by a poor performance below the threshold of 33 votes required to advance in the process, diminishing their claim to a top cabinet job under the next prime minister ...
Rory Stewart will want to use the debate to engender public pressure on Conservative MPs to put him through.
Dominic Raab finished with 27 votes, good for fourth, but his position might be the weakest. He is in direct competition with Boris Johnson as the most stridently anti-EU leadership contender and presumptive leader for the ready-for-No-Deal-if-necessary contingent of the party. He is also economically and culturally conservative, maybe a little more so than BoJo. Johnson's better-than-expected showing probably means he has little chance to gain traction and he should probably drop out quickly and endorse the front-runner. It could prevent this from dragging on any longer than necessary and put him in the future leader's good graces. That does not mean, as James Forsyth reported in his Sun column last week, that some in the party want the MPs to just coronate Johnson if he is far ahead:
There is increasing talk among senior figures in the party that if the former Foreign Secretary comes out on top in the parliamentary rounds, it would be best to skip the members part of the contest and make him Prime Minister straight away.
The argument goes that the polling shows that Johnson is the members’ choice, and so they wouldn’t mind him being crowned.
Also, by ending the contest early, the new Prime Minister would have a chance to get cracking on Brexit.
Theresa May never faced a vote from the membership. Boris Johnson is not Theresa May. He has political skills and intelligence that allude her. But it is a good exercise for a leader to go through and the party deserves to have its say. It can only help the eventual winner and his legitimacy to face the membership for a vote.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019
 
On the genocide label
Writing at PJ Media under the pseudonym Nathan S. Roseman, "an untenured professor working in the field of mental health and behavioral science somewhere in Canada," dissects what is wrong with using the term genocide to describe the problems facing Canadian indigenous people. The essence of the argument is:
There is no question that Canadians of First Nation, Inuit, and Métis descent — particularly those living in remote areas — continue to face many daily stressors from economic marginalization that places them at high risk for poor physical, psychological, and nutritional health. The ongoing discrimination and racism faced by many indigenous Canadians certainly contribute to these problems. Framing primarily cultural and socioeconomic issues in terms of "genocide," however, promotes the false notion that active perpetrators of organized murder are to blame, and encourages indigenous people to adopt a counterproductive and divisive victimhood narrative.
And:
As it stands, our Government’s official invitation to conspiratorial hatred and victim ideology will further impair a vulnerable community and plant the seeds of division our already polarized nation.
I recommend reading the whole article.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019
 
Tory leadership race
There are ten official candidates for the Conservative Party leadership in the UK. Former foreign secretary Boris Johnson is the early favourite and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt looks to be the likely ABB candidate (Any But Boris). Michael Gove desperately wants to be that candidate, and is trying to change the page from the story about sniffing cocaine to an all-out assault on Johnson. The Daily Telegraph reports:
In a further blow to Mr [Michael] Gove, Penny Mordaunt, the Defence Secretary, chose to back Jeremy Hunt instead of him, as the Foreign Secretary overtook Mr Gove as the main challenger to Mr [Boris] Johnson.
Asked whether he should now “call it a day” after three days of headlines about his cocaine snorting, Mr Gove instead taunted Mr Johnson by suggesting the former Mayor of London does not “believe in [his] heart” he is up to the job of prime minister.
Having betrayed Mr Johnson by sabotaging his 2016 leadership run, Mr Gove mocked him by saying: “Whatever you do, don’t pull out - I know you have before.”
That is not only a reference to Johnson's abandoned 2016 leadership bid, but his extra-marital affairs (although the Environment Minister denies that was what he was alluding to). Gosh, British politics is fun. Relatedly, there was an accidental use of the c-word on TV in relation to the Tory leadership race, thanks to Victoria Derbyshire.
I'm terribly torn between wanting Boris Johnson to win and wanting to see Michael Gove lose. Fortunately these are not mutually exclusive, but if I had to chose, I would probably abandon my two-decade wish to see BoJo become PM to stop Gove from becoming leader and Prime Minister.
Also high on my list of what I want/don't want, is keeping Sarah Vine out of 10 Downing. Again, thankfully none of this is mutually exclusive.
Telegraph columnist Andrew Mitchell says there are only four real contenders: Johnson, Hunt, Gove, and Dominic Raab. The brilliant and principled Tory Ian Duncan Smith has endorsed BoJo. IDS says that the Tories risk the sort of repudiation that the Kim Campbell-led Canadian Progressive Conservative Party faced in 1993 if they do not deliver on Brexit. IDS writes:
We have to leave the EU by October 31 or I fear the British people will finally leave us, once and for all.
That is why I have decided to vote for Boris Johnson in the Conservative Party leadership election. I believe of all the candidates he is the most likely to deliver on the requirement to leave the EU by October 31. He has grasped that imperative. While there are other good candidates standing, too many speak of how damaging this would be. How, I wonder, will the EU take their discussions seriously if they see frightened negotiators from the UK sitting in front of them?


Monday, June 10, 2019
 
Donald Trump's view of exchange
Donald Boudreaux at AIER.org on President Donald Trump's view of international trade, and the market:
Trump has pontificated on trade for decades, and every word out of his mouth clearly reveals a man who knows nothing about the economics of trade and who is as clichéd an economic nationalist as can be imagined.
Behold this line from a 1990 interview he did in Playboy: “The Japanese double-screw the US, a real trick: First they take all our money with their consumer goods, then they put it back in buying all of Manhattan. So either way, we lose.”
Let’s examine this unalloyed gem of economic witlessness.
Overlooking Trump’s outrageous exaggerations, such as his claim that the Japanese buy up “all” of Manhattan, we start by stating an obvious truth: the voluntary purchase of a good is not a transaction in which the buyer is “screwed” or has his or her money “taken.” Instead, the buyer’s money is voluntarily spent. While every person of good sense sees a foreign seller who makes attractive offers to domestic buyers as someone who improves the well-being of each buyer who accepts the offer, Trump sees this seller as a con artist or thief.
Perhaps because that's how he behaved as a seller.