Sobering Thoughts

Comments on politics, the culture, economics and religion by Paul Tuns -- in short, everything about the human endeavour from a non-hyphenated conservative perspective. I am Toronto-based writer and editor, whose articles, columns and reviews have appeared in more than 35 publications. I am editor-in-chief of The Interim, Canada's life and family newspaper, author of Jean Chretien: A Legacy of Scandal and a regular contributor to the book pages of the Halifax Herald.

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Tuesday, May 05, 2015
 
Why we are worse off with Mayor John Tory
Neil Flagg at The Rebel's Megaphone blog on "why Toronto should be missing Rob Ford":
John Tory’s first budget, passed on March 11 by a council now unified behind an open spigot, increased spending from $9.7 billion to $11.5 billion – a 19% increase in year one! This is the new spending baseline going forward, in an era where spending never goes down. Even if you assume that the Mayor holds the line at $11.5 billion from here until his term ends in 2018 (fat chance), we’re talking about a cumulative $7.2 billion in new operations spending in his term. Compare that to Rob Ford’s four-year cumulative new-spending total of $1.6 billion.
Flagg makes an essential point: the new level of spending becomes the starting point for future budgets. A $1.8 billion spending increase is the one-year additional cost. It accumulates.


 
I dissect Justin Trudeau's 'fairness for the middle class' speech
My comments on Junior's speech yesterday on "fairness for the middle class," with my responses mostly limited to his rhetoric. I don't really question the numbers, which I'm sure other economists can and will do.
Since I’ve been Leader of the Liberal Party, I’ve talked and listened to a lot of families just like yours, in rooms just like this, all across the country.
They usually tell me two things: how proud they are of their kids, but that they’re worried for their future. Because people feel like something has changed in Canada. Something about Canada just isn’t the same as when we were growing up.
Lots of things have changed, but most of those things Junior embraces: immigration, changing sexual mores, political correctness, abortion-on-demand. He is borrowing a conservative trope in his appeal to middle class voters: nostalgia. The problem is that nostalgia is often a blinkered view of the past, remembering only the good things and forgetting the bad. That said, I'm pretty sure our parents also worried about our futures back then. Why is Junior pretending that this is the first generation to be concerned about our children's future? He hasn't made the case that things are worse. I have a full chapter on the real state of the middle class in my forthcoming book, The Dauphin: The Truth about Justin Trudeau.
Because when we were growing up it seemed like the sky was the limit. If you worked hard, got a good education, and applied yourself, you could get a good job. Everyone just expected they’d do better than their parents.
But it doesn’t feel like that anymore.
And parents are worried – not only about their children’s future, but often, even about their own jobs. So people have to make a choice between paying for their kids’ education and saving for their retirement. That’s not right.
Actually, that's the way it has been for quite a while. When I talked to a financial adviser in the late 1990s, he said that most people erroneously put money away for their children's education first and their own retirement second. That's an anecdote, but Trudeau doesn't offer any evidence, either. Nor does he make anything but an appeal to voters' desire to have it all -- their cake and then a second slice -- when he suggests that we don't need to make choices. Sorry, but saving, investing, and consumption, always involves choices. Junior is suggesting that people should not prioritize, that they can have it all. Politicians have been doing that forever, but Justin Trudeau was going to be a different kind of politician. He isn't. He, too, panders.
When I hear from families like yours, they feel like no one is on their side. And no wonder.
Stephen Harper and his government aren’t on your side.
He just gave a $2 billion tax break – that favours the wealthy.
He doubled the tax-free savings limit – for the wealthy.
What a dishonest little prick.
According to a Maclean's article a few weeks back, even Trudeau's economic advisers admit the Harper government's fiscal policies have been disproportionately beneficial to lower income earners when measured not as a cost to government/total payout to individuals, but as a percentage of marginal increases in total income for households at each quintile. That is a technical way of saying that the poor increase their household income more than the rich as a percentage of their total income as a result of the tax and income-support policies of the Harper government (since 2007). To put it in pure numbers, $500 goes further for a family making $40,000 than $1000 does for a family making $100,000, even if the latter gets a larger benefit. So while voters might feel like the current government is not on their side, in fact, it has been.
Also, the (near) doubling of the Tax-Free Savings Account is not a program "for the wealthy" as Junior puts it, but a way for anyone who can save and invest even a little bit to avoid paying taxes on one way of putting money aside for use later. To put it another way, it's a way for the government to not penalize those who help themselves. To call it a tax break for the wealthy ignores the fact that roughly one in three Canadians -- so not just the wealthy -- have a TFSA. Sure, people who make more can put more aside, but many middle class families should be able to benefit from TFSAs.
Lastly, Stephen Gordon argues in the National Post today that it buggers credibility to claim the much-pandered to middle class is being ignored as all parties have been "reshaping policy" to their benefit for more than three decades. It would be political suicide for political parties to tailor policy to the benefit of the wealthy while ignoring the middle class. It just wouldn't happen.
For 10 years, Harper has been ignoring the people who do most of the heavy lifting in our economy, who work longer and longer hours for an ever-shrinking piece of the pie, and less and less financial security. Well, that’s not fair. And not only is it unfair to you, but it’s not good for the economy. We need middle class Canadians to have money in their pockets to save, invest, and grow the economy.
Let's for a moment accept the premise that the Harper government has done nothing for the middle class. What will Junior do?
So today I am excited to be sharing with you two big parts of our plan to stand up for middle class Canadians and those working hard to join them.
Holy fuck, a plan. What is it?
To bring back fairness and to strengthen the heart of the Canadian economy.
First, we’ll cut the middle class tax rate by seven percent.
