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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Friday, February 15, 2019
On Amazon's decision not to build a headquarters in NYC
Fox's take is silly: it's all about AOC. It's about more than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is stand-in for the larger progressive movement. The Washington Post reported on the mobilization of the progressive Left and "A little more than three months later, Amazon pulled out of that deal on Thursday in a surprise to its opponents, who assumed their resistance would be a years-long struggle against a corporate powerhouse." Seth Barron, associate editor of City Journal, summarized the Left's complaints, which fall under the umbrella of "vulture capitalism," a combination of what conservative critics call crony capitalism (tax breaks and other government incentives) and the Left's standard complaint about Amazon not being a unionized company. The progressive Twitter mob successfully bullied Amazon into not creating 25,000 jobs in New York City; Twitter is not representative of the population, however, with 57% of New Yorkers and 60% of Queens residents supporting Amazon's decision to locate in their city. The online mob of progressives should be ashamed of themselves, but they won't be. They "won" and that's all that matters. No one will have to explain the justice in denying New Yorkers jobs that a private company wanted to give them.
Kevin D. Williamson writes at NRO about the relationship between capital and politics and it's a very good essay. About NYC and Amazon, Williamson says of the decision:
Amazon does not need New York City. There are many advantages to operating in a city such as New York, which offers experiences and opportunities that well-paid tech-company executives are not going to find in such business-friendly alternatives as Houston or Las Vegas. But Amazon has decided that these are not worth the price of admission, which in this case would be subjecting itself to a political climate dominated by people who detest the company, its chief executive, and the model of business it stands for. There was a time when a major financial institution, publishing house, or media company simply had to have a New York City presence — preferably a headquarters — as a matter of course. But that time has passed.
The New York Times editorializes:
There were all sorts of problems with the deal New York cut to bring Amazon to the city, and Amazon is no paragon, but its abrupt withdrawal was a blow to New York, which stood to gain 25,000 jobs and an estimated $27 billion in tax revenue over the next two decades. This embarrassment to the city presents a painful lesson in how bumper-sticker slogans and the hubris of elected — and corporate — officials can create losers on all sides.
Indeed, in his list of winners and losers following Amazon's decision to not build one of its two second headquarters in Queens, Tyler Cowen puts both NYC and Amazon among the losers, although there is a potential upside for Amazon if it becomes more creative in how it attracts top talent. Regarding the Big Apple, Cowen asks a great question:
New York City: Yes, Google is expanding in Chelsea but more and more NYC is becoming a city of finance and tourism and restaurants. Can a location have the Dutch disease and cost disease at the same time?
Lastly, Bryce Covert of The Nation writes in the Times that cities should eschew making sweetheart deals with companies to attract them. This is something that liberals and conservatives should agree on and voters of both sides probably do, but politicians of all stripes can't help themselves. Crony capitalism will continue to thrive despite Amazon's abandonment of Queens.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019
Veganism and the road to serfdom
Senator Corey Booker, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, in an interview with VegNews (via The Daily Wire):
While claiming he does not want to lecture Americans on their diets, Booker says Americans need to be nudged into fake cheese because the planet cannot sustain the "environmental impact" of the food industry.
"You see the planet earth moving towards what is the Standard American Diet," Booker said. "We've seen this massive increase in consumption of meat produced by the industrial animal agriculture industry."
"The tragic reality is this planet simply can't sustain billions of people consuming industrially produced animal agriculture because of environmental impact," he said. "It's just not possible."
Reminds me of H.L. Mencken's line, "The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it." A politician dressing his dietary preferences up as obligatory virtue for the survival of the planet is pretty near the definition of both dishonesty and totalitarianism.

Monday, February 11, 2019
Despite a decade of complaining on the Left about voter suppression, voter ID laws have little impact on turnout
The abstract on Vincent Pons and Enrico Cantoni's new paper, "Strict ID Laws Don't Stop Voters: Evidence from a U.S. Nationwide Panel, 2008-2016":
U.S. states increasingly require identification to vote – an ostensive attempt to deter fraud that prompts complaints of selective disenfranchisement. Using a difference-in-differences design on a 1.3-billion-observations panel, we find the laws have no negative effect on registration or turnout, overall or for any group defined by race, gender, age, or party affiliation. These results hold through a large number of specifications and cannot be attributed to mobilization against the laws, measured by campaign contributions and self-reported political engagement. ID requirements have no effect on fraud either – actual or perceived. Overall, our results suggest that efforts to reform voter ID laws may not have much impact on elections.
The Left claims to care about evidence. This study strongly suggests that one of their central talking points of the past decade is not supported by evidence. Will the Left stop its hysterical and vicious campaign against conservative politicians. Conservative and Republican politicians who want modest requirements such as having voters prove they are who they say they are routinely misrepresented as vote suppressers and racists. But these attacks will not cease; it's too good of a talking point gin up anger among the base and boost donations. But there is not evidence for these baseless attacks.