Bring it down from 22 to 20.5 percent. That’s a $3 billion tax cut for the people who need it most ...
Okay, that sounds like a lot. $3 billion! But the "seven percent" tax cut is actually just a 1.5 percentage point cut. That's on the income threshold of about $44,000-$89,000. I'm of the school that any tax cut is a good thing, but break that down, and for someone making $50,000, it's a $90 tax cut. Because our system has marginal tax rates, the cut is not on every dollar earned, but only that portion in the second-lowest bracket. People who make $70,000 will save $450. That's not bad, but hardly life-changing. Just don't think for a minute that your taxes are being reduced 7%; they're not.
We’ll pay for it by asking wealthy Canadians to do a little more. We’ll introduce a new tax bracket for the top 1 percent – on incomes over $200,000. Because Canadians who can, have always been willing to help.
Ah, a little something for the envy-mongering class-envy Left. Punishing achievement is dumb policy, but great politics for some reason. Predictably, Junior embraces it. Supporting documents for the speech suggest that raising the marginal income tax rate from 29% to 33% on people making more than $200,000 will pay for the tax cuts for people at the lower end. But as economist Kevin Milligan (who also serves as an economic adviser to Junior) has pointed out, forecasting future revenue when raising tax rates on the wealthiest can be tricky because they have the means to avoid paying them.
Second, we’ll give more to help middle class parents with the cost of raising their kids.
When Prime Minister Stephen Harper does this, it's pandering and playing politics. When Trudeau does it, it's fairness to the middle class.
We’ll create a new Canada Child Benefit – one that’s simple, meaningful, monthly, and tax-free, And most of all: fair. Through our Canada Child Benefit, a typical family of four, earning $90,000, will get a tax-free payment of $490 every month. Under the Harper plan, they only get around $275 a month. That means we’re providing over $2,500 a year more to that middle class family – tax-free.
Harper can’t afford to do this, but we can. We can because our plan is progressive. We can afford to do more for the people who need it by doing less for the people who don’t.
If Harper was vote-buying, Trudeau raises him. It's expensive. But Trudeau promises he can pay for it.
Let me be perfectly clear: with Harper you need to be a certain family to get his $2 billion tax break. For our plan, all you need is to be middle class, or hoping to join it.
So Harper's plan is for "a certain family" but Junior's plan is for "the middle class" -- or a certain family.
You can be a single mom, a stay-at-home dad, a family where both parents work or are divorced. It doesn’t matter. Our plan helps you.
As long as you're middle class.
Fairness for middle class families. Hope and a future for middle class Canadians. That’s our plan.
That's all rhetoric. And it might work. But Junior's "plan" seems to cost more than the $2 billion they will "save" by cancelling income-splitting and whatever they save in the near-term on reversing the TFSA limits (about $1 billion annually). But repeatedly calling it a plan makes it sound like all the details are worked out.
And in the weeks and months to come, we’ll have even more to say about the rest of our plan to grow our economy. Because when the middle class is strong, growing, and successful, so is Canada. I think we owe it to families. Because I love my kids. Because you love your kids and grandkids.
I'm sorry, I just threw up a little. At least he didn't say he's doing this because he loves our kids. That would be creepy.
That sense of hope and optimism. That sense that a good job and a great future are theirs for the taking. That’s the dream – that very Canadian dream – that has been taken from too many, for the benefit of too few, for too long.
This coming election will be about class warfare and the politics of envy. Very disappointing, but wholly predictable, that Junior is playing this game. As the National Post editorializes, the implicit message in the Trudeau speech on fairness for the middle class is that somehow the wealthy are responsible for whatever problems and challenges the middle class face.
It’s time. It’s time to give every Canadian a real and fair chance to succeed.
Not sure if handing out $490 to families every month is really succeeding. Or even allows the families to succeed. But if they do better themselves too much, Trudeau plans to punish them by upping their taxes to 33%.
In all seriousness, this is a plan that is not necessary, for as Maclean's reports today, the middle class is doing fine (see the chart at the bottom of their story). Nor is Junior's plan necessarily simpler, when you try to figure out the whole Canadian Child Benefit, which includes rolling some other programs (worth a total of $18 billion) into a tax-free benefit that replaces the Universal Child Care Benefit, but gets clawed back as income rises. As for fairness, those are political disputes about which people can differ and it probably depends on whether you are gaining or losing by Trudeau's plan.
At Policy Options, Emmett Macfarlane raises the question of whether the $22 billion pricetag for the proposed CCB is necessary and whether upper middle income earners need to benefit as much as they do under Trudeau's plan. (Of course, they do, he's courting their votes, too.)
Two other thoughts.
John Ibbitson notes in the Globe and Mail that there is no room for infrastructure, environmental programs, or First Nations. Not unless Justin Trudeau is going to raise more taxes? There is no room for universal daycare without a tax increase or other spending cuts. That all might be fine, but if you want the Liberal government to address these other Liberal priorities, you are going to be disappointed.
Unless, of course, this is posturing and he doesn't intend to follow through. Trudeau has voted against every tax cut the Tories have introduced since he became an MP in 2008. Do you really believe he is going to lower taxes, even modestly, now? And he has said numerous times it was not his intention or priority to raise taxes. He promised not to raise them on the middle class, but has strongly suggested on numerous occasions he wouldn't raise them on anyone. We now know he is someone who says one thing on taxes and then changes his mind. Will he do it again? Do you believe he will cut middle class income taxes or limit himself to the modest increase in taxes for those making more than $200K? Or might he look at the books if elected prime minister and announce he can't afford the Canadian Child Benefit?
The most important question for voters is this: The Universal Child Care Benefit -- $160 a month for kids under 6 and $100 a month for children 7-17 -- is in place, so are you willing to risk that for a promise for more from a guy who has changed his mind about taxes and has criticized programs to help parents as cynical, vote-buying politics? Trusting Trudeau seems like a risky move on this one.