This story would be framed differently if girls coasted with minimal effort

BS story on 'sexy cities' in Canada
The Toronto Sun reports:
Toronto finished a flaccid 9th out of 33 Canadian cities. Calgary topped the list as the city with the most toys in the bedroom, according to PinkCherry — Canada’s largest online store for adult novelty products ...
Even though the population of Hogtown dwarfs Regina or Saskatoon, the prairie cities purchased more gadgets for their bedside tables in 2018, according to PinkCherry.
I hate these types of stories. They are stupid and they are propaganda. Let us count the ways.
One, the criteria for a "sexy" city should not be limited to the sales of sex toys. Sex toys have more to do with the verb sex than they do with the adjective sexy so there is a pretty good case that they have very little to do with a city's sexiness.
Two, if sex toys are the criteria for a city's sexiness, perhaps it should be based on more than the sales of one online shop. The story is far from complete when relying on a single store for data. Sample size comes to mind.
Three, relatedly, these stories are essentially free advertising for the online store. Clever marketing on the part of PinkCherry, but it is cruddy journalism. The story effectively pitches products like the Jack Rabbit Vibrator. There is simply no need to mention the name of the specific top-selling product. So not only was the store mentioned, but a brand-name, too. A lot of porn stories (like porn use down during Super Bowl) are merely cribbed from online porn providers' releases and amount to free advertising for them. Journalists shouldn't be in the business of giving away free advertising, even if they can make it look like a news story. Publishers should hate this practice. My guess is that they think sex stories mean clicks and that supposedly helps the bottom line.
Four, because these stories are little more than puff pieces for companies trying to sell product, consumers of news should see through these articles fairly easily, but my guess is they don't. The sexy city survey by an online sex shop is the definition of #FakeNews. At least advertorials are marked as such.
Five, every year around Valentine's Day the papers ramp of their coverage of sex, thus confounding love and sex. Since about the fifth century, Christian churches have prodded western civilization to understand St. Valentine's Day in terms of love, marital fidelity, and fertility, not bacchanalia. Newspapers are literally turning back the clock to the debauched ancient Roman Lupercalia festivals with their focus on sex. Newspapers should stop using the middle of February as an excuse to publish material they would generally eschew the other 11.5 months.

Friday, February 08, 2019
The Guardian reports on how the UK government (predictably) will miss targets for building new houses:
Targets for new homes are likely to be missed by half of England’s local authorities, according to a damning assessment of the government’s housing strategy ...
The National Audit Office (NAO) concludes that the planning system in England is “not working well” and says councils are struggling to negotiate successfully with developers, leaving swaths of the country vulnerable to either housing shortages or situations where the wrong homes are built in the wrong places. Since 2010 there has been an almost 40% real-terms cut in spending on planners, according to the public spending watchdog.
The NAO report follows claims from Conservative ministers that housebuilding is a top policy priority and that by the mid-2020s the rate will increase to 300,000 new homes a year. Between 2005-06 and 2017-18 the housebuilding rate has averaged 177,000 a year and the annual number has never exceeded 224,000 ...
The NAO report cites research by a planning and development consultancy, Lichfields, which found that in 2020 about 50% of local authorities are likely to fail the test for building enough homes and could face penalties, including giving developers in those areas greater freedoms regarding where they can build.
The report says only 44.1% of local authorities had up-to-date plans setting out how they could meet the need for new homes.
Politicians love setting targets. Setting targets makes it look like they are being proactive. But targets are meaningless unless matched by funding and a plan to make it happen. It goes without saying that most targets are never met.

Getting naked for Remain
Inside Higher Education reported on a lecture from last month:
Many British academics are ardently opposed to Brexit. Others are passionate in their commitment to the idea that women can do what they like with their own bodies. But Victoria Bateman -- fellow in economics at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge -- must be highly unusual in bringing the two causes together, most recently in a performance titled Brexit: The Naked Truth, where audience members got a chance to create a living anti-Brexit petition by signing her bare body ...
As she saw it, however, “the relevant question is not ‘Why use your naked body?’ but ‘Why not use your naked body?’ Reversing the question in this way helps to reveal people’s inner thoughts or presumptions about women’s bodies: that when a woman shows her body it devalues her worth or decreases the respect people have for her.” She also believes “in the power of art to go beyond what academic writing alone can offer … I’ve condensed all my words into one simple message: that Britain has been sold the emperor’s new clothes.”
Dress this up in feminism all she wants, this reeks of publicity stunt. If people are talking about her tactics, they are not talking about her ideas. This isn't about Brexit. Or women's bodies. It's about Bateman. As the promo for the show lecture states, "Expect impassioned argument and nudity in equal measure." Sure it does.