Monday, May 04, 2015
 
2016 watch (crowding the field edition)
Two people whose political experience combined is a losing senate race by 10 percentage points have entered the GOP sweepstakes: Ben Carson, a doctor, and Carly Fiorina, a businessbabe. The Los Angeles Times has a story about both entering on the same day. Neither will win. The presidency is an entry-level political job and voters know that. Powerline's Paul Mirengoff says, "Carly Fiorina to run for president and pursue the vice presidency." He says she is "the Herman Cain of 2016" but Hewlett-Packard is larger than Godfather Pizza. It is difficult to figure out what Carson is doing, although he might be described as 2016's Herman Cain for other reasons.
It is kind of sad that Fiorina is considered vice presidential material mostly on the basis of having a vagina, from which she will apparently birth strong attacks on Hillary Clinton. This could backfire; women attacking women in the public square comes off as catty rather than merely negative campaigning, and although that might be unfair it is also a reality of politics.
As for Carson, who will, according to Allah Pundit at Hot Air, probably cause the most trouble for Senator Ted Cruz and former governor Mike Huckabee with his Protest Candidate Rhetoric 101, the most interesting thing about his candidacy is the fact that he opened his announcement to run with a gospel choir singing an Eminem song.


 
Traditional vs. modern liberalism
National Review's Charles C.W. Cook says the Bill of Rights could not be written today because of a fundamental change in liberalism (which seems two distinct creatures, but you get the point):
In its classical mode, liberalism requires the citizenry that it serves to respect the crucial distinction that obtains between the principle of a given rule and the consequences that the rule might feasibly yield. Simply put, a country in which the people regard certain individual rights as inviolable axioms of nature — and who accept with alacrity, therefore, that they will often be used for ill — will be a country that boasts protections of those rights within its national charter. A country in which the people are focused primarily on what might be done with those rights, by contrast, will be a country that prefers to elevate and to abide by the whims of transient majorities — or, perhaps, by the discretion of a supposedly enlightened few.


 
A good rant that is not wrong
Breitbart's John Nolte on Baltimore:
Republicans are not perfect, but we are not the ones aborting millions of innocent black children and warehousing in failed public schools run by corrupt unions those who escape the Planned Parent butchers. And we sure as hell didn’t replace the two-parent family with a government check.
Baltimore does not want my help, and therefore Baltimore is not my problem.
Nor is Baltimore America’s problem. Baltimore is a Democrat problem. These riots are nothing more than Democrat infighting, and the videos of these riots are nothing more than infomercials for U-Haul and the NRA.
The good people trapped in Baltimore, the 15% or so with the moral courage to vote against-all-odds for a new direction and new leadership, need to buy firearms to protect themselves in a city run by moral illiterates who excuse the savagery of mobs and call for police to stand idle as chaos reigns. In the meantime, the 15% also need to start saving the money for the U-Haul that will get them the hell out of Dodge.


 
Grexit
Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP, writes at CapX that Greece should default and leave the Euro, but only if it is committed to policies that make such drastic action work:
Greece should default, decouple and devalue. Returning to the drachma won’t be easy – there are no easy options for a country in Greece’s situation – but it’ll be less damaging than the existing policy of permanent immiseration.
But here’s the thing. In order to make a success of life outside the euro, Greece would need to make use of its new opportunities. The two biggest sectors of the Greek economy are tourism and shipping. Both stand to benefit enormously from a devaluation (imagine Greek holidays suddenly being half the price of their equivalents in other Mediterranean countries); but only if the government in Athens pursues pro-enterprise policies.
An independent Greece should deregulate its economy, undercutting its neighbours. It should make its taxes flatter and simpler, so disincentivising the avoiders and evaders who played such a big part in creating the deficit. It should privatise state assets, raising funds in the short term and boosting productivity in the long term. It should rebalance its economy from the public sector (which consumes revenue) to the private sector (which produces it). Get these things right and Greece could become a Switzerland on the Aegean.
The trouble is that Alexis Tsipras’s government was elected on the basis that it would do precisely the opposite. It promises to reverse the reforms made under the previous government – which is a pity, since those reforms have, after much hardship, left Greece with a primary surplus. That is to say, once you strip out the debt repayments, the government in Athens is at long last raising more than it spends.
Greece, in other words, has reached the point where it could successfully go it alone, provided it made a clean default. But, under its current leaders, it seems determined throw those advantages away and return to the tax-and-spend policies that caused its crisis in the first place.


 
2016 watch (Chris Christie edition)
Hot Air's Noah Rothman looks back the Chris Christie scandals, including new indictments of former aides, and says there is no chance the New Joisey Governor can mount a credible campaign for the GOP presidential nomination. Rothman concludes:
By passing on a 2012 bid, Christie has likely seen his presidential window close for good. Christie’s experience is one that every politician with presidential ambitions should study carefully. Popularity is fleeting and the movement to draft you into a presidential race today won’t necessarily be there in four years.


 
Wynne's cap and trade
Gwyn Morgan has a good column in the Globe and Mail that examines the likely high economic costs for Ontario and Canada of Kathleen Wynne's cap-and-trade scheme to reduce greenhouse gases. Worse, despite the enormous costs, there is little benefit:
Ontario generates just 0.5 per cent of global carbon emissions. Even a giant 20-per-cent reduction would knock just a tenth of 1 per cent off global emissions. A minuscule gain for the globe, at a potentially enormous cost to the people of Ontario, and all Canadians.


Sunday, May 03, 2015
 
Evidence that campaigns matter
And that all budgets are political documents. On March 31, the Tories and Wildrose were tied in Alberta with 30%, and the NDP trailed with 18%. The NDP now has substantial lead among decided voters. Wildrose ran a terrible campaign. PC Premier Jim Prentice proposed a widely despised budget. The NDP appear not super, super scary. And now it looks like for the first time in more than four decades, the Tories won't win a majority and are unlikely to form government.


 
Vagina voters
Brendan O'Neill has a longish column at Reason on Hillary Clinton's appeal to a certain kind of woman, the kind that vote with their vaginas. Sounds horrible but that's how one feminist put it: "I intend to vote with my vagina." My first thought was not identity politics but the actual mechanics of voting with that body part. Anyway, O'Neill does a fine job pointing out the centrality of identity politics to HRC's candidacy but this line is curious: "The rise of vagina voting, and the centrality of gender to the whole Hillary shebang, shows how dominant the politics of identity has become in the space of just eight years." Wasn't a lot of the primary and presidential election of Barry O predicated on identity politics? It has been dominant for a long time, especially at the congressional level.


 
Alone, not at home
The Washington Post looks at research that suggests people would have more fun doing things by themselves than staying home alone. Many people prefer to stay home than venture to movies, restaurants, or museums by themselves, and a new study says that is a mistake. People tend to under-estimate how much fun they will have going out alone, which tends to be about as much fun as we have with others. Studies also suggest the reason for our reluctance is that we worry what others will think about us, but 1) who cares what strangers think, and 2) the spotlight effect is mostly in our heads (most people don't really notice others). I imagine there are different rules for married and single people, as well as men and women. Location might be relevant also (city vs. small town).
During the Summer when the rest of the family spends a lot of time out of the city, I tend to go out for the evening by myself once every week or so, and find I prefer that to going out with others. With few exceptions, books are better company than most people. Then again, I also prefer to stay home alone than go out with others, yet I am aware that I tend to under-estimate how much fun I have when doing something with somebody else.
It might also depend on what one does. Baseball games are excellent alone but football is best enjoyed with others. I don't mind going to a restaurant by myself, unless it's for wings. Chinese is slightly better alone. I only do movies are with my wife, family, or middle son, but I don't enjoy them (the movies) enough to go alone. I don't do bars.


 
Moving mountains downward
Smithsonian: "The Nepal Earthquake Made Mt. Everest an Inch Shorter."


 
The resurgent submarine market
The Wall Street Journal reports:
In a shift, there is new demand for subs powered by diesel engines and electricity, not just for those with nuclear reactors. The Cold War’s end spurred cuts in the global fleet of diesel-electric submarines, to 256 last year, compared with 463 such vessels 15 years ago, according to London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.
But in the 10 years through 2024, navies world-wide will double annual spending on conventional subs, to an average $11 billion from $5.5 billion in 2014, estimates Strategic Defence Intelligence, a research firm. Over the past decade, annual sales were just a few billion dollars, analysts say ...
The Asia-Pacific region will get more than half of all new subs over the next decade, analysts predict. The primary motivation is China’s speedy naval expansion. Countries from Japan to Australia are responding with maritime military buildups that rely heavily on subs.
Other countries that might soon order subs include Netherlands, Poland, and Canada. The WSJ story focuses on the Swedish industry and is interesting throughout.


 
The sinking of the Lusitania
George Will writes about the sinking of the Lusitania, "a consequence, not a cause" of many tragedies, cribbing material from Eric Larson's new book, In Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania. This coming Thursday is the centenary of the ship's sinking by German U-20s. Will's column is worth a read.


 
Baltimore
Kenneth Lasson, a professor of law at the University of Baltimore, writes about the racial history of Baltimore in the Wall Street Journal, noting:
Baltimore also had its racial ups and downs during the Civil War. By the mid-19th century Maryland had long been a slave state, and Baltimore (at that time the third-largest city in America) was active in the trade even though it had more free blacks than slaves. The notorious Dred Scott decision (1857), in which the Supreme Court held that African-Americans, enslaved or free, could not be American citizens and had no standing to sue in federal court, was written by Roger Taney, who was born in Calvert County just south of Baltimore. Taney’s bust is situated proudly in Baltimore’s fashionable Mount Vernon Square, a few short blocks from where last week’s rioting took place.


Saturday, May 02, 2015
 
Justin Trudeau to talk to Canadian Club about fairness for, and growing the middle classc
Great venue for the middle class, a Canadian Club meeting at the Royal York in downtown Toronto. Middle class people interested in listening to the Liberal leader/trust-fund kid talk about the middle class, can pay the non-member (middle class) fee of $90 or you can grab a table of 10 for $900 if nine of your middle class friends want to join you. If you want to meet Middle Class Hero Justin Trudeau at the private reception, it's only $3000.
I'll help you save some money. Here's a preview of what he's going to say:
Middle class blah, blah, blah, middle class, middle class, blah, blah, blah, blah, middle class, middle class, middle class, blah, middle class blah, blah, blah, middle class. He will go on like this for some 40-45 minutes after which he might take a question or two and repeat the exact same sentences about middle class middle classishness.


 
Quote of the day
Alex Epstein: "If energy is machine food, then oil, coal, gas, uranium, and thorium are super fuels--and solar and wind are junk fuels."


 
The Onion is no joke
Good article on the business side of The Onion at The Atlantic. The bottom line: "... as the overhead cost of printing and distributing a physical newspaper was sloughed away — The Onion became a tidy case study of what it takes to survive a post-print world."
A snippet from The Onion on the state of "debate" on a fictional university campus: "As an institution of higher learning, we recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion."


 
News flash: controversial measure splits public
I always find it amusing when some media outlet reports that opinion on a controversial policy is divided. That's what makes it controversial, right? The Toronto Star reports that according to a Forum Research poll, 43% of Ontarians support Kathleen Wynne's sex-ed program while 40% are opposed. It's Forum Research so that comes with a +/- 30 point margin of error. (Just joking.) I'm curious what the split is for parents, as well as urban/suburban/rural, people who voted Liberal/PC/NDP in the last provincial election, and whites/visible minorities. This probably doesn't split easily between the typical left-right divide. Someone should also point out to Christine Elliott, who could become leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives next week and hasn't wanted to highlight this issue at all, that the minority view on "updating" the sex-ed curriculum is still much more popular than the provincial Tories right now. Might be a way to find new voters for the moribund PCs.


 
Dueling polls
Abacus Data: "Budget propels Conservatives to 8 point lead."
Ekos: "Harper budget not moving the needle on public opinion."
I'm not a somewhere-in-the-middle guy, but my guess the truth lies between Abacus and Ekos.