2020 watch (WaPo power ranking edition)
Fair bit of movement at the top of the Washington Post Trump challenger power rankings, and I'm not sure what has happened to justify that much change. Sure Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar moves up five spots because she is closer to announcing she'll run and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren drops three spots because her claims of native American heritage are being highlighted again. But what warrants a half-dozen people moving two or more spots? Nothing is really happening. Stacey Abrams gets added to the list despite the fact that the commentary on her ascendency amounts to "she's not running but if Beto O'Rourke is on the list, she should, too." But O'Rourke is openly flirting with running (even if there are good reason to believe it's only to keep his name in the news and therefore relevant for a future run, presumably in Texas again), while Abrams is not. And Oprah moves up two spots to 13th.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019
NY police arresting people for non-crimes. In fact, they set up these non-crimes.
Reason's Joe Setyon writes about an abhorrent practice in the Big Apple:
The New York City Police Department (NYPD) is still trying to lure unsuspecting residents into committing petty theft so it can lock them up.
Operation Lucky Bag began in 2006, supposedly as a way for police to put away people with existing rap sheets. Undercover officers would plant a bag, usually with money or other valuables inside, in a public place. They'd wait for someone to "steal" the planted property then make an arrest.
In other words, they were creating crimes out of thin air. If, indeed, they were crimes at all. Under state law, people who find property worth more than $20 have 10 days to either return it to the owner or give it up to police.
Setyon writes about a couple specific cases and in neither one did the police give the alleged, entrapped "criminal" a real chance to surrender the found backpack, which sometimes includes money and electronic devices. The program has been around since 2006 and has been criticized by judges. In more than half of such cases when the program was launched, the entrapped person did not have a previous arrest, thereby undermining the rationale for this bogus police operation.
In many jurisdictions, police funding and promotions are based on arrests and convictions. This seems like a program to goose numbers -- it's easy to arrest people for made-up crimes committed under the noses of cops.
If you are prepared to be outraged, read Setyon's piece.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019
Joseph Epstein on political correctness
Joseph Epstein uses the brouhaha over an incident more than three decades ago that is currently embroiling Virginia Governor Ralph Northam to discuss the humourlessness and cheap point-scoring of political correctness, which, as the Northam incident proves, has no statute of limitations. It's a longish essay and I encourage you to read the whole thing. Here's an excerpt from his NRO essay about what I find the most egregious problem of PC, its humourlessness and intellectual vacuity:
Something not merely humorless but mentally dull there is about the mindset of political correctness. Subtlety under political correctness is out. So, too, complexity of character. To be politically correct one must also firmly believe that people do not change: If they were the least racist, sexist, homophobic forty years ago, they must still be so now. The mental map of the politically correct consists of a minuscule pale, with much of what is genuinely interesting or amusing in life beyond that pale. For the politically correct, what someone says, as distinguished from what he does, is crucial. This precludes of course the many men and women who have harsh, even objectionable opinions but lead generous, entirely honorable lives. H. L. Mencken was such a man. In many of his essays Mencken refered to African Americans as “blackamoors,” yet in his professional life he praised and promoted black writers whenever he came upon them. Much more common are people with perfect sets of opinions — race, check; the environment, check; LGBT, check; . . . — and whose actions are selfish, insensitive, even cruel.
Epstein was the victim of political correctness two decades ago, losing his job as the editor of a journal, not for writing something truly or allegedly vile but for not publishing enough PC material. That's enough. That's career-ruining. By not publishing from the appropriate identity politics boxes, he proved he was racist/sexist/homophobic/colonialist/all-of-the-above-and-more. He describes that incident in the essay.

Monday, February 04, 2019
It's been a bad month for the UK Tories
And it hasn't hurt a bit. Opinium Research via Britain Elects:
Britain Elects tracking polls shows a lot of volatility in recent months, but large shift from one OR poll to another may be significant. Probably not, but may be. I think this is less an endorsement of the Tories or Theresa May, than fear of Jeremy Corbyn. I'm not sure that the Conservatives need to be as afraid of the possibility of a Corbyn-led Labour victory as they seem to be, or as much as the May supporters are using to keep the party behind her failed leadership.

Politics would be a closed shop if it were up to politicians and their hangers-on
Saleno Zito has a good column in the Washington Examiner, "Howard Schultz unifies the parties — against him." It's worth reading, but perhaps the column's great achievement is coaxing Instapundit's comment on Schultz:
I don’t like Schultz, but it’s amusing to see how much the anti-outsider reaction against him from both parties mirrors that against Trump. The parties’ biggest fear isn’t that someone from the other party will win. It’s that someone from outside the Beltway Uniparty will win.
I think that's largely true. And before you say that the GOP has seemed to make its peace with Donald Trump, the Republican establishment can't wait to ditch him once they think it's safe. Trumpism may win out in the short- and medium-term, but Donald Trump is still fundamentally an outsider to many Republican legislators, strategists, and professional activists. Tribalism is strong within political parties and tribalism always involves in groups and out groups.