 
Blackmailing voters is dumb. Really, really dumb.
The Edmonton Sun reports that Ashif Mawji, CEO of the tech firm NPO Zero, said that if the NDP win in Alberta next week, the business community won't contribute to charities in the province. He said if the Progressive Conservatives don't get re-elected, NDP policies will hurt the bottom line of private enterprise. The Sun reports:
"If there's no bottom line, then there's no money that goes to charities. We won't make donations to charities," Mawji said, using the Stollery Children's Hospital and the University of Alberta as examples of where the losses will be felt.
Can't imagine voters will like the heavy handedness of threatening charities. This move could harden as many NDP voters as force them to reconsider their support.


 
Richest in each state
MarketWatch has the list of richest person in each state. Only nine states don't have a billionaire: Utah, New Mexico, Mississippi, Maine, Delaware, Hawaii, South Dakota, Alaska and Wyoming.


 
'Few Conservatives Take Police Abuses Seriously'
The Atlantic's Conor Friedersdorf reports on how most conservatives do not take civil rights violations by police seriously. Conservatives are rightly skeptical of the benevolent power of the state but not when it comes to those state employees -- the police -- with the most power to destroy lives. What is it: hypocrisy, ignorance, willful blind-spot, or boot-licking? Friedersdorf comes to implying it's racism. The charitable view include excessive deference to authority and overblown fears about crime.


Friday, May 01, 2015
 
The 'n-word' is as searched for on Google as 'Lakers' or 'Daily Show'
The Washington Post's Wonkblog has a story on a study about how often people search for the n-word.


 
CNN, MSNBC continues to bleed supporters
The Pew Research Center found that CNN lost 9% of its prime-time audience, MSNBC lost 8%, while Fox only lost 1%. Fox has more evening viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined (about 1.6 million compared to 1.1 million for CNN and MSNBC). In terms of digital audience, CNN has a slight lead over Fox by unique users (65,000-55,000 unique users in January) with MSNBC languishing far behind (under 10,000).


 
Massacre Day
Donald Boudreaux says that May Day should be called Massacre Day.


 
Another great use for drones
Business Insider: "A graffiti artist used a drone to vandalize Kendall Jenner's face on one of NYC's most visible billboards." Story also has gif and video.


 
Patent trolling is the symptom of the larger problem: the patent system
Alex Tabarrok points to a Timothy Lee article at Vox:
The primary problem with the patent system is, well, the patent system. The system makes it too easy to get broad, vague patents, and the litigation process is tilted too far toward plaintiffs. But because so many big companies make so much money off of this system, few in Congress are willing to consider broader reforms.
Tabarrok concludes:
A more fundamental change would be to offer patents of varying length, say 3, 7, and 20 years with the understanding that 3 year patents will be approved quickly but 20 year patents will be required to leap a high hurdle on non-obviousness, prior art and so forth.
Lee says we are talking about patent trolls only because that is the totality of reform that the political class is willing to consider. But politicians won't look at the patent system as a whole if the discussion isn't enlarged. Catch-22, there.


 
Progress
I'm not sure we really appreciate the technological we are making. 3D printing was dismissed by many folks as gimmicky or unrealistic or the wet dreams of nerds and geeks. That dismissal was a failure of imagination.
The M.I.T. Technology Review reported yesterday:
The three infant boys were each near death. They were all on ventilators. All had airways so tiny that the breaths they tried to exhale couldn’t get out.
As a last-ditch effort to save their lives, doctors at the University of Michigan used a 3-D printer to produce small plastic stents that surgeons attached, just above the boys’ lungs, to prop the airways open.
In all three attempts, carried out since 2012, the procedure worked and the boys were able to breathe on their own. All three boys were able to go home—one for the first time ...
The stents are customized to match the length, diameter, and thickness of the child’s airway. The plastic material slowly dissolves over about three years, and as it breaks down becomes less stiff, allowing the airway additional room to grow. Green says the plastic stent costs only about $10 in materials to produce.
There will be many, many more developments such as this in the near future.


 
Open Nominations
iPolitics reports: "Former CTV journalist Tim Weber, who had been seeking the Liberal nomination in the Toronto riding of Scarborough Southwest, announced Thursday that he’ll step aside and support the party’s star recruit for the riding, former Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair." Weber went to Twitter to announce: "I am withdrawing from #lpc nomination race and will support Bill Blair as the next MP for Scarborough Southwest." Maybe Wbber voluntarily stepped aside for the good of the party, maybe he was persuaded that it wouldn't be in his best interests to contest the nomination. Maybe the Liberals are getting better at pushing aside challengers to their stay candidates. But wouldn't you like know the real story in Scarborough Southwest?


Thursday, April 30, 2015
 
Not a parody site
Salon: "Baltimore’s violent protesters are right: Smashing police cars is a legitimate political strategy."


 
Randall Denley shovels CW on Ontario PC leadership race
The Ottawa Citizen's Randall Denley is usually worth a read, but he misses the mark with his take on the Ontario PC leadership race which repeats the conventional wisdom. Just two points about his column.
Denley says Patrick Brown is a lot like Tim Hudak and that "PCs who want a new approach for their party should also ask themselves just how different Patrick Brown really is." There are superficial similarities about age, political experience, and broad political philosophy. The fact is we don't know if Brown would run on the same broadly conservative ideas as Hudak or not, but the platform going into the 2018 election might not be the most important measure here. There are, however, major differences between Brown and Hudak, and it is precisely about approach. Brown wants to shake up the party by infusing it with new members that typically are not PC voters although they might hold some conservative views. Welcoming ethnics and some unionized workers will challenge the Party Establishment and remove the power that the current consultants and advisers have. These people will be replaced by different consultants and advisers, and that's not a bad thing. The Tories have lost four consecutive elections. If you take the substantially decreased majority in 1999, the brain trust running the party hasn't had a great 16 years. They deserve, at the very least, to be challenged for control. Brown will do that. If Elliott wins, the same old Albany Club stalwarts will be running the Tories. They believe in top-down management of the party. Make no mistake that Brown is on the periphery of that Establishment -- he's an MP and he rose up through the ranks of campus partisans -- but he seems willing to open up the Establishment to new blood. On this alone he deserves a chance.
Denley also says:
The PC party does need change, but in my opinion, that means moving closer to the middle and presenting a plan for sustainable health care. Christine Elliott has a fair chance of accomplishing that. If PCs want to form the next government, they will choose her. If they choose Brown, they risk becoming an unelectable NDP of the right.
The fact is we don't know who is electable and not electable until an election. The NDP in Alberta and Wildrose were unelectable, but it looks like they might displace the ruling Tories in that province. The line against Jim Flaherty was he was unelectable so the Ontario PCs had to select Ernie Eves and later John Tory leader. The Ontario PCs picked from the center and did horribly. Stephen Harper, even many of his supporters admitted, was never going to defeat Paul Martin; Harper has been prime minister for nine years. Rob Ford had no chance of being elected mayor of Toronto in 2010; we all know what happened there. Generally the right-wing is not considered electable and the moderates electable but often the right-winger can take advantage of circumstances to win power and many moderates suffer disappointing results. Not every time, mind you, but enough that the advice of select-the-electable-moderate should be ignored.


 
Does Baltimore punch above its weight?
Tyler Cowen lists his favourite things Baltimore. Strong list of authors and other culturally and politically important figures. I'd pick H.L. Mencken over Edgar Allen Poe for favourite/best author.


 
Do cars and cities go together?
The Guardian has an interesting article, "End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile." As a suburbanite who works downtown I have been thinking about this for some time but from a slightly different angle. Parking.* Parking is an inefficient use of land, that according to one Simon Fraser University econ student is the equivalent to a 1% sales tax on good sold in stores that have free outdoor parking. Alex Tabarrok recently pointed to the excellent work of economist Donald Shoup and his important 1992 paper, "Cashing Out Employer-Paid Parking." Land is too valuable in cities to merely park cars on it, and some cities have lifted or relaxed requirements for developers to provide parking. So whether cars will become less common sights in cities might end up being a market decision rather than one made by central planners concerned about the environment or livability (which is the focus of The Guardian story). I remain agnostic on whether walking neighbourhoods are "better," whatever that means. To each his own and all that jazz. I get the appeal but it's not for me.
Another interesting component to this discussion is the impact of autonomous vehicles which are predicted to reduce congestion and the need for parking. The International Transport Forum released a study last week on "Urban Mobility System Upgrade: How shared self-driving cars could change city tra ffic." The study's implications are limited because it examines the impact of self-driving cars in mid-sized European cities, where car culture is obviously different than in larger cities or North America, and where public transit is either already in place or theoretically cheaper to build. It seems to over-estimate benefits, and suggests severely limiting private car ownership/usage in favour of taxibots. The point may well be not that cities are carless, but what kind of cars do cities have.
* I think a lot about parking even though I use -- and prefer -- public transit.


 
Conservatives trusted on economics
Abacus Data poll finds that the budget is a political success for the Conservatives. But for those whom economic issues are a priority, there is a clear preference for the Tories over Liberals. On jobs Conservatives are favoured 38% to 29%, taxes 48% to 24%, middle class incomes 32%-30%, and debt/deficit 48%-24%. Post-budget there was a gain of between 3% and 8% on each measure for the Conservatives and decline of 6%-9% for Liberals. The Liberal (and NDP) narrative that the budget is reckless and/or helps the wealthy is not resonating.
My favourite data point from the poll: 8% of Canadians did not know there was a federal budget, while 31% know there was a budget but not any details of it. They are probably disengaged enough to note vote.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015
 
11 NFL draft predictions (actually 11+)
1. Adrian Peterson is not going to be a Dallas Cowboy after the weekend. Unless he's an Arizona Cardinal, he'll still be with the Minnesota Vikings who are over-valuing him. The Vikes may have to cut him before the Summer. The Dallas Cowboys will use a first or second round pick on a running back and avoid Peterson's $12 million-plus price tag, not to mention the negative publicity. Jerry Jones has a monopoly on Dallas' negative publicity. And the 'Boys already signed defensive end Greg Hardy who has served one suspension and will serve another suspension for (the same) alleged domestic abuse.
1b) The Bleacher Report's Mike Tanier seems to disagree, noting that the Vikings are both deft drafters and creative dealers and could find a way to move Peterson in a non-blockbuster deal. It is possible the Vikes pick a running back in the first round thereby forcing another team to make a trade because one of the three top RBs are gone. If that happens, it is possible Peterson will be used to swap Minnesota's third round pick for Dallas or Arizona's second or fourth for third. I'm dubious because of the Peterson price tag.
2. There is about a 50% chance that a team jumps ahead of the New York Jets to grab QB Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota (whoever the Tampa Bay Buccaneers don't pick). The only two interested teams that could pull it off are the San Diego Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles, both of whom have a quarterback to send along with their own first round pick (and whatever else the deal needs to be consummated). The Cleveland Browns have the trade chits but probably not the will to move on from the one-year mistake of Johnny Manziel; hard to admit failure and pick a quarterback in the first round two years in a row (and three times in four years after taking Brandon Weeden in 2012). If for some reason the Buccaneers keep their first-overall pick and don't draft Marcus Mariota, the chance that Philly or San Diego moves up increases to 66% and the Browns might become a little more interested.
3. Both the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks are in win-now mode and should trade up to get better talent for their needs rather than settling for less. The Colts are more likely to do that considering their recent history of aggressive dealing. The 'Hawks don't have a first round pick because they sent it to New Orleans in exchange for TE Jimmy Graham so moving up in the second round should be a priority.
4. You can make a strong case for Tennessee (#2), Jacksonville (#3), Oakland (#4), Washington (#5), Atlanta (#8), New York Giants (#9), St. Louis (#10), New Orleans (#13), and San Francisco (#15) all trading down to gain extra picks. The Giants won't because they make few draft day deals. New Orleans won't because they aggressively trade up. Oakland might have too much of a premium player at a need position (defensive tackle Leonard Williams or one of the highly coveted wide receivers) available at the fourth spot to move down the draft board. It would be shocking, however, if at least two of Tennessee, Jacksonville, Washington, Atlanta, St. Louis, or San Fran did not trade down. The Rams are also a candidate to move up, particularly if either elite wide receiver Amari Cooper or Kevin White are available in the fifth or eighth spot.
5. Excluding unforeseeable trades to grab West Virginia WR Kevin White in the top five (highly unlikely), the wide receiver-desperate Chicago Bears will pick White here. If he's not available, they join the teams that could trade down to add picks. If they trade down, it is to grab another receiver from the deep talent pool at that position this draft although grabbing anyone but Cooper or Smith at #7 is a stretch. Better to add mid-round picks to go with a mid-first round receiver than reach at their coveted draft position.
6. The Philadelphia Eagles, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions pick 20-24. All desperately need help in the secondary. The Bengals only priority in the 1st round will be safety/cornerback help. Ditto for the Steelers but make that the first, second, and third rounds ... if they are smart. The Eagles could trade up to get any number of other players including a quarterback (by moving into the top four) or wide receiver (moving into the top eight). Assuming Philly doesn't trade, I expect four safeties/cornerbacks taken here (although the Eagles could more than justifiably pick up left-side offensive line help considering the age of the veterans at LT and LG). If the Lions don't like what is available to them at this point, they could trade back a few spots and pick up extra late picks to make up for the draft picks they shipped to the Baltimore Ravens for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Or they could improve an O-line that needs more work, although they need the extra picks more.
7. Michigan State cornerback Trae Waynes will almost certainly be available when the Washington Redskins pick at #5 and possibly when the Chicago Bears pick at #7. It is possible that a team (although not the Steelers) trade up for Washington's pick and probable that a team will try to trade up for Chicago's pick. Waynes is not a game-changing back like Richard Sherman but even a reliably good Asante Samuel-type is important to a secondary-needy team.
8. The New England Patriots typically trade down to gain additional picks, but they desperately need a nose tackle after letting Vince Wilfork go. Washington's Danny Shelton is unlikely to be available at 32, so the Pats could trade up, although they also need help in the secondary after Darrelle Revis left for the New York Jets, so they might make a move into the top of the 20s. If the player Bill Belichick wants is not available at #32 or is likely to be available five picks later, expect the Pats to trade down. So I guess my prediction is that New England trades up, trades down, or (no pun intended) stands pat.
9. A lot of mock drafts have the Houston Texans taking Missouri defensive end Shane Ray at #16. The Texans have J.J. Watt and 2014 first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney, also a defensive end. Clowney has been injured, but I still don't see. Houston needs a WR replacement for the departed Andre Johnson. There should be a few to choose from at this point and they'll pick the one the were most comfortable with in their preparations not who the mock drafters think is the "best" WR on the board. Arizona State's Jaelan Strong is not as high on a lot of pundits' lists but could be a surprise pick at WR by the Miami Dolphins or Houston Texans over DeVante Parker (Louisville) or Breshad Perriman (University of Central Florida).
9b) The Carolina Panthers will draft a wide receiver in the first round. It would be a mistake for them to move up to get one. There is a 20% chance they make that mistake.
10. There is lots of talk of the Denver Broncos picking Peyton Manning's replacement in the first round. Unless they really love someone who is still available at #28, they will probably pick a WR replacement in the first round for Demaryius Thomas who will probably exit Denver after the 2015 season and QB in the second or third. The Denver is not desperate but could use offensive line reinforcements. But there could also be a run of QBs in the early second round (Tennessee, Chicago) so Denver will have a difficult decision. Ultimately, they will decide against a quarterback in the first round.
10b) Teams in the final four or five spots generally don't have glaring needs (the Indianapolis Colts excepted). They are really good teams that generally draft near the end of the first long draft day because they have deep, talented teams. Like the Denver Broncos, the Green Bay Packers are one of those teams and they don't have a lot of needs, but they probably should find a quality replacement for departed linebacker A.J. Hawk. TCU's Paul Dawson got into some trouble (failed drug test, missed team meetings) that typically costs a player 10-20 spots in the draft. The Packers have a great organization and strong locker room, so they are equipped to handle a young player with potential character issues.
11) The endless array of pundits who did a half dozen or more mock drafts will all claim they were correct because they had a pick here and pick there right which is inevitable considering the various permutations multiple mocks. The only mocks they should be able to claim are "right" are their first or last -- and not both. But they will. Instead, football pundits should cast aside professional courtesy and mock each other over how wrong they generally were. Mock drafts are bullshit but sports shows and websites will use them to claim their experts are brilliant soothsayers. And the idea of a seven-round mock is ridiculous.


 
The disproportionate income tax paid by the top 20%
McGill economist William Watson has a column in today's Financial Post noting that the wealthy pay a disproportionate amount of total income tax. The lowest quintile pays almost none (1.2% among families, 0.9% among unattached individuals) while the highest quintile pays between 57% ad 68%. Watson says that these figures -- and he has many more -- are simply facts that tell us nothing about whether it is a "morally satisfactory state of affairs." It could be that these are the right amounts, considering the poor have less money and the rich, by definition, have more. But those are value judgements. (Yesterday Watson had a piece in the Ottawa Citizen arguing in favour of values-based policy alongside evidence-based policy.) Here is a value-based judgement that along with evidence such as that presented by Watson: some people argue that citizens aren't really invested in society if they aren't paying taxes so perhaps the poor should pay more. The commonly held position is that the wealthy should be their brother's keeper and contribute to the smooth functioning of society. (Another view is Barack Obama's which poo-poos individual achievement as "you didn't build that" so the state can come and take whatever it wants because you didn't really earn it.)
There is an argument to be made that the wealthy, by being more productive and creating things and services others want, should actually pay less. The social benefits of Walmart or Windows are so great that the Walton family or Bill Gates have given back enough to society through their entrepreneurship that they should pay less taxes, perhaps even a lower rate of tax than the unproductive poor. I am deeply sympathetic to this argument, although it is a political non-starter.
As Watson points out, many people in the top 20% or the second highest quintile (which contributes about 22-23%) are not billionaires or even millionaires, but fortunate people who don't feel particularly wealthy, they just earn a comfortable living. We probably should stop taxing them at rates that make it difficult for them to enjoy the fruits of their labour.


 
University = signalling
Bloomberg View's Noah Smith has a column on education as signalling and Bryan Caplan has a lengthy reply to it. Caplan concludes his post:
I'm glad to hear this. Noah inadvertently grants one of my key points: Most of education's labor market payoff is unrelated to the material your professors explicitly teach you. Once you accept this heresy, you're stuck with some combination of my multidimensional signaling story, and Noah's amorphous, evasive "large number of benefits that are very hard to measure" story. If that's the choice, my story will end up with the lions' share of the mix. Noah is welcome to the leftovers.
Final challenge for Noah: If education's rewards stem from this "large number of benefits that are very hard to measure," why on earth would the payoff for graduation vastly exceed the payoff for a typical year of education? My explanation, of course, is that given the vast social pressure to cross educational milestones, failure to graduate sends a very negative signal to the labor market, leading to discontinuous rewards. What's Noah's alternative? Do schools really delay "building social networks, broadening people's perspective, giving young people practice learning difficult new mental tasks and so forth" to senior year?


 
The riot community has 'Battered Community Syndrome'
Twitchy reports that a psychologist diagnosed the Baltimore rioters -- from a distance and over Twitter -- with "Battered Community Syndrome." How can she know? "From the purposeful ploy of the crack epidemic to tactfully placed subpar schools."


 
Justin Trudeau's speech on liberty was bullshit
Noted right-wing columnist Adam Radwanski, whose family has no connection whatsoever to the Liberal Party, writes in the Globe and Mail that Junior's views on liberty and civil rights as expressed in his famous speech in Toronto last month have been betrayed a little bit by his embrace of former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, whose police force acted like third world thugs during the 2010 G20 meetings, to say nothing of the force's practice of carding. Radwanski reminds readers of Trudeau's own words: "efforts of one group to restrict the liberty of another are so very dangerous to this country, especially when agencies of the state are used to do it." Radwanski writes:
The words of both Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Blair, though, are difficult to square with two sets of actions under the former chief’s watch.
The first was the handling of the G20 summit in 2010, when a wave of vandalism prompted police to arbitrarily suspend normal rights. More than 1,100 people were arrested (most of them never charged), random passersby were “kettled” for hours on end and there were widespread allegations of excessive force. While Mr. Blair later took responsibility for mistakes, he was strongly defensive of his force’s actions at the time.
The second, probably more germane to issues Mr. Trudeau flagged, was “carding.” Stopping and questioning people not suspected of a crime, pervasive under his watch, has been sharply criticized as a form of racial profiling that targets and alienates young black men in particular. Mr. Blair suspended and then modified the practice in his final months on the job, but only after pushing back hard against police-board attempts to rein it in.
For anyone inclined to cast a ballot on the basis of which party best defends civil liberties, either of those issues could be deal breakers – if not because they’re on Mr. Blair’s record, then because Mr. Trudeau has expressed little concern about them.
The full column is highly recommended.


 
2016 watch (Waka Flocka edition)
Foreign Policy reports:
Atlanta rapper Juaquin James Malphurs, best known as Waka Flocka Flame, has announced that he’s running for president. At 28, he’s seven years short of the minimum age requirement, but that hasn’t stopped him from releasing two campaign videos in collaboration with Rolling Stone, the first set to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
Like other candidates who have almost no hope of winning, Flocka is running to publicize himself and his platform. “Waka Flocka is a product, a franchise, a brand, a label…. And a good guy!” he told Interview magazine.
He’s an independent, but he sees the Democrats as his rivals. “Hillary is my only competition right now,” he said. “It’s a tough one. I hope I make it.” (New Yorker writer George Packer, who has declared himself already bored stiff with the 2016 election, should get to know Flocka.)
The campaign may be a joke, but it’s no fleeting whim: Flocka has been tweeting about this since 2012. Other than his goes-without-saying plan to legalize marijuana on day one in the White House, he’s already proposed a slew of policy initiatives, including a federal ban on dogs in restaurants. Flocka wants extreme power for the executive branch. “I am Congress; I’m president,” he said in the first campaign video. On intervention abroad: “I don’t give a damn if we’re going to war.” Flocka wants to #FreePalestine, #FreeKurdistan, and thinks Canada is mad real.
It's not a coincidence that he launched his campaign on 4/20. He also says "Fuck the Congress. I am Congress" and that a minimum wage of $15 for fast food restaurants is a "great fucking idea."


 
2016 watch (Hillary Clinton's appearance edition)
Hillary Clinton's appearance has been the topic of discussion lately by critics, Saturday Night Live's Cecily Strong (who complains that noticing Hillary's looks is sexist), and the Washington Post's Chris Cillizza who says that sometimes appearances matter. Then there's Monica Showalter in Investor's Business Daily:
Hillary looks noticeably disheveled while on official business, and during her tenure as secretary of state looked downright dirty and unkempt.
If that's her situation, it's a tangible sign she's unable to manage the job as well as present herself as the face of America to foreign nations. Combine it with the fact that she's made significant gaffes while abroad, as well as been seen apparently drunk in public and it's an external reflection of her incompetence.


 
Elliott could lead the Tories and win an Ontario election. If it were 1975.
Martin Regg Cohn in the Toronto Star on erstwhile Ontario Progressive Conservative leadership front-runner Christine Elliott: "Elliott is personable and progressive, but not always passionate or persuasive — just like Bill Davis in his day. Not that it ever hurt him on election day." In the age before the 24/7 news cycle. Before social media. When the Ontario Tories were the Government Party.


 
Is the Toronto Star trolling Canadians?
The Toronto Star's Rick Salutin in a video: "Should Omar Khadr get the Order of Canada?"
(HT: Daniel Dickin on Twitter